Cathy Woodman, our adjudicator for March, again spoilt us. She has commented on all entries so expect your personal notes via email soon. Alongside her series set in the fictional village of Talyton St George, Cathy is now writing a series under a new name, Evie Grace. The historical sagas are set in rural Kent. The stories are based on those of her own family, who lived there in the nineteenth century. The first, Half a Sixpence, will be available in the summer. The competition was: ‘Describe a meeting where a present-day hero or heroine meets their later love-interest.’
1st Place: Colin Johnson – First Encounter
2nd Place: Andrea Parr – The Blue Doll
3rd Place: John Quinn – OK People
Highly Commended: Sarah Lines – The Vet and David Lea – Later Love-Interest
1st Place: First Encounter – Colin Johnson
Cathy Woodman: This caught my attention from the very first word – Wow! I loved the way the writer set the scene and created that wonderful sense of attraction and lust at first sight. I really wanted to read on to find out what happens to the young man yearning to find out more about his love interest who makes eating chocolate crumbs sexy!
“Wow!” he thought, “what a smile!”
She was older than most students. Maybe 30? Or a bit more? At least 10 years older than him.
She had come over to sit at the next table. She spoke to him, interrupting his re-run through yesterday’s rehearsal. He saw her lips move and took off his headphones. She repeated the question: “Excuse me, is this your bag?” He pulled his bag off the chair and she sat down, looked at him and smiled. “Thank you,” she said.
That was all. That was all it took. Her voice was like a cello, Jacqueline du Pré making music again. Clear brown eyes, no flicker, no blinks, just still reflections of the world, taking him in and assessing his own face. She had freckles on high cheekbones, and full, gentle lips. Her long chestnut hair was held back, tied behind in some kind of chiffon scarf.
“No trouble,” he said, and looked at his phone again. He could think of nothing to say. How could he ask her name? Find out her email? Anything, so he could see her again?
She drank her coffee and ate her two-finger KitKat. When she licked her finger to pick up the chocolate crumbs, his stomach felt suddenly empty, his sudden intake of breath almost loud enough for her to hear. God, that was sexy!
She left. Without moving, he followed her across the concourse into the revolving doors. Through the glass wall he watched her cross the central courtyard into the Psychology building.
“Who was that?” he said to no-one. Still without moving, he played through the whole encounter again. He hadn’t needed his phone on record, the playback in his head was clear and precise. Her voice was pure Elgar. He had to hear it again.
2nd Place: The Blue Doll – Andrea Parr
Cathy Woodman: A very close second. I loved the imagery of what is a defining incident set in a playground where the protagonist takes a risk for love. The writer took me straight into the hero’s head with choppy dialogue and phrasing, and plenty of action. I really wanted to read on to find out what happens next. Wonderful.
The doll set Jimmy off. Knew it would the minute I saw it. She was clutching something she loved, and Jimmy never could resist a thing like that. His mean streak was about a mile wide.
No time to warn her. He pounced like a cat catching a bird. Held the doll above her head and laughed.
“Give it back,” she said. “Please.”
Not an order, but definitely not a beg.
He wouldn’t, though. Dangled it just out of reach, trying to make her jump for it. Got bored when she wouldn’t. He could’ve given it back, but, like I said, Jimmy was a vicious sod.
“Don’t you want it?” he said and threw it, hard as he could, so it wedged in the tree at the edge of the playground. A big old pine with needles like razors and no footholds. It hung there, that doll, like a little blue rag.
“Come on,” said Jimmy, so we left. I couldn’t resist looking back, though. She was standing there, staring up and the butterflies took off, wings beating inside my stomach.
Later, when I turned up at her house, she was sitting outside, legs pulled up, skinny arms resting on her knees. Streaks down her face like she’d been crying. Didn’t move, even when I skidded my bike so close it kicked small stones up onto her.
“Here,” I said, pulling the doll from my pocket. “Got this for you.”
For a minute, she stared, then grabbed it and held it to her face. No thank you. No nothing.
It seemed stupid all of a sudden. Scratches all over my arms and a hiding coming for taking my old man’s ladder without asking. And for what?
Then she lifted her head, and looked at me. And she smiled.
3rd Place: OK People – John Quinn
Cathy Woodman: The first line grabbed my attention and set the scene for a humorous piece of fiction. Sound characterization, introducing a clumsy actor and a flirtatious leading lady. I found myself wanting to read on to find out what happens to them. A little more attention to detail on the proofreading side would perfect your presentation.
‘Watch out!’ The boom mike swung through the air at a speed it was not designed for.
Patrick heard the warning, tried to duck and succeeded in falling inelegantly over, losing his dignity and the opportunity of being decapitated in one, unsmooth motion.
