September 2017 Competition Results – Anne Gibson

A perfect fit to be our September adjudicator was Anne Gibson, literary therapist to residential homes for the elderly. Our first competition in the 2017/18 season was to ‘Write about an elderly person performing one item from their bucket list’.

“I’d like to say what an enjoyable experience judging these entries has been, all of them varied and entertaining, and on a subject close to my heart as I regularly spend time as a volunteer visiting two care homes, and I am involved with the Alzheimer’s Society.

“What was I looking for? First and foremost, the entries needed to fulfil the brief. A few of them, though very good, did not in my humble opinion really do this. So I would urge all entrants to this sort of competition to first READ THE BRIEF!

“After that, it was about authenticity, inventiveness, and a good command of language. And a little twist at the end of the tale is the icing on the cake. It is SO nice when a word or a phrase makes you sit up and think “YESSS”! And even within such short entries there were moments when that happened. Lovely also to be made to laugh out loud, which did happen for me with several of the entries. With so few words allowed, it’s also very clever if the writer can make the title  count.

“Picking out the 5 entries below was one thing, but much harder was having to place those 5 in ascending order.”

1st Place: Rosie Sutcliffe – A Drop in the Ocean

2nd Place: Rosie Travers – Taking the Plunge

3rd Place: Gill Hollands – To Fly

Highly Commended: John Quinn – That Wasn’t on the Bucket List!

Highly Commeded: Louise Morrish – The End

Our September Winners
Our September Winners

1st Place: A Drop in the Ocean by Rosie Sutcliffe

Anne Gibson: A vivid bit of writing, told in the first person. Without taking the reader away from a sense of really being “present” at the scene, the writer packed a surprising amount of heft into this short passage. No twist, no laughs, but very well imagined.

People have told me that at my age I should slow down, relax, enjoy an easy retirement, tend my garden and watch the world go by.

To these people I say, “I’m an octogenarian, I don’t have much time left on this earth, so I need to speed up not slow down and squeeze as much excitement out of each moment as possible.”

That is how I came to be off the coast of Mafia Island, Tanzania, in a RIB, rigid inflatable boat that means apparently. The RIB was hitting the choppy waves in a series of short, violent spanks that reverberated through my aged frame, causing me to wonder if I had indeed over-reached my capabilities this time.

I was making unsuccessful attempts to focus on the horizon when the skipper shouted and pointed ahead, slowing the boat to gently undulate towards a huge shadow beneath the waves.

The creature was massive, moving with a quiet grace and elegance alongside us now as I fumbled with snorkel, mask and fins and unceremoniously plopped into the water.

I was too exhilarated to feel fear, too awestruck to do anything other than take in the sheer magnificence of this beautiful creature. Zebra stripes decorated with leopard spots and sleek, sinuous lines, gliding past me with slow, powerful precision. The whale shark, largest fish in our oceans. Great gaping maw in broad head, with followers of fishes trailing in its wake, immensely strong, yet gentle and unthreatening, I, felt humbled and ashamed to be human.

It was just a few minutes before with slow, graceful swipes of it’s massive tail the creature powered away into the murk, leaving me small and insignificant, full of wonder.

At eighty my bucket list grows longer the more I tick off.

2nd Place: Taking the Plunge by Rosie Travers

Anne Gibson: I liked this very much. Told with a light touch and promising to be a conventional treatment of the brief in a conventional setting, but the last few lines revealed both a tragedy that had haunted the main character for most of her life, and a squaring up to this tragedy. I found it moving, tender but leavened with a touches of dry humour.

Grace hadn’t even heard of a bucket list until Bill had shown them his brother’s photographs.

‘Bunging jumping in New Zealand,’ he said. ‘What do you think? Something to cross off the list, eh?’

Grace wasn’t sure what to think at all.

‘What’s the one thing you’ve always wanted to do?’ Bill said, as he shuffled around the community lounge of Sunflower House, proudly regaling his brother’s exploits to anyone wide-awake enough to listen. ‘Nobody should die having regrets about things they haven’t done.’

Grace didn’t want to think about dying, but she had plenty of regrets, although missing out on the opportunity to dangle mid-air at the end of a long rope was not one of them.

Molly Atkins wanted to go to Disneyland, but she’d never get the medical insurance; Bob Davis wanted to ride a Harley Davidson, difficult with only one leg.

‘Gracie? What about you?’

Silence. She wasn’t going to tell them the one thing she regretted not doing the most. Like the others, she’d left it too late.

But that was the whole point of a bucket list wasn’t it? To reach the Pearly Gates and look St Peter in the eye and declare je regrette rien. It wasn’t too late. When she was re-united with Steven, when she could pinch his chubby cheeks, ruffle his halo of blonde hair, and admire his ethereal wings, she could tell him that if it ever happened again, that awful day on the beach, this time she could save him.

Taking the plunge, at her age. They’d call her daft. She didn’t even have a costume.

‘So Gracie,’ said Annie, her carer, ‘you want to go shopping?’

‘Yes please,’ Grace replied. ‘And then can we go to the leisure centre? I want to book a swimming lesson.’

 3rd Place: To Fly by Gill Hollands

Anne Gibson: This totally fulfilled the brief. I liked the sense of affinity between the elderly woman and the young man, and the grandmother’s exhilaration was beautifully conveyed. There was some very nice writing in this short passage. “My face pleated, flapping in the wind like my suit” was particularly nice.

Birdsong swirled in the thin air above the canopy. I caught silver glints through the misty cloud far below.

‘Oh!’ A hand caught my arm, making me jump. Gazing down from the rickety platform, I was closer to God than I’d ever been in 86 years.

‘You sure about this Nan? You can change your mind, you know.’  My grandson’s puppy dog eyes looked bigger than ever. He couldn’t feel my thundering euphoria.

‘I’ve wanted this all my life! It’s what I came all this way for.’ I grinned, mopping my forehead with a soggy tissue. ‘We’ve practised, haven’t we? Easy peasy!’

‘Well, if you’re sure…’ Sighing, he helped my stiff old legs into the suit, fastening the zips. ‘Wish I’d never told you my hobby.’

‘I’m glad you did. We have an affinity, you and I.’ I caught sight of an eagle circling below.  ‘Look!’

‘Ready?’ He nodded, grinning, a flush of excitement on his cheekbones. ‘Let’s chase him!’

I stared over the edge, heart thumping, my legs suddenly quaking.  I clamped my teeth together, pulling down the goggles.

Ben tipped us over the edge with a whoop.  My heart stopped. I plummeted, breathless. My face pleated, flapping in the wind, like the suit. I recalled the wind chamber. Keep straight, spread out, relax. I dug deep.

The eagle’s cry rang above the roar of the wind.  It was just below us, soaring effortless.  As we began to glide, it came alongside, curious. I looked into its golden eyes, connected in my soul.

As the world spun and grew around us, my eagle followed until the parachutes snapped open, wrenching us upward.  Then, we were thistledown, floating among spectacular views.

Bumping to land, the parachute shrouded me. Lying in the long grass laughing, I cried.

Highly Commended: That Wasn’t on the Bucket List! By John Quinn

Anne Gibson: An elderly widow fulfils a bucket list wish by going on a luxury cruise and in the process finds herself fulfilling a wish she never knew she had. This had a subtle twist, and was both tender and original.

Julie half-woke in her ‘deluxe balcony cabin with shared butler’ on the Queen Mary 2 and, in that lovely, unsettling space somewhere between sleep and consciousness, couldn’t quite recall the events that had brought her there.

Yes, she was sure she was on the liner, crossing the Atlantic, three days out of Southampton. And yes, she had booked the cruise to New York, finally fulfilling a promise she had made to herself as a teenager, oh-so long ago.

It was tragic that it took the death of husband Alan to make it happen: he ‘wouldn’t be seen dead’ on a luxury liner full of ‘know-it-alls in their long frocks.’

