What a shame we all could not meet for our usually June Gala meeting, but many have still enjoyed taking part in the competitions which has been great to see.
Our June competition was judged by Hampshire writer, Tamar Hodes. Her latest novel is The Water and the Wine (Hookline Books, 2018). Set on the Greek island of Hydra in the sixties, where Tamar herself lived as a child. The novel explores the lives of the artists and writers there, including Tamar’s own parents. The main focus is on Leonard Cohen and his muse and lover, Marianne. The San Francisco Review of Books called the novel ‘a very fine treasure’ and Nick Broomfield, film-maker of Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love described it as ‘beautifully written. Highly recommended.’
Please follow the link below for a Zoom interview with Tamar at the Cape Town Literary Festival in March: Watch Tamar interview here
The June competition brief was one to lift our hearts and minds and take us to our most joyous places:
Write a short story where fact and fiction meet (300 words).
Adjudicator Tamar, who is a novelist, English Tutor and Translator, kindly noted some top tips for competition entrants to consider:
“I thought the standard was really high. Judging competitions is subjective. Personally I am not a great fan of dystopian stories and find reading about the Coronavirus hard – it’s bad enough having to deal with the reality of it!
Pointers to remember:
- Use visual detail
- Don’t tell the reader what to think – lead him/her to it
- Make your tone strong and authoritative
- Credible characters are vital
- Make the setting realistic and convincing.”
The winners are:
First Place – Maggie Farran with Mermaid Rescue
Second Place – Damon L. Wakes with The Footprint in the Sand
Third Place – Graham Steed with Anna
Highly Commended – Margaret Jennings for The Visitor
First Place: Mermaid Rescue by Maggie Farran
“I loved this story with its magical realism and fantasy merging with the every day. It starts off quite normally, walking the dog on the beach and then the mermaid becomes part of that day. As the detail was so visual and clear, we were convinced of the ‘truth’ of this mermaid and it reminded me that ordinary days can often become magical. I liked the way that the writer didn’t tell us that but she led us to that realisation. The ending was clever. When she returns home, she finds the coral necklace and the pearls on the dog’s collar, again blending reality and fantasy. It was a hopeful story: on an ordinary day, nature or chance happenings can change our lives.”
Beatrice finished the crossword and looked out of the window of her seaside cot-tage. The tide was going out. It was time to take Horace for his morning walk.
She strode onto the beach. Beatrice pulled her yellow knitted hat down over her ears. Horace started to bark and attempted to rush ahead to a bright red boat that was stranded by the water’s edge. There was a misty green haze surrounding the boat.
Beatrice peered over the side. She blinked through the strange light and saw someone fast asleep in the bottom of the boat. She rubbed her eyes and stared again. Yes, there was no doubt the slumbering girl had a shiny tail with glittering scales which glowed.
Beatrice gently shook the mermaid awake. She looked confused and started to cry.
Horace went over and started to lick her fingers gently. Her face was beautiful and surrounded by long pink hair which curled over her shoulders. Her tail was the most amazing thing. It was the shape of a fish’s tail. Each scale was made up of shades of purple, pink and green that glowed brightly lighting up the grey, gloomy morning. The mermaid was trying hard to breathe. Each breath was a tremendous effort. Now she was gasping for breath. Her deep purple eyes were pleading for help.
Acting fast, Beatrice lifted her up and placed her in the shallows. A golden light flooded the whole beach and a chariot pulled by two giant seahorses swooped out from the deep blue sea. Beatrice placed the mermaid into the chariot. It disappeared into the ocean. The golden light vanished as quickly as it had come.
On returning to her cottage, Beatrice found a coral necklace and a dog collar decorated with tiny pearls had appeared on her emerald green velvet cushion.
Second Place: The Footprint in the Sand by Damon L. Wakes
“This story answered the challenge well as it mixed fact and fiction. I liked the idea of Robinson Crusoe and Alexander Selkirk meeting and their dialogue was funny but also interesting. Again, it didn’t hit the message hard that truth is stranger than fiction but led the reader to that conclusion. It raised interesting issues about characters in fiction, their inspiration and true life stories. “
One day, about noon, going towards his boat, Alexander Selkirk was exceedingly surprised with the print of a man’s naked foot on the shore, which was very plain to be seen on the sand. He stood like one thunderstruck, or as if he had seen an apparition.
Then, “Hello,” said the figure in goat skins standing right beside him.
“Aaah!” yelped Selkirk. Then, after a pause, he added: “Who the bloody hell are you?”
“I’m you!” replied the figure. “Or at least, I’m based on you. Robinson Crusoe, at your service.” He held out his hand.
