October 2019 Competition Results: Claire Dyer – Adjudicator

The October competition was judged by novelist and poet, Claire Dyer.  The brief was to write a memory of being read to as a child.

And the winners were:

First Place:  Special Knight by Lynn Clements    

Second Place: The Final Half Hour by Peter Duncan

Third Place: The Ghosts in the Pages by Esther Fernandez-Florente       

Highly Commended: Read to Me by George Rodger 

Highly Commended: Bedtime by Linda Welch        

October winners
October winners: Esther Fernandez-Florente with Lynn Clements and George Rodger 

   Photo by Alex Carter

First Place: Special Knight by Lynn Clements    

He always came in the night, when he could. I snuggled down under my cherry pink, candlewick bed spread, pretending to be asleep. The door creaked…that’s when I couldn’t contain myself. My eyes would fly open and out of my mouth came, ‘another story pleeeeease.’ (Dad was a sucker for the soft soap). Inevitably there would be, ‘just one more,’ and I had him to myself.

Dad was away a lot during my childhood, so times spent with him were precious. The Gulf War and the Bosnian War interrupted my early years. Mum was often left with just me and my brother for company. She did her best to hold down a full-time job and bring us up proper, as she used to say but there wasn’t much time or energy for reading stories. And when dad was home she had her hands full. She worked extra hard to make him happier.

My dad loved myths and legends from the Egyptians and Greeks. He used to tell me about Amun Ra, king of the Gods and Osiris, who was chopped into pieces by his brother and how Icarus had his wings melted because he flew too close to the sun. He held the books open but didn’t turn many pages, yet the stories poured out. His voice was like drinking hot chocolate and my heart felt full. His eyes twinkled in the dim night light, and it was then he smiled most.

‘Special nights,’ I said at his funeral. He was forty-five. My brother nodded in his front row pew. Mum just bowed her head and shakily held onto her son’s hand. Cal read a poem that dad had taught him, about a knight in search of Eldorado. The gallant knight rode long and hard in his quest but couldn’t find what he was looking for. The poem then tells of a shadow falling over his heart as he realised Eldorado was unobtainable. It was then that we all wept.

Second Place: The Final Half Hour by Peter Duncan

The morning was for arithmetic and spelling (hopeless at one, a bit better at the other). After lunch it was music (no voice, terrible timing) or games (always the last to be picked). But in the final half hour of those long and long- ago days, something magical happened.

Mr Barlow wiped the blackboard, consigning forever a blur of words and numbers to my slowly lengthening past. Sitting on the edge of his desk now, he would pick up a battered paperback book and begin reading to us. Well, he was really reading just to me. Even after all these years I remember his voice: gentle and kind and carrying the promise of the story he was beginning to tell. Mr Barlow was always reading just to me.

I sat cross- legged on the polished wooden floor, barely noticing the others all around. Autumn turned to winter and then to spring and summer: the days outside the classroom windows gradually grew darker, then slowly lighter again. And all the while I listened enthralled to the most wonderful stories ever. I was in a city called Paris outsmarting thieves trying to get their hands on millions of francs. I was gazing into a rubbish- strewn chalk pit when I caught sight of a cave man. I was standing at the gates of the most marvellous chocolate factory the world had ever known.

Mr Barlow read on and I was in one of those wonderful other places. It didn’t matter that I was hopeless at arithmetic and not much better at spelling. It made no difference that I couldn’t sing and was always the last to be picked at games. Now I was somewhere else: Now I was in a story.

Third Place: The Ghosts in the Pages by Esther Fernandez-Florente

I don’t know whether I believe in ghosts but I know that a book can be haunted and, for me, memories of my parents fall out of the pages of certain books like old pressed flowers. What I remember most clearly is the cadence of their voices as they read books with me. The turn of a particular phrase is a twist of recollection, sharp as a paper cut. The one time I really and acutely miss either of them is when I find them between the leaves of a book.

There are pages that I can’t read without hearing my mother’s laughter bubbling up under particular words and sentences: in Saki’s short stories (especially ‘The Lumber Room’), Just William, “no harm just looking at it”, anything by Nancy Mitford.  She loved a descriptive passage too; we relished T. H. White’s evocation of Merlin’s study in The Sword in the Stone. ‘There was a real corkindrill hanging from the ceiling.’ (I’ve wanted one ever since, even after I knew what it was.)

With my father, it’s the reverence in his tone when he read poetry to me that remains. A dyslexic Fleet-Air-Arm veteran of the Second World War: he might well have been voted ‘man least likely to be found reading romantic poetry’ but that is often how I found him of an evening. He adored Byron.

‘And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,

Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!’

I can hear the awe in his voice: for words rather than God.

I read to my mother when she was dying, my father went too fast. I wanted her to hear my voice in the pages she taught me to love, as I wish my father had. Now the page is where I hear them best.

Highly Commended: Bedtime by Linda Welch

Every morning, Peter Tiggwigg trit-trotted past Mrs Goose’s toyshop on his way to school.  One day she called out to him.  ‘Peter Tiggywigg,’ she said …

How well I remember the opening line of that story, but after Mrs Goose’s call to Peter Tiggwigg my mind is blank.  Nestled in my father’s arms, snug and warm in my red Ladybird fleece dressing-gown, after my evening bath, I was already sleepy by the time he began the bedtime ritual.  His tone was quiet, not so animated that I would perk up at the story, but I remember he had different voices for the characters: Mrs Goose, prim and proper, with a slightly shrill manner – as an adult, I realize he modelled her on Aunty Wendy, still shrill, prim and proper at nearly 90.  Peter Tiggwigg, the schoolboy piglet, sounded cheeky and mischievous, a little like my brother although, over 50 years later, no-one could accuse him of either of those things.

More important than the stories themselves – from Tales of Peter Tiggywigg to Tales of the Riverbank – was the security and warmth of my father’s arms around me as we held the book together, turned the pages together, pointed to pictures and spelled out difficult words, and the utter certainty that reading me a bedtime story was the high point of his day, just as it was mine.

Long before the story was finished I would be asleep, and he would carry me up to bed and tuck the blankets around me.  He would leave the book on my bedside table, knowing that I would wake early and pick up where we had left off, carefully tracing with my fingertips the words we had read together.

I still can’t remember why Mrs Goose needed to speak to Peter Tiggywigg.

Highly Commended: Read to Me by George Rodger

Nobody read to me when I was a child.  No parent or older sibling sent me to sleep with a few pages of Enid Blyton. Even at five years old, I was sceptical that four kids and a parrot could save the world anyway.

So, I read to myself.

I left school at fifteen.  No job.  I had a bike which was stolen for me up in Barnet and I used to run errands for people who sometimes needed to avoid the attentions of the police.

One day I was knocked off my bike. A leg and both wrists broken, I was laid up in the trauma section in Tooting Hospital.

A hospital volunteer came to my bed and asked if I needed anything.  She was called Jacqui. I asked for a book to read.   She pursed her lips, thinking, and walked on. She returned later, laying a couple on the bed.  My arms and leg were in casts so I couldn’t turn the pages.  Jacqui, who looked early twenties, had watched her brother die, in this hospital, after a motorbike accident so she’d started volunteering on the wards. She picked a book up.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” She read.  The story was about the French Revolution. The book was finished by the end of the week. Next, she read a book that started “Call me Ishmael” and was about whaling.  By the time she finished reading it, I could wriggle my fingers under the casts.  Four books later, I was on my way home.

