December Competition Results – Daniel Clay

Our adjudicator for the December competition was Harper Press’ acclaimed author Daniel Clay. As well as being nominated in 2008 as one of Amazon’s best eight debut novels, his novel Broken was shortlisted for the Best First Novel Award by both The Commonwealth Writers’ and The Authors’ Club. It was made into a film by BBC Films. His second novel is SWAP.

Daniel was a pleasure to work with and wanted to add that he does try to help anyone who gets in touch. The site is where the Q&A section is great as there’s some really good advice in there from a couple of top agents and writers, plus the writers have also shared their successful slush-pile letters and synopses.

Daniel’s comments:

Thanks to everyone who sent entries in. There were 33 in total and, as with the last time I judged a HWS competition, I thought the standard of writing was excellent. I also really enjoyed the diversity of the entries, with very few writers choosing to write about the same themes and those who did taking very different approaches.

I found picking a shortlist almost impossible; after reading through each entry a couple of times I began to discard any which definitely weren’t going to make my final five, and even though I discarded plenty I really rated, I was still left with thirteen to choose from, so, if your story isn’t among the ones mentioned here, please don’t think it means I didn’t enjoy reading it, especially The Walking Shadow by David Lea, Hack Gang by Sally Howard, Seal the Book by Jane Howard and Spy by Rebecca Welton, all of which really impressed me.


1st Place: Teaser by Sally Russell

2nd Place: The Changeling by Scott Goldie

3rd Place: Sold by Kristin Tridimas

Commended: Tell No One by Linda Welch and The Road to Amber by James Lee


First Place – Teaser by Sally Russell

Daniel Clay: Sally has done a great job giving her main character good reason to stumble across the secret she uncovers and also gives us enough back-story to understand why Chloe feels betrayed by what she has seen. Kamara’s gloating, when confronted, is a brilliant example of show, not tell, and Chloe’s jubilation at finding her friend’s weak-spot right at the death, struck me as superb. I especially loved the description of the dusty window of an art room door, like see-through graph paper, scored with lines, which gave the opening’s pivotal scene a real edge of realism and left me feeling as if I was standing behind Chloe, seeing everything Chloe could see.

‘I saw you.’

‘What? Where?’ Kamara glanced at me from under her blackened eyelashes.

‘You know where. Last night. After school.’ I was gratified to see the flush creeping up from her neck. ‘You can’t do that.’


‘ ‘Cos he’s mine.’

For three years, since I was (even I admit it) a pimply red-haired thirteen-year-old, I had harboured lustful thoughts about Mr Dyer. Most cool art teacher ever. Now, my new bezzie, Kamara, had got there first.

The previous evening I had left my iPod in my art room locker. I had gone back to rescue it from the thieving fingers that haunted Western High in the evening shadows. I had gripped the door handle, then paused. Mr Dyer and Kamara were standing by the store cupboard. He touched her. He stroked her hair. I could only just see them as I peered through the dusty window of the art room door. The glass was like see-through graph paper, scored with lines. It was smudged with the mucky fingerprints of the budding art students who pushed it open every day.

Except last night it was locked.

I felt sick.

‘Jealous, Chloe?’ Kamara smirked.

‘Just don’t go there.’

She laughed. It grated on my nerves.

‘Kev and I are in love.’

‘Kev? Kev!’ I seethed. I looked at her raven hair, her olive skin. No amount of conditioner or hair-straighteners ever tamed my auburn mane. I felt my nails dig hard into my palms.

‘Didn’t you know that’s his name?’

‘You’ve only been here since Christmas.’ It sounded lame, even to me. ‘And you’re younger than me.’

‘I’m sixteen in August.’

‘Aren’t you supposed to have an arranged marriage?’

‘Not gonna happen.’

‘No, it won’t. Not when your brothers find out.’

Kamara blinked.

Got her, I thought.

Second Place – The Changeling, by Scott Goldie

When my sister Lucy was six months old, she was stolen. Only I know she is gone because only I saw the awful creature that took her.

When I woke that night, I knew something was wrong. I have always trusted my instincts. My grandmother would say I was touched.

I knew it was the creature I had glimpsed a few nights before. I also knew why it had come.


My room was black, except for a thin blade of moonlight cutting across my desk.

I lay there for a moment, shivering slightly. I had no wish to see the creature up close.

However, I tugged at the duvet, sent it whispering across the bed, and levered myself up. The frame creaked as my weight left it. I prayed the noise would go unnoticed.

My bare feet glided across the floorboards. I pulled at my bedroom door. My teeth clenched, anticipating a betraying creak.

It never came.

I moved towards the open doorway of Lucy’s room, saw that the window was thrown open, letting in a cool breeze, making the curtains billow. I crossed to her cot. A shadowy bundle lay there.

It was Lucy, sound asleep. I let out the breath I’d been holding and leaned against the cot.

A strange cooing snatched my attention. A figure was perched on the windowsill, silhouetted in the moonlight. Hunched over, knees folded up to its chest, its long arms clutched something wrapped in a blanket.


It stroked its prize with a long finger, cooed again, wide mouth filled with pointed teeth. I blinked and it had gone.

A terrible, icy feeling gripped me. I had no doubt that it had taken my sister.

But then, if it had Lucy, what now slept in her cot?


2nd Place:

The Changeling by Scott Goldie

Daniel Clay: Opens with an arresting line, but then builds to an even better closing line which promises a great story to follow for any horror fans out there. In-between, I really enjoyed the descriptive writing; terms such as ‘blade of moonlight’, ‘betraying creak’, ‘stroked its prize’ were perfect for the mood being set. I especially enjoyed the use of the word ‘cooing’ in such a different context to usual. I’ll certainly never coo over a baby again!

When my sister Lucy was six months old, she was stolen. Only I know she is gone because only I saw the awful creature that took her.

When I woke that night, I knew something was wrong. I have always trusted my instincts. My grandmother would say I was touched.

I knew it was the creature I had glimpsed a few nights before. I also knew why it had come.


My room was black, except for a thin blade of moonlight cutting across my desk.

I lay there for a moment, shivering slightly. I had no wish to see the creature up close.

However, I tugged at the duvet, sent it whispering across the bed, and levered myself up. The frame creaked as my weight left it. I prayed the noise would go unnoticed.

My bare feet glided across the floorboards. I pulled at my bedroom door. My teeth clenched, anticipating a betraying creak.

It never came.

I moved towards the open doorway of Lucy’s room, saw that the window was thrown open, letting in a cool breeze, making the curtains billow. I crossed to her cot. A shadowy bundle lay there.

It was Lucy, sound asleep. I let out the breath I’d been holding and leaned against the cot.

A strange cooing snatched my attention. A figure was perched on the windowsill, silhouetted in the moonlight. Hunched over, knees folded up to its chest, its long arms clutched something wrapped in a blanket.


It stroked its prize with a long finger, cooed again, wide mouth filled with pointed teeth. I blinked and it had gone.

A terrible, icy feeling gripped me. I had no doubt that it had taken my sister.

But then, if it had Lucy, what now slept in her cot?


3rd Place:

Sold by Kristin Tridimas

Daniel Clay: Really stood out from first read-through. I was really impressed by the depth of character motivation, with Kristin making sure the main character, Jenna, had good reason to be somewhere she shouldn’t be and then good reason to investigate what was going on there. Small details – such as Jenna unthinkingly using the torch on her phone – rang true for a character of school-age, whereas I’d have stumbled around in the dark, completely forgetting to use the app on my phone. Also, I thought, the title was brilliant in terms of telling part of the story; had it not been called Sold, I think it would have been impossible for the last two lines to carry the emotional weight that they did.

Jenna had time on her hands. College was over for the day.

She couldn’t go home and risk walking in on Mum and Beer Belly Dave bonking on the sofa. The sight had scarred her for life. Not to mention it now meant the sofa was definitely a no-go area.

Her friends Rachel and Ted were stuck in the science labs for another hour.

Their fault for choosing chemistry. When they were eventually free, the three of them would go down to town to Mike’s Cafe, drink hot chocolate and attempt to hear each other over the chatter. So there was no point going townwards.

She did what she always did and headed up the hill to stare at the big stone building which had once been the object of her dreams. As soon as she knew she wanted to be a newspaper reporter, she also knew that one day she would work in those offices. Except she was wrong. Penchester Gazette had closed down a year ago. Before she’d even had time to do work experience.

She stared at the boarded up windows.

Suddenly, she saw movement.

A corner twitched.

A flash of pink.

She crossed over to look more closely.

Something was drawing her in. A journalistic instinct.

Her heart thumped as she lifted the loose board. Peered into the gloom.

Ghostlike empty desks. They taunted her with what might have been.

Her eyes adjusted.

Something moved behind one of the desks.

“Hello,” she whispered.

And then she did something that she would never normally do. Lifting the board, she climbed in. Switched on the torch on her phone. Crept towards the back.

Crouching behind a desk, looking at her with terrified eyes, was an Asian girl.

The girl shrank back. “Please,” she begged.


