Allie Spencer and April Competition Results

It was a pleasure to welcome Allie Spencer as our adjudicator for April. She is the author of Tug of Love, which won best debut novel, Romantic Novelists’ Association.

It seems that many of you were too shy to write romance, the number of entries this month was only 18.

Allie assured me that she enjoyed reading them all. Her comments are below with the winning entries but her choice of winners is:

 

1st Place

NIGHT AMBUSH by ANGELA CHADWICK

2nd Place

SECRETS by MARI THOMAS

3rd Place

STEAMPUNK LOVE by SUE SPIERS

Highly Commended

A STEAMY LOVE STORY by JOHN QUINN

Next month’s competition is:

Write the narrative of a viewpoint character in a historical novel solving a conflict. (300 words)

The adjudicator will be Dr. Peter Middleton, Senior Lecturer, English, University of Southampton.

Please remember that I have set up an automatic reply informing that your work has got through but I will come back to you ASAP if anything is wrong with your entry.

Keep writing,

Sharon

 

1st Place

NIGHT AMBUSH by ANGELA CHADWICK

Allie Spencer: ‘This piece pushed the idea of a steamy love story to its limits! It was fast paced, exciting and full of peril. The final sentence both rounded the story off nicely and pointed forwards to a possible continuation. If I had my way, this would be expanded into a full-length piece – I’d love to read that and learn more about the characters and their backgrounds.’

Lily opened her eyes to darkness. The explosion, when it came, rocked the campbed. The door of the cell crashed open and a guard grabbed her, hauling her upright.

“Vite! Vite!” he screamed dragging her along. She staggered into an inferno of gunfire. A thud, a gasp and the guard was gone. Lily dropped and lay still. Quiet came, someone moving close.

A voice like honey said, “Who the fuck are you?”

“Lily.”

“English?”

“Yes.”

“Stay here!”

Three lifetimes passed until he returned.

“You hurt?”

“No.”

“Good. Let’s go.”

“Where?”

“Anywhere but here, love. It’s wired to blow. Walk where I walk. Keep up.”

Lily crashed along, desperate not to be left. Hour upon hour, ache upon ache.

He halted.

“We wait here,” he commanded. “Chopper will be here before dawn.”

She was shaking, exhausted body and soul.

“Eat this,” he said. The chocolate helped, his arms held her, the shaking eased. She could smell him, feel the strength of his body.

“Are they gone?” she asked.

“They’re all dead. We came for the comms link,” his voice caught, “We weren’t expecting you and your guards.”

She reached her hands up to his face, kissed him. She felt him respond. She moved on top of him and there on the jungle floor they gave each other what comfort they could. Later she held him, as he had held her.

The helicopter crew asked, “Who the fuck is this?”

“Lily Johnson, the missing aid worker,” he answered, as he handed her in.

Lily opened her eyes to light. She prayed for her SAS saviour, just like every morning. Then she turned her head to the picture of Paul, grinning in his scrubs, and last night’s engagement ring.

Her mobile rang. A voice like honey said, “Hello, Lily.”

2nd Place

SECRETS by MARI THOMAS

Allie Spencer: ‘I’ve chosen this primarily for its incredibly tight structure. The running refrain of ‘a secret’ punctuates the piece, making it hang together and pushing it forward at the same time. The effect of such a powerful device in such a short piece of writing is to turn the prose into a kind of poetry. Superbly written.’

“Hey, Adam. Tell me a secret.”

“No.”

“What? C’mon, I told you one of mine.”

“The fact that you suck at hockey isn’t a secret, dumbass.”

“That’s not what I—”

Adam says, “Evan.”

Evan stops.

“Shut up.” And he reaches across to crush their lips together.

 

“Hey, Adam,” Evan gasps out between moans. “Tell me a secret.”

“Do you ever shut up?” Adam growls into his neck, teeth catching on flesh.

Evan huffs a laugh as they break apart, pulling off his shirt. “Never.”

 

Adam is hiding. Evan finds him anyway.

“Hey, Adam,” Evan greets with a grin. He throws a cooled bottle of water at Adam’s head. “Tell me a secret.”

Adam snatches the bottle out of the air. “This place,” he snarls, “was supposed to be one.”

But Evan just smiles.


Evan holds Adam close, fingers drumming Für Elise into the bare skin of his chest. “Hey, Adam,” he says quietly. “Tell me a secret.”

“You’re an idiot.”

“That’s not a secret.”

“I’m an idiot.”

“Neither,” Evan says, a touch gentler, and Für Elise merges into Minuet in G, “is that.”

 

“Hey, Adam. Tell me a secret.”

He kisses him instead.

“Hey, Adam. Tell—”

He sticks his hand down the front of Evan’s trousers.