After a few days, Jacqui came to visit me at home where I was recuperating. I could see she liked me but she was six years older than me. Could she be looking for another broken body to grieve over?

“Can I do anything?” She said.

After a pause I asked, “Read to me?”

She smiled and sat down.

Ten years later we’re still together.

September 2019 Competition Results: Ed Davey – Adjudicator

Firstly – congratulations to our winners of 200 year celebration of Keats’ Ode! 

First Place: The Picking Party by Colin Johnson

Second Place: The Coffin Walk by George Rodger

Third Place: An Imagined Letter to John Keats by Mark Eyles

Highly Commended: Autumn Ode by Gill Hollands

Highly Commended: To Swell the Gourd by Viv Smith

 

The September competition was judged by travel writer, journalist and novelist, Ed Davey.   The brief was to write a travel article in 300 words.

And the winners were:

First Place:  The Christmas Hippo by George Rodger    

Second Place: Cool Runnings Catamaran by Lynn Clement

Third Place: An Island of Contradictions by Frank Carver       

Highly Commended: The Bear by Rosie Sutcliffe  

Highly Commended: Viet Mong by David Lea       

George and Ed

Winner, George Rodger, with Tuesday’s speaker, Ed Davey.

   Photo by Alex Carter

First Place: The Christmas Hippo by George Rodger   

Hippo

The Christmas Hippo – a week spent at Royal Zambezi Lodge, Zambia

Groucho Marx said, “I woke up one morning in Africa, walked out of my tent and shot an elephant in my pyjamas. How he got into them, I’ll never know”.

Here I was, in my pyjamas, outside a tent in Africa trying to shoot a hippo. With a camera. Despite being such massive, lens-filling icons, hippos are very shy creatures and when approached, tantalisingly show their heads and twitching semaphore ears before sinking from view. At night they come ashore to graze. I gave up and returned to bed. It was before dawn and we were spending Christmas in a tented unit in Royal Zambezi Lodge in Zambia.

The lodge’s slogan is “Where Luxury meets the Wild”. Leave the bar after dark and an armed guard escorts you to your tent. You never know what’s walking around the camp at night! Each riverfront unit is on stilts to cope with the rise and fall of the Zambezi. Raise your head from your cotton pillow in the morning and you look straight across the river to Zimbabwe, two kilometres away.

There are game drives in four-wheel drive vehicles daily although many people come to Royal Zambezi for the fishing. The King of the River is the Tigerfish. It rises out of the water like a Marlin, dancing on its tail as he tries to throw the hook. The Tiger is pure muscular aggression, from its broad tail to its terrifying mouth with teeth that are a Jurassic nightmare. It can remove an unwary angler’s finger and are fast enough to have caught low-flying birds.

By Christmas Day, I still hadn’t got near enough to a hippo to capture a really memorable photograph. We were drifting downstream on the boat when suddenly our guide whispered, “Hippos, right behind us” as a pod emerged out of the water into the fiery path of the sunset reflected on the river. I trained my camera and finally got one, mouth open, laughing.

And not a Marx Brother in sight.

Second Place:  Cool Runnings Catamaran by Lynn Clement   Cool runnings jpegThird Place: An Island of Contradictions by Frank Carver  

Weather information is online these days, so I am prepared for the 38-degree heat. The surprise is the altitude. I do not consider its elevation until we step from the plane in Salt Lake City. A lake as high as the top of Ben Nevis.

We drive for an hour through the city to the ragged edge of the street grid and finally the long curve of a causeway. Ahead a white and silver blur, salt flats blending into the lake edge. Beyond that, the hazy bulk of Antelope Island State Park. Gulls wheel above the salt water, seven hundred miles from the ocean.

A park ranger explains about geography, history and wildlife. “With the shrinking lake and the new causeway, it’s not really an island anymore.” The ranger taps the flint spearhead shape of the park on a scale model. “and the ‘antelopes’ are not antelopes, but closer to giraffes.”

From the beachside car park, the lake looks much further away. The path submerges in a low dune, but we carry on, each pace cracking a crisp layer of salt beneath our feet, crème brûlée in silver-grey.

Everything appears fuzzy near the waterline. Our movements disturb millions of tiny flies which swirl and disperse, never rising more than a few centimetres. They don’t bite but their patterns are mesmerising, shifting with every step.

We abandon shoes and socks without fear of rising tides, wade into the warm shallow water and pause, calf deep, enchanted by underwater clouds of pale brine shrimp which dance around our legs. Too salty for predatory fish, there’s nothing to keep the shrimps from multiplying. In front of us the Great Salt Lake shimmers into the distance. Behind, the parched brown spine of the island rises another thousand feet.

Highly Commended: The Bear by Rosie Sutclfife

The path wound between magnificent conifers, skirting the shoreline of the brackish lake, towards the large wooden shed. I hesitated at the entrance aware that this was the beginning of a twelve-hour vigil and like a diver about to plunge into deep water, I took a great gasp of fresh, pine scented air before lunging into the warm, musty darkness of the hide.

Finland was all about long forest treks, bracingly cold spring water, the thrill of venturing onto the no mans land fringe of the Russian border. The afternoon had passed with a ponderous circumnavigation of the lake by canoe, followed by a tentative five minutes in the sauna and even more tentative toe dipping in the lake. Now was to come the highlight of the trip, a night of midnight sun, or at least a dusk, followed rapidly by a dawn and with luck a sighting at some point of a European Brown Bear.

I sat motionless, eyes straining to catch that elusive glimpse of the great boreal ursus. Hooded crows, hardly seeming related to their malachite British cousins descended in flurries of frenetic activity as the hours passed. I grew stiff from staying motionless, like a Buddhist monk practising tranquillity ,  I reached a state of quiet stillness.

Suddenly, silently, a subtle parting of the bushes as a great bear emerged and padded towards the hide, strings of drool hanging from its expectant maw as nostrils flexing it sought the nuts and berries hidden to lure it to us.

A great wave of emotion pulsed through me, a kind of wild excitement rarely felt in adulthood, mixed with a powerful awe for this majestic creature. Breaking the stillness I reached for my camera to capture the moment. Too late. The bushes closed over his departing form. The memory embedded in my mind must suffice.

 

Highly Commended: Viet Mong by David Lea

We arrived at the entrance to Angkor Wat early one morning towards the end of our sixteen-day “Asian Adventures Guided Tour to Vietnam and Cambodia”. There were twenty-four of us, mostly late-middle-aged, mostly retired and mostly biddable and uncontentious. Over the previous two weeks we had shared tuk-tuks through the Hanoi traffic, visited Uncle Ho’s mausoleum and gone down the Viet Cong tunnels; we had shared imodium tablets, exchanged confidences and swapped biographies: we had bonded.

Affinities and preferences had been established and, each morning, there were unspoken manoeuvres as we made for the seats on the coach near our own special friends. Nobody wanted to sit next to John: six feet three or four and in his late sixties, he wore synthetic red shorts, luminous trainers and a Hanoi T-shirt.