Highly Commended

Daniel Clay: Both were well written and well paced and left me with a sense there were full-blown stories to follow. In each case, I felt the story was going a certain way, yet each ended on a totally different note, which is a great demonstration of talent over only 300 words.

Tell No One by Linda Welch

‘If you don’t go to sleep right this minute, Father Christmas won’t come,’ Mum called up the stairs.

We’d played this game ever since I’d first called back, ‘Silly Mummy, Father Christmas doesn’t exist.’

Every year, Dad had come bounding up the stairs, saying in a stage whisper, ‘Shhh! Don’t tell her that, she still believes in him!’

Last year, when I was thirteen, it had still made me laugh, but this year there was no Dad, and I didn’t know what to say. Judging by the stifled sob from downstairs, Mum had forgotten for a split second that, just like Father Christmas, we wouldn’t see Dad tonight, or any other night.

I ran downstairs to find her wiping her eyes on the corner of the tea-towel. She tried to smile when she saw me, but it wasn’t a real smile, it didn’t reach her eyes.

‘Let’s make a new tradition,’ she said. ‘Instead of mince pies and sherry for Father Christmas, let’s make it hot chocolate and marshmallows for us.’

‘OK,’ I said, but really I wanted everything to stay the same. Most of all, I wanted Dad to still be alive.

Something woke me that night. I sat up in bed and reached for the bedside light, but a movement by the door made me freeze. Father Christmas?

‘Shh!’ came voice I knew so well. Father Christmas moved silently to the edge of the bed and pulled off his hood and false beard.


Surely I had to be dreaming? But his arms were warm as he hugged me, and his voice was soft and familiar as he whispered in my ear.

‘I shouldn’t have come, but I had to see you just once more. Everyone has to believe I’m dead, it’s the only way you’ll be safe.’


The Road to Amber by James Lee

Matthew stared at the black attaché briefcase, lying innocuously on the table before him. It once belonged to his Grandfather, and he had salvaged it from his Mother’s clearing of the attic, his only reasoning being that it was locked; a siren call to anyone interested in puzzles. It was not particularly sturdy, and a good knife could easily undo any protection the combination lock feebly offered, yet he resisted the urge. To do so would be a violation, an admittance of defeat to the coder, so instead he contemplated.

He recalled reading somewhere that a staggering proportion of number passcodes were a sequence of dates that held sentiment to the owner. For example, his parents’ laptop key was

271185, the date they first met. His Grandfather had often told the anecdote how he had been born on the 7th minute of the 7th hour of the 7th day, so Matthew half-heartedly swivelled the dials round to create this triple 7, a number dear to gamblers, Christians and aircraft manufacturers. To his disappointment the mouth popped open cordially: empty.

He closed the case and made to carry it to the skip to join its discarded brethren, when he paused. Something, a fragment, rattled about his head and refused to be lost to memory. He set the case down again, opened it, examined the corners, felt lining, frame, to no avail. What were they hiding?

He picked it up again, then realised: the case was far too heavy to be empty. His fingers groped around the edges of the inside, until his left thumb rested on a nodule under the lining upon the left border. His right thumb traced the felt until it halted at an identical one opposite. Matthew pressed, then the case opened once more, and not so cordially.



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.





October 2015 Competition – Carolin Esser-Miles

Our thanks to Carolin for adjudicating the October competition. The winners, their pieces and Carolin’s comments are below.


1st place Lest We Forget by Louise Morrish

2nd Place Ghost Train by Paul Beattie

3rd prize It Comes to Us All by Wendy Fitzgerald


1st place Lest We Forget by Louise Morrish

Carolin Esser-Miles: Lest we forget follows a slow pace, but one which is fitting for the dreary inevitability that imprisons both the narrator and his ghost. Both are beyond terror, and suspense is not what drives this story for the readers either. What makes this story special is that in all its horror and pain it is a story about forgiveness, and about letting go of the ghosts we can, by owning up, by giving up our defences and asking for help. Again, this is no story of bravery, but of nothing left to fight. And that makes it so human, so real. And in the middle of all that we find a miracle: forgiveness. But the story remains true. Some ghosts continue to haunt us no matter what we do. The story’s message is as profound as it is simple. Telling it in 300 words takes skill.

Last night the soldier came to me again, a vision in mud. I could hear his slow, rasping breaths, the sound louder than the gale outside rattling the window panes, and it was this that woke me. There he stood, in the shadows at the foot of my bed, dark and unmoving. The reek of the trenches came off him, a poisonous mix of rancid mud, rotting flesh, and the burnt tang of cordite. The smell caught at the back of my throat, familiar and dreadful, taking me straight back to that hell.

He didn’t speak, but he had no need to; we both knew the reason he came, every year, without fail. The events of that fateful day are seared on my brain, the sights we both witnessed burnt into my memory for ever more.

There was no need for words at all, German or English.

The match flame shook as I lit a candle. I knew I wouldn’t sleep again, and self-pity brought hot tears to my eyes. I was tired to my bones already, without this.

I think it must have been exhaustion that made me do what I did next. Now, in the pale light of a new morning, I truly can’t believe I had the nerve.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said, my voice all but drowned by the soldier’s laboured breaths. ‘Forgive me, please.’

A silence fell; even the glass in the window ceased its rattle.

It was as though I had spoken a charm. His presence, that had filled my thoughts and dreams for so long, began to ebb away. Gradually, his form dissolved into the shadows, and the room threw off its strange chill.

Until all that remained was the sickly sour reek of the trenches.

But that, I fear, will never leave me.


2nd Place Ghost Train by Paul Beattie

Carolin Esser-Miles: One of the most suspenseful stories in the competition, Ghost Train plays with conventions in humorous way. The short sentence structures and frequent and quick shifts in perspective and train of thought of our preoccupied narrator prevent the reader from analysing too closely until the conceit is complete. What is particularly interesting is that the conceit, in fact, is again the classic stereotype which we all looked out for in the beginning and from which we got side tracked. A brief survey of readers highlights the effectiveness of the ending: a tongue in cheek acknowledgement – ‘Of course not’ – of what we should have known all along. He is the Kennington Ghost, and there he stays.

The red light stares stubbornly from the darkness, the glimmer picking out a few frames of the tunnel’s structure. Held in the Loop. You can be stuck here for hours waiting for a signal to release you. Well, it seems like it, buried somewhere deep on the Northern Line between Kennington and the Oval. Soon be heading back to Charing Cross and the shift’s end, nothing to do but wait. The old lags tease the youngsters about the Kennington ghosts; bodies unearthed when building the line, lost trackmen in the tunnels. All nonsense of course.

My shoulders stiffen; it’s just the muffled drumming of a train somewhere in the dark. The signal will change soon, it must. My palm, glued to the control leaver, is getting sweaty. It’s always warm down in the deep. No. It’s cold. I can see my breath in front of me. The heater must have packed up. Come on, come on. What’s taking so long? Damn the bloody signals!

What was that? A connecting door just slammed. Must have left it open when I checked my carriages were empty, the vibrations of that train must have made it shut. Hah! Kennington Ghost you old fool! Hang on, that was another door, closer. Surely I can’t have missed a passenger. Bloody hell it’s getting cold in here. Come on, change damn you!

That was the door to the last carriage, it had to be. Did I lock the driver’s door? There’s footsteps. Please change, please. Green! Oh thank you God! The brake won’t release, it’s jammed! I can’t move it, my hand keeps slipping off.

My door slams open…It’s Harry.

“Bloody hell Harry! I thought you were the Kennington Ghost!”

He doesn’t see me. Of course not, I’m the Kennington Ghost, and here I stay.


3rd prize It Comes to Us All by Wendy Fitzgerald

Carolin Esser-Miles: A lot of us tend to be rather melodramatic when it comes to death and ghosts. ‘It comes to us All’ acknowledges that – through capitalisation of the Big Words, through hints at a possible violent death. Its focus, however, stays firmly on the ordinary. Our waiting ghosts are not impatient ghosts. The emotions that prevail are acceptance and even a sense of peace, though maybe more that of a shared moment of respite between two attacks. The story is skilfully written and flows calmly and naturally. It is complete as it is, as a vignette, but it can equally lead into a short story or even a novel. Amongst all the clichés, this is a story of love, and it teaches us a valuable lesson, not through regret, but through example: How to live one’s life in the moment.

You’d think they’d hear us, as they pass through the graveyard; laying their flowers, indulging in their tears – oh, I suppose we’ve got rather blasé about it, but we’ve seen it so often, believe me!   But yes, it’s been a while since I stopped off here, pausing on my Way. We sit around, often on that very bench that you rest on, gossiping and bickering loudly about the injustices of Life.

That’s why I am still here. A spirit, a ghost – whatever you might like to call me – I still have burning issues. But today, Mrs Thomas and I are simply watching the grave-digger as he works.   Mrs Thomas is expecting her husband to join her soon, and then she can Pass properly. She simply could not bear to Leave without him. It never fails to astound me the deep and profound love that one human being can have for another – sometimes I feel it almost outweighs the hatred and evil that I so often saw in Life.