 

“Hey, Adam—”

Adam doesn’t look up from his hunt for his shirt. “Fuck off.”

Evan’s grin is savage. “Unfortunately, we already did that—”

Adam can’t take it anymore. “Why won’t you leave me alone?” he demands. “Why are you—you’re always here, always asking that stupid question—it’s nothing, Evan.” His voice cracks. “It means nothing.”

Walk away, Evan.

Evan doesn’t. “Hey, Adam,” he says and his voice lilts in that way that makes Adam want to punch something. “Want me to tell you a secret?”

3rd Place

STEAMPUNK LOVE by SUE SPIERS

Allie Spencer: ‘I chose this because it is genuinely memorable: it hung round in my brain for days after I’d read it. The images it creates are both intriguing and powerful. They have a strong visual resonance. The hypnotic, half-poetic style of the writing both complements the other-worldliness of the setting and helps to invoke it. A fabulous exercise of the imagination.’

She was beautiful, hidden by her clockwork mask

Its lenses magnifying her hazel eyes, always wary,

Like an airship butterfly taking wing at any slight air.

 

She saw him step from the Galveston Torpedo

as a burst of steam engulfed him from the city’s engine,

his great-coat flapping wildly in the jet, top-hat tipsy.

 

Her Uncle’s handshake marked him for the company,

soon uniformed in the Shackledoom livery, him unique:

un-automated, whole animal, fascinatingly full-human.

 

She spied him from her window, visiting her Uncle,

risked half undress while her gramophone played,

her golden corsets concealing barely breathing ribs.

 

Their eyes met, she sensed a stillness; time-halt

when all relationships are possible in that instant,

when only movement is impossible in that moment.

 

He brought flowers and her Uncle sent him gone.

He brought a tiny hare of brass and taxidermy fur.

Her Uncle told him, ‘stay absent’, threatened harm.

 

Tears rusted the workings of her mouth, she oiled

the hinges of her lips, but her human heart failed

or seemed to stop its beating until she willed it on.

 

In secret they met, too-brief hours when friends

left them talking, falling, stroking, making sparks

‘til alarm calls sent them bolting to opposite exits.

 

Of course the Uncle, suspicious, discovered them,

furious ructions and the powerful man sent ruffians

after the flesh-bound gallant, crushed by steel.

 

She stole away his pulped body to a blacksmith,

ordered the finest bronze-nickel to mend his limbs,

delicate automation of more intimate conditions.

 

In the lovers’ like-built bodies the Uncle’s objections

faded like the hiss of the Galveston Torpedo’s whistle.

Their human hearts were left to weld a life together.

 

Highly Commended:

A STEAMY LOVE STORY – JOHN QUINN

Allie Spencer: ‘This piece was chosen because it works on so many levels: it is warm, funny, human, poignant, sad and also strangely hopeful. It had very strong echoes of Alan Bennett’s work and the attention to detail, like Bennett’s writing, was beautiful – even down to the way Thelma uses the eiderdown (of which her husband would have approved) rather than a duvet (which he would not) to assist in her suicide attempt. Again, this is a piece of writing which could be extended to full length and would undoubtedly produce a very strong and moving story.’

If asked Thelma would deny it.

But, like many widows and widowers, she takes solace in talking to her husband, despite him being underground for nigh on 20 years. ‘Oh, that damn electric kettle, why I let David get me one I’ll never know. You never would’ve, Harry.’

Thelma opens the cupboard under the sink, roots around for a while and pulls out an old, slightly battered kettle. She half fills it from the cold tap, pushes on the whistling lid and places the kettle on the stove with a welcoming clatter. The gas ignites with a whoosh.

She pulls her old, thick, pink, cotton dressing gown more closely around her. ‘But that’s sons for you. Always doing what’s best, even when it isn’t.’

Thelma picks up the tea cloth, likes she does every morning while the kettle boils, and absentmindedly wipes the copper frame holding the photo of Harry wearing his ill-fitting, double-breasted, demob suit and a smile almost as wide.

The warm, furry slippers shuffle back into the bedroom of the tired bungalow. Thelma pulls the eiderdown from the bed. ‘You never would have one of those continental quilts would you, Harry? “Nothing foreign in this house,” you said, knowing full well they’re made in Huddersfield. You did make me laugh!’

Easing slowly down onto the kitchen floor, so not to startle the arthritis in her knees, Thelma sits, likes she’s about to pray, in front of the old oven. She pulls open the oven door and slides out the trays.

She turns the gas on but does not push the ignition button. Instead her head enters the oven and she awkwardly pulls the eiderdown around her shoulders to form a plug. ‘Soon be with you Harry, my love.’

The kettle starts to whistle.

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