That morning at Angkor, our guide, Saroath, was introducing us to the site when he was interrupted by John: ‘What’s a mong?’ he snorted, casting about for someone he could share the joke with.

‘Saroath was talking about monks, John. Over there by the steps.’ John’s wife pointed to the young monks in their robes.

‘I was raised by monks,’ said Saroath, although, again, what we actually heard was, ‘I was raised by mongs’.

A stifled giggle from John and an awkward silence.

Then someone asked, ‘Why were you brought up by monks?’

‘My parents died when I was three: the Khmer Rouge murdered them. It is not unusual.’

The next day, John decided against the optional tour to the floating village. His wife came with us, but John spent the day floating on his back in the hotel swimming pool. At the buffet breakfast the following morning, he glowed.

He shone. He radiated heat.

He was a bright and painful, sunburnt pink.

And the group bond was decidedly stronger.

 

 

June 2019 Competition Results: Allie Spencer – Adjudicator

The June competition was judged by author, Allie Spencer.  The brief was to write a journalist’s report of a crime involving an unusual criminal.

And the winners were:

First Place:  Catastrophe in Chipping Clayton by Lynn Clement    

Second Place: Emma, 13, Exploding Golf Ball Assassin by Mark Eyles

Third Place: The Gentlebunny Thief by Jordan Ezekude      

Highly Commended: Joyce to the Rescue by Maggie Farran  

Highly Commended: Amazing Grace by David Lea       

june winners
June Competition Second Prize and Wordtamer Highly Commended, Mark Eyles; Wordtamer Winner, Helen Adlam; June Competition Winner, Lynn Clement; June Competition Highly Commended, Maggie Farran; and Wordtamer Third Place Winner, Annie Gray

   Photo by Alex Carter

First Place: Catastrophe in Chipping Clayton by          Lynn Clement  

‘I am a big fan of the absurd – as well being a big fan of over-hyped local news stories – and I particularly like it when the two come together. I also like cats. So this story about a cat-stealing nun called Frances Coppola was always going to appeal to me. However, from a literary point of view, what I liked about this was the quality of writing. The first paragraph neatly summed up the story, the second paragraph set up the crime, the third revealed the character of the perpetrator and the final paragraph gave us some ‘local colour’. There were also some terrible puns – CATastrophe for example – and some brilliant name choices for the cast of characters. A worthy winner.’

Sister Francis Copolla of the order of Saint Gordon and the Holy Martyrs was arrested yesterday and charged with the abduction of several cats. The cats, all ginger toms belonged to local vicars of the Parish of Lower Clayton.

The felines all went missing on Friday nights. Something that inspector Dick Husband of Dullchester police found intriguing, ‘I knew this was a serial abductor, after the third cat in a row went missing on a Friday night,’ he said to the press gathered outside Bodge Street police station.

Sister Francis is a well-known figure in the area. Riding her bike around the parish, she could often be seen with her robes tucked into her undergarments, presumably to stop them getting caught in her bicycle chain.

Local publican Harry Chambers remembers seeing her on one particular Friday night and he became suspicious. ‘I was just slopping out the drip trays into the roses, when I heard a repeated creak, that sounded like an un-oiled bicycle wheel, and when I looked up there was Sister Francis with something up her habit – well either that or she’d eaten too many pies. I shouted hello but she ignored me and rode off towards the abbey,’ he said.

Fortunately the cats have since been returned to their owners and all in good health; however the three local vicars affected by this catnapping episode are reportedly seeking damages from Sister Francis, as all three toms were returned minus certain body parts – namely their testicles. ‘I am devastated,’ said Father Gerry O’Goran, when asked how he felt about the operations the nun had supposedly performed. ‘She has robbed me of my right to choose.’  Father Patrick Callaghan was in tears, ‘I hope he had anaesthetic,’ he wailed.

Sister Francis was held at an undisclosed location overnight, in order to protect her from the frenzy of male protesters rallying on the station steps. She’ll appear in court on Friday.

Second Place:  Emma, 13, Exploding Golf Ball Assassin by Mark Eyles 

This was an amusing and well-written story. Succinct but still packing in huge amounts of information, it built up a picture of unintentional digital terrorism having real-life consequences: a teenage girl, thinking she is donating to an environmental campaign accidentally has President Trump murdered by an exploding golf all. It was well-structured – the story playing out as a proper narrative – and made me want to read to the end. Getting your reader to the end of your piece of writing is a prerequisite, whether it is news, poetry, scripts or a novel. Also, I am from Salisbury – so the final sentence about Russian involvement spoke to me in a particular way!’

The United States is seeking the extradition of thirteen year old Canadian Emma Smith to stand trial for her involvement in the assassination of the President of the United States. Emma Smith, an ordinary thirteen year old who likes playing football and computer games, has been linked to the untimely death of the President who was killed ten days ago by a polonium laced exploding golf ball at his Scottish golf course.

The FBI has not yet arrested the person who switched the President’s golf ball for the exploding one, but has traced the money paid for the assassination back to the Assassination Crowdfunder website, hidden in the murky Dark Web online world of organised crime and terrorism. Apparently Emma came across the website while doing research for a school project on environmental damage. She made a $2 contribution to ‘End the President’ from her father’s Bitcoin wallet which had been left open on the family computer.

Emma said: “I thought I was giving money to stop the President poisoning the planet.” The FBI claims that Emma’s $2 contribution to ‘End the President’ on Assassination Crowdfunder pushed that fund over a million dollars, triggering the successful assassination attempt. The FBI is calling on Emma to stand trial since it was her payment that switched the assassination from ‘pending’ to ‘fully-funded’. The FBI claims that technically Emma is the person who ordered the death of the President and, even though a minor, she can stand trial in a juvenile court.

The US Congress has signalled that unless Emma Smith is delivered to America there will be dire consequences. The Canadians are refusing to send Emma to the United States and have recalled their Ambassador. In a show of strength US troops are massing on the US/Canadian border. A Russian connection to the exploding golf ball is rumoured.

 

Third Place: The Gentlebunny Thief by Jordan Ezekude 

This was a lovely piece of writing. I was particularly drawn to the idea of a Robin Hood rabbit, righting the wrongs committed by others and then disappearing into the night through a cat-flap. He leaves behind ‘rabbit fur, rabbit tracks and a familiar calling card signed with the name ‘Armand Lapino’ – genius. This captured the feel of a news story and, to my mind, there was an awful lot of potential here to expand the story into something bigger – I look forward to the Adventures of Armand Lapino in due course.’

“Rabbit robs riches and returns them to the rural”, so say the tabloids. Sounds too good to be true, I know, but that’s what seems to be the case for the recent Falland Hall heist in County Durham. Last week, somebody snuck into the Georgian country house through the chimney, stole a handful of small antiques and escaped through the cat flap, so say the crime scene investigators. So how do we know the culprit isn’t Santa Claus? Because the perpetrator left behind three things: rabbit fur, rabbit tracks and a familiar calling card signed with the name ‘Armand Lapino’.

This notorious ‘gentlebunny thief’ has been causing an uproar in town after a month’s history of pickpocketing, burglary, trespassing and reckless inline skating. And people say he only steals things which were already stolen from others and returns them to their rightful owners. Three weeks ago, he reportedly sabotaged an armed robbery at a Middlesbrough jewellery store by stalking the robbers to their lair and taking back the stolen necklaces while they were asleep. And, just the other day, a schoolgirl told me that he helped her find her missing hamster, which she said was abducted by her school bully!

