February 2019 Competition Results: Claire Fuller – Adjudicator

The February competition was judged by our local, Winchester-based novelist, Claire Fuller.  The brief was to write a last letter from a parent to a child and more people than ever took up the challenge!

Just a reminder to all entrants – please could you leave your name OFF the actual story submitted, but make sure it is included in your covering email.  Thanks.  

And the winners were:

First Place:  The Year of Our Lord, 1832 by Barbara Needham   

Second Place: Follow Your Dreams Sally by Lynn Clement

Third Place: Dearest Lizzie by Margaret Jenness   

Highly Commended: A Good Man by George Rodger

Highly Commended: Pastiche, The Big Top, Southampton by Gill Hollands    

feb-winners.jpg

Highly commended, Gill Hollands, with first prize winner, Barbara Needham and highly commended, George Rodgers

 Photo by Alex Carter: lexicafilms@gmail.com

First Place: The Year of Our Lord, 1832  by

Barbara Needham

‘This letter had a wonderful narrative and a really strong voice.  The parent shows us so much about the recipient and what’s happening, without it feeling like we’re being told information.  There’s even a little mystery – the recipient has done something bad but we don’t find out what.’

My Dear Child,

You know I am unlettered, so this is in the hand of Mr Loveless, the Methodist preacher. I pray it reaches you in time.

After the terrible events of yesterday, I went with your sisters to your father’s grave. We wept for him, so lately gone, and we wept bitter tears for you. You tried so hard to replace him as man of the house. You should never have done what you did, but God knows, you did it to help us.

Smudge is pining for you too. He sits by your empty chair whimpering. The girls pat and fuss, but he will not be consoled.

When the jury pronounced you guilty, I feared the judge would put on the black cap and send you to the executioner. I could tell from Squire Frampton’s crooked smile he was hoping for it. He has given us notice of eviction, nailed to the cottage door. We have to be out by Lady Day.

But I do not want to burden you with our troubles. You have enough of your own. Transportation to Australia. Many weeks on a ship – you who have always lived in this little Dorset village and have never even seen the sea. My heart is breaking.

You must know this secret before you go. Your sweetheart, Violet, is with child. Her parents are kindly and will not throw her out. I pray it is a boy, as she says she will call him Reuben, after you.

Be of good courage, my darling son. As long as I live, every day as the sun sets here, I will think of it rising over you, on the other side of the world.

Your loving mother.

Second Place: Follow Your Dreams Sally by Lynn Clement

‘This letter was very clever.  Only when I got to the end did I realise what was happening and so, of curse, I had to go and read it all again.’ 

Dearest Sally,

By the time you read this I will have gone. Well, I might still be there but you won’t see me again. I’ve asked Mummy Jane to open this letter if I’m not heard from by Christmas, when you are nine.

As I’m writing this you have just celebrated your sixth birthday. It was a lovely day. Remember; red balloons and a bouncy castle. Mummy Jane and I were so proud of you. You looked lovely in your silver party pants. You said you felt like an astronaut.  Ask Mummy Jane to show you the photograph of the three of us – big smiles. I took a copy of that photo with me.

I am sorry that I missed your seventh, eighth and ninth birthdays but I am glad you are proud of me. (Mummy Jane said.)

I am sure you are doing well at school and enjoying all they teach you. Do remember that not everything they say can be proven – yet. Have your own mind and question things. Art is just as important as science; ask Mummy Jane she’ll tell you it’s so. She loves her re-cycling sculptures. I hope you’ve made one.

Be happy my darling girl, as I have been happy with you in my life. Follow your dreams wherever they lead you, no matter how far you have to go to achieve them. The world is out there waiting for you to explore it, but sometimes even the world is not enough and you’ll have to look further.

My dearest Sally, always have love in your heart, let bad feelings go and embrace everyone, no matter where they come from.

They might not have found me but I am sure I will find something out there – something that will make a difference to us all. There has to be life on Mars.

I love you forever Sally,

Mummy Caroline.

XXX

Third Place: Dearest Lizzie by Margaret Jenness    

‘This letter was really moving and nuanced.  I liked how we learn the writer’s backstory, and I felt the author had really got inside the head of the parent to understand what he might be feeling: scared, worried, and even practical.’

Field Hospital 10

Helmand

Dearest Lizzie,

I know that I am dying.  I am reconciled but heartbroken that I will never see you again, walk you down the aisle, hold your children or take them to football.

After mum died, you begged me not to do this last tour of duty abroad but to take a post in the United Kingdom.   “I’ve lost mum.” you said.  “I don’t want to lose you too.”   Perhaps you had a premonition!  I still miss your mum too, darling.

I’ll never forget the tears in your eyes when you, nana and grumps saw me off at the station. Look after them.  They are so proud of you, their granddaughter, the doctor.

I don’t know if I ever told you how much I like David despite his preference for rugby!  I’m sure when you do get married, you’ll be very happy.  I could see how much he loves you when we last went out for a meal together in Salisbury.  Treasure those photos and remember me as I looked then.  You would not want to see me now.

In the top righthand desk drawer, you’ll find the paper work you will need for all the legal stuff.  The army will do some but the bulk of it will fall to you, my darling.  I’m sorry.  Accept offers of help.  It’s hell to do!

There’s also a list of people to contact.  When they ask you how I died, tell them courtesy of a landmine!  Family flowers only. Ask for donations to the charity Bobby Moore founded to help landmine victims.

I heard a groan then! Mentioning my football hero even at the end!

Goodbye, my darling.  Lead a good life!  Never forget how much mum and I love you.

With all my love.

Dad.

 

Highly Commended: A Good Man by George Rodger

‘A clever twist in this letter with a very sharp and polished writing style.

The letter, hand-delivered, was waiting on his doormat when he returned from the hospital.  Michael shook the drops from his raincoat and sat down at the table.  He’d left the hospice just before his father had received Father Kelly’s thumb on his yellowed brow, slipping from life at St Mary’s an hour ago.  He wasn’t old, just weakened by the cancer that had hollowed out his body over recent months.  He’d boxed professionally until he was thirty-five before starting work as a driver, twenty years ago, for Mancini Brothers, local businessmen.

‘Mikey,’ the letter began, ‘I’ve written this in haste, as I expect to be dead any minute from now.’

Michael smiled.  His dad; always the joker.

‘You’ll be hearing I’m a good man when I’m no longer here to deny it.  But in my life, I’ve done bad things.  I didn’t want this life for you.  That’s why whatever I earned went into your education.  A driver’s salary could never pay for your lawyer’s degree so I did special work – violent work.  I’ve threatened, crippled and even killed people for John Mancini.  It’s all written down, sealed in an envelope with Father Kelly.  Everything’s there; the policemen and the politicians we paid off, the wives we turned into widows.  Pick up the envelope tomorrow and take it to Police Chief Farrell.  Tell him it’s my dying declaration.  He never liked me but that’s probably a point in his favour.  It’s a pity I’m dead now.  This is just about the only decent thing I’ve done in my life and I’m not going to be around to see the results.  Mikey, now you’re a lawyer; do some good.’

Michael stared at the letter for a while before picking up the phone.

‘Yes?’ the silken voice of John Mancini oozed out of the earpiece.

Michael whispered, ‘Father Kelly’s got a letter.  I’ll bring it to you tomorrow.’

‘Thank you,’ said Mancini.  ‘Oh, and my condolences.  Your father was a good man.’

 

Highly Commended: Pastiche, The Big Top, Southampton by  Gill Hollands  

‘A bitter sweet and very original story with a strong voice.

Son,

First, you should know, you’re not an only child. It drove your mother crazy, like the others’ mothers. They all fell for the laughs at first. I guess comedy palls for some.  Besides, I can’t stay in one place too long. I’m a free spirit. You are my seventh son. That’s special. None of them have the gift, except you.

The day you were born, with my shock of orange frizz, I knew you were a chip off the old block. Caught perching a tiny tomato on your nose, the nurse threw me out before I could dust the talcum on your face. Next visit, I brought you baggies, long shoes, a sparkly waistcoat. Your mother threw me out. So continued my parenting, as you know.

You mastered that first bike with its square wheels. Guess where it came from. Growing, you learned to tumble and fall like a pro. I yearned to join in when you juggled or spun plates. Your yodelling was inspired. I howled at her screams the days you nailed her shoes to the floor. One day I stopped you getting run over, your head buried in a joke book. Just a shove. Yes, I was watching, so proud.

Even your first car fit the bill perfectly, when the panels kept falling off. It all comes naturally to you. You’ve filled my shoes. Keep an eye on the athlete’s foot.

I should have locked up the cannon explosives, never considered blowing up your mother. Don’t doubt, I deserve to be here. I’ve had a blast on death row; great food, endless material. Don’t feel bad.

I trust only you to write me a fitting epitaph. Wear a big bow tie. Put on a show.

Remember me and laugh.

Bozo.

 

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January 2019 Competition Results: Della Galton – Adjudicator

The January competition was judged by novelist and short story writer, Della Galton. The brief was to write 10 New Year’s resolutions in the style of a young adult character.

