September 2015 Competition Winners

Write a Scene in which the Victim of the Crime is Found

Our adjudicator was Carl Major, of Waterstones, West Quay, Southampton, and although Carl was unable to be with us he said he thoroughly enjoyed reading all the entries. Carl’s criteria and adjudications follow:

“Firstly, I was very grateful for being asked to judge this competition. Booksellers – like book browsers – see a lot of books and read a lot of first pages. If a reader has got as far as reading the first few sentences of a book or scene it is worth considering the things they might be subconsciously weighing up about the writing and the writer. The main one must be ‘Is this a story or writer I am intrigued enough to commit money and (more importantly) time to reading?’ The temptation is to grab at the reader with a ‘hooking’ sensational opening or the imagined vividness of the first person. But often – for this reader, at least – it is a kind of confidence in the grasp of the writer and that could be a nice touch of humour, a willingness to trust the reader with a gradual revelation, a telling and interesting detail or simply some small grace of language or observation. I think the reader always wants to know that whatever horrors or twists the story may contain that they are in good hands and often it is the small detail of the writing rather than the sensational content that provides the reassurance. I felt the three winners here all absolutely knew that and put it firmly into practice. It is no small skill. In the case of these three writers I was disappointed that I only had 300 words and would happily have trusted them to lead me on into the world behind this scene.”

Carl’s Adjudication:

1st Place: David Eadsforth, (pseudonym Alec Russell) The Artist

“Extremely well-crafted. The unsensational language heightened the gruesome revelation. Much information about the place and personnel conveyed in passing – and a welcome levening of dark humour! My feeling was that I was in the safe hands of a writer fully in charge of their subject and style. I immediately wanted to know more and read on.”  

2nd Place: David Lea, Home to Roost

“Conjured the protagonist’s world in a few deft strokes. The mix of humour and grim detail of Jason’s job set up a scenario in which the discovery of a body was somehow of a piece with the violence of industrial farming. I valued the detail of this writing and the skill of the writer in allowing the content rather than the language to provide the sensational effect”.

3rd Place: Anne Eckersley, Too Soon to Die

“This piece intrigued me from the first mention of the missing street lights. I believed the scene I was seeing had a real social context. I felt certain that in this writer’s world murder victims, murderers and police would have a wider context of family, friends, society. The plausible weariness of our protagonist and the deft use of ironic humour sealed the deal. I wanted to read on.”

 

Highly Commended: Louise Morrish, Dogsbody

Highly Commended: Avril Stephenson, Untitled

 

Prizes and Awards:

The lucky winners each received two signed books by our main speakers, James Marrison and MJ Arlidge as well as certificates of adjudication by Carl Major.

Anne Eckersley, David Eadsforth & David Lea
Anne Eckersley, David Eadsforth & David Lea

1st Place: The Artist – Copyright © David Eadsforth, 2015

Detective Inspector Ian Chambers stepped out of his car and stared at the blank wall that comprised the front of the industrial unit.  Of all of the crime scenes he had been called to in his career, this would probably have been the least likely candidate.  Detective Sergeant Terman, who had been waiting by the entrance, now approached him.

“Good morning, Sir; sorry it was such an early call, but the shift here starts early…”

Chambers nodded and waved his subordinate to silence.

“Okay, okay; what have we got?”

Terman hesitated.

“Um, I think you just better see for yourself, Sir.”

Chambers shot him a dubious look.

“The last time you said that it was a naked curate with a plastic bag over his head and a noose around his neck…”

“This is a bit different, Sir.”

Terman led the way through the entrance and on to a series of huge doors, around which stood a number of men in white overalls.  Chambers nodded to the chief of the forensic team, a man in his fifties who wore a somewhat grim expression.

“Morning, Alfred; well, what have you got for me?”

Alfred Bingham did not reply, but instead grasped the huge lever that was placed on the front of the door and swung it open.  A gust of bitterly cold air hit Chambers’s face and Bingham indicated that Chambers should enter.  Chambers entered the huge refrigerator and stared at the vision before him.  In the centre of the chamber stood a huge block of ice, two meters square, and inside it was the naked form of a man, his arms and legs stretched out in an ‘X’.  Chambers was silent for a few seconds, then he turned to Bingham.

“Um, we’re not calling this suicide, are we?”

 

2nd Place: Home to Roost – Copyright © David Lea, 2015

Jason had started at 6:30, as he did every day during the holidays: out of bed by 5:45, cup of coffee, cereal, on his bike and away. No need of a wash because he had bathed very thoroughly the night before. He bathed very thoroughly every night, lying in the suds, knackered and dreaming while his mum and his sister watched the tele down stairs. He dreamed of a future when he wouldn’t have to work on Guy Featherstone’s farm, a future when he could afford a motorbike, or even a car. When he could afford some decent clothes.

When he could afford a girlfriend.

Girlfriends are costly.

Anyway, he smelled.

By 8 0’ clock he had almost finished the cleaning. The electric lights were on eighteen hours a day to give maximum laying time, so it was already hot. The hens were housed in rows of metal cages three tiers high, with three or four birds to a cage. Four long alleyways of birds, all shrieking and squalling and pecking. And shitting.  But Jason’s first job before the shit shifting was to remove the bodies – five or six a day. They were so bored and cramped and demented that they pecked each other to death. It usually started when one bird was laying an egg and the other birds pecked around the hole as the egg squeezed out. Jason wondered how they decided which one to attack. Perhaps they chose the weakest, like at school.

Although Jason was a loner, nobody messed with him.

He trundled the awkward, overloaded shit- machine to the trapdoor and pulled the lever to release its load onto the pile below.

It was then he noticed the leg, naked and white.

Except for the Argyll pattern sock.

And then it disappeared under the slurry.

 

3rd Place: Too Soon to Die – Copyright © Anne Eckersley, 2015

This tax year council savings and vandalism had turned off all street lights in Woodley, so just before midnight Longmoor Road was as dull as a dead man’s eyes.  But death in Jonas’ world rarely occurred in broad daylight.

The rain had stopped. Puddles the size of lakes and the stench of sewage its legacy.

Jonas shivered. He wasn’t cold, thick jumpers, waterproof trousers and heavy boots made sure of that.  Parking between two police cars he headed towards the motorway flyover. The noise of cars passing overhead amplified by the silence of the night.

Signs warned of danger of death from the electricity substation or the risk of prosecution from trespass although missing sections of fence provided easy access. The area had always attracted graffiti artists and the homeless who clearly ignored the signs too, but then rising water levels over the winter should have worried them more.

The police hadn’t bothered to open the gate and Jonas opted for the shorter route too. His phone’s torch helped him pick his way through floating debris to the blue and white tape stretched round the scene.

A tent had been erected at the river’s edge. A number of silhouetted figures were moving around. Jonas sighed. He would have liked to be alone to assess the scene before anyone demanded answers or foisted information on him. Those first few minutes were crucial. The position of the body. The arrangement of the clothes.  Seventeen series of Silent Witness had a lot to answer for. Nowadays everyone in the country was qualified to express an opinion.

A noise on his left made him spin. Suddenly he was face to face with four bundles huddled round a shopping trolley and several cardboard boxes who were watching his progress with evident interest.

 

In Conclusion:

The competition secretary, Jim Livesey, thanked everyone who had entered. Crime proved very popular as 18 entries were received, a good start to our new season.

The competition for October is to write a ghost story – 300 words and the adjudicator will be Carolin Esser-Miles, Medievalist, and Senior Lecturer, English Language, University of Winchester.

Please email your entries to the Competition Secretary, Jim Livesey competitions.hwsAThotmail.com by noon (BST) 1st October 2015. (Please replace AT with @)

Please read HWS Competition rules

June Competition Winners 2015

‘Write the First Page of a Memoir of a Real or Imaginary Person’

In the words of one of our guests, it was a shimmering evening with Lady Antonia Fraser. Lady Antonia was in conversation with John Miller who was also our adjudicator. A task he found very enjoyable but quite exacting with twenty-three entries.

John’s Adjudication:

1st Place: John Quinn, Trust and Tectonics

Jun 15 GALA John Quinn_0063“The opening sentence immediately catches the attention, so the reader is interested in the denouement. Leaving the baby in the car may not have happened to the author, but his telling of the story has the ring of truth.”

In any important relationship there are surprises: incidents or moments that shift the tectonic plates of trust.

Some shifts make a relationship stronger. But, mostly, they open up fault lines of suspicion that have lain deep, buried and neglected for years.

I don’t mean those Grand Canyon types of things, like finding your partner is a drug dealer or a pimp. No, those will march trust to a dark swamp from where it rarely, if ever, returns.

I mean those subtle shifts that insert a coloured lens over the iris, forever tinting the blue of trust with a hint of danger red.

To us older men who are granted the privilege of fatherhood later in life, being a Dad is never taken for granted. In the most stressful of times, even as first teeth fight their way through red-raw guns accompanied by non-stop tears and screams, it is still the most prized of possession, to be taken out, polished and re-examined with wonderment.

As a new father galloping towards his 40s, I was no exception.

My frequent forays under the pretext of ‘giving Mum a rest’ saw baby Finn, me and pushchair cavorting down a pavement in the quite suburb of Fair Oak. Or, heaven, having Finn snuggled into his carry chair, strapped into the passenger seat and facing me as we explored Hampshire’s backwaters via its B roads.

We would return home, Finn and I, both normally shattered, and I would tell his Mum every last, boring moment of our trip. Finn’s every cough or sniffle were recounted in detail, every new sight reported upon, every person we met or said ‘hello’ to or any dog patted was proclaimed as if worthy of front-page news.

It was halfway through such a detailed account, as we drank tea from a pot I had just made and as my wife was about to demolish a shortbread with chocolate chips, that she uncharacteristically interrupted me.

‘Where is he?’ And then more loudly ‘Where is Finn?’

In a moment of time too short to measure, I realised where.

He was still strapped into his carry chair in the passenger seat of the Saab. And the Saab was in the locked garage in the garden.

I flew from the room without answering her question, grabbing the garage and car keys with a lying nonchalance as I went.

Sweat puddled and crazed thoughts invaded during that 20-yard epic journey.

Houdini could not have opened the locks quicker.

