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.

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.

March Competition: Winners and Simon Trewin’s Adjudication

It was a pleasure to welcome Simon Trewin, Head of the London Literary Department of William Morris Endeavours as our adjudicator for March. Simon kindly stepped in when Becky Bagnell had a family emergency.

The number of entries this month was back to a more manageable number, at 27.

I am sure that all of the entrants are thrilled to know that Simon cast his expert eye over their work, a wonderful experience even if they didn’t win. Read Simon’s comments and the winning entries below. His choice of winners is:

1st Place

HOME TO ROOST by DAVID LEA

2nd Place

VOYAGE AROUND MY HEART by LOUISE MORRISH

3rd Place

FAMILY MATTERS by JUSTIN STRAIN

Highly Commended:

FIREBALLS by GILL HOLLANDS

BRITISH LAWNS AN OVERVIEW by CHRISTOPHER YOUNG

Congratulations to all.

Next months competition is:

 

Write a steamy love story. (300 words)

 

The adjudicator will be Alison Spencer, author of Tug of Love, best debut novel, Romantic Novelists’ Association.

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

Keep writing,

Sharon

 

1st Place

Simon Trewin: ‘This felt instantly intriguing and that the author understood the genre from the inside out. HOE TO ROOST sounds like the sort of book as a consumer I would gladly pick off the shelves’

 

HOME TO ROOST by DAVID LEA

‘Home To Roost’ is a Police Procedural set in Hampshire. The story opens with the discovery of a body at a chicken farm – a young woman’s leg wearing a man’s Argyll pattern sock protrudes from the surface of a slurry pit.

The victim, Christiane, is French.

DCI James Gawthorpe leads the enquiry and is attached to the Serious Crime Investigation Unit based in Winchester. Gawthorpe is approaching his fiftieth birthday and the people he has to deal with rarely surprise him any more, whether criminal or police. He has a greyhound called Putin.

Gawthorpe meets PC Effie Makepeace at the scene of the crime. She is thirty-three years old and of mixed race. She is also extremely bright and very attractive. She went to school at Cheltenham Ladies College and speaks with an upper-middle-class English accent. She has joined the police under the auspices of the Police High Potential Development Scheme. All of the above can result in her attracting jealousy, suspicion and prejudice, both inside and outside the force. She also speaks fluent French and Gawthorpe needs her expertise.

As the investigation progresses there is no shortage of possible culprits and they all appear to at have least one of the usual motives – lust, greed, pride, envy and jealousy. Most of them have interconnected lives and motives. Most are also known to Roger Humphry.

Humphry is a grotesquely obese and deeply unhappy man who lives in a large house overlooking the farm. He is a consultant in the technology of surveillance and has hacked into the phones and computers of many of the suspects. He seems to have had a particular interest in Christiane. Effie agrees to meet him and we then fear that she could become the next victim. However, Roger commits suicide, leaving evidence that helps lead to the arrest of the actual murderer.

Although its setting is ‘cosy’, it is realistic in style and references a number of gritty contemporary issues. Apart from ‘whodunit’, the main plot interest is in the development of the major characters and, in particular, the relationship between Gawthorpe and Effie.

 

2nd Place

Simon Trewin: ‘This is bold, ambitious and multi-layered. I knew nothing about Jeanne Baret and this synopsis makes me very intrigued indeed as to how the novel will unfold.’

 

VOYAGE AROUND MY HEART by LOUISE MORRISH

Inspired by true events, ‘A Voyage about My Heart’ is set in the 18th Century and tells the story of Jeanne Baret, the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.

When Jeanne, a humble French herbalist, meets ambitious botanist, Philibert Commerson, the course of her life takes an extraordinary turn.

Commerson is compiling a grand herbarium, a collection of every plant in France, and desires Jeanne’s herbal knowledge. Working closely together, they soon become lovers. But when Jeanne falls pregnant, Commerson, intent on completing his life’s work, forces her to abandon the baby in a foundling hospital.

Clinging to the hope that she will be able to reclaim her baby one day, Jeanne stitches a keepsake into the child’s clothes; a muslin bag of carefully chosen herbs, symbolizing a secret message of love for her son.

