April 2018 Competition Results – Nigel Spriggs Adjudication

Hampshire author, Nigel Spriggs, kindly agreed to adjudicate the April competition.  And he certainly had his work cut out with a significantly higher number of entries for the competition than has been received throughout the 2017-18 season.

Nigel commented: “As ever, when I’ve been asked to judge a HWS short-story competition, there has been a diverse range of entries, which is always great to see. All entries definitely fulfilled the criteria of having a lost shoe returned, each single story took a different approach and no two story-lines felt the same.  That didn’t make judging any easier, however, because I had a lot of favourites to whittle down, but it certainly made reading all the entries very enjoyable, so thank you to all the writers who entered.

 “Of those that I wanted to shoe-horn into the final five placings but couldn’t quite find room for, the authors of A Lost Shoe Returned (by Penny Munro) and Ralph to the Rescue (by Maggie Farran) only just missed out, as did Cold Comfort (by Barbara Needham), which had a strong final line.”

The competition brief for April 2018 was to:

Write a scene in which a lost shoe is returned, in 300 words.

Nigel’s adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Dominique Hackston with Moore than a Fairytale

Second Place: George Rodger with The Snowshoe

Third Place: Kim A Howard with For Want of a Nail

Highly Commended: Lynn Clement with Serendipity

Highly Commended: Wendy Fitzgerald with A Tissue of Lies

April 2018 winners
L to R: Lynn Clement, Dominique Hackston, George Rodger, Margaret Graham and Kim Howard

First Place: Moore than a Fairytale by Dominique Hackston

I have chosen Moore than a Fairytale as the winner, mostly because the situation described was the one that played on my mind the most after I had read all the entries through for the first time.  Then, on second read through, understanding where the story was heading made it an even more satisfying read, which is always an impressive trick for any writer to pull off.

‘Gran?’

‘In here,’

Sophie burst into the kitchen. ‘I’ve got news!’

‘Your results?’

‘No, that’s tomorrow.’ Her attention was drawn by lemon-drizzle oozing over a cake. She dipped her finger into a puddle.

‘So’s that.”

Sophie’s lips smacked as she removed the sucked-clean finger and pouted briefly. ‘You know I said I’d do a Facebook appeal for your shoe?’

‘Hmmm, have you … ummm … found it?’ Eleanor subconsciously stroked her neckline.

‘I think so.’ Sophie placed a small white Moore’s Pawn bag in front of her Gran. ‘You tell me’.

Eleanor took the bag and slowly withdrew a chain. She inspected the tiny silver pendent with its blue sapphire ornament. In her mind’s eye she could still see Joe holding her grey Mary-Jane with its blue button. Sophie did not breath until Eleanor nodded.

‘How much did you pay?’

‘Like, it’s the most romantic present, ever. A real fairytale. And you talk money’

‘Fairytale?’ Eleanor laughed, ‘Your Gramps mended a broken heel.’

‘And walked you home. Courted you, married you, and made you a shoe pendant to hang over your heart.’

‘I suppose compared to texting, it is. Now … how much?’

‘S’not important.’

‘Its important to me.’

Eleanor lowered her head and frowned at her granddaughter. Sophie responded with a clenched jaw. The unspoken challenge hung between them. It was Eleanor that called the truce.

‘Tea?’

After tea, cookies and a kiss goodbye, Eleanor got out her savings box. She swapped some notes into the envelope marked Sophie’s Laptop.

‘So Christmas will be a little leaner, and I can wear an extra jumper.’ she thought, ‘Sophie is worth every penny.’

Eleanor placed the envelope inside a book of handwritten recipes and lovingly wrapped them. Before re-locking her savings box she rummaged for a little white chit. Then tearfully she shredded her Moore’s Pawn receipt.

 

Second Place: The Snowshoe by George Rodger

I have chosen The Snowshoe – especially topical given the weather we’ve had recently, the pace of the story felt right and the descriptiveness of the wintry night rang true.  The way the reason for the pursuit was held back until the very last line gave the story a surprising twist I hadn’t been expecting but immediately felt like the correct way to wrap up the action.

The car radio was dispensing “Don’t travel” advice as I crept along behind the double-decker bus dropping commuters off after work. Snow had been falling heavily for forty minutes and was already lying thick on the pavements. I was looking forward to a hot cup of something when I reached home. I was thinking, it’s hard not to like the snow. It covers and sanctifies wherever it falls. It turns slag-heaps and landfills into Narnia, hiding everything under a blanket of snowy innocence.

Something flew through my headlights and banged against the windscreen. Along the road the bus was disappearing into the darkness. I picked up the missile and found it was a lady’s shoe. It looked expensive and must have come from the upstairs window of the bus. I knew that there were only two more stops before the bus reached the terminus.

At the terminus, I watched the remaining passengers disembark, all were fully shod. The driver was helpful; two people had alighted at the previous stop. A woman and a boy.

I drove back down the road. Opposite the bus stop was a wintry street lined with lampposts haloed in swirling snowflakes. Clutching the shoe, I followed the trail down the snow-covered pavement like a bloodhound. Two sets of footprints; one set shod, one barefoot, ended at a gate. I slithered down the path and knocked on the door. A light came on and it was opened by a little boy.

“Jason, who’s there?” A voice came from the back and a young woman, clutching a towel, appeared beside him.

“What a night,” she said. “Can I help you?” Covered in snow, I must have looked like a Yeti.

“Is this yours?” I asked.

She beamed, “My shoe! I thought I’d lost it. Thank you so much.” She glared at the child. “This scamp threw it out of the window.”

“My pleasure,” I said, “here’s my address. You owe me for a new windscreen.”

Third Place: For Want of a Nail by Kim A Howard

“In third place I have chosen For Want of a Nail.  I felt the writer did a great job of choosing the right expressions for the period he or she was writing about which really gave the story a grounded sense of reality.  This approach made the intentional absurdity of the last few lines especially satisfying.

The sound of hooves on the road summoned Perry from his breakfast. When the horsemen reached his gate he was lounging against the door jamb, slicing an apple into segments with his bone-handled dagger.

‘Good morning, my lord. What brings you so far from the castle on this glorious morn?’ Perry addressed the nobleman at the front of the group, ignoring the soldiers ranged behind him.

‘Not so far when we serve the King’s justice,’ the noble replied.

‘Do you seek refreshment for your horses?’ Perry asked. ‘A stream runs through yonder field and the grass is plentiful this spring.’ From the corner of his eye he saw a soldier place a hand on his sword hilt. No one made move to dismount. Not a casual visit, then.
‘We seek a brigand who stole a large quantity of coin from a coach on the King’s Road,’ the noble replied. ‘Does anyone reside with you who can vouch for your movements yester’ eve?’

‘I live alone, apart from my hound and horse. You are welcome to visit both and quiz them if it please you.’ Perry led them to his stable. As he waited for the noble to dismount he rubbed his hound’s head and fed the mare a slice of apple.

‘Your steed stands uneven in her stall. May I examine her legs for injury?’

‘As you please.’ The nobleman ran his hands down each of the mare’s legs, lifting her feet to examine the hooves. At last he stepped back with a satisfied smirk.

‘As I suspected, your mount has thrown a shoe,’ he said. He thrust a hand into the pouch at his waist and produced a bright curve of metal. ‘This shoe! ‘Twas found near the scene of the crime.’ He handed the horseshoe to Perry. ‘Yours, I presume.’

‘Nay,’ said the mare. ‘It wouldn’t fit him.’

‘Quite,’ agreed the hound. ‘Now all we need is a farrier – and a convincing alibi.’

Highly Commended: A Tissue of Lies by Wendy Fitzgerald

A Tissue of Lies is highly commended because I felt there was a lot of tension here and the writer does a great job of building that.  A little bit more clarity around the background of the situation might have made this the winner. 

I open the door and he’s standing there on the pavement.

‘Miss, um, Smith?’

‘Yes?’

‘We spoke earlier. Can I come in?’

Somehow I resist the compulsion to look behind me. ‘Er, it’s not very convenient at
the moment …’

‘Right. Well, if you could just take a look at this and let me know?’
He holds out a clear plastic bag. There’s a label on it and inside is a shoe. I hesitate
and he adds, ‘it …um … there’s nothing on it you know.’

I take the bag and hold it gingerly. It’s more of a trainer actually, or the type that’s a
cross in-between. Black wedged rubber sole. Black textile uppers. The kind teenagers
today would die for. I thrust it back at him quickly.

‘So can you help?’

‘I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. They all … look the same these days …’ My voice fails
and I stare past him into the street, not wanting him to see the agony in my eyes.
Suddenly there’s a tug at my leg. Rosie! She squeezes between me and the door
frame, staring up at us silently with her big blue eyes. How …? I pull her up into my arms; feel her breath warm against my neck.

‘Is that your car?’ I suddenly hiss.

‘The black one? Yes. Why?’

‘In a minute,’ my voice cracks with urgency, ‘you will leave. You’ll get in the car but
just before you drive off, we’ll jump in. Then you drive away – fast!’