Just a reminder to all entrants – please could you leave your name OFF the actual story submitted, but make sure it is included in your covering email.  Thanks.  

And the winners were:

First Place: No snow yet; my spots are worse by Helen Adlam  

Second Place: Must Happen – New Year’s Resolutions by Gill Hollands

Third Place: Resolute Rick by John Quinn   

Highly Commended: New Year’s Resolutions by Maggie Farran

Highly Commended: New Year’s Eve Resolutions by Mark Eyles   

 

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Winners: Mark Eyles, John Quinn, Gill Hollands, Maggie Farran and Helen Adlam

Photo by Alex Carter: lexicafilms@gmail.com

First Place: No snow yet; my spots are worse by

Helen Adlam

Nice writing. I liked this one a lot. I felt the voice was authentic and the way the story emerges was subtle but clever.’

New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Never give up hoping for snow.
  2. Stop eating chocolate so my spots get better.

I saw Steve outside the community centre tonight.  I was gonna say Hi, but the floodlight in the carpark  made my spots look mega, so I kinda muttered and backed off before he got a proper look at me.  And it never snowed.

  1. Actually speak to Steve Gray.

Nat and I hung out in the village and got chips.  Steve was there with his mates.  Nat showed off, draping herself all over him, so he starts asking her about college and who she fancies.  I went home early.

  1. Ditch friends who can talk to boys and don’t have spots.

So I was really over Nat, but then she asked me to the mall with her so I thought, sure, why not.  At the mall she had no make-up on, seriously, she is totally covered in spots.  I don’t get it.  How come no one noticed????  How come Steve never said anything??  It’s not fair.  Still no snow.

  1. Stop caring what people think of me.

Yeah.  I can’t do this.  I’m going to rub that one out.  If I don’t care what people think of me, then what’s the point?  I might as well stop watching Zoella and ditch all the makeup.

  1. Build a ****king snowman one day.

OMG!!! It snowed today!!  Nat and I hung out at the Rec and I caught snowflakes on my tongue.  We did snow angels and I couldn’t stop laughing.  When I looked up, Steve was standing over me.  ‘You’re a total nutter,’ he said.  ‘Wanna get a hot chocolate and dry off round mine?’

… I might write the rest of my resolutions later.  Been kinda tied up lately …

 

Second Place: Must Happen: New Year’s Resolutions by Gill Hollands

I like the slowly emerging and quite chilling story. Another authentic voice. Well done.’

  • Run us to school every day I can. We all need to get fitter and faster. Fitspiration!
  • Stop biting my nails or at least ease up. Grow a weapon (useful for school, too.)
  • Arm up and practice. Pepper, knife, acid at least. This one holds grudges.
  • Make a stash of cash. Sell more stuff? Hide it deep.
  • Gear up after school. Hunt out better earners. Good tips in sleazy clubs? Byron’s Bong Deliveries? Can’t be too picky.  Ask Dench Darron, he’ll know, if his squad will let me near. Those lame apprenticeships they’re pushing won’t cut it, not for three of us.
  • Get advice. (Childline?) Talk to someone, anyway, not the school kid-catcher. Can’t swerve it any more. He’s getting worse.
  • Stop him picking on Daisy before he hurts her. There’s ugly in his eyes when he watches her. Can’t just threaten him, can I? Nose still wonky from before. Distraction? Maybe more sleepovers with friends?
  • Stop using the headphones to drown them out. Listen and learn. Man up and call the police next time.
  • Tell the truth. Don’t cover up for him any more. Open her eyes somehow, make her believe me.  Never let her cry alone again.
  • Escape free and clear. Start again with no looking back over our shoulders. It’s not like we haven’t done it before. This better be the last time.

 

Third Place: Resolute Rick by John Quinn    

‘Very entertaining. This made me laugh and I loved the characterisation of Rick. Good title too. ’

So, this is Mum’s idea, but I thought I better keep the peace and go along with it, especially after the Xmas we’ve just had! Sometimes I wonder not only why Mum and Dad stay together, why any of us do. Most of the time I don’t reckon anyone living under our roof really likes anyone else under it!

Still, here goes, my New Year Resolutions…

1, Get laid! That was a pretty easy one. If you believe my schoolmates I’m the only virgin left! Not that I believe them, not all of them anyway. Certainly not Slimy George!

2, I refer the Right Honourable Member to my previous resolution. God, 16 years old and the only time I’ve even touched a bra was in Marks and Spencers.  Or Mum’s, bringing in the washing, and that doesn’t count!

3, Start revising… exams only a few months away and, according to Dad, my whole life hangs in the balance.

4, Develop a photographic memory? Or learn how to cheat; either would help with resolution number 3!

5, Get a part-time job that doesn’t involve getting soaked and frozen every night delivering bloody newspapers!

6, Start having to shave. I know I get the Gillette GII out once a week, but that’s only to get a cut or nick so I can pretend to my mates that I have to shave regularly. By now I should have hair sprouting out of my face like Desperate Dan!

7, Create world peace and end starvation – it’s compulsory to have something like this in your list… or is that beauty parades?

8, Stop being the last one chosen for a football team at Wednesday afternoon sports – it’s SO humiliating!

9, Ask Rob to ask his girlfriend, Shauna, if her friend, Kerry, might want to go to a film with me.

10, GET LAID!!!!

 

Highly Commended: New Year Resolutions – by

Maggie Farran

‘This had an excellent voice. I believed it was a young adult.  Actually it reminded me of my 12 year old! Well done.

  1. I will try to have a civilised conversation with my Mum, even when she is being annoying. I will look serious and appear to listen when she is telling me boring stories about her day.
  2. I won’t treat my Dad like a taxi driver all the time, only when I’m really in a hurry or it’s getting dark.
  3. I will only borrow my sister’s clothes when I’ve asked her first, except her new Top Shop skirt. I’ve got to wear it Emily’s party because Joe will be there.
  4. I will try not to tease my brother so much. His nose is extraordinarily big and his feet do smell, but I’ll try not to bring that up in an argument.
  5. I will start to talk to Joe in a normal way. I won’t blush and act like a mute whenever I see him at school.
  6. I will work hard at school and do my homework. I won’t copy it from Kate so much, even though she always gets brilliant grades.
  7. I will try to eat more healthily and not snack on junk food, but I’m never going to eat sprouts, even if they are some kind of super food. They are disgusting and are never going to pass my lips.
  8. I am going to go for a short run before school every day, through the park and along Joe’s road, if I can get out of bed in time. I shall wear my new navy shorts and my sister’s little strappy top.
  9. I will offer to take our dog, Toby, for a short walk every day, on a similar route to the run.
  10. I will smile and look happy most of the time except when my family are being particularly annoying.

 

Highly Commended: New Year’s Eve Resolutions – by

Mark Eyles  

This was amusing throughout, and I believed in the voice of the young adult.  Well done.

  1. Make more friends. Well, at least one more friend. A real friend. Not like last year’s new friend.
  2. Practice my dancing. Following the improvements I made last year I am clearly impressing everyone. Let’s take it to the next level.
  3. Have lots of intimate time. Preferably with other people. Of the opposite sex. In private.
  4. Do not drink until I puke. Drink only until I am mellow.
  5. Be more careful about photos for Instagram/Snapchat. Especially do not post anything on an account the parents can see. Again.
  6. At least one steady girlfriend would be good. A new one, not going out with she who I no longer name, for yet another year, just because it is convenient. Though it is convenient…
  7. Finish college, go to university and get a job. Actually that will probably take longer than a year. Though with my brilliance…
  8. Work on getting some washboard abs. Need to drink more protein shakes to achieve this. Start eating meat.
  9. Take up transdental meditation. Get in touch with my inner awesome.
  10. Be an existentialist.

 

December 2018 Competition Results: Joan McGavin – Adjudicator

The December competition was judged by Joan McGavin – poet, PhD student and former University of Winchester Creative Writing Lecturer.

The brief was to write a 300 word journal entry from an archaeologist who finds an artefact in a field on Christmas Day.

And the winners were:

First Place: Diary Entry for Christmas Day, 2014 by Barbara Needham 

Second Place: Antony and Cleo by John Quinn

Third Place: The Dig Diary of Max Glover by Emma Latham  

Highly Commended: Christmas Diary by Colin Johnson

Highly Commended: 25th December 2017 by Angela Chadwick  

 

December winners

Colin Johnson (left) with speaker, Penny Ingham; first place winner, Barbara Needham; special guest, Joan McGavin and John Quinn.

Photo by David Eadsforth 

First Place: Diary Entry for Christmas Day, 2014 by

Barbara Needham

‘This was a convincing account with a sympathetic archaeologist whose personal circumstances were economically presented.  A very strong response to the challenge set.’  

Strange Christmas. Second one without the children. My Ex’s turn this year. Wonder if she gave them their presents from me this morning? Damn her!

The French do things differently here. Christmas Eve is the great feast. 18 of us round the table last night. No idea how many courses or what I drank. Pierre and Marie-Christine wonderful hosts. For a time I forgot I was an absentee parent.

