December 2016 Competition Results
December’s adjudicator was Catherine Wild, Lecturer in Creative Writing, University of Winchester. Catherine is a PhD candidate on Comics Writing, with particular reference to Pat Mills, so is perfectly placed to adjudicate a competition titled ‘Introduce a new comics character’ with one picture if desired. Entries were plentiful and Catherine took time to enjoy them before writing her comments, which are below.
1st Place: Honey Stavonhagen – Piccolo Pine
2nd Place: Scott Goldie – Barb
3rd Place: Damon L Wakes – Captain Redundanc
Highly Commended: Wendy Fitzgerald – I am Freyja and Rosie Sutcliffe – Verda Beech
1 st – Piccolo Pine by Honey Stavonhagen
Catherine Wild: Chosen for its full and clear character description, excellent layout and originality. It is believable and quite charming.
Name: Piccolo Pine
Power: She can control music and sounds. Manipulates musical staves to solve problems (a bit like Spiderman’s web-shooters).
Physical appearance: Six-year-old girl, curly afro pigtails, freckles, 1.15m tall. Horizontal black and white striped t-shirt (staves).
Origin Story: Piccolo’s mother, Octavia (piccolo player) wore a magical chime pendant around her bump during pregnancy. Her mother died in childbirth, but her father, Quentin (a composer) placed Octavia’s piccolo in the baby’s cot to soothe her hoping some of the mother’s breath would still be inside the instrument. The first time Piccolo blew into it, a string of notes flew across the room, picked up a toy duck and brought it back to her.
Superhero Personality: Gregarious, loyal and a good listener. Has perfect pitch and names the tones and keys of everyday sounds: car horns, doorbells, sirens. She loves a ‘drop of silence’ when she’s tired.
Trademark: Her pigtails make the shape of treble clefs when she is playing the piccolo.
Alter-Ego Personality: Bubbly and full of questions, she has a tantrum if she’s ever told she can’t do something because she’s too young.
Sidekick: Wild blackbird called Maestro who lives in her garden. He is the sage, teaching her useful/powerful tunes to help sad or lonely children/adults.
Tragic Flaw: She often forgets the tunes, or which magic melody does what. She loves to play for pleasure but her improvised compositions sometimes get her into trouble.
Community Relationship: Only Maestro knows of her abilities. He is training her up to be a maestro (magical, musical do-gooder) like him.
Colour palette: Grayscale colourway on plain white background, yellow boots and beak. Newspaper print for buildings/trees.
Main Enemies: People who hate music or tell her to be quiet. The noise polluters: diggers, motorways, loud noises that drown out all others.
2nd – Barb by Scott Goldie
Catherine Wild: Chosen for its attention to detail, character history and believable protagonist. I particularly liked the collaborative aspect between SG and IG, as illustrator.
Barb, a feisty goblin warrior, doesn’t cut an imposing figure. Young, small, slight of build, she hardly looks formidable. But Barb is lightning fast, her fierce determination making up for her lack of stature.
And Barb has landed her dream job: chasing magical beasts for the Creature Retrieval Service. Craving adventure, Barb wants to fight trolls and discover the best way to capture giants.
So far, all she’s learnt is that catching gnomes is very, very boring.
Brought up in Mildew by her blacksmith mother, Barb’s favourite toy as a goblet* was her wooden sword. Much of her young life was spent at the Arena, watching the warriors face the hazards of The Gauntlet. Her admiration of these tall, swaggering figures made her believe that a true warrior doesn’t need friends, shouldn’t feel fear and should never, ever put aside their weapons.
Barb has green, almond shaped eyes and sharp features. A warrior’s topknot ties up her long, black hair and a small pale scar runs through her left eyebrow. Barb’s mace and her notched short sword hang at her belt, her buckler shield from a strap on her back. She wears battered leather armour, the hide skirt cracked and split with age. At least second-hand, Barb reckons it’s older than she is. She thinks her nose too long.
Quick tempered, Barb can be impetuous and reckless. This hotheadedness leads her into an unwise wager with handsome, ruthless Quarrel, the leader of a rival squad.
Barb dreams of completing The Gauntlet and owning a suit of beautiful yale-horn scale armour. Her favourite smell is leather polish. She loves crumpets, properly toasted of course, and pickled snake’s eggs.
Barb must learn to trust her squad and desperately needs a friend.
Her greatest fears are looking foolish. And bats. She hates bats.
3rd – Captain Redundancy by Damon L Wakes
Catherine Wild: It has not gone unnoticed that this submission seeks to parody the comic hero concept and indeed this competition itself, which I found to be quite refreshing. That said, the character is effective, as is his side kick Tautology Boy. The submission itself is very dry and errs on the side of metafiction.
Mild mannered jobseeker John Johnson by day, by night Capt. Captain “Redundancy” Redundancy is a superhero whose superpower is redundancy! Wherever there is crime and somebody is already dealing with it, Captain Redundancy will be there, his sidekick Tautology Boy by his side.
A dark and brooding figurehead of justice, Captain Redundancy spends his nights staring out over the city he is sworn to stare out over. As a symbol of his calling as a hero, he wears a pair of underpants over his tights in addition to the usual pair worn underneath. The outer pair are redunderpants. They are red. Captain Redundancy wears red redunderpants.
John Johnson gained his powers after a bite from a radioactive mosquito caused him to stumble into the path of a chemical truck full of vacuum cleaner cleaner. Following this workplace accident—which granted him the incredible powers of redundancy—he was made redundant. Having accepted Tautology Boy as his sidekick, Captain Redundancy’s sidekick became Tautology Boy. Tautology Boy’s powers of tautology are a natural and direct consequence of being Tautology Boy, whose power is tautology.
Villains across the city fear Captain Redundancy, for by the time they see him it is already too late: the arrival of his dreaded carmobile guarantees that some other superhero has doubtless foiled their plans already. Captain Redundancy will never respond to a crime unless his presence is completely redundant, and thus—in doing pretty much nothing of any consequence himself—he is a beacon of hope in dark times: not the hero the city needs, but the hero it doesn’t.
Also Tautology Boy is there too.
Highly Commended – I am Freyja by Wendy Fitzgerald
Catherine Wild: For its ability to characterise through prose and attention to plot set-up.
After the Apocalypse of 2120, those who lived became Undergrounders.
Named from the underground railways where we first survived, we burrowed vast networks of foodfarms, living off fungi-base and lampcrops whilst the earth above us died.
Now 2270, food is short; conflicts erupt, led by Frage, a malcontent. We have learnt nothing.
Of late, the Overland recovers: rich jungle now covers barren wasteland. My people fear the Outside; shun its promise. But I love its wild beauty.
Lost there one day, Gaya rescues me. She is beautiful, youthful, but her tree marks show she is old compared to Undergrounders. She shows me her food growing in earth; tells of her people hiding from Undergrounders who kill them. Returns me to my homegate safely. Gaya is kind.
I stop trusting Undergrounder teachings; only Gaya’s. I sneak away often to find her.
We grow plants in her earth; craft from wood; are at one with the Outside.
But one day, too late, I find her wounded; she dies in my arms. Grief overcomes me: I hold her body until it is cold, but her warmth still courses through my veins.
I bury Gaya in her earth. Line up twigs to mark her grave. They burst into leaf.
Shocked, I move away, line up more twigs. They too leaf. I scatter seed: it crops in hours.