So far, nobody has ever photographed or captured this crafty rabbit. Many folks believe he’s just an urban myth or an elaborate façade, but there’s no physical evidence to identify Armand Lapino as a human thief posing as a rabbit: no human fingerprints, no human footprints, nothing! But, one thing for sure, the police are all the more eager to put him behind bars, whether in a prison cell or in a hutch. P.C. Stella Barcly stated yesterday “Whether Lapino’s really a rabbit or just another human criminal, the police will be ready to set the dogs on this stinker!”

 

Highly Commended: Joyce to the Rescue by

Maggie Farran   

‘I loved the idea of rescuing garden gnomes – particularly the thought that the gnomes then became ‘part of a large community of like-minded individuals.’ This was a nicely-written, amusing and original story. It could also, I think, be expanded into a very good short story.’

A large number of garden gnomes have been reported missing on the Isle of Wight. They have been disappearing from gardens all over the island for the last six months. Yesterday the police discovered them safe and sound in a large garden belonging to Mrs. Joyce Butterworth aged eighty-five of Gurnard. Mrs Butterworth is a keen collector of garden gnomes and has over a hundred displayed in her beautiful garden overlooking the sea.

‘I just wanted them to be happy.’ She stated when I interviewed her.

‘Some of the gnomes looked so lonely on their own and they were having to put up with living in tiny, often neglected gardens. I was just rescuing them and giving them a lovely lawn to stand on with a fabulous sea view. All the gnomes like being part of a large community of like-minded individuals.’

The gnomes are very varied in appearance from gnomes holding lanterns to gnomes with tiny fish at the end of their fishing rods. I asked Joyce if she had a favourite.

She looked appalled. ‘Of course not, I love them all equally. Although I have got a soft spot for all my rescue gnomes, the ones that have been neglected and come from poor homes.’

Joyce is a diminutive lady with long silver-grey hair and rosy cheeks. I asked her how she managed to transport the gnomes.

‘I take my wheel barrow in the back of my estate car. I always do my rescue work at night. I wrap them up in a blanket to keep them warm and drive home slowly. I find a lovely new spot on my lawn for them to live out their days in my gorgeous garden. I can see at once how happy they are to be among friends.’

 

Highly Commended: Amazing Grace by David Lea

‘This story concerned an elderly lady, Grace, staging a naked protest in the window of Debenhams in Winchester. It was original, funny and I loved the characters of Chip and Chop the Yorkshire terriers who prevent Grace from being arrested.’

I received a phone call on the morning of Tuesday 11th June suggesting that if the Chronicle were interested in some “real news” I should get myself to the front of Debenhams in Winchester High Street as soon as possible. I did so, but there was already a large crowd in front of the store’s display windows, and I was too late for a scoop. Almost everyone was taking photos on their mobile phones and many were pressed up against the glass attempting to take selfies. Grace Pottinger’s protest went viral and before the end of the day it had become international news, particularly when President Trump tweeted his enthusiastic endorsement of her actions:

“GO Grandma Grace! Strip back to the NAKD TRUTH about Amazon and

BASHFULL BEZOS!!!”

Grace refused to meet representatives of the national press but, having been released under investigation, she granted me an interview at her bungalow. Although we failed to make the deadline for last week’s edition, a world-wide exclusive report explaining her actions and her response to her new-found celebrity is to be found on pages 3, 4 and 5.

Grace, eighty-seven, spent an hour and a half in the store window, surrounded by placards and naked but for a thong. She was chained to an oversize deckchair that was part of a swimwear promotion while her two Jack Russell terriers, Chip and Chop, kept Debenham’s staff at bay. When police arrived, they were clearly unsure how to deal with an elderly, near-naked woman who had the vocal approval of a very large crowd and was being filmed by BBC South.

Mrs Pottinger’s stand against the demise of high street shopping was applauded by the Shopworkers’ Union, USDAW, but Debenhams declined to comment.

The Hampshire Chronicle is grateful for Grace’s support of local newspapers.

 

May 2019 Competition Results: Stevyn Colgan – Adjudicator

The May competition was judged by author, artist and speaker, Stevyn Colgan.  The brief was to write a scene for a farcical murder mystery in 300 words.

And the winners were:

First Place:  By Any Other Name by David Lea    

Second Place: Death by Yoga by Mark Eyles

Third Place: Doll Parts by Alex Carter     

Highly Commended: Aunt Gertrude by Maggie Farran  

Highly Commended: Who Fed the Pigs? by Lynn Clement      

May Comp

Highly commended, Maggie Farran; third place, Alex Carter;  winner, David Lea; and second place, Mark Eyles.

  Photo by Alex Carter

First Place: By Any Other Name by David Lea

‘Grabs you in the first paragraph and the character of the narrator is immediately created by their speech patterns.  Intrigued by the whole primogeniture business and how it relates to trans people too – not thought about that before.  It opens up some fascinating discussion to come.  I wanted more.’

As photographer for the Saxonford Chronicle or ‘Chronic’, I am often called to social events that induce states of such ineffable boredom as to qualify as near-death experiences and they require considerable self-discipline and copious amounts of alcohol if I am to maintain anything resembling an equilibrium. However, the accession of Ronnie Hardley-Fulsome, scion of the Fulsome family and heir to the Hardley millions, was unusual in that the protagonist experienced  the real thing – literal, terminal and absolute death. And what’s more, it occurred at the precise moment when I pressed the button of my Nikon D500 SLR digital camera and captured the whole scene for posterity.

The entire Hardley-Fulsome family was on the podium in the rose garden and many had travelled the globe to be present at the occasion. But they weren’t all there to wish Ronnie well: the rules of primogeniture require that the estate pass into the hands of the eldest male and Ronnie’s right to inherit had been hotly contested ever since she transitioned from Ronald to Veronica. This and the death of Ronnie’s father, Wolfgang, had left his/her mother’s mind untethered, and although Lady Laetitia Hardley-Fulsome did have periods of comparative lucidity this was not one of them: when someone handed her a blood-red rose, she presented it to Ronnie with a flourish, curtsied to the crowd and fell off the rostrum.

Ronnie raised the bloom rather theatrically to her/his nose and inhaled deeply. Incidentally, this was a nose that had been broken many years before in a boxing ring at Radclyffe public school and could be best described as ‘wonky’.  Her heavy chin quivered for a moment and then she collapsed, her knee length pencil skirt rising up her substantial thighs and her fascinator waving gently above her tumbling curls.

 

Second Place: Death by Yoga by Mark Eyles  

Nice to see a page or two of screenplay in the competition.  I liked the sudden comic shift from serene to sweary when Esmeralda is brought down to Earth by the sight of the body and how she then climbs back into her normal speech patterns.  Good characterisation.’ 

INT. YOGA STUDIO – DAY

Morning sunlight streams into a wood panelled room in a stately home. Yoga mats laid out. At one end an elderly moustachioed gentleman, BARTHOLOMEW, in too short shorts and tie dyed T-shirt is seated in Buddha posture on a yoga mat. A yoga strap tight round his neck and attached to a wall lamp keeps him upright. He is dead.