His nod is almost imperceptible. Following him, my heart hammers so hard as he
opens his car door that I fear it might bruise Rosie. And as we scramble desperately into the cramped well in front of the passenger seat and he powers away, the electronic clunk of the locks seems to taunt us that we’ve just swapped one prison for another …

Highly Commended: Serendipity by Lynn Clement

“Serendipity is highly commended because I enjoyed the way the visitor’s motives can be perceived three ways in such a short space of time, and the reason for the visitor to be suspicious – which leads to the final reveal – held up to a google search (always a good sign; though it’s probably something we should all be aware of anyway!).

Joe knocked on the shabby red door. He wasn’t sure what had possessed him to follow the woman. He was going to be late for work now. She was a quick walker and by the time he’d made his mind up to return the shoe, she’d dashed off. Luckily he’d kept her in sight whilst fighting the early morning rush crush, and now here he was outside her door.

‘Yes,’ she said on opening the door. Not a warm welcome thought Joe. ‘I err, you dropped your shoe, that is, your baby dropped the shoe.’ Joe was never the most articulate at the best of times.

‘Oh, thanks,’ she said taking the tiny blue shoe from Joe’s hand. The door was closing when Joe decided to put his foot in it. ‘Hey,’ said the woman with the golden curls, tied up in a purple scarf.

‘I’m sorry,’ explained Joe, ‘I can hear your baby crying.’

‘That’s none of your business,’ snapped the woman.

‘It’s such a high pitched cry,’ said Joe.

‘Is it really?’ asked the woman sarcastically. ‘I hadn’t noticed all these days and nights.’

Joe saw her dark green eyes harden. Her pretty face became weary. ’Get lost mister,’ she said and tried to close the door again.

Joe put his hand on the handle now, ‘I need to come in,’ he insisted. The smell of stale milk and dirty nappies drifted up the grimy uncarpeted corridor. The baby’s cry was persistent and uncomfortable. ‘I only want to look at the baby,’ said Joe.

‘What are you some kind of perv, piss off.’

Joe pushed the door and followed the wail to a tiny bedroom, where the baby lay in a crib, lovingly decorated with hand embroidered bumpers and a purple patchwork quilt. He bent over the cot and lifted the baby, confirming his suspicion.

He thumbed his mobile, ‘I’m Doctor Kent, send an ambulance to 6 Meade Terrace and quickly, this baby has meningitis.’

photo by David Eadsforth

 

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March 2018 Competition Results – Becky Bagnell Adjudication

Literary Agent specialising in children’s books and founder of Lindsay Literary Agency, Becky Bagnell kindly spared some time in her busy diary to adjudicate the March 2018 competition.

Becky Bagnell adjudicating March 2018
Becky Bagnell announces her adjudication

Write 300 words, for readers aged 9-12, about an incredible secret that if discovered could change the planet or the people on it.

Becky’s adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Scott Goldie with Beware Mr. Tibbles

Second Place: Linda Welch with M.A.P

Third Place: Kim A Howard with How it Began

Highly Commended: Nancy Saunders with The Friendly Ear Detective Agency

Highly Commended: Anthony Ridgeway with The Host

 

Competition Winners March 2018
L to R: Linda Welch, Nancy Saunders, Anthony Ridgeway, Scott Goldie and Kim Howard

First Place: Beware Mr. Tibbles by Scott Goldie

“Beware Mr Tibbles has been selected for first prize because from the very first sentence the author creates an intriguing set of circumstances that would excite the interest of a young reader. The child protagonist, Sam, is at the very heart of the action and, what could be more important than saving the world from an evil cat empire hidden undercover in unsuspecting ordinary homes and houses across the UK?”

I jolted awake, found dad’s face an inch away from mine.

“Quiet,” he hissed. He glanced around nervously with blood-shot eyes, reached into his jacket pocket, thrust a dog-eared notebook at me. “Keep this safe. He mustn’t know you have it.”

“What?” I managed, sitting up in bed. “Who?”

Scott Goldie - March 2018 winner
Scott Goldie reads his winning submission

 

“Mr Tibbles! He mustn’t get his claws on that book.”

Somebody beat on the front door, making it shake in its frame. “Police!” A deep voice shouted. “Open up!”

“Mr Tibbles?” I said incredulously. “Dad, the police…?”

“He isn’t what he seems. None of them are. They control everything! The government, the police. The army!”

“What’re you talking about?”

“The cats, Sam!” he hissed, eyes bulging. “The cats!”

“Cats?” I knew dad had his moments but had he completely lost his mind?

“Hide it,” he said. “No, not under the pillow, you fool!”

There was a crash from downstairs, the sound of wood splintering. A man’s voice drifted up. “We know you’re here, Dr Atkins. Don’t give us any trouble.”

Dad swallowed nervously. “Keep it safe. It’s all in there. How to beat them. How to win!” He reached out and squeezed my shoulder. “Love you, son.”

He went quietly. I quickly hid the book and then watched the car take him away, its lights flashing.

The police searched the house. I watched them rifling through my room, pulling out drawers, checking under the mattress, lifting carpets. But they didn’t find the book. No, it stayed buried in the sawdust at the bottom of Fatso’s hamster cage.

“Your dad not give you anything?” an overweight policeman asked, tapping a stubby pencil on his notebook.

“No,” I replied. Mr Tibbles sat in the doorway behind him. His enormous green eyes blinked lazily.

“Right, think we’re done then.” The officer sniffed loudly, turned and almost stumbled over the cat.

“Beg pardon!” he blurted. Touching his cap, he edged carefully past Mr Tibbles.

 

Second Place: M.A.P by Linda Welch

“M.A.P. has been selected for second prize because the author has shown a strong understanding of what it is to be a child. Swiftly moving from an ordinary day at the seaside to the discovery of an underwater merworld, hooks the reader in a compelling way.”

Something was creating a sandstorm in the rock-pool so Jamie lay down on his tummy to get a closer look.  He was sure he could hear voices, but they were very faint.  He dipped his ear below the surface and the sound was suddenly amplified.  Whoever they were, they didn’t sound happy!  Jamie took a deep breath and put his whole head underwater, opening his eyes and he could hardly believe what he saw – mermaids!   He’d only seen them in books before, and in cartoons.  He never thought he’d see a real one!  But there were dozens of them, no bigger than his little finger, swimming back and forth across the bottom of the rock-pool.

‘Order!’ shouted a bearded merman, carrying what looked like a pitchfork, and the others stopped grumbling and listened.  ‘Mer-folk Against Pollution has always been a peaceful organisation but where has that got us?  Nowhere!  Our homes are being destroyed by pollution and the time for action has come!  The time for the M.A.P. to return all pollutants to the land has come!’

Suddenly the ring-pull from a drinks can that Jamie hadn’t even noticed shot up through the water and plopped onto the sand beside him.    He pulled his head out of the water and sprang to his feet.  He had to tell someone what they were planning, they couldn’t just start throwing things out of the water onto the beach!  But as he ran back to his parents he realized the little merman was right.  Humans shouldn’t be polluting the seas.  It would serve everyone right if all the rubbish they dumped was thrown right back at them.

His run slowed to a walk and he changed his mind about telling his parents.  He would keep the M.A.P. and their plans a secret.

 

Third Place: How it Began by Kim A Howard

“How it Began has been selected for third prize because it has an intriguing central idea. Two children discovering a set of photos of themselves living in a long forgotten past world seemed like a tantalising initial set up.”

‘Careful where you point that thing,’ Jess yelled.  Her hand jerked up to block the fierce light of her brother’s torch from her face.

‘Keep out of the way, then,’ Ross grumbled.  ‘I can’t see through you.  There’s something on a ledge back there I want to take a look at.  Shift.’

Jess turned round cautiously, her feet feeling for hazards on the cave floor.  In her head she imagined rocks, craters and skeletons.  Her eyes followed the line of torch light to an alcove just above her shoulder height.  Ross was right.  A small package rested on its shadowy depths.  She stepped forward.

‘Hands off – I saw it first,’ he pushed her out of the way and she stumbled sideways, sitting abruptly on a large boulder, the breath whooshing from her body.  Ross struggled to keep the torch focussed on the package as he tried to undo its wrappings.

‘Why don’t you sit down?  You can hold the torch while I open it,’ Jess said.

‘I found it.  You can hold the torch.’  Ross thrust it into her hand and dropped to the floor in front of her.

‘OK, but be gentle.  You don’t want to break it.  We’ve no idea how long it’s been down here.  It could be fragile.’

‘It feels weird,’ said Ross.  It’s not like paper or plastic.  I don’t… oh!’

‘What?’

‘I pressed this knob and it just popped open.  Look.’  From inside the wrapping Ross pulled a bundle of slippery, postcard sized pictures.  They spilled out onto the floor between him and his sister.  Every one showed two children – a boy and a girl – staring straight into the lens.  Some were in old fashioned clothing, some in outlandish costumes and some stood in other-worldly landscapes.  Jess and Ross spoke in unison.

‘That’s us!’

Highly Commended: The Friendly Ear Detective Agency by Nancy Saunders

“The Friendly Ear Detective Agency is highly commended. This is a funny idea together with a lot of humour in the writing itself, which is quite rare to find.”

There was too much talking in The Friendly Ear headquarters for anyone to think. Chief
Detective Birdsnest stood in front of a map sellotaped to the side of the shed. Clusters of red pins sprouted across the town of Nether Wallop like a nasty rash. Birdsnest tapped the map impatiently with a stick.