Selkirk eyed him suspiciously. There was certainly something familiar about him—particularly the goat skins—but there was also something unidentifiably amiss.
“It’s true!” insisted Crusoe. “I set off in search of adventure, and then after many voyages I was shipwrecked on this island, which I’ve made my home.”
“Well first of all,” said Selkirk, “I wasn’t shipwrecked: I was marooned. Cinque Ports was taking on water, and I said to the captain ‘I’d rather stay on this island than set sail in that ship again!’ and, well…” He gestured about at the situation in general. It was pretty self-explanatory. “In hindsight perhaps I shouldn’t have been so fussy.”
“Okay, fair enough,” said Crusoe. “But besides that both our stories are exactly alike!”
“Really?” Selkirk stared at Crusoe. There was indeed something familiar about him: perhaps here was a kindred spirit after all. “You were driven off the beach by randy sea lions? You had to tame feral cats to avoid being eaten alive by vermin? You plummeted from a cliff, surviving only because you landed on a goat?”
“Ah,” said Crusoe. “Perhaps it’s more of a ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ sort of deal…”
Third prize: Anna by Graham Steed
“This was a clever story as we, like the writer, initially believed Anna’s terrible story about escaping from the Warsaw ghetto. However, the story then became implausible as Anna seemed unreliable. It raised issues about whom we believe and the way that we are more convinced by stories which are detailed, credible and heart-rending but that does not make them true. “
Let her name be Anna, which it is not, but let this story be true, which it is. Anna said she was fourteen in 1942 when she was in the Warsaw Ghetto. In 2001, she came to speak to my Access class, a group of adult women preparing for university education.
A short dumpy woman, she spoke in an engaging matter-of-fact voice about her night escape from the Ghetto. She spoke without malice. She said word had got round of the ‘Resettlement in the East’ programme due to start soon, but when SS guards surrounded the Ghetto walls it was clear that Resettlement meant nothing but a train ride to death. The only hope for escape was through Warsaw’s municipal sewers.
She said her brother had got her onto the escape list. Children fared better on the Aryan, the non-Jewish, side of Warsaw, especially if they didn’t look Jewish, and girls too, as there were so few uncircumcised boys. Determined to live, she waded waist high through stinking sewage following scouts – one of them a boy not yet 16: no talking, no crying, no stumbling – those were the rules. She made me see dark cobblestones and sewer covers. I heard the sharp stamp of jackboots and sneering laughter. I felt the menace above ground, and the defiance of Yahweh’s people below.
Then her story became vague. She said she was given a Catholic name. She said she worked on farms. A month later, the coordinator of Holocaust speakers told me Anna’s account did not add up. She was hiding something, namely, what else she did to survive outside the Ghetto – in part, therefore, Anna’s story was a fiction.
It makes no sense that Holocaust survivors should judge each other’s story. What more can fiction add to an established truth, except perhaps to support it? In my view, and with Anna’s story in mind, truth and fiction meet when one cannot outdo the other.
Highly Commended: The Visitor by Margaret Jennings
“This story was written from a child’s point of view and she did not understand what was going on between her mother and that man. The first person narration and simple language made her seem vulnerable and innocent. It was upsetting to be reminded that children do not always know what is going on but they can feel terrible unease. Again, truth and perception merged.”
He has a mouth that is loose and wider than it should be. When he smiles it takes over the whole of his face and his eyes become like two glinting swords. He is handsome, as grown-ups go. He smells of aftershave. I should not be afraid.
I am on the floor colouring. I have been here so long the pattern of the mat will be imprinted on my legs when I get up. But I can’t move. I have to stay here and listen.
My mum has a funny voice on. She is laughing even though he hasn’t said anything funny. I don’t understand. I keep my head down and colour Noddy’s car black. I have to stay here and listen.
I hear the click of his briefcase and the rustle of papers. I don’t want to look at him again. I stare at Noddy and Big Ears. The sun should be yellow, but yellow is out of reach. I can’t move. I colour the sun purple. I have to stay here and listen. Dad will be back soon.
Mum says she needs to pop upstairs. She has left me with that man. I hear the briefcase click shut. I hear Mum creak the stairs at the top. Another creak that tells me she has gone into her bedroom.
The man coughs. The sound makes me jump. I squash my face against my arm. I must not move. I have to say here and listen.
The man says he is going to the loo. He doesn’t take his shoes off. I track his movement up the stairs with my ears. He is going into Mum’s room.
I have to stay here. Dad will be home soon. Everything will be alright then.