She remembered the council’s pay-out for ‘death in service’ being very generous. And then feeling desperate that it took such an event to achieve her longed for, suppressed ambition: a life free from a man who had grown both boring and boorish.

She recalled the excitement of her adventure being replaced by the feeling of isolation once on board. How, in the restaurant, each beautifully presented dish was accompanied by intimidation from waiters and couples on her top table. How the only people who bothered to speak to her – no one made the effort to listen – were those showing-off their success or worldliness.

And last night, when she’d been brave enough to have a post-dinner cocktail alone in the bar, that nice lady, a divorcee wasn’t she, starting a conversation. Helen, that’s her name, also alone on the voyage.

Now, with the sun squinting around the blinds, more memories returned: God, how many different cocktails did we try; the barman politely asking us to quieten down so passengers could hear the quiz!

Julie didn’t jump when she felt Helen’s gentle touch on her shoulder or heard ‘Wake up, sleepy head.’

Highly Commended: The End by Louise Morrish

Anne Gibson: Humorous, original and very nicely told. I loved the sentence “The story of her long life was written on her body.” It genuinely made me laugh out loud at The End with a twist that was both funny, thought-provoking, tender and ultimately a little melancholy. To tick all those boxes is clever writing.

‘You’ll probably bruise,’ the young man said, his gently worried expression at odds with the vicious looking studs and spikes that pierced his face.

‘I’m a tough old boot,’ Maud replied. Besides, she thought, who would see her bruised behind? Only the undertaker, when the time came.

‘What made you want a tattoo now?’ the man asked, snapping on latex gloves.

‘Why not?’ Maud smiled. The story of her long life was written on her body, in all the wrinkles, grey hairs and stiff joints. The two short words she wanted inked on her buttocks were a last laugh.

‘Tattoos are on lots of people’s bucket lists,’ the man said, opening a packet of enormous needles. ‘You’re sure about this?’

Maud nodded. ‘Is mine the strangest request you’ve had?’

‘I’ve been asked to ink things you wouldn’t believe,’ the man muttered.

Oh, I think I would, Maud thought, as the man helped her lie down on the table. She had experienced more in her ninety-nine years than this boy would ever know.

True, she had never learned to swim, or ride a bike, or drive a car. But that hadn’t stopped her from living life to the full.

She felt the cold press of an antiseptic wipe on one cheek. ‘Now this might hurt…’ the man said, as the needle whirred.

Maud’s eyes closed at the first stab of pain. Her mind opened, memories tumbling free.

She had survived the Spanish flu epidemic, pneumonia and breast cancer; given birth to twin boys, in an air raid shelter, in the middle of a war; travelled the world, by plane, train, ship, even once by hot air balloon.

She had seen governments rise and fall; witnessed people make the same mistakes, over and again.

Now the story of her life was drawing to a close.

She was so tired.

Soon it would be time to close the book and sleep.

It didn’t take long for the man to finish inking…

THE END.

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.

May 2017 Competition Results – Margaret Graham

Many thanks to Tracy Baines for stepping in to announce the competition winners last evening.

The list seems endless, but briefly our May adjudicator, Margaret Graham, is a bestselling author (including plays and co-researching a television documentary), editor and feature writer for e-Frost magazine, creative writing mentor and tutor, and joint founder of the charity Words for the Wounded. In her spare time Margaret writes as Milly Adams.

The brief was to write ‘A scene involving a disabled character’ in 300 words. It was a delight to discover that Margaret found the three winning entries to our May competition ‘fresh to me, surprising, moving and works of clarity’, with the highly commended running close behind. Margaret mentioned that it was hard to choose the winners but they came through as they shone and resonated for her.

1st Place: Lynn Clements– Not That Colour, Jacko’s Story

2nd Place: Erica Evans – Dinner Date

3rd Place: Rosie Travers – Milestones

Highly Commended: Rosie Sutcliffe – Annie’s Song

Highly Commended: Ant Ridgeway – Reflections

1st Place: Not That Colour, Jacko’s Story by Lynn Clements

Margaret Graham: The writer grabs us by the throat and wham bam, we’re into Jacko’s world. We are in Jacko’s fortress, we witness his disengagement from the tears of his mother, the heart stopping safety he finds in colours, and finally, the security he finds in the colour of the official’s briefcase. It’s grey, so that is all right. He returns to counting the legs of the spider. Yes, he’s safe.

But of course, his autistic life is at a point of change. He isn’t safe – or is he? The official has been called after the incident involving Jacko. In his briefcase are papers that could lead him away from this safe world, into another. Will it be a place of safety, one which understands, which relieves his mother of pain? Or not?

The writer never tells us of Jacko’s actual condition, we find our way through his world using the map the writer has so cleverly devised. It is understated, composed of brevity, clarity, colours, numbers, objectivity and so cleverly emotionless. But though it is without obvious emotion we empathise with him, fear for him and hurt for his mother. Normal world, point of change, full of tension, and increasingly we understand, and want to know: what becomes of him?

Clever and deeply impressive writing. Can it be sustained beyond a short piece, that is the question? Would the writer have to remain in Jacko’s point of view or move to see the situation from those who ultimately take control?

As the pot hit the wall its lid broke. Red paint sploshed over nearby windows and pieces of fruit laid out on a plate. Jacko watched the faces of the adults as they turned towards him. They looked black. He wasn’t sure what they were going to do next, so he just stood and watched.

The next thing he remembered was his mother sitting behind the glass of the fat woman’s room. He wasn’t sure how she’d got in there and he was worried that she wouldn’t get out. He’d tried the door handle before and it didn’t move. He sat on the chair where he was told to sit, which was ok because it was blue. He watched his mother’s mouth open and close and the fat woman’s eyebrows move up and down. His mother stood up quickly and opened the door. Jacko thought she was very clever to know how to do that, when the handle didn’t work.

In the car on the way home the only sound he could hear was crying.

When he got home Jacko took his magnifying glass into the garden. He lay on his front in the long grass of the wild flower patch, which his mother had helped him sow. He looked for arachnids; he wanted to test his theory that he could find three different types of arachnids by the time his mother called him in for food.

He was still searching when a very tall man wearing glasses, with a bushy beard and hair sticking out of his ears came into the garden. His briefcase was grey, so that was ok. He heard the man say he was from The Educational Psychology Department. Jacko rolled onto his back holding a struggling spider. He counted its legs, to be safe.

2nd Place: Dinner Date by Erica Evans

Margaret Graham: A date which very early on raises enough questions for us to understand that there is more to this than meets the eye. It’s as though the camera is on the girl who seems to be the protagonist, and the man sitting opposite. The camera gradually draws away and we see that actually the date is between two others also around the table; two vulnerable people. The protagonist and the man opposite are in fact, carers, or the facilitators of the date. But will this lead to more for the carers?

Delicately written, clever touches – the replacement of the normal knife with one of plastic, the eye contact between the carers. Is it professional or could it be more? Normal world, point of change.

The restaurant has a romantic view, just right for a date. The sparkling nightscape is captivating but inside coy glances are being exchanged instead. Wine arrives. I put a straw into the glass and hold it to lips which fumble for the end, eyes still on their prize. I watch carefully, but discreetly, a skill I am still learning. Be there, but don’t be there. Don’t stare, don’t speak. The lips part, slaked, and smile. Not at me.

I cut the meat. Is it too big, too small? Was I too slow? Darren has already finished cutting his. I surreptitiously replace the silver fork with a plastic one. One that won’t grate on teeth clamped too hard. There is little conversation now, focus and effort mostly placed on eating without choking, without dropping morsels from mouths. A waitress appears and enquires about the food. I look down at the tablecloth, the question is not for me. When I look up Darren winks at me. I don’t respond. I’m here to drive the van, manoeuvre the chair, lift the fork. It’s not my date. It’s not yours either, Darren.