Work on the farm never stops. Joined Pierre early taking feed to the cattle. Don’t know how I got out of bed after all that wine. A murky morning, on what was the Western Front. Pierre is an expert on WW1 memorabilia. As a child he was fascinated by stuff turned up by the tractor –  shells, bits of machine guns, gas masks, mugs, tin plates etc. I’ll always be grateful for his help on my book.

We walked together from the cattle sheds along a recently ploughed field. That’s when I spotted it. A small round rusty object poking through the soil. A quick wipe and we realised what it was – a German tunic button.

Maybe because it happened exactly 100 years ago today, imagination got in the way of hard evidence. We both knew the stories of that first Christmas truce. At midnight, guns fell silent and some of the Germans started singing Stille nacht, heilige nacht. Tommies replied by singing carols. In certain places both sides moved cautiously into no-man’s-land, shook hands and exchanged gifts – like cigarettes, spoons and tunic buttons!

Young men, far from home, many longing to see their children on Christmas Day.

Plus ça change as the French would say.

Second Place: Antony and Cleo by John Quinn

‘There’s a lot of humour here: in the narrator’s unconsciously revealed self-centeredness [and] in his wife’s irate note.  Well done; you’ve written a funny and very readable piece.’

Diary, 25th December, Dorchester

This is the most remarkable day of my life! My discovery, in the grounds near the Old Roman Town House, confirms my theory and will change forever our understanding of the relationship between the British indigenous tribes and the Romans.

More importantly, it will crown me as the foremost commentator and Roman expert in the country! There is certainly a book, possibly a TV programme. Who knows, a series? I could be the media’s next history expert: a young David Starkey with a dash of Brian Cox. Why not, I’m not even 50 yet.

This is the culmination of a decade’s work and a lifetime’s experience. And everyone will remember I made the discovery on Christmas Day!

I arrived home from the dig to celebrate and tell my wife what her genius of a husband has achieved and what do I find? A glowing log fire, the enticing aroma of mulled wine and roast turkey? The metronomic wagging tail of a delighted Labrador and the gentle hiss of the Christmas pudding being steamed to perfection?

No! I receive the cold greeting of a scrawled note on the kitchen table. ‘Antony, you were born a selfish bastard and you will die one! I’m not, have never been and will never be a size 16! Not that you would ever know; you haven’t looked, let alone admired or caressed anything other than your own ego and old bloody artefacts for the last 15 years!

‘If it was another woman: fine! But I can’t compete with a cold, mud-filled excavation ditch and 2,500 years. Don’t try and contact me!
‘Ever!
‘Cleo.
‘P.S. There’s a sandwich in the fridge.’

On the most wonderful day of my life, this is how she treats me. Some people are so self-centred!

Third Place: The Dig Diary of Max Glover by

Emma Latham  

 ‘I liked the way this entrant had done some research in tackling the challenge and incorporated the results seamlessly into the plot.  Neatly done.’

Pouilly-Le-Fort, 25th December 2018

Just after sunrise: clear winter’s morning.  Le Champ Maudi (The Cursed Field) next door to our gite.  Walked the perimeter: the ditch contained the usual jumble of roofing tiles, a few broken bits of crockery, clay pipe head – Flemish?

Ran my eye slowly over the expanse of corrugated mud, sparkling with frost.  A larger glint of reflected sunlight caught my attention.  As I worked to free the object, I realised I was brushing soil from the brow of a skull, with a blue-green iridescent ‘pebble’ of glass lodged inside the eye socket; it’s rounded and frosted – blinded by the relentless action of time.  As more glass was revealed, I had one of those spine-tingling moments.  I’ve found a tear vial bottle – intact!  I suspect it’s Holy Land, Roman Period, 1st Century AD.  Fantastic – a once in a life time experience!

Sent photo to Dan Bones (osteologist at the museum) with query: Roman?

Punctured my thumb on a shard of bone which bled badly.  I had to keep licking it, so returned to the gite for first aid.

By the time I got here, the kids were awake and Christmas Day was in full swing.  Nancy dressed my thumb and persuaded me to stay put.  I’ll go back to the dig tomorrow.

Dan emailed.  He’s started his research – turns out we’re holidaying in the area where Pasteur performed vaccine experiments (1880s) on cattle infected with anthrax.  Anthrax was so widespread that the abattoir on that field was closed down.

I’m turning in early.  Feel freezing/generally lousy and my thumb is as swollen and red as a Boudin sausage.

*

Trembling, Nancy traced her index finger over her husband’s writing, then closed the tatty notebook, still unable to comprehend that these were his last words.

Highly Commended: Christmas Diary – by

Colin Johnson

‘The way you change the diarist’s attitude […] from the start of the entry to the end is clever.  You use direct speech to good effect.’

25 Christmas Day

9.30.

Blasted Mike called again. Today of all days! Every time he turns up a ring or a sovereign! Why can’t he just sell them to a dealer?

Says he’s found some Saxon coins in a field. Will I go and do a ‘proper’ excavation! If I dip out on Suzie and her kids she’ll be furious. But if Mike’s right…

  1. 1900.

Met Mike about 11. Early frost all gone. Thin sunlight glowed on the stubble as we crossed the field.

Seven shallow pits marked a pie slice on the ploughlines.

Mike raised one eyebrow. I said nothing.

“Look!” he said, his detector near the point of the slice. He showed me signals beneath the turned earth that could have been metal strips.

Deep to them was a solid reflective mass.

I held my breath. We looked at each other.

“What d’yer reckon?” asked Mike.

“Could be,” I breathed.

He held out the coins he’d found on Tuesday. His hand was shaking as I took them up one by one. Three or four mid-Saxon. The others unidentifiable, outside the lab.

He was right.

I could hear my heartbeat. My mouth was dry.

Today, an exploratory dig, confirm the find. Then come back next week with the cameras and the team.

We dug down to the rusted iron strips, like flaking leather straps. Carefully I brushed away the soil between them to expose the edge of a hard grey mass, like squashed-up Plasticene. A groove, maybe from the plough. I dusted off enough earth to confirm two more coins.

That’s when I told him. This will be called the Stockbridge Hoard.

Mike wanted me to be there, to share this with me. He’s a good friend!

Suzie tried to sound pleased when I told her.

Highly Commended: 25th December, 2017 – by

Angela Chadwick  

Deftly told and I very much liked the way you leave us with a mystery’

I woke well past my normal 7am start this morning, courtesy of Midnight Communion at the Cathedral. My dreams had been full of powerful organ music, candles and mystery so I was quite groggy.

Porridge for breakfast but in view of the festive season I added cranberries. Wendy called. She and the boys are well and had had a wonderful day. We said the normal stuff about being together next Christmas but we both know New Zealand is just too far.

Spent the morning preparing lunch. About two, I called Poppy and we headed out. I thought we might meet Doug and I was right. The dogs took off and we continued down the track. It was a good job I was wearing wellies because the ground was sodden. Note: it has poured almost every day for a fortnight.

We got to the little escarpment but it wasn’t there anymore. The ground had slipped. The path was gone, buried under earth.

I heard Doug’s sudden intake of breath. “What’s that?”, he pointed to the far end.

“Oh my God, you’re right” I said. “Come on, it could be a roman hoard!”

I could see coins, tarnished and worn, spilling down the slope and I scrabbled through the mud. I fell once or twice and got quite filthy.

“Yes!” I was jubilant!

I heard Doug panting behind me. “Not them,” he said. “That! I swear it’s an AK47! “

After that it got decidedly less exciting. The police arrived. They kept us there till gone dark. They shouted at us for contaminating their crime scene. The dogs were bored. We were cold. Eventually they let us go.

It was only later this evening, as I sipped my cocoa, that I thought, “Why were the roman coins on top of the gun?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 2018 Competition Results: Gary Farnell – Adjudicator

The November competition was judged by Creative Writing Lecturer and acting HWS Chairman, Gary Farnell.

The brief was to write a 300 word account of an air crash survivor’s last few minutes in the air.

And the winners were:

First Place: Love Thy Neighbour by Gill Hollands

Second Place: Toxic by Barbara Needham

Third Place: Get a Grip by Helen Adlam  

Highly Commended: Going Down (in History) by Damon Wakes

Highly Commended: Now Concentrate … Think! by John Quinn 

 

November winners

Helen Adlam (left) with Barbara Needham, Gill Hollands,  John Quinn and Damon Wakes Photo by Summer Quigley

First Place: Love Thy Neighbour by Gill Hollands

This piece offers a highly dramatic situation in highly dramatic writing. It breaks the rules of writing [and] the heightened realism makes it outstanding – a worthy winner!’ 

‘Passengers please adopt the brace position.’ 

It drowns out my iPod. I forget my aching back. Stunned silence hangs. Time stops.

Dancing oxygen masks fall.  I jump.

A child wails. Shrieks explode.

The aisle is a ramp. Bottles roll.  Newspapers slide.  Shoes flip.  Light strips flick on.

Vibration. Clacking teeth. Jelly bellies.

White knuckles on the armrests. The plane howls.

Cursing, the mask defies my fingers.

Screaming.

‘What’s happening?’ A man shouts. A chorus. Unanswered.