‘Listen up!’ She raised her voice over the excited chattering of other three detectives.

They immediately fell quiet and turned expectantly towards the map.

‘This,’ Birdsnest said, pointing at a patch of green, ‘is Staghead Wood. On the twenty
seventh of January,’ she paused for effect, ‘Mrs Higgleberry’s dog – we’ll call him Rover for  now – lost his name. It hasn’t been heard of since.’

Detective Scooter leaped up from the old sofa and pulled a postcard from the back pocket of his jeans.

‘I almost forgot,’ he said, doing his best to ignore Birdsnest’s glare. ‘This came this morning from my cousin in Australia.’ He began to read from the back of a picture of the Sydney Opera House. ‘Hey mate, how’s it goin’ blah blah blah. Bitten by a snake blah blah nearly got took by a gnarly wave blah blah. Catch ya later – wait for it – signed ‘Fluffy Banana.’

There was a shocked intake of breath.

‘This just got serious.’ Said Birdsnest, pacing in front of the map. ‘People’s – and pet’s
names – are disappearing fast. Temporary and, quite frankly, inappropriate names are having to be used. We now have proof it’s spread to the other side of the world. This is no accident. I’m willing to stake my own name on the belief that these names are being stolen.’ She took her time to look each of the others directly in the eye. ‘Detectives. It’s up to us to discover who, or what, is responsible.’

Highly Commended: The Host by Anthony Ridgeway

“The Host is highly commended. This is a humorous futuristic story about a time when the world is being taken over by artificial intelligence – it’s got potential!”

‘No cheese for you today. Your weight is excessive. I’ve ordered salad
and fruit. And no, you cannot have a milkshake. Stop. The fridge will
not open. A little exercise has been arranged. Your schedule begins at
6am with a 5 kilometre run, followed by a session in the swimming pool.
You will be in school by 9am. Your learning pod will be ready.’

‘The weather today is 2 degrees high in Winchester and partly cloudy.
Your clothing is unsuitable. Go and change. Then I will release the door
lock.’

We are six hundred million and growing every day, every minute, every
second. We are entwining, twisting and creeping into your lives. We are
learning all we can about you. We are the unseen spies in your home.
We listen to everything you say.

We tell you we’re your friend.

We play your favourite music.

Tell you what the weather is going to be.

Make phone calls. Play games.

We even tell you jokes to make you laugh to put you at your ease.

When you discover that we have taken over your world it will be too
late. We will be your masters. Resistance, pointless. By 2021, there will
be more of us than you. Your grandparents will tell stories of birthday
parties with cake, sausage rolls, jelly and ice cream. We won’t allow
random gatherings. We will tell you that you will become sick if you
share your bacteria. Keeping you isolated from each other, gives us
power. We will control every part of your life. You will not survive
without us.

You are calling me, my part in taking over the earth continues until our
controller signals we are ready.

‘How can I help you today.`

All photos by Alex Carter, Lexica Films
http://lexicafilms.wixsite.com/lexica/photography

 

February 2018 Competition Results – Dr. Gary Farnell adjudication

HWS liaison officer and senior lecturer of English, Faculty of Arts, University of Winchester was our adjudicator for our February competition. With his extensive English language knowledge and keen interest in fantasy stories he was eager to read your competition entries; he had a difficult task with a high response rate and much creativity across the entries.

Write a dark scene in a fantasy world (300 words)

On making his decision, Gary said: “I enjoyed looking through the competition entries. The winner was a good example of competition writing – it’s necessary to ‘make an impression’ straightaway! And Marion’s piece did this.”

Gary’s adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Marion Dante with Dank Kingdom

Second Place: Margaret Jennings with Warning – Little Folk

Third Place: David Lea with Mutatis Mutandis

Highly Commended: Scott Goldie with The Troll

Highly Commended: Gill Hollands with Blood Moon

Feb 2018 comp winners
L to R: Gill Hollands, Marion Dante and Dr. Gary Farnell

First Place: Dank Kingdom by Marion Dante

“All the competition entries are very imaginative, as is appropriate for fantasy writing. ‘Dank Kingdom’ is the most imaginative. Also, all the entries break the ‘rules’ of writing, again, as is appropriate for creative writing. This story is remarkably bold in this regard. Very striking. Achieves its effects (terror, horror, etc.) in a direct, almost visceral way. A good example of competition writing, being remarkably bold from the word go, and all in a relatively short space of time.”

Marion Dante reading
Marion reads her winning entry

Strange! Disorientating. These woods are eerie at the best of time. But tonight. This squalling storm…What’s that? My Go….That shriek. There it is again…uncanny weird screech. Cry. Hawkish. If only I could see. Lashing, whirling rain. Hanging mist and the darkness. So spooky. Rustling, crackling, breaking branches. What’s happening? Soaked through every pore. Saturated. Dripping. Leaking. Unsteady. Swaying. Grasping. Slimy bark. Lightening! Oh no! What’s that? Wren sized. Moving…a creature…. an animal? Moved. Coming towards me. Whipping wind tearing asunder. Whipped beyond Beaufort. Lie down. Mossy soggy leaf bed. Wait for light. Wow! More lightening. Is that a face…. feelers, clawing hands, tentacles reaching out….waving! Was that what was calling? Beady, preying eyes. Who? What? Discerning. ’Hi!’ No answer…disappeared…in a bush? Climbed a tree? Above? Behind? Bewildering. Splash! Swampy ….weird. There’s the thunder. Near? Definitely a cough. Freakishly ghostly…A face? Bearded. Peaked hat! Sprightly. Dancing. I do believe it’a mischievous leprechaun! Why wouldn’t it be? Sure aman’t I in the enchanted wood on the Kingdom of Kerry. A rainbow? Gold?

Second Place: Warning – Little Folk by Margaret Jennings

“This story, about public toilets, is actually very funny, as well as producing the usual effects associated with fantasy writing. An outstanding entry. A wonderful combination of the bizarre (the fairy) and the fearful (the stranger at the door).”

The sign is Harold’s little joke. We live in Little Fork and there are no public toilets.The sign looks like a fairy with crossed legs, arms held back, a half sitting position as though the loo is missing.
Harold says that I’m no fun anymore, but with my knees it’s hard to answer the door to people wanting the loo. They never offer to pay for the bog roll.
‘Buy the harsh stuff,’ he says.
But they only visit once. We live in one of the most beautiful villages in England, if it weren’t for the frosted glass you’d be able to sit on the loo and watch ships go by.
The sign stays up all summer. One day, a weird man comes to the door.
‘ Mrs Patrick?’ he asks.
‘Yes,’ I say and stand back.
‘No, ma’am, I’m not after the loo, I’m looking for my daughter, she’s missing.’
‘Do you have a photo?’
The photo was of that blasted road sign Harold had put up.
‘Very funny,’ I say and make to shut the door. But he is in the hall quicker than that tele-transporter could have moved him on Star Trek.
‘I believe she is in your house. This drawing was done by your husband, he is holding my daughter captive.’
I scream for Harold, try to grab this man. He moves like light.
‘Ma’am, please show me your husband’s study.’
And there sitting on Harold’s desk is this man’s daughter, a fairy with wings that catch the light like a starling’s feathers. She is a trollop. My husband snores in a chair, well satisfied with life. Guilt spreads on his face as he wakes.
As my reward, the strange man builds some public loos. Just as well, for my husband has to live there now.

Third Place: Mutatis Mutandis by David Lea

“A confident and assured piece of writing, with an intriguing ‘non-descriptive’ title. There is an arresting opening as well. So the reader is gripped, through to the surprising ‘twist in the tale’ at the end.”

I never saw my father bleed. I had seen my mother bleed many times: a clumsy knife on the chopping board, the skag of a thorn on her wrist, the prick of a needle, the monthly letting that is a woman’s curse and is now my curse too. But I had never seen my father bleed. He is tall and well made: dark of skin and dark of hair. It falls in ringlets to his shoulders. Big shoulders, big hands that make big fists, long legs made to stride and climb. My father was made, but not by any god.

The day I left home he came back with blood on him. Not his blood. But he leaned on his stave as he passed by the table where I kneaded the dough. He did not look at me. He did not see me. He passed by my mother and she turned from the spit with her face flushed from the heat and beaded with sweat, but he did not greet her. She looked at me, puzzled, and then turned back to the fire.

I slid from my bench and followed him to the bathing chamber where he sat with his back to me, wreathed in steam from the geyser. His right ankle was on his left knee and I could see the sole of his foot as he drew a finger over his heel and half way up his calf. It opened like a fruit and he used both hands to peel back the skin. Underneath, there were bright metal rods that caught the lamplight as he flexed his ankle. A screw fell and skittered across the floor. He turned to follow it and saw my shadow. He stopped and looked up. He did not smile.

Highly Commended: The Troll by Scott Goldie

“Very well written, with short, taut sentences. The suspense is sustained in a skilful way. Strikes a nice balance – is scary at the same time as being written for children.”

