‘The First Page of a Novel’
We were very fortunate to have Daniel Clay to adjudicate this month’s competition entries. As well as being nominated one of Amazon’s best eight debut novels for 2008, his novel ‘Broken’ was shortlisted for The Commonwealth Writers’ Best First Novel Award and The Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award. The film of the book, released in 2013, also picked up the best Independent Film Award at the BIFA. Quite an achievement, I think you will agree.
There were an amazing 24 entries for this month’s competition and Daniel said he thought the overall quality of the entries was outstanding and each had something to offer, so the highly commended and winning entries were picked on personal choice with very little between them.
1st Prize: Linda Welch, The Living and the Dead
‘A deserving first place, with a wonderfully well-placed scene where a counsellor meets her new client for the first time – not to mention a last line to kill for…’
Some say that counsellors get the clients they deserve, others that they get the clients they need. Some say it’s all a coincidence.
I don’t believe in coincidence.
At eight o’clock precisely the bell rang. Not early to appear needy, not late to appear resistant, but bang on time. I unlocked the door and invited my new client in, then locked it behind him again. Him? The person who had called to make the appointment had been a woman. I don’t accept male clients any more, not since last year.
Tyler, she had said. Tyler could be a man, but, coupled with the woman’s voice, I’d assumed it was a woman.
‘Amethyst,’ he said, and my skin prickled. No-one had called me Amethyst since my mother had died.
‘Call me Aimée,’ I replied, ignoring his outstretched hand. No physical contact with clients. It’s sometimes a harsh rule when a client is distressed and sobbing, but a necessary one in these days of litigation. ‘And you are Tyler?’
He hesitated too long. I could tell that he hadn’t been expecting me, any more than I had been expecting him. He’d expected someone older, more experienced. It’s true, I’m young for a counsellor, and I have my mother’s genes. She looked only thirty the day she died at the age of fifty-three. I’m thirty. I look about eighteen.
Tyler looked in his late twenties. I sensed he was older, but then my senses had gone into over-drive the moment I’d locked the salon door behind him and looked up into his face. I find tall men intimidating, and Tyler was tall. I’m five foot four in bare feet and I was wearing two-inch heels, but even at an artificial five six, Tyler could easily fit me under his chin with room to spare.
2nd Prize: Sally Russell, A Way of Life
‘The overall quality of the entries was outstanding and for second place my choice is Sally with a chilling hospital bedside scene.’
I lie prone in my linen sarcophagus. I feel the resonant thump of the machines and the beep of the monitor. They seep into my consciousness like some subterranean rhythm. A distant whimper of a heavy door and a crackle of plastic sheeting as you slither into the room. You scrape the chair as you draw it close. I know it’s you, though you are silent. You don’t hold my hand so I can feel your rough skin, the callous on your finger. I smell your expensive aftershave, the perspiration on your freshly washed skin.
You are breathing more heavily now, labouring with the effort under your mask. You cough. I know you will speak; you always clear your throat.
‘Helen’, you say. Now you take my hand, and I feel your palm under my soft fingertips. You rub the back of my wrist with your thumb. That warm, affectionate gesture I once craved. ‘Helen, it’s me, Alex. I’m here. I’m…so sorry.’ I bet you are. I bet you’re sorry I’m still here, still breathing, still fighting.
I try to open my eyes but fail. I hear you touching the tubes, running your fingers along their length. I feel sickness in my stomach, I feel the old fear. You are still talking. What are you saying? I must have slipped away for a moment. I hear your gown slide over your jeans as you stand. Your crepe soles suck as you move towards the monitor and tap the screen.
The strips of plastic rustle and the nurse’s shoe squeaks as she enters the room. You turn, and take a sharp intake of breath, like a naughty schoolboy caught pinching from his mother’s purse.
‘Mr Palmer? I’m going to have to ask you to leave now.’
3rd Prize: Rebecca Lyon, Untitled
‘My third choice is this entry, which promises a great romance between a market trader and a failed ballet dancer.’
She had never bothered to speak to him before, even though his watch stall was five metres from the entrance of her apartment block. Foreign, mouthy, scruffy; why bother? But that day, after being sacked by the new artistic director of the Paris Opera ballet, she didn’t care. She had been scrapped at the peak of her dancing age and wouldn’t make the rent next month. She wanted answers. From anyone.
‘Are they fake or are they real?’ She said. He looked up from his phone. To her dismay, she saw he was handsome.
‘They are real watches, they work.’ He said with a quiet smile. She tilted her head.
‘I mean, are they copies of real Cartiers or are they just any old watch with Cartier written on the front?’
‘What do you expect a Cartier to look like?’ He looked at her as if he knew her.
‘I don’t know. Like this I guess,’ she said picking up one of the array of watches that nestled in amongst plastic-jewelled card cases, and shiny polyester scarves. ‘But with real gold instead of this plastic rubbish.’
‘Plastic rubbish? Tut, tut. This is genuine nickel with a gold tone plating.
He looked at her then put his arm up and yelled at a guy selling lighters down the road.
‘Eh Michel, keep an eye on my stall for an hour.’ Michel looked at the girl, rolled his eyes and nodded.
He flung a jumper over his shoulder and walked towards the metro, barely 20 metres away. He turned and smiled at her, gesturing her to follow. She frowned. ‘Where are you going?’
‘Avenue des Champs-Élysées’ he announced ‘to look at some Cartiers. Come on, let’s go and find your answer.’
Highly Commended: Amicia Bentley, Occitan Jewel
Highly Commended: Scott Goldie, The Creature Retrieval Service
The prizes were signed hardback copies of Santa Montefiore’s books, together with a signed Certificate of Adjudication from Daniel Clay.
The competition secretary, Jim Livesey thanked Daniel for doing such a splendid job of adjudication