Mrs Thomas watches the earthly man at work, with some satisfaction. His burly arms wielding the spade; the sweat on his brow.   It won’t be long now. She tells me an anecdote about her wedding day, and I smile with her. I wish that mine had been so joyous – but I was Taken way before my time and won’t Rest until I see my worldly remains discovered – or at least see my fiancées lovely face again. Whatever you may have heard, we cannot avenge – but we can simply wait for our loved ones to catch us up.

The earthly man has finished his task; Mrs Thomas sits back, contented.

And now Mr Thomas stores his spade, washes his hands, and leaves unsuspectingly for home.


Commendation – Abominable by Louise Morrish

Carolin Esser-Miles: The story plays with the literary register of seafaring novels in the frame of Melville or Conrad well. A leisurely pace comes to a more intensified delivery just in time for a sudden realisation of an inescapable fate that grips the reader with cold, clammy hands around their throat.

Mr Jones, the Second Mate, swears blind he saw a ghost last night. At least, that’s what he claims. I must admit, it’s quite refreshing to have a new topic of conversation, as all the crew and scientists talk of at present are ice leads, and dwindling supplies, and seafaring superstitions. One such myth portends to the ghost Jones says he saw; if a ship’s bell rings of its own accord, somebody on board is destined to die.

This morning, Benson the surgeon had to give Jones a dose of chloral and bromide of potassium to calm him, he was that frightened after his shift. Jones was so worked up, in fact, that we nearly came to blows when I suggested that he may have imagined the incident. I will record what he told us, as accurately as my memory permits.

He was on his way to the bridge to begin midnight watch, when he heard a strange noise off the port bow, like a bairn crying and wailing. ‘It weren’t no seal made a sound like that,’ Jones said.

He looked out into the black, and as the moon slipped from behind a cloud he saw a figure, away on the ice. He watched as it floated nearer; a tall, grey-white creature. ‘Most definitely not a bear.’

This thing got to within feet of the ship, before simply vanishing, and then Jones heard the ship’s bell toll once, clear as day, but there was no wind last night.

And no one up on deck save himself.

Jones has vowed never to set foot on the ice after sundown, which is all very well to say now, but what happens when we can go no further in the ship and must take to the sledges?

What will he do then?


Commendation – Devotion by Gill Hollands

Carolin Esser-Miles: Devotion packs a very important message into 300 short words. It is a story about love, and about the right person being there to help and care.  It works because of exact timings, sketched hints and fitting clues. With just a little more space to help the reader follow through the various cognitive jumps this will be a very powerful story.

I peel open my eyes to twilight, the slide of shoes: whispers, beeping machines. I know that smell…

‘Don?’ My throat scratches.

I feel his cold hand take mine; smile up into his welling eyes. His voice had kept me going in the darkness, dragged me back from oblivion.

‘Ah! You’re awake! Welcome back!’ I jump. The nurse smiles down at me. ‘You’ve been in a coma for 9 weeks, since your accident. Do you remember anything?’

I shake my head, trying to claw through fog.

‘Well, don’t fret. It’ll come back in time.’ She scribbles a few notes on her clipboard. ‘I’ll tell Doctor you’re awake…’ She vanishes. Don squeezes my hand.

Before we can say a word, another nurse takes her place.

‘Let’s get you off all these wires and things, eh?’ She bustles around me. It’s all so exhausting…

Don makes a drink sign, sneaks out, rolling his eyes, blowing a kiss. I can still feel the touch of his fingers…

I sleep, as if I haven’t had enough. Don is always there when I surface, soothing, my rock. The doctors come and go, the nurses ever present. I seem never to have a moment to talk to him.

The children are there when I next wake, tearful. They take my hands in their warm ones.

‘They wanted us to tell you, Mum…’ My son stops, gulping.

‘You need to know… We lost Dad. Head trauma. It was quick. He didn’t suffer.’ My daughter’s eyes fill.

I stare up at them, confused.

‘But -’ I glance over at their father, standing by the door behind them. He nods.

‘They said it would help if you knew…’

‘He brought me back…’

Don blows kisses from the doorway, fading into the gloom.

It feels good not to weep alone.




September 2016 Competition Results – Robin Mukherjee

What an amazing start to the season. As always, it has been a pleasure having the support of Robin Mukherjee, Screenwriter and PlaywrightThe winning pieces, including Robin’s comments, for the September competition are below.

Congratulations to…

1st Place. Joanne Tomlinson – In Between.

2nd Place. Geoff Harrington (David Eadsforth) – The Day The Earth Moved.

3rd Place. Wendy Fitzgerald – One Meeting.

Commendations. Honey Stavonhagen – Fishing with Tyko and Rosie Sutcliffe – Tiger Tour 

1st Place: Joanne Tomlinson – In Between.

Robin Mukherjee: I thought this is quite brilliant. It took a couple of reads before its subtleties began to seep in, but they soon became unforgettable. It also takes its subject beyond the obvious into a very startling and rather beautiful dimension.

I was looking down on myself, but paying little attention to that or to the voices until he arrived. He appeared on my bed, sat with his profile to me, a dark hoodie pulled up over his head, obscuring most of his features.

There was an unpleasant smell of ether and a soft beeping noise.

A shadowy figure in green pyjamas brought in an unassuming cool box holding my future and his past on ice.

The boy turned to me, pulling the hood from his head, revealing a sticky, matted mop of black hair. I felt his nascent testosterone invading me.

A memory flickered, not mine, of a car bonnet crumpled up to the steering wheel. Another, mine this time, of drowning, gulping air, frantic, gulp, panic.

He began to remove the pile of bricks balanced on my chest, which suddenly were almost unbearable. One by one, easing my discomfort, he told me that everything would be alright now, and his certainty helped me bear it.

It took all my strength to reach for his hand and squeeze it in solidarity and gratitude.

As he squeezed back I felt a warmth surge through my cold body, I broke the surface of the water and gasped deep, life giving breaths through my new lungs.

His hand slipped from my grasp as I felt his heart beat for the first time…


2nd Place: Geoff Harrington (David Eadsforth) – The Day The Earth Moved.

Robin Mukherjee: This is funny and sweet, a very simple story but with a rich world around it, delivering a genuine sense of OMG. The title is multi-layered and rather cheeky. A lovely read.

Jack woke in an instant, his senses assailed by a confusing jumble of sights and sounds. The room was shaking violently and there was a loud rumbling the like of which he had never heard before. No mistake; this was an actual earthquake! He leapt naked from the bed and ran for the door, wrenched it open and strode outside. He froze; across the corridor stood a naked woman, her eyes wide with astonishment.

“Oh my God!” he cried.

“Oh my God!” she echoed.

Both turned to face the corridor walls.

“Was that an earthquake?” he asked. “I didn’t wait to grab my bath robe!”

“Yes; neither did I!”

“I don’t want to go back for it, but I don’t want to go downstairs like this either!”

“Nor me! Wait; it’s not shaking any more; let’s sit down for a moment.”

Seconds later they were sitting, backs to the corridor walls, arms around knees drawn up to their chins, staring at the ceiling.

“Um, I’m Jack…”

“I’m Carol; um, what are you doing here?”

“Off-season city break for the museums; they’ve some of the finest in Europe.”

“Coincidence; me too! My friends think I’m nuts…” She grinned. “Was that a half-decent six pack I saw?”

He smiled self-consciously.

“Perhaps; I’m in a rowing club. Actually, I didn’t notice too many spare inches on you either.”

“Thank you, kind sir; I’m a rather serious swimmer.”

“Wonder if it’s safe to get our robes now and join the other guests…”


She stood up abruptly; modesty clearly set aside for a moment, and held out her hand. He smiled, got to his feet and shook it.

“Nice to meet you Carol; fancy seeing the museums together?”

“That would be nice.”

“See you at breakfast?”

“If you’ll recognise me with my clothes on…”


3rd Place: Wendy Fitzgerald – One Meeting.

Robin Mukherjee: This is poignant and moving, with a sharp twist that hurts. It raises rather than answers what might in the end be unanswerable questions, and offers a sense of desolation mixed with a complex tone of joy. A rich potage of powerful emotions.

To my Comrade in Arms:

I have thought of you so often

When night casts its terrors over me and no stars can be seen.

It was so many years ago now –

I am grown old and frail; my final days cannot be long

The days of reckoning crowd upon me

And my need to go fearless into the night.

Did you have a family like me? A wife, two little girls,

Who waited for you at home, and cried themselves to sleep?

The sense of seeing, feeling music

In everything you did?

Did you hide in that barn, in that desolate foreign land, alone;

Mad with hunger and thirst, dreaming of their arms?

When you faced me, gun in trembling hands

Fear bulging in your eyes

Did you think – it’s me, or him?

And when I dropped my arm and waved to you,

‘Go! Run!’

Did you think to kill me even then?

I’ve led a life of pain and joy;

A life so special, because it nearly was not;

And I’ve you to thank for that.

Now as my days close; the dark winter outside interminable,

I think of you so often; what might have been.

And I need to say ‘forgive me.’

You turned your back to flee …

And I shot you.

I can see the red haze of your blood before my eyes

Your body twitch to still.

And I know we won’t meet again, my friend

For you will be in heaven

And I will be in hell.