After dessert, Maisie looks at her arm and asks me a question. I can’t understand her and feel shame rise inside. I haven’t worked with her long enough, my ear isn’t yet tuned in to how she speaks. Joe sees my embarrassment and saves me.

‘Maisie said could you put her arm on the table, please.’

His speech is clearer and I comply. Joe reaches across to hold Maisie’s hand. She smiles at him again.

‘Please could you return in half an hour?’ asks Joe.

Darren and I are excused. He goes to smoke, I sip a cola at the bar. It’s not our date. It’s theirs.

3rd Place: Milestones by Rosie Travers

Margaret Graham: I find 2nd person difficult to sustain, and indeed to read for any length of time, but this worked. The piece ached with the loneliness of the mother bringing her small disabled child to a centre for the first time. The disablement is all that she can see. Another mother reaches out a hand, and her words lead to an understanding that of course her daughter is indeed that – a daughter, not just a disabled cypher. One day her daughter will of course care what colour her helmet is. The normal world was at a point of change.

You take a deep breath and push open the door. It is a relief not to have to explain. The receptionist already has Olivia’s paperwork.

‘Come on through,’ she says.

The walls are painted in soft muted colours. You’d imagined something vivid to provide stimulation, bright murals in primary colours. You’d expected to encounter a cacophony of noise but everything here is quiet, subdued.

There are other children in the sensory room. You lay Olivia onto a beanbag beside the bubble tube. Fibre optic patterns spiral across the soft foam floor.

When Olivia was born you counted fingers, toes. Her tiny body was perfect. Her blue eyes flickered open; she saw you, you know she did. She jerked at a sudden sound. She could hear. She mewled like a tiny kitten. She had a voice.

They warned you about the implications. You drew on resources and discovered a gritty determination. Milestones would be reached; it was just a question of adapting the criteria.

‘How old is your little girl?’ one of the other mums asks. Her daughter is wearing a flamingo pink helmet. They’ve already told you Olivia will need one of those when she’s older. The other mum, her name is Kerry, immediately knows what you are thinking. ‘They come in all sorts of colours,’ she says. ‘Just see it as a fashion accessory, like choosing shoes and bags.’

‘Right now, it’s hard to imagine Olivia choosing shoes and bags.’ The words come out all wrong. You don’t mean to sound churlish, ungrateful. Positive thinking is sometimes a lonely journey.

‘Of course she will. She’s a girl, isn’t she?’ Kerry says.

Light reflects like dancing sunbeams from the disco ball on the ceiling. Olivia’s lips curl, revealing one of her gummy smiles. You reach for Kerry’s out-stretched hand.

Highly Commended: Annie’s Song by Rosie Sutcliffe

Margaret Graham: This moved me because of the initial loss of the anticipated life, the unfairness of a bolt from the blue – a stroke, followed by the loss of hope, the disappearance of those who were once friends in the face of such a change, such disability. But then, one of those friends finds the key to bring back hope, and holds out a hand. Music as therapy, but it is friendship that really brings this return of hope, and the remembrance that the stroke patient is actually a person: she is on the point of believing this again. Lovely and warm. Will they win the singing competition? A win that would actually be much more than a mere competition win.

In the grand scheme of things this was not how I’d envisaged my retirement. Within a week of finishing work I’d planned long, challenging walks in National Parks, booked a trip to Italy, joined a reading group, enrolled in a photography class and with some trepidation begun singing in my local choir. Within six months of this I’d been smitten down by a stroke, the right side of my body no longer obeyed my brain, a process I’d never given much thought to previously.

Patting at a sliver of drool with my good hand I slowly resumed the laborious process of spooning vegetable soup into my reluctant mouth. The chunks of vegetable frightened me, the whole swallowing process was a dangerous skill that had taken weeks to relearn.

‘Eat up, Annie,’ one of the carers trilled, ‘you’ve got some visitors this afternoon.’

I couldn’t answer her rotund retreating form as the sounds that emanated from my mouth bore no relation to the words in my head. Visitors were a scarce resource, little huddled groups of my friends sitting, awkwardly fidgeting. I had so little to offer a conversation now. I felt burned by their embarrassment.

Visits dwindled. So what did the carer mean? Was this some unpleasant euphemism for an impending medical procedure?

Fears were allayed when Jenny from choir strode into the residents’ lounge, complete with keyboard and a dozen choir members.

‘We’ve missed you, Annie,’ she explained simply.

The room was soon pulsating with peaks and troughs of well known and loved favourites and it wasn’t until I saw Jenny smiling through tears that I realised I was singing too, proper words, in tune. Music, medium to my brain.

Next month we are performing Annie’s Song in a national competition. I think we might just win.

Highly Commended: Reflections by Ant Ridgeway

Margaret Graham: Again, the loss of the anticipated life, and the reflections it brings. An IED causes life changing injuries, and from the depths of self-pity the patient, a soldier, reflects on his trite remarks to those similarly injured. Remarks that were superficial, and without understanding. Now he understands and feels himself sinking as hope leaves. But then, reflections on the life of his disabled son inspires him to re-assess and aspire to the same quiet courage. It brings him to a point of change. Inspiring and worthy.

Bang… I was able bodied until the land mine exploded taking my legs with it.

I’m lying in my hospital bed feeling very sorry for myself.

What will the future hold for me now? One minute fit and healthy. The next, only half of me.

My career in the Army has been distinguished. I have a medal for bravery but nothing prepared me for this.

I thought I was invincible. Had a reputation for dismantling incendiaries without incident. Fearless Phil they called me.

It doesn’t help remembering some of my contemporaries with worse injuries than mine. Those minus arms, legs, blinded and with horrific facial scars. I remember thinking I wouldn’t let it happen to me. I cringe when I think of the way I spoke to them.

‘Never mind, old chap. You’ll pull through.’ The pity I felt.

I have a disabled son. If Mike were here now he would understand perhaps what I am going through. He’s been disabled since birth and most of his life he’s been in his wheelchair. Can’t do much without help.

So what the hell gives me the right to feel so bloody gloomy?

At least I have known what it was like to be able to walk, be independent. He’s never had that experience. You know what though; he’s the most positive, cheerful person you could ever meet. He’s out and about most days. People love him. He has this amazing ability to make people smile, feel good about themselves. Never feels as if life isn’t worth living.

Thinking about him, puts things into perspective. Right. I’m re-evaluating my situation. Starting with my rehabilitation next week, I’ll do everything I’m asked to do and more.

I’m going to make Mike proud. Together, we’ll show the world just who we are.

April 2017 Competition Results – Beverley Birch

Beverley Birch was shortlisted three times for the Branford Boase Award in recognition of the editor’s role in nurturing new talent and, as a prolific author, she was also nominated for the Carnegie medal. Hampshire Writers’ Society is most appreciative to Beverley, who graciously came to our rescue by agreeing to be our April adjudicator as well as our speaker. In return, our members managed to supply entries that made it difficult for her to choose the usual two highly commended places. The competition, ‘Write a children’s story, inspired by a well-known story for children’, meant that after choosing 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, Beverley was unable to decide and ended up choosing four additional pieces to praise.

1st Place: Cass Morgan – Mrs Bilious

2nd Place: Kristin Tridimas – A Koala Named Sydney

3rd Place: Matthew Cross – George and the Dragon

Highly Commended: Annie Vine – The Wild Colt

Highly Commended: Linda Welch – Unexpected Treasure

Highly Commended: Ant Ridgeway – Friends

Highly Commended: Kim Howard – Mirror, Mirror

1st Place: Mrs Bilious – Cass Morgan (Inspired by Roald Dahl’s Matilda, or, more specifically, by Miss Trunchbull and the chapter, ‘Bruce Bogtrotter and the Cake’).

Beverley Birch: This was altogether strong. The punchy opening brings the situation instantly to life, the child point of view keeps us locked in the story through a distinctive sense of voice, good narrative flow and pacing. And a tricky situation for the child characters to escape (always appealing), is enlivened by effective and efficiently used imagery. A definite winner!