It seems she has given me … a gift.
So this is my quest: I must find out what this portends. Find Gaya’s people, see who they are; learn how to use this gift for good, not evil.
With it, Undergrounders could move Overland. Without it, we fight and die.
But Undergrounders hunt Overlanders down. There will be hatred, violence and more war.
Do I share this gift – or die with it…?
Highly Commended – Verda Beech by Rosie Sutcliffe
Catherine Wild: For its adherence to the brief and effective message.
Verda Beech is a young biology teacher, working in her local secondary comprehensive school, well liked by her students, she is fun, creative and her lessons are lively, unusual, often packing a strong environmental punch, wherever possible. During the working day, Verda inspires her students to think ethically and care about other living beings. She is a strong, statuesque woman in her late twenties, with long light brown hair and striking green eyes.
Weekends and holidays see Verda travelling to destinations where animal species are under threat or danger where she tackles both individuals and huge multi national companies in her valiant attempts to save these creatures.
When on her rescue missions Verda has a costume comprising a green shirt, with lace up front, brown trousers and brown boots, which could be from any era throughout history, this costume, however, has the ability to change, chameleon-like to match its surroundings, giving it a near invisible quality.
It is also adaptable to any environment, cool in steamy jungles, warm in the freezing artic, dry after swimming.
Verda’s powers include a telepathic ability to understand and communicate on a basic level with animals, resulting in great empathy which drives her to fight for them. She has some healing abilities, is highly intelligent, perceptive and can detect weaknesses in an enemy and use it against them. Verda is proficient in self defence, though prefers to use her wit rather than her considerable strength to defeat her adversaries.
Enemies include hunters, whalers, logging companies, huge building corporations, battery farmers, bear bile farmers and similar.
Verda had a relatively ordinary childhood, although from an early age she recognised a close connection with animals. Her main flaw is that she can be too trusting.
Her aim – to banish animal cruelty worldwide.
Becky Bagnell, of the Lindsay Literary Agency, was kind enough to adjudicate our November competition. Numbers were a little lower than expected at only eleven. Becky offers her expert advice on how to ‘Write a covering letter to a literary agent’ by sharing her tips below.
1st Place: Gillian Shilson – Covering Letter to a Literary Agent
2nd Place: Wendy Fitzgerald – Letter to Literary Agent
3rd Place: Peter Hitchen – Covering Letter for Becky Bagnell
Highly Commended: Linda Welch – Riptide and Summer Quigley – Cover Letter
Covering Letter to a Literary Agent – Gillian Shilson
Becky Bagnell: This letter showed great spirit and I particularly liked the fact that the character of the author seemed to shine through. The writer also stuck to the basic guidelines of beginning the letter by telling the agent what they might expect from the submission, in this case romance/psychological thriller cross, women’s commercial fiction. The author then gave a brief summary of the plot, making it intriguing. Then in the final part of the letter the character of the author came across giving the submission a great sense of energy.
Dear Caroline Powerful,
I am seeking representation for a first novel, The Girl in the House with Green Doors, 114,000 words (romance/psychological thriller cross, women’s commercial fiction) and would be very grateful if you could take a look.
Three Line Synopsis:
Vacationing in a woodland hideaway, romantic, book-loving Ethan squares up against devilish antagonist George to absolve himself of guilt over the death of a child and to win the heart of mystical Abby whom George lusts after and seeks to possess.
This is the story of three people whose lives become entangled following a tragic accident. It is also a love story with some spiritual elements. I think it might appeal to the same readership as The Lovely Bones or The Secret Life of Bees.
I was born in the West Indies and ran barefoot about the tropics until condemned to hard shoes and boarding-school in England at the age of thirteen. I started writing seriously in my twenties and was agented (near misses, but no luck) by Pollingers.
I brought up three boys, divorced, took a degree in fine art and cared for my demented mother until her death, working as a painter but always writing in my spare time.
I have several other novels almost completed. Writing is my absolute passion, the thing that makes it worthwhile getting up (early!) for. I live alone in a cottage by a lake with a study, a desk and a pen. I love walking while thinking about the current novel, constantly rejoicing in my freedom to write again.
I still hate wearing shoes.
I heard you speak at this year’s Winchester Writer’s Conference and would dearly love to be represented by you. I hope very much that you enjoy my chapters, which I attach with a one-page synopsis.
Letter to Literary Agent – W Fitzgerald
Becky Bagnell: This letter was simple, but it conveyed everything an agent needs to know while at the same time adding a touch of intrigue. It is a romance novel, it has an original football theme with strong female protagonist and the author is passionate supporter of the beautiful game – sounds interesting!Address
Lindsay Literary Agency
East Worldham House
Hampshire, GU34 3AT
October 22, 2016
Dear Ms Bagnell,
Novel: ‘Her Own Goal’: Genre: Y/A (Romance). Length: 50,000 words.
I am seeking representation for my first novel, noting from your website that your special interests include young adult fiction and that you encourage debut authors.
‘Her Own Goal’ is one of a planned series of young adult romances, featuring normal everyday girls, and men who just happen to be footballers:
Single parent Anna is bringing up her daughter Lily alone, whilst working as a housekeeper and finishing her degree. Theo is a successful footballer: handsome rich and famous. The gulf between them seems enormous when she becomes unexpectedly involved in the dramas of his life.
But when her father falls ill, it is Theo who is there for her: can he really be just a nice, regular kind of guy under all those trappings? What exactly does the formidably beautiful Arianna still mean to him, and what will happen when Lily’s father comes back into her life?
Anna must come to terms with both her pride and her prejudices before she can ever hope to build a future for herself and Lily.
The second book is currently in progress.
I have a degree from London University, and am a member of the Hampshire Writers’ Society, including their critique group. I am also a mad, passionate supporter of the beautiful game!
I enclose the first three chapters and a synopsis, and can be contacted either by email: WF@xxxx.com; phone, 02380 xxxxxx; or at the above address. I look forward to hearing from you.
Covering Letter for Becky Bagnell – Peter Hitchen
Becky Bagnell: This entry achieves everything that I’d expect from a covering letter. PH explains exactly what the book is about, a boy ‘Daniel’, after whom the book is named, is 11 years old and part of child trafficking circle in Northern England. The author also makes clear the book has heart. We also find out a little about the author, an academic and a father. The only thing this covering letter doesn’t do is tell the agent who the book is aimed at? I’m assuming this is a children’s book because of the age of the central protagonist, but because of the content it might be adult?
Dear Becky Bagnell,
I would like you to consider representing my novel, DANIEL, a plot-driven work of literary fiction comprising 103,000 words.
Set in 1970s Northern England against a backdrop of life in institutional care, the book opens at the point when the eponymous 11-year-old character has been trafficked to a meeting with catholic priest and serial child abuser Father Greg. Despite, or perhaps because of his newly altered circumstances, Daniel begins to develop an unusual inner-courage. This fortitude gradually evolves into a transcendent spirituality which changes the lives of all those who meet him in unpredictable and unforgettable ways. The narrative sees the boy struggling to make sense of some fundamental questions; the issues of loyalty, betrayal, love, guilt, forgiveness and self-sacrifice are all set against the activities of Father Greg, and the sadistic head of Daniel’s orphanage, Alex Smart.
