June 2017 Competition Results – Adrienne Dines

It was a pleasure to welcome back Adrienne Dines, author and Creative Writing Tutor as our adjudicator for June. Our last competition in the 2016/17 season was to ‘Write a scene in a rose garden’. As always, Adrienne was willing to share her wisdom as a writer and as a tutor. Her accompanying comments offer HWS members valuable tips.

Adrienne was also kind enough to comment on all of this month’s entries. I will forward these individually via email shortly.

1st Place: Louise Morrish – Sub Rosa

2nd Place: Rosie Travers – A Beheading

3rd Place: John Quinn – Another Day on the Front Line

Highly Commended: Wendy Fitzgerald – The Rose Garden

Highly Commended: Claire Gaudry – Memories of the Roses

Commended: David Lea – The Colour of Blood

1st Place: Sub Rosa by Louise Morrish

Adrienne Dines: Beautifully paced. Good use of Rose names. The hints are carefully laid so there is plenty of space for the reader. Uses the setting skilfully.

‘I never knew this was here,’ Charlotte said, as James led her through a doorway in the stone wall. Winding paths stretched away, meandering between beds of roses and through arbours covered in blossom.

‘The locals call this place Sub Rosa,’ James told her. ‘It means ‘a secret’. From Roman times.’

How apt, Charlotte thought; Ben had no idea she was here.

The garden was only open to the public for a few weeks each summer, James said. They began to walk, and Charlotte breathed in the scented air; a blend of perfumes. They were alone here, no sounds but their crunching footsteps and the hum of bees.

‘Have you heard of the Language of Flowers?’ James asked.

She hadn’t, and told him so.

‘White roses,’ James began, as they ducked beneath an arch of Rambling Rector. ‘They signify innocence, marriage, new beginnings.’

Charlotte thought of Ben; what would her husband do if he knew she was here? The thought caused a flutter in her belly, like a trapped bird.

‘Red roses,’ James said, as they passed a border labelled: Precious Time. ‘They mean unconditional love.’

Reaching a junction, they paused. ‘We could get lost,’ James half joked. ‘There should be a map, or a signpost…’

There was no map for where she was heading, Charlotte thought. James was Terra Incognita.

They passed a shrub bearing the sign: Nostalgia. ‘White and red roses,’ James said. ‘Unity and togetherness.’

At the end of the path was a bench, partly hidden behind a lemon-gold tea bush; Welcome Home. They sat, the bird in Charlotte’s belly thrashing now.

‘Yellow roses,’ James said. Their knees touched. ‘Shall I tell you what they mean?’

‘Perhaps,’ Charlotte smiled, ‘some things are better left a secret?’

He kissed her then, and she felt the bird soar free.

2nd Place: A Beheading by Rosie Travers

Adrienne Dines: Love this! It’s a very sinister voice and there is great use of deep point of view. The writer refers to the mother’s psycho-geriatrician but doesn’t labour it so we almost miss the clues. Clever play on words (particularly like the link with ‘hips’). This writer is in control.

One swift, brutal cut was immensely satisfying. No wonder Henry the Eighth had enjoyed beheadings so much.

‘You have been looking after the roses for me, haven’t you?’ David had asked on the phone from Singapore. Not how are you, or what have you been up to, not even a polite enquiry into the outcome his mother’s appointment with the psycho-geriatrician. Just concern for his roses.

A vigorous shake of a stem and more fragile blooms fluttered to the floor. It was probably best to take off anything that showed the merest sign of weakness whilst she was here, relishing her role of jolly executioner. In fact, even the tightest bud would only blossom to fade and weep within days. She could save it the effort; put it out of its misery right now.

Gauntlets at the ready, Imelda made a grab for a wayward branch. It was very easy to get carried away.

‘Be careful with the Darcey Bussell,’ David had said before he’d left, ‘she’s a prolific bloomer.’

Two weeks later and the Darcey Bussell was a profusion of blood red rosettes.

‘Deadhead regularly,’ he’d instructed, ‘and the flowers will keep on coming. I don’t want to come home to a garden full of hips.’

Felicity Ramsay had hips, and boobs. Imelda could remember meeting her at the Christmas Party. ‘This is Flick, my new assistant,’ David had said, like an indulgent father. Felicity had a laugh reminiscent of a performing sea-lion. Imelda would have recognised it anywhere. Even over a satellite signal from Singapore.