But the baby dies within months.

Heartbroken, Jeanne believes she has little to live for. Within weeks, Commerson accepts a position as Ship’s Naturalist on a voyage of exploration around the world, and asks Jeanne to accompany him as his assistant. Seeking to escape her grief and guilt, and with nothing left to lose, she agrees. Disguised as Commerson’s cabin boy, Jeanne sets sail on the Etoile, a lone woman amongst three hundred men.

The crew are suspicious of her, particularly the ship’s surgeon, Vives. Over the next two years Jeanne travels uncharted waters, visiting exotic lands and discovering new plants.

But then the voyage runs into misfortune. Jeanne suffers an assault by Vives, and her secret is discovered.

When the Etoile reaches Mauritius, Jeanne realises she is pregnant. Commerson leaves the ship to work for Pierre Poivre, the administrator of Mauritius and a keen horticulturist. Desperate to escape Vives, Jeanne chooses to stay with Commerson, continuing as his assistant.

Jeanne gives birth to a girl, Stella, but soon after, Commerson dies from an infection. His Will leaves Jeanne enough money to live on, if she can return to France to claim it within a year. Jeanne sells herbal remedies to raise money for her passage home, and finally sets sail for France with Stella.

 

3rd Place

Simon Trewin: ‘This is a compelling premise for a novel and the synopsis fills me with a hunger to know more.’

FAMILY MATTERS by JUSTIN STRAIN

Steven’s family has a secret.

When Steven’s grandfather dies, his family is shocked to learn of an unknown granddaughter, Stella, who lives tucked away in a quiet Cornish village. Compelled to learn more, and searching for a change in his own life, Steven moves to Cornwall to meet Stella.

As Steven and Stella’s relationship grows, Steven begins to understand his history from a different perspective. He unearths the long-buried secret of Stella’s grandmother, Margaret, a wartime heroine, in Nazi-occupied France. Through flashbacks and letters, Margaret’s story gradually unfolds, revealing more about her clandestine work for the Special Operations Executive and her London romance with Steven and Stella’s grandfather, at the time a young seaman in the Royal Navy.

The revelations shake Steven’s beliefs and force him to reconsider his own family ties. Stella confronts him with his estrangement from his sister, his mother and his dying father, and challenges him to rebuild those relationships. Initially reluctant, he comes to realise how much they matter to him. As they begin to forge fragile bonds, Steven learns to accept his family, with both their virtues and their flaws, and to recognise his own responsibility for the divisions between them.

For Stella also, the revelations have far-reaching consequences. As her anonymity dissolves, she is drawn inexorably into the lives of her new-found family. She too begins to question the safety and comfort of her old life and to embrace a changing future, laying to rest her mother’s disastrous marriage and eventual suicide, and coming to terms with her own mental fragilities.

As the novel reaches its climax, Steven and his family confront their differences and the reality of his father’s cancer. A chance meeting with an old friend forces Steven to choose between his self-contained safety and the emotional gamble of committing to a relationship. Meanwhile, Stella discovers the story of Celeste and her brief but passionate love affair with Margaret. Past and present collide in Stella’s old family friend, Irene, and the tragic truth of Margaret’s life, loves and death is finally laid bare.

February Competition: Winners and Jude Evans’ Adjudication

 

We were very fortunate to welcome Jude Evans from Little Tiger Press as our adjudicator for February.

The number of entries has grown again this month and was an amazing 42!

Jude’s involvement inspired many members to enter more than once. I was amused by the titles of some of the pieces but I’m sure Jude chose the winners with an expert eye. Jude’s comments are below, her choice of winners is:

1st Place

Sophie by Andy J Steele

2nd Place

Marcelo Wakes the Jungle Up by Kate Prince

3rd Place

Ten Little Acorns by Kristin Tridimas

Highly Commended:

The Monster of the Wood by Rob Iliffe

The Boy who Couldn’t Read by Caroline Meech

Congratulations to all.