Finally, I fit the mask.  Sweet air rushes. I pant it in.

‘Help!’ My neighbour’s hand fumbles. I snap elastic on grey curls.

‘All window blinds up, please!’ Yells a voice from below.

I reach across, yank up the blind. Gasp.

Flames, streaming. Black clouds billowing. Can’t swallow.

‘Ahhh!’ Wails my neighbour, arms up.

Muffled screams. Shouts. Prayers. Sobs. Flailing limbs.

Past the flames, I see blurring fields, buildings.

‘Brace! Brace!’ The captain yells. The siren blares.

I slap my hands over my head. Smash my face into the seat in front. Wait.

Grinding. Roaring loud. Louder. Engines scream. Cover ears. Wait.

Bang! Flying out my seat. Seatbelt tight. Slapping down.

Screeching. Hurtling, out of control.

Blue lights flashing past.

Slower. Leaning. Hanging on the belt. I see only asphalt.

Smoke. The strip lights flash.

‘Evacuate. Evacuate.’   Quick.

I unclip the belt. Unclip hers, coughing.  Climb into a crush. Drag her up. Fight them off. Shove her ahead.

Canted aisle underfoot. Hauling on seats.

Barged.  Can’t see. Shoved. Can’t breathe.

Arrows.

Magnet sunlight.  Eyes smarting, running.

She’s gone. Wait.

A hand pushes me down.  Hacking, I sit, slide.

Blinding day. Champagne air. Solid ground.

I heave deep breaths.  Stinking fuel.

Services converge. Foam billows.

Stumble to the bus.  A zombie shamble.

Safety.

A grey head lands on my shoulder.

We cry together.

Second Place: Toxic by Barbara Needham

‘Perhaps the most imaginative entry in this month’s competition [with] close attention to detail and careful plotting within the space of 300 words.’

‘Orbit and descend to landing site.’

Those were our orders.

We carried them out faultlessly.

‘Fire the retro-rockets,’ Ched commanded, his voice calm and authoritative. Immediately, the craft swayed and began decelerating. We were on the final approach.

There was an undercurrent of excitement among the crew, as red craters and sulphurous pools loomed around us. After years in space, we were about to land. We had rehearsed this manoeuvre hundreds of times.

But there was a problem.

‘Re-program system. Re-program system.’ The monotonous voice of the on-board computer interrupted our preparations. The warning lights flashed. ‘High definition analysis of destination area shows rocky outcrops. Re-program system.’

Chief engineer, Kai, looked aghast. ‘Bloody hell!’ he shouted, swinging into action, his robotic hand changing controls to manual, imputing coordinates of the new landing site. We all knew that last minute alteration in direction was fraught with danger.

While he was distracted, I covertly removed a small unit from the cryogenic store.

‘Solar energy reserves are low.’ Ched stared at banks of monitors.

‘And wind speeds high. More than 100 kilometres per hour.’ I voiced concern.

‘We are being swept off course. Brace yourselves. Brace!’ yelled Kai.

The spacecraft lurched uncontrollably, hurtling towards a jagged surface. A mighty explosion ripped the fuselage in pieces, scattering twisted metal and plastic.

In the eerie silence, I stumbled out of the carnage, clutching the frozen package, turning its dial to thaw mode. I smiled as I passed the mangled body of Ched. Now he was out of the way, I was free to assume the mantle of leader.

Even as I put the little box down, a jostling sound came from within. Eggs from planet Zog, soon to grow into the obedient slaves of this new toxic world. And I was their master.

Third Place: Get a Grip by Helen Adlam 

‘The story is clever at being funny and frightening both at the same time.’ 

You’re hurting my arm.

I am?

Yes you are.

Right.   But … WE’RE GOING DOWN!!  You heard the brace announcement, right? 

Yes, I did.

WHOA!!  DID YOU FEEL THAT?

My arm -?

Oh, right …  Hold on …  Ok, so my fingers are kind of locked on.  It happens when I’m scared.  I mean, when I’m, like, totally freaked out.  It’s very debilitating.

Isn’t it.

You seem pretty calm.  You know, considering. 

I just wanted to finish reading this chapter.  If I can.  So, if you don’t mind …

Ok.  Wow!  Like, really, WOW.  Because I was thinking that if I get out of this alive … I’m doing BIG things.  I’m going to totally turn my life around …   

Good for you.

I’m thinking a kind of AA 8 step plan thing.  Or is it 12 steps?  12 sounds a lot.  Anyway, I’m going to make amends to everyone and HEAL myself.    Starting with my mother.   Ooh, so …  Where to begin?   I mean, my mother could be a total pain in the arse.  Very manipulative.  Right from when I was around five.  Or six?  No five.  Six – yeah.  I was small for my age.  Look, I’m sorry but …                                          

What?

Could you, you know, put the book down?  You probably don’t realise, but you’re giving off a very negative energy.  I’m finding it pretty stressful, to be honest.

Fuck’s sake

Sorry?

Putting the book down now.

Ok – thanks.  Gently would be good.  No … okay.  Your call.

* * *

Anyhoo …  after my mother and my father, there was granny.  Now granny ………  JESUS!! YOU MUST HAVE FELT THAT!  I CAN SEE CARS ON THE GROUND!!   I CAN SEE …  actually … you’re sort of hurting me.  Your hands round my neck are, like, totally cutting off my ….  

 

Highly Commended: Going Down (in History) by Damon Wakes 

‘This has the most sophisticated vocabulary of all the entries [and] is bold in its intellectual conceits.’ 

It’s strange, the kind of thing that pops into your head when you’re about to slam face-first into Greenland at six times the speed of sound. For me it was: “Oh no, not again.”

I’ve tried to explain that a sleigh is a ground vehicle – suited for a very specific type of terrain – and that it lacks the control surfaces required to manoeuvre with sufficient precision to navigate to the house of every child in the world while also maintaining the speed necessary to do so in just one night. I’ve also made the case that although it is – contrary to all common sense – possible for the collective wishes of mankind to get the sleigh airborne, the 1.9 billion stockings’ worth of toys and bonbons still have negative buoyancy and will tend to make for a rather top-heavy ride.

Frankly, as I barrel towards the ground at eighty miles a second, I’m forced to wonder why an individual elf with the industrial output of a large Chinese province would opt to move cargo by sled in the first place. You’d have to imagine he’s got the wherewithal to build a sizeable aeroplane. A blimp. Even an ekranoplan.

I am not being politely self-deprecating when I say than an uncommonly shiny reindeer nose is no substitute for the anti-collision lights mandated by law.

For me personally, I suppose Father Christmas’ slapdash approach to aviation isn’t too much of a bother. If you’re magic enough to withstand the aerodynamic heating you encounter on this kind of journey, you’re magic enough to have it end in a faceplant and still walk away.

It’s the children I feel sorry for.

And the parents, who’ll have to buy the toys themselves for the 2,019th time in a row.

Highly Commended: Now Concentrate … Think! by John Quinn 

‘The prose is very lively, with an effervescent quality. It is very effective at capturing the equivalent of an adrenalin rush in the speaker’s mind.’

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Minutes to live… should I record a farewell to the kids on my phone?

Ridiculous, it won’t survive the crash! I could scroll something on the back of the menu with lots of kisses? Stupid: it will burn in the fire.

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Shouldn’t my past life be flashing before me? No, that’s when you drown, idiot! How about regretting things I’ve done? Wouldn’t it be better to regret the things I haven’t done, like climbing Everest or becoming vegetarian? No, soya’s rubbish!

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Bloody English passengers, all calm and considerate. The bloke across the aisle is offering to share his tiny bottle of Prosecco with the old lady next to him. Why can’t this plane be full of Italians: all shouts, panic and gesticulations? At least it would be entertaining, rather than polite.

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

What about sex? When the lads are having a beer we’ve talked about ‘what we would do if we knew we had minutes to live.’ And it’s always included sex. My last act on earth, or at least above it, could be to join the mile-high club. I should grab one of the cabin-crew, throw her over my shoulder, drag her into the toilet and have my wicked way. Maybe not with my shoulder…

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Well, they do work – the oxygen masks actually do magically appear, hitting you on the head. Those yellow mouth covers look like they are dancing on the end of their clear tubes. Now concentrate… think! Say a prayer or find religion. No, I gave all that bollocks up at the age of eleven.

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Why have I pulled this seatbelt so tight, it’s cutting the blood supply? Still, that’s the least of my worries.

Fuck …

 

 

 

 

 

Hyde 900 Poetry Competition – Winners Announced!

Thank you to everyone who took part in the Hyde 900 First World War Poetry Competition.  The winners, judged by Edward Fennell and his panel, were announced on Saturday 27th October at Hyde Parish Hall, and beautifully read by local actor, Nigel Bradshaw.