Winner First

At 11:57, putting a handful of insects into the lunchbox of Mrs Bilious was funny. At 12:03, the reality was hilarious. At 12.05, it was the worst thing they’d ever, ever done.

Simon shuddered as he looked at Joel. His best friend’s left eye stared in horror. His right winked as something scuttled across his eyelash. Hands clenched to the chair seat, shoulders high to his ears, Joel’s cheeks puffed out wide. Two ants emerged from the corner of his mouth, ran across his face, over his ear and into the safety of his hair.

Hot breath blew onto Simon’s cheek. He turned towards the cherry-cheeked face of Mrs Bilious. She leaned in close. Through cement-coloured teeth came odours of sugared tea and half-digested digestives.

‘Eat up,’ her voice whispered.

‘No.’

‘Sandwich-spoiling brats will be punished. Now, EAT UP!’

Her yellowy eyes sizzled and locked onto his. There was nothing he could do but scoop his hand into the lunchbox. Ants scurried and hurried onto his hand, up his arm and into his sleeve. Others dropped to the table in their bid to escape. The unlucky ones stayed where they were, with no idea what was coming.

Back leaned Mrs Bilious. Every part of her blazed in delight; her mouth tight in a triumphant smile, her eyes agog, her grey curls bounced in anticipation. Even the hairs in her nostrils quivered in glee.

Simon closed his eyes, opened his mouth and threw in the ants.

If they were mad before, now they were livid. Up the insides of his cheeks they darted, over his tongue, through the gaps in his teeth. It was like popping candy gone horribly, horribly wrong.

He wanted to spit out. He had to. But the smell of tea and digestives wafted in his nostrils. There was no going back, and he knew it.

2nd Place: A Koala Named Sydney – Kristin Tridimas

Beverley Birch: A very close second. Koala’s eye-view and voice has great appeal, laced with a wry humour. Excellent command of language, and pacing, and sets the scene, backstory and predicament swiftly without losing momentum.

Winner Second

It was hot and uncomfortable inside the human girl’s bag. He had been bashed and banged and now seemed to be travelling along something which kept changing direction. And to make things worse, he only had one cough sweet left. He’d saved it for emergencies, wrapped up in his bandana.

Great Aunt Victoria had been very clear. ‘Don’t let anyone see you, or they’ll send you back. Even worse, they might put you in a zoo!’

Surely one quick look wouldn’t do any harm?

He hooked his claw round the end of the zip and pulled. Poked out his nose. This place smelt of plastic and metal and tired people. He put his eye to the opening. He was moving slowly past a forest of legs. For a second, he thought back to his gum tree home in the Australian bush. He could smell the eucalyptus. Hear the kookaburras.

His home was gone now. The bush fire had destroyed it.

A pair of familiar pink legs swam into sight.

‘Dad, it’s my bag!’

He shrank back down inside.

He seemed to be flying but then there was a big bump.

‘You wait here while I get the suitcase. I shouldn’t be long.’

Footsteps, going away. People talking. The rattle of wheels.

The screech of a zip.

The zip!

The girl’s face was inches away. Her eyes were open wide.

‘What are you doing here?’

He gave her his friendliest smile. ‘G’day!’

She yelped and jumped back.

A second later, her face came close again. ‘You can speak!’ she whispered. ‘What’s your name?’

He clicked and whistled. ‘That means Climbs to the Edge in koala.’

‘I’m Jenny. You need a real name.’ She looked at something above his head. ‘I’m going to call you Sydney.’

He was safe.

3rd Place: George and the Dragon – Matthew Cross

Beverley Birch: This is a clever, funny take on the traditional tale, bringing both George and the dragon instantly to life, each with a distinctive voice and a convincing relationship that promises fun ahead.

Winner Third

A chilling roar caused him to raise his shield. Instead of fire, the cavern filled with thick white smoke and a fizzing sound. George stepped softly towards the source. It was a young dragon, squeezed into a whalebone girdle, its wings and legs tied with rope. He crept forwards and drew his sword.

“Hello.” It said in a low rumbling voice. George paused, he wondered whether he could kill something that said hello to him. “Look, this is rather embarrassing. If you could be a good fellow and cut me down, you may choose any treasure you desire.” George hesitated, then raised his sword and severed the ropes. The dragon prized itself from the girdle before sitting on its hoard. “All I want is a peaceful place to hibernate, a comfortable hoard, and the occasional sheep for a snack.”

“Oh, the kingdom ran out of sheep.” George sat opposite the dragon, his shield close just in case.

“They sent their own kind instead – who does that? Why not a goat?” The dragon burped another cloud of smoke and fizz.

“Your breath poisoned a nearby village.”

“Eating humans gives me terrible indigestion. I had to take antacids.”

“Why did you keep eating the tributes?”

“Humans are like chocolate, I can never have just one.” George pulled a packet of jelly babies from his backpack and offered one to the dragon. “Yuk, how can you eat those?”

“So how did you get stuck in the…girdle?”

“The princess jumped me when I left the cave. That girl is malicious, no wonder the king left her as a tribute.” The dragon appeared deflated.

George eyed an ornate wine bottle among mound of treasure. An idea spread from his mind into a smile on his lips. “I have a cunning plan, put the girdle on again.”

Highly Commended: The Wild Colt – Annie Vine (Inspired by Jill’s Gymkhana by Ruby Ferguson)

Beverley Birch: A good, tight narrative style which brings the setting, character, and particularly the colt’s character and terror instantly alive. A good sense of audience here.

‘He’s eight months old. Sire’s a half-thoroughbred and Dam’s a Welsh Mountain,’ said Tom, his cheerful voice unusually tense. ‘First saw a human six days ago. Had a heck of a job getting him into the horsebox.’

A powerful hoof assault made the box quiver. Edie peeked through the eye-slat. The colt’s neck muscles were so taut they made his head twitch upwards. His wide eyes relayed his fear – no pools of melted chocolate – they were steely black with whites that resembled human’s. His muddy, matted coat, now dry and cracked, had turned into dragon scales, sliding smoothly as he moved. Barbs shortened his tail – the web of hairs gripped them like cossetted treasure.

Edie’s fingers itched to caress, to reassure, to calm.

Don’t worry, little colt, you’re mine now. You’re safe.

‘Help me with the door,’ ordered Tom.

With the latches straightened, the door slid open.

The colt leapt from the back of the horsebox into the gaping hole of light.

Tom’s shock was audible. ‘Lucky I backed up and opened the gate.’

Edie’s heart flipped as she watched the rump muscles gather and stretch as the colt bolted away. Despite his nervousness, his poise was faultless. Once he realised he was safe, he would hold his tail confidently, not hanging like the flag of a lost battle.

‘Look at that stride,’ admired Tom. ‘You’ll be winning the gymkhanas with him.’

The colt slowed to a trot. Lean, smooth legs stretched.

‘Or the dressage…’

Galvanised, the colt broke into a canter and raced towards the wooden fence.

Edie gasped. If he rammed it, the wood would slinter into deadly spears.

His timing was perfect, forelegs rose with tucked hooves. He cleared the fence gracefully.

Edie bit her bottom lip. ‘I think my dream of showjumping has just become a reality.’

Now all she had to do was catch him.

Highly Commended: Unexpected Treasure – Linda Welch

Beverley Birch: Lovely flavour and rhythms, enhanced by quirky detail and swiftly conveyed, convincing characterization of a boy and his grandfather with the promise of interesting action to come.

Jamie loved weekends with his Granddad. He picked him up from school on Friday afternoon and they had fish and chips for supper, straight out of the wrapper.   On Saturday morning they got up early and drove to the Municipal Dump.   The sign on the gate said Household Waste Recycling Centre but Granddad said it had been the Municipal Dump ever since he was a little boy himself (about a hundred years ago, Jamie thought). Jamie was supposed to stay in the car because there were cars and lorries manoeuvring about the yard, but he was allowed look around the small shop where they sold some of the things people were throwing away.