However, as affecting as the boy’s circumstances are they are not the heart of the story’s mystery. Several narrative arcs – the foul play leading up to the boy’s estrangement from his single post-partum mother, the matrix of criminality stretching from the church of St Mary into the wider diocese, the corruption and incompetence within local government and the seemingly chance emergence of alcoholic vagrant Sammy Sugden – interweave to culminate in an unstoppable and deadly climax.
I’m a 53-year-old married academic and father to two young children and DANIEL is my first novel. I enclose the opening three chapters of the work along with a synopsis. Should you wish, I can be contacted at the above address or via the email address and telephone number shown below. I very much look forward to hearing from you.
Riptide – Linda Welch
Becky Bagnell: This submission could have been in the top three, as it was strong. However, the author suggests that the novel isn’t yet finished and so usually an agent does ask that the author waits until they’ve got a final script before submitting.
25 October 2016
Lindsay Literary Agency
East Worldham House
Hampshire GU34 3AT
Dear Ms Bagnell
Please find enclosed the first 3 chapters and synopsis of Riptide, an urban fantasy about a teenage mermaid. The novel is currently at 65,000 words. I anticipate the finished novel to be approximately 75,000 words.
Urban fantasy continues to be popular with teens and mermaid novels are an increasingly widespread genre: Goodreads has a whole section devoted to mermaid novels with at least 100 titles. (Source goodreads.com/genres/most_read/mermaids retrieved 24/10/16). The majority these titles are based in the US and I feel that UK-based stories would be equally popular in this country, where no-one is more than 70 miles away from the coast.
Riptide is set in the south of England, and is told from the first-person viewpoint of Lori, a 16-year-old girl whose reality is thrown into question when she discovers that she is a mermaid. As she says herself, ‘When you’re a child you believe every word your parents tell you. Mine told me I was allergic to chlorine, and that a rare skin complaint meant that I could not immerse more than 10% of my body in water at any one time. I never learned to swim, I only took showers, never a bath. I never questioned them or considered for a moment that they might be lying, until one night, when I took my friend’s dinghy out for a moonlight sail …’
This novel addresses themes that will resonate with teens and young adults, such as loss, growing independence and challenges to parental authority.
I would welcome any feedback you have on Riptide and enclose a stamped addressed envelope for its return.
Thank you for your time.
Cover Letter – Summer Quigley
Becky Bagnell: This letter contains everything you’d expect and was well thought through.
27th September 2106
Anne Clark Literary Agency
Dear Ms Clark,
I am sending the attached picture book manuscript Toilet Seat Thief for your consideration. It is a lighthearted rhyming story which provides a reminder of how even if you want to for kind reasons to another person, you must never take things without asking. Comparable books would be Julia Donaldson’s What the Ladybird Heard or The Detective Dog but I feel my book is differentiated by its kookiness and ‘toilet’ humour which appeals to children.
Raccoon, the detective, wears a distinctive black mask,
He has many others for each undercover task.
A toilet seat was stolen from a museum’s prize display
Will Raccoon catch the thief or will they get away?
I have a few different ideas for running a series of rhyming detective picture books. Characters include Stickins – the stick insect undercover police officer and Teeny Weeny Spi-Guy – the money spider spy. Of course, if you felt Racoon would be popular I could work on different cases for him to take on.
A little about me
I am a mother of two and currently work to fit around my children’s school hours; prior to having children I completed a journalism degree, a post-graduate diploma in public relations and worked within the communications industry for 10 years. Last year I completed an online ‘writing storybooks for children’ course and since then have written a few picture books which haven’t yet been submitted to any agents as I want to strengthen them before I do so.
Any questions, please let know,
Isabel Rogers, Hampshire Poet 2016, commented that she was looking forward to reading all of the entries when she adjudicated the competition for October 2016. ‘Inspired By Hampshire’ inspired our members to write a poem within the 300-word limit. Isabel has chosen the winners and shares her thoughts about them below.
1st Place: Scratch (Peter Hitchen) – New Forest UXB: ‘Historical’
2nd Place: Hilary Hares – Hampshire
3rd Place: Sally Russell – The Bull of Bull Drove
Highly Commended: Sue Spiers – The Alcorns and Avril Stephenson – Hampshire Haven
New Forest UXB: ‘Historical’ by Scratch (Peter Hitchen)
Isabel Rogers: This poem sustained a metaphor brilliantly throughout, as well as rooting the subject deeply in Hampshire locations. I loved the playful approach to language, teasing with multiple meanings of words, which brought out the deeper theme of the work. It conveyed a complex situation with huge economy and skill.
Jonny lit a blaze
in his father’s inclosure
then dashed to the front line
of his anguish and lobbed an F-bomb
that didn’t go off
he forsook his skateboard
for an unbridled pony
tacked his own pilgrimage out west
and made a small contribution
to the pink pound while he waited for
his pollarded psyche
to show signs of regrowth
regardless of grooming
sparse coppice was
the best it could manage
it aped charred furze
until he espaliered it onto
a stockade against pannage
it became a life’s work
sometimes he fantasised
about going back
maybe on a sunny
All Saints Day afternoon
they’d meet in the demilitarised zone of
a Burley tea shoppe
but he’d have dredged the F-bomb up
and have it with him
just in case he needed to
explode it at the precise moment
to cause maximum damage
Hampshire by Hilary Hares
Isabel Rogers: I enjoyed this poem’s use of repetition and carefully controlled lines and stanzas, and the deliberate relaxing of line length – just once – to bring out some dark humour. It was an almost cinematic tour of the many aspects of our county, creating many images I loved.
That spits its history into its ports
like an indentured midshipman,
that hides its secrets under a hill
where a tunnel carries them to London.
That challenges France from
the quenelles of its downs,
that grew rich on milk and wheat,
that fattens its ponies on gorse.
That abolished its trams,
that closed its dockyard
where a siren released a flock
of black bikes every weekday at four.
Hampshire, where Gormley stands
in the crypt of the cathedral,
that boasts two kings, that despairs
of its trains.
That excels at sea, whose knights
are legend, that bred Brunel,
that guards its coast
with abandoned forts.
In a Hampshire keep a damsel
lets loose the tresses of a fable.
She writes behind a door
that once she painted green.
The Bull of Bull Drove by Sally Russell
Isabel Rogers: This poem described a rich snapshot of the old Bull Drove open air swimming area, with a lot of vivid glimpses of character drawn with economy. The ending, encapsulated in the final two stanzas, is as disturbing as I’m sure it is intended to be.
She teeters on the Bull Drove river bank
like a riparian wood nymph.
Messy dark blonde bob, thick cut fringe,
hand-me-down seersucker costume
the colour of waving weeds.
Frayed straps cut her pubescent shoulders raw.
Her naked heels are rooted in mud,
a shaggy grass rag rug tufting between her toes.
She hugs herself with pipe cleaner arms,
pale and goosebumped, fingertips blue.
A cacophony of children bob up and down
like jumping fish, splashing, dive bombing,
shooting dank-smelling froth over her skin.
Her eyes dart about, searching for
the bulls of Bull Drove. Languorous swells drift past;
pondweed tendrils flutter like watery windsocks.
A submerged shoal of teenagers ripples past,
picking freckled, age-worn pebbles
from the river bed, while shafts of sunlight
pierce the cloudy depths.
A bull-shaped head breaks the surface.
He rolls his neck, shakes a Catherine wheel
of water from his shaven scalp.