The shortlisted poems were:

‘Theatre of War’ by Patsy Rath

‘The Potato Field’ by Kevin Barrett

‘Home’ by Jenny McRobert

‘Woman in War’ by Sue Wrinch

‘Missing Soldiers’ by Sue Wrinch

‘Hero’ by Jacqueline Norris

‘To our Unshared Childhood’ by Hilary Hares

… and the winners were …

 

First Place:

‘The Potato Field’ by Kevin Barrett

Winter is about to drop
From a dark cloud,
And the smell
Of old potato mould

Clings to the last haulm,
The crunch of hobnails on gravel
Breaks the silence,
And in the flames

I see vacant eyes
Staring across a wind stroked field
Where the spade
Unsure in gun calloused hands,

Scattered the first tubers
Onto the free black soil,
Such are the things I contemplate,
When I stand alone

In a field stroked by the wind,
When winter is about to drop.

 

Second Place:

‘Home’ by Jenny McRobert

You come home to me
with peonie arms, their petals
quiet-fall covering my face.
Your feet tread over new day poppies
that open to receive your touch.
Your face fades
like warm summer wind
as you move towards me.
Behind your eyes I see the mud flood
and slip through.

Pale in false lightening, strung together
like rows of newly ripe fruit
hanging on a fragile bough,
they turn their driftwood eyes
to those that wait, who fix the horizon.
Limp fingers fumble
the tattered fabric of their lives,
as point on point they stitch
through time’s treacle-tread.

Your gentle hand
whispers my moistened cheek.
Folding my sadness into your palm,
you pick up your knapsack
and turn to resume your journey.
Like foot-padded night,
you carry the swag
of my sweet sleep
tossed
carelessly
over
your shoulder.

 

Third Place:

‘To our Unshared Childhood’ by Hilary Hares

He’s the boy who stands and grins
behind the cricket stumps

and, in another shot, Goliath, braced
behind the plywood shield my father made.

If I’m bored, I’ll make him into a game
of knights and dragons on the kitchen floor.

When I play up he’s the sword
the Red Queen raises – I pretend

we share the step where I’m sent to sit.
Today he’s the man who carries

wartime back from the camp
in a bag of kit;

the man I’ve never met,
the soldier, who, my mother says,

will live with us and call me
sister.

October 2018 Competition Results: Adjudicated by Ian Thomas

The October competition was judged by this month’s speaker, Ian Thomas, who runs Talespinners, a story-for-games company.

The brief was: Write a 300 word pitch/story outline for a computer game.  

And the winners were:

First Place: Abyss Diver by Jordan Ezekude

Second Place: The Mortician’s Cruise by Alex Carter

Third Place: Draw Nine by Damon Wakes  

As there were slightly fewer entries this month, no ‘highly commended’ prizes were awarded.  

October winners
This month’s winners: Damon Wakes (left) with Ian Thomas, Jordan Ezekude and Alex Carter.
Photo by David Eadsforth

 

First Place: Abyss Diver by Jordan Ezekude  

 ‘This is a pitch which could easily exist as a current game.  It shows a good understanding of game mechanics, player choice, setting and advertising copy.’

Intense side-scrolling demon-slaying adventure awaits in Abyss Diver, a new roguelike dungeon-crawling platformer starring the angel of vengeance Kushiel! Scorned by Heaven, feared by Hell and stalked by Death, guide the relentless angel through the nine circles of the abyss and save the Earth or die trying! In Abyss Diver, you control Kushiel, a rebel from Heaven on a personal mission to free the Earth from the Seven Sins by diving into the abyss and slaying its infernal masters, from the lazy Belphegor to the boastful Lucifer. Whether he succeeds or fails depends entirely on how you play! When the world enters a dark age in which its people are overwhelmed by violence, selfishness, hatred, fear and despair, the Heavens begin to lose the faith which they earned over the centuries. Bound by divine law, the angels above are forbidden to directly intervene with the crumbling human world. Unwilling to sit back and watch as human society loses control and falls apart, the short-tempered but caring Kushiel runs away from the Kingdom of God and prepares to infiltrate the Nine Circles of Hell and destroy their evil influences on the world as we know it. Kushiel’s dive into the abyss will be faced with tremendous peril and hostility, crawling with hordes of blood-thirsty demons and wretched traps. Armed with only his blade, bow, arrows and wits, he will need every treasure and weapon he can get his hands on, each with their own unique traits. He will also encounter the souls of mortal prisoners, each with their own blessings and curses, which Kushiel may either redeem or punish. Remember this: who you redeem and who you punish will determine how the story ends.  Now brace yourself for a holy dive to remember in Abyss Diver!

 

Second Place: The Mortician’s Cruise by Alex Carter   

 An intriguing outline which makes you want to play the game to soak up the style and setting, as well as find out what happens next.  This wouldn’t be out of place as a pitch for a successful indie game.’

The year is 1933. You are the servant to a wealthy British family, travelling on an ocean liner to their new home in New York. Also on the liner is a mummy’s sarcophagus and specimens of dead animals, bound for the Museum of Natural History. But they won’t stay dead for long…

Lost on an errand, you stumble upon the ship’s morgue, home to three corpses. The Mortician is up to something, some kind of voodoo-inspired ritual. Of course, your employers don’t believe you, but soon strange things start happening. Those once dead are re-animated. Amid the chaos spread by the newly undead, you ally with a Professor who’d been travelling with the museum artefacts, before they came back to life. He thinks there’s a way out of this. When he’s set upon by the re-animated mummy from his own collection, the Professor reaches to hand you his folder of papers, but they get caught in the wind, scattering throughout the ship.

The crew are soon overpowered and the ship stops moving, so your best hope is to evade the undead: only fighting, with makeshift tools, when there’s no other way. There’s no escape by lifeboat: the waters surrounding the ship teem with undead sea creatures brought back by the Mortician’s curse. Exploring the ship, you discover a sleepwalker in the ballroom, accompanied by a Frankensteinian hoax mermaid that’s part-monkey, part-fish, and has returned to life. The sleepwalker is a sideshow Somnambulist and fortune-teller, who the undead won’t touch. Together you commandeer a cabin, where it’s safe to store things you find around the ship, although the undead still come knocking.

Each night, you dream of your childhood, a life of crime and poverty in Edwardian London. You’ve already survived that – can you survive this, too? It’s up to you, and the Somnambulist, to find the clues in the Professor’s scattered papers, discover keys to restricted areas of the ship, and put a stop to the vampiric Mortician’s voodoo enchantment.

 

Third Place: Draw Nine by Damon Wakes

‘This pitch explains in detail how the game is played and has a framework the player can easily grasp.  It would very much suit a mobile game.’

 Draw Nine sees the player take on the role of a student of magic facing their final test. Leaving the isolated tower that has so far been their home, they must set off on a journey with nothing but nine magic cards in three suits: the Steed, which is helpful; the Serpent, which is destructive; and the Spider, which may be either helpful or destructive (its effects are lesser, but random). The initial selection is random, but will always include at least one of each.

At regular intervals along the journey, the player is offered a choice of two places to go. Whichever they choose, they will encounter a situation which demands they use a card, destroying it in the process. The card chosen dictates whether the outcome of the event is good or bad: Steed cards can be used to help those in need, Serpent cards can be used to destroy enemies, and Spider cards offer an opportunity to hedge one’s bets when it’s unclear which is which. To do the greatest possible good (or evil), the player must try to choose locations suited to the cards they hold.

At the final location, with only one card remaining, the player comes to the end of their test: they are greeted by the previous student to leave the tower, who has been watching their progress through a crystal ball. This previous student has not used any of their cards, instead choosing to hoard them. After a brief conversation, during which the effects of the player’s decisions are appraised, the player is offered one final choice: to use their last remaining card on the previous student or to walk away.

 

September 2018 Competition Results: Tracey Corderoy and Barry Timms – Adjudicators

The September competition was judged by children’s author, Tracey Corderoy, in conjunction with Barry Timms from Little Tiger Press.

The brief for this month’s competition was: Write a 300 word story for under-fives featuring a dinosaur, a tea-cup and a football. 

And the winners were:

First Place: The Little Green Lump by Mary Prior

Second Place: Reggie Steggie’s Baby Sister by Lynn Clement

Third Place: Eggscapade by Summer Quigley 

Highly Commended: Dilys, Don’t be a Dodo! by Kristin Tridimas

Highly Commended: When I’m Big by Kim Howard 

September Competition
Third Place Winner, Summer Quigley (centre), with Highly Commended Winners Kristin Tridimas (left) and Kim Howard (right) – photo by Alex Carter, LexicaFilms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Place: The Little Green Lump by Mary Prior  

 ‘The rhymes were accessible and appropriate and the overall scansion was good.  The story had an evocative atmosphere and a strong visual sense.’

In the kitchen cupboard, tucked safely away

lives a teeny tiny dino who longs to play.

So he creeps out quietly late at night

from his bright yellow egg, so round and bright.

The house is silent, no-one around

He’s looking for a friend but none can be found.

So he climbs on the table, really, really high,

and gazes out the window at the starry sky.

When a shooting star comes whizzing, fizzling down.

Dino jumps then falls backwards, just like a clown,

right into a teacup that wobbles and rocks

before crashing off the table. The worst of shocks!

“Oh dear,” says a voice, which makes Dino jump

‘A cup’s fallen down and here’s a little green lump!’

Dino is cross and his bottom is sore.

He opens his mouth and he tries to roar.