And what did I find? Silence. Broken only by the quiet and rhythmic breathing of our baby boy as he dozed and dreamt his little dreams.

Had I been more perceptive, a little more worldly in such things, I would have heard another noise: a low rumble of continents slowly but unmistakably colliding as tectonic plates of trust realigned.

I was never, actually, banned from taking out Finn alone again. It was more subtle and, therefore, unable to be challenged.

Before the shifting of deep plates, my ‘You put your feet up and I’ll push Finn around the park’ would be greeted with a warm smile and a gratitude kiss on the cheek. Now it was volleyed back by a quizzical look and ‘I’ll come, the fresh air will do me good!’

Over the years I would like to think I’ve proved myself to be a good, reliable and trustworthy parent. Proved that to my son, myself and, mostly, to my wife.

I’ve served my sentence.

Now Finn is 22. And if we inform his mum, my wife, that we are popping out for a small adventure together she no longer suggests joining us.

But her eyes lock on mine and that same quizzical look is arrowed toward me. And I know I’m still on probation. And always will be.

 

2nd Place: Celia Livesey (pseudonym Katie Rush), Suez

“An evocation of time and place that conjures up a child’s-eye view of Egypt in the Second World War. The word-pictures are vivid and totally convincing.”

Forget time travel, nothing takes you back to a place and time like smell! I grew up in ‘The City of Beauty and Enchantment’. That’s what the Egyptians called Ismailia but I can think of several alternative epithets for it. The curious mixture of delight and disgust between delicious street vendor smells and walking too near the banks of the ‘Sweet Water’ canal remain. Other things remain; I was a child caught up in war and my eyes were opened. Perhaps the catalyst that made me an avid writer by the time I was eight.

A tearful Nan came down to the docks to see us off from Southampton. I was barely more than a toddler. I had my fourth birthday on the boat, the SS Empire Orwell, and was given a fountain pen; prophetic or what!

The boat was full of army wives – hogging two irons while my mother had to wait. I watched with interest when they were sick as we crossed the Bay of Biscay. On the last leg of our journey, my mother and I stood in silence at the rail as we passed the graveyard of ships at Tobruk. I hoped the place we were going was not the same.

But if Tobruk was empty and desolate, Port Said was the opposite; bustling, colourful, noisy, smelly and hot. Nothing prepared me for the assault on my senses. And the heat hit me like someone opening an oven door!

Dad was waiting to meet us. I turned away, embarrassed, as my parents kissed.

‘Katie, give Daddy a kiss,’ my mother urged.

I scowled. I barely knew this tall blond-haired man. He’d been in Burma when I was born and I’d been brought up by my mum and Nan; men were foreign.

A car took us to Ismailia along empty sand swept roads beside the Suez Canal. We overtook the odd camel being led by men in gellabiya or passed the occasional army truck going in the other direction but apart from that, the country seemed deserted.

Ismailia was different, it opened up like a flower in front of us – all tree lined streets, emerald green parks and scarlet flamboyant trees – it truly was ‘The City of Beauty and Enchantment’ – foreign, exotic, exciting.

Our apartment was in French Square on the second floor. It had large rooms with a verandah, mosquito nets over all the beds, and wonder of wonders, an icebox – with cockroaches. This was to be our home for the next four years, or so we thought…

 

3rd Place: Louise Morrish, Dorothy Lawrence – A Female Soldier in the First World War

“An imaginative re-creation of what it might have been like for an enterprising and brave young woman entering the war zone in France. One wants to know what happens next to her.”

It was June, 1915, and I was a young, female journalist, cycling alone into a war zone.

From England, I had sailed to Le Havre, my borrowed Hercules bicycle attracting more attention than the fact I was a lone woman, travelling without a chaperone. My big, white, linen bag, strapped to the handlebars, was stuffed with provisions: a spirit lamp, half a loaf of bread, two candles, matches, a saucepan and a bottle of precious water.

On reaching France, I had mounted my trusty steed, and made Paris in two days. The city was a scene of intense activity, the shops shuttered, Red Cross ambulances and army vehicles clogging the roads, the pavements swarming with green British troops and the shabby blue uniforms of the French poilus.

In a street café, my bicycle propped beside me, I had carefully selected my partner in crime; a kind faced Royal Engineer, one amongst thousands in France, and the only person, apart from my Editor, who would know my secret. It was easy to strike up a conversation, as we ate our egg and chips. ‘I want to get to the Front as a soldier,’ I had told the Royal Engineer, keeping my voice low, watching for his reaction. ‘Will you help me?’

He had blinked at me from behind wire spectacles, but to his credit, had not walked away. Now, why did a pretty little thing like me wish to do that, he wanted to know. Did I realise there was a War on?

I had to take a steadying breath, restraining my temper.

‘I’m a journalist,’ I had told him. ‘And I want to report the truth of the War.’ But our own war-correspondents can’t reach the Front, I went on to explain. Those big men, with their cars, and credentials, and ready cash, they can’t get beyond Amiens.

But what do you want me to do, the engineer had asked, his eyes huge behind his lenses. I was ready with my answer.

‘I first need a soldier’s uniform,’ I said. ‘And some bandages, and a pair of sharp scissors.’

After the longest silence, he had nodded. Later that day, clad in the garb of a Royal Engineer, my breasts bound tight, my hair cut short, I had pedalled away from Paris. Heading north, I had followed the rumble of the guns, the sound like distant thunder, growing ever nearer. That summer was one of the hottest in living memory, and I sweated beneath my strange khaki uniform, my head itching beneath the ill-fitting cap, wondering at my decision.

But I meant to get into the very thick of it. If I died in the attempt, well, that was the sacrifice I was willing to take.

 

Highly Commended: Linda Page, Remembering a Murmur

“A child’s mispronunciation of ‘memory’ leads into reflections on family traits as the years advance. It underlines the importance of memories for all of us.”

Highly Commended: Diana Batten, Fire and Sun

“An innocent lazy afternoon for a child is suddenly shattered by a fearsome explosion. The mood-changes are cleverly evoked.”

 

The prizes were signed copies of Lady Antonia’s book ‘My History: A Memoir of Growing Up’ and a Certificate of Adjudication by John Miller.

There was a really good response to this competition and Jim Livesey, competition secretary, thanked everyone who had entered.

May Competition Winners 2015

‘Write a comedy script for a sketch in 3 pages.’

Chesil Theatre: Mary Mitchell & Norma York
Chesil Theatre: Mary Mitchell & Norma York

The winning entry was performed by members of the Chesil Theatre Group.

Cecily O’Neill, a renowned authority in Drama in Education was the adjudicator for the May competition. Cecily has worked with students, teachers, directors, and actors throughout the world; leading drama workshops, speaking at conferences, and carrying out research. She said that the task of writing a comedy script was a particularly difficult one but the Hampshire Writers had risen to the challenge.

Cecily’s Adjudication:

1st Place: Paul King, PTFE

“You have taken a typical comedy format, where one actor is the straight man and the other delivers the funny lines. But within this framework you’ve cleverly subverted the stereotype of the elderly countrywoman and created an amusing sketch.”

2nd Place: David Lea, Taking Stock

“Within the tight three-page limit of the brief you managed to draw us into the concerns of the young couple and you achieved this as much by what was left unsaid as by the dialogue. You have allowed the comedy to develop gradually and provided an effective and believable denouement.”

3rd Place: Nikki Wakefield, Coming Out

“This sketch is full of lively dialogue and comic misunderstandings. The gradual build up of frustration is very well handled, and the cheerful acceptance by the parents of their son’s unorthodox lifestyle provides an unexpected and pleasing conclusion.”

Paul King & Nikki Wakefield
Paul King & Nikki Wakefield

Highly Commended: Karin Groves, Billy the Banker

“An amusing and topical take on the economy. A comedy of contrasts as 10 year old Billy demands to be taken seriously.”

Highly Commended: Celia Livesey, Three’s a Crowd

“The relationship of the sisters is clearly displayed in the subtle insults they exchange at their mother’s funeral. They get their come-uppance in a surprise ending.”

 

The prizes were signed copies of David Nobbs’s books and a Certificate of Adjudication from Cecily O’Neill. The winning entry was performed by Mary Mitchell and Norma York of the Chesil Theatre Group, much to the delight of the audience.

 

1st Place: PTFE – Copyright © Paul King, 2015

On stage – two ‘older women. They speak with slow, west-country accents. Throughout the scene, using a tea set and plates: tea is poured, stirred and drunk: biscuits and cakes are offered, taken and eaten. Music to top and tail the sketch; something English and rural, like the older version of the ‘Archers’ theme for example.

Music to establish the scene then it fades.

Woman 1: Cup’a’tea?

Woman 2: Don’t mind if I do.

Woman 1: Biscuit?

Woman 2: Don’t mind if I do. (Pause) P.T.F.E!

Woman 1: They be ginger nuts, baked ‘em myself.

Woman 2: No! … P.T.F.E!!!

Woman 1: What?

Woman 2: It’s the black stuff on the bottom of your frying pan.

Woman 1: There b’aint be no black stuff on the bottom of my frying pan thank you very much! I use they Brillo pads.

Woman 2: No, it’s s’posed to be there.

Woman 1: Well it might be s’posed to be on the bottom of yourn but it’s not s’posed to be on the bottom of mine.

Woman 2: No, it’s the non-sticky stuff.

Woman 1: Definitely not my pans!

Woman 2: No… it’s on all of ‘em!

Woman 1: I bet the Vim gets it off; that’ll shift anything.

Woman 2: It’s compulsory: if you got a frying pan you’ve got to have the PTFE. They do call it a ‘non … stick … coating’.

Woman 1: They do?

Woman 2: Listen to this … poly … tetra … fluoro … ethylene.

Woman 1: What’s that then?

Woman 2: Polytetrafluoroethylene.

Woman 1: You’ve been practicing that.

Woman 2: That’s what they do call the black stuff on your frying pan.

Woman 1: How’d you know that then?

Woman 2: I googled it!

Woman 1: You googled it?!

Woman 2: I did!

Woman 1: What made you do a thing like that then?

Woman 2: Well, thing is, I be downsizing … getting a smaller frying pan like.

Woman 1: Your Peggy could do wi’ some ‘o’ that downsizing ‘n’all.

(Pause.)

Low fat fairy cake?