ESMERALDA, mid 40s, and GUY, mid 20s, enter.

ESMERALDA

…some chakra alignment after lunch.

GUY

Esmie.

ESMERALDA

Then a fluid flow to channel our inner goddess. You have been massaging your inner goddess Guy?

GUY

Esmie. Look…

ESMERALDA

You might find it easier with soft silver yoga balls? I showed you in yesterday’s ‘Rolling my way to happiness’ workshop.

GUY

Esmie! Is Bart all right?

Esmeralda finally spots the body.

ESMERALDA

Fuck me sideways!

GUY

What?

ESMERALDA

Fuck. Shit. Fuck. Stupid, stupid cock. Fuck.

GUY

He’s not OK is he? Is he? Should we do mouth to mouth?

ESMERALDA

Yeah. If you think that will help. He sure as fuck looks like he’s dead. What kind of pervy shit was he up to?

GUY

Maybe he was just being mindful?

ESMERALDA

Mindful my arse. Help me with these mats. Untie that belt. The others will be here in five minutes. We have to cover him up.

GUY

What?

ESMERALDA

Guy, we have to think about the others. You wouldn’t want them to see this would you? Imagine how it would affect their yin yang balance. We’ll just cover up poor Bartholomew and move the body later after morning class. It’s what he would have wanted. He would not have wanted to interfere with my ‘Exploring my inner love’ retreat.

GUY

But he’s dead!

ESMERALDA

Don’t say dead. Bartholomew’s spirit has just taken the next step on its cosmic journey. Maybe this was his way of exploring his inner love.

 

Third Place: Doll Parts by Alex Carter

Now, here’s a great set-up; murder-mystery in Toyland.  Reminiscent of Jasper Fford’s Nursery Crime books, but very different and what a great cast of characters are available!  Liked the ‘arms dealer’ gag that sets the tone from the off.  Good title, too.’

Teddy rapped a soft paw on the red wooden box.

“Come on out, Jack. I know you’re in there.”

He turned the crank and the lid sprang open. Jack’s long torso slunk up out of it. “Whaddaya want? I ain’t done nothin’.”

“The name’s Teddy Boyes, P.I. – I’m here about the murder of Joseph Mann.”

“Ol’ Joe Mann?” Jack shook his head slowly, jingling the bells on his hat. “The doll?”

“He preferred the term ‘action figure’.”

“Whatever.” Jack waved his springy hand, and sunk down into his box. “Nothin’ to do with me.”

Teddy stuck his paw in the box before it could shut, and lifted. “Not so fast. I know what folks call you. Jack the Knife.”

“Yeah, so?” Jack peered out of the dark box. “No knives on me.”

“Poor Joe was killed with a foam dart. Popped his head clean off.”

“What a way to go. If I were you, I’d ask his wife.”

“Sandy? Been there, done that.” Teddy straightened his tie, feeling flustered. “I’d rather follow leads, like the dart. And you, pal, you’re Toyland’s most notorious arms dealer.”

“Oh, no no no.” Jack sprung up again. “Ya got this all wrong. I deal arms, not arms.”

“Eh?”

“Doll arms – doll legs, too,” Jack explained. “Ya know, spare parts, in case dolls—sorry, action figures—lose their own.”

“So… you don’t sell foam dart guns? Or plastic retractable knives?”

“Nah, Mistah Boyes. Unless, of course, you want to replace yer furry fists with a coupla scissor-hands.”

“Then where’d the foam darts come from?” Teddy muttered to himself.

“Ya checked in with the Toyland Locos recently?” asked Jack.

“The train set? They’re our public transport.”

“Public transport with faces. Toy train gangsters, the lot of ‘em. I’d keep an eye on their boss. He hates articulated dolls.”

“Why’s that?”

“Oh man, ya don’t know the Loco godfather? Rollo Polly. No arms, no legs, just one big sphere. He’s yer killer fer sure.”

 

Highly Commended: Aunt Gertrude by Maggie Farran

Straight into the plot, no messing about.  Nice that someone who looks like a chocolate is supposed to die by eating chocolates.  Some nice comic touches.’

I had a hasty look at the congregation to see if Aunt Gertrude had arrived. I saw her straight away in the second pew from the front. She was wearing a purple hat and matching velvet coat. She looked like a quality street chocolate. You know the one with the toffee and nut in the middle.  She was singing loudly from her hymnal. I buttoned up my coat and tottered on my high heels up to the second pew and stood next to her. She gave a slight frown and handed me a hymn book. I found my place and tried to outdo my Aunt’s singing. Then we all sat down. Aunt Gertrude patted me on the shoulder and whispered

“Glad you could come, Clara, lovely singing dear.” I forced my lips into something resembling a smile and lied blatantly, “Great to be here, Aunty. I’m so looking forward to the weekend.” Well if I’m honest I was half looking forward to it. This was the weekend that I had planned to murder her. I’d been planning it for months. I’d brought her a present of a beautiful box of chocolates, which just happened to have lightly poisoned soft centres. Old Gertie could never resist a chocolate and could demolish a box in an evening.

I’m her only relative and she adores me. She’s left me her smart London flat and a few thousands in the bank too. I unpack after church and join Gertie in the sitting room for a glass of wine. I’m quite hoarse after all that hearty singing. I give her the box of chocolates in their shiny black box tied with a purple velvet ribbon.

‘Thanks, Clare, that’s so kind, bit I’m not allowed chocolates any more. I’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes.’

 

Highly Commended: Who Fed the Pigs? by 

Lynn Clement  

‘Oh, the joy in those last few lines!  Two gravediggers and a hitman and the hitman has killed the wrong person.  That’s a great set-up for a comic story.’

‘Ok Dave. Job well done,’ said Bert Knobbler to his grave digging partner.

‘I’m not sure he’ll fit in, Bert.’

‘Yeah, he’s not so tall, is he?’

‘No, Bert but he’s plenty wide.’

‘We’ll just squeeze him in then, Dave.’

Dave and Bert were just lighting celebratory cigarettes when a very rotund man turned up.

‘Hello Hodges. We were just talking about you,’ said Dave. Behind Hodges’ back Bert was using his arms to size him up. He blew out his cheeks when he realised that Hodges was indeed a wide man.

‘What you doing back there Bert Knobbler? ‘Hodges said over his shoulder. Bert picked up his spade from its repose by the graveside.

‘Just firming the edges round this grave. We don’t want you falling in Hodges. – Well not yet,’ he added, sotto voce.

‘Right, you two I’ve come for my pay off. I’ve done the deed, so stump up the dosh.’ Hodges held out his chubby hand towards Dave.

‘How do I know you’ve done it?’ asked Dave sceptically. ‘For all I know my wife might be walking around Primarni as we speak and I can’t afford to have her spend any more money that I haven’t got.’

‘It’s ok,’ reassured Hodges. ‘She’s gone. We had a trip to the pig farm, where unfortunately she had a little accident and the pigs had a feast.’

‘Blimey Hodges,’ said Bert. ‘That’s pretty gruesome. I’m glad I love my wife.’

Hodges turned to face Bert, who hid the spade behind his back. ‘Yeah, she’s lovely your wife, Bert,’ he leered. ‘All that lovely red hair. Is it natural?’