I have noticed that some of you are anxious that your entries reach us and sometimes I take a couple of days to reply – apologies. I have set up an automatic reply so that you know your work has got through but I will come back to you ASAP if anything is wrong with your entry.

Next months competition is to write:

A single-page synopsis, any topic. (350 words)

The adjudicator will be Becky Bagnall, literary agent from Lindsay Literary Agency.

Keep writing,

Sharon

 

1st Place

Sophie by Andy J Steele

‘An original and funny story of friendship, rivalry and moral values, Sophie has an unexpected twist that encourages the reader to think twice about jumping to conclusions. The writing is fresh and vibrant, with a fluid, natural rhyming scheme and a delightfully surreal turn of phrase, shown aptly in the stanza:

So now I sit alone,

In a corner of the class,

Where my only friend’s a pencil,

And I don’t think that’ll last.’  Jude Evans.

 

Sophie                        By Andy J Steele

Sophie is so smart.

Sophie is so cool.

Sophie runs a business

at break-times in school.

 

Sophie is so pretty –

and always full of charm.

Everybody likes her;

she’s the Bestest Girl by far.

 

Megan’s Dad’s a lawyer,

but Sophie’s is a rock star.

Dani rides a scooter,

but Sophie owns a car.

 

Sophie’s good at everything.

Sophie’s just the best.

But the more I sit around her,

The more I feel distressed.

 

‘My party was on an island,

way out into the sea.

I found some hungry people

and had them round to tea.

 

‘I gave them all my presents.

They couldn’t thank me more.

They flew us in their spaceship

and left me one to store!’

 

‘Argh!’ I wailed; a desperate sigh.

‘I’ve got a bleeding nose.’

And if I stay around your lies

it’ll surely end in blows.

 

‘I’ve climbed the highest mountain…

I’ve sailed the seven seas…

I’ve got a talking lion…

I walked a bridge made out of bees.

 

‘My best friend’s a princess

in a far and distant land,

where together we’ve made water

from the driest sand.’

 

‘NO – YOU – HAVEN’T!’ I shook my head.

‘I beg of you to stop.

If I hear one more lie from you,

my head might just go POP!’

 

With a hundred faces staring,

She took a bag of sand.

She dropped it in a funnel –

and from it water ran.

 

So now I sit alone,

In a corner of the class,

Where my only friend’s a pencil,

And I don’t think that’ll last.

 

Sophie’s playing football,

She’s taking on all teams

by playing in all positions;

She’s not the liar it seems.

 

She scores a dozen goals,

Appears destined for the squad,

But the teacher doesn’t pick her;

Lily has it by a nod.

 

She sees me watching and comes across;

I try to look away.

‘I know you hate me,’ she starts to say.

‘I hope we’re friends some day.’

 

I can’t stay mad. She’s got That Look.

I hope she doesn’t cry.

‘You’ll get used to losing,

but only if you try.’

 

Now Sophie’s in America;

She might be gone all term,

She’s won the Nobel Peace Prize:

Some people never learn!

 

2nd Place

Marcelo Wakes the Jungle Up by Kate Prince

‘With its unusual cast of characters, including a snub-nose monkey, loris, mouse deer and leopard, this is charming story woven from the intriguing characteristic of the snub-nose monkey hero: that if rain lands on their upturned noses, it makes them sneeze. The characterisation and dialogue are strong and the playful use of language would delight children.’ Jude Evans

 

Marcelo Wakes the Jungle Up By Kate Prince.

DRIP-DROP

DRIP-DROP

SPLISH-SPLOSH

SPLISH-SPLOSH

 

DEEP in the rain forests of Northern Burma, Marcelo the snub-nose monkey and his friends Ramone, the Hog Badger and Clara and Kitty, the Striped-Squirrel twins, were walking to Myanmar Primary School for Jungle Animals, when it started to rain.

 

‘Quick Marcelo take cover!’ Ramone shouted.

 

But it was too late!

 

‘Aitishoooooooooooooooooo!’

 

‘Oh No I’ve started sneezing,’ Marcelo shouted.

 

‘Aitishoooooooooooooooooo!’

Poor Marcelo is allergic to rain!