He smiles and grasps her hand.
Her mouth opens in a silent scream
as she leans away. He tugs. She slides
down into hostile waters.
It is her turn to learn to swim.
The Alcorns by Sue Spiers:
Isabel Rogers: A beautifully drawn portrait of grandparents, with tender descriptions shining through what must have been a hard life for Lily. The final stanza is heartbreaking, with its mention of money almost as an afterthought but providing the emotional after-kick of this poem.
Gentleman Jack they called him in The Crown,
always wore a jacket and bow tie in the pub.
On Sundays my cousins and I sat outside
with a bag of crisps and a lemonade each,
giggling at nan’s ‘fag-ash Lil’ nick-name,
a cigarette bobbing on her lip, scattering ash.
I never knew she was disabled, she had thin legs
and one Frankenstein shoe with a platform.
She got her shoes on the NHS, custom made.
A work pair in black and a best pair in fawn.
Sometimes she’d let me fix in the rod
and lace up the strap under her swollen knee.
Grandad showed me his Readers Digest books
pointed out countries in the World Atlas,
talked with me about the photos in the zoo book
colour photos of leopards, dolphins, anemones,
given to me when he died because my cousins
showed no interest in that kind of stuff.
Their son died in infancy, around the time
granddad was living with another woman.
Lily took him back against her brothers’ advice.
Their third girl was born a year later.
I calculated their first was born six months
before the date on their wedding certificate.
Lily wouldn’t let doctors tell him he had cancer,
convinced them to diagnose tuberculosis.
The sitting room became his sick room for a year.
She got it nine years later, gave up within a month
owing £40 to the co-op. £400 to bury them together,
to get her name added to his headstone.
Hampshire Haven by Avril Stephenson
Isabel Rogers: This was a delightful sense-fest, with rhythm and internal rhyme combining to create a cascade of a prose-poem. We are shown a beautiful day at the beach and its surroundings. I could almost taste the salt spray.
Sunbeams stridently escape the clouds, glinting, hinting at long summer hours, easy days, lazy crowds, loud laughter, raft of strong shadows
Glimmering horizon shimmers through the heat haze, terns swoop down, skimming the waves, follow shoals swimming, dip for a tit-bit, gone in a flash, dash away, specks in the sky
Skin blushed by the kiss of sun, massaged with balmy lotion, notional protection from fearsome rays, motion of the ocean, soothing the soul, whispering lullaby held in a spell
Cool off in the water, gently enter in, deliciously fresh, coldly shocking, sparkling wavelets rapid racing, bracing, slowly succumb, enticing arms enfolding, holding, beckoning “come in!”
Close to nature, buoyed up by the water, darting like a fish, relaxing with the waves, vista of hills rising steeper in the distance, broad shoulders standing importantly in line
Pebbles worn smoother than a ping-pong ball, crunchy sand crystals nestle between toes, seaweed blisters hold bladders of water, optimistic sand hoppers bounce amongst driftwood, leaping along with unharnessed glee
Tang of dried flotsam, fish and driftwood, taste of salt carried on the breeze, jellyfish remains, transparent, rubbery, tentacles menacing with suckers underneath
Cliffs wear drifts of purple heather, rusty bracken slackens, bows to the ground, feather ends brush on dry sedge grasses, worms slither sinuously along the sandy soil
Excited children’s voices waft across beaches, chirping like birdsong, mixing in a melody with whispers on the wind
Broody chalk-white needles rise majestic from the sea, aloof from the island, distant, mysterious, boldly guarding the twinkling bay
Motorboats and ski-jets rudely intrude, disturbing the calm like hornets at a picnic, fumes race away in the breezy summer air
Kite-surfers skilfully use nature’s forces, powerful as horses, gliding, turning, racing, embracing silently the power of the wind.
What an amazing start to the season. As always, it has been a pleasure having the support of Robin Mukherjee, Screenwriter and Playwright. The winning pieces, including Robin’s comments, for the September competition are below.
1st Place. Joanne Tomlinson – In Between.
2nd Place. Geoff Harrington (David Eadsforth) – The Day The Earth Moved.
3rd Place. Wendy Fitzgerald – One Meeting.
Commendations. Honey Stavonhagen – Fishing with Tyko and Rosie Sutcliffe – Tiger Tour
1st Place: Joanne Tomlinson – In Between.
Robin Mukherjee: I thought this is quite brilliant. It took a couple of reads before its subtleties began to seep in, but they soon became unforgettable. It also takes its subject beyond the obvious into a very startling and rather beautiful dimension.
I was looking down on myself, but paying little attention to that or to the voices until he arrived. He appeared on my bed, sat with his profile to me, a dark hoodie pulled up over his head, obscuring most of his features.
There was an unpleasant smell of ether and a soft beeping noise.
A shadowy figure in green pyjamas brought in an unassuming cool box holding my future and his past on ice.
The boy turned to me, pulling the hood from his head, revealing a sticky, matted mop of black hair. I felt his nascent testosterone invading me.
A memory flickered, not mine, of a car bonnet crumpled up to the steering wheel. Another, mine this time, of drowning, gulping air, frantic, gulp, panic.
He began to remove the pile of bricks balanced on my chest, which suddenly were almost unbearable. One by one, easing my discomfort, he told me that everything would be alright now, and his certainty helped me bear it.
It took all my strength to reach for his hand and squeeze it in solidarity and gratitude.
As he squeezed back I felt a warmth surge through my cold body, I broke the surface of the water and gasped deep, life giving breaths through my new lungs.
His hand slipped from my grasp as I felt his heart beat for the first time…
2nd Place: Geoff Harrington (David Eadsforth) – The Day The Earth Moved.
Robin Mukherjee: This is funny and sweet, a very simple story but with a rich world around it, delivering a genuine sense of OMG. The title is multi-layered and rather cheeky. A lovely read.
Jack woke in an instant, his senses assailed by a confusing jumble of sights and sounds. The room was shaking violently and there was a loud rumbling the like of which he had never heard before. No mistake; this was an actual earthquake! He leapt naked from the bed and ran for the door, wrenched it open and strode outside. He froze; across the corridor stood a naked woman, her eyes wide with astonishment.
“Oh my God!” he cried.
“Oh my God!” she echoed.
Both turned to face the corridor walls.
“Was that an earthquake?” he asked. “I didn’t wait to grab my bath robe!”
“Yes; neither did I!”
“I don’t want to go back for it, but I don’t want to go downstairs like this either!”
“Nor me! Wait; it’s not shaking any more; let’s sit down for a moment.”
Seconds later they were sitting, backs to the corridor walls, arms around knees drawn up to their chins, staring at the ceiling.
“Um, I’m Jack…”
“I’m Carol; um, what are you doing here?”
“Off-season city break for the museums; they’ve some of the finest in Europe.”
“Coincidence; me too! My friends think I’m nuts…” She grinned. “Was that a half-decent six pack I saw?”
He smiled self-consciously.
“Perhaps; I’m in a rowing club. Actually, I didn’t notice too many spare inches on you either.”
“Thank you, kind sir; I’m a rather serious swimmer.”
“Wonder if it’s safe to get our robes now and join the other guests…”
She stood up abruptly; modesty clearly set aside for a moment, and held out her hand. He smiled, got to his feet and shook it.
“Nice to meet you Carol; fancy seeing the museums together?”
“That would be nice.”