(After a pause Woman 2 takes a cake. There is another pause.)

Woman 2: So … I goes on-line and I finds a frying pan that suits my purposes.

Woman 1: Couldn’t you a just popped down Lakelands?

Woman 2: No; I wanted to exercise my rights as a consumer … make a choice like, from the best available.

Woman 1: Why’d you do that, then?

Woman 2: I be a fan of that programme off the telly, that ‘Watchdog’. You watch it?

Woman 1: No.

Woman 2: Oh you should. I learnt all about exercising my rights as a consumer and making a choice from the best available off that ‘Watchdog’.

Woman 1: I always thought it were about pet training.

Woman 2: So … after due deliberation and intensive comparison, I saw this one frying pan that do seem to fit all the criteria; one that were the best value for size, weight and the durability. I read all the reviews, you’m have to do that these days. Everyone does it.

Woman 1: Do they indeed? Fancy that.

Woman 2: So anyway, I read that it had a … ‘non-stick coating’! Well I was curious I don’t mind telling you. What’s a non-stick coating, I says to myself? And is it something I wants to be party to? So that’s when I did the googling; I looked it up on that there Wikipedia. ‘Non-stick is often used to refer to surfaces coated with polytetrafluoroethylene … P.T.F.E.

Woman 1: You learnt that off by heart as well didn’t you?

Woman 2: I likes to expand the horizons of my knowledge and add to my vocabulary whenever possible.

Woman 1: Right.

Woman 2: Have you got one of they computers, then?

Woman 1: Oh yes, I got a computer.

Woman 2: What you got then?

Woman 1: I got a Macbook pro with fourth-generation dual-core and quad-core Intel processors! It’s got that Wi-Fi and Thunderbolt 2.

Woman 2: That that sounds very nice.

Woman 1: They do say it be … ‘state of the art’!

Woman 2: Do they indeed?!

Woman 1: They do.

Woman 2: What’s that mean then?

Woman 1: Don’t rightly know … but I do finds it very good for the porn.

Woman 2: Oh … you use that porn then?!

Woman 1: Well I gotta do somethin’ ent I … what with my Albert passing over and that … thing is … my imagination’s not what it used to be. (Pause. She offers another plate of biscuits.) Ladyfinger?

Music.

In Conclusion:

The competition secretary, Jim Livesey, thanked everyone who had entered the competition. It had been a good turnout with 16 entries.

April Competition Winners 2015

‘Write the First Two Pages of a Novel in an Exotic Setting’

Last night we were very lucky to have as our adjudicator Rebecca Smith. Rebecca studied History at The University of Southampton, and now teaches the undergraduate modules in creative writing, and the MA module, Writing for Children and Young People.

She is the author of 4 novels, her first book The Bluebird Café was published in 2001; her first novel for children, Shadow Eyes, is a story of big wild cats in Scotland and was shortlisted for the 2012 Kelpies Prize.

From autumn 2009 until summer 2010, she was the ‘Writer in Residence’ at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire, and continues to work closely with the Museum. Her first work of non-fiction, Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas, was published in 2011 by Ivy Press.

Unfortunately, Rebecca was unable to be with us last night but sent her adjudication by email. She said it had been very difficult to decide between the entries as they all had been so good, and selected another highly commended entry because of this.

Rebecca’s Adjudication:

1st Place: Linda Welch, Frozen

“You have a great opening line. Your evocation of the landscape made me want to read on. You made very good use of sensory detail and imagery. I do hope you will finish this novel. ”

Outside, the pure white of the snow provided a blank canvas onto which Sillitoe projected his thoughts and memories like a flickering home movie. Against the stark background he saw Nina’s tear-stained face as she waved him goodbye on the dockside.

‘I don’t understand,’ she said, over and over again. ‘Why did you agree to go? You hate the cold.’

But six months on a research ship in the Arctic would put him in another league, open doors for him that had been shut for years, give his career the shot in the arm it needed.

‘I’ll grow a beard,’ he teased, ‘to keep my face warm.’

And it would give him six months to decide what he wanted to do about Nina.

He had only been here a week, but already he loved the landscape. It was so crisp and bright that it could blind a man if he stared at it for too long without dark glasses. He loved the peace, no sound at all to interrupt his thoughts, except the wind, often, or the bark of a seal, sometimes, or the soft panting of an arctic fox, seldom. He had found one on his first day here, a fuzzy white mound on the flat white snow. He only noticed it because of the splash of red blood oozing from it. It allowed him to approach, too badly injured, too weak to run, and he crouched on his haunches, watching its breath fog the sub-zero air, listening to the panting grow slower and slower until it stopped.

He had taken the carcass back to the ship. The cook had skinned it and tossed the flesh, head and paws over the side, and given Sillitoe the fur. He didn’t know what he was going to do with it, but he wanted to take a part of this beautiful and cruel wilderness home with him. If he ever went home.

There were cracks in the ice to measure, the texture of the ice to be photographed and samples to be taken. There were polar bears and arctic foxes to count and there were a million snowflakes, each one different, to blow around his frozen face and distract him from everything that called him home, and everything that had pushed him away.

The watch on his wrist, buried deep beneath four layers of clothing, vibrated a warning that he had spent long enough outside. He needed to get back to the warmth of the ship, before his body temperature dropped any lower, but he was reluctant to leave the strange silent beauty of his chosen exile. As he turned to start the mile walk back to the research vessel, something caught his eye, a dark smudge on the clean canvas of white, and without thinking he changed course and trudged towards it.

It, whatever ‘it’ was, was further away than he had thought and it took him half an hour to reach it. As he grew closer he could make out the shape of two gloves, palms together, the fur trim stiffened into icicles. Why hadn’t the gloves blown away in the wind? he wondered. Who would take their gloves off out here and risk losing fingers to frostbite? When he reached the gloves, though, he could see why they had not been blown about by the wind: they were still being worn by frozen, dead hands, attached to a frozen dead body covered by a drift of snow. Sillitoe didn’t dare clear the snow from the face, didn’t want to see who it was or how he had died, or why the hands were pressed together in prayer. He fumbled with unsteady hands for the flare in his back-pack and lit it, holding it aloft for the researchers on board the ship to see. Several men had been on deck, their binoculars trained on him, since he had changed course to investigate the black speck in the snow. The flare was only to give them an indication of what he had found.

Orange smoke streaked the pale blue sky, orange for distress, orange for assistance, even though it was far too late for whoever lay beneath the frozen snow.

 

2nd Place: Laurel Wingfield, No Place for a Woman

“This is convincingly done and was an excellent response to the competition brief. You established the setting deftly and introduced your characters and themes in a pacy and interesting way.”

Is this exotic enough for you?’ Alan asked, setting his medical kit on the ground.

Alan – Dr Alan Gardner – was being ironic. He was the first shock. She never expected to see him again, let alone here. If Lucy had known he was here, she would never have come.

At first, seeing Alan, Lucy couldn’t speak. She had had some idea of what she would be facing, but the reality was still stunning. The refugee camp stretched away from her, crammed up against the chain-link fence, for as far as she could see. The noise and smell were unbelievable. Thick swarms of flies and dust covered everything. She knew that living conditions for the refugees would be squalid, but seeing the stinking open sewers and the rubbish strewn around the ramshackle shelters took a lot of getting used to. Lucy felt very out of place in her neat khaki cotton and hijab.

Then there was Alan, like an image in a bad dream. She would have to work with him, and she knew that he would constantly criticize her. Whatever was he doing here?

‘I didn’t come here for exotic,’ Lucy snapped, once she could speak again. Alan had always brought out the worst in her. ‘I came here to work. I came here to save lives’.

‘Yes, well, good luck with that,’ Alan said. He sounded as smug as ever. He added, ‘I don’t know where you think you’re going to stash all that luggage. Living space is at a premium.’

He began to turn away, to walk back into the refugee camp. Lucy called after him, ‘wait! Are you just going to leave me standing here? Where am I supposed to sleep? Where’s the clinic?’

Alan pointed vaguely ahead of him. ‘In the centre of this mess. You can’t miss it.’ He added, still smug, ‘you won’t last a week. This is no place for a woman.’

He could have helped, but she knew he wouldn’t. As Lucy stooped to lift her bulging shoulder bag and begin to drag her suitcase, Alan picked up his kit and turned to pass between two of the shelters – one an old, patched canvas tent, the other cobbled together from pallets and plastic sheeting – and disappeared from view. Lucy was left to negotiate carefully the tiny wheels of her suitcase over the dried, rutted mud that served as the main thoroughfare through the camp.

Lucy was already exhausted by the time she found the clinic, and had drunk the last of her bottled water. From now on, she would have to rely on the water brought in by tankers. The UN was bringing in supplies, but never enough and deliveries were uncertain.

The refugees she passed glanced at her curiously, as one of the rare white women around here, but they were so caught up in their own problems and the constant demands of survival that their interest was only fleeting. She received no offers of help with her luggage. Soldiers armed with rifles patrolled the camp, too. Without them there would be anarchy, especially when supplies arrived.

The clinic was a newer marquee with big red crescents painted on its roof and sides. Here in the far south of Turkey, just over the border from Syria, the population was solidly Muslim. The clinic was crammed with elderly hospital beds far too close together. Every bed was occupied. The screens around each couldn’t keep out the flies, and some of the patients were bound to have maggots. Keeping sanitary working conditions would be impossible. The reek of vomit, waste, sweat and infection filled the stifling space. By the time many managed to cross the border, wounds had become infected and diseases advanced.

‘Hello? Hello?’ Lucy called above the noise, to anyone who might hear. The racket was slightly less in here. There was groaning from all over the tent, and the occasional cry of pain.

A hurrying male doctor in stained scrubs noticed her at last. ‘Hello,’ he greeted her. ‘You must be the new doctor. You are Dr Lucy Carpenter, on a surgery rotation?’

Lucy nodded. ‘From Doctors Without Borders,’ she confirmed.

The doctor nodded. ‘Dr Ahmed Khoury. Can you start work straight away? There will be plenty of work for you here. Plenty of experience.’ His English was accented, but flawless.

‘I need to get settled, first,’ Lucy said, breathlessly. ‘I’ve been travelling for two days. Could someone show me where I’m going to sleep, at least?’