Commendation: Honey Stavonhagen – Fishing with Tyko.

Robin Mukherjee: A startling and evocative snapshot, which perfectly captures the weather, the atmosphere, and the awkwardness of two worlds coming together.

‘How old are you?’ The words were all correct but something about the way the boy placed them was wrong. Effie let the question sit on the surface for a while before soaking it up like a warm, wet snowball.

‘I’m…’ Papa liked to say that people who chose to mark birthdays or count years had too much food and too few worries. Effie agreed, so she gave the answer her Mama used to give the doctors before all her hair fell out in soft, brown clumps. ‘I’m as old as I’ve ever been, but not as old as I’m going to be.’ She shivered, as the cold wind bore through her thin coat like a tired lie.

The boy looked up at her then, his face emerging from a halo of fur and something in the glint of his eyes startled Effie into staring longer than she’d intended. He returned her gaze with a blunt one of his own, until the little wooden rod jerked sharply tugging at his attention.

‘You’ve caught a fish.’ Effie said, noting the layer of accusation floating on her voice.

‘Not yet, I haven’t.’ The fish lurking underneath them bent the rod into a question mark bobbing on the dead, black heart of the lake. Ice crystals had already begun to rebuild their spidery web, threatening the edge of the hole he had cut in the ice. Here, fishing was a race against time, not the meandering pastime it had been at home. Home.   Effie wiped the word away with the back of her sleeve, her woollen mitten clawing at her lips.

This boy, crouched down wrestling an unseen fish, was the only other child in the long valley and therefore Effie’s sole prospect of friendship. It was going to be a long winter.


Commendation: Rosie Sutcliffe – Tiger Tour.

Robin Mukherjee: Beautiful phrasing such as, ‘His body an exclamation mark amongst the seething throng of bodies.’  The characters are quickly and fully established in complex layers, the world powerfully tangible and convincing with its intriguing promise of adventure.

David shuffled a few steps forward in the desultory queue of passengers, his body shaped like an apology from years of ‘excuse me’s,’ ‘sorrys,’ ‘pardons.’

A man who could never quite meet expectations, either those of himself or others.

This was by far the most exciting thing David had done in his entire forty-seven years of life. Spurred on by a small inheritance and the realisation that watching David Attenborough on television was not equal to seeing a Bengal

Tiger in it’s natural environment with his own eyes, David had booked on

‘Tiger Tours India.’

Stepping out tentatively from the airport, the brilliance, heat, aromas, vibrant colours and speed of ceaseless movement assaulted him like a gang of thugs.

Initially terrified, David had a choice to take the familiar route of hiding in fear or to embrace this experience and meet it head on. Whilst in a quandary of indecision he felt a tap on his shoulder and spun around.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you jump, but I saw your baggage label. I’m on

‘Tiger Tours’ as well and can’t see the tour guide anywhere. They are supposed to meet us at the airport, aren’t they? This is the first time I’ve travelled alone and I feel like a fish out of water.” She gabbled nervously, gentle hazel eyes wide with tremulous anxiety.

David smiled warmly, confidence growing, spreading like a fire within him.

“Don’t worry. Let’s walk down here a bit further and if we don’t spot our guide then we can begin the adventure early by catching a rickshaw to the first hotel and wait for him there.”

Taking both cases, David strode forward, his body an exclamation mark amongst the seething throng of bodies.




June 2016 Competition Results

It has been a pleasure working with Adrienne Dines, our adjudicator for June. The time between the dead-line and the event was generous which allowed Adrienne to read and comment on your entries, she was even kind enough to choose two commended and has also shared her observations for them. There were 21 entries this month.

Adrienne’s individual comments can be read below with the winning entries. The winners are:

1st Prize: ‘For The Dead and The Living’ by Mari Thomas

2nd Prize: ‘A Lovers Reunion’ by Kristin Tridimas

3rd Prize: ‘Waiting’ by Andrea Parr


Lovers Reunion’ by Wendy Fitzgerald

‘Peter and Karen’ by Scratch

We feel that we have been asking a lot from our adjudicators as the entry cut-off date and the event are sometimes very close, so please note that from September the cut-off date will be noon on the 25th of the previous month. Also, to keep the competition fair, entries will be restricted to one entry per member. Don’t forget to read the full competition rules on our website.

Enjoy the summer and keep writing,



1st Place:

For The Dead And The Living by Mari Thomas             

Adrienne Dines: Written in second person, this is very skilful storytelling. The reader is forced to feel every tense moment as our heroine approaches her reunion. We don’t know the nature of their relationship but we can feel the damage it caused her and we worry for her now. Skilful use of pacing to keep us waiting, wonderful strong voice. This was a clear winner for me.

You are sitting in the most uncomfortable chair of your life, the metal digging into your shoulder blades. Sweaty hands clench into fists; you have to force yourself not to fiddle with your clothes.

Opposite you, two court bailiffs are staring you down. You miss Sally, your contact from the UKPPS, but you know she can’t be here. Too much publicity. Too high a chance that she’ll become the lynch pin in someone else’s carefully crafted fake life.

Inhale. Exhale. You can do this.

The door opens. You’re beckoned forward. You go.

So this is it – the final call to arms. A battle of suits and jargon and you are the centre fighter. The king on the chessboard. You end the game.

This is, you realise, the most important thing you will ever do.

With each successive step, you can feel yourself regressing, falling back into your old identity. You dyed your hair blond for this, you remember, and it itches at your scalp.

You’ll feel better when it’s brown again.

He’s the very first thing you see when you enter the courtroom. You wonder if he has a new lover now, if he has someone else to smear with blood and kiss in the middle of his self-created carnage. You wonder if he’s found another person to tear apart.

You take your seat.

As you state your name and date of birth for the record, he stares at you. His eyes are wide, as if he never saw this coming. Good. You hope it’s unexpected. You hope he never forgets this moment. You hope it feels like the worst sort of betrayal.

“And what,” asks the prosecutor, “is your relationship to the accused?”

You look out at the courtroom. Take a deep breath.

“He’s my husband.”


2nd Place:

A Lovers’ Reunion by Kristin Tridimas

Adrienne Dines: The tension between the exterior and interior voice works perfectly in this story. In a few carefully chosen words and phrases the whole backstory is filled in and we don’t need to know what happens afterwards, only that our heroine will not fall prey to this Lothario again. Beautiful controlled writing.

“May I introduce Paul Armstrong,” says the vice-consul and she slides away, her duty done.

I recognise him straight away: tall, erect, ice-blue eyes, his dark hair now silver at the temples. The slightly cruel twist of his mouth caused by a tiny scar; the result of a childhood accident. He stands out from the small group of talkers. And even after twenty years, I find my heart beats faster and my palms feel cold with sweat.

“We’ve met.” I give my professional smile, perfected over the years: neutral, dispassionate, efficient.

In a bar. Or a nightclub. I forget.

I hold out my hand. For the briefest second my skin touches his and I look into the blue of his eyes.

Flesh on flesh; thigh on thigh; his lips on mine. The sweet smell of pheromones mixed with aftershave.

“It’s been a while,” he says and the warm blanket of his voice has deepened. His eyes send coded messages.

Someone in the group says something. I respond, an automaton; I know the protocol.

“What are you doing now?” I ask Paul as soon as I can, the measured politeness in my voice disguising my curiosity.

I never really knew what he did. It didn’t matter.

My brain whirrs. I should move on, forget him.

Secret kisses. Snatched moments. Anonymous hotel rooms.

“This and that.” He smiles and his scar stretches into oblivion. “I import British shoes. They’re very popular here.”

I sense a familiar frisson of danger.

I didn’t find out he was married until I was already in too deep.

“And look at you, Celia,” he says. Haven’t you done well?”

I nod; smile politely. False modesty. I’m proud of where I’ve got.

Right on cue, there’s a low murmur in my ear. “Ambassador?”


3rd Place:

Waiting by Andrea Parr

Adrienne Dines: Lovely romantic reunion. The backstory is fed into the woman’s waiting and her pregnancy is hidden until he acknowledges it. We are given clues – the to milky tea, her discomfort – but we have to wait for the ‘ah ha’ moment to realise. A good example of showing, not telling! I particularly liked how this writer varied her sentence lengths to control the tension.”

Her tea was too milky. One tasteless sip and she left the cup, a pink smear of lipstick on its paper rim. No matter how she shifted, she couldn’t get comfortable. The seat was too hard, too plastic. Switching her gaze between the arrivals board and her book made her neck ache. With a snap, she closed it. She couldn’t concentrate on reading anyway.

Eight months, two weeks, five days since she’d last seen him.

“I have to go,” he’d said. “I’m a doctor. I help people.”

And her. Infantile, selfish. “It doesn’t help me.”

She twisted her fingers. Glanced up at the clock. Rechecked her phone.

His flight number inched upwards. Long before it reached the top, she moved to the barrier, the metal cold under her grip.

People streamed in from the arrivals hall, piled luggage obscuring each other. So many, her heart raced until his familiar figure finally appeared. Tousled brown hair, rumpled from the flight. A slight frown creasing his face as his eyes slid anxiously over the crowd.