“See you at breakfast?”
“If you’ll recognise me with my clothes on…”
3rd Place: Wendy Fitzgerald – One Meeting.
Robin Mukherjee: This is poignant and moving, with a sharp twist that hurts. It raises rather than answers what might in the end be unanswerable questions, and offers a sense of desolation mixed with a complex tone of joy. A rich potage of powerful emotions.
To my Comrade in Arms:
I have thought of you so often
When night casts its terrors over me and no stars can be seen.
It was so many years ago now –
I am grown old and frail; my final days cannot be long
The days of reckoning crowd upon me
And my need to go fearless into the night.
Did you have a family like me? A wife, two little girls,
Who waited for you at home, and cried themselves to sleep?
The sense of seeing, feeling music
In everything you did?
Did you hide in that barn, in that desolate foreign land, alone;
Mad with hunger and thirst, dreaming of their arms?
When you faced me, gun in trembling hands
Fear bulging in your eyes
Did you think – it’s me, or him?
And when I dropped my arm and waved to you,
Did you think to kill me even then?
I’ve led a life of pain and joy;
A life so special, because it nearly was not;
And I’ve you to thank for that.
Now as my days close; the dark winter outside interminable,
I think of you so often; what might have been.
And I need to say ‘forgive me.’
You turned your back to flee …
And I shot you.
I can see the red haze of your blood before my eyes
Your body twitch to still.
And I know we won’t meet again, my friend
For you will be in heaven
And I will be in hell.
Commendation: Honey Stavonhagen – Fishing with Tyko.
Robin Mukherjee: A startling and evocative snapshot, which perfectly captures the weather, the atmosphere, and the awkwardness of two worlds coming together.
‘How old are you?’ The words were all correct but something about the way the boy placed them was wrong. Effie let the question sit on the surface for a while before soaking it up like a warm, wet snowball.
‘I’m…’ Papa liked to say that people who chose to mark birthdays or count years had too much food and too few worries. Effie agreed, so she gave the answer her Mama used to give the doctors before all her hair fell out in soft, brown clumps. ‘I’m as old as I’ve ever been, but not as old as I’m going to be.’ She shivered, as the cold wind bore through her thin coat like a tired lie.
The boy looked up at her then, his face emerging from a halo of fur and something in the glint of his eyes startled Effie into staring longer than she’d intended. He returned her gaze with a blunt one of his own, until the little wooden rod jerked sharply tugging at his attention.
‘You’ve caught a fish.’ Effie said, noting the layer of accusation floating on her voice.
‘Not yet, I haven’t.’ The fish lurking underneath them bent the rod into a question mark bobbing on the dead, black heart of the lake. Ice crystals had already begun to rebuild their spidery web, threatening the edge of the hole he had cut in the ice. Here, fishing was a race against time, not the meandering pastime it had been at home. Home. Effie wiped the word away with the back of her sleeve, her woollen mitten clawing at her lips.
This boy, crouched down wrestling an unseen fish, was the only other child in the long valley and therefore Effie’s sole prospect of friendship. It was going to be a long winter.
Commendation: Rosie Sutcliffe – Tiger Tour.
Robin Mukherjee: Beautiful phrasing such as, ‘His body an exclamation mark amongst the seething throng of bodies.’ The characters are quickly and fully established in complex layers, the world powerfully tangible and convincing with its intriguing promise of adventure.
David shuffled a few steps forward in the desultory queue of passengers, his body shaped like an apology from years of ‘excuse me’s,’ ‘sorrys,’ ‘pardons.’
A man who could never quite meet expectations, either those of himself or others.
This was by far the most exciting thing David had done in his entire forty-seven years of life. Spurred on by a small inheritance and the realisation that watching David Attenborough on television was not equal to seeing a Bengal
Tiger in it’s natural environment with his own eyes, David had booked on
‘Tiger Tours India.’
Stepping out tentatively from the airport, the brilliance, heat, aromas, vibrant colours and speed of ceaseless movement assaulted him like a gang of thugs.
Initially terrified, David had a choice to take the familiar route of hiding in fear or to embrace this experience and meet it head on. Whilst in a quandary of indecision he felt a tap on his shoulder and spun around.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you jump, but I saw your baggage label. I’m on
‘Tiger Tours’ as well and can’t see the tour guide anywhere. They are supposed to meet us at the airport, aren’t they? This is the first time I’ve travelled alone and I feel like a fish out of water.” She gabbled nervously, gentle hazel eyes wide with tremulous anxiety.
David smiled warmly, confidence growing, spreading like a fire within him.
“Don’t worry. Let’s walk down here a bit further and if we don’t spot our guide then we can begin the adventure early by catching a rickshaw to the first hotel and wait for him there.”
Taking both cases, David strode forward, his body an exclamation mark amongst the seething throng of bodies.
It has been a pleasure working with Adrienne Dines, our adjudicator for June. The time between the dead-line and the event was generous which allowed Adrienne to read and comment on your entries, she was even kind enough to choose two commended and has also shared her observations for them. There were 21 entries this month.
Adrienne’s individual comments can be read below with the winning entries. The winners are:
1st Prize: ‘For The Dead and The Living’ by Mari Thomas
2nd Prize: ‘A Lovers Reunion’ by Kristin Tridimas
3rd Prize: ‘Waiting’ by Andrea Parr
‘Lovers Reunion’ by Wendy Fitzgerald
‘Peter and Karen’ by Scratch
For The Dead And The Living by Mari Thomas
Adrienne Dines: “Written in second person, this is very skilful storytelling. The reader is forced to feel every tense moment as our heroine approaches her reunion. We don’t know the nature of their relationship but we can feel the damage it caused her and we worry for her now. Skilful use of pacing to keep us waiting, wonderful strong voice. This was a clear winner for me.”
You are sitting in the most uncomfortable chair of your life, the metal digging into your shoulder blades. Sweaty hands clench into fists; you have to force yourself not to fiddle with your clothes.
Opposite you, two court bailiffs are staring you down. You miss Sally, your contact from the UKPPS, but you know she can’t be here. Too much publicity. Too high a chance that she’ll become the lynch pin in someone else’s carefully crafted fake life.
Inhale. Exhale. You can do this.
The door opens. You’re beckoned forward. You go.
So this is it – the final call to arms. A battle of suits and jargon and you are the centre fighter. The king on the chessboard. You end the game.
This is, you realise, the most important thing you will ever do.
With each successive step, you can feel yourself regressing, falling back into your old identity. You dyed your hair blond for this, you remember, and it itches at your scalp.
You’ll feel better when it’s brown again.
He’s the very first thing you see when you enter the courtroom. You wonder if he has a new lover now, if he has someone else to smear with blood and kiss in the middle of his self-created carnage. You wonder if he’s found another person to tear apart.
You take your seat.
As you state your name and date of birth for the record, he stares at you. His eyes are wide, as if he never saw this coming. Good. You hope it’s unexpected. You hope he never forgets this moment. You hope it feels like the worst sort of betrayal.
“And what,” asks the prosecutor, “is your relationship to the accused?”
You look out at the courtroom. Take a deep breath.
“He’s my husband.”
A Lovers’ Reunion by Kristin Tridimas
Adrienne Dines: “The tension between the exterior and interior voice works perfectly in this story. In a few carefully chosen words and phrases the whole backstory is filled in and we don’t need to know what happens afterwards, only that our heroine will not fall prey to this Lothario again. Beautiful controlled writing.”