Dr Khoury nodded towards the other end of the marquee. ‘We are billeted nearby,’ he explained. ‘I don’t know where you’re going to put all that luggage. We have dormitory tents for men and women. Make sure you get the right one. There is one bed left in the ladies’ tent, at the far end. We’ll see you when you’re ready.’

Laurel Wingfield & Louise Morrish
Laurel Wingfield & Louise Morrish

3rd Place: Louise Morrish, The Island at the End of the World

“The voice is convincing and engaging and the location was evoked well. The novel is off to a very good start with your narrator’s predicament established immediately. The idea of a journal written in the margins of a family Bible is immensely appealing.”

They call this island Noho Manene. When I asked Jabez what the sailors meant by that name, he told me it was the native for ‘journey’s end’. But I fear my husband was not being entirely truthful with me.

As we left New Zealand, on the final leg of our long journey, I plucked up the nerve to ask the Captain about the place we were headed. He gave me a strange look, and would not be drawn on the subject, except to say, ‘It is not somewhere I normally take young women, Mrs Williams.’ Though I pressed him further, he would only tell me the island was a land apart, a lonely spot. He would say no more, but I thought his sad brown eyes betrayed his judgment of Jabez’s decision.

It is my belief that the island’s name means something altogether different.

But I must be grateful that we are finally here, intact, and with no lives lost. After weeks of constant movement, weeks of sleeping on a wooden bunk that pitched and tossed beneath me, there is now firm ground. Only yesterday, little Matthias looked on in mute envy at the men and boys climbing the rigging, so dexterous and brave. Only yesterday, there were maggots in the last of the biscuits, weevils in the oats, and barely enough water left for a thirsty child.

But those ordeals are behind us now, and new ones must be faced. The ship is gone, and we won’t see it again for another twelve months. I must not think on that too much. This journal I have fashioned from a surplus bible I came upon this morning, as I was unpacking the crates. The margins are marvellous wide and bare, and if I write very small, it will serve me well, I hope. Thankfully, Jabez believes I study the word of God, as I sit here with the book open in my lap. God forbid he should ever know the truth, Elizabeth.

This is my first entry on the island, and I write it solely for you, dear sister, who demanded a promise from me that I would daily record events of import, until our return home, should that time ever come. God grant that it may.

I will start by describing this place, so you can picture it. The patch of land we are now to call Williamston, after Jabez, is entirely alone in this remote corner of the Pacific Ocean. It is two hundred miles north of New Zealand, where the natives hail from, and is the only inhabitable land in a fragile atoll of coral reef. There is a small transient community on the island, made up of seven or eight fishermen, and two native women. They all wear alarmingly little clothing, and their skin is burnished to a deep mahogany. Jabez has spoken with the men, about what I was not party. The two women look quite young, perhaps my age of twenty five or so. But it is so hard to tell, as their faces are like nothing I have looked upon before. They watch us from a distance, shy as deer, and will not meet my eye. I have yet to learn any of their names, but Jabez has warned me that the men speak only broken English.

The islet is wooded with coconut palms and other, nameless trees, and ringed with a pale gold sandy beach. In the centre of the island there is a source of natural ground water for drinking, but we have been advised by the Captain to capture rainwater for this purpose. The heat is considerable, but is tempered by a breeze, and I wear your gingham sunhat, Elizabeth, which provides wonderful shade to see by.

The natives have been asked by Jabez to sacrifice their driftwood huts, so that we may have shelter. This they have done, but no one will tell me where they now sleep. Jabez and I share the largest hut, Matthias and Arehata the second. Charlotte has the smallest hut.

Where I sit this evening, on a fallen palm at the edge of camp, I have an unimpeded view out to sea. The sun is fast departing, and soon night’s shroud will descend. Across the water, a path of gold stretches toward the horizon, so straight and defined I could walk it clear and over the edge. I gaze at it, and dream of home.

 

Highly Commended: Tim Bancroft, The Ochre Trail

“Great title! You established the setting really well and made good use of sensory detail. The story is set up effectively with a pleasing atmosphere of growing peril.”

Highly Commended: Lou Merlin, The Legacy of Innocence

“Your disturbing novel opening was striking for its originality. There is much to hook the reader with this grisly scenario.”

Highly Commended: Linda Page, Indian Paradise

“An imaginative and enjoyable response to the competition theme. You set the story up well in this interesting opening. The use of point of view was particularly good. I really enjoyed your use of the Portsmouth location.”

 

The prizes were signed copies of Catherine King’s latest book Her Mother’s Secret, and a Certificate of Adjudication from Rebecca Smith.

The competition secretary, Jim Livesey, thanked everyone who had entered the competition. It had been a good turnout with 12 submissions.

March Competition Winners 2015

‘Write a Romantic Encounter – Falling in Love’

The lovely, lively Lorella Belli was the main speaker last night and also the adjudicator. She gave a refreshing look at the world of writing and inspired many of our members to try different routes into publishing. Read the main report for the full account of the evening.

Lorella’s assessment was based on the following criteria;

  1. Readability (based on the submitted piece alone, rather than how it might fit into a longer piece of fiction, for example as part of a novel)
  2. Writing itself (both the use of language, metaphors, word association, etc; and even more avoiding clichés, stereotypical imagery, and even spelling, for example)
  3. Originality of concept/idea
  4. Characterization and scene building
  5. Pace, flow and element of surprise/suspense/mystery
  6. Final twist

Lorella’s Adjudication:

1st Prize: David Lea, Killer Heels

‘This entry won because it ticked all the above boxes: Enjoyable and clear/clean writing (ie. careful and meaningful choice of words, which is key especially in a short piece); well observed, structured and vividly-described scene, one can picture it very easily. Characters well introduced and relatable; good use of dialogue; catchy title and nice element of surprise at the end, it makes you wish to read more of it.’

We reached Clapham Junction and people bundled over us and around us to get out of the carriage – him on the floor, face grey with shock, and me trying to be a one-woman protective shield. I went as if to help him up, but he made no attempt to move. I should have worn my flatties.

‘Why did you do that?’

‘God, I’m so sorry’, I said, ‘I thought it was you.’

‘Thought what was me?’

His foot was very long and narrow in his hands. And the hands were abnormally long and thin – delicate without being womanly.

He is a pianist: I know that now.

Good job he wasn’t a dancer.

‘Somebody was rubbing themselves up against me.’

‘And you thought it was me.’

‘Whoever it was, he was behind me.’

‘Frottage.’

‘What?’

‘Rubbing yourself against someone for the purpose of sexual excitement – often practised while clothed and in a public place.’

‘You seem very familiar with the subject.’

‘I went to public school – we know about these things.’

I had been standing with my Evening Standard resting nicely on the back of the black woman in front of me when I felt something pressing up against my bottom. I knew what it was and tried to shift forward, but he just eased up against me and settled into the rhythm of the train. So I stepped back, took my left foot off the ground and let all my weight go through my right heel.

I tried to ease his shoe off, but he put his hand over mine.

‘It wasn’t me, you know: elderly gent, thin, blue overcoat.’

He smiled up at me – floppy fringe, knobbly cheekbones, grey-blue eyes.

And I still don’t know why I did it, but I kissed him.

On the lips.

2nd Prize: Honey Stavonhagen, Midsummer Mountain

‘Very much enjoyed the writing here, carefully selected and measured use of language; I also liked the originality of this entry, not the obvious theme or scene to describe ‘a romantic encounter’, so it shows imagination and flair. Good sense of pace and great last sentence. It’s the kind of piece one needs to re-read to appreciate the work which has gone into it I feel.’

Have you ever free-wheeled down a mountain in midsummer? It all starts so innocently; a lingering sip of the view, a heart-warming breath, and then the dive that causes your legs to spin in giddy rotations. You are blissfully blinded by the vibrant colours of the setting sun. The steep mountain path encourages your speed, while the wind entices the air out of your lungs and steals it away. You’re moving too fast.

Your stomach once filled with moths is teeming with rhinos, agitated and jostling. Lifting your feet from their haven on the crossbar, you try to reunite them with their pedals. But the treadles are livid. They stab at your shins pitting them with bruises and the brakes rigidly mock your pleas to stop. You want to get off.

You look to the verge. There’s no hassock of grass only a row of hardboiled kerbstones. Weary legs grope for the ground, but the tarmac steals their sandals and your wounded feet retreat like slugs from salt. Forlorn. Your heart fills your ears with its pulsating song. You must stop. Wrenching the handlebar clean off the bike you’re shaking, your steed unbalanced and slaloming. You close your eyes tight and swallow your pride. It will soon be over.

The front wheel is struck by an unseen obstacle and thrown from your saddle you spiral though the air and land in the comforting arms of a bush. But the pain in your limbs exposes their thorns, which shred your pricked skin as you flail to get free. You sink ever deeper. The sun is eclipsed and you’re alone in the dark, crying and wishing you’d never set eyes on that midsummer mountain, which looked so inviting and tempted you down to the depths of despair. This is love most unfair.

 

Lorella said she couldn’t separate the third place winners even though they are two very different pieces:

3rd Prize: Diane Batten, A Romantic Encounter at the Rec

‘A witty and entertaining read, characterization spot on, which is not easy to do in a short piece, and lovely use of 1st person narrative (and dialogue to go with it). Good balance of action and description. Lovely punch line at the end. (But not so keen on the usual description of ‘a tall dark haired guy with broad shoulders’, which is used endlessly in romantic fiction and should really be avoided).’

Northbury has to be the worst place in the Western Hemisphere for night life. Dull brick houses, a couple of dismal pubs which smell of stale beer and school dinner cabbage, and a supermarket. I use the word ‘super’ in its loosest form. Personally I see nothing super about trying to get a tin of beans from the top shelf of an aisle so thin even a super model would struggle to navigate it.

Northbury was also the home of my Ex Chris. Things had been running along smoothly with him, until he was caught kissing mouthy Martina. Chris claimed he’d been practising First Aid but the Instagram pictures were compelling. After that I trusted the local talent about as much as the kebabs from Dodgy Dave’s Van.

A visit to the White Lion with Jo met all my expectations. Warm vodka and lime, crisps so dry they could have been unearthed from an archaeological dig and old men clustered like vampire bats outside the side door in a fog of smoke. When Jo said “Lets go to the Rec” it was almost a relief.