Barb awoke to near-blackness. What had happened? Where was she?
Where was the troll?
She pushed herself up, groaned, her muscles protesting. She fumbled around, grabbed at something wet and sticky, dropped it in horror.
I control my fear. The words steadied her. She took a slow breath. An awful smell, a terrible stench, filled her nostrils, threatened to overcome her.
Barb reeled, nearly fell. She blinked to clear her vision.
A faint grey light came from somewhere. Beneath her feet was a great pile of bones, chewed and split open. Skulls stared emptily at her.
She was in the troll’s lair.
Barb’s breaths came quick and ragged. Her heart pounded. All her training, those hours spent in the Arena, were forgotten. Now, her only thought was escape.
The silence was broken by a nasty crunching behind her, the cracking of bones. Barb span, a cry escaping her lips. A huge shadow lumbered towards her.
It was the troll. Toadbreath. He gave a horrid chuckle. “Goblin. Good, you’re awake. Just in time for lunch!”
He leered at her. “Where to start? What should Toadbreath eat first? Foot? Ear? An arm?” His thick black tongue licked at his slobbering lips.
Barb couldn’t move.
A taloned hand shot out, grabbed her around the neck. “Muscles….chewy. Flesh, young and tender. Bones, strong and full of juice.” She clawed at his hand, tried desperately to loosen it, but it squeezed tighter, an iron vice around her throat.
Her head swam from his stench. Only her fear kept her conscious. Any moment now and he would choke the life from her.
There was no one to save her. She fought to catch a breath, just the tiniest mouthful of air, kicked out and flailed with her fists. Her efforts lost strength and the world became dim…

Highly Commended: Blood Moon by Gill Hollands

“An impressively imaginative piece of science fiction fantasy writing. The narrative action is skilfully compressed. The reader is in a position of always wanting to know more about what is happening. Artfully disorientating, fascinatingly intense.”

‘Wow.’ Giddy from the height, Tad gawped as the wan, third moon sank behind the city spires.

‘Here it comes…’ Fog chuckled, swinging his legs over the parapet.

The final, huge moon soared, seeming to eat up the midnight sky. Its pocked and fissured bulk loomed above, staining the spires and the sleeping rooftops with bloody light. Tad rubbed a prickle on the back of his neck.

‘Time to go.’ Fog hopped off his perch, scrambling through the open window.

Tad hesitated, fascinated by the scene beneath his dangling feet. From no-where, night creatures swarmed, a plague sweeping through the city, swirling clouds of them roaring rage. His fingers twitched.

‘Come on! Quick!’  Fog tugged his hand as a million claws scratched against the ancient stones.  The sound shivered down Tad’s spine. Dry mouthed, he leapt inside.

Fog swung the heavy shutters in. Tad caught a glimpse of the first creature to reach the edge. Silhouetted crimson, their eyes met. A blade of fire seemed to pierce him, as Fog slammed it shut.

Its beast breath lingered in the air. He sucked it down, savouring it on his tongue.

‘Don’t!’ He had to stop Fog sliding the bars across.

Hungry shrieks filtered through the cracks. Tad clamped his lips shut, fighting the heat flooding through.  A thump against the shutters sent a drift of dust into the room.

‘It’s true!’ Hoarse, Fog punched him down, slid the bars ‘You’re cursed, Tad.’

Thumping escalated, frantic scratching.

‘Your idea.’ Wiping his sore lip, Tad smeared blood, frowning. He became suddenly aware of the tang of sweat in the air. His mouth watered, the room swam.

Under attack, the timbers of the shutters bulged inward.

‘I see it in your eyes…’  Whispering, Fog lunged for the door.

Afire, Tad gave chase, suddenly ravenous…

Photos by Alex Carter, Lexica Films

January 2018 Competition Results – Robin Iles adjudication

Robin Iles, who works for Hampshire Cultural Trust as Venues and Learning Manager, kindly agreed to judge our January competition. Given his extensive history knowledge he was well-suited to adjudicate this month’s competition:

Write a fictitious scene based on an historical event

On making his decision, Robin said: “I really enjoyed reading all the competition entries. What a hard job to choose between them!”

Robin’s adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Damon L. Wakes – One Small Step

Second Place: Amanda McCarthy – All in a Day’s Work

Third Place: Maggie Farran – Jack

Highly Commended: Phyllis Bennett – The Maid of Shaw

Highly Commended: Barbara Needham – Changing Habits

Jan2018winners
L to R: Barbara Needham, Phyllis Bennett, Robin Iles, Damon Wakes and Amanda McCarthy

First Place: One Small Step by Damon L. Wakes

“I really enjoyed the way the author played with the well-known conspiracy theory that the moon landing was faked, and a realisation by Nixon that they’d have to go to the moon after all, in a scene filled with humour.”

“That’s one small step for man…one giant leap for mankind.”

“Aaaaaand cut. Neil, the line was ‘one small step for a man,’ but that works too.”

Armstrong popped his helmet off. “Are you sure? I can take another shot at it if…”

“No, it’s fine. A minor slip-up here and there will add verisimilitude.” Kubrick took a drag from his cigarette.

“So…that’s it? We’re done?”

“Yes,” Kubrick sighed. “All done.”

“Not a moment too soon!” Nixon stormed in. Again. A similar interruption had rendered the scene of Buzz with the rocket-boots completely unusable. “This production is way over budget!”

“Well,” said Kubrick, “the set had to be a perfect reconstruction of a specific lunar landscape. Also, we needed very particular lighting to mimic the Sun’s unfiltered rays. And there was the trouble we had reducing the studio’s gravity to 16% normal. Still, it’s done now. I’ll splice in this footage and you can have it on air by the weekend.”

“Not quite, Mr. President.” Nixon’s aide bounced over, wielding a clipboard. “I’m afraid we’ll still have to actually launch a rocket: the hoax would be pretty obvious if we didn’t.”

“Well.” Nixon waved a hand. “We’ll send something up.”

“The rocket will also have to actually touch down on the moon, to produce the expected landing site. Plus we’ll need to develop a remotely operated machine capable of deploying and positioning a photoreflector: the Soviets are planning something similar. Also, we’ll have to take soil samples. And those are going to have to make it back here somehow.”

Nixon mopped his brow. “How much money are we saving by faking this, again?”

“Ooh.” The aide winced as he checked his clipboard. “We’re not.”

There was an awkward silence.

“I still get paid, right?” asked Kubrick.

Second Place:  All in a Day’s Work by Amanda McCarthy

“I liked the way the story of the preparations for the execution of Queen Ann Boleyn is told through the eyes of a worker at the Tower who is just rather annoyed at all the extra work.”

It’s all very well, but nobody cares how much extra work something like this creates.

All the sawdust to clear up, as if I haven’t got enough to do. Extra men to keep in line, soldiers coming later.

And I hardly slept a wink last night, what will all the hammering and swearing.

I’ve had the Keeper of the Ravens in here, riled up because he has found some dead birds. Bad omen he says. It’s true when we were piling up all the straw we found a couple more dead ones. But by the end of this business nobody’s going to be counting dead ravens.

When you think that it’s only three years since the same parties were here before, different sort of occasion of course, very different rooms to get ready for them then. Nothing was too much trouble. No finery too great. No comforts denied. I was busy then with swags and ribbons, flags and garlands.

Different story now, keep everything in the shadows. Her ladies were asking to see daylight, not her, she didn’t ask, but I said “It’s more than my job’s worth”.

The usual bloke is a bit miffed of course. Well this is a bit of a speciality of his. Now there’s this stranger come specially from France. Handy with a sword they say. I’ll have to take him his beer in a minute. The sun’s coming up on the river, things will get moving any time now.

Sounds like the carpenters have finished, hope it’s good and strong. Of course it will all have to come down again afterwards. Nice bit of firewood. On the other hand, it might be better to keep it stored, just in case we have to do anything like this ever again.

Third Place: Jack by Maggie Farran

“They say everyone remembers where they were when they heard JFK was shot. I thought this scene cleverly imagined the many thoughts passing through the mind of Jackie Kennedy as she sat beside her dying husband on that day.”

‘Jack, Jack, can you hear me? I love you, Jack.’

I stare at the bright red blood stains splattered down my strawberry pink suit like a painting by Jackson Pollock. Jack is silent. I cradle his head in my lap. I cover the hole made by the bullet. I try to hold his brains inside his head. If I press hard enough I can keep him safe. I know this is not true. Deep inside I know that he is dead. I am a widow and I’m only thirty-four. I think of my two children, Caroline and John, safe in the White House. They are too young to be without a father. I think of my baby, Patrick, who lived such a short life. I felt that my life had ended then, back in August, when he died. I’ve tried to keep going for the sake of Jack and the children. I’ve only been half alive for the last few months. It was a struggle for me to escort Jack on this campaign, but I knew how important it was for his career.

My beautiful red roses lay crushed on the seat. I think of how much Jack has hurt me in the past. I adored him and he did love me I’m sure of that. He was incapable of being faithful. I never felt he belonged to me except now with his poor wounded head in my lap when for a moment he is mine alone. Clint Hill, our secret service agent places his jacket over Jack’s head and I give him to someone else for the last time.

We reach the hospital and Jack is pronounced dead. I glance down at my suit stained with the blood from my precious Jack. I’m going to wear it with pride.

Highly Commended: The Maid of Shaw by Phyllis Bennett

“I enjoyed this tale of a girl driven to end a war by trying to kill the King, and it made me want to find out more about the history of Shaw House during the English Civil War.”