“May I introduce Paul Armstrong,” says the vice-consul and she slides away, her duty done.
I recognise him straight away: tall, erect, ice-blue eyes, his dark hair now silver at the temples. The slightly cruel twist of his mouth caused by a tiny scar; the result of a childhood accident. He stands out from the small group of talkers. And even after twenty years, I find my heart beats faster and my palms feel cold with sweat.
“We’ve met.” I give my professional smile, perfected over the years: neutral, dispassionate, efficient.
In a bar. Or a nightclub. I forget.
I hold out my hand. For the briefest second my skin touches his and I look into the blue of his eyes.
Flesh on flesh; thigh on thigh; his lips on mine. The sweet smell of pheromones mixed with aftershave.
“It’s been a while,” he says and the warm blanket of his voice has deepened. His eyes send coded messages.
Someone in the group says something. I respond, an automaton; I know the protocol.
“What are you doing now?” I ask Paul as soon as I can, the measured politeness in my voice disguising my curiosity.
I never really knew what he did. It didn’t matter.
My brain whirrs. I should move on, forget him.
Secret kisses. Snatched moments. Anonymous hotel rooms.
“This and that.” He smiles and his scar stretches into oblivion. “I import British shoes. They’re very popular here.”
I sense a familiar frisson of danger.
I didn’t find out he was married until I was already in too deep.
“And look at you, Celia,” he says. Haven’t you done well?”
I nod; smile politely. False modesty. I’m proud of where I’ve got.
Right on cue, there’s a low murmur in my ear. “Ambassador?”
Waiting by Andrea Parr
Adrienne Dines: “Lovely romantic reunion. The backstory is fed into the woman’s waiting and her pregnancy is hidden until he acknowledges it. We are given clues – the to milky tea, her discomfort – but we have to wait for the ‘ah ha’ moment to realise. A good example of showing, not telling! I particularly liked how this writer varied her sentence lengths to control the tension.”
Her tea was too milky. One tasteless sip and she left the cup, a pink smear of lipstick on its paper rim. No matter how she shifted, she couldn’t get comfortable. The seat was too hard, too plastic. Switching her gaze between the arrivals board and her book made her neck ache. With a snap, she closed it. She couldn’t concentrate on reading anyway.
Eight months, two weeks, five days since she’d last seen him.
“I have to go,” he’d said. “I’m a doctor. I help people.”
And her. Infantile, selfish. “It doesn’t help me.”
She twisted her fingers. Glanced up at the clock. Rechecked her phone.
His flight number inched upwards. Long before it reached the top, she moved to the barrier, the metal cold under her grip.
People streamed in from the arrivals hall, piled luggage obscuring each other. So many, her heart raced until his familiar figure finally appeared. Tousled brown hair, rumpled from the flight. A slight frown creasing his face as his eyes slid anxiously over the crowd.
When he saw her, he stopped. The crowd flowed around him. Like the sun dawning, a slow smile spread across his face. In two strides he was pulling her close, careful not to crush her against the barrier.
“I was so scared you wouldn’t wait.”
“Of course we waited.”
Almost too quiet to hear, he said,
“I’m sorry I left you.”
He’d gone because he needed to. She understood that; she accepted it. She smiled as he bent to face the full moon of her belly.
“Your daddy promises he won’t go again.”
Tangling her hands in his hair, she tugged his head up. His breath whispered warm against her cheek.
“I love you so much.”
Her mouth found his. That was good enough for her.
Lovers Reunion by Wendy Fitzgerald:
Adrienne Dines: “Lovely complete story with an ending that suggests there is life afterwards – absolutely what a short story should do. The characters (particularly hers) are well drawn. We know that they will stay together and she will be the stronger. His love for her is captured in a couple of killer lines!”
He had trudged endlessly beside his father, leaving behind angry bombs, jagged buildings and the broken bodies of his mother and sister. Hunger and exhaustion were constant companions across lands and angry seas; the makeshift sprawling camp a welcome haven.
He recognised Lili immediately. Tousled dark curls, light grey eyes and the scent of home. They became inseparable.
‘Tomas, we must attend the school,’ she told him. ‘Education is everything, even for girls! History to learn from; science for our future, languages to talk! Besides, it’s warm there, and there is always food!’
He went because he would have gone with Lili anywhere. It became their refuge, their playground, their home.
‘We’re leaving, Tomas. We go to Germany, to distant family.’ Tears streamed down dusty cheeks, whilst a sickening abyss opened up before him. ‘Promise me you will keep learning. Look,’ she pointed to the battered globe, ‘the capital Berlin. Meet me there when we are grown!’
‘But how, and where, Lili? Cities are big!’
‘There’s a ‘Brandenberg Gate,’ she said carefully. ‘Midday, the first of January, every year after we turn eighteen. Auf wiedersehen, dearest Tomas!’
She hugged him tightly, fiercely; he felt warm soft lips fleetingly brush his mouth; then she was gone.
Desolate, homeless again, he complied. He worked tirelessly, driven; maths to afford a better life, precious languages to talk. And here he was full-grown: thin, serious, shyly handsome, in Berlin. Waiting.
It was bitterly cold, but he perspired with fear. Would she come – that girl he had once lived for? Would he recognise her? Could life ever be that kind?
Then – a slight figure with dark curls hurtled towards him, his name on her lips; laughing as she launched herself into his arms. Familiar, and unfamiliar, all at once – but she smelt of home.
‘Peter and Karen’ by Scratch
Adrienne Dines: “Voice, voice, voice. We were straight into the head of this cool teenager with his patter and his vinyls. The opening was particularly strong. I’d like to see this continues as a longer story – staying in the past as the relationship develops.”
I pretended I liked the Bee Gees but I was really into Motorhead and Punk. On Wednesday afternoon I’d bunked off maths, nicked a copy of God Save the Queen from Menzies, and hid it in my wardrobe. I was going to play it for Karen on Saturday afternoon when my mam was out but then couldn’t find it amongst the junk. It didn’t matter because we got distracted. It was the first time we’d been as distracted as that. Karen had been doing ballet since forever, so sidelining Lemmy for Barry Gibb was a price worth paying.
We’d started going out on sports day when Anne-Marie Rigby collapsed onto the parched grass after winning the 1500m. Her pounding stomach was mesmerising. She’d her legs bent and was too gassed to realize that every lad in my form could see the curly black pubes sprouting from either side of her maroon knickers. Karen followed me over to the long-jump pit and asked why I’d moved. I told her it didn’t seem right to gawk at someone like that, she smiled and that was it. Love.
“Peter, someone who knew you from school rang”. My mam explained about the planned reunion.
When I got there everyone looked the same, just 20 years older. I stood at the bar wondering about Karen, then a voice behind me. ‘Pete, it’s me, Kaz,’ she looked different but her smile was still the same, ‘I’m glad you turned up, I’ve something that belongs to you…’ she held out The Sex Pistols single, ‘I shouldn’t have taken it. Sorry. Probably worth a fortune now.’
‘It’s funny how some things appreciate over time, Kaz. You married?’
‘Still single,’ I held up the record, ‘tell you what, let’s see if they’ll play it for us.’
Emma Scattergood, Senior Lecturer in School of Journalism, English and Communication at University of Bournemouth and also Editorial Director of Fresher Publishing kindly stepped in as our adjudicator for May. The number of entries this month was 18.