Of course the Burger Van was down at the Park and Jo can never resist a kebab. I went along with it though greasy meat and limp bread isn’t my idea of meal. Someone nudged me and said “You don’t want that do you?” I turned around and saw a tall dark haired guy with broad shoulders, clearly not local. He held out his hand.

“I’m Phil”

As I clasped his fingers my stomach lurched. For once it wasn’t because of Dave’s kebabs.

3rd Prize: Amie Simons, The Girl Who Fell in Love with the Moon

‘I enjoyed this modern day fairy tale scene. Original idea (falling in love with the moon rather than a man) and liked the fact it combined the everyday ordinary act of doing the dishes to being magically transported to another time and place, the daffodils being the trigger for it (and as yellow as the moon). Great title and loved the last sentence.’

On the night that the girl travelled back in time, people from all over the world loved and laughed and sang songs from their souls.

Aurelia did not mean to time travel but her unconscious was an illusionist, creating unexpected things to the eyes of her world. As she stood at the kitchen sink, delving soft hands into frothy water making it dance, the daffodils that her husband had brought sat patiently on the windowsill in a plastic cup, waiting to be noticed.

It was as the girl stroked a wooden spoon with a dishcloth that the nostalgic scent finally seized her, in an instant pulling her from one moment to another, as if time and space were as boundless as she.

By the daffodils the little girl sat once more wrapped in her dressing gown, their crowned heads bowing to the dark sky, a stream of moonlight beams turning the flowers into ghosts. The woods below looked like shadow lands where bony arms and fingers waited to pull her into the depths. But the girl was not afraid because when she tilted her head upwards, sending her eyes flying into the universe, Aurelia discovered a torch. In its primordial arms she was held, her soul illuminated through an unspoken understanding of all things. Over the hill, in the distance, her parent’s emotions could still be heard setting fire to the house. For once though, Aurelia neither noticed nor cared for her heart was on fire too for that was the night that she fell in love with the moon.

Annie Simons, Honey Stavonhagen & David Lea
Annie Simons, Honey Stavonhagen & David Lea

Highly Commended: Linda Page, Didn’t See that One Coming

‘A Sweet story which will touch the heart of anyone who cared and looked after a pet. What seems like a clichéd relationship and description at the beginning, turns into a surprising and moving ending when we realize the ‘big, dark, handsome fella’ is not a man.’

 

The 2nd and 3rd prizes were signed copies of Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files, and a copy of Claire Fuller’s debut novel Our Endless Numbered Days was given to the winner, David Lea. David, as the winner of the last three competitions, already had a copy of the Snowden Files. A signed Certificate of Adjudication from Lorella Belli completed the prizes.

The competition secretary, Jim Livesey, thanked everyone who had entered the competition. It had been a very good turnout with 22 submissions, and Lorella said there had been an interesting mix of genres and styles, as well as some very good writing.

February Competition Winners 2015

Write a ‘Letter from the Front’, any era, any front, in 300 words.

We were honoured to have Lt-Gen Sir Christopher Wallace KBE DL adjudicate the February competition. Sir Christopher has had a distinguished Military career and is Chairman of Winchester Military Museums. He is also the author of a number of books.

  • A Brief History of The King’s Royal Rifle Corps 1755 – 1965.
  • Focus on Courage: the 59 Victoria Crosses of the Royal Green Jackets.
  • Rifles and Kubris: Delhi, 1857.

Sir Christopher said his assessment was based on four criteria;

  1. How well does the entry fit the criteria for the competition?
  2. How well has the entry been written and composed?
  3. How original is it?
  4. How real is it? Is it imaginable?

Sir Christopher Wallace’s Adjudication:

1st Prize: David Lea, A Letter from the Front

‘This letter is written by a nasty jihadist, typical of those we hear about fighting in the Middle East and elsewhere today. As an entry, it stood out from the rest as different, original, excellent in composition, topical and arresting – in my view, a very worthy winner.’

An Explanation:

There are so many real letters from so many real fronts that to write one as a fiction is unlikely to be as affecting as the real thing and would only serve a purpose as part of a longer narrative. Most of the published letters from war zones (both real and fictional) are about acts of individual courage in the face of extreme violence and deprivation, and of fortitude in the face of physical and psychological hurt. Often nobility is found in fighting for a just cause or in personal sacrifice for the good of others.

However, we have all been exposed to accounts of wars, particularly in Africa, but also in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria and across the Middle East, where there appears to be little nobility of purpose and where the basest and most vile of human instincts are given free rein. However, there are few letters from any front that are written from the perspective of one of the perpetrators of the brutality that we see, read and hear about on an almost daily basis. Hence, my nasty little missive.

A Letter from the Front

Aldo.

Greetings.

Missing you already.

 

How is it for you, Aldo?

Are you sitting on the sofa watching The News?

Let’s hope you don’t see me.

 

Yesterday, a woman, a girl really – let’s call her a young woman –

She said I must be a very angry man to do what I do.

To do what I had just done.

And I said, ‘No, Missy,

I’m not angry, Missy.

I rape girls because I enjoy raping girls,

That is all.

Not because I am angry’

 

Me, I would get angry just sitting on a sofa.

 

So I did it again.

She wasn’t expecting that.

Neither was I – didn’t think I had the juice in me.

Maybe it was what she said.

Maybe I was angry then, just a little bit.

But it don’t matter, Aldo, it worked – I enjoyed it more the second time.

Like sweet chilli sauce on a leg of chicken. – very tasty.

 

Remember, Aldo? Remember the village?

 

She said I must be evil – to do what I did.

To do what I do.

I told her there is no evil unless there is good.

She asked me if I believed in God.

You and me, Aldo, we know the truth, don’t we?

Life is all there is.

And Death, of course.

 

And to be in charge of a death, Aldo, that is when I’m most alive.

To have him in my sights, Aldo.

To pull the trigger,

To watch him drop.

The end.

Goodbye.

You must miss that, Aldo.

You can’t make a death happen from the sofa; can you Aldo?

Not a real death.

They don’t allow it. Not in a civilised society.

 

So I shot her.

She wasn’t expecting that.

 

LOL, Nass

2nd Prize: Celia Livesey (pseudonym John Black), A Letter just before D-Day

‘A close second – excellent composition written just as one knows letters were written then, including a reproach from husband to wife made up for later in the letter. The letter concludes with a nice touch at the end – the drawing of a bluebird with an accompanying explanation why.’

Mrs Kathleen Sims,

126 Avenue Road,

Gosport,

Hants.

6th of June 1944

My Darling Kath and baby,

I’m counting the days until I’m home with you again and our dear little girl. I love you with all my heart and I pray to God each day to keep you safe. Charlie told me about the landmine. Why didn’t you say? His missus said it took out half the road. My darling, I want to know everything that happens. Please, please don’t let me hear about what you’re going through from neighbours.

I am well, and spirits are high. Everyone is saying the end isn’t far off – next year for sure. Charlie’s a good mate and makes me laugh, and there’s a bloke in our unit called ‘Bing’ who fancies himself as a bit of a crooner. If I ask him nice, he sings our song ‘Arm in Arm Together’. I wish I was back home with you, walking arm in arm, waking next to you and feeling your warm body in my arms, breathing the sweet smell of your hair.

I’ll take you to the ‘flicks’ when I get home. I know you want to see ‘Gone with the Wind’. We’ll sit in the 1/6s, the ‘P.O.S.H.’ seats, a special treat for my special girl. I’ve still got a bit of that cake left you sent me for my birthday. It’s the best present ever, but you must have been saving up your coupons for weeks. Thank you, darling.

How is my dearest little Sylvia? Is she walking yet? I wonder if she’ll remember her daddy when I get home.

Well, my darling, I’ll say goodbye for now. All my love and kisses to you and baby.

Your ever loving husband,

Reg.

Feb 15 Bluebird_1688

P.S. I’ve drawn the bluebird of happiness. It’s carrying my love to you over land, over sea, and across all the miles that separate us. Know that you are always in my heart.

x x x x x x x x

x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

3rd Prize: Veronika Moore, WWI Letter written from Cambrai, 15 March 1918

‘Well written and imaginable, but lacking the originality of the winner and the breadth of subject matter of the runner-up. I liked it because of the juxtaposition of the letter writer’s relationship with his mother and God, highlighting the truth of that well-worn aphorism that “there’s no such person as an atheist in a slit-trench”.’

15 March, 1918

Cambrai, France

My dearest mother,

As I sit here upon this damp patch of bare earth, I feel your presence by my side. I know you are here, but I cannot see you, nor can I recall your face. In a moment of panic, I hastily unbutton my jacket and fumble around the breast pockets for my most cherished souvenir: a faded family photograph. This weightless object is my religious shrine, and I come to it night after night to seek God’s comfort and peace in your smiling face.

Mother, you’ve been with me in my darkest hours – digging with me the heavy French clay of the trenches, fighting by my side on the battlefield at Langemarck last August, and as I lay there half-dead waiting for the quagmire to swallow me you held my head in your lap and sang to me. I thank you a million times over for your unconditional love and protection. I also thank this great war of ours for carving me into a better man, a better son, a better human being.

The end of the war is nigh. We all feel it in our weathered bones. May the Almighty grant us victory and may birdsong soon prevail where previously gunshots and the sound of bombardment filled the air.

With love and hope of an early reunion.

Your loving son Fred

David Lea & Veronika Moore
David Lea & Veronika Moore

Highly Commended: Lou Merlin, The First and Last Letter

‘This entry, written by a chariot commander in the period 1200 BC and the reign of the Egyptian Pharaoh, Rameses the Second, is full of cleverness and originality. It just failed to make it into third position because I was a little uncertain about the language used; there were one or two words which I thought would not have figured in the Egyptian lexicon at that time.’

Highly Commended: Gill Hollands, Letter from the Front

‘Gill Hollands’ entry was about the impact upon the occupiers of a house on a cliff-top subjected to a torrential storm, that topples into the sea – hence the cliff-top being ‘at the front’ and, although I don’t think she intended it, the storm being a weather ‘front’. Clever and original in approach, my wife and I, however, are still not clear how a home at the top of a cliff can at the same time result in water coming up to the letter writer’s ankles. Clearly we lack Gill’s imagination!’