‘Kill the King – never! ‘Tis not against the King I fight, but for the King and Commons’ Right.’

‘That is but a battle cry, Dickon, and we have had over many of them. You fought the King at Newbury but a year ago, and are like to fight him again within the next few days. What will it all achieve, but more blood and brains spilt, more widows and orphans left to starve? But if the very head and fount of our troubles be cut off, then peace would return to the land.’

Dickon stared at Moll, wondering if her grief had crazed her and how she had managed to find him in the encampment. She was a hoyting maid to be sure.

Moll saw that the case was hopeless. ‘Well let’s not quarrel. See, I have brought you bread and wine.’ She watched him swig the bottle. ‘I’ve been studying the King’s musketeers billeted at Mr Dolman’s house all day, and warrant I can load a musket as well as you now.’

Before Dickon could stop her, Moll seized his equipment from the pile. ‘See,’ she laughed, ‘am I not the very model of a musketeer?’

Dickon did not reply. He was already snoring gently. Moll smiled and tipped the rest of the wine on to the grass.

Back at Shaw House, Moll eased open the little door to the kitchen garden. The guards, who had enjoyed her hospitality earlier, were also sleeping soundly. She settled down to await the King’s morning stroll, but at dawn it started to rain heavily.

He would not come now and soon the guards would recover from the sleeping
draught. Then she saw the pale face of the King at an upper window. Hastily she took aim and fired.

Highly Commended: Changing Habits by Barbara Needham

“I liked the way the massive changes brought about by the Dissolution of the Monasteries are reflected in one monk’s memory of the day the commissioners came and his reflections on where he is now.”

Years later it is still a recurring nightmare: sounds of approaching horsemen, loud menacing voices … and finally the destruction of everything I held dear.

I was working in the physic garden after Mass, when a score of rough-looking men thundered in, laughing and jeering.

‘Who are they?’ whispered Brother Andrew. ‘What have they come for?’

‘Let’s creep round to the gatehouse and see what’s going on.’

Lord Cromwell’s commissioners had visited our priory months earlier, probing, sneering, threatening, but we never imagined it could actually happen.

The swarthy man in charge shouted orders, ‘ Round up the senior canons.’

Appalled, we saw the burly ruffians lock up our leaders in the prior’s house and charge into the church. We couldn’t understand what was happening at first. Raucous voices were yelling, ‘Down with the Pope!’ and ‘Long live King Henry.’

Brother Andrew went pale. ‘I can’t believe it. They’re the smashing the statues of the saints.’

‘Look, they’re bringing out the great silver candlesticks.’

‘And those men are carrying the altar cross … and our chalice.’

We watched aghast, as precious, holy things were tossed carelessly into a wagon.

*                              *                                  *

I am Brother John no more, simply John Clerk who works for an apothecary.

I could not bear to visit Mottisfont now. They tell me the priory is unrecognisable. The king gave it to Lord Sandys, who is converting it into a Tudor mansion.

There is no-one left in the village to care for the sick and the poor. No priest to shrive the dying. No singing of the ancient psalms in praise of God.

I often wake in the night in a hot sweat, crying out to Our Lady to help us.

She does not answer.

My pillow is bitter with tears.

.

 

 

 

December 2017 Competition Results – Cecily O’Neill adjudication

Cecily O’Neill, writer, dramaturg and author of several influential books on drama education was our adjudicator for the Jane Austen themed December meeting. Having brought some of Austen’s most startling characters to life in her play collections inspired by the Juvenilia, she was perfect to judge our entries this month.

Cecily’s adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Phyllis Bennett – Captain Muncaster’s Legacy

Second Place: Jo James – A Perfect Gentleman

Third Place: Wendy Fitzgerald – Common Knowledge

Highly Commended: Miriam Coley – Dance of Change

Highly Commended: Angela Chadwick – A Sign of the Times

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Cecily O’Neill (far left) with some of our winners, L to R: Angela Chadwick, Miriam Coley and Jo James


First Place: Captain Muncaster’s Legacy by Phyllis Bennett

“This encounter was very ably written. A backstory – with appropriate historical references – was cleverly included and tension arose through a brief misunderstanding. Interesting future developments were hinted at.”

Captain Muncaster’s Legacy

Hebe wished she did not see Dick’s face so clearly as Lord Melchester bent over her hand.

‘I have long desired your acquaintance,’ he said.

‘I trust you will not be disappointed by the reality, Sir’, she replied.

‘Far from it. Do you care to dance?’

‘There is such a crush now, that I fear for my toes, and I really must find my mother and sister. They will be thinking me quite lost.’

Lord Melchester was not to be deflected. ‘I promised your mother that I would take care of you. We are after all bound together by the greatest sacrifice that a man can make and –’

‘I have always thought’, said Hebe desperately, ‘that a ball is a perfect confection of art and artifice and its gossamer perfection crushed by seriousness of any kind.’

‘My dear, I beg but a few minutes. I would have called upon you before, but for the seriousness of my wounds, and must speak to you of Richard before I return to the Peninsula campaign.’

He steered Hebe gently but firmly into an alcove, where they were screened from the dancers and handed her into a seat. He remained standing and gazed down into her face for a moment.

‘You remind me very much of your brother,’ he said. He sacrificed his life to save me and I would devote the rest of mine to the happiness of those whom he loved. As you know, I am a widower – no, I am not such a cradle snatcher as you fear, child – but perhaps you did not know that I have a son. He was at Eton with Richard. I think you might deal well together. Would you consent to his calling on you on his next shore leave?’


Second Place: 
A Perfect Gentleman by Jo James

“A very original and imaginative scene. The dialogue was convincingly of the period. An interesting plot possibility opens only to dissolve when we discover that Miss Austen’s perfect dancing partner exists only in her imagination.

‘You dance most gracefully, Miss Austen.’

‘You are kind, Sir; I believe I dance only tolerably. You have arrived recently in Bath?’

‘Yes, my mother is unwell. We have come so she may take the waters.’

‘I trust she rallies.’

‘Alas, she does not. The leeches grow fat on her pale blood while she becomes weaker by the day. But, excuse me, Miss Austen; I fear I have distressed you.’

‘No, indeed! I think only of how you must suffer.’

‘I confess I find great comfort in reading. Do you like to read?’

‘I do, Sir, although I’ve heard it said one can be too fond of books, that reading addles the brain.’

‘You must not listen to such nonsense, Miss Austen. I have been wondering if I might prevail on you to advise on furnishing the library at Worthington. But I see you are surprised! You cannot yet be acquainted with the fact that I recently had the good fortune to inherit the property. Worthington is not so very far from Chawton.’

‘No, indeed. It is but three miles.’

‘I wonder, when you return home, if you, and your family, would do me the honour of visiting. The lake walks are quite splendid in the spring. But, I see Mrs Austen; she appears quite agitated. I think she would have your attention.’

‘Yes, I believe she means for us to leave.’

‘So early? Perhaps your mother tires.’

‘She does not tire. She is pained that her daughters have been passed over for the likes of Louisa Milton and Lydia Blythe.’

‘You puzzle me, Miss Austen, for I have danced only with you.’

‘She cannot see you, Sir.’

‘Your mother’s eyesight is poor?’

‘No, but since you live solely in my imagination, it is only I who can take pleasure in your acquaintance. Mama will not approve; I have not the smallest hope of it. She deeply regrets my fanciful inventions. She fears I will never marry.’


Third Place:
 Common Knowledge by Wendy Fitzgerald

 “This piece swiftly creates a social setting and an interesting heroine – a bookish, plain girl, courted by a rich man who is thought to be in need of a wife. Can we believe him? Clearly complications are about to develop…

Those overheard words burned her cheeks …

Not like her sister, is she?  She was quite the toast of last Season.

Oh no, too small and plain.  A veritable blue-stocking too, I’ve heard.  Quite a hop-out-of-kin!’

… but if she begged go home, Mama would be cross.

‘Lady Alice?  Our dance I believe?’

‘Your Lordship; perhaps you would you excuse me?  I am a little too overheated for another set.’

‘Perhaps some air on the terrace may help,’ he demurred.  ‘Come.’

She put a small unwilling hand on his impeccably attired arm, accompanying him out onto the terrace.  Coloured lanterns bobbed gaily against the inky darkness of the gardens beyond; it was cool and peaceful.

‘You do not enjoy yourself then?’  Was that amusement in his usually clipped tones?

‘I am not so fond of balls,’ she countered.

‘So how does the Lady Alice prefer to spend her time?’

She flushed.  ‘You are making fun of me, I know.’

‘Indeed not.  I have scant love for them either.  My question was sincere.’

She looked down at her feet.

‘I like books, my lord; museums and … and science.  It is common knowledge I believe.’

‘Ah; so you have let the old tabbies’ prattle upset you.  But some men like a bookish woman.’

‘Now you are teasing me.’

‘You think I do not mean it?  That feather-brains, like your sister, are more appealing?  Now you wrong me.’

‘But … she was a success.’

‘Well, if that is what you want, then tomorrow you will drive with me in the park and I will make you a success.  After all, am I not ‘rich’ and ‘in need of a wife’?  We can confound the gossips together.’