‘People buy rubbish?’ he asked incredulously, and Granddad laughed.

‘One man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure. You never know what you might find.’

Today Jamie bought an old binocular case that was just the right size to hold a bottle of juice and a banana for school. The man only charged him 25p and Jamie hurried back to the car to wait for Granddad.   As he knelt on the seat and looked out of the back window he saw another little boy climbing over the back fence of the tip.   No-one else seemed to notice him slide into one of the skips, but as Jamie watched, he saw him throw a piece of corrugated plastic out of the skip, and climb back out again. Jamie got out of the car and went over to him.

‘You’re not supposed to be wandering around, it’s dangerous. What do you want that for, anyway?’

‘Roof,’ the boy said.

‘Cool! Are you making a den?’ Jamie asked, not waiting for him to answer. ‘What’s your name?’

‘Stig,’ he said, and disappeared back over the fence, dragging the plastic behind him.

Highly Commended: Friends – Ant Ridgeway

Beverley Birch: A very effective voice (a donkey) brings the reader convincingly into his state of mind and character, with some light touches of humour. Tightly written with a good narrative flow.

I’m bored. I’ve been standing alone in my field all day. There’s an itch on my back. I tried rubbing against the fence but I can’t quite reach it. The three ponies in the next field are eating grass. Lovely shiny coats they have. Not like mine, rough like tree bark. I trotted over to say hello.

‘Eeeaw, eeeaw’.

One of them looked up, tossed her mane and carried on munching. The other two took no notice as if I wasn’t there.

It’s cold today. Wind and rain have soaked me to my bones. My shelter blew down. There are trees where the ponies are. Not here. So I’m standing all alone, head down.

Wait. Who’s that climbing over the gate in his yellow coat and hat? It’s the boy. He’s got that little animal in his hand, the one which doesn’t move. Says it’s his bear, whatever that is. Says it has very little brain. That bouncy puppy’s with him too. Wish I could wriggle under the hedge like him. I’m too big. Don’t like his nippy teeth. Seems to think my hooves are for nibbling. Last week, he ate my best thistle. I was saving it for breakfast. He didn’t like it. He started yelping, pawing at his mouth. If he’s not careful, I’ll bite him. Or maybe I’ll kick him.

‘I’ve bought you a birthday present,’ the boy said.

Is it? I thought. Wasn’t that a long time ago? I swished my tail. ‘It’s a pot. It had honey in it. We had to eat it ‘cos it was a long journey.’

He put it on the ground.

‘There’s a balloon too. Sorry it popped on the thorns.’ I glimpsed aflash of red inside the pot.

‘Eeeaw, eeeaw.’

The boy laughed.

Not alone anymore.

Highly Commended: Mirror, Mirror – Kim Howard

Beverley Birch: A clever and successful send-up of several fairy tales, with life seen from the point of view of the mirror fed up with the fairyland beauty leagues. Dry humour and quirky detail – lots of fun in this.

The lack of manners upsets me most. I never get a ‘good morning’ or a ‘how are you?’ It’s always “Mirror, mirror on the wall….”

Of course I’m on the wall. A heavy chain and some hefty nails make sure of that. They aren’t interested in me. No one ever compliments me on the carved wood of my frame or says ‘wow, have you been polished?” They only want to know one thing – where they rank in the fairyland beauty leagues. They have no imagination. They must be able to say something other than “…who is the fairest of them all?”

As if I’m going to tell them what I really think. It can be tough, but I always try to find something positive to say. Not because I care about how the silly self-obsessed things feel. I can’t risk someone getting upset enough to start throwing things. I’m made of glass. I’d never recover if someone smacked me in the face with a hairbrush.

I was chatting with Cinderella’s glass slippers the other day. The one who stayed on her foot is too smug for words, but I really feel for the other one. She was convinced she was going to shatter when those big ugly sisters tried to stuff their fat feet inside her. And she still hasn’t got rid of the bloodstains. Fortunately, since their mother chopped their feet about, it’s harder for them to hobble up to the castle. I dread telling them their league status.

Uh oh. Here comes the little girl with the scarlet cloak. Well, not so little any more. She’s a stroppy teenager now. Since that incident in the woods with her granny and the wolf, she’s started carrying an axe in her basket. Someone should tell her that red isn’t her colour, but it won’t be me.

March 2017 Competition Results – Cathy Woodman

Cathy Woodman, our adjudicator for March, again spoilt us. She has commented on all entries so expect your personal notes via email soon. Alongside her series set in the fictional village of Talyton St George, Cathy is now writing a series under a new name, Evie Grace. The historical sagas are set in rural Kent. The stories are based on those of her own family, who lived there in the nineteenth century. The first, Half a Sixpence, will be available in the summer. The competition was: ‘Describe a meeting where a present-day hero or heroine meets their later love-interest.’

1st Place: Colin Johnson – First Encounter

2nd Place: Andrea Parr – The Blue Doll

3rd Place: John Quinn – OK People

Highly Commended: Sarah Lines – The Vet and David Lea – Later Love-Interest

1st Place: First Encounter – Colin Johnson

Cathy Woodman: This caught my attention from the very first word – Wow! I loved the way the writer set the scene and created that wonderful sense of attraction and lust at first sight. I really wanted to read on to find out what happens to the young man yearning to find out more about his love interest who makes eating chocolate crumbs sexy!

“Wow!” he thought, “what a smile!”

She was older than most students. Maybe 30? Or a bit more? At least 10 years older than him.

She had come over to sit at the next table. She spoke to him, interrupting his re-run through yesterday’s rehearsal. He saw her lips move and took off his headphones. She repeated the question: “Excuse me, is this your bag?”   He pulled his bag off the chair and she sat down, looked at him and smiled. “Thank you,” she said.

That was all. That was all it took. Her voice was like a cello, Jacqueline du Pré making music again. Clear brown eyes, no flicker, no blinks, just still reflections of the world, taking him in and assessing his own face. She had freckles on high cheekbones, and full, gentle lips. Her long chestnut hair was held back, tied behind in some kind of chiffon scarf.

“No trouble,” he said, and looked at his phone again. He could think of nothing to say. How could he ask her name? Find out her email? Anything, so he could see her again?

She drank her coffee and ate her two-finger KitKat. When she licked her finger to pick up the chocolate crumbs, his stomach felt suddenly empty, his sudden intake of breath almost loud enough for her to hear. God, that was sexy!

She left. Without moving, he followed her across the concourse into the revolving doors. Through the glass wall he watched her cross the central courtyard into the Psychology building.

“Who was that?” he said to no-one. Still without moving, he played through the whole encounter again. He hadn’t needed his phone on record, the playback in his head was clear and precise. Her voice was pure Elgar. He had to hear it again.

2nd Place: The Blue Doll – Andrea Parr

Cathy Woodman: A very close second. I loved the imagery of what is a defining incident set in a playground where the protagonist takes a risk for love. The writer took me straight into the hero’s head with choppy dialogue and phrasing, and plenty of action. I really wanted to read on to find out what happens next. Wonderful.

The doll set Jimmy off. Knew it would the minute I saw it. She was clutching something she loved, and Jimmy never could resist a thing like that. His mean streak was about a mile wide.

No time to warn her. He pounced like a cat catching a bird. Held the doll above her head and laughed.

“Give it back,” she said. “Please.”

Not an order, but definitely not a beg.

He wouldn’t, though. Dangled it just out of reach, trying to make her jump for it. Got bored when she wouldn’t. He could’ve given it back, but, like I said, Jimmy was a vicious sod.

“Don’t you want it?” he said and threw it, hard as he could, so it wedged in the tree at the edge of the playground. A big old pine with needles like razors and no footholds. It hung there, that doll, like a little blue rag.

