Following on from her recent talk, ‘Creative Curiosity’, children’s author and University Lecturer, Judy Waite, set a competition to write the first 300 words of a middle-grade children’s novel, inspired by her ‘Wordtamer’ method of creativity.
The winners were:
First Place: Hush by Helen Adlam
At first I thought it had snowed. The room was so still, like a thick blanket of quiet had been wrapped around the whole cottage. I sat up in bed and lifted the corner of the curtain.
Nope. Darmoor was flat, boring and brown, same as it had been when we’d arrived yesterday. Well, there was a hint of colour, just on the horizon. Kind of purple, or maybe black? Weird. But that was it.
I grabbed my hoodie off the floor. The room was cold, probably because no one had bothered to check out the heating last night. We’d lit the log burner and played Monopoly in the little, dark sitting room, then, when my sister Jess flipped out because I wouldn’t give – yeah give – her Park Lane, I’d given up and gone to bed. The whole evening was a disaster, not helped by dad freaking us out with this ‘lone-wolf-on-the-moor’ ghost story. Which – I looked across the room, yup – which explained why Jess’s bed clearly hadn’t been slept in. She was scared of the dark at the best of times so she’d be in with mum and dad.
I went downstairs, hoping someone had got the bacon on. Or at least the kettle. Yet again, nope. No sign of anything happening there. The sitting room was just as I’d left it. I mean, literally. Which was odd. The Monopoly board was upside down on the floor and the pieces were scattered around.
I was starting to feel a bit, I dunno, bothered.
‘Mum!’ I called out. ‘Hey, M .. U … M…’ but my voice seemed to soak into the thick stone walls. ‘Dad?’ I tried. ‘Anyone?’
Upstairs, the door to mum and dad’s room was closed. The handle, cold, black, wrought iron, was stiff. I pushed down hard and eventually the catch gave. The door swung open. Without even looking I knew the room would be empty. The bed untouched. And I was right.
Second Place: The Ghostly Hand by Cass Morgan
Lucy ran out the bathroom and screamed. ‘The ghostly hand. It’s back!’
‘Again?’ My insides froze.
The door banged. Joanne barged out. ‘Eeeeeeekkk!’
‘It reached through the mirror,’ said Lucy.
‘Blue and misty fingers,’ hissed Joanne.
‘What are we going to do?’ I asked.
A voice boomed behind. ‘WHAT is going on?’
‘Aaargh!’ we shrieked.
‘QUIET!’ bellowed Mr Edwards.
‘The ghostly hand is back,’ I whispered.
Fear flickered on his face, then he blinked. His I-am-the-headmaster eyes returned. ‘Ridiculous,’ he muttered.
‘It’s true,’ said Lucy.
‘I saw it, too,’ said Joanne.
‘Did you?’ he asked me.
Lucy scowled. Joanne frowned. They looked at each other. ‘But I believe them,’ I said. And I had. Every time they’d seen it in that old mirror by the door.
‘The bathroom is out of bounds.’ Mr Edwards marched away, then marched back with a sign, a hammer and a bag of nails.
DANGER. Keep Out! it read.
Lucy shivered. ‘I left my scarf in there.’
‘Share mine,’ said Joanne, huddling close.
‘Share mine, too,’ I said.
‘I don’t want to. You didn’t believe us.’
‘I do. I’m your friend.’
‘Prove it,’ whispered Lucy. ‘Get my scarf.’
I crept to the bathroom, heart pounding don’t-go-DON’T-GO and nudged open the door.
I am scared. I should not be here.
The mirror was clear, the scarf right underneath. I bent down and grabbed it.
My head shot up. The tap had turned on and water gushed out. I stood up and turned
it off. Something brushed against my hair. My breath froze. I darted forwards, and that something grabbed my wrist.
Blue fingers clutched me, feathers and pins on my skin. The mirror misted. The hand pulled me nearer and nearer.
H-e-l-p, I mouthed. A shout no-one would hear.
Third Place: So Heroic by Annie Gray
I didn’t know cows could run.
That was my first thought.
As Toby and I stood at the foot of the hill, watching tons of cow galumphing down to
mash us into the squishy Dorset grass, my second thought was “Cows shouldn’t be
allowed to run – they look well-awkward : all rolling fat over knobbly legs”.