Bert became angry and lifted the spade.

‘Wooah Bert,’ said Dave holding up his hand.

‘But I thought …’ said Bert.

‘Yeah – but your wife hasn’t got red hair, Bert – my Delores has.’

‘Ah, true,’ he said softening. ‘My Jeannie’s a platinum blonde.’

‘Yours is the platinum blonde!’ gulped Hodges backing away from the two men. ‘Then who…’

April 2019 Competition Results: Mark Straker – Adjudicator

The April competition was judged by actor Mark Straker, known for the Channel 4 and Netflix  Drama, ‘Kiss Me First’, and BBC Radio Drama Company Productions.  The brief was to write the outline of a plot for a TV drama in 300 words.

And the winners were:

First Place:  The Sons of Erin by George Rodger   

Second Place: A Green and Pleasant Life by Doryn Herbst

Third Place: Insurgence by Summer Quigley    

Highly Commended: Rough Diamond by Kate Salkild 

Highly Commended: Dog of War by Damon Wakes     

April Winners
Highly Commended, Damon Wakes; Third Place, Summer Quigley; Highly Commended, Kate Salkild and First Place, George Rodger

   Photo by Alex Carter

First Place: The Sons of Erin by George Rodger

‘I enjoyed the presentation, It was clear and simply presented. Reminiscent of the style of films such as, Brassed Off, The Full Monty, and Fisherman’s Friends. The use of well-liked music, camaraderie, comedy, and a hint of danger are all good selling points, that would be expanded and would stimulate the reader and later possible the viewers interest. A family drama that would appeal to a good cross section of the public.’

Logline – Three talented Country Music pub musicians attempt to win a lucrative Irish music gig by misrepresentation.

***

Country music night in the back room of a London pub. Customers leave their seats as they crowd the bar for Last Orders. Three musicians dressed as cowboys step down and sit at a table at the front. A barmaid brings across two lagers and an orange juice. The band is the “Sons of Nashville”: Aiden and Sean Sullivan and their bassist, Andy Todd. Andy is not allowed alcohol. Two girls sitting nearby try to catch the attention of Sean who is devastatingly handsome. Sean, ever careful, looks around. Two hardmen at the bar, wearing Arsenal shirts, are watching their girlfriends proprietorially. They don’t look like music fans. Eyes down, Sean sips his lager.

Mick Sullivan, their erstwhile father and unofficial manager, joins them. He places a couple of Guinnesses in front of the boys and toasts a well-dressed man who is just leaving. Mick explains he is Brian Kennedy, owner of a large local construction company. Kennedy’s daughter is getting married and needs an Irish Ceilidh band for her wedding. Kennedy, offering good money, insists upon only genuine Irishmen and

Mick has assured Kennedy that the boys are Irish. Which they aren’t. This lie will cause problems.

Mick has arranged for Kennedy to come back in six weeks to hear them do some diddledee-dee, as he calls it. They decide to ask their Grandfather, Cathal, a former All-Irish fiddler, to help them.

Sean still lives with his mother, Erin Sullivan. Divorced from Mick, she lives a quiet life. She calls her father and soon the boys are rehearsing Irish songs with Granda in the pub back room.

Six weeks later, after problems within the band, including Sean having a finger broken by a jealous boyfriend, the pub holds an Irish night. They play superbly and their appearance at Kennedy’s wedding is confirmed.

*

Now to get Aiden’s temperamental van, with their instruments, up to a stately home in Hertfordshire in time for the reception…

Second Place: A Green and Pleasant Life by Doryn Herbst 

A clear presentation, well thought out. Of a more serious nature, the style reminiscent of Joanna Trollope’s novels which have proved popular on television. Woman in midlife crisis would find a sympathetic audience, plus the husband riding to the rescue would also satisfy some male egos!  

Good female lead character, looking at the nature of midlife, and our expectations.’

Elsa, aged 57, married to Jeremy, living in London, has recently taken early retirement as a bookkeeper for a middle-sized firm.  She is dissatisfied with her lot.

She gives up all her current activities in the city – dinner club, book club, theatre club and finds a cottage to rent in a small market town in Somerset. She intends to live there only during the week. The weekends are to be spent with Jeremy in London. Elsa assures Jeremy that she still loves him and that this is not a break-up but that she needs to make some temporary changes to re-direct her life.

In Somerset, Elsa becomes involved in a local campaign to limit development on a piece of Green Belt Land and to leave the adjacent floodplain untouched. She spends more and more weekends in Somerset. Jeremy wonders whether she is having an affair.

Planning permission has been made for an estate of executive eco-passive houses. The houses are green but the total land use is not ecologically sound. Some councillors who support the development are suspected of corruption.

Elsa meets Michael Smith, a Parish Councillor who is against the new development. Michael tries to woo Elsa into an affair and she is subjected to malicious gossip from village inhabitants.

Elsa learns that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. Jeremy discovers that Michael is not who he says he is. The name is correct but he has stolen someone´s identity. Jeremy goes to Somerset to win Elsa back and comes to realise that she has remained faithful to him.

Those councillors suspected of corruption are shown to be innocent. The new estate is scaled down to a smaller and more sustainable development and part of the estate is reserved for affordable housing. Jeremy finds a reconnection to Elsa and they both move to Somerset. Michael is prosecuted for fraud.

Third Place: Insurgence by Summer Quigley

‘An exciting psycho drama! As pointed out by the writer Broadchurch, Strangers, and a touch of The Bridge, plus, of course, Killing Eve!  I loved the revenge angle, with the detective facing her own flashbacks……The lead would be played by a trans actress?’

Transgender, Charlie Stredwick, always hated herself in a man’s body, but after the operation to become a woman society still didn’t accept her; women didn’t want her to use the same toilets, and didn’t feel a closeness to share emotions like they naturally would with each other.  Angered by the isolation Charlie was made to feel, she devises a plan to put men behind bars while also clearing the city of London of any women who didn’t accept her in her new body.

Working as a scientist in a Sperm Bank, Charlie secretly collected semen samples, storing them at her private residence. She would seek out unsuspecting young women, gain their trust, then murder them in their own homes; Charlie would create a crime scene to appear as if the women have been sexually assaulted on a one-night-stand, planting semen inside the women to ensure it was men the police were always searching for.

Detective Constable Heather Martin, recently failed Sergeant’s board to become a DS, but has been given the lead on this case as a chance to prove herself. As the case progresses she finds herself questioning whether she’s the right person for the job as memories of a rape she was subjected to as a young girl come flooding back.

This will be a limited series for viewers of programmes such as Broadchurch, Strangers and Butterfly. The eight-part drama will follow Charlie’s crimes as the Met police try to solve the case.

Highly Commended: Rough Diamond by Kate Salkild

‘Aussie Police meets corruption meets Family…good female lead, chasing and facing the Father/Daughter relationship and the demands of loyalty to force and family. With ultimate sacrifice?’

Successful investigations propel Inspector Drake of the NSW Police, Sydney, to a glittering career, but as a constable in the 1970s, corruption was rife. Hardened by a difficult upbringing, his father, a Gallipoli veteran, abandoned Drake’s alcoholic mother when he was ten, Drake’s own wife later deserted him to bring up their daughter alone.