 

BOX OUT: (optional)

Snub-nose monkeys live in the rain forests of Northern Burma; as well as up-turned noses, which cause them to sneeze when it rains, they have protruding ear tufts, a white moustache and beard.

In the rain they often put their head between their legs to keep dry!

 

‘WHAT ever is this terrible disturbance?’

 

It was Doris the Loris!

 

She did not seem happy.

 

‘This is the second morning you have woken me up,’ she huffed.

 

‘Sorry,’ Marcelo explained, ‘but each time a rain falls on my nose I sneeze.’

And, as if to prove the point, he started to sneeze again

 

Aitishoooooooooooooooo!

 

Ramone and Clara started to laugh but Doris was not amused.

 

As the friends carried on walking, the rain kept getting heavier.

 

DRIP-DROP

DRIP-DROP

SPLISH-SPLOSH

SPLISH-SPLOSH

 

‘Aitishoooooooooooooooo!’

 

Clara handed Marcelo a hankie.

 

‘Excuse me,’ they heard a small voice.

 

It was Deidre the Mouse Deer!

 

‘I’m sorry to bother you but I’m trying to sleep and your sneezes are so loud.’

 

‘sorry,’ he whispered, ‘’l promise I’ll try to stop sneezing.’

 

But, as hard as he tried, Marcelo just could not stop!

 

‘Aitishoooooooooooooooo!’

 

‘Shhhh,’ Kitty whispered, ‘there are some animals that we DEFINITELY DO NOT want to wake up.’

 

They all nodded in agreement.

 

They carried on walking through the undergrowth, past the creek and the crumbling pagodas.

 

Marcelo sneezed and sneezed.

 

‘Aitishoooooooooooooooo!’

‘Aitishoooooooooooooooo!’

 

‘What is this DREADFUL noissssssssssssse?’

 

It was Drake the Snake!

 

‘I am trying to SSSsssnoozze!’ he said.

 

‘Sorry Drake, I mean Mr Snake,’ Ramone replied, ‘we are TRYING really hard to be quiet.’

 

‘Not hard enough now ……Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I want peacccccccccccce and quiet,’ and he slithered grumpily off.

 

‘Let’s hope the snake is the most dangerous animal Marcelo wakes up with his sneezing,’ Clara whispered to Kitty.

 

‘Aitishoooooooooooooooo!’

 

All of a sudden the little group heard a loud and very angry GROWL!

 

‘What is that unbearable racket?’ the voice roared.

 

Very slowly, Ramone, Marcelo, Clara and Kitty looked up.

 

It was Victor the Leopard!

 

He was lounging in a tree.

 

‘Oh no,’ Whispered Kitty.

 

‘I am trying to sleep,’ he roared again angrily.

 

Victor stretched his legs and yawned, flicking his tail in Marcelo’s face. The fur made Marcelo sneeze again.

 

‘Aitishoooooooooooooooo!’

 

‘Is it breakfast time already?’ Victor licked his lips. ‘I’m feeling rather peckish.’

 

‘Quick ………………..RUN. I think the Victor wants to eat us……,’ Ramone shouted.

 

Marcelo, Ramone, Kitty and Clara ran and ran, as fast as they could, until they got to the forest clearing.

 

‘We’ll have to find a different way to school,’ Kitty panted.

 

‘There isn’t one,’ Ramone gasped.

 

‘We’ll have to be very quiet then,’ Clara squealed.

 

They all looked at Marcelo!

 

‘But I can’t help sneezing,’ Marcelo whaled.

 

Later that day, when lessons were over, the friends walked nervously towards the clearing

 

It had started to rain again and poor Marcelo began to sneeze again.

 

‘Aitishoooooooooooooooo!

 

‘Shhhhhhhhhhh,’ his friends shouted.

 

But Doris, Deidre, Drake and Victor were already waiting at the edge of the jungle.

 

‘OH NO WE IS FOR IT NOW,’ Ramone shouted, ‘QUICK … RUN!’

 

‘Wait!’ Deirdre shouted, ‘Please wait. We’ve got Marcelo a present.’