Highly Commended: David Eadsforth (John Woodman) Letter from the Front somewhere in France, 20 February 1916’

‘John Woodman’s entry was well written, but suffered from one flaw. It was a letter written by a private soldier rather more in the language that I would have expected an officer to use.’

 

The prizes were signed copies of Anthony Riches’ books, and a Certificate of Adjudication from Sir Christopher Wallace.

The competition secretary, Jim Livesey, thanked everyone who had entered the competition, and said that Sir Christopher had said that he was very glad to have had the opportunity to judge this competition, and it was a privilege and a pleasure to be concerned with such a high standard of entry.

January Competition Winners 2015

The Competition for January was to write a magazine article in 300 words about “A Secret Place in Wessex’. Unfortunately our adjudicator, Heidi King of View Magazine, was unable to be at the meeting.

Heidi’s interest in journalism dates back to when she was 11 years old, with a love for ponies, when her ambition was to work for the PONY magazine. She later achieved this ambition when she was offered a job as a trainee journalist with PONY magazine and within a few years became assistant editor.

Subsequently she has contributed to over 200 titles worldwide ranging from The Financial Times and The Sunday Times to the Hong Kong Tatler and Wine Magazine. Heidi now edits ‘Wiltshire View’ and ‘Hampshire View’ as a freelance editor, whilst concurrently working on national titles. She still loves ponies, and magazines.

Heidi’s Adjudication:

1st Prize: David Lea, A Secret Place in Wessex

“David’s piece, based on a bunker near his home of which most are unaware, reminds us how scary the Cold War actually was, and how much we owe to Petrov’s clear thinking. Petrov’s decision touched our lives.

By mentioning his young children in the text – the portrayal of helpless sleeping innocence – David brings home the point that their destiny was in the hands of distant men. Having been behind the Iron Curtain back in the day, I remember how frightening this regime was. Putin’s recent belligerence gives this piece topicality.

David uses the limit on words to add drama, his simple sentences increasing the tension. He leaves it to his reader to fill in the gaps and understand the significance of what he is saying: he respects his reader. The piece is also loaded with irony, illustrated by the timeline, and David has found and included humour too, a bonus: five lavatories, four for men, one for women, the absurd allocation meaning that a visit to the loo in the underground bunker would result in long queues, but only for the women. ‘Twas ever thus, even in the face of nuclear catastrophe.”

To be published in View Magazine.

2nd Prize: Rebecca Lyon, Odiham Castle

“This made me smile, and remember.

The first sentence of this piece is prosaic, perhaps just another touristy blurb, almost enough to make me stop reading. If I were subbing it for publication, all mention of the road number and directions would go. The first sentence must be an invitation.

But from then on, through Rebecca’s adult eyes and the artless observations of the four-year-old child, the reader is reminded of how the places we visit in our youth become almost sacred in our memory as we grow older. We know that because of this visit, the little girl will love Odiham Castle throughout her life and cherish the memory of being there with her mother.

Rebecca, with the help of a child, has crammed a great deal into her 300 words, and it is a charming conversation. It’s a skill to know which pieces of a conversation to include. No matter how simple and artless they may seem, they can still speak volumes.”

Driving southwards along the B3349 into the village of North Warnborough there’s a little turning on the left, unmarked except a dead end sign. Take this turn, if you can spot it, and follow the winding track to the little parking area. From here you walk through marshy fields where ponies graze and gorgeous purple marsh orchids sometimes appear. Cross the River Whitewater through two clear fords (fun in wellies) and you pass a house with high walls and towering gates. It has a CCTV camera and shiny intercom.

‘Is this Odiham castle mummy?’ my four year old daughter asks.

I think she’s a little disappointed when I tell her that we have a little way to go yet. Take the footpath through a dandelion strewn field and you’ll come to the green-glassy Basingstoke Canal. Behind a clump of high trees and brambles is the magnificent octagonal keep of Odiham castle.

‘But it’s all broken down mummy!’ says my daughter.

I tell her that although it’s a ruin now (‘who ruined it mummy?’), it was once an important castle where royalty, knights and ladies lived. Built by King John at the beginning of the thirteenth century it’s been a fortress, a home and a hunting lodge.

‘It’s not pretty like Sleeping Beauty’s castle’ says my Disney-loving girl.

‘Maybe not, but in the olden days those pointy flints were covered with smooth stone. There would have been lovely paintings and tapestries on the walls and pretty gardens too.’

I decide not to tell her that it was also used as a prison, albeit a genteel one. We feed the nearby ducks until it’s time to go.

‘Can we come again mummy?’

‘Of course’ I answer. It’s a bit hard to find, but I’m sure it’ll be here for many years yet.

 

Highly Commended: Sally Russell, A Secret Place in Wessex

“I’m insatiably curious and constantly looking for information but I had never heard this story about Fanny Adams, so thank you Sally for adding to my knowledge. This is a disturbing true story. I have now looked it up, of course, and the detail of the little girl’s injuries, omitted by Sally from her piece, is sickening. Did she make the decision to draw the line at including this detail because of its terrible nature or because of constraints on the number of words? Deciding what to leave out and what to leave in makes a real difference in a short piece.

Sally’s choice of story has two hooks, the first being the extraordinary explanation of a much-used, well-known phrase, the second the fact that this was the last hanging in Winchester. This gives her piece news value and would help to make it attractive to editors.”

Highly Commended: Louise Taylor, Winnall Moors

“Louise’s description of Winnall Moors and her children’s changing perception and enjoyment of the place as they grow, is a happy piece. She takes me right there with her voles with ‘grassy moustaches’, and her children ‘stacked like pancakes’. Apart from sharing Louise’s pleasure of the reserve, the message I take from her piece is that protected areas such as Winnall Moors are invaluable not just to the creatures that call them home, but to all of us, at all ages, for a variety of reasons.”

 

The prizes were signed copies of “The Snowden Files” by Luke Harding, and a Certificate of Adjudication from Heidi King. The winning entry will also be featured in View Magazine.

The competition secretary, Jim Livesey, thanked everyone who had entered the competition, and said that Heidi King had said that all of the entries had been pleasurable to read.

December Competition Winners 2014

The Competition for December was to “Write the first three pages of an opening scene in the style of Shakespeare”. A big welcome was given to Dr Mick Jardine, Head of English, Creative Writing and American Studies at the University of Winchester who very kindly agreed to be the adjudicator.

Mick is no stranger to the Hampshire Writers’ Society. In November 2013, he was the Special Guest when Ross Barber presented her talk “Why is Shakespeare’s Authorship doubted. And does it matter” Therefore, It was fitting that Mick was with us again last night when the main speakers, Professor Stanley Wells and The Rev Dr Paul Edmondson presented “Shakespeare beyond doubt”, a counter to Ross Barber’s argument.

The prize for the winners of December’s competition was a signed copy of “Shakespeare beyond doubt”. And to celebrate the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, the winning entry was enacted by the Titchfield Festival Theatre Group.

DEC 14 Winners_1661

Mick’s Adjudication:

1st Prize: Joan Robinson-Harris, Seeking Love Late

“This prose drama, set in an apothecary’s shop, effectively captured the style of Shakespeare; character, plot and setting are economically established, the language has energy and verve and the play has a strong sense of both the theatrical and the dramatic. It invites the audience in and whets the appetite for what is to come.”

Dramatis Personae

Lord Burgoigne Pawley, general to the King.

Sir Cecil Seamin, his lieutenant

Eleanora, the Countess of Rotherford

Apothecarie

SCENE- Partly in England and partly in Italy.

Act I

Scene I : An apothecarie’s shop. Enter the Countess veiled.

Countess: This is the shop, matching in every detail Lady Oakhampton’s description. If this apothecarie has a potion I seek, all will be well.

Enter Apothecarie

Apothecarie: Greetings, good madam! What ointment or tincture may this humble apothecarie provide thee?

Countess: My mistress bid me seek a potion recommended to her by my mistresses cousin’s friend, that was effective for my mistresses cousin’s friend’s husband.

Apothecarie: (aside ) Methinks this maid hath too many mistresses, and is no maid at all, but the lady herself. (to the countess)Pray tell me, in what way was this potion efficacious for your mistresses cousin’s friend’s husband?

Countess: (aside) This man is like a needle, he pierces the tapestry and makes his stitch clear. (to Apothecarie) It was a delicate matter, a matrimonial matter, a husband and wife matter.

Apothecarie: Pray, mistress, how does this man make his way in the world, that way I might understand how he presents himself?

Countess: In plain speech, he is a soldier.

Apothecarie: Forsooth, experience teaches me such men are people of direct action, whose sword rusts not in its scabbard?

Countess: Your wit, good sir, does credit to the world that tutors your knowing. A straight forward approach is a courageous path, much lauded on the field of battle, however, domestic life, nay bliss, needs something of the imagination of the poet.

Apothecarie: Ah, I comprehend you quite. The unlocking of the fantasies of the mind requires a potent brew. (Bringing forth a tincture) This tincture, composed chiefly of mushrooms and other wild and delicate roots gathered and assembled by my own hand, must be taken one hour before commencement, the party must forgo all alcohol for twelve hours, else the effects will be too strong, the speech becoming rambling and the movements madlike. Therefore, administer with all good care.

Countess: (Paying) Good apothecarie, I thank you for your pains

(Aside) With careful risk, much happiness may be gained. (Exit)

SCENE II. The same

Enter Lord Pawley and Sir Cecil

Cecil: Good my Lord, here is the very apothecarie’s shop Lord Oakhampton bid us seek out.

Pawley: Cecil, you have been my loyal lieutenant these two decades past, I am glad of your presence now. These matters of the heart are beyond my compass. I’d rather face the raving Berserker hordes than make sweet moves to Countess Eleanora, as every lover does, even though she be my heart’s desire, and our marriage set for two days hence.

Cecil: Courage, my Lord. This apothecarie will have some liquid remedy that will ease your path to wedded communion.

Pawley: Pray god you are right. Lead on.

(Entering in military fashion)

Cecil: Good morrow, Apothecarie. As quartermaster to our needs, we require something of your skills.

