November 2015 Competition Results – Judith Murdoch

Our adjudicator for the November competition was Judith Murdoch from The Judith Murdoch Literary Agency. The number of entries was an outstanding 31.

Judith’s general comments were that she found them all very readable, though too many seemed rather too domestic in tone, so did not stand out as being anything new. A number of entries felt as if they might work better as short stories.

She generously took the time to advise: several entries used far too many adjectives, others over-used names of characters, which distances the reader – they don’t need reminding what the heroine is called six times on one page!

Two authors stood out for strong dialogue: ALL THE FUN OF THE FAIR by Linda Welch, and I WANT TO BREAK FREE by Freddie Mercury. Judith mentions that they might consider writing for radio.

FIRST MEETING by David Lea – Judith thought was amusing but she would have cut the first two lines. MAIA BAY by Benita she found very atmospheric and her assistant particularly liked the mule.

Judith said that the three finalists all immediately focused on the main character, placing them in an intriguing situation, which had possibilities for a full-length story.

She said that characterisation is the most important element in a novel; introducing a sympathetic character on page one who makes the reader feel they want to follow them for another 200-300 pages is what won through.

 

Judith selected:

First place NO MAN’S LAND by Louise Morrish

Second place – BEDINGFORD OPERA Sam Collins

Third place THE LONG REACH TO THE PAST by Margaret Jenness

 

First place NO MAN’S LAND by Louise Morrish

Judith Murdoch : A powerful situation and an emotional hook, which immediately establishes the heroine as a strong character on a mission. It promises to deliver action, adventure and romance and sets out the date and premise on the first page, which is a great asset when Kindle encourages readers to sample the first page.

Mary waits in line, tense and sweating in Edward’s woollen jacket and breeches, as the man ahead of her stumbles his way through the oath.

‘I swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King George the Fifth…’

Next it will be Mary’s turn to accept the King’s Shilling. A knife twists in her gut at the thought.

She licks her dry lips, tasting coppery salt. Her scalp itches beneath Edward’s cap and she longs to take it off, but to expose her scandalously short hair is too risky. If the recruitment officer should see through her disguise, he could have her arrested for fraud, or worse yet, treason.

For surely it’s a crime against the King for a woman to enlist as a soldier?

She takes a steadying breath, reminding herself why she’s doing this: to find Edward. The telegram from the War Office had reported him missing. He could be a prisoner of war, or lost and wandering the battlefields. Or maybe he’s lying injured in some Belgian military hospital unable to make himself understood. Wherever he is Mary will do her damnedest to track him down. And when she does Mr Walsh will be so grateful to her for finding his precious son and heir, he’ll surely give Mary a job as a journalist on his newspaper.

So far no one has guessed her deceit; in this place of stale sweat and brittle bravado she is just another young man, keen to do his bit for crown and country.

If she can hold her nerve and assume the guise of a soldier, she will soon be on her way to the Front.

The first woman ever to witness the trenches.

Won’t that be a story for Mr Walsh’s paper?

 

Second place – BEDINGFORD OPERA Sam Collins

Judith Murdoch: Although a domestic situation it has a slightly quirky, nostalgic feel that made us want to read on – the characters made the ordinary seem a little poignant and more interesting, but the title needs to be more catchy.

Shelley Harper looked at her mother warily, as she usually did, in her preposterous flowing gown, held closed only by the most gregarious six-inch brooch. A peacock, like its owner, its glory displayed. But it was the beak that Shelley focused on, as if despite its flamboyance, it would tear you to shreds any moment now.

‘Not now Sheldon dear, whatever it is, you can see that I am rather busy.’ Indeed she could. Every kitchen cupboard open wide, the contents spilling onto every available surface. The rattle and hum of utensils being thrown drowned only by the industrial volume Verdi coming from the ghetto blaster on the windowsill, the sound of which had assailed her from the corner of Parkside Drive.

‘You can make this suet pudding with absolutely anything to hand in the pantry,’ Mrs Harper continued, as if reading from some ancient Victorian cookbook. ‘This one’s rhubarb compote…’

It had been with a very heavy heart that Shelley had made this journey this morning. Back to her roots, back to the village, back to the… motherland. Oh God. She had even allowed herself a tear or two on the train from Waterloo. And if she had allowed any more, she felt sure that they would have drowned her face in waves of panic and regret. She could see it in the murky train window; as if the mildly moist green eyes and undrenched olive-skinned face were not her own. Instead she saw something paler, shadowed; the eyes half-closed and brimming, the face awash, dissolving before her with the torrent. And the only sound in her ears… Verdi.

 

Third place THE LONG REACH TO THE PAST by Margaret Jenness

Judith Murdoch: Strong writing with an emotional and intriguing opening, though a little downbeat in tone and I would have preferred it in the present rather than past tense.

Thursday 1st April excerpt from Alice Carmichael’s diary

“Tell Olivia I’m sorry”, your dying words, your breathing laboured, your hands clasped mine. I wanted to hear you ask if the children were coming, to hear you say how much you loved us all. Instead I heard an instruction to tell an unknown woman that you were sorry.

The nurse was very kind. She told me to stay as long as I wanted. She brought me tea and garibaldi biscuits. Suffocated by the daffodil yellow painted walls, I took deep breaths before taking a welcome sip.

I had been upset our children hadn’t arrived in time.   They thought you had rallied. Craving the relief of normality when death surrounds, they had returned to their daily lives. After all the doctors had promised,   “He’s mentally strong, a fighter”. Perhaps you were fighting to see this person one last time.

“Our family are coming. Please stay until they get here”, I had begged. How relieved I am now they were too late.   How could they have borne your last words not being for us?

Who was this woman with such a hold on you that your last words were for her? In just five words you had destroyed my sense of who I am. Yet, despite myself I traced your features with my fingers one last time. I kissed you. I hugged you.   I told you how much I loved you. I said I was sorry if I hadn’t made you happy, if I had hurt you in any way.

I heard voices in the corridor. The door opened. Our son and daughter rushed in. We hugged. “I’ll leave you to say goodbye”.

I slipped out. Weeping, I stumbled along the corridor to the nearest bathroom and was violently sick.

 

 

 

 

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