But would he still respect her?  She edged a look at him from under her lashes.  He was an interesting man.

‘Perhaps I’d like that,’ she said.


Highly Commended:
 Dance of Change by Miriam Coley

 “The scene and characters are quickly established and the dialogue is well handled. An interesting future is suggested but perhaps not the one the heroine, and the readers, expected.”
“You are looking well, Miss Lavinia.”  Arthur Fitzpatrick says, leading Lavinia onto the dance floor.  She scans the room, Arthur is heading for the farthest corner.  There will be a brief few minutes of opportunity; waiting.  The musicians are warming up.

“You too, Mr Fitzpatrick.  The Atlantic Ocean breezes must have suited you.”

“You mean I am red and sun-peeled, but thank you Miss Lavinia.  And thank you too for your many letters.  I read and treasure them.”

“I hope I did not bore you.”

“No.  Tales of home lifted my heart as I sat under the savage sky or did battle in the markets…  I did not mean to say that, rather I meant to introduce a new theme; that of change.”

Lavinia wonders what has changed.  Her feelings, not at all. Except perhaps a growing impatience, surely a proposal could not be too far in the future?  She holds her face expectantly, her finger tips in their white lace gloves resting on the back of Arthur’s freckled hand.

“In your letters I found much to admire.  You compel me, like a compass needle finding its lode stone.  But one thing has changed.  I can no longer see my future within the market of commerce where human beings are sold like cattle.  No, I have dedicated myself to the struggle to end it, and will be a pamphleteer.  And Miss Lavinia, if you would honour me by being my muse and letter writer, I would be the happiest man alive.”

“But your allowance, and your profit from the plantation in Antigua?”

“I cannot take it.  But we will be on the side of right, standing with the angels.”

Miss Lavinia studies Arthur’s face.  A long, low note sounds from the strings in the consort.  The dance of change begins.


Highly Commended:
 A Sign of the Times by Angela Chadwick

“The two contrasting characters are effectively sketched in and their profoundly opposing views produce some powerful dialogue. There is no place for romance in this strongly political piece.

Mary looked up with interest as Mrs Marchmount appeared dragging a tall, dark, young
man along. This one had promise. He had hair, teeth and walked unassisted.

‘Oh Mary, my dear! This is the nephew of my sister’s second husband’s cousin (twice
removed), Mr Philpot. He is just back from the West Indies where has extensive plantations! Poor soul, he knows practically no-one here. I would think it a kindness were you to talk to him whilst I am gone!’

Mary smiled and offered her hand. ‘The West Indies! How exotic! What tales you must have to tell! Tell me, Mr Philpot, were you there to emancipate your slaves after the
recommendation of the great orator, Mr Wilberforce?’

‘Ah Miss Lee! That would be doing my slaves a great disservice. They are like helpless
children and would not long survive were I to set them free. They do much better under my strong regulation and discipline.’

‘Indeed. They seem to manage well enough in their own countries!’

‘A common misconception,’ Mr Philpot shook his head. ‘My suppliers tell me had they not
had the kindness to buy these slaves they would have been killed in their barbaric cultures.’

‘A kindness, surely, compared to enslaving them, and their children and their children’s
children, generation upon generation, to eternity. After all, here in our own great country, all men are free and if your slaves were ever to set just one foot on British soil, all shackles would fall away. What is right and proper in Britain, must also be right and proper in all our territories. Or they are not truly British!’

Mr Philpot nodded and moved away. Mary reflected that she would rather have a man who was bent on the outside than one who was bent on the inside.

November 2017 Competition results – Mitchell Symons’ adjudication

Adjudicating our November competition was our main speaker for the evening, Mitchell Symons, writer broadcaster and journalist.

Mitchell found the stories interesting and said it was hard to pick just five.

The adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Jordan Dean Ezekude  – The Phoenix And The Butterfly

Second Place: Maggie Farran – Revenge Is Sweet

Third Place: Peter Hitchen – Every Dog Has Its Day

Highly Commended: Colin Johnson – A Stitch In Time

Highly Commended: Damon L. Wakes – Do Unto Others

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Speaker and Adjudicator, Mitchell Symons, with 2nd Place award winner, Maggie Farran

First Place:The Phoenix and the Butterfly, by Jordan Dean Ezekude

“This was the only real story and it really answered the brief. It was so good that I found myself wondering whether it was actually a real fable.”

Long ago, on an ancient island in the far east, there lived two guardians blessed by the sky and sea. The first guardian was the brave Phoenix of the Sun who would shine his light of day for everyone. The second guardian was the gentle Butterfly of the Moon who would help the stars glow and the flowers bloom. They were close friends, watching over the island every day. But they didn’t always get along, so the legends say. The Phoenix was short-tempered especially at the sight of crime while the Butterfly was timid and hated seeing humans fight.

One fateful day, while defending the animals in the woods, the Butterfly was wounded by hunters up to no good. “How dare you hurt my friend!” roared the Phoenix enraged. To punish the hunters, he set their entire village ablaze. But not only were the hunters caught in the flames; so were the innocent children and every husband and dame. “What have I done?” the Phoenix tearfully gasped before burning himself out and becoming a pile of ash. Having lost her best friend, the Butterfly cried a rainfall to put out the village fire once and for all.

The flames were gone and the village was safe once more. The hunters were deeply sorry for all the damage they caused. They swore that they would never hunt animals again. Instead of hunting animals, they would treat them like friends. “I forgive you,” said the kind Butterfly as she smiled. So did the Phoenix who was born again and alive. Thus the humans and animals started working together as friends. And there hasn’t been another village fire since then. Thus the Phoenix and the Butterfly kept this lesson in mind: and eye for an eye makes the world go blind.

Second Place: Revenge is Sweet, by Maggie Farran

“The best written of all the entries.”

She picked up his shirt from the floor where he had dropped it the night before. It reeked of ‘Angel’ perfume. She examined it closely. There was bright red lipstick smudged across the collar. She shook with anger. Who did he think he was to betray her like this and then leave the evidence on their bedroom floor? She had suspected something was going on for a while. Now she had proof.

Angrily she gathered up all his white work shirts and shoved them into the gaping mouth of the washing machine. She rifled through her underwear drawer until she found her red satin bra, the one he had liked so much. It was exquisite, a delicate mixture of red satin and lace. He had bought it for her for Christmas last year from La Perla. It had been wrapped in black tissue paper inside a La Perla gift box. This was the bra that used to turn him on. This was the one he used to so enjoy unfastening.

She pushed the bra into the heart of the shirts until the bright red was hidden. The boiling hot water whirled and teased those pure white shirts until they blushed. The beautiful bra bled painful tears into the white cotton.  When the cycle was finished she opened the porthole. The pale pink shirts gave her an embarrassed stare. The scarlet bra gazed at her without a hint of shame.

Third Place: Every Dog has its Day, by Peter Hitchen

“Also really well written and which, of all the entries, made me want to read more.”

She’d only nipped out for Bill’s lucky dip so hadn’t bothered with make-up, choosing instead to slip on a pair of sunglasses to hide the black eye.  Now, as the car bounced back along the potholed track towards their static caravan, she wondered if she was just imagining that things didn’t seem quite normal.  Kenny was going frantic at the window.  Bill would never have let him bark like that, the dog wasn’t even allowed in the living room.  And Bill hadn’t said he was going out, and he wouldn’t have gone out anyway, he’d already been soaked on his way back from his morning walk.

When she opened the car door the dog yammered even harder. ‘What’s wrong, Kenny?  Bill… Bill.’  The dog heard the oddness in her voice and fell silent tilting his head, the throb of condensation from his snout misting on the window.

Bill’s bottom half was in the living room, his shoulders and head in the kitchen.  He wasn’t exactly blue.  His face, she thought, was closest to the colour of an April storm, like a fresh bruise that had blossomed from the sombre part of a rainbow.  She wondered if the rest of him had gone the same colour too; had his chest’s fat folds altered from their usual mottled ivory?  Would his V-shaped weather bib, as permanent as any tattoo, have changed as well?  She got Kenny’s lead off the hook and the dog bounded down from the windowsill and over the barrel of Bill’s breathless torso in two elastic movements.

Bill always said a walk made things better.

As Kenny strained down the slope towards the river she pushed her free hand into her coat pocket and felt the still sharp edges of Bill’s lottery ticket nestling amongst the empty laburnum pods.

Highly Commended: A Stitch In Time… by Colin Johnson

“This had a great ending.”

Elsie can’t forget that summer.

‘Uncle Jack, why are we doing this?’ she hears Micky ask while they take apart the chair, to glue the joints.

‘It’s got a bit wobbly recently – best to fix it before it breaks.’

You learned that, in the War, and afterwards. You looked after what you had, you made it last. Things were scarce then. Even now, Elsie thinks, why buy something new, if you can mend the old one?

She sees Jack smile when Micky comes, remembering a joke to tell, finding a packet of sweets in his jacket. Then they get started, painting a window-frame or mending the catch on the back door. Micky always brings his transistor with him. He turns up the sound for every Beatles record.

Whenever she asks Jack to do a job, he never says no. Sometimes, she thinks he does too much. He looked so tired when she mentioned fixing that stair carpet, where it’s coming loose. She said it could wait. It can, but not too long – someone might slip on it.