What was she thinking of? She took a step back, put down her secateurs, removed her gardening gloves and headed back to the shed.

A delicate decapitation was too good for the Darcey Bussell. A chain saw would do a much better job.

3rd Place: Another Day on the Front Line by John Quinn

Adrienne Dines: Lovely controlled piece. Love the humour and the extended war metaphor. Poor hapless Brian. I love that the war is not really with the roses! Why such short paragraphs?

The first of the day’s sunrays slant over Lark Hill and illuminate the world’s neatest war zone: 22 Fleming Drive.

Soon, mug of tea in hand, Brian will march from his back door down to his shed, to finesse the day’s battle plans.

Throughout the week his preparation has been meticulous, purchasing chemicals and scrutinising weather forecasts.

Brian takes a final gulp from his ‘World’s Best Gardener’ mug, a Christmas present years ago from wife Linda, smiles at the loitering robin and prepares to ‘go over the top.’

The untrained eye will observe only a middle-aged man pruning, mulching and spraying, surrounded by glorious pink, yellow and red blooms of the Rosa family.

But any historian, philosopher or journalist will immediately see that Brian is at the raging heart of a battle that has been fought since time immemorial: the war to bend nature to their will.

Undeterred by the ultimate futility of his efforts, Brian works throughout the day until Linda yells from the backdoor ‘Dinner in five. Don’t forget to wash your hands!’

Brian drinks in the strong scent of a climber variety named ‘Handel’. Its cream flowers edged with blush remind him, as always, of when he first met Linda, her English rose complexion challenging the pink of her lips.

He takes out his secateurs and, wielding them with a dexterity and passion unseen elsewhere in his life, cuts the long stem leading to the finest rose to give to his wife.

With Lark Hill now long in shadow, Brian heads indoors, takes off his muddy boots and presents Linda with the perfect, perfumed present.

‘Not in the house Brian! You know, my hay fever…’

The hoped for armistice, even a truce, has not arrived and battle will be resumed on all fronts at 22 Fleming Drive.

HIGHLY COMMENDED The Rose Garden by Wendy Fitzgerald

Adrienne Dines: Sad, lovely complete story about old Jewish man visiting a grave. I like the link with dead rose petals and ash. Good use of setting to frame the story.

A thousand white roses, they’d said; intensely perfumed, they’d promised. And it’s no lie. The scent is heavenly; the vista simply heart-breaking. And he’s kneeling awkwardly on the wet grass, holding a bloom between his fingers; inhaling its aroma.

‘Grandpapa! Why did you go off without me?’ Relief makes my tone sharp. He barely looks up.

‘I told you. This is where I wanted to come.’ He lets the rose go, wiping his hand across his cheek. It’s wet.

‘Come on; get up. The damp will get into your knees,’ I tut.

‘Shush, Anna. Let a man be.’ But he takes my arm and pulls himself to his feet.

‘I tended roses in a garden once you know,’ he murmurs. ‘After the war. He made me sweep up the petals after they’d flowered; didn’t want to see them you see. Said it reminded him of the ash.’

My heart breaks. It’s a long speech for him. PTSD they’d probably call it now; he’s had it for years, made worse with age. Perhaps we shouldn’t have come.

‘But this is what I came for.’

I can see a small bronze plaque under the bush. ‘Lilli Haas. Died Treblinka 1944.

Never forgotten.’

‘But … who’s Lilli?’

‘We were to be married, but they came with trucks and rounded them up; took them away one night, I never knew where.’ His voice cracks; his pain heartfelt. ‘Years later I married your grandmother; we were happy enough. But I never forgot my Lilli. An organisation helped track her down. I couldn’t go to Poland, but I could come here.’

The Holocaust Centre rose garden.

‘I needed her to know,’ he whispers, stooping to kiss the rose he let go. His tears are falling fast now; his eyes closed.

And I know he’s finally with her.

HIGHLY COMMENDED Memories of the Roses by Claire Gaudry

Adrienne Dines: Sad, romantic and some lovely lines (The roses help me remember. They hold me as my mind drifts further, as if they knew the needs of my bleeding heart). BTW, he was not ‘sat’ – he sat or was sitting!!    