 

And there, on the ground was a brightly coloured umbrella.

 

Marcelo opened it up and waved it over his head.

 

‘It’s Beautiful,’ Marcelo shouted.

 

Clara, Kitty and Romone began to dance under it

 

‘Thisssssssssss might finally give us some sssssssssssssssssssome peace and quiet and I might be able to get some ssssssssssleeeeep,’ Drake muttered.

 

‘And I ‘grumbled Doris.

 

‘Thank you,’ Marcelo shouted, ‘this will definitely stop me from sneezing.

 

‘And I will definitely sleep through breakfast now,’ Victor winked.

 

3rd Place

Ten Little Acorns by Kristin Tridimas

‘Ten Little Acorns is an economical twist on a familiar children’s rhyme, blending elements of fiction and non-fiction in a clever and accessible way. It introduces facts about the life cycle of trees in parallel with a visual narrative showing the development of our human world: how our landscape, our fashions and our homes change down the generations, during the life span of one great oak tree’ Jude Evans

Ten Little Acorns by Kristin Tridimas

Ten Little Acorns

 

Page 3                                                                      Illustrations

Title page.                                                                Picture of oak tree.

 

Spread 1

Page 4

Ten little acorns on an old oak tree,                          Oak tree with 10 acorns.

Brown and ripe and as shiny as can be.

 

Page 5

One little acorn falls on stony ground.                      Acorn on gravel path.  Boy and girl on path

                                                                                 wearing Edwardian

                                                                                 clothes.

 

Spread 2

Page 6 (top)

Leaves nine little acorns hanging around.                Oak tree with 9 acorns.

 

Page 6 (bottom)

Nine little acorns on an old oak tree,

Brown and ripe and as shiny as can be.

 

Page 7

One little acorn is carried away.                               Squirrel taking nut.

                                                                                 Boy and girl watching.

 

 

Spread 3

Page 8 (top)

So eight little acorns are all that stay.                        Oak tree with 8 acorns.

 

Page 8 (bottom)

Eight little acorns on an old oak tree,

Brown and ripe and as shiny as can be.

 

Page 9

One little acorn is pecked by a crow.                        Crow with nut in beak.

                                                                                 Boy and girl play in

                                                                                 background.

 

Spread 4

Page 10 (top)

Seven little acorns hang in a row.                            Oak tree with 7 acorns.

 

Page 10 (bottom)

Seven little acorns on an old oak tree,

Brown and ripe and as shiny as can be.

 

Page 11

One little acorn is used in a game.                            Boy and girl use it as

                                                                                 stone in hopscotch.

 

 

 

 

Spread 5

Page 12 (top)

Leaves six little acorns – what a shame!                    Oak tree with 6 acorns.

 

Page 12 (bottom)

Six little acorns on an old oak tree,

Brown and ripe and as shiny as can be.

 

Page 13

One little acorn’s taken by the flood.                         Torrential rain, gushing

                                                                                 water. In background,

                                                                                 boy and girl are splashing in puddles.

 

Spread 6

Page 14

Five little acorns are left in the mud.                          Tree bare, nuts below.

 

Page 15

Five little acorns grow a tiny shoot.                                   Germination.

Deep in the ground they form a tiny root.

 

Spread 7

Page 16                                                                    Double page -16 &17

Five little acorns now begin to grow,                        Pages divided into four

All through the year in sunshine and in snow.          seasons – seedling gets

                                                                                 a bit bigger in each.

 

Spread 8

Page 18

Five little oak trees reach up to the sky.                   

They want to grow tall and leafy and high.

 

Page 19

One little oak tree’s bitten by the frost.                       Fifth tiny tree, leaves

Leaves four little oak trees and one is lost.               dead and brown, frosty

                                                                                 scene. Girl and boy in

                                                                                 scarves and hats – a bit

                                                                                 bigger – different hair?

 

Spread 9

Page 20 (top)

One year later …

                                    Page 20 (bottom)

Four little oak trees reach up to the sky.

They want to grow tall and leafy and high.

 

Page 21

One little oak tree is trampled and torn.                    Girl and boy playing,

Three little oak trees are left all forlorn.                     accidentally step on

                                                                                 fourth small tree.