‘You bloody idiot’ Steven, the director, screamed at the boom operator, who continued to smirk inside his headphones.
Patrick picked himself up and tried to dust off his formerly immaculate white shirt ‘No great harm done,’ he smiled.
Steven was not convinced and snarled towards the boom operator ‘You could have put our star in hospital on the first day of filming… one more cock-up like that and you’re off the set.’
‘Should I go and change this shirt,’ Patrick asked.
‘Don’t bother, it’s only set up shots this morning’ Ella said before anyone else could respond ‘and I don’t mind my men being a little dirty.’
Steven knew he would have to cool his famous star’s ardour at some point and here was a golden opportunity. ”Look Ella, if you could leave the flirting until at least day two, I, for one would be most grateful. And so would our young star, wouldn’t you Patrick?’
In truth Patrick was in awe of the two times golden globe winner and three times divorced leading lady but was keen not to show it; he was, after all, an actor.
‘Ok, I’ll stick with my dirty shirt’ he said.
‘What, no reposte, no stunning one-liner, no request for me to unbutton you and rub your hairy chest better? Ella’s voice dropped an octave ‘ I’m dissappointed in you Pat. I was hoping for more…’
Patrick knew he was being paid well for this, his first starring role, but he wondered if it was going to be enough…
Steven re-exerted control ‘Ok people, positions… and action!’
Highly Commended: The Vet – Sarah Lines
Cathy Woodman: The writer created a sense of place from the very first paragraph, showing how you can find love anywhere. I enjoyed the gradual reveal of the hero’s situation, and the way his love interest is completely oblivious of her effect on men in general. Great imagery too – the daredevils crashing and burning.
Paul was tired of staring at his blank computer screen, waiting for inspiration. “Dazzle me”, his boss had said. What could anyone find remotely dazzling about selling diapers? The advertising industry was already like an overcrowded train, full of people shouting, pushing and shoving, eager to be on time for the ball game.
All he could think about was Emma. Now she was dazzling – no, even better, she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She possessed a natural beauty; luminous skin, dark glossy hair and the most entrancing violet, blue eyes. What made her even more attractive was the fact that she seemed completely oblivious to her effect on men.
Emma had only started last week but Paul had already witnessed a constant stream of male attendees at her desk. They would dream up the most pitiful excuses to go over and talk to her, ask her out for coffee, to drinks or dinner and Paul listened with some trepidation as each of these heroic daredevils crashed and burned on their first mission.
The light was beginning to fade as the working week ended. Paul tidied up his workstation, straightened his Marine Corps tie pin and slipped on his jacket. Most of his colleagues had stampeded to the elevators that would doubtless transport them to their expensive cars, gorgeous wives, laughing children and unnecessarily opulent mansions.
Paul sighed. As the elevator was about to close, Emma hurried over. Paul, unable to believe his luck, held the doors open with the edge of his wheelchair.
She smiled shyly. Her eyes sparkled.
“I was hoping you’d ask me out for a drink.”
Her English accent was so incredibly sexy.
“Would you like to…”
“Yes please”, she said.
As they made their descent, his heart soared.
Highly Commended: Later Love-Interest – David Lea
Cathy Woodman: Lovely thoughtful writing. Compelling to read. I was caught up from the first sentence. I enjoyed the way the writer gradually revealed the identity of the hero and that of his love interest. The piece gave a real feeling of how love can take you by surprise.
I never thought to fall in love again at my age, but I have all the symptoms. He is uniquely engaging and I delight in almost everything he does and says. It is obvious to me that he is more than usually physically attractive and I see that others are also drawn to his beauty. I watch for his effect on people when we are out together. Eyes are drawn to him, particularly women’s eyes. And people comment. Do I compare him with the other boys? How could I not?
I was not prepared for this at my time of life: I thought the time for giddy joy was over and had reconciled myself to the comfortable companionship of a marriage that would run its course until the death of one or both parties.
I had to try and manage the coming, inevitable decline with honour and grace. I did not expect to be taken out of myself again, to be transported.
I am more settled now: less at the mercy of his unintended or intended slights, less eager for his attention and sometimes glad to get away from him and his demands. Apart from anything else, this love is physically very demanding and I do get tired now.
My first sight of him was of a vague and blurry shape in a photograph. When his arrival was announced, I was less than enthusiastic. And when he finally arrived, he was nothing out of the ordinary: much the same as all the others. But now; now he is irreplaceable.
I am saddened that I shall not see him in his pomp, for he will surely make his mark when he is grown. He is now four and I hope he will remember this foolish, fond old man, his mother’s father.