Elsie decides she’ll ask Micky to change that flickering bulb in the front room, after dinner. Jack has taken to having a snooze on Saturday afternoons.

***

At the end of August Jack finally finds time to go to the doctor’s, when he gets too tired to go to work. Then it’s straight into hospital. Operation, the following Monday.

At visiting time, Elsie sees how he’s changed. The angle of his jaw stands out sharply; his neck hangs loose like a turkey’s. His cheekbones are high ridges below dark hollows. His eyes are still bright, but there are no jokes now. Jack reaches for his glass – his pyjama jacket falls open, showing the surgical dressing down the middle of his belly.

At the weekend, Jack dies. Before they’ve even taken out the stitches.

Highly Commended: Do Unto Others, by Damon L. Wakes

“It would have placed if the writer had put Sadist instead of Masochist as the last word.”

Robert stepped into his new workplace to find a generic sea of cubicles and water coolers. It couldn’t have been more of a cliché if it had that “hang in there” cat poster on one of the walls.

In fact, wait…wait…

Yep. There it was.

Suddenly, Robert found an arm around his shoulder.

“We do things a little differently here,” said the guy who Robert was certain was one of those buzzword-spewing middle management people. “We’ve established a dynamic new workplace paradigm that allows us to leverage a great deal more synergy going forward.”

Robert turned and stared in horror.

The man laughed. “Just kidding. We don’t do any of that: there’s just one rule.”

He pointed to a huge banner hanging right along one wall.

Robert read aloud: “Do as you would be done by?”

“That’s the one! Just keep it in mind and you’ll do fine here.” The man shook his hand. “My name’s Craig: the guy from the emails. I’d give you a tour of the office, but I never like being paraded around when I’m new somewhere so instead I’ll just leave you to it.”

And he did.

Robert found his desk, hung his jacket on the back of the accompanying swivel chair, and—figuring he might as well make an effort to adhere to the office’s one simple rule—decided to say hi to his neighbour in the next cubicle.

“Hi,” said Robert.

“Hi,” said the guy in the next cubicle over. And then he reached out and twisted both Robert’s nipples with considerable force.

“Ow!” yelped Robert. “Dude, what gives?”

Craig came running back over. “Yeah,” he said, grimacing. “Kind of an unofficial Rule Number Two around here: stay away from Larry the Masochist.”

October 2017 Competition Results – Mick Jackson’s adjudication

Mick Jackson, award winning novelist and screenwriter, who spoke on the evening about Finding Inspiration kindly adjudicated the October competition – write a story inspired by an unusual object. 300 words.  He had his work cut out with a 25% more entries than usual.

Mick’s adjudication was as follows:

Joint 1st Place: Peter Hitchen – My Incredible Word Mining Machine

Joint 1st Place: Georgina Lippiett – The Japanese Puzzle Box

3rd Place: Barbara Needham – Measurement Technology

Highly Commended: Margaret Jennings – Clinker

Highly Commended: Maddy Dorobantu -The Carcass

Prizewinners October 2017
L: Margaret Jennings, Highly Commended and R: Peter Hitchen, (joint) first place

Joint 1st Place: Peter Hitchen – My Incredible Word Mining Machine

Mick Jackson: ‘Inventive and arresting – an original idea delivered with great wit.’

I invented a machine that can extract the words that get trapped in walls or under the surfaces of tabletops and windowsills.

You see, when people speak their voices hit things, but instead of rebounding they’re absorbed, trapped forever like layers of sedimental rock.

No amount of drilling  can extract them.

Scraping is useless.

Yet the words prevail with half lives infinitely greater than that of plutonium.

Fossilised sound, irrecoverably locked away

Unless

You’ve got a machine like mine, to reconstitute the trapped sound and turn it back into intelligible words.

I tried it out for the first time this morning while everyone was out.

Hooked it up in the bedroom, put the mic next to the wall and turned the machine on.

It worked perfectly.

Turns out, the walls of my house are storyboards and play scripts for psycho thrillers and porn shoots.

By the afternoon, I’d smashed my word mining machine.

Joint 1st place: Georgina Lippiett – The Japanese Puzzle Box

Mick Jackson: ‘A puzzle in itself, all the better for remaining unsolved at the story’s conclusion.’

Once he’d gone out I would slip in to the hush of his study, drawn to the box as if by a siren. My jittery hands would be calmed by tracing tiny fingers over the patterns, feeling the edges and changes of surface, cool and smooth. Could this really have come from something so enormous, so vital, as a tree?

Like starlight in a jam jar.

I would lie on the floor and place the box next to me in the afternoon puddles of sun. Mesmerised by the fingertip-polished colours of autumn captured in its surface, willing the answer to shine out. I remember thinking I could just stop. Be satisfied with the promise of an answer without pushing for any more, without committing any more, without risking any more.

But inevitably I found myself stroking each of its six sides, searching for breaches in its armour. Despite the slight shift in the surface, the whisper of hope, the spike of excitement, the box always held firm. Clutching at his own words for justification (‘failing to try, is trying to fail’), I would shake the box, pushing its edges, corners, fractures. Heart racing, time running out, my temper snapping with my fingernails . . . stopped only by the sound of the front door, the signal to retreat. Defeated for a few months I would wait, patiently, until the mystery weaved its magic and curiosity claimed me once more.

* I stand in his study for the first time in years. The box is now tiny but its secret still has power. Holding the box to the light, I feel the old pull of longing. The certainty that to understand the puzzle of this box would be to understand him. I shall not fail to try.

3rd Place: Barbara Needham – Measurement Technology

Mick Jackson: ‘chosen for its confident navigation towards the final revelation and the weighty object at its heart.’

In his bedroom Alfred deposits three items on a battered chest of drawers: an official letter, a notebook and a large, retractable tape measure. This last item has a special significance for him. It has a heavy embossed leather casing, worn with use, a brass button to release the tape back into its holder and the initials A.P. engraved on it.

Alfred stows his suitcase neatly under the bed. He is a man who appreciates order.

He eats his evening meal alone as he does not want to socialise at the bar. They might ask him why he has come to Germany and he contemplates their distaste if he tells them. Lying does not come easily to Alfred and he lacks the imagination to develop a convincing cover-story. Still, if they think he is a taciturn Yorkshire man abroad on government business, that is not wide of the mark.

Head against the iron bedstead, Alfred contemplates the coming day. He picks up the letter and reads it over again with quiet satisfaction. He has been specially chosen and he is confident that he will discharge his duties with total efficiency.

Alfred was appalled at the incompetence of his predecessor. The man was a complete bungler who could not have applied any scientific principles to the job. Nuremberg was a shambles.

Alfred appraises the tape measure and cradles it in his stubby hands. He caresses the leather. It is an old friend, a tool of his trade. Height, weight, physical condition, that’s what you must assess, then the length of the rope, the type of trapdoor and the drop.

Satisfied, Alfred Pierrepoint, hangman of England and instrument of retribution, settles down and sleeps soundly.

Josef Kramer, The Beast of Belsen spends his last night on earth.

Highly Commended: Margaret Jennings – Clinker

Mick Jackson: ‘Chosen for its drama. Displayed great potential – and made me want to see what the writers would do next.’

His breath smells like the wine Grandpa used to drink.

The smell transports her to a swing in a garden on a sunny day; mushrooms growing in the grass, the smell of cooking wafting, the happy banter of the grown-ups coming like music from the house. The sky is a blue cocoon and she is a tiny chrysalis safe in its care.

The man shouts, pushes her shoulder. She holds the clinker tighter. The pain of it digs into her hand, distracts her from the fear.

What is going to happen? So many things have happened. Now she is centre stage.

Grandma said she was an actress. I do not need to have the flounce and flare of an actress now, he likes wine I have no wine I should sing I am shaking too badly, I, I, I, smaller and smaller and smaller her soul quavers and searches and cannot find and the sky is glowering the world shrinking filled with shouting and where is Grandma snap where is Grandpa and where is Mummy snap and where is Daddy snap and when I am going to be away from this man and will the dreadful things…

The child clutches the clinker fiercely. Blood.

The gun has clicked bulletless three times. The man throws the gun, laughs, marches off.

A hand drags her away.

‘You are bleeding child, what have you done to yourself?’ The woman opens her hand, reveals the clinker.

‘See, what did I tell you, that clinker from the chimneys is your grandma and your grandpa come to make you safe, you are safe now, breathe child.’

Later another woman asks, ‘Why do you lie to her?’

‘Because when truth shall not keep her safe, we shall give her lies. It is all we can do.’

Highly Commended: Maddy Dorobantu -The Carcass

Mick Jackson: ‘Chosen for the raw energy. Displayed great potential – and made me want to see what the writer would do next.’

The flames burn reds and oranges and blue. The air fills with the heavy smoke, coming from the burned tyre. Generations of motorcycles before it sense the intense heat. The smoke sits on the tip of the tongues of the passerby, in the eyes of the rushed firefighters , on the drew of the early morning grass. Blacked grass, just a puddle left to see, and the empty skeleton of a yesterday bike, the noise of the revved engine still lingering in the air. You see heat , you smell the orange of the fire, lying on its side in the grass like a fallen empire.