Toni, inspired by her father’s cases qualifies as State Prosecutor, always working by the rules. Despite Drake’s errant ways, Toni proudly stands by her supportive father, a brave policeman and upstanding member of the community.

A recent public enquiry orders the reopening of cases of suspicious deaths of young men at the beach suburb, Manly, in the 1960s. Political pressure and police bias conspired in a cover up originally leading to verdicts of suicide.

Drake, with knowledge of these cases, leads the new investigation, the last before his retirement. Determined to confirm the coroner’s ruling, he is unafraid to cut corners to do so.

Unwell, Drake undertakes a series of medical tests.

During the investigation, Drake has tough questions to answer about lost or contaminated evidence and witness intimidation.

But within months, following diagnosis of terminal cancer, his retirement is brought forward, glittering accolades showered upon him.

Confined to his chair, a morphine drip quelling the pain, Drake’s guilt ridden musings about the case worry Toni, leading her to evidence identifying her father as one of the perpetrators. Unable to reconcile his deathbed confession with the man she knows, with rising anger she realises their life has been a lie.

Darkness descends as they sit quietly together. Awoken from her thoughts by the morphine alarm’s beep, Toni turns to her father to ask if he wants a top up. Taking a deep breath, she squeezes the barrel of the syringe steadily until the vial is empty.

Highly Commended: Dog of War by Damon Wakes 

‘I liked the war setting …. Lassie meets Stalingrad. I found that I was interested to know more about the brothers’ relationship…and after Artyom has died Nickolai’s  relationship with the dog? Transferrence or no?’

Nikolai Petrov is a Red Army soldier fighting to hold back the Nazi advance. In response to the invasion, Soviet generals dedicate more men to the training of anti-tank dogs in Moscow. Nikolai’s brother, Artyom, has Nikolai transferred to work alongside him at the training school, away from the front lines.

Nikolai proves his worth by retraining Inga, an aggressive guard dog. However, the project is flawed. Artyom has taught some dogs to place explosives under decommissioned Soviet tanks tanks, but even the best, Sila, cannot do it reliably. The brothers’ efforts are further hampered by an air raid which damages the facility and kills several dogs.

With Moscow under threat, the Soviet military demands an early demonstration against a captured German tank. During the demonstration, Sila fails to release a live mine. While attempting to disarm it, Artyom is killed. In response, the overseer abandons the idea of teaching the dogs to place mines, instead developing an explosive harness that will detonate on contact.

Though grief-stricken, Nikolai continues his work and realises that Sila’s failure was due to the unfamiliar smell of the German tank’s petrol engine: the Soviets use diesel. He is determined to demonstrate that the dogs need not be sacrificed and succeeds in training Inga to place mines reliably.

Despite Nikolai’s efforts, the project goes ahead. This simplified process proves faster to teach and requires fewer trainers. Many of the staff are sent to the front lines, but Nikolai’s experience allows him to keep his position at the training school.

The dogs are sent into battle, with Nikolai overseeing their use. Ordered to release the animals against approaching tanks, Nikolai sabotages the mine attached to Inga, giving her a slim chance of survival. Letting her go is the closest he can come to escaping the war.

universally acknowledged that a single guy with a good Tinder profile must be the first to swipe right on a girl he likes. That’s how Charlie Bing met Lizzy Bennet. But it wasn’t her he was really interested in.

March 2019 Competition Results: Judy Waite – Adjudicator

The March competition was judged by children’s author and University of Winchester lecturer, Judy Waite.  The brief was to re-write the opening of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for the social media age.   

And the winners were:

First Place:  P&P 2019 by Angela Chadwick   

Second Place: Gangsta Pride and Prejudice by Margaret Jennings

Third Place: Plenty.com by Annie Gray   

Highly Commended: A Modern Truth by Gill Hollands

Highly Commended: First Impressions by Alex Carter    

 

march winners
Alex Carter (highly commended) with Annie Gray (third place),           Angela Chadwick (first place), Margaret Jennings (second place) and       Gill Hollands (highly commended)

 Photo by Summer Quigley

First Place: P&P 2019 by Angela Chadwick

‘Funny, clever and manages to capture the characters and the dynamic in this re-working.  A real skill here with characterization emerging through such minimal dialogue, yet nothing from the original is lost.  Very entertaining and well-crafted.’  

Mama Bennet @mamabennet
Lonely AND loaded????? Mine, mine, mine! #fivedaughterstogo

Lady Long @gossipqueen
You’ll NEVER guess which eligible bachelor just staked their claim on Netherfield Park! None other than nerdy genius Chaz Bingley. Chaz zipped up the A1 in his new Tesla and was blown away. Rumour has it the archgeek wants to be in by Christmas…

PapaBennet (WhatsApp)

MamaBennet

OMG!

https://t.co/xA1jk3

PapaBennet
Who he?

MamaBennet
🙄
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Bingley

PapaBennet
TLDR

MamaBennet
FFS! Single & rich! Somewhere between Jamie Oliver & Spenser off Made in Chelsea.

PapaBennet
Sick?

MamaBennet
Sick! Think of the girls!

PapaBennet
What girls?

MamaBennet
Our girls! He could marry one of them!

PapaBennet
Does he know them? Is that why he’s coming?

MamaBennet
☹! But think about it. It’s so exciting. I’ve never met anyone with their own Wikipedia page before.

PapaBennet
And you still may not LOL! He’s hardly likely to be nipping into the village pub for a pint!

MamaBennet
But we’ll be neighbours. We’ll have to visit him…

PapaBennet
Pop round with a cup of sugar? What if he’s sweet on you instead?

MamaBennet
Meh!

PapaBennet
You’re one fine cougar yourself!

MamaBennet
LMFAO.

PapaBennet
Perhaps Lizzie then?

MamaBennet
Why Lizzie? Jane is more beautiful. Lydia is much more fun.

PapaBennet
Lizzie’s clever. The others are airheads.

 MamaBennet
😠! Your negativity is blocking my chakras.

PapaBennet
Frankly my dear, I have spent a lifetime unblocking your chakras. Parade our bikini-clad girls in front of this man and all his friends and relations if it makes you happy.

 MamaBennet
How can you be so insensitive?  This is the opportunity of a lifetime!

PapaBennet
Knock yourself out. I won’t stop you. But don’t expect me to take part.

MamaBennet
Your so ???? I will never understand you!

PapaBennet
Sadly true.
GTG. Some of us have work to do… 

 

Second Place: Gangsta Price and Prejudice by Margaret Jennings

‘Impressive re-telling – it would be great to hear this performed.  Unless this author really is a gangster, a great deal of work has gone into making the language choices sound authentic and well-matched with the original.  A true representation of these characters in this contemporary scenario.’

It be a truth, universally bigged up, dat a single playa wiv a phat fortune must be up in want of a hoe. She must be big-ass busted, lil’ small-ass waisted n’ come from a phat crew.          Messenger :-

Why, mah dear,  Mrs. Long say dat Netherfield is taken by a lil’ playa of big-ass fortune from tha uptown of England; dat his schmoooove ass came down on Mondizzle up in a cold-ass lil chaise n’ four ta peep tha place, he is ta get it before Michaelmas, n’ a shitload of his servants is ta be up in tha doggy den by tha end of next week.

