Competition January 2016
Write the opening 300 words of a short story based on a song
Our adjudicator for January was Glenn Fosbraey. Glenn joined Winchester University in 2009 where he is instrumental in supporting and expanding his students’ creative skills. He is Programme Leader for both BA (hons) courses Creative Writing and Creative and Professional Writing. Glenn hopes to add a new degree, Popular Music, to the creative writing department next year. The courses in his department have regularly been voted with 100% satisfaction in student surveys.
There were 22 entries this month. Glenn gave a special mention to:
Wendy Fitzgerald, ‘Added character depth, and narrative that went way beyond the song itself; even more of an achievement considering it was only 300 words long.’
And Lou Merlin, ‘A brave, challenging textual intervention on The Kinks’ Lola which made the reader consider gender, society, and acceptance.’
Congratulations to January’s three winners, listed below with Glenn’s comments:
1st place: Claire Fuller
‘The kind of story that keeps a reader thinking about it long after it ends, and one with a multitude of possible meanings and interpretations. A real thought-provoker with the perfect balance between intrigue and information.’
Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night
I hear the sound in the room above mine – the attic: like someone shaking out damp linen or rattling at the wooden shutters. I leave my bed and go upstairs. The blackbird is already dead but still warm in the cup of my hands. In the morning I bury it in the garden between the roots of the mulberry tree. I take a piece of board up to the attic and nail it over the broken window. I’m pleased with my practicality; that I’ve managed to do it without asking Peter.
I eat lunch, carry my spade out to the kitchen garden, forget about the bird.
Later, in the night, I wake to the sound in the room above mine. Like someone shaking out damp linen or rattling at the wooden shutters, or the beating of a bird’s wings. I don’t go up.
The next afternoon when I’m passing the orangery I see the shape of a man silhouetted outside one of the tall glass doors that overlook the ruined parterre – all the box hedges run wild and thistles growing where once there was lavender. He is standing like Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man: legs splayed and arms raised and the image makes me cry out in alarm, but it is only Peter. He opens the door and steps inside. He has a tape-measure in one hand and his clipboard in the other; his pencil stub is tucked behind his ear. He makes no comment about my noise and I think perhaps he didn’t hear it through the glass.
‘Frances,’ he says, as a greeting.
‘There are birds in the attic,’ I say. ‘Perhaps you could take a look?’
‘Of course. Did you hear the blackbird in the middle of the night?’ he says. ‘It was singing in the mulberry tree.’
2nd place: Andrea Parr:
‘A story with wonderful description that wholeheartedly immerses the reader in the place and time. Questions are posed but not answered, and we hang on to every word, almost compelling us to re-read and see if there is anything we might have missed.’
Walking in Memphis
So far, nothing about the trip had gone to plan. From the plane, the mighty Mississippi had been a strand of blue cotton winding up from the sea. It hadn’t glinted once in the dull afternoon light.
She’d expected old world charm; besuited gentleman with welcoming southern drawls; the gentle waft of Blues in the background. What she got was blue neon and a floor so polished, it was painful to look at. There was no music at all, not even that piped stuff James always hated. It was like airports the world over and, sitting flat and insignificant amongst endless white columns, she watched fat raindrops burst against the window. The whole time, James was in her head, his face rigid with scorn. Pressing her fingers to her aching eyes, she wondered why she’d come.
A man she hadn’t heard approach was sitting next to her, his face half lost to a pair of magnificent sideburns, his eyes fixed firmly on the three inch heels she’d begun to regret wearing. In the bright airport light, the suede exactly matched the blue of his gaze. As she gawped back up, he smiled, his teeth very white in his tanned face, and winked.
“You oughta see the park.”
Less than an hour later, she was leaning against the smooth trunk of a spreading tree, staring upwards, wondering how he’d known. Above her, the dapper figure of WC Handy gazed benignly into middle distance, trumpet clutched in both hands and, for the first time since she’d arrived, James’ voice in her head fell silent. Raindrops pattered through the leaves and ran like tears down her upturned face. In the silence, she felt like singing. Her heels clicked loudly as she turned.
Time to see what Memphis had to offer.
3rd place: Linda Welch.
‘The lyrics are expertly threaded into the narrative, and a story that is enormous in its subtext is presented here only in its gloriously bare bones, forcing the reader to chase its shadows back to the song in search for clues.’
I may be reckless, but I’m not stupid. Internet protocol dictates that the first time you meet someone, you make it somewhere public.
So I had chosen a bar in town, busy, but not too crowded, and positioned myself in a far corner so that I could watch for him to arrive. I didn’t have long to wait. As soon as the door opened, I knew it was him. I felt the same rush I had when he’d opened a private chat window with me for the first time: it was as if all the air had been sucked out of my lungs and replaced with pure amyl nitrite. I felt a stupid grin crease my face, I couldn’t help it.
He hadn’t seen me, he probably thought I wasn’t there yet. He was earlier than we’d agreed, maybe he’d wanted to do what I was doing: watch, assess, evaluate before committing. The first step towards salvation can be a daunting one. All conversation seemed to dim around him as he made his way to the bar and heads turned, both male and female. He was a good-looking man, and the cut of his suit, the subtle gold signet ring and his commanding presence marked him out as someone of wealth and taste. As he glanced around the room, I saw weariness and pain in his eyes, reflecting what he had told me in the private chat window. He had seen so much suffering and sorrow, violence and desolation, and I was the only one who could take that burden from him. I walked over to him and held out my hand to shake his.
‘Pleased to meet you,’ he said. ‘I hope you’ve guessed my name?’
‘Luc,’ I nodded. ‘And you can call me J.C.’
DON’T FORGET: The adjudicator for February is Jude Evans from Little Tiger Press and the competition asks for:
A picture book text, fiction or non-fiction, in prose or rhyme aimed at children 2-7 years. 750 words max.
Send no illustration samples.
Adjudicator: Jude Evans from Little Tiger Press
Deadline noon 1st February 2016