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.
‘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.