Apothecarie: My skills and knowledge are at your Lordships’ service. (Aside) Forsooth, this be the very soldier the maid spoke of, his military bearing distinguishes him as such. (To Pawley and Cecil) What ointment, pill, potion or tincture, may it please your Lordships to command?

Cecil: The general here must confide in you his manly difficulty, which is no difficulty at all but the merest trifle, only this merest trifle weighs somewhat on the generals mind and mars the prospect of his forthcoming nuptials.

Apothecarie: My Lord general, are you able to say, man to man, in strictest confidence, what this trifle is that so disturbs your future satisfaction?

Pawley: I perceive you have much of the intelligencer about you, you hear the words and understand the story that is not stated.

Apothecarie: The general flatters my humble learning.

Pawley: I however am a man of plain speech, and I give you good notice that should you speak one word of our conversation to any living soul, that very moment will mark the end of your apothecarie-ing days. Do you take such orders.

Apothecarie: Your words have a Trapist of me in this business.

Pawley: Then herein lies the problem. I am to marry these two days a lady. Though she be an acknowledged beauty and a lady of great virtue, I cannot fill that husbands part which is to be a lover to his lady. From a youth I was always in barracks and on battlefields and have always conducted myself as a soldier, which fits well for government and the world of men. With the soldiering life one must needs associate with characters of low morals, and women of low morals also. So to be brief, having spent all my time with prostitutes and bawds, I do not know how to make love to a virtuous lady, I would therefore, have you give me some subtle potion to administer to my good lady that, within the secret confines of our bedroom, renders her more loose, and less virtuous, for our mutual enjoyment.

Apothecarie: Your Lordship makes all clear. I have a potion here that must be administered one half hour before use in water, it has the effect of making the person most affectionate in every way. Take care however to always keep the lady in your sight, for should she see another man, she will be affectionate to him, whether he be stranger or no, for one hour.

Cecil: Thanks good apothecarie, I salute you.

Pawley: The battle of the bedchamber must be fought with this

Ere my lady and I are brought to wedded bliss.

 

2nd Prize: David Lea, First Do No Harm

“This scene is Shakespearean in its powerful sense of drama, exploiting to the full the inherent tension of the courtroom setting and fashioning some memorable lines of blank verse. The play suggests a modern Faustus dilemma and taps into a topic of urgent contemporary significance, what to do with aged bed-blockers (otherwise known as parents and friends).”

A Tragedy

CHARACTERS:

  • CHORUS 1 Female Very elderly, masked.
  • CHORUS 2 Male Very elderly, masked.
  • DR WISE In his fifties.
  • COUNSEL FOR THE (PROS) Middle-aged. Could be
  • PROSECUTION male or female.

Photographs of Dr Wise’s thirteen ‘victims’ are projected onto a back-cloth with their printed obituaries. Nine are already there. As the CHORUS figures read the last four obits, the images of the dead join the others. (Alternatively, given the resources of the R.S.C, thirteen masked old people appear out of the gloom from deep Upstage: the thirteen chorus members are Dr Wise’s ‘victims’.) Dr WISE is Centre Stage, confined and lit by a single spot. The Counsel for the Prosecution (PROS) is able to move about the stage at will. The dialogue is written in blank verse.

CHORUS 1: Rachel Vivienne Colebrook

Died aged 73 years. After a long battle with cancer, she left us peacefully at the end.

A wonderful wife, mother and friend

Donations to Cancer Research

DR WISE: Diamorphine.

CHORUS 2: Victor Charles Stanley Forester

Passed peacefully to his rest aged 89 years

Beloved husband of Margaret and a loving grandfather. Thanks to Winnie and staff at Oakwood and to Dr Wise

DR WISE: Insulin

CHORUS 1: Monica Hilda Easterby

At Oakwood Nursing Home after a short illness aged 78

Mum and Dad are together again at last

Always in our memories – Keith, Sheila, Theo and Jade

DR WISE: Nembutal

CHORUS 2: Eric Leslie Thorogood, “Les”

Will be much missed by family and friends, particularly those in the golfing and racing fraternity.

Donations to Battersea Dogs’ Home

DR WISE: Nembutal

PROS: Dr Wise, your memory is most precise:

The victim and the means of death, the place

The time and the device by which you hid

Your crimes from prying eyes are carried still

In mind so subtle and so cunning that

Thirteen lives have ended at your hand.

But why recall in such particularity

The endgame of the souls you part

From bodies at your will, if not to hold

Them still for later satisfaction and delight,

To examine them at leisure and to take

A future pleasure in the snuffing of the light?

DR WISE: I remember them and what I did because

It is no small thing to be an agent

In another’s death. I do not take it

Lightly now; nor did I then. They live in me

And me in them.

PROS: You speak as though a priest in holy orders:

As though their passing were a sacrament.

And yet we know that you believe in nothing:

In nothing that we recognize as God,

In nothing more than your own earthly power

To wield the tools of Chemistry and Science;

And exercise dominion for yourself.

You are a murderer.

“Thou shalt not kill,”

The bible says: the law of God on which

Our human law now stands.

DR WISE: I had it in my hands

To ease another’s pain when I could see

The ways and means of medicine had so outstripped

Our moral sensibility as to allow

Indignity, and suffering and pain.

Science strives officiously to keep alive

Those who have by far outlived their natural span

And whose life is then a burden to themselves,

To those who love them and to those they love.

PROS: And by what right are you to choose the manner

And the time at which these “burdens” shuffle off

Their mortal coils. You plead “Not Guilty”

To the charge of murder as ‘tis defined:

But you have killed “with malice aforethought,

When in sound mind and good discretion”

Fellow creatures that had not themselves the means

To choose the way that they were heaven-sent.

DR WISE: I have had time to study my predicament

And how it stands in law while waiting for my trial

And shall conduct my own defence. I do admit

That I have killed unlawfully, but still refute

The charge of murder. My “learned friend” will know

Full well the quote to which he now alludes:

“When a person of good memory and discretion

Unlawfully kills any reasonable

Creature with malice aforethought that is murder”: *

Of those that perished by my hand, but three

Could be described as “reasonable”:

They had, long since been stranded and in

Need of constant care to stay alive at all,

Their reason long since lost beyond recall.

PROS: And who appointed you the arbiter

Of life and death, omniscient, divine?

DR WISE: The judgements and the actions were both mine,

Made from compassion, not from malice.

I knew my actions were against the law

I also knew the law was wrong.

I knew that I could face arrest and trial,

As I do now; the vilifying press; the bile

Of common gossip on family and friends,

My reputation’s ruin and a life in jail.

PROS: (To the audience)

And be assured that we shall ask for “life”

And ask for it to mean exactly what it says.

Dr Wise, at least, does have a life.

His patients now have none: no pulse, no breath,

No choice about the manner of their death.

* William Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England set out the common law definition of murder, which by this definition occurs when a person, of sound memory and discretion, unlawfully kills any reasonable creature in being and under the king’s peace, with malice aforethought, either express or implied.

The rest of the play moves between scenes of the trial and flashbacks, which illustrate the circumstances of some of the deaths. The final death that results in the arrest of Dr Wise is explored in scenes that establish a parallel time-line with those of the trial. The masked chorus figures comment on the action when in mask, but also play other parts in other scenes, unmasked.

The scenes in court are always written in blank verse, as are the lines of the chorus. Flashbacks are written in prose.

 

Highly Commended: Anne Eckersley, Apologies to Henry and Others

“Written with comic zest, this culinary tour de force is highly entertaining and transports something of the Elizabethan kitchen into the world of Nigella Lawson; an all-round Christmas treat!”

 

The prizes were signed copies of “Shakespeare Beyond Doubt”, together with a signed Certificate of Adjudication from Dr Mick Jardine.

The competition secretary thanked everyone who had entered the competition, and invited members to enter next month’s competition, which is to write 300 words for a Magazine Article, entitled “A Secret place in Wessex”. Heidi King, editor of View magazine, will be the adjudicator. The winning entry may be featured in the magazine.

November Competition Winners 2014

The Competition for November was to “Write the first page of a historical novel” in 300 words with the entries adjudicated by Becky Bagnell. I’d like to send a very big thank you to Becky, who very kindly stepped in at the last minute as the original adjudicator, Laura Longrigg, was unable to attend.

Becky has worked in publishing for more than 20 years. Before setting up the Lindsay Literary Agency she worked as a commissioning editor at Macmillan where she was fortunate to work alongside a wide range of authors such as BBC journalist John Simpson and adventurer Bear Grylls.

The Lindsay Literary Agency was founded in 2008 and represents an eclectic list of authors whose award-winning books have been translated into multiple languages around the world including Chinese.

Unfortunately Becky was unable to be with us last night, but she was able to e-mail her adjudications for the competitions.

Becky said that the criteria she used to assess the entries was as follows:

“When assessing the first page of a historical novel the criteria I use is relatively simple. Whilst reading through I ask myself the following questions, is a world opening up for me, is it intriguing, is it original and does it feel authentic. If the answer to all of these is yes I then ask, would I like to keep reading.”

Becky’s Adjudication:

1st Prize: Louise Morrish, Masquerade

“This is a strong opening, I loved the Elizabethan setting and it definitely piqued my interest making me keen to read on. The maid’s voice felt original and intriguing and the historical details were intricate and revealing.”

Tis oft said of my Queen she is more than a man, and something less than a woman.

I think on these words this October day, as I dress her in an embroidered chemise of fine Raynes linen, and silk stockings with silver thread that encase her long legs like a second skin. She permits me to conceal her hairless head beneath a cap of gold, and when the sun’s rays reach the chamber window, I paint her cheeks and throat with soft white lead, erasing the rough shadows.

Hiding the truth.

I daub a spot of rouge upon her thin lips, gently smearing the soft crimson, crafting the illusion of tempting plumpness. My Queen’s false hair, golden red, emits the foul odor of a corpse as I place it on her capp’d head, my fingers deft amidst the pearls and jewels that nestle within its curls.

I stand back as she rises. She is taller than me by some, her bearing regal, but I do not cast down my eyes, as the Court demands. I assist her with her privie coat of bones and buckram, lacing it tightly at her back. The whalebone farthingale juts from her narrow hips, the wheel of bone tied close about her slender waist. Over this I drape not one, but three linen petticoats, affording my Queen the necessary fullness of figure she so lacks. Next I fetch her jewel-embroidered gown, so heavy my breath labours to lift it.