“Come on,” said Jimmy, so we left. I couldn’t resist looking back, though. She was standing there, staring up and the butterflies took off, wings beating inside my stomach.

Later, when I turned up at her house, she was sitting outside, legs pulled up, skinny arms resting on her knees. Streaks down her face like she’d been crying. Didn’t move, even when I skidded my bike so close it kicked small stones up onto her.

“Here,” I said, pulling the doll from my pocket. “Got this for you.”

For a minute, she stared, then grabbed it and held it to her face. No thank you. No nothing.

It seemed stupid all of a sudden. Scratches all over my arms and a hiding coming for taking my old man’s ladder without asking. And for what?

Then she lifted her head, and looked at me. And she smiled.

3rd Place: OK People – John Quinn

Cathy Woodman: The first line grabbed my attention and set the scene for a humorous piece of fiction. Sound characterization, introducing a clumsy actor and a flirtatious leading lady. I found myself wanting to read on to find out what happens to them. A little more attention to detail on the proofreading side would perfect your presentation.

‘Watch out!’ The boom mike swung through the air at a speed it was not designed for.

Patrick heard the warning, tried to duck and succeeded in falling inelegantly over, losing his dignity and the opportunity of being decapitated in one, unsmooth motion.

‘You bloody idiot’ Steven, the director, screamed at the boom operator, who continued to smirk inside his headphones.

Patrick picked himself up and tried to dust off his formerly immaculate white shirt ‘No great harm done,’ he smiled.

Steven was not convinced and snarled towards the boom operator ‘You could have put our star in hospital on the first day of filming… one more cock-up like that and you’re off the set.’

‘Should I go and change this shirt,’ Patrick asked.

‘Don’t bother, it’s only set up shots this morning’ Ella said before anyone else could respond ‘and I don’t mind my men being a little dirty.’

Steven knew he would have to cool his famous star’s ardour at some point and here was a golden opportunity. ”Look Ella, if you could leave the flirting until at least day two, I, for one would be most grateful. And so would our young star, wouldn’t you Patrick?’

In truth Patrick was in awe of the two times golden globe winner and three times divorced leading lady but was keen not to show it; he was, after all, an actor.

‘Ok, I’ll stick with my dirty shirt’ he said.

‘What, no reposte, no stunning one-liner, no request for me to unbutton you and rub your hairy chest better? Ella’s voice dropped an octave ‘ I’m dissappointed in you Pat. I was hoping for more…’

Patrick knew he was being paid well for this, his first starring role, but he wondered if it was going to be enough…

Steven re-exerted control ‘Ok people, positions… and action!’

Highly Commended: The Vet – Sarah Lines

Cathy Woodman: The writer created a sense of place from the very first paragraph, showing how you can find love anywhere. I enjoyed the gradual reveal of the hero’s situation, and the way his love interest is completely oblivious of her effect on men in general. Great imagery too – the daredevils crashing and burning.

Paul was tired of staring at his blank computer screen, waiting for inspiration. “Dazzle me”, his boss had said. What could anyone find remotely dazzling about selling diapers? The advertising industry was already like an overcrowded train, full of people shouting, pushing and shoving, eager to be on time for the ball game.

All he could think about was Emma. Now she was dazzling – no, even better, she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She possessed a natural beauty; luminous skin, dark glossy hair and the most entrancing violet, blue eyes. What made her even more attractive was the fact that she seemed completely oblivious to her effect on men.

Emma had only started last week but Paul had already witnessed a constant stream of male attendees at her desk. They would dream up the most pitiful excuses to go over and talk to her, ask her out for coffee, to drinks or dinner and Paul listened with some trepidation as each of these heroic daredevils crashed and burned on their first mission.

The light was beginning to fade as the working week ended. Paul tidied up his workstation, straightened his Marine Corps tie pin and slipped on his jacket. Most of his colleagues had stampeded to the elevators that would doubtless transport them to their expensive cars, gorgeous wives, laughing children and unnecessarily opulent mansions.

Paul sighed. As the elevator was about to close, Emma hurried over. Paul, unable to believe his luck, held the doors open with the edge of his wheelchair.

“Which floor?”

She smiled shyly. Her eyes sparkled.

“I was hoping you’d ask me out for a drink.”

Her English accent was so incredibly sexy.

“Would you like to…”

“Yes please”, she said.

As they made their descent, his heart soared.

Highly Commended: Later Love-Interest – David Lea

Cathy Woodman: Lovely thoughtful writing. Compelling to read. I was caught up from the first sentence. I enjoyed the way the writer gradually revealed the identity of the hero and that of his love interest. The piece gave a real feeling of how love can take you by surprise.

I never thought to fall in love again at my age, but I have all the symptoms. He is uniquely engaging and I delight in almost everything he does and says. It is obvious to me that he is more than usually physically attractive and I see that others are also drawn to his beauty. I watch for his effect on people when we are out together. Eyes are drawn to him, particularly women’s eyes. And people comment. Do I compare him with the other boys? How could I not?

I was not prepared for this at my time of life: I thought the time for giddy joy was over and had reconciled myself to the comfortable companionship of a marriage that would run its course until the death of one or both parties.

I had to try and manage the coming, inevitable decline with honour and grace. I did not expect to be taken out of myself again, to be transported.

I am more settled now: less at the mercy of his unintended or intended slights, less eager for his attention and sometimes glad to get away from him and his demands. Apart from anything else, this love is physically very demanding and I do get tired now.

My first sight of him was of a vague and blurry shape in a photograph. When his arrival was announced, I was less than enthusiastic. And when he finally arrived, he was nothing out of the ordinary: much the same as all the others. But now; now he is irreplaceable.

I am saddened that I shall not see him in his pomp, for he will surely make his mark when he is grown. He is now four and I hope he will remember this foolish, fond old man, his mother’s father.

February 2017 Competition Results – Carolin Esser-Miles

Yet again, Carolin Esser-Miles, Medievalist and Senior Lecturer, University of Winchester, went above and beyond with her adjudication. The competition title was ‘Create a detective with unusual or quirky habits’ in 300 words. Carolin was generous enough to write a few words for all entries, not only the placed five, very kind as feedback is always appreciated (I have emailed the comments to individual entrants). The winners are below, followed by the winning pieces with Carolin’s comments.

1st place: Nan Keightley – Mrs B and the Hoodie

2nd place: Wendy Fitzgerald – A New Pin

3rd place: John Quinn – Demi John

Commended: David Lea – Josna Pandi and Gill Hollands – Detective Farr, Homicide

1st Place

Mrs B and the Hoodie – Nan Keightley

Carolin Esser-Miles: Here we have the first encounter of a potentially great pair. The two strikingly different characters are both given enough space to come alive independently. Both have interestingly odd back stories that are promising in their own right. Within our 300 words, we see a dynamic developing between the two that promises sparring partners connected by mutual respect and a lot of scope for interaction. I would love to find out what happens next.

‘’Oo did you say you were, again?’ Mrs B defended her doorstep from the hoodie in front of her. She pulled a tattered arran cardi close across her stubby figure, and tutted. A warrant card was shoved towards her.

She handed it back, held between finger and thumb, as if contaminated. The cop’s overlarge parka, she noticed, was not quite hiding a gossamer-thin frame.

‘Well, DS Ellie Wilson, what do you want, besides a few good meals?’

‘Am I in the right place? I’m looking for Marina Beecham? The woman who shot Harry Winfield?’

‘Yes, kiddo. That’s me.’

Ellie gawped, speechless.

‘What?’ said Mrs B. ‘You don’t believe an all-action forensic psychologist could be old as Noah, and wear slippers? Or live in a suburban bungalow full of kitten ornaments and chintz?’

‘I didn’t say that.’

‘Didn’t need to. I read your mind.’

Mrs B shuffled into the kitchen. She pushed a plate of homemade gingerbread at Ellie, who hovered by the door.

‘Come on. I’m not going to eat you.’