Emma’s comments are below with the winning entries but her choice of winners is:
‘The Surgeon’s Mate’ by Louise Morrish
‘The Silver Thread’ by Louise Morrish
‘Occitan Jewel’ by Amicia Bentley
Amanda McCarthy – On the Parish and W Fitzgerald – Denial.
The Surgeon’s Mate by Louise Morrish
Emma Scattergood: “This piece pushed the idea of a steamy love story to its limits! It was fast paced, exciting and full of peril. The final sentence both rounded the story off nicely and pointed forwards to a possible continuation. If I had my way, this would be expanded into a full-length piece – I’d love to read that and learn more about the characters and their backgrounds.”
DOWN on the orlop deck, the fetid air stank of bilge water and blood. Holding my breath, I watched as the ship’s surgeon, Mr Vivez, rootled amongst the bottles in his medicine chest. ‘Glaubert’s Salts… Spirit of Hartshorn…’ he muttered to himself. ‘Tincture of Opium…’
Hurry up! I willed him.
On the operating table – two sea-chests laid end to end, with a sheet of sailcloth stretched over them – Tyler lay moaning, his shattered leg covered in blood. Here, deep in the bowels of the ship, only Vivez and I could hear him.
The surgeon scraped a finger round his ear, inspecting the tip for wax. His fingernails were long and yellowed, like slivers of horn. Then he turned to me. ‘The leg’ll have to come off,’ he stated, opening a case containing knives and a bonesaw, blades peppered with rust, the sight of which near buckled my knees.
‘What about this, sir?’ I stammered, holding up the screw-tourniquet, a length of leather with a brass screw attached. Vivez faced me square, his gaze pinning me, needlesharp. Beneath the gloomy light of the candle lantern, his glinting eye seemed to see right through my skull, into my terror-addled mind.
‘New-fangled rubbish,’ Vivez declared.
‘But Tyler’s bleeding to death, sir…’
‘Laudanum and rum, that’s all he needs, I tell you.’
‘But listen, sir! If we can cut-off the circulation with the screw before we amputate the leg, Tyler stands a chance of living…’
‘He’ll live till he dies.’
Vivez was nothing but a glorified butcher, I realised.
I took a steadying breath, and felt the planks heave beneath my feet.
‘With all due respect, sir,’ I swallowed. ‘I think you are wrong.’
Before Vivez could stop me, I slipped the leather strap round Tyler’s bloodied thigh, and cinched it tight.
The Silver Thread by Louise Morrish
Emma Scattergood: “Here is a writer who, in just 300 words, gives us not only conflict and resolution but also a strong sense of character and the challenges with the narrator faces now and in the future. Whispering already below the surface are questions about the narrator’s relationship with her husband, her ability to cope so far from home, and whether this one conflict will only lead to another and yet another. Here is a woman under pressure – and I want to know what happens to her!”
EVERYTHING changes in a heartbeat. One moment, my husband has the bible open on the lid of the chest, his ragged fingernail pointing out a passage to the chief; the next, men are shouting, and the chief’s guards are aiming their spears at our throats.
‘What did you say?’ I whisper to Jeremiah. Not for the first time, I wish he had left the conversing to me. While he has been preaching and pontificating these past weeks, I have sat with expectant mothers, tended the sick and wounded, bestowed scraps of ribbon and buttons on the feral children. Slowly, gently, I have nurtured these people’s trust. But if Jeremiah isn’t careful, all our efforts will soon lie trampled in the cowry shells that cover the floor of the chief’s hut.
‘Exodus, verse twenty,’ Jeremiah mutters. ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Perhaps it’s advisable to leave now, Elizabeth…’
But where would we go, I want to cry. The natives know every nook and cranny of this island; there’s nowhere to hide. I glance at my bare feet, half buried in the tiny, porcelain shells shining like glass in the firelight. It has grown so very hot in here.
Silently, the chief points a long, brown finger at my necklace. My own fingers instinctively reach for the fine, knotwork Celtic cross hanging from its silver chain. The natives have long coveted my necklace; their dark eyes flash whenever they catch a glimpse of the intricate design. It is like nothing they have seen before, for all the beauty of their island.
‘Give it to him, Elizabeth,’ Jeremiah hisses.
He has never liked me wearing the heathen sign.
I fumble to unclasp the chain, my hand shaking as I offer the chief the thin, silver thread connecting me with home.
Occitan Jewel by Amicia Bentley
Emma Scattergood: “This is clearly an extract from the heart of a novel, so we are left to surmise the details and extent of the narrator’s dilemma, but the portrayal of the domestic scene, as the narrator wrestled with a solution, is engaging and we get a real sense of her resourcefulness as she tries to craft a meal from a near empty fridge. I particularly liked the silent presence of the mother here, and the suggestion of this being a quieter yet maybe equally significant pressure upon the protagonist also.”
ADELINE patted her mother’s hand and quietly left her side.
In the kitchen, she found that there was not much in the larder, just a chunk of stale bread and a few over ripe tomatoes. Taking a sliver of garlic she wiped it along the breads surface and then cut everything into small pieces. In a large bowl she combined it all together with her hands, letting the red juice soften the bread. Her movements were disconnected from her thoughts and everything she did was functional. The shocking events of the day were beginning to sink in and she found herself going over everything that had happened in her mind, trying to piece it all together. When she had finished mixing, she cleaned her hands in the sink and wiped them on the side of her apron. It was then that she remembered the Occitan cross, coiled deep within her skirt pocket.
Of course, she thought, if she sold the cross it would be more than enough for Simon’s Hospital fees. Then she stopped, her face fell and the idea diminished. The cross did not belong to her; she knew that Claudia was its rightful owner and where to find her. Regrettably, Adeline realised that she could never bring herself to use the jewels value, knowing that she had stolen it. She felt the cool metal with her fingers and the image of Monsieur Lauzier’s glowing hat and Claudia’s liquid eyes full of pain came flooding back. She promised herself there and then that she would keep the pendent safe until she could find the time to return it.
Adeline picked up the bowls of food and took them into the main room. Silently she gave one to her mother, who just held it on her lap and did not attempt to lift the fork.
It was a pleasure to welcome Allie Spencer as our adjudicator for April. She is the author of Tug of Love, which won best debut novel, Romantic Novelists’ Association.
It seems that many of you were too shy to write romance, the number of entries this month was only 18.
Allie assured me that she enjoyed reading them all. Her comments are below with the winning entries but her choice of winners is:
NIGHT AMBUSH by ANGELA CHADWICK
SECRETS by MARI THOMAS
STEAMPUNK LOVE by SUE SPIERS
A STEAMY LOVE STORY by JOHN QUINN
NIGHT AMBUSH by ANGELA CHADWICK
Allie Spencer: ‘This piece pushed the idea of a steamy love story to its limits! It was fast paced, exciting and full of peril. The final sentence both rounded the story off nicely and pointed forwards to a possible continuation. If I had my way, this would be expanded into a full-length piece – I’d love to read that and learn more about the characters and their backgrounds.’
Lily opened her eyes to darkness. The explosion, when it came, rocked the campbed. The door of the cell crashed open and a guard grabbed her, hauling her upright.
“Vite! Vite!” he screamed dragging her along. She staggered into an inferno of gunfire. A thud, a gasp and the guard was gone. Lily dropped and lay still. Quiet came, someone moving close.