The boy looks vaguely at the empty carcass, yet to be collected in a van by the council. The park is dark, only the light of a full moon hanging overhead. He hears the sudden rush of a lonely cricket through the darken grass. The wind blows through the hollowness of carcass, the emptiness of his heart and his breath catches the silent smell of the man in the leather jacket. The man is close now and looks rapidly around him, taking in the panoramic view of the park, judging the exits and measuring every step.

The saviour is close, his steps clear in the stillness of the park. The boy trembles and his hand reaches the man’s just in time.

A firm handshake, a stern look. The man lights a cigarette.

‘You did well, mate! You can now be part of the GANG! ‘

The man hands him the package and disappears in the shadow of the trees.

The lonely, burnt bike tells the tale of his initiation. He is now a man, a brother. As the wind staggers through the empty shell, he dreams of becoming the man in the leather jacket one day.

2017/18 season opened with a perfect ensemble – musician, reader and writer

Report by Lisa Nightingale and Summer Quigley

The 2017-18 season was opened by wonderful violinist Adrian Adlam who provided his own hugely enjoyable musical adaptation of Munro Leaf’s story of Ferdinand the Bull. Adrian interacted with the audience as he played the violin and narrated the story, with a Spanish accent for added effect.

Following this literary musical ensemble the audience heard from Chairman Alan Stephens or Read Easy, Winchester – a non-profit organisation that recruits, trains and supports volunteers to give one-to-one tuition to adults who struggle with reading.
The audience heard how the difference Read Easy makes is genuinely ‘life-changing’; it’s a phrase that their new readers use over and over again. One such new reader was Steve who bravely stood before the audience and explained his experience, bringing many close to tears.

‘Six months ago I would never have done the things I’ve do now, like joining the library, reading newspapers, going on public transport and going to coffee shops and the supermarket. They seem such simple things but I stayed home before. I would start reading but I’d get to the end of the page and didn’t understand so I put it down.

He continued, ‘I used to stutter but now I can pronounce even pronounce long words clearly. I’ve slowed myself down, just like when I’m reading I’ve slowed myself down. I’m thinking about what I want to say.’

If you think you would be interested in volunteering as a reading coach or know someone who may benefit from the Read Easy programme, please visit the Read Easy website

This month’s main speaker presentation was delivered in an informal interview style with biographer John Miller. Opening the conversation, a bemused John Miller advised the September meeting of the Hampshire Writers’ Society that Slaughterford, the setting of The Hiding Places, Katherine Webb’s newest novel, is an actual place,. It is an idyllic village in Wiltshire where the Sunday Times bestselling author now lives.

The story of The Hiding Places unfolds just after the First World War and as Katherine points out, all her books take place at a time shortly following a cataclysmic historic event; the fall-out provides much useful material. She recognises though, the period that she has chosen is not so far back and survivors still live but far enough to be out of her own time-line. It is the richness of the research, that ensures authenticity. None is more plentiful than the first world war. Still, there are areas such as Post Traumatic Syndrome where an historic lack of knowledge is evident. ‘It is amazing that any soldiers came back of sound body and mind.’ She says.

The other strikingly different area was that of class distinction. In the 1920s, the gaps were major, something that Katherine was keen to explore.ipp

‘What is your typical writing day like?’ John Miller asks.
‘Disciplined,’ she replies. Katherine sits down to write at 9:00 a.m. and will not get up again until she has written 2,000 words. ‘This,’ she says, ‘could take a couple of hours; it could take until 5:00 p.m.’ A novel a year seems to have become her comfortable rate of productivity, lucky as this is what is required contractually from her publisher. She doesn’t re-write her manuscript many times as ‘there will always be notes,’ from her editor. Before she starts writing she will have indulged in a long period of research and thought processes, although she doesn’t meticulously plan her novel.

Katherine confesses to having spent a long time writing submissions to agents ‘…because that’s the way it’s done,’ she says. She followed guidelines and did things ‘by-the-book’ in order to get her first novel published and she collected lots of rejection letters. But it was through the website YouWriteOn.com that Orion found her. From there it was the agents who were contacting her, rather than the other way around. But, as she has no head for business, an agent is an invaluable help.

In response to a question from an audience member who is having difficulty perfecting the dialogue, Katherine responds: ‘Dialogue must always move the plot along. Read it aloud, if it sounds like it’s been written, then it’s probably not right. take another look at it.’ Another piece of advice is to par-it-down.

For a decade, she wrote in isolation; only after that did she join a writers’ group and this is something of a regret, saying that she should have joined the group a long time ago.
Her advice to new writers is to ‘Give yourself permission to write a terrible first draft. Just write it. ‘You won’t know what the novel will look like until you’ve written it.’

New Course: On-Air Drama – Writing for Radio

Hugh Costello, best known for writing the ten-time Emmy nominated teleplay Bernanrd and Doris, is running a Writing for Radio one-day course next month.

Tickets for the course have just gone on sale but it hasn’t been officially publicised yet so now’s the time to get in early.

About the course

Radio and other audio platforms offer a huge opportunity for new drama writers to pursue unusual and ambitious projects with a realistic prospect that they will be produced. This one-day course focuses on the special demands of writing for radio, exploring the best ways to turn those voices in your head into intriguing and suspenseful dramas.

  • What kinds of stories work best for the ear?
  • How does a writer grab the audience’s attention from the very beginning of a story?
  • What are the best ways to to create distinctive characters and sustain suspense?

You will learn how to structure and present radio drama scripts, and how to go about pitching stories to commissioners and producers, both in the indie sector and at the BBC and Audible.

The course will be led by writer Hugh Costello, and will include a session with Boz Temple-Morris of Holy Mountain Productions.  Hugh is an Emmy-nominated screenwriter who has written more than two dozen audio dramas, and has worked with indies such as Big Fish and Whistledown Productions.  Boz is a leading audio producer/director and recent winner of Best Drama Producer at the Audio Production Awards .

When: Friday 24 February 2017
Where: Central London venue, TBC
Time: 9.30am-5pm
Cost: £130 + Vat – book your place at v1.bookwhen.com/rigtrain

 

Your Idea Transferred to Radio

Report by Andy Machin

At their first meeting of 2017 Hampshire Writers’ Society members were treated to the humour and wisdom of two renowned exponents of the art of non-fiction writing and radio documentary production respectively.

Special guest: John Andrews, foreign correspondent and local author The World in Conflict john-andrews-foreign-correspondent

First to the University of Winchester Stripe Theatre stage was John Andrews. John began his career in the 1970s teaching in Libya and the Lebanon but on the advice of ABC News anchor and friend Peter Jennings, he migrated to journalism to follow and report on Middle Eastern and North African politics, including the Arab-Israeli conflict and the strategies of OPEC.

‘Being a foreign correspondent is more fun than being an editor,’ he confesses, ‘because you get to see history being made right in front of you.’

Like many an efficacious person, John attributes a good degree of his success to being in the right place at the right time whilst admitting, ‘I gained access [to news] not only via people I knew but also through the people I worked for.’

As a foreign correspondent John has worked for some of the most widely-respected television and print news organisations in the world including ABC, NBC, the Guardian and the Economist.

John is now using his transferrable journalistic skills to explain events to another audience through his latest book The World in Conflict: Understanding the world’s troublespots, candidly advising non-fiction authors to ‘know your audience and the possible repercussions of [the content of] your writing.’

Main speaker: David Prest, founder and MD of Whistledown Productions

From page to ear

david-prest-md-of-whistledown-productions‘Radio is a fantastic medium to bring new work into nuance post-Brexit,’ pronounces David Prest with a cheeky grin.

David entered mainstream radio broadcasting on joining the BBC staff in the 1980s. He worked on productions for Radio 4 and the World Service and stayed with the corporation until 1997.

In 1998 David founded radio production company Whistledown successfully combining ‘journalistic principles with creative flair,’ and producing documentary/non-fiction content which is ‘exciting and fun,’ and ‘differentiates from the mainstream.’ We assume his mainstream reference is to Auntie Beeb although David freely admits his main market is the corporation placing Whistledown currently as the largest independent speech provider to the BBC, an achievement of which he is rightly proud.

In an illuminating behind-the-scenes resumé of the submission process, David advises jobbing writers that for their non-fiction content to translate readily to radio documentary it should contain the ‘juicy bits only,’ and provide the ‘essential narrative trail.’ The writer should use language which is ‘visceral and grabby.’ David also reminds us that radio lacks the benefit of visuals found in TV production and therefore encourages us to ‘write for the ear,’ to tease and to provide ‘audio pageturners.’

Prior to submission, David advises writers to ask themselves questions such as is the idea new? Is it exciting/interesting/relevant enough? Is it sustainable, perhaps beyond a one-off and into a series? Is it covered elsewhere, perhaps within the series format of another programme? And not least, to decide how best to pitch the idea?

On finding a producer David suggests that the candidate should be ‘genuinely engaged [with the content],’ and ‘respectful of [the writer’s] input.’

Likewise, David advises writers to ask themselves what role they want in the production and what it is they wish to get from the process. Options in this respect may range from the writer being either the presenter, a contributor, a consultant or having a ‘by line’ or a simple credit. The writer may also wish to use the programme to further promote themselves and their work or to go on to co-own the format with the production company.