 

 

 

 

Spread 10

Page 22 (top)

Twenty years later …

                                                                                

Page 22 (bottom)

Three biggish oak trees reach up to the sky.

Already they’re growing leafy and high.

 

Page 23

One biggish oak tree is cleared for a wall.               Third middle-sized tree

Two biggish oak trees are left to grow tall.                is lying on ground with

                                                                                 man and small girl in

                                                                                 thirties clothes looking at it. There is a big brick

                                                                                 wall and houses behind.

Spread 11

Page 24 (top)

Fifty years later …

                                                                                

Page 24 (bottom)

Two giant oak trees reach up to the sky.

Already they’re growing leafy and high.

 

Page 25

One giant oak tree is chopped down for wood.                Second tall tree being

One lone oak tree grows as big as it should.           sawn up. Big machinery.

                                                                                 Great-grandfather,

                                                                                 grandmother, father and

                                                                                 baby watching. 1980s.

Spread 12

Page 26 (top)

One hundred years later …                                     Double page spread.   Tall oak tree with ten

                                                                                 acorns, like picture p.4

                                                                                 except is in small park

                                                                                 between housing estate and road. Sun shines.

Page 26 (bottom)                                                     A girl and boy in modern clothes play in play area of park.

 One tall oak tree at the edge of the wood,            They are watched by great-grandmother, grandfather and mother.                                                            

Grows ten little acorns and that is good.                      

The sun shines down after plenty of rain.                                                                                    

The acorns swell and we begin again. 

 

 

 

November Competition Report

by Sharon Garrett

Writing competition: Write the introduction for a general women’s novel, in 300 words.

Adjudicator: Literary agent, Judith Murdoch

Our adjudicator for the November competition was Judith Murdoch from The Judith Murdoch Literary Agency. The number of entries was an outstanding 31.

Her general comments were that she found them all very readable, though too many seemed rather too domestic in tone, so did not stand out as being anything new. A number of entries felt as if they might work better as short stories.

She generously took the time to advise; several entries used far too many adjectives, others over-used names of characters, which distances the reader – they don’t need reminding what the heroine is called six times on one page!

Two authors stood out for strong dialogue: ALL THE FUN OF THE FAIR by Linda Welch, and I WANT TO BREAK FREE by Freddie Mercury. Judith mentions that they might consider writing for radio.

FIRST MEETING by David Lea – Judith thought was amusing but she would have cut the first two lines. MAIA BAY by Benita she found very atmospheric and her assistant particularly liked the mule.

Judith said that the three finalists all immediately focused on the main character, placing them in an intriguing situation, which had possibilities for a full-length story.

She said that characterisation is the most important element in a novel; introducing a sympathetic character on page one who makes the reader feel they want to follow them for another 200-300 pages is what won through.

Judith selected:

First place NO MAN’S LAND by Louise Morrish– a powerful situation and an emotional hook, which immediately establishes the heroine as a strong character on a mission. It promises to deliver action, adventure and romance and sets out the date and premise on the first page, which is a great asset when Kindle encourages readers to sample the first page.

Second place BEDINGFORD OPERA Sam Collins – although a domestic situation it has a slightly quirky, nostalgic feel that made us want to read on – the characters made the ordinary seem a little poignant and more interesting, but the title needs to be more catchy.

Third place THE LONG REACH TO THE PAST by Margaret Jenness – strong writing with an emotional and intriguing opening, though a little downbeat in tone and I would have preferred it in the present rather than past tense.

Read the winning entries below.

First place NO MAN’S LAND by Louise Morrish.

Mary waits in line, tense and sweating in Edward’s woollen jacket and breeches, as the man ahead of her stumbles his way through the oath.

‘I swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King George the Fifth…’

Next it will be Mary’s turn to accept the King’s Shilling. A knife twists in her gut at the thought.

She licks her dry lips, tasting coppery salt. Her scalp itches beneath Edward’s cap and she longs to take it off, but to expose her scandalously short hair is too risky. If the recruitment officer should see through her disguise, he could have her arrested for fraud, or worse yet, treason.