  Is this Mista Bingley hooked up or single?

Oh! single, mah dear, ta be shizzle biaaatch! A single playa of big-ass fortune; four or five thousand a year. Shiiit, dis aint no joke. What a gangbustin’ fine thang fo’ our girls!

Whatcha mean?

 

Our girls is big-ass busted, lil’ small-ass waisted n’ come from a phat crew.

They is.

They is.

You know what big-ass busted, small-ass waisted mean?

Well no, but they is dope.Yo ass must know dat I be thankin of his crazy-ass marryin one of dem wild-ass muthas.

  But Mista Bingley might like you tha dopest of tha party.

That ain’t the case. You must  go n’ peep Mista Bingley when his schmoooove ass comes into tha neighbourhood.

Why?  They is all wack-ass n’ignorant like other girls; but Lizzy has suttin’ mo’ of quicknizz than her sisters

Yo ass have no comboner on mah skanky nerves.

I be mo’ than familiar wi yo’ nerves.  I lived wit dem fo’ twenty years.

Go peep!

I’ll go peep when there be twenty big-ass fortunes to peep.

Third Place: Plenty.com by Annie Gray

‘I really enjoyed this scene of contemporary women and their modern approaches to dating.  Lots of fun being had here.  I particularly liked the cultural references, and the ending was humorous.’

Teppanyaki with new work besties.   

.PP

Good times.

It is a well-known truth that a single woman must be in want of a partner. However little known the feelings of such a woman on her entering a new job or social gathering, this truth is so set in the minds of those around her that she becomes their rightful property for she is a Bridget without veil, an Elizabeth without Darcy.

“Don’t like to jump to conclusions Beth,” Jenna is asking, “Are you WSM or WSW?”

“Huh?”

“Seeking man or woman?”

“Neither right now, thanks,” Beth says, as if turning down dessert.

Age : 43

Status: Divorced (train wreck – distant memory)

Kids: Yes (THREE boys – SOLE carer)

Personality Type:   Homebody ?

Intentions:  Keep enjoying life. To discover …

“Oohh,” shrieks Charli, thrusting her phone in Beth’s face, “Look at this one.   Solid income.   Personality type …professional.    I could read fortunes off his shiny head, but he could rock a beanie !     We’re signing you up!   Strike a pose….”

Charli

Age : 39 (ish)

Status :  Married (again)

Personality:    Hopeless Romantic 

Intentions:    Living the dream.

Beth’s face is caught in a crossfire of iphone flash.   By the time they are done  – smoothing, brightening, widening – her image on screen is symmetrically plasticised.  Jenna smiles at her, “Got anything pierced? Or a tatt ?   It may help.”

Jenna

Age:    26

Personality Type:   Free Thinker

Intentions:   Putting serious effort into finding someone.

“Finally,” Jenna continues, “choose your personality from the drop-down menu.”

“Arsonist….sociopath…?”

“Seriously, hon….You could end up alone and dead,  chewed on by your Alsations !”

Shreking and bristling with excitement, the women return to frenzied scrolling. All teeth  and hair, they are hyenas at a feast.

Eventually, they look up to find Beth’s seat empty.

“Like I said,” says Jenna sadly, “Alsatians.”

Highly Commended: A Modern Truth by Gill Hollands

 A different approach, with the disinterested male playing computer games and the female just another to add to his list … until this girlfriend takes control in a witty and unexpected way’.

It’s a modern truth, that a single man has to have a great online profile before a prospective partner shows any interest in a date.  Of course, many now prefer the freedoms of a single life anyway.

The dating game is global now. A couple may correspond or chat on Messenger for months before meeting at a convenient spot.

Without the slightest personal knowledge of the man, he is judged entirely by his face, followings, and postings. Ben had found feminist support always made a good impression.

‘Ben, have you heard that Netherfield Park has finally been let?’ Messaged his current girlfriend.

‘Nope.’ Ben added a surprised face emoji.

‘Just spotted it on Longy’s Insta. Guess who took it?’ She added a dancing gif.

‘A tech billionaire. I can see from the vid he turned up in his Tesla Z!  Morris, the agent, posted fireworks on Monday. He says staff are moving in soon to set up and he’ll be there by the end of September.’

‘What’s his name?’ Ben added a rolling-eyed emoji.

‘Bingley.’ She added a gif with flying money.

‘Status?’ Ben yawned, flicking on a game.

‘Available, according to his profile. Must tell Lizzy. He’s bi and just broke up. He’s tagged in some angry photos.’ She attached one so he could share.

‘Your daughter? Surely he’d be too old for her?’ In the game he shot three people and stole a car before he flicked back to her screen.

She’d replied with a grumpy meme.

‘You’d be much more his level, I reckon. Class.’ Well, he had to butter her up somehow.

‘That’s not a bad idea.’ She sent him a sultry gif.

Oh no. What had he done?

 

Highly Commended: First Impressions by Alex Carter

‘An interesting angle, telling the piece through Lizzie’s eyes, this entry captures character well and the ending resonates well with the consequences of fingers slipping and wrong buttons being pressed.  Sets up well for the rest of the narrative.’

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a single guy with a good Tinder profile must be the first to swipe right on a girl he likes. That’s how Charlie Bing met Lizzy Bennet. But it wasn’t her he was really interested in.

LIZZY

Hey, what’s up?

CHARLIE

Hiya! 🙂 Just moved to Netherfield, thought I recognised you.

LIZZY

Really?

CHARLIE

Yeah, seen you out with your sisters.

LIZZY

So you swiped right on me to get to one of them?

CHARLIE

What? No!

LIZZY

Brb.

 

Lizzy tapped her new Instagram notification:

 

chbing99 liked your photo.

 

“Damn, he’s quick,” she muttered. She checked the thumbnail image – a photo from Jane’s birthday. “Crafty bugger.”

LIZZY

You had to go for the one Bennet sister who’s not on Insta…

CHARLIE

She isn’t?

LIZZY

Mate, you’re desperate.

CHARLIE

Better than hard to get!

LIZZY

Go Insta-stalk someone else’s sister.

Lizzy selected ‘unmatch’ on her message thread with Charlie, then went back to Instagram, ready to block him on there as well. Ready, until she noticed someone else in his profile picture. Reluctant, yet curious, she tapped on Charlie’s profile.

Tall, dark and handsome. Not Charlie; the other guy.

She scrolled down his feed of selfies and latte art, keeping an eye out for the other guy. “Oh God,” she said to herself, “I’m as bad as him, aren’t I?”

Then she found who she was looking for. His piercing stare contrasted completely with Charlie’s wide grin. Lizzy tapped the photo.

cbing99: Gr8 catch-up with @fitzdarcy! #BFFs #GoodCopBadCop

She tapped the username, @fitzdarcy.

Moody, artsy photos with desaturated filters filled the screen. There were few of this Darcy himself, and even they were shadowy, filtered in black-and-white. Lizzy meant to scroll down to see more, but missed, and slipped her thumb over the ‘follow’ button instead.

“Oops.”

She went to unfollow, but the damage was done. A new notification popped up:

fitzdarcy started following you.

 

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.

 

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   

 

jan comp

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 …