Finally, the thought… I should run now…
I, not we. NOT my most heroic moment – abandoning my eight-year-old brother!
Back at the campsite, Toby told Mum it was “all Layla’s fault” he’d ripped his jacket by scooting under the barbed wire fence in a panic. She harped on about how we needed to “respect the countryside code”. I didn’t dare tell her that “Cow-gate” had happened in a field marked “Keep Out”. The cows had looked chilled-out.. so there couldn’t be anything child-hazardy there !
Next day, we visited The Village. Our clapped-out car skittered along the chalky track, set high over deep valleys on one side and hills on the other. Mum used the word “majestic” LOTS …we weren’t listening. We were busy sign-spotting.
“Military Firing Range”
“Do not touch any military debris. It may explode and kill you”
Toby’s eyes were round with excitement.
When we arrived in the tiny parking area, I tuned in to Mum who was giving us one of her history lectures, “The villagers had to leave in 1943 …never allowed to return. It’s been a ghost village ever since. The public can only visit on certain days.”
I spotted crystal beads of sand littering the pavement and a sign pointed “To The Beach”. But I turned uphill – past the row of roofless cottages – to the schoolhouse. Inside, above rusting coat hooks, I found names : Violet, Walter, Dorothy…
A strange sense of anticipation razored through me…
Highly Commended: Radio Flyer by Nigel Luck
That freedom when you first learn to ride a bike is a special moment. Neil was still waiting for this moment to arrive. His friends had talked of it, but they had practised with stabilizers. Neil’s Dad thought stabilisers a waste of time. After failed attempts to remain upright and several grazed knees, his Dad had decided, ‘What he needs is an incentive!’ With this in mind he had chosen the steepest hill he could find. On the left of the narrow path, picket fences with dangerously sharp looking points, to the right ….brambles, with the nastiest looking thorns Neil had ever seen. And now he was sat on the bike his Dad clutching the back of the seat.
‘You won’t let go will you?’ asked Neil shakily.
‘Of course not’ replied Dad, ‘I’ll be right behind you. Now peddle!’
The bike took off rapidly and picked up speed.
‘You’re doing it!’ shouted a voice from behind, a bit too far behind Neil thought. He turned to see his Dad still stood at the top of the hill. He panicked, the bike wobbled and the front wheel hit a bump launching it into the air, but Neil didn’t stop peddling and the bike didn’t come down. Instead it continued to rise above the roofs of the houses. Below he could see the Grover’s from number 25 staring up at him. The bike flew past the street and to the beech. With no idea how to stop as he headed out over the sea he had two thoughts, firstly, riding a bike was actually fun and secondly he wished he’d packed a snack.
Later that night as Neil’s Dad tried to explain to his wife why he’d launched their son from the top of a hill, the Grover’s were being interviewed on the news ‘We thought it was a plane at first’ they said. Which was exactly the moment Neil could no longer continue peddling and his bike plunged towards the sea.
Highly Commended: Remembering Lilliput by Mark Eyles
Tiny villagers cowered in their model village as the sea breeze whistled above. Peering from windows they saw a giant shadow moving by, Harry Pebbles the village attendant locking up for the night. Tommy Minstrel was sitting, banjo on his lap, waiting for the village to be closed, the visitors all gone. He glanced at the ‘no music’ sign, a trumpet with a red line slashed through it, and sighed. A giant face swung passed the nook window of The Gallows’ Basket Inn where Tommy was quietly sitting. The giant’s eye winked. There followed a loud clang and rattle of chains.
Sea breeze and silence.
With a collective outbreath the tiny villagers relaxed and started talking, finally able to safely leave their houses. The giants who loomed oppressively over them during the day were gone. The villagers came out of hiding into the twilight, no longer fearing the sounds they made. Tommy took up his banjo and started plucking The Lilliput Lament, a song of the faraway land their forebears came from, escaping an oppressive regime. Playing under the ‘no music’ sign, the first song of the evening always felt like an act of rebellion.
Though they had freedom in their village, they knew discovery was death. Their new giant neighbours did not understand them, apart from Harry who made sure the well was always full, the food store replenished.
Tommy struck up ‘I May Be Tiny, But I Am Free’. As villagers joined him in the Inn, Tommy’s eyes briefly glazed with tears. He clutched the banjo tightly, his voice rising above the stamp of dancing feet.