For surely it’s a crime against the King for a woman to enlist as a soldier?

She takes a steadying breath, reminding herself why she’s doing this: to find Edward. The telegram from the War Office had reported him missing. He could be a prisoner of war, or lost and wandering the battlefields. Or maybe he’s lying injured in some Belgian military hospital unable to make himself understood. Wherever he is Mary will do her damnedest to track him down. And when she does Mr Walsh will be so grateful to her for finding his precious son and heir, he’ll surely give Mary a job as a journalist on his newspaper.

So far no one has guessed her deceit; in this place of stale sweat and brittle bravado she is just another young man, keen to do his bit for crown and country.

If she can hold her nerve and assume the guise of a soldier, she will soon be on her way to the Front.

The first woman ever to witness the trenches.

Won’t that be a story for Mr Walsh’s paper?

© Louise Morrish 2015  

 

Second place – BEDINGFORD OPERA Sam Collins.

Shelley Harper looked at her mother warily, as she usually did, in her preposterous flowing gown, held closed only by the most gregarious six-inch brooch.  A peacock, like its owner, its glory displayed.  But it was the beak that Shelley focused on, as if despite its flamboyance, it would tear you to shreds any moment now.

‘Not now Sheldon dear, whatever it is, you can see that I am rather busy.’  Indeed she could.  Every kitchen cupboard open wide, the contents spilling onto every available surface.  The rattle and hum of utensils being thrown drowned only by the industrial volume Verdi coming from the ghetto blaster on the windowsill, the sound of which had assailed her from the corner of Parkside Drive.

‘You can make this suet pudding with absolutely anything to hand in the pantry,’ Mrs Harper continued, as if reading from some ancient Victorian cookbook.  ‘This one’s rhubarb compote…’

It had been with a very heavy heart that Shelley had made this journey this morning.  Back to her roots, back to the village, back to the… motherland.  Oh God.  She had even allowed herself a tear or two on the train from Waterloo.  And if she had allowed any more, she felt sure that they would have drowned her face in waves of panic and regret.  She could see it in the murky train window; as if the mildly moist green eyes and undrenched olive-skinned face were not her own.  Instead she saw something paler, shadowed; the eyes half-closed and brimming, the face awash, dissolving before her with the torrent.  And the only sound in her ears… Verdi.

© Sam Collins 2015

 

Third place THE LONG REACH TO THE PAST by Margaret Jenness.

Thursday 1st April excerpt from Alice Carmichael’s diary

“Tell Olivia I’m sorry”, your dying words, your breathing laboured, your hands clasped mine.  I wanted to hear you ask if the children were coming, to hear you say how much you loved us all. Instead I heard an instruction to tell an unknown woman that you were sorry.

The nurse was very kind.  She told me to stay as long as I wanted.  She brought me tea and Garibaldi biscuits.  Suffocated by the daffodil yellow painted walls, I took deep breaths before taking a welcome sip.

I had been upset our children hadn’t arrived in time.   They thought you had rallied.  Craving the relief of normality when death surrounds, they had returned to their daily lives.  After all the doctors had promised,   “He’s mentally strong, a fighter”.  Perhaps you were fighting to see this person one last time.

“Our family are coming.  Please stay until they get here”, I had begged. How relieved I am now they were too late.    How could they have borne your last words not being for us?

Who was this woman with such a hold on you that your last words were for her?  In just five words you had destroyed my sense of who I am. Yet, despite myself I traced your features with my fingers one last time.  I kissed you. I hugged you.   I told you how much I loved you.  I said I was sorry if I hadn’t made you happy, if I had hurt you in any way.

I heard voices in the corridor. The door opened.  Our son and daughter rushed in.  We hugged.  “I’ll leave you to say goodbye”.

I slipped out. Weeping, I stumbled along the corridor to the nearest bathroom and was violently sick.

© Margaret Jenness 2015

 

Don’t forget the December competition:

Write the opening of a young adult story, beginning with the moment when the main character discovers a secret.

300 words. Deadline: noon 1st December.