When he saw her, he stopped. The crowd flowed around him. Like the sun dawning, a slow smile spread across his face. In two strides he was pulling her close, careful not to crush her against the barrier.

“I was so scared you wouldn’t wait.”

“Of course we waited.”

Almost too quiet to hear, he said,

“I’m sorry I left you.”

He’d gone because he needed to. She understood that; she accepted it. She smiled as he bent to face the full moon of her belly.

“Your daddy promises he won’t go again.”

Tangling her hands in his hair, she tugged his head up. His breath whispered warm against her cheek.

“I love you so much.”

Her mouth found his. That was good enough for her.



Lovers Reunion by Wendy Fitzgerald:

Adrienne Dines: Lovely complete story with an ending that suggests there is life afterwards – absolutely what a short story should do.  The characters (particularly hers) are well drawn. We know that they will stay together and she will be the stronger. His love for her is captured in a couple of killer lines!

He had trudged endlessly beside his father, leaving behind angry bombs, jagged buildings and the broken bodies of his mother and sister. Hunger and exhaustion were constant companions across lands and angry seas; the makeshift sprawling camp a welcome haven.

He recognised Lili immediately. Tousled dark curls, light grey eyes and the scent of home. They became inseparable.

‘Tomas, we must attend the school,’ she told him. ‘Education is everything, even for girls! History to learn from; science for our future, languages to talk! Besides, it’s warm there, and there is always food!’

He went because he would have gone with Lili anywhere. It became their refuge, their playground, their home.


‘We’re leaving, Tomas. We go to Germany, to distant family.’ Tears streamed down dusty cheeks, whilst a sickening abyss opened up before him. ‘Promise me you will keep learning. Look,’ she pointed to the battered globe, ‘the capital Berlin. Meet me there when we are grown!’

‘But how, and where, Lili? Cities are big!’

‘There’s a ‘Brandenberg Gate,’ she said carefully. ‘Midday, the first of January, every year after we turn eighteen. Auf wiedersehen, dearest Tomas!’

She hugged him tightly, fiercely; he felt warm soft lips fleetingly brush his mouth; then she was gone.

Desolate, homeless again, he complied. He worked tirelessly, driven; maths to afford a better life, precious languages to talk. And here he was full-grown: thin, serious, shyly handsome, in Berlin. Waiting.

It was bitterly cold, but he perspired with fear. Would she come – that girl he had once lived for? Would he recognise her? Could life ever be that kind?

Then – a slight figure with dark curls hurtled towards him, his name on her lips; laughing as she launched herself into his arms. Familiar, and unfamiliar, all at once – but she smelt of home.



‘Peter and Karen’ by Scratch

Adrienne Dines: Voice, voice, voice. We were straight into the head of this cool teenager with his patter and his vinyls. The opening was particularly strong. I’d like to see this continues as a longer story – staying in the past as the relationship develops.”

I pretended I liked the Bee Gees but I was really into Motorhead and Punk. On Wednesday afternoon I’d bunked off maths, nicked a copy of God Save the Queen from Menzies, and hid it in my wardrobe. I was going to play it for Karen on Saturday afternoon when my mam was out but then couldn’t find it amongst the junk. It didn’t matter because we got distracted. It was the first time we’d been as distracted as that. Karen had been doing ballet since forever, so sidelining Lemmy for Barry Gibb was a price worth paying.

We’d started going out on sports day when Anne-Marie Rigby collapsed onto the parched grass after winning the 1500m. Her pounding stomach was mesmerising. She’d her legs bent and was too gassed to realize that every lad in my form could see the curly black pubes sprouting from either side of her maroon knickers. Karen followed me over to the long-jump pit and asked why I’d moved. I told her it didn’t seem right to gawk at someone like that, she smiled and that was it. Love.


Peter, someone who knew you from school rang”. My mam explained about the planned reunion.

When I got there everyone looked the same, just 20 years older. I stood at the bar wondering about Karen, then a voice behind me. ‘Pete, it’s me, Kaz,’ she looked different but her smile was still the same, ‘I’m glad you turned up, I’ve something that belongs to you…’ she held out The Sex Pistols single, ‘I shouldn’t have taken it. Sorry. Probably worth a fortune now.’

‘It’s funny how some things appreciate over time, Kaz. You married?’

‘Divorced. You?

‘Still single,’ I held up the record, ‘tell you what, let’s see if they’ll play it for us.’


May 2016 Competition Results

Emma Scattergood, Senior Lecturer in School of Journalism, English and Communication at University of Bournemouth and also Editorial Director of Fresher Publishing kindly stepped in as our adjudicator for May. The number of entries this month was 18.

Emma’s comments are below with the winning entries but her choice of winners is:


1st Place

The Surgeon’s Mate’ by Louise Morrish

2nd Place

The Silver Threadby Louise Morrish

3rd Place

Occitan Jewel’ by Amicia Bentley


Highly Commended:

Amanda McCarthy – On the Parish and W Fitzgerald – Denial.


Next month’s competition is:

Write a lovers’ reunion (300 words)

The adjudicator will be Adrienne Dines – author and creative writing tutor.

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,



1st Place

The Surgeon’s Mate by Louise Morrish

Emma Scattergood: 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.


DOWN on the orlop deck, the fetid air stank of bilge water and blood. Holding my breath, I watched as the ship’s surgeon, Mr Vivez, rootled amongst the bottles in his medicine chest. ‘Glaubert’s Salts… Spirit of Hartshorn…’ he muttered to himself. ‘Tincture of Opium…’

Hurry up! I willed him.

On the operating table – two sea-chests laid end to end, with a sheet of sailcloth stretched over them – Tyler lay moaning, his shattered leg covered in blood. Here, deep in the bowels of the ship, only Vivez and I could hear him.

The surgeon scraped a finger round his ear, inspecting the tip for wax. His fingernails were long and yellowed, like slivers of horn. Then he turned to me. ‘The leg’ll have to come off,’ he stated, opening a case containing knives and a bonesaw, blades peppered with rust, the sight of which near buckled my knees.

‘What about this, sir?’ I stammered, holding up the screw-tourniquet, a length of leather with a brass screw attached. Vivez faced me square, his gaze pinning me, needlesharp. Beneath the gloomy light of the candle lantern, his glinting eye seemed to see right through my skull, into my terror-addled mind.

‘New-fangled rubbish,’ Vivez declared.

‘But Tyler’s bleeding to death, sir…’

‘Laudanum and rum, that’s all he needs, I tell you.’

‘But listen, sir! If we can cut-off the circulation with the screw before we amputate the leg, Tyler stands a chance of living…’

‘He’ll live till he dies.’

Vivez was nothing but a glorified butcher, I realised.

I took a steadying breath, and felt the planks heave beneath my feet.

‘With all due respect, sir,’ I swallowed. ‘I think you are wrong.’

Before Vivez could stop me, I slipped the leather strap round Tyler’s bloodied thigh, and cinched it tight.


2nd Place

The Silver Thread by Louise Morrish

Emma Scattergood: Here is a writer who, in just 300 words, gives us not only conflict and resolution but also a strong sense of character and the challenges with the narrator faces now and in the future. Whispering already below the surface are questions about the narrator’s relationship with her husband, her ability to cope so far from home, and whether this one conflict will only lead to another and yet another. Here is a woman under pressure – and I want to know what happens to her!


EVERYTHING changes in a heartbeat. One moment, my husband has the bible open on the lid of the chest, his ragged fingernail pointing out a passage to the chief; the next, men are shouting, and the chief’s guards are aiming their spears at our throats.

‘What did you say?’ I whisper to Jeremiah. Not for the first time, I wish he had left the conversing to me. While he has been preaching and pontificating these past weeks, I have sat with expectant mothers, tended the sick and wounded, bestowed scraps of ribbon and buttons on the feral children. Slowly, gently, I have nurtured these people’s trust. But if Jeremiah isn’t careful, all our efforts will soon lie trampled in the cowry shells that cover the floor of the chief’s hut.

‘Exodus, verse twenty,’ Jeremiah mutters. ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Perhaps it’s advisable to leave now, Elizabeth…’

But where would we go, I want to cry. The natives know every nook and cranny of this island; there’s nowhere to hide. I glance at my bare feet, half buried in the tiny, porcelain shells shining like glass in the firelight. It has grown so very hot in here.

Silently, the chief points a long, brown finger at my necklace. My own fingers instinctively reach for the fine, knotwork Celtic cross hanging from its silver chain. The natives have long coveted my necklace; their dark eyes flash whenever they catch a glimpse of the intricate design. It is like nothing they have seen before, for all the beauty of their island.

‘Give it to him, Elizabeth,’ Jeremiah hisses.

He has never liked me wearing the heathen sign.

I fumble to unclasp the chain, my hand shaking as I offer the chief the thin, silver thread connecting me with home.


3rd Place

Occitan Jewel by Amicia Bentley

Emma Scattergood: This is clearly an extract from the heart of a novel, so we are left to surmise the details and extent of the narrator’s dilemma, but the portrayal of the domestic scene, as the narrator wrestled with a solution, is engaging and we get a real sense of her resourcefulness as she tries to craft a meal from a near empty fridge. I particularly liked the silent presence of the mother here, and the suggestion of this being a quieter yet maybe equally significant pressure upon the protagonist also.”