All that happens is a funny little squeak.

“I’m a dinosaur not a lump and you’ve got a cheek!”

A hand picks him up with very great care

And places him gently on a kitchen chair.

‘Yes, you are quite right, you’re a baby T. Rex.

Goodness gracious me, whatever next!

My name is Sam, I’m a boy of nearly five

and I didn’t think T. Rexes were still alive?

“Of course I’m alive, ‘cos I’m talking to you

I haven’t been here long and I think I’m new.

I’ve got no dad and I’ve got no mum,

I’m feeling all alone and very, very glum.”

“Come and live with me,” said Sam with a smile.

I’m bored with my football, you can stay for a while.”

And they lived together and became best friends

And this is where my story ends.

Second Place: Reggie Steggie’s Baby Sister by Lynn Clement  

 ‘A strong theme where the main character goes on a satisfying emotional journey.’

Reggie Steggie’s mum was having a baby. The baby was inside an egg and Reggie couldn’t wait for it to hatch.

‘Can I look at the egg Mum,’ he’d say to his mother every morning before breakfast.

‘Yes, but be gentle,’ said his mum.

Reggie liked to put his nose against the egg and say, ’hello baby.’

‘She can’t hear you,’ said his dad one day.

Reggie stood up straight. ‘She?’ he said.

‘Yes Reggie, our new baby is a girl,’ said his dad.

Reggie stomped out of the bedroom and into the garden. He picked up his football and began kicking it hard against the fence.

‘Hey Reggie,’ said his neighbour Rosie Raptor,’ that’s loud.’

Reggie kicked the ball hard one more time, then stopped.

‘What’s the matter Reggie?’ she asked. ‘You look upset.’

‘My new baby is a girl!’ said Reggie pulling his tongue out.

‘So what’s wrong with that?’ asked Rosie.

‘Girls can’t play football!’ said Reggie.

‘Oh really?’ said Rosie climbing over the fence. ‘Want a game?’

Rosie went in goal and Reggie took penalty shots at her. Rosie saved every single one.

‘Humph,’ said Reggie with his hands on his hips. ‘My turn in goal.’

Rosie took five penalties against Reggie and scored them all.

‘Humph,’ said Reggie.

Reggie’s dad came into the garden. ‘Bye Rosie,’ he said as she climbed back over the fence.

Reggie’s dad put his arm around him. ‘Are you excited to meet your new sister?’ he asked.

‘Maybe,’ said Reggie, ‘as long as she doesn’t play football as good as Rosie does!’

Mr Steggie laughed, ‘well it’s time now,’ he said taking Reggie into the house.

‘I’ve just made your mum a cup of tea in her favourite tea-cup; would you like to help me with the tray?’

Reggie helped his dad take the tea-tray into the bedroom.

‘Skwark,’ said his baby sister.

‘Wow,’ said Reggie, ‘she’s cool.’

Third Place: Eggscapade by Summer Quigley

‘An action-packed plot with a fun premise and a heart-warming resolution.’ 

T-Rex Tereza and the family Bear Dog, Brian, sat, chins resting on the table-rock.  They stared at the egg and Tereza tapped her claws. “Eggsitting is boring. When will you hatch baby so we can play together?”

“I know, I’ll paint a beautiful pattern on your shell – the pattern of my most favourite thing in the world!” Soon the egg was covered in black and white hexagons. Tereza left it on the table to dry.

Daddy noticed the football egg on the table and threw it in the garden, “Tereza, keep your footballs outside!”

Tereza and Bear Dog chased the flying egg out the back door, “Daddy, that was our baby!”

Daddy and Mummy dashed after the football egg too, which now bounced down the hill in the back garden and rolled under the gate.

Tereza attempted a sliding tackle to stop it but – DOINK – it hit a tree root instead. A small crack appeared, but it bowled onwards.

Brian picked it up in his mouth, playing with it like his favourite ball. “Brian, don’t do that.  My little brother or sister is in there!”   Brian dropped the egg.

“OOOOF!” Tereza dived to the floor to save it but the egg slipped through her fingers, and lying on her tummy, she watched as it rushed through the grass and bumped into a rock.

CRACK! The egg broke into two, flipped in the air and landed like a saucer holding its tea cup. Tereza rushed to the egg, to see two big eyes blinking keenly, and two big hands reaching. “You’re OK,” she sighed, collapsing on the floor beside him.

“Mummy, Daddy, I’ve got a baby brother! I’ve nicknamed him T-Cup.”

Suddenly, an acorn fell from the tree. T-Cup, sprung from his shell and caught it in his oversized hands.

Tereza scooped him up in her arms, beaming at him with pride, “You’re going to be the best goalkeeping brother a striker sister could ever have!”

Highly Commended: Dilys, Don’t be a Dodo! by Kristin Tridimas

‘Written in good, child-appropriate language with an enjoyable and really humorous twist!’ 

Spread 1 (p.3 right side)

In a wild part of the woods where the whitebeams grow, Dilys the dinosaur lays an egg.

Spread 2 (p.4 &p.5)

Dilys loves her egg.  She buries it in the sand and sings it to sleep.  The egg is beautiful and big and blue.  “I’m going to call you Phyllis,” sings Dilys.

Spread 3 (p.6 left side)

The next day is Monday.  Dilys decides that Phyllis needs a brother.  So she kisses her and sets off to find one.

(p.7 right side)

“Look!  What a splendidly spotted egg.”  So Dilys picks up the egg and takes it home.

Spread 4 (p.8 & p.9)

Dilys loves her new egg.  She buries it in the sand and sings it to sleep.  “I’m going to call you Douglas,” sings Dilys.

Spread 5 (p.10 left side)

On Tuesday, Dilys decides Phyllis and Douglas need a sister.  So she kisses them both and sets off to find one.

(p.11 right side)

“Look!  What a delicate, dainty egg.”  So Dilys picks up the egg and takes it home.

Spread 6 (p.12 & p.13)

Dilys loves her new egg.  She buries it in the sand and sings it to sleep.  “I’m going to call you Betty,” sings Dilys.

Spread 7 (p. 14 left side)

On Wednesday, Wise Old Pterodactyl swoops down.  “What are you doing there, Dilys?” he asks.

(p.15 right side)

Dilys puffs up with pride.  She shows him her wonderful family of eggs.  Pterodactyl shakes his head and laughs.  “I’ll be back,” he says and soars up into the sky.

Spread 8 (p.16 &p.17)

On Thursday, Douglas is flat and empty.  Dilys feels flat and empty too.  “My splendid egg!” she wails.

Spread 9 (p.18 &p.19)

On Friday, Betty is squashed and broken.  Dilys feels squashed and broken too.  “My darling egg!” she wails.

Spread 10 (p.20 & p.21)

On Saturday, Dilys is very sad.  But then, the first egg begins to crack …   (one blurry claw visible)

and break …   (blurry clawed hand and nose)

POP!   (blurry, tiny dinosaur head)

Spread 11 (p.22 & p.23)

Suddenly, Wise Old Pterodactyl swoops down and drops something at her feet.

“Dilys, don’t be a dodo!  PUT YOUR GLASSES ON.”

Spread 12 (p.24 &25)  No text.

Picture instructions:  until now, everything has been like an impressionist painting, with the eggs extra blurry – their colours and shapes are visible but that is all.  Now the picture is extra clear, more like a photograph, with in the centre a broken, shiny blue egg with a tiny dinosaur poking out the top.  The two other eggs are revealed as a football (now deflated) and an upside down teacup missing its handle (now broken into several large but recognisable pieces).

Page 26 (overleaf left hand side only)

Picture of Dilys wearing her glasses, smiling, her baby dinosaur in her arms.

Highly Commended: When I’m Big by Kim Howard  

‘A nice steady rhythm with a memorable voice.  Good sense of observation with a lovely ending.’ 

When I’m big and can choose what I like, I won’t ever have porridge for breakfast.

I’ll have an egg and dippy soldiers.  But not a little egg – I want a big egg, a huge egg, a dinosaur egg.

It will be too big to have in an egg cup, or a tea-cup, or any sort of cup.  I’ll rest it in a mixing bowl and eat up every bit.

When I’m big and can choose what I like, I won’t ever stay home with Gran.

I’ll spend all day at the zoo.  But not just wandering round – I want to play with all the animals.

I’ll go climbing with the monkeys, swimming with the penguins and running with the zebra.  We’ll play until we’re tired and then stare at the people watching us.

When I’m big and can choose what I like, I won’t ever spend a day at the shops.

I’ll go to a field.  But not just any field – I want to go to a proper football field.

I’ll kick from the spot and run down the wing.  I’ll pass and I’ll tackle and block.  I’ll strike the football a perfect kick and score from the penalty spot.

When I’m big and can choose what I like, I won’t ever let Mum cut my hair.

I’ll let my hair grow.  But not just a little bit – I want it past my shoulders and down to the floor.

I’ll make a long plait when it gets in the way or tie it in a heap on top.  I’ll use it as a skipping rope, a whip or a lasso.  I’ll undo it when I’m tired and it’ll make the snuggliest blanket.