‘The boss said you could help us find Angelika Harrison’s killer,’ mumbled Ellie, through a mouthful of crumbs.

Mrs B replaced the empty plate with a pile of potatoes and a peeler.

‘Where did that lot go?’ she asked. ‘Have you got hollow legs or something?’

‘The boss thinks I must have worms, ‘cos I can eat for England and never put on a pound.’

‘Hmmm. If you want my help then you can peel these spuds. Fish and chips do for you?’

‘You don’t have to feed me. I only need advice.’

‘Your boss didn’t tell you anything about me, did he? I cook. A lot. It helps me think. Nobody escapes this house unfed. Now, peel, and talk!’

2nd place

A New Pin – Wendy Fitzgerald

Carolin Esser-Miles: We spend these 300 words following our detective through a surprising amount of well-placed garden paths and detours. Expectations are built up to deceive, and we are prone to fall into the trap just as the characters in the story are supposed to judge falsely. Upon rereading, we are presented with a cleaning detective, formerly from the Met, now working class Miss Marple. While the cover that cleaning provides will be quickly blown at the police station, the provision of holiday lets gives ample opportunity for undercover work.

I walk to work in the early light: it’s fresh, calm and serene. Little waves wash up on the shore; seagulls swoop and bicker. The sun rose ten minutes ago into the pearly dawn, a glowing, optimistic beacon. Peaceful, life-affirming. A far cry from my days at the Met, where dark, dingy streets festered every deadly sin; long nights in gloomy offices, desk lamps and single malts burning. Remembering, anxiety rises within me. I stare out to sea to cleanse my mind again. The lightest of breezes, deep breaths and the wide blue expanse expunge, as they always do.

I enter the police station and its main office. It’s tiny. What you’d expect in a remote backwater like this. A rare violent murder is reflected on the whiteboard: an attractive fifty-four year old woman, single, bludgeoned to death with her own rolling pin. No signs of burglary. She’d been baking, for the charity cake stall. As they do in these parts. I pick up the files but there’s nothing new since yesterday. She lived alone; in a cottage set back along a lane. Semi-detatched, but to a holiday let. No-one saw a thing.

My senses prickle. Worryingly, she looked not unlike me.

That will be my next job. The files in the holiday let company. It’s mid-summer: a popular spot. Then I’ll check the charity. Something tells me this is not a random killing: there was real hatred behind that pin.

I open the cupboard and remove the vacuum cleaner. Strangely, there’s cake crumbs on the floor. I clean three offices, three mornings a week. This one, the estate agent-come-letting company and the solicitors. You’ve no idea how useful that can be. Well, no-one ever notices the cleaner, do they?

3rd place

Demi John – John Quinn

Carolin Esser-Miles: One of the two character studies among the submissions, Demi John has a rather complex life. He is a single father with Olympic potential in clay shooting that is thwarted by his son’s football needs, this character needs space to be fully introduced. But given that, there is a lot of potential, especially with additional public settings such as the family café as an opportunity to blend family trouble with a potential case.

Demetrius Jones is a North London detective who’s second generation Greek-Cypriot, born in Palmers Green after his parents fled the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.

To his colleagues he’s too Greek, to his parents and the Greek-Cypriot community he’s too British and he is never fully happy in either world.

Tall and swarthy, with black hair that is longer than normal and a full moustache, he’s handsome and he’s often told he looks like Tom Conti playing Costas Dimitriades in the film Shirley Valentine.

Demi-John, as he’s known by colleagues ‘because he’s big, never full and you can see straight through him,’ is running to seed, weighing some 100 kilos. He says ‘it’s a Greek thing’ and is trying to quit smoking and diet but cannot resist döner kebabs or his Mum’s mezes.

He looks younger than his 40 years ‘ever seen a crease on a balloon?’ is one of his ever-ready quips. He uses his natural warmth, humour and the ability to invent ‘an old Greek saying’ to win trust.

A North-London Turkish family killed Demi’s wife after he put away the patriarch and two eldest sons for a series of armed robberies.

Arsenal supporting Demi brings up his son, James, 12, with the help of his parents, who should be retired but still run the family café in ‘Palmers Greek.’

Taught to shoot by his father, Demi has a chance of representing Greece, Cyprus or the UK at the next Olympics at sporting clays but refereeing James’ football matches and work interferes with practice.

Demi listens to George Michael songs whilst driving his mustard 1974 Rover 3500 his Dad bought on arrival in the UK, spending the family’s savings: ‘You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.’ It does break down!

Commended

Josna Pandi – David Lea

Carolin Esser-Miles: Josna Pandi will most likely not have many friends. She is too perfect in most ways. But other great detectives have demonstrated that success through unflattering habits is possible. One might think of the Mentalist, Sherlock Holmes, or Stella Gibson from ‘The Fall’.

Josna Pandi is thirty years old. She is a Detective Constable with the Hampshire Constabulary and is on the “Police High Potential Development Scheme”.

Her father, Sanjit Pandi, manufactures textiles in India and imports them into Britain and Europe. He is a rich man and Josna does not have to work. Her mother died in childbirth and Josna has no siblings. She has lived in Britain all her life and went to Cheltenham Ladies’ College where she was captain of the lacrosse team. She is an accomplished horsewoman and dinghy sailor. She has also represented her country as a fencer. She lifts weights and is highly proficient in Hatha Yoga. She keeps dumbbells in her locker at Basingstoke nick.

She gained a first in Law at Edinburgh and then joined Goldman Sachs. She was doing extremely well until asked to take part in a deal that she believed to be unethical. She then joined Mckinsey Global Management Consulting, but resigned after her paper on plans to rationalise the delivery of policing concluded that more police were needed on the beat.

Her “quirks” are attributes or character flaws, depending on who is at the receiving end. She has a fierce intelligence, combined with a frighteningly accurate moral compass. She is unafraid to “speak truth to power” and is disconcertingly honest in both personal and professional interactions. She believes in the rule of law and in the need to uphold the law, even when the law is an ass. She has an upper middle class accent and speaks and writes English with great precision. She is unusually tall, has very dark skin and long, jet-black hair. She has a habit of adopting extreme yoga positions when she needs to solve a problem. She is very beautiful, but has difficulties maintaining romantic relationships.

Commended

Detective Farr, Homicide – Gill Hollands

Carolin Esser-Miles: Here we are dealing with a true quirk, both the ferret as partner and the sensory abilities of the detective themselves. There is potential here, for a ‘just right’ over the top storyline á la Monk, which needs to play out as realistically as possible and as relevant for the cases.

‘This way, Detective Farr.’ The dubious constable pushes open a battered door. Sunlight floods into the dingy corridor. I look down, blinking.

Merit pokes his nose out of my yellow waterproof pocket for another snack. I fish a pellet from inside my hat; avoid sharp little teeth as he snatches.

‘What the ‘ell’s that?’ The constable steps back, eyes round.

‘It’s just my sniffer ferret.’ I hook Merit out, dangle his snaky body. ‘See?’ I set him down to start work.

‘Ha! Never ‘erd of one o’ them!’ He backs away, shaking his head. The usual reaction.

‘He’s very helpful to me, officer.’

Watching Merit, I sniff too as he scuttles under a chair. The scent of despair assails me. I wince, catching my haggard reflection in a spotted mirror: Must try to sleep soon.

I take in the crime scene; a tragic apartment; peeling grey walls, rank, mould-coated ceiling. My fingers scrape neglected wood; I taste betrayal. Dust is often my friend. Merit brings me a wrap of paper, darts away, sneezing.

A coffee table lies on its side in a splash of magazines. Yellowed, photos curl on the wall around one threadbare, fireside chair in the corner.

Ragged curtains shiver by the smashed window. I step nearer, my feet sticking to the mat. Broken glass lies, sparkling like a snowflake, on the mossy balcony.

I tug open the balcony door, admitting more freezing wind.