ADELINE patted her mother’s hand and quietly left her side.

In the kitchen, she found that there was not much in the larder, just a chunk of stale bread and a few over ripe tomatoes. Taking a sliver of garlic she wiped it along the breads surface and then cut everything into small pieces. In a large bowl she combined it all together with her hands, letting the red juice soften the bread. Her movements were disconnected from her thoughts and everything she did was functional. The shocking events of the day were beginning to sink in and she found herself going over everything that had happened in her mind, trying to piece it all together. When she had finished mixing, she cleaned her hands in the sink and wiped them on the side of her apron. It was then that she remembered the Occitan cross, coiled deep within her skirt pocket.

Of course, she thought, if she sold the cross it would be more than enough for Simon’s Hospital fees. Then she stopped, her face fell and the idea diminished. The cross did not belong to her; she knew that Claudia was its rightful owner and where to find her. Regrettably, Adeline realised that she could never bring herself to use the jewels value, knowing that she had stolen it. She felt the cool metal with her fingers and the image of Monsieur Lauzier’s glowing hat and Claudia’s liquid eyes full of pain came flooding back. She promised herself there and then that she would keep the pendent safe until she could find the time to return it.

Adeline picked up the bowls of food and took them into the main room. Silently she gave one to her mother, who just held it on her lap and did not attempt to lift the fork.

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


2nd Place


3rd Place


Highly Commended


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,



1st Place


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?”




“Stay here!”

Three lifetimes passed until he returned.

“You hurt?”


“Good. Let’s go.”


“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


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.”


“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


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:


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.

March Competition: Winners and Simon Trewin’s Adjudication

It was a pleasure to welcome Simon Trewin, Head of the London Literary Department of William Morris Endeavours as our adjudicator for March. Simon kindly stepped in when Becky Bagnell had a family emergency.

The number of entries this month was back to a more manageable number, at 27.

I am sure that all of the entrants are thrilled to know that Simon cast his expert eye over their work, a wonderful experience even if they didn’t win. Read Simon’s comments and the winning entries below. His choice of winners is:

1st Place


2nd Place


3rd Place


Highly Commended:



Congratulations to all.

Next months competition is:


Write a steamy love story. (300 words)


The adjudicator will be Alison Spencer, author of Tug of Love, best debut novel, Romantic Novelists’ Association.

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

Keep writing,



1st Place

Simon Trewin: ‘This felt instantly intriguing and that the author understood the genre from the inside out. HOE TO ROOST sounds like the sort of book as a consumer I would gladly pick off the shelves’



‘Home To Roost’ is a Police Procedural set in Hampshire. The story opens with the discovery of a body at a chicken farm – a young woman’s leg wearing a man’s Argyll pattern sock protrudes from the surface of a slurry pit.

The victim, Christiane, is French.

DCI James Gawthorpe leads the enquiry and is attached to the Serious Crime Investigation Unit based in Winchester. Gawthorpe is approaching his fiftieth birthday and the people he has to deal with rarely surprise him any more, whether criminal or police. He has a greyhound called Putin.

Gawthorpe meets PC Effie Makepeace at the scene of the crime. She is thirty-three years old and of mixed race. She is also extremely bright and very attractive. She went to school at Cheltenham Ladies College and speaks with an upper-middle-class English accent. She has joined the police under the auspices of the Police High Potential Development Scheme. All of the above can result in her attracting jealousy, suspicion and prejudice, both inside and outside the force. She also speaks fluent French and Gawthorpe needs her expertise.

As the investigation progresses there is no shortage of possible culprits and they all appear to at have least one of the usual motives – lust, greed, pride, envy and jealousy. Most of them have interconnected lives and motives. Most are also known to Roger Humphry.

Humphry is a grotesquely obese and deeply unhappy man who lives in a large house overlooking the farm. He is a consultant in the technology of surveillance and has hacked into the phones and computers of many of the suspects. He seems to have had a particular interest in Christiane. Effie agrees to meet him and we then fear that she could become the next victim. However, Roger commits suicide, leaving evidence that helps lead to the arrest of the actual murderer.

Although its setting is ‘cosy’, it is realistic in style and references a number of gritty contemporary issues. Apart from ‘whodunit’, the main plot interest is in the development of the major characters and, in particular, the relationship between Gawthorpe and Effie.


2nd Place

Simon Trewin: ‘This is bold, ambitious and multi-layered. I knew nothing about Jeanne Baret and this synopsis makes me very intrigued indeed as to how the novel will unfold.’



Inspired by true events, ‘A Voyage about My Heart’ is set in the 18th Century and tells the story of Jeanne Baret, the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.

When Jeanne, a humble French herbalist, meets ambitious botanist, Philibert Commerson, the course of her life takes an extraordinary turn.

Commerson is compiling a grand herbarium, a collection of every plant in France, and desires Jeanne’s herbal knowledge. Working closely together, they soon become lovers. But when Jeanne falls pregnant, Commerson, intent on completing his life’s work, forces her to abandon the baby in a foundling hospital.

Clinging to the hope that she will be able to reclaim her baby one day, Jeanne stitches a keepsake into the child’s clothes; a muslin bag of carefully chosen herbs, symbolizing a secret message of love for her son.

But the baby dies within months.

Heartbroken, Jeanne believes she has little to live for. Within weeks, Commerson accepts a position as Ship’s Naturalist on a voyage of exploration around the world, and asks Jeanne to accompany him as his assistant. Seeking to escape her grief and guilt, and with nothing left to lose, she agrees. Disguised as Commerson’s cabin boy, Jeanne sets sail on the Etoile, a lone woman amongst three hundred men.

The crew are suspicious of her, particularly the ship’s surgeon, Vives. Over the next two years Jeanne travels uncharted waters, visiting exotic lands and discovering new plants.

But then the voyage runs into misfortune. Jeanne suffers an assault by Vives, and her secret is discovered.

When the Etoile reaches Mauritius, Jeanne realises she is pregnant. Commerson leaves the ship to work for Pierre Poivre, the administrator of Mauritius and a keen horticulturist. Desperate to escape Vives, Jeanne chooses to stay with Commerson, continuing as his assistant.

Jeanne gives birth to a girl, Stella, but soon after, Commerson dies from an infection. His Will leaves Jeanne enough money to live on, if she can return to France to claim it within a year. Jeanne sells herbal remedies to raise money for her passage home, and finally sets sail for France with Stella.


3rd Place

Simon Trewin: ‘This is a compelling premise for a novel and the synopsis fills me with a hunger to know more.’


Steven’s family has a secret.

When Steven’s grandfather dies, his family is shocked to learn of an unknown granddaughter, Stella, who lives tucked away in a quiet Cornish village. Compelled to learn more, and searching for a change in his own life, Steven moves to Cornwall to meet Stella.

As Steven and Stella’s relationship grows, Steven begins to understand his history from a different perspective. He unearths the long-buried secret of Stella’s grandmother, Margaret, a wartime heroine, in Nazi-occupied France. Through flashbacks and letters, Margaret’s story gradually unfolds, revealing more about her clandestine work for the Special Operations Executive and her London romance with Steven and Stella’s grandfather, at the time a young seaman in the Royal Navy.

The revelations shake Steven’s beliefs and force him to reconsider his own family ties. Stella confronts him with his estrangement from his sister, his mother and his dying father, and challenges him to rebuild those relationships. Initially reluctant, he comes to realise how much they matter to him. As they begin to forge fragile bonds, Steven learns to accept his family, with both their virtues and their flaws, and to recognise his own responsibility for the divisions between them.

For Stella also, the revelations have far-reaching consequences. As her anonymity dissolves, she is drawn inexorably into the lives of her new-found family. She too begins to question the safety and comfort of her old life and to embrace a changing future, laying to rest her mother’s disastrous marriage and eventual suicide, and coming to terms with her own mental fragilities.

As the novel reaches its climax, Steven and his family confront their differences and the reality of his father’s cancer. A chance meeting with an old friend forces Steven to choose between his self-contained safety and the emotional gamble of committing to a relationship. Meanwhile, Stella discovers the story of Celeste and her brief but passionate love affair with Margaret. Past and present collide in Stella’s old family friend, Irene, and the tragic truth of Margaret’s life, loves and death is finally laid bare.

February Competition: Winners and Jude Evans’ Adjudication


We were very fortunate to welcome Jude Evans from Little Tiger Press as our adjudicator for February.

The number of entries has grown again this month and was an amazing 42!

Jude’s involvement inspired many members to enter more than once. I was amused by the titles of some of the pieces but I’m sure Jude chose the winners with an expert eye. Jude’s comments are below, her choice of winners is:

1st Place

Sophie by Andy J Steele

2nd Place

Marcelo Wakes the Jungle Up by Kate Prince

3rd Place

Ten Little Acorns by Kristin Tridimas

Highly Commended:

The Monster of the Wood by Rob Iliffe

The Boy who Couldn’t Read by Caroline Meech

Congratulations to all.