When I’m big and can choose what I like, I won’t ever stop hugging my Mum.

Her hugs are better than eggs the size of footballs or monkeys with long hair.

Her hugs are the best thing in the world and show how much she cares.

 

June 2018 Competition Results: Allie Spencer, Adjudicator

The June competition was judged by romantic comedy fiction writer, Allie Spencer.

The brief for this month’s competition was: Write a 300 word story set in a communal garden.   

And the winners were:

First Place: The Garden of Eleven by Damon Wakes

Second Place: The Tree Museum by Lynn Clement

Third Place: The Garden by Margaret Jennings 

Highly Commended: The Melting Pot by Wendy Fitzgerald

Highly Commended: DeFENCES by Annie Lindsey Grey  

HWS June 2018

Winners Lynn Clement, Damon Wakes and Margaret Jennings

Photos by Alex Carter, LexicaFilms

First Place: The Garden of Eleven by Damon Wakes   

“So we can stay as long as we don’t eat from that one tree?”

“Of course! I made this garden just for you, Eve. Oh, and Adam. And Lilith.”

“Hi,” said Lilith.

“Wait, what?” said Eve.

“Yeah,” God explained. “See, this place took me all week. I thought I’d be able to bash day and night out in twenty minutes or so. That was my entire Monday. It was three days before I managed to get some plants going. And then obviously plants need sun, so that’s another day out the window right there. Basically, by the time the universe was really coming together, it started to seem like a lot of effort for just two people.”

“So…what? Now there’s Adam and Eve and Lilith?”

“Yeah,” said God. “And Brad.”

Eve took a look around. “Are you sure this place isn’t getting kind of crowded?”

“Naah.” God waved a hand. “It’s fine! You’ll really like Brad: he and Amy are really cool.”

“Who’s Amy?” asked Adam.

“You know—Amy! Darren’s sister.”

“Hey guys,” said a man trotting casually along on a zebra.

“When did Darren get here?”

“No, that’s Phil.”

“Should we have met Phil already?” asked Eve.

“I’m kind of surprised you haven’t! He and Samantha have five kids and they’re a rather, uh, lively bunch.”

A crowd of ice cream smeared children tore past, chasing after a terrified peacock.

“But we won’t be stuck in this little bit the whole time, right?” put in Adam. “I assume there’s more garden over that wall.”

“No.” God shrugged. “This is pretty much it. At least for now. I don’t fancy doing any more this weekend, and—” He stopped to stare at Eve.

“Oh no!” she said through a mouthful of apple. “Was this the one we weren’t supposed to eat?”

Second Place: The Tree Museum by Lynn Clement  

‘Grandma, do you think God is in nature?’

‘I’m not answering that on the grounds it might incriminate me.’

‘I do.’

‘Be careful Toni, walls have ears you know. Even glass ones like this.’

‘But Grandma this must be born of God. What’s its name?’

‘Iridaceous family.’

‘We’re not allowed to study Latin anymore.’

‘It’s a crocus.’

‘Crocus…it’s lovely.’

‘We had a lot of crocuses back then.’

‘Do you miss it Grandma?’

‘Miss what, my youth?’

‘No, the crocuses in, what was it called? A …’

‘Garden.’

‘Yes, the crocuses and the garden.’

‘I do Toni. I miss the honeyed smell of the roses, but the summer of 2091 was the beginning of the end. The roses were the first to go.’

‘Do they have roses here?’

‘No. Someone managed to save roses in The Devon Quarter I think.’

‘When they came?’

‘Yes, keep your voice down Toni!  I would like to get home tonight.’

‘It’s alright Grandma, the rays can’t get through the glass.’

‘Don’t you believe it. They cauterised Jacob Bell’s tongue in the bread queue.’

‘OH! That’s made me go all shivery.’

‘Toni, be careful what you say. Look here’s the arboretum.’

‘Wow, Grandma this is lovely. It feels so cool. So Grandma… do you believe in God?’

‘Toni, please don’t.’

‘But look at this magnificent tree with its huge leaves and smooth bark and tell me God isn’t here.’

‘Look outside Toni. How could your God do that?’

‘But he kept these specimens for us to look at.’

‘No He didn’t Toni, we Alpha’s did.’

‘Grandma?’

‘There, now I’ve said too much. It’s getting dark, let’s go. Don’t forget your helmet and telepath your mother that we are coming home.’

‘I have. Grandma, I’ll pray to God again tonight to help us all.’

‘Does he ever answer you?’

‘Not yet, but He will one day.’

‘I hope so Toni.’

‘He will Grandma, He will.’

Third Place: The Garden by Margaret Jennings

Today someone said the word door. A word full of utility and function, certainly not an emotive word. Suddenly I was in the head of my Dad, looking at the door that held him prisoner in the nursing home. There was a number pad, a code that you needed to know. It was metallic and lozenge shaped. It was black and had silver numbers, a back space, a hash key, an enter button. It was by the door you needed to get out of if you were to escape.

I could see his eyes sharpening themselves on the metal of the key pad. I could see the numbers he tried to memorise disappearing as he tried to grasp them , as surely as water falls down a plughole.

When he walked around the grounds of the nursing home, the staff were delighted that he so loved the garden. The flowers were bounteous, the scents intoxicating, but the reason that my dad toured the grounds was not because he was admiring the flowers, but because he was plotting his escape.

He wanted to go home to the wife he knew and John Wayne on the telly. In this safe, reliable nursing home he was not waving but drowning. Nothing would keep his head above water but going home. He knew that. In all his addled mis-remembering and socially unacceptable behaviour he knew that. He toured the garden looking for a way back to his wife.

He never made it home. Somewhere out there my dad is doing battle with the final keypad. Arguing his case for entry to heaven, leaving out the bad bits, selling all the good bits. The keypad is  a lozenge shape. It is the colour of metal, it has a hash key, but the back space is disabled.

Highly Commended: The Melting Pot by Wendy Fitzgerald

I’m pulling weeds out of my allotment, normally an oasis of peace in this frenzied, crowded
city. Groundsel, convolvulus, nettle – and things I still don’t know the names of. Not worth
knowing really if they’re not gonna stay. And it’s good, honest toil. Takes yer mind off
things.
But today there’s rare disquiet. In all my sixty-odd years here, man and boy, there’s
scarce been an argument save over weed control and whose marrow’s the biggest. Or
these days, perhaps, whose chilli is hottest. People just come and go but I generally keep
meself to meself.
It seems they came for him early doors.
‘Handcuffed him, man! Said he was resisting arrest!’
‘Whad’he do?’
I can hear the Tower of Babel in action from here. I get my trowel and root up a particularly
large thistle. Way too much rain recently.
‘Said he had no papers! How could he have no papers? I mean, he’s been here since
he was four, hasn’t he?’ I recognise Syed’s anxious voice. Grows tasty coriander, that one.
Course, I’d never had it ‘til he moved in, so to speak.
‘Just shocking, man!’
I tug out a large dock root. Won’t be needing that if the nettles are gone. I can hear
Glenmore’s worried lilt, maybe he’s wondering if he’s next?
I played with that Tarone once when I was a nipper – ‘til the old man told me not to.
His dad had the patch before him. Think I saw his own grandkids here the other day. I stand
and stretch my back, walk away from the huddle around the gaily-painted shed where his
tulips droop as if in mourning. And as I go to brew my tea, and see my flag flapping proudly
from my shed roof, there’s a churning like there’s raw onion in my stomach and my eyes
prickle like nettle stings.

Highly Commended: deFENCES by Annie Lindsey Grey   

As Hayley lay and waited for him, the late afternoon sun cast a toxic glow across the garden and the Jubilee line hummed beyond the dilapidated fence.    She had prepared sandwiches : jam, sprinkled with powdered arsenicum.

When she spotted Mr Lockwood from flat 3 striding towards her, she rose.

“You, young woman, need to control your offspring!”

What had Jack done now?   Committed a parking offence by leaving his little pedal car outside?  Disturbed the peace by bouncing his ball?  Every day, some new charge !

“He’s destroyed every… single… bloom!” he continued.

Oh dear, Jack said he was making her perfume!

“Oh, sorry about the rose petals….”

And she was.    The sight of her neighbour’s “Celebrations” cheered her – even if he had isolated his blooms  from the scrubby communal garden within a low picket fence.

When the tenants questioned their council about his  “rights as a private homeowner”, they responded by erecting a “No ball games” sign – at his request.

Studying his bulldog face now, she wondered what had happened to make him so shut in.

“You people have no respect !”   he said, spittle flying with the gnats, “In the two months you’ve been here, I’ve written twice to council.”

Hayley had known bullies before.  Feed them poison and you may as well eat it yourself …

Smiling with mischief, she held out the plate. “Care for a jam sandwich?”

Confounded by this, Reg Lockwood turned, muttering all the way back to his flat.

…..         …..        …….         ……    …….

Hayley waited. As the shadows grew longer, she glimpsed the tip of a white fox tail in the brambles: skulking his way, belly low, ears alert.