‘You kin see that from inside!’ Yells the officer, gasping behind me.

‘I think better outside.’ I step out, shut his whining off with the door. Now I can think. I fondle the wrap, the scuffed moss, feel where he was thrown…

‘Outside eh! So that’s why the yeller coat!’ He flings the door open, breaks the spell.

Watson, he is not…

January 2017 Competition Results – David Prest

January 2017 Competition Results

David Prest, founder and MD of Whistledown Productions, set a precedent at January’s meeting. The competition was to ‘Write a proposal for a radio production involving a local building, landmark, personality or area of interest.’ Having chosen five entrants, David changed our normal format and invited them to present their work live on Tuesday evening. All five took to the stage to read out their 200-word entry. He followed their reading with a quick question and answer session before asking the audience to vote on the entry that they thought was most saleable. The results and proposals are below:

1st Place: Lynda Lawrence – Jane Austen’s Bicentenary

2nd Place: John Quinn – Never Break the Chain

3rd Place: Wendy Fitzgerald – Beauty’s Rose

Highly Commended: Rosie Sutcliffe and David Lea 

 

1st – Jane Austen’s Bicentenary by Lynda Lawrence

2017 will be the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death.

A few days after Jane died, her sister Cassandra wrote to their cousin:

“She was the sun of my life, the guilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, I had not a thought concealed from her, it is as if I had lost a part of myself.”

This letter could form the basis of a radio production that explores the more intimate relationships that Jane Austen had with her sister, family and also with the place where she lived – her beloved Chawton, where she wrote the majority of her novels.

The production could explore:

– Jane’s day-to-day life, her visits to her brother at Chawton House and how she connected to the broader community.

– The impact of her death on Cassandra and those close to her, how they mourned and the probable causes of her death.

– Interviews with Jane Austen experts, well known writers and actors who have played her characters.

– Jane’s connection with Winchester and her burial in Winchester cathedral.

– The impact of her writing on successive generations and as an important part of literary education.

– Events to mark the bicentenary.

2nd – Never Break the Chain by John Quinn

This proposal is to tell the story of the Isle of Wight’s fascinating and anachronistic floating-bridge, as it bangs close its metal safety gates and clanks its underwater chains for the last time after 168 years of service to Prince and pauper.

Both the nation’s sailing capital and the door to the Isle of Wight, Cowes grew along the banks of the River Medina, but has never boasted a bridge.

Instead it has relied upon the chain ferry, as much part of the island’s DNA as the Needles, to join its two halves and keep the island’s economy alive.

A sleek, modern, diesel-powered ferry replaces it in 2017 and will ensure commuters are dry and warm, delivery vans have a speedy connection and holiday makers no longer endure the infamous ferry queues. It will be nothing like its wind-blown, noisy, dirty and charming predecessors.

With a linking narrator and wealth of archive audio, new atmospheric sounds from the busy, working river and interviews with past and present ferry captains, commuters, holiday makers and business owners we can bring its history, and future, alive in a charming but insightful and compelling feature.

3rd – Beauty’s Rose by Wendy Fitzgerald

An hour long programme exploring the highly contradictory and controversial life of Henry Wriothesley: 3rd Earl of Southampton – Tudor/Stuart man of mystery, intrigue and action.

In the style of a Journalist report on ‘the life of’ … with experts and interviews.

“See his monument in Titchfield Church; his home, the romantic Titchfield Abbey. Walk his canal to the Haven. Look for the ‘Iron Mill’ names, after his works.

Who really was the Earl of Southampton?

The Fair Youth of Shakespeare’s Sonnets? What exactly was his relationship to the Bard? Jailed in the Fleet for eloping with Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting; co-conspirator of the Essex Rebellion – who persuaded the Queen to spare him, whilst Essex and the other rebels were executed? Why did King James free him from the Tower on his accession? Why was he re-arrested in 1604?

Colonialist, industrialist, canal-builder: he tried to enrich Titchfield – but they burnt his effigy at their carnivals. Handsome, favoured courtier – but hated by many, including the King’s favourite, Buckingham. Patron and lover of literature, poetry and plays – yet hardened soldier, serving in Ireland and Holland, dying there with his son.

Enter his rich exciting world – and decide for yourself!”

Highly Commended

A Head Of Plaited Hair by Rosie Sutcliffe

I would like to offer a fifteen minute, local interest radio play inspired by the fascinating and unusual artefact on display at Romsey Abbey.

This is a head of plaited hair, long, lustrous, beautiful auburn hair, discovered in a lead coffin in 1839, having survived the skeleton and any other remains of the lady that it once adorned, believed to have lived in mid to late Saxon period.

Through a one act, four scene play I will attempt to bring to life this woman, using historical evidence with some speculation to shed light upon this amazing local mystery.

Scene one introduces two local teenagers entering the abbey reluctantly to embark upon a history project they are drawn to the macabre yet beautiful hair and quiz the local churchwarden.

Scene two involves the three key characters involved in the discovery of the lead coffin and its bizarre contents, the moment of discovery.

Scene three is a speculative reconstruction of how the Saxon lady may have lived, who she was and how she died.

Scene four brings us back to present day, highlighting how the history around us still impacts and touches us today.

A Hampshire Retreat by David Lea

There is a meadow near Twyford that slopes down to a valley and which contains the remains of an iron-age settlement. At the top of the meadow is a Victorian reservoir comprised of huge cisterns that are mostly underground: cavernous, domes of brick swirling in precise arcs from floor to ceiling and back to floor again.

In the 1980s the reservoir was converted into a bunker for the great and good of Hampshire in the event of a nuclear war. It is made of reinforced concrete and has blast-proof doors, air locks, showers and decontamination rooms.

A company that analysed virus threats to nationwide computer systems used the building after it was decommissioned in 1997, but it is now home to The Natural Death Centre, which specialises in non-religious funerals. Permission has recently been given to develop the site as a dwelling.

The programme would tell the story of the building and its immediate environment, of the people who built it, of those who have used it in the past and of those will take it into the future. It would use scripted speech, interview and soundscape. The ¼ hour after World at One on Radio 4 would be ideal.

 

 

 

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.’

 

May 2016 Competition Results

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:

 

1st Place

The Surgeon’s Mate’ by Louise Morrish

2nd Place

The Silver Threadby Louise Morrish

3rd Place

Occitan Jewel’ by Amicia Bentley

 

Highly Commended:

Amanda McCarthy – On the Parish and W Fitzgerald – Denial.

 

Next month’s competition is:

Write a lovers’ reunion (300 words)

The adjudicator will be Adrienne Dines – author and creative writing tutor.

Please remember that I have set up an automatic reply informing that your work has got through but I will come back to you ASAP if anything is wrong with your entry.

Keep writing,

Sharon

 

1st Place

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.

 

2nd Place

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.

 

3rd Place

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.

Allie Spencer and April Competition Results

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:

 

1st Place

NIGHT AMBUSH by ANGELA CHADWICK

2nd Place

SECRETS by MARI THOMAS

3rd Place

STEAMPUNK LOVE by SUE SPIERS

Highly Commended

A STEAMY LOVE STORY by JOHN QUINN

Next month’s competition is:

Write the narrative of a viewpoint character in a historical novel solving a conflict. (300 words)

The adjudicator will be Dr. Peter Middleton, Senior Lecturer, English, University of Southampton.

Please remember that I have set up an automatic reply informing that your work has got through but I will come back to you ASAP if anything is wrong with your entry.

Keep writing,

Sharon

 

1st Place

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?”

“Lily.”

“English?”

“Yes.”

“Stay here!”

Three lifetimes passed until he returned.

“You hurt?”

“No.”

“Good. Let’s go.”

“Where?”

“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.

He halted.

“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.”

2nd Place

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.”

“No.”

“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.”

Evan stops.

“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.

 

“Hey, Adam—”

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?”

3rd Place

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.

 

Highly Commended:

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.