I have noticed that some of you are anxious that your entries reach us and sometimes I take a couple of days to reply – apologies. I have set up an automatic reply so that you know your work has got through but I will come back to you ASAP if anything is wrong with your entry.

Next months competition is to write:

A single-page synopsis, any topic. (350 words)

The adjudicator will be Becky Bagnall, literary agent from Lindsay Literary Agency.

Keep writing,



1st Place

Sophie by Andy J Steele

‘An original and funny story of friendship, rivalry and moral values, Sophie has an unexpected twist that encourages the reader to think twice about jumping to conclusions. The writing is fresh and vibrant, with a fluid, natural rhyming scheme and a delightfully surreal turn of phrase, shown aptly in the stanza:

So now I sit alone,

In a corner of the class,

Where my only friend’s a pencil,

And I don’t think that’ll last.’  Jude Evans.


Sophie                        By Andy J Steele

Sophie is so smart.

Sophie is so cool.

Sophie runs a business

at break-times in school.


Sophie is so pretty –

and always full of charm.

Everybody likes her;

she’s the Bestest Girl by far.


Megan’s Dad’s a lawyer,

but Sophie’s is a rock star.

Dani rides a scooter,

but Sophie owns a car.


Sophie’s good at everything.

Sophie’s just the best.

But the more I sit around her,

The more I feel distressed.


‘My party was on an island,

way out into the sea.

I found some hungry people

and had them round to tea.


‘I gave them all my presents.

They couldn’t thank me more.

They flew us in their spaceship

and left me one to store!’


‘Argh!’ I wailed; a desperate sigh.

‘I’ve got a bleeding nose.’

And if I stay around your lies

it’ll surely end in blows.


‘I’ve climbed the highest mountain…

I’ve sailed the seven seas…

I’ve got a talking lion…

I walked a bridge made out of bees.


‘My best friend’s a princess

in a far and distant land,

where together we’ve made water

from the driest sand.’


‘NO – YOU – HAVEN’T!’ I shook my head.

‘I beg of you to stop.

If I hear one more lie from you,

my head might just go POP!’


With a hundred faces staring,

She took a bag of sand.

She dropped it in a funnel –

and from it water ran.


So now I sit alone,

In a corner of the class,

Where my only friend’s a pencil,

And I don’t think that’ll last.


Sophie’s playing football,

She’s taking on all teams

by playing in all positions;

She’s not the liar it seems.


She scores a dozen goals,

Appears destined for the squad,

But the teacher doesn’t pick her;

Lily has it by a nod.


She sees me watching and comes across;

I try to look away.

‘I know you hate me,’ she starts to say.

‘I hope we’re friends some day.’


I can’t stay mad. She’s got That Look.

I hope she doesn’t cry.

‘You’ll get used to losing,

but only if you try.’


Now Sophie’s in America;

She might be gone all term,

She’s won the Nobel Peace Prize:

Some people never learn!


2nd Place

Marcelo Wakes the Jungle Up by Kate Prince

‘With its unusual cast of characters, including a snub-nose monkey, loris, mouse deer and leopard, this is charming story woven from the intriguing characteristic of the snub-nose monkey hero: that if rain lands on their upturned noses, it makes them sneeze. The characterisation and dialogue are strong and the playful use of language would delight children.’ Jude Evans


Marcelo Wakes the Jungle Up By Kate Prince.






DEEP in the rain forests of Northern Burma, Marcelo the snub-nose monkey and his friends Ramone, the Hog Badger and Clara and Kitty, the Striped-Squirrel twins, were walking to Myanmar Primary School for Jungle Animals, when it started to rain.


‘Quick Marcelo take cover!’ Ramone shouted.


But it was too late!




‘Oh No I’ve started sneezing,’ Marcelo shouted.



Poor Marcelo is allergic to rain!


BOX OUT: (optional)

Snub-nose monkeys live in the rain forests of Northern Burma; as well as up-turned noses, which cause them to sneeze when it rains, they have protruding ear tufts, a white moustache and beard.

In the rain they often put their head between their legs to keep dry!


‘WHAT ever is this terrible disturbance?’


It was Doris the Loris!


She did not seem happy.


‘This is the second morning you have woken me up,’ she huffed.


‘Sorry,’ Marcelo explained, ‘but each time a rain falls on my nose I sneeze.’

And, as if to prove the point, he started to sneeze again




Ramone and Clara started to laugh but Doris was not amused.


As the friends carried on walking, the rain kept getting heavier.









Clara handed Marcelo a hankie.


‘Excuse me,’ they heard a small voice.


It was Deidre the Mouse Deer!


‘I’m sorry to bother you but I’m trying to sleep and your sneezes are so loud.’


‘sorry,’ he whispered, ‘’l promise I’ll try to stop sneezing.’


But, as hard as he tried, Marcelo just could not stop!




‘Shhhh,’ Kitty whispered, ‘there are some animals that we DEFINITELY DO NOT want to wake up.’


They all nodded in agreement.


They carried on walking through the undergrowth, past the creek and the crumbling pagodas.


Marcelo sneezed and sneezed.





‘What is this DREADFUL noissssssssssssse?’


It was Drake the Snake!


‘I am trying to SSSsssnoozze!’ he said.


‘Sorry Drake, I mean Mr Snake,’ Ramone replied, ‘we are TRYING really hard to be quiet.’


‘Not hard enough now ……Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I want peacccccccccccce and quiet,’ and he slithered grumpily off.


‘Let’s hope the snake is the most dangerous animal Marcelo wakes up with his sneezing,’ Clara whispered to Kitty.




All of a sudden the little group heard a loud and very angry GROWL!


‘What is that unbearable racket?’ the voice roared.


Very slowly, Ramone, Marcelo, Clara and Kitty looked up.


It was Victor the Leopard!


He was lounging in a tree.


‘Oh no,’ Whispered Kitty.


‘I am trying to sleep,’ he roared again angrily.


Victor stretched his legs and yawned, flicking his tail in Marcelo’s face. The fur made Marcelo sneeze again.




‘Is it breakfast time already?’ Victor licked his lips. ‘I’m feeling rather peckish.’


‘Quick ………………..RUN. I think the Victor wants to eat us……,’ Ramone shouted.


Marcelo, Ramone, Kitty and Clara ran and ran, as fast as they could, until they got to the forest clearing.


‘We’ll have to find a different way to school,’ Kitty panted.


‘There isn’t one,’ Ramone gasped.


‘We’ll have to be very quiet then,’ Clara squealed.


They all looked at Marcelo!


‘But I can’t help sneezing,’ Marcelo whaled.


Later that day, when lessons were over, the friends walked nervously towards the clearing


It had started to rain again and poor Marcelo began to sneeze again.




‘Shhhhhhhhhhh,’ his friends shouted.


But Doris, Deidre, Drake and Victor were already waiting at the edge of the jungle.


‘OH NO WE IS FOR IT NOW,’ Ramone shouted, ‘QUICK … RUN!’


‘Wait!’ Deirdre shouted, ‘Please wait. We’ve got Marcelo a present.’


And there, on the ground was a brightly coloured umbrella.


Marcelo opened it up and waved it over his head.


‘It’s Beautiful,’ Marcelo shouted.


Clara, Kitty and Romone began to dance under it


‘Thisssssssssss might finally give us some sssssssssssssssssssome peace and quiet and I might be able to get some ssssssssssleeeeep,’ Drake muttered.


‘And I ‘grumbled Doris.


‘Thank you,’ Marcelo shouted, ‘this will definitely stop me from sneezing.


‘And I will definitely sleep through breakfast now,’ Victor winked.


3rd Place

Ten Little Acorns by Kristin Tridimas

‘Ten Little Acorns is an economical twist on a familiar children’s rhyme, blending elements of fiction and non-fiction in a clever and accessible way. It introduces facts about the life cycle of trees in parallel with a visual narrative showing the development of our human world: how our landscape, our fashions and our homes change down the generations, during the life span of one great oak tree’ Jude Evans

Ten Little Acorns by Kristin Tridimas

Ten Little Acorns


Page 3                                                                      Illustrations

Title page.                                                                Picture of oak tree.


Spread 1

Page 4

Ten little acorns on an old oak tree,                          Oak tree with 10 acorns.

Brown and ripe and as shiny as can be.


Page 5

One little acorn falls on stony ground.                      Acorn on gravel path.  Boy and girl on path

                                                                                 wearing Edwardian



Spread 2

Page 6 (top)

Leaves nine little acorns hanging around.                Oak tree with 9 acorns.


Page 6 (bottom)

Nine little acorns on an old oak tree,

Brown and ripe and as shiny as can be.


Page 7

One little acorn is carried away.                               Squirrel taking nut.

                                                                                 Boy and girl watching.



Spread 3

Page 8 (top)

So eight little acorns are all that stay.                        Oak tree with 8 acorns.


Page 8 (bottom)

Eight little acorns on an old oak tree,

Brown and ripe and as shiny as can be.


Page 9

One little acorn is pecked by a crow.                        Crow with nut in beak.

                                                                                 Boy and girl play in



Spread 4

Page 10 (top)

Seven little acorns hang in a row.                            Oak tree with 7 acorns.