His coat was mangier today and, as he stole the sandwich and fled,  she hoped it wasn’t too late for the arsenicum, sulphur and psorinum  to cure.    The  £3.95 it cost may give him a fighting chance to enjoy life in the small earth between fence and track.

 

May 2018 Competition Results – Katie Espiner Adjudication

The May competition was judged by Katie Espiner, Managing Director of Orion Publishing.

The brief for this month’s competition was:

The first three hundred words of a novel for general women’s fiction

And the winners were:

First place: Seaheart by Louise Morrish

Second place: A Beautiful Noise by Sam Collins

Third place: Scrapbooking by Annie Gray

Highly commended: Marrying Mother by Rosie Travers

Highly commended: Lucky Lizzie by George Rodger

First place: Seaheart by Louise Morrish

“The writer does an excellent job of evoking both time and place in just a few paragraphs, also setting up a clear dilemma for the narrator and a real sense of intrigue for the reader. Really well done and tricky to manage in only 300 words.”

The baby sleeps at last, swaddled in the wicker basket, snug as an acorn tucked within a fold of earth. I cannot tear my eyes from the fragile curve of his head, the seashell whorl of his perfect ear. Though he slumbers, his tiny fingers grip my thumb with surprising strength, pulling at my heart.

An oak sapling requires no mother to nurse it, I tell myself, but still the tree must have light and soil and space in which to thrive. How can I hope that the Sisters of Charity, burdened with so many poor, unwanted children, will give my son the care he needs?

But I must have faith.

An icy wind rattles a loose windowpane and I rise to draw the drapes. Across the city, church bells toll, heralding the fast approaching night. Through the misted glass I watch the lamplighter making his way along the street. As he coaxes each lamp to life, I draw my shawl tighter, searching the flood of shadowed strangers hurrying home. But none possess John’s limping gait.

At the table, I light a candle and contemplate the items before me; an empty sachet stitched from a scrap of muslin, two dozen corked bottles filled with dried herbs I gathered in the summer, and lastly, but most importantly, the book. Though barely the size of my hand, the herbal is as solid as the chunks of drift wood smouldering in the hearth. Each rough-edged page is covered in dense script, and as I peer at the crabbed writing in the sallow candlelight, I breathe in a complex, comforting aroma of herbs and spices; the smell of my childhood. The herbal once belonged to my mother, and my grandmother before that; a treasury of curses and cures, passed down the female line.

The charm I seek for my son must keep him safe until, God willing, I return.

My eyes hunt out the first herb.

Dill: for protection.

And so it begins.

Second place: A Beautiful Noise by Sam Collins

“The writer has a lovely turn of phrase, and the reader is drawn in to the scene brilliantly – we want to know more about Pip straight away.”

The backfire echoed through Pip’s breastbone and he could still feel the tiny vibrations pulsing his body.  An unwelcome electricity, but not entirely unusual these days when he spent much of his time feeling as if he was plugged into a socket.  The daily low-level buzz through his muscles, the slight ache in his chest, the nagging doubt whether he really could control the movement of his limbs.

Pip stared down at his clenched fists and for a moment studied each finger as it uncurled from the lawnmower handlebars.  If he concentrated hard enough he could persuade himself that the slow release of tension was deliberate and invest enough significance in that to reassure him he was in control.  Perhaps then he would be able to breathe sufficient calm to deal with this crazy woman coming towards him waving a pencil case and a wooden spoon.

His life right this moment.  Tragedy and Farce.

‘Getting there Pip dear!’  Marilyn Harper called over the thunderous roar of the mower’s engine.  ‘Much better than yesterday, a few more hours and I’m sure we’ll be approaching satisfactory.’

It had been like this for two days, Mrs Harper standing on the sidelines of her front garden drop-kicking disapproval.  For the last hour or so her insistent commands had been doing battle with a spirited counter attack by that awful man from the Council,  prowling up and down the embankment in front of the house measuring wind speeds, scribbling in his notebook and insisting on quiet.   The whole village just seemed to be full of ‘men from the Council’ lately, and Pip despaired, yet again, what on earth was the matter with this place?  Why did they have to make such a bloody fuss about everything?  And, yet again, he had no idea what he was doing coming back to a place like this.

Until he reminded himself that choice was a luxury he had not yet earned.

Third place: Scrapbooking by Annie Gray

“There’s a terrific sense of place here, and a clear hook to keep the pages turning.”

Dee smeared a generous amount of superglue in a large cross on the back of the photo and pressed it against the lounge room wall. This was the last room and her arms ached with stretching around  five bedrooms, two bathrooms, study and halls. Montages were now fixed to every wall: her precious babies, holiday snaps from here in Australia and the UK, barbecues on the beach at Christmas. Despite the aircon thrumming at full power, sweat was damp in her hair.  She would not miss the heat.

Hefting up the last box, Dee kicked open the door into the garden, causing a flock of cockatoos to scream as one black cloud into the sky. As she tipped the contents of the box into the bin, she caught flashes of faces as they tumbled from torn albums. Her daughter with the “my little pony” backpack – first day at Kindy, together feeding the crocodiles in Queensland, her younger self smiling in a wedding meringue of a dress,  gatherings with The Family….

She slammed the lid down and stared up at the windows on the top floor, all open with flynet ripped – to allow every redback and huntsman spider, bird or beast to enter. Not one cup, chair or bed left inside – shelled out.

“My home”, said Dee, pressing her fingers against the warm ochre wall.

Almost as an afterthought, she lit the fire in the dry grass of her garden – then drove away.

* * *

Sitting in their London flat, Emma watched the photos load onto his Facebook page, not his fake page but the real one with so many friends. As she reached for her mobile, she noticed her hands were trembling. A text from her sister – finally.

“What do you mean you’re on your way back?”, she gasped, “No Dee, I’ve booked a flight out – to you – tonight!”

Highly commended: Marrying Mother by Rosie Travers

“A great mother/daughter dynamic is introduced in just a few lines, which many readers will find very relatable!”

I thought I’d trained my mother not to phone after 10.30 pm. She might not need her beauty sleep but I certainly did.

It wasn’t a total surprise to be disturbed by the familiar ring tone. It was morning in San Diego – The Majestic Oceans would have just docked.  Pearl Gates was back on terra firma and in range of a satellite signal. It was inevitable that she would call. The lateness of the hour would have little resonance when she was bursting to the brim with Latin American anecdotes.

This particular cruise had been purely recreational. No need for me to act as chaperone to ensure she delivered her lecture schedule and subsequent sales pitch. In addition, eight weeks was far too long for me to be away from the office. Pearl Gates had two novellas due at her publishers before Christmas and so far she hadn’t dictated a word of either of them.  Instead I’d been regurgitating a couple of previous plotlines, hoping her critics wouldn’t complain too much about the recurring themes.

Not that it would worry my mother two hoots if they did. With nearly sixty bestselling novels under her belt she could afford to be blasé. She had a very loyal fan-base. There was comfort in the familiar. Pearl’s readers didn’t want surprises.

The phone continued to vibrate on the nightstand. The downside of not answering would be that it would continue to ring throughout the night. If I turned my phone off, she would call my brother, or even worse, rouse a neighbour.

I braced myself and picked up the phone. ‘Hi Mum, how was it? How was South America?’

She was as effusive as ever. ‘I’ve had a whale of time. Absolutely delightful, darling, but listen, you’ll never guess what…’

Highly commended: Lucky Lizzie by George Rodger

“The writer sensitively conjures the scene and the switch from past to present is handled beautifully.”

When she was four years old, Lizzie Brayshaw pushed her hand through some diamond-mesh fencing and into a tiger’s mouth. This tiger was no man-eater. Only half-grown, it had been transported from Lusaka Zoo, where they couldn’t afford to feed it. It lived in an enclosure the size of four tennis courts abutting the back of the farmhouse in Zambia where Lizzie’s family were visiting for a barbecue. She was pulled away before the astonished tiger realised that it was enjoying the taste of the warm blood that was trickling into its mouth.

They were beyond lucky in that Kitwe hospital hosted two Cuban microsurgeons on site that month, working on a Medical Diplomacy Aid Project. They lifted her hand from the bucket of disinfectant where it had been submerged during the headlong drive into town and stitched the wound with Harley Street precision before sending her home with an interesting scar and a lifelong story to tell.

* * *

Thirty years later and living in England, Elizabeth Bourne rubbed the faded scar on her wrist and watched her sons playing on the lawn through the open French windows. The lawn stretched down to the river, a hundred yards away. There was a background drone; the gardener manoeuvring the drive-on lawnmower around the trees that dotted the grounds. Andrew and Jack were up from boarding school. They were kicking a ball around and shouting but the mower’s engine dampened the noise.

She tried to concentrate on the novel she was reading but eventually put it down and surveyed the panelled drawing-room where she was sitting. For the daughter of an expatriate coppermineworker, she hadn’t done badly at all. After the tiger incident, she’d been christened “Lucky Lizzie” by her parents. Years later, when she’d landed the very eligible Metals Trader, Michael Bourne, following a blind date, she’d begun to believe the mythology herself.

Now she noticed idly that the mower had stopped and the boys’ clamour had suddenly ceased.

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.

.