One hand tightly grasping the wrought iron arm rest and the other gripping my walking stick, I lower myself on my usual garden bench. My old bones crack and complain before giving me a sense of relief. I re-adjust my flat cap to prevent the direct sunlight from hitting my eyes.

I let my gaze roam and the mesmerising effect of the garden traps my mind, I am rapidly immersed in the colours and fragrance of the roses.

The rose bushes are arranged in an intricate circular maze. In a clever use of subtle psychology, the colour schemes guide the eyes effortlessly to solve the maze, flooding the senses in oranges, pinks, reds, purples and whites.

The roses help me remember, they hold me as my mind drifts further, as if they knew the needs of my bleeding heart.

I invariably recall our first walk through this garden. In each other’s blinding presence we were oblivious to the magic of the maze of roses. Yet, we felt their presence and they embraced ours. It was an unspoken agreement of mutual appreciation.

I am sat here, longing for our shared rose garden walks. It had been possible to hold hands here since one of us had dared touch the other as we were choosing our favourite rose from this same bench. Here in our secret sanctuary, we had evolved from a seedling of friendship to a love as deep as the deepest red of the garden roses.

A tender pink rose petal carried softly by the breeze takes me out of my reveries. I watch it fly past. It has come quietly and gone quietly like my darling love.

The roses always bring him back, the one who is no more.

I, the old man with creaky bones visit ‘my’ roses daily to find the strength to breathe through the crippling grief. He, my taboo love, is no more.

COMMENDED The Colour of Blood by David Lea

Adrienne Dines: I love this! The opening paragraph is great (though a few commas wouldn’t go amiss). Don’t indent the first paragraph, by the way. It’s definitely a scene in a rose garden though it might have been any type of garden – it’s the character, rather than the setting that is predominant here.  

As photographer for the Saxonford Chronicle, or ‘Chronic’ as we like to call it, I am often called to social events that induce states of boredom, which would qualify as near-death experiences and they require considerable self discipline and copious amounts of alcohol in order to maintain an equilibrium. However, the accession of Ronnie Hardley-Fulsome, scion of the Fulsome family and heir to the Hardley millions was somewhat different in that the principal actor suffered a full-blown, actual death experience. What’s more, it occurred at the precise moment when I pressed the button of my Nikon D500 SLR digital camera and caught the whole scene for posterity.

The entire Hardley-Fulsome family was on the podium in the rose garden and many had travelled across the globe to be present at the occasion. Nevertheless, they hadn’t necessarily come to wish Ronnie well: they had all known Ronnie as Ronald before he transitioned and became Veronica, but the rules of primogeniture require that everything pass into the hands of the eldest male and the inheritance had been hotly contested.

Lady Laetitia Hardley-Fulsome had periods of comparative lucidity, but this was not one of them. The death of Ronnie’s father, Wolfgang, had set her mind adrift. Someone had handed her a dark red rose, which she presented to Ronnie before curtseying to the crowd and falling off the rostrum on top of the under-gardener.

Ronnie raised the bloom rather theatrically to her 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.

June 2016 Competition Results

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

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

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

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

3rd Prize: ‘Waiting’ by Andrea Parr

Commended:

Lovers Reunion’ by Wendy Fitzgerald

‘Peter and Karen’ by Scratch

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

Enjoy the summer and keep writing,

Sharon

 

1st Place:

For The Dead And The Living by Mari Thomas             

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

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

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

Inhale. Exhale. You can do this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You take your seat.

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

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

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

“He’s my husband.”

 

2nd Place:

A Lovers’ Reunion by Kristin Tridimas

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

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

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

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

In a bar. Or a nightclub. I forget.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret kisses. Snatched moments. Anonymous hotel rooms.

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

I sense a familiar frisson of danger.

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

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

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

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

 

3rd Place:

Waiting by Andrea Parr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I was so scared you wouldn’t wait.”

“Of course we waited.”

Almost too quiet to hear, he said,

“I’m sorry I left you.”

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

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

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

“I love you so much.”

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

 

Commended:

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.

Until:

‘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.

 

Commended:

‘Peter and Karen’ by Scratch

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

‘Divorced. You?

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