A voice like honey said, “Who the fuck are you?”
Three lifetimes passed until he returned.
“Good. Let’s go.”
“Anywhere but here, love. It’s wired to blow. Walk where I walk. Keep up.”
Lily crashed along, desperate not to be left. Hour upon hour, ache upon ache.
“We wait here,” he commanded. “Chopper will be here before dawn.”
She was shaking, exhausted body and soul.
“Eat this,” he said. The chocolate helped, his arms held her, the shaking eased. She could smell him, feel the strength of his body.
“Are they gone?” she asked.
“They’re all dead. We came for the comms link,” his voice caught, “We weren’t expecting you and your guards.”
She reached her hands up to his face, kissed him. She felt him respond. She moved on top of him and there on the jungle floor they gave each other what comfort they could. Later she held him, as he had held her.
The helicopter crew asked, “Who the fuck is this?”
“Lily Johnson, the missing aid worker,” he answered, as he handed her in.
Lily opened her eyes to light. She prayed for her SAS saviour, just like every morning. Then she turned her head to the picture of Paul, grinning in his scrubs, and last night’s engagement ring.
Her mobile rang. A voice like honey said, “Hello, Lily.”
SECRETS by MARI THOMAS
Allie Spencer: ‘I’ve chosen this primarily for its incredibly tight structure. The running refrain of ‘a secret’ punctuates the piece, making it hang together and pushing it forward at the same time. The effect of such a powerful device in such a short piece of writing is to turn the prose into a kind of poetry. Superbly written.’
“Hey, Adam. Tell me a secret.”
“What? C’mon, I told you one of mine.”
“The fact that you suck at hockey isn’t a secret, dumbass.”
“That’s not what I—”
Adam says, “Evan.”
“Shut up.” And he reaches across to crush their lips together.
“Hey, Adam,” Evan gasps out between moans. “Tell me a secret.”
“Do you ever shut up?” Adam growls into his neck, teeth catching on flesh.
Evan huffs a laugh as they break apart, pulling off his shirt. “Never.”
Adam is hiding. Evan finds him anyway.
“Hey, Adam,” Evan greets with a grin. He throws a cooled bottle of water at Adam’s head. “Tell me a secret.”
Adam snatches the bottle out of the air. “This place,” he snarls, “was supposed to be one.”
But Evan just smiles.
Evan holds Adam close, fingers drumming Für Elise into the bare skin of his chest. “Hey, Adam,” he says quietly. “Tell me a secret.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“That’s not a secret.”
“I’m an idiot.”
“Neither,” Evan says, a touch gentler, and Für Elise merges into Minuet in G, “is that.”
“Hey, Adam. Tell me a secret.”
He kisses him instead.
“Hey, Adam. Tell—”
He sticks his hand down the front of Evan’s trousers.
Adam doesn’t look up from his hunt for his shirt. “Fuck off.”
Evan’s grin is savage. “Unfortunately, we already did that—”
Adam can’t take it anymore. “Why won’t you leave me alone?” he demands. “Why are you—you’re always here, always asking that stupid question—it’s nothing, Evan.” His voice cracks. “It means nothing.”
Walk away, Evan.
Evan doesn’t. “Hey, Adam,” he says and his voice lilts in that way that makes Adam want to punch something. “Want me to tell you a secret?”
STEAMPUNK LOVE by SUE SPIERS
Allie Spencer: ‘I chose this because it is genuinely memorable: it hung round in my brain for days after I’d read it. The images it creates are both intriguing and powerful. They have a strong visual resonance. The hypnotic, half-poetic style of the writing both complements the other-worldliness of the setting and helps to invoke it. A fabulous exercise of the imagination.’
She was beautiful, hidden by her clockwork mask
Its lenses magnifying her hazel eyes, always wary,
Like an airship butterfly taking wing at any slight air.
She saw him step from the Galveston Torpedo
as a burst of steam engulfed him from the city’s engine,
his great-coat flapping wildly in the jet, top-hat tipsy.
Her Uncle’s handshake marked him for the company,
soon uniformed in the Shackledoom livery, him unique:
un-automated, whole animal, fascinatingly full-human.
She spied him from her window, visiting her Uncle,
risked half undress while her gramophone played,
her golden corsets concealing barely breathing ribs.
Their eyes met, she sensed a stillness; time-halt
when all relationships are possible in that instant,
when only movement is impossible in that moment.
He brought flowers and her Uncle sent him gone.
He brought a tiny hare of brass and taxidermy fur.
Her Uncle told him, ‘stay absent’, threatened harm.
Tears rusted the workings of her mouth, she oiled
the hinges of her lips, but her human heart failed
or seemed to stop its beating until she willed it on.
In secret they met, too-brief hours when friends
left them talking, falling, stroking, making sparks
‘til alarm calls sent them bolting to opposite exits.
Of course the Uncle, suspicious, discovered them,
furious ructions and the powerful man sent ruffians
after the flesh-bound gallant, crushed by steel.
She stole away his pulped body to a blacksmith,
ordered the finest bronze-nickel to mend his limbs,
delicate automation of more intimate conditions.
In the lovers’ like-built bodies the Uncle’s objections
faded like the hiss of the Galveston Torpedo’s whistle.
Their human hearts were left to weld a life together.
A STEAMY LOVE STORY – JOHN QUINN
Allie Spencer: ‘This piece was chosen because it works on so many levels: it is warm, funny, human, poignant, sad and also strangely hopeful. It had very strong echoes of Alan Bennett’s work and the attention to detail, like Bennett’s writing, was beautiful – even down to the way Thelma uses the eiderdown (of which her husband would have approved) rather than a duvet (which he would not) to assist in her suicide attempt. Again, this is a piece of writing which could be extended to full length and would undoubtedly produce a very strong and moving story.’
If asked Thelma would deny it.
But, like many widows and widowers, she takes solace in talking to her husband, despite him being underground for nigh on 20 years. ‘Oh, that damn electric kettle, why I let David get me one I’ll never know. You never would’ve, Harry.’
Thelma opens the cupboard under the sink, roots around for a while and pulls out an old, slightly battered kettle. She half fills it from the cold tap, pushes on the whistling lid and places the kettle on the stove with a welcoming clatter. The gas ignites with a whoosh.
She pulls her old, thick, pink, cotton dressing gown more closely around her. ‘But that’s sons for you. Always doing what’s best, even when it isn’t.’
Thelma picks up the tea cloth, likes she does every morning while the kettle boils, and absentmindedly wipes the copper frame holding the photo of Harry wearing his ill-fitting, double-breasted, demob suit and a smile almost as wide.
The warm, furry slippers shuffle back into the bedroom of the tired bungalow. Thelma pulls the eiderdown from the bed. ‘You never would have one of those continental quilts would you, Harry? “Nothing foreign in this house,” you said, knowing full well they’re made in Huddersfield. You did make me laugh!’
Easing slowly down onto the kitchen floor, so not to startle the arthritis in her knees, Thelma sits, likes she’s about to pray, in front of the old oven. She pulls open the oven door and slides out the trays.
She turns the gas on but does not push the ignition button. Instead her head enters the oven and she awkwardly pulls the eiderdown around her shoulders to form a plug. ‘Soon be with you Harry, my love.’
The kettle starts to whistle.