Competition Report by Sharon Garrett
Our adjudicator for the December competition was Harper Press’ acclaimed author Daniel Clay. As well as being nominated in 2008 as one of Amazon’s best eight debut novels, his novel Broken was shortlisted for the Best First Novel Award by both The Commonwealth Writers’ and The Authors’ Club. It was made into a film by BBC Films. His second novel is SWAP.
Thanks to everyone who sent entries in. There were 33 in total and, as with the last time I judged a HWS competition, I thought the standard of writing was excellent. I also really enjoyed the diversity of the entries, with very few writers choosing to write about the same themes and those who did taking very different approaches.
I found picking a shortlist almost impossible; after reading through each entry a couple of times I began to discard any which definitely weren’t going to make my final five, and even though I discarded plenty I really rated, I was still left with thirteen to choose from, so, if your story isn’t among the ones mentioned here, please don’t think it means I didn’t enjoy reading it, especially The Walking Shadow by David Lea, Hack Gang by Sally Howard, Seal the Book by Jane Howard and Spy by Rebecca Welton, all of which really impressed me.
My two picks for highly commended are Tell No One by Linda Welch and The Road to Amber by James Lee, both of which were well written and well paced and left me with a sense there were full-blown stories to follow. In each case, I felt the story was going a certain way, yet each ended on a totally different note, which is a great demonstration of talent over only 300 words.
In third place, Sold, by Kristin Tridimas, really stood out from first read-through. I was really impressed by the depth of character motivation, with Kristin making sure the main character, Jenna, had good reason to be somewhere she shouldn’t be and then good reason to investigate what was going on there. Small details – such as Jenna unthinkingly using the torch on her phone – rang true for a character of school-age, whereas I’d have stumbled around in the dark, completely forgetting to use the app on my phone. Also, I thought, the title was brilliant in terms of telling part of the story; had it not been called Sold, I think it would have been impossible for the last two lines to carry the emotional weight that they did.
In second place, The Changeling, by Scott Goldie, opens with an arresting line, but then builds to an even better closing line which promises a great story to follow for any horror fans out there. In-between, I really enjoyed the descriptive writing; terms such as ‘blade of moonlight’, ‘betraying creak’, ‘stroked its prize’ were perfect for the mood being set. I especially enjoyed the use of the word ‘cooing’ in such a different context to usual. I’ll certainly never coo over a baby again!
My winner, though, is Teaser by Sally Russell. As with Kristin’s story, Sally has done a great job giving her main character good reason to stumble across the secret she uncovers and also gives us enough back-story to understand why Chloe feels betrayed by what she has seen. Kamara’s gloating, when confronted, is a brilliant example of show, not tell, and Chloe’s jubilation at finding her friend’s weak-spot right at the death, struck me as superb. I especially loved the description of the dusty window of an art room door, like see-through graph paper, scored with lines, which gave the opening’s pivotal scene a real edge of realism and left me feeling as if I was standing behind Chloe, seeing everything Chloe could see.
Daniel was a pleasure to work with and wanted to add that he does try to help anyone who gets in touch. The site is danielclaywriter.co.uk where the Q&A section is great as there’s some really good advice in there from a couple of top agents and writers, plus the writers have also shared their successful slush-pile letters and synopses.
The winning entries were:
First Place – Teaser by Sally Russell
‘I saw you.’
‘What? Where?’ Kamara glanced at me from under her blackened eyelashes.
‘You know where. Last night. After school.’ I was gratified to see the flush creeping up from her neck. ‘You can’t do that.’
‘ ‘Cos he’s mine.’
For three years, since I was (even I admit it) a pimply red-haired thirteen-year-old, I had harboured lustful thoughts about Mr Dyer. Most cool art teacher ever. Now, my new bezzie, Kamara, had got there first.