Page 10 (bottom)

Seven little acorns on an old oak tree,

Brown and ripe and as shiny as can be.


Page 11

One little acorn is used in a game.                            Boy and girl use it as

                                                                                 stone in hopscotch.





Spread 5

Page 12 (top)

Leaves six little acorns – what a shame!                    Oak tree with 6 acorns.


Page 12 (bottom)

Six little acorns on an old oak tree,

Brown and ripe and as shiny as can be.


Page 13

One little acorn’s taken by the flood.                         Torrential rain, gushing

                                                                                 water. In background,

                                                                                 boy and girl are splashing in puddles.


Spread 6

Page 14

Five little acorns are left in the mud.                          Tree bare, nuts below.


Page 15

Five little acorns grow a tiny shoot.                                   Germination.

Deep in the ground they form a tiny root.


Spread 7

Page 16                                                                    Double page -16 &17

Five little acorns now begin to grow,                        Pages divided into four

All through the year in sunshine and in snow.          seasons – seedling gets

                                                                                 a bit bigger in each.


Spread 8

Page 18

Five little oak trees reach up to the sky.                   

They want to grow tall and leafy and high.


Page 19

One little oak tree’s bitten by the frost.                       Fifth tiny tree, leaves

Leaves four little oak trees and one is lost.               dead and brown, frosty

                                                                                 scene. Girl and boy in

                                                                                 scarves and hats – a bit

                                                                                 bigger – different hair?


Spread 9

Page 20 (top)

One year later …

                                    Page 20 (bottom)

Four little oak trees reach up to the sky.

They want to grow tall and leafy and high.


Page 21

One little oak tree is trampled and torn.                    Girl and boy playing,

Three little oak trees are left all forlorn.                     accidentally step on

                                                                                 fourth small tree.





Spread 10

Page 22 (top)

Twenty years later …


Page 22 (bottom)

Three biggish oak trees reach up to the sky.

Already they’re growing leafy and high.


Page 23

One biggish oak tree is cleared for a wall.               Third middle-sized tree

Two biggish oak trees are left to grow tall.                is lying on ground with

                                                                                 man and small girl in

                                                                                 thirties clothes looking at it. There is a big brick

                                                                                 wall and houses behind.

Spread 11

Page 24 (top)

Fifty years later …


Page 24 (bottom)

Two giant oak trees reach up to the sky.

Already they’re growing leafy and high.


Page 25

One giant oak tree is chopped down for wood.                Second tall tree being

One lone oak tree grows as big as it should.           sawn up. Big machinery.


                                                                                 grandmother, father and

                                                                                 baby watching. 1980s.

Spread 12

Page 26 (top)

One hundred years later …                                     Double page spread.   Tall oak tree with ten

                                                                                 acorns, like picture p.4

                                                                                 except is in small park

                                                                                 between housing estate and road. Sun shines.

Page 26 (bottom)                                                     A girl and boy in modern clothes play in play area of park.

 One tall oak tree at the edge of the wood,            They are watched by great-grandmother, grandfather and mother.                                                            

Grows ten little acorns and that is good.                      

The sun shines down after plenty of rain.                                                                                    

The acorns swell and we begin again. 




Competition Result, January 2016

Competition January 2016

Write the opening 300 words of a short story based on a song

Our adjudicator for January was Glenn Fosbraey. Glenn joined Winchester University in 2009 where he is instrumental in supporting and expanding his students’ creative skills. He is Programme Leader for both BA (hons) courses Creative Writing and Creative and Professional Writing. Glenn hopes to add a new degree, Popular Music, to the creative writing department next year. The courses in his department have regularly been voted with 100% satisfaction in student surveys.

There were 22 entries this month. Glenn gave a special mention to:

Wendy Fitzgerald, Added character depth, and narrative that went way beyond the song itself; even more of an achievement considering it was only 300 words long.’

And Lou Merlin, A brave, challenging textual intervention on The Kinks’ Lola which made the reader consider gender, society, and acceptance.’

Congratulations to January’s three winners, listed below with Glenn’s comments:

1st place: Claire Fuller

‘The kind of story that keeps a reader thinking about it long after it ends, and one with a multitude of possible meanings and interpretations. A real thought-provoker with the perfect balance between intrigue and information.’

Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night

I hear the sound in the room above mine – the attic: like someone shaking out damp linen or rattling at the wooden shutters. I leave my bed and go upstairs. The blackbird is already dead but still warm in the cup of my hands. In the morning I bury it in the garden between the roots of the mulberry tree. I take a piece of board up to the attic and nail it over the broken window. I’m pleased with my practicality; that I’ve managed to do it without asking Peter.

I eat lunch, carry my spade out to the kitchen garden, forget about the bird.

Later, in the night, I wake to the sound in the room above mine. Like someone shaking out damp linen or rattling at the wooden shutters, or the beating of a bird’s wings. I don’t go up.

The next afternoon when I’m passing the orangery I see the shape of a man silhouetted outside one of the tall glass doors that overlook the ruined parterre – all the box hedges run wild and thistles growing where once there was lavender. He is standing like Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man: legs splayed and arms raised and the image makes me cry out in alarm, but it is only Peter. He opens the door and steps inside. He has a tape-measure in one hand and his clipboard in the other; his pencil stub is tucked behind his ear. He makes no comment about my noise and I think perhaps he didn’t hear it through the glass.

‘Frances,’ he says, as a greeting.

‘There are birds in the attic,’ I say. ‘Perhaps you could take a look?’

‘Of course. Did you hear the blackbird in the middle of the night?’ he says. ‘It was singing in the mulberry tree.’


2nd place: Andrea Parr:

‘A story with wonderful description that wholeheartedly immerses the reader in the place and time. Questions are posed but not answered, and we hang on to every word, almost compelling us to re-read and see if there is anything we might have missed.’

Walking in Memphis

So far, nothing about the trip had gone to plan. From the plane, the mighty Mississippi had been a strand of blue cotton winding up from the sea. It hadn’t glinted once in the dull afternoon light.

She’d expected old world charm; besuited gentleman with welcoming southern drawls; the gentle waft of Blues in the background. What she got was blue neon and a floor so polished, it was painful to look at. There was no music at all, not even that piped stuff James always hated. It was like airports the world over and, sitting flat and insignificant amongst endless white columns, she watched fat raindrops burst against the window. The whole time, James was in her head, his face rigid with scorn. Pressing her fingers to her aching eyes, she wondered why she’d come.

“Nice shoes.”

A man she hadn’t heard approach was sitting next to her, his face half lost to a pair of magnificent sideburns, his eyes fixed firmly on the three inch heels she’d begun to regret wearing. In the bright airport light, the suede exactly matched the blue of his gaze. As she gawped back up, he smiled, his teeth very white in his tanned face, and winked.

“You oughta see the park.”

Less than an hour later, she was leaning against the smooth trunk of a spreading tree, staring upwards, wondering how he’d known. Above her, the dapper figure of WC Handy gazed benignly into middle distance, trumpet clutched in both hands and, for the first time since she’d arrived, James’ voice in her head fell silent. Raindrops pattered through the leaves and ran like tears down her upturned face. In the silence, she felt like singing. Her heels clicked loudly as she turned.

Time to see what Memphis had to offer.


3rd place: Linda Welch.

‘The lyrics are expertly threaded into the narrative, and a story that is enormous in its subtext is presented here only in its gloriously bare bones, forcing the reader to chase its shadows back to the song in search for clues.’


I may be reckless, but I’m not stupid. Internet protocol dictates that the first time you meet someone, you make it somewhere public.

So I had chosen a bar in town, busy, but not too crowded, and positioned myself in a far corner so that I could watch for him to arrive. I didn’t have long to wait. As soon as the door opened, I knew it was him. I felt the same rush I had when he’d opened a private chat window with me for the first time: it was as if all the air had been sucked out of my lungs and replaced with pure amyl nitrite. I felt a stupid grin crease my face, I couldn’t help it.

He hadn’t seen me, he probably thought I wasn’t there yet. He was earlier than we’d agreed, maybe he’d wanted to do what I was doing: watch, assess, evaluate before committing. The first step towards salvation can be a daunting one. All conversation seemed to dim around him as he made his way to the bar and heads turned, both male and female. He was a good-looking man, and the cut of his suit, the subtle gold signet ring and his commanding presence marked him out as someone of wealth and taste. As he glanced around the room, I saw weariness and pain in his eyes, reflecting what he had told me in the private chat window. He had seen so much suffering and sorrow, violence and desolation, and I was the only one who could take that burden from him. I walked over to him and held out my hand to shake his.

‘Pleased to meet you,’ he said. ‘I hope you’ve guessed my name?’

‘Luc,’ I nodded. ‘And you can call me J.C.’


DON’T FORGET: The adjudicator for February is Jude Evans from Little Tiger Press and the competition asks for:

A picture book text, fiction or non-fiction, in prose or rhyme aimed at children 2-7 years. 750 words max.

Send no illustration samples.

Adjudicator: Jude Evans from Little Tiger Press

Deadline noon 1st February 2016