Last, I fix the ruff, stiff and white as purity, tight about her neck.

My Queen wears her disguise wondrous well, I do declare, and she is ready now to face the world once more.

Yet I cannot help but wonder how much longer she can persist with this deceit, before the truth will out.

2nd Prize: Jacky Hutchins, In Honourable Company

“This is an intriguing beginning to a novel, it immediately captured my interest, it is well-written and has a strong sense of place. Hearing the description of the running water made me feel thirsty which seems a good sign!”

The sun had gone down but the day had lost none of its heat, and in the stalks of millet grass a man lay quite still. As moonlight touched his face he groaned, and opened his eyes, aware of a raging thirst – and of being tormented by every insect in Christendom. His feeble attempt to disperse the hovering cloud ended in a gasp.

He clutched at his chest, confused, staring at the sword in his hand.

How had he managed to keep hold – ? He half-remembered crawling into some shade; now it was night; he must have lain insensible some while.

He should use the darkness – and yet he had no idea where he was or where he might go, only that he must distance himself from the fort.

He lay a moment, then forced himself up. Hand to his ribs he stumbled away on leaden feet, before blundering at last up against a wall. His mind must be wandering, he thought, wiping his mouth with one filthy hand. There was the delicious sound of water, a gentle splash that was both torture and delight, and so close it seemed to come from the other side of the wall. Was he dreaming? Forcing up his head, he regarded the obstacle. It was too high. He could never manage it. In despair, he cursed the night bird mocking him as it fluttered from a nearby tree whose branches drooped against the wall. Both sides of the wall?

Summoning every last reserve, he crawled towards the twisted trunk. Forced himself to climb out along the first bough – And looked into a garden so fresh and sweet it seemed like Paradise.

The world suddenly whirled, and he tumbled from the branch, unconscious before he hit the path.

3rd Prize: Elizabeth Wald, The Long Ships

“Erik felt like an original protagonist, the raiding party was well imagined and the attention to detail on the ship was excellent.”

They came out of the morning mist, sliding silently over the glassy water. Ten carved prows open-mouthed in the silver dawn, ten sails shimmering on the masts, ten sets of oars skimming over the waves. Ten harbingers of death for their unsuspecting foes.

Erik stood tall on the prow of his boat at the front of the raiding party. He rocked forwards and backwards as the oars dipped in unison behind him, willing Sea Dragon to be the first to touch the shore. There would be an extra large celebration tonight and a pick of the prizes if they beat the other boats.

It had been a bright winter day when his father chose him as her master. The boats had been beached for cleaning and repair and they had gone to the beach to watch the men scraping the thick green slime from Sea Dragon’s hull and sawing the new wood. He could still remember the stink of the evil-smelling slime mingled with the fragrant resin on the freshly cut planks.

‘This will be your ship next summer,’ his father had said, laughing at his astonishment. ‘It’s time that you were master of your own ship. She will serve you well, if you let her.’

His father was right. She was not a new ship, but Erik was still proud of her. The weathered timbers were sound, the keel was strong and her graceful belly still sliced through the water faster than any other ship he knew.

Sea Dragon shuddered as she gently nudged the shore and slid into the gravel with a barely perceptible crunch. Erik waved his men forward as he leapt into the icy cold water and they spilled into the foam after him. Then master and men faded into the mist like grey ghosts.

Nov 14 Jacky Hutchins, Louise Morrish, Liz Wald_1645

Highly Commended: Gill Hollands, The Knight of the Moon

Highly Commended: Lin Knott, The Wolf at the Door

 

The prizes were signed copies of Judith Allnatt’s books, together with a Certificate of Adjudication from Becky Bagnell.

There were twenty entries for November with many entries from new members and guests. So once again a very big thank you to Becky for doing such a wonderful job of adjudication.

October Competition Winners 2014

The Competition for October was to “Write the last page of a thriller” in 300 words in 1st person with the entries adjudicated by Paul Bavister.

Paul is a poet who teaches creative writing for Oxford University and at Birkbeck College, London. His publications include: Miletree, Glass and The Prawn Season and his poetry has recently appeared in South, Shadowtrain and The Rialto.

Unfortunately Paul was unable to be with us last night, but thanks to modern technology he was able to e-mail his adjudications for me to present on his behalf.

In reviewing the entries Paul said that he looked for an original, distinctive voice. The piece needed to be expertly structured, make the most of the form and respond dynamically to the genre.

Paul’s Adjudication:

1st Prize: Emma Rose Hollands, Aftermath

‘“Aftermath” works extremely well, creating a potent scene with concise images while allowing the character to take centre stage. It is a powerful ending, drawing on the past but never allowing analysis to slow the pace. The mobile phone is used effectively to reach out beyond the scene, leading to excellent dialogue.’

Minutes passed. Maybe half an hour. I lingered outside the cemetery gates and stared at the way I had come.

The stone path was muddied with the weight of my footsteps. Silence all around me. The ominous silhouette of the church loomed in the distance, unchanged. I don’t even remember walking away from it. All I recall is sensing a numbness flowing inside me, bleaching my mind. No guilt. No shame. Just the company of the wind caressing my recently shredded trench coat and bloodied hands.

I had done what I had to do. So, why did I feel nothing?

Gradually, I dragged my gaze away from the path and up to the heavens. Overcast, strips of early morning light poking through the clouds. The rain had stopped falling. Somehow the world seemed bleaker in its ignorant regularity. Had it always been this way? From my pocket I took out my phone, the blood rubbing onto the silver casing. My eyes were fixed upwards. I couldn’t look away from those strips of light.

My fingers knew the rhythm. I had no control. 0-7-7-8-9-6-7-5-4-3-2-5. Ring. Ring. Somehow, I felt the chill of my phone resting against my ear. I don’t remember moving it from my side.

Click. Heavy breathing, accompanied by the sound of splashing puddles, filtered through the speaker. “Larry!” cried Jacob, “Larry, thank God. Where are you? Me and the boys are looking for you.”

“I know.”

The splashing on the other end stopped. Breath in, breath out. He was waiting for me. A lump formed in my throat, choking my words. A renewed speck of rain fell from the sky. A better world, I thought. I’ve made a better world. I closed my eyes, took a final breath.

“It’s over, Jacob,” I whispered. “It’s finally over.”

Emma Rose Hollands & Louise Morrish
Emma Rose Hollands & Louise Morrish

2nd Prize: Deanna Scutt, Casting Off

Deanna Scutt
Deanna Scutt

‘The physical and emotional journey away from the island is captured very well in “Casting Off”. The narrator’s thoughts and emotions scream through the mists of a serene scene. The island takes on a life of its own and becomes an extremely effective image to end the piece.’

There is mist on the lake as the boat chugs away from the jetty, and Cassidy huddles back from the spray, wrapped up in a blanket and shock. She has said nothing since we left the cabin, and my own silence remains unbroken. I stay focused on the oil-dark ripples that undulate before us. My hands are locked around the tiller; I have to stop myself before I draw blood from my palms.

A handful of swans make a slow parade past us, and are swallowed by the rolling grey expanse that is spreading across the water.

It is dawn, somehow, but I remain in the darkness. I can still hear footsteps running through the trees, and Amelia’s blood is so obvious on my shirt that I can almost feel her heartbeat, still singing in her chest. The breeze is her voice, chasing me for the last time, and I turn my face towards it, almost smelling the melancholy lilies of her perfume.

Cassidy doesn’t look at me, and I don’t acknowledge her.

There’ll be an inquest when we get to the mainland, so we’ll have to corroborate our story, make the twisted pieces fit, but for now we remain divided. Surviving seems to have pressed us so close together that we are pushing each other away, desperate to be alone, or one of the corpses, still strewn on the island like castaway dolls.

I can’t stop myself. My neck strains, looking back, but our misery is a silhouette, looming above the wet smoke that stretches towards us. I watch the trees’ black shapes fade into silver and ash.

The island and the past are engulfed, both swallowed by the white mist that has descended to clean the world. Even as I try to hold the image, it ghosts away.

3rd Prize: Louise Morrish, A Grain of Truth

‘This successful piece of writing portrays the absolute hopelessness of the main character. The questions asked show a trapped mind reaching out for a way to escape, making the final image particularly striking – dark and engaging piece of writing.’

We are but grains of sand in the vastness of the Universe.

My father’s voice comes to me from nowhere, as I sit and stare at the peeling, diseased walls. The air is stagnant, a fetid stench coming from the filthy bucket in the corner. Beyond the locked and barred door, I can hear muted shouts and thumps and the clash of keys.

I’m on my own now, a single grain of inconsequence in this corrupt country, trapped forever in the shifting sands of its judicial system.

One tiny clue, one miniscule speck of evidence, that’s all it took to bring down everything. The knowledge that I failed makes my bones ache, my head throb. To know that I will end my days here, far from home, in this godforsaken place, makes me long for my gun.

If my father was here with me, then I might just survive this. He was not above bribery or, failing that, brute force. But what’s the point in wishing for the impossible? He is gone, and my last chance with him. All that’s left is the prospect of oblivion.

I close my eyes and picture Dad’s laboratory, the microscopes and petri dishes, his pristine white coat hanging from a hook behind the door. What will happen to all his equipment and specimens now, who will take them away? The police? The government? Will they use or destroy what they find? My stomach gives a sickening lurch, as I realise I will never know.

A faint buzzing sound is coming from somewhere above me, near the one small, high window in this cell. I crane my neck, and see a tiny, frantic bee. Again and again, it collides with the dirty, opaque glass, desperately trying to find a way out.

Give up, I whisper.

 

Highly Commended: Lin Knott, Finale

‘“Finale” is a powerful piece that captures the bitterness and questioning mind of the narrator. Their anger and confusion is portrayed particularly well.’

Highly Commended: Elizabeth Wald, Seeing Red

‘“Seeing Red” is a well-structured ending that effectively outlines the emotional sweep of the character’s situation. The hopeful final lines make a successful contrast to what has gone before.’

 

The prizes were signed copies of Andy McDermott’s books, together with a signed Certificate of Adjudication from Paul Bavister.

We would like to give our thanks to Paul for doing such a splendid job of adjudication, especially as there were sixteen entries this time.