The previous evening I had left my iPod in my art room locker. I had gone back to rescue it from the thieving fingers that haunted Western High in the evening shadows. I had gripped the door handle, then paused. Mr Dyer and Kamara were standing by the store cupboard. He touched her. He stroked her hair. I could only just see them as I peered through the dusty window of the art room door. The glass was like see-through graph paper, scored with lines. It was smudged with the mucky fingerprints of the budding art students who pushed it open every day.
Except last night it was locked.
I felt sick.
‘Jealous, Chloe?’ Kamara smirked.
‘Just don’t go there.’
She laughed. It grated on my nerves.
‘Kev and I are in love.’
‘Kev? Kev!’ I seethed. I looked at her raven hair, her olive skin. No amount of conditioner or hair-straighteners ever tamed my auburn mane. I felt my nails dig hard into my palms.
‘Didn’t you know that’s his name?’
‘You’ve only been here since Christmas.’ It sounded lame, even to me. ‘And you’re younger than me.’
‘I’m sixteen in August.’
‘Aren’t you supposed to have an arranged marriage?’
‘Not gonna happen.’
‘No, it won’t. Not when your brothers find out.’
Got her, I thought.
Second Place – The Changeling, by Scott Goldie
When my sister Lucy was six months old, she was stolen. Only I know she is gone because only I saw the awful creature that took her.
When I woke that night, I knew something was wrong. I have always trusted my instincts. My grandmother would say I was touched.
I knew it was the creature I had glimpsed a few nights before. I also knew why it had come.
My room was black, except for a thin blade of moonlight cutting across my desk.
I lay there for a moment, shivering slightly. I had no wish to see the creature up close.
However, I tugged at the duvet, sent it whispering across the bed, and levered myself up. The frame creaked as my weight left it. I prayed the noise would go unnoticed.
My bare feet glided across the floorboards. I pulled at my bedroom door. My teeth clenched, anticipating a betraying creak.
It never came.
I moved towards the open doorway of Lucy’s room, saw that the window was thrown open, letting in a cool breeze, making the curtains billow. I crossed to her cot. A shadowy bundle lay there.
It was Lucy, sound asleep. I let out the breath I’d been holding and leaned against the cot.
A strange cooing snatched my attention. A figure was perched on the windowsill, silhouetted in the moonlight. Hunched over, knees folded up to its chest, its long arms clutched something wrapped in a blanket.
It stroked its prize with a long finger, cooed again, wide mouth filled with pointed teeth. I blinked and it had gone.
A terrible, icy feeling gripped me. I had no doubt that it had taken my sister.
But then, if it had Lucy, what now slept in her cot?
Third Place – Sold by Kristin Tridimas
Jenna had time on her hands. College was over for the day.
She couldn’t go home and risk walking in on Mum and Beer Belly Dave bonking on the sofa. The sight had scarred her for life. Not to mention it now meant the sofa was definitely a no-go area.
Her friends Rachel and Ted were stuck in the science labs for another hour.
Their fault for choosing chemistry. When they were eventually free, the three of them would go down to town to Mike’s Cafe, drink hot chocolate and attempt to hear each other over the chatter. So there was no point going townwards.
She did what she always did and headed up the hill to stare at the big stone building which had once been the object of her dreams. As soon as she knew she wanted to be a newspaper reporter, she also knew that one day she would work in those offices. Except she was wrong. Penchester Gazette had closed down a year ago. Before she’d even had time to do work experience.
She stared at the boarded up windows.
Suddenly, she saw movement.
A corner twitched.
A flash of pink.
She crossed over to look more closely.
Something was drawing her in. A journalistic instinct.
Her heart thumped as she lifted the loose board. Peered into the gloom.
Ghostlike empty desks. They taunted her with what might have been.
Her eyes adjusted.
Something moved behind one of the desks.
“Hello,” she whispered.
And then she did something that she would never normally do. Lifting the board, she climbed in. Switched on the torch on her phone. Crept towards the back.
Crouching behind a desk, looking at her with terrified eyes, was an Asian girl.
The girl shrank back. “Please,” she begged.
Don’t forget the January competition: Write the opening of a short story, based on a song.
300 words. Deadline: noon 1st January.