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2014 Children’s Short Story Competition (12-16 years)

Childrens Short Story Competition

We were thrilled and honoured that Somerset based Beth, author of the teen books Star Dancer Quartet and numerous other children’s books agreed to be our judge.

http://www.bethwebb.co.uk/books/teen-adult-books

We had a great response again this year and there were some really first class entries, all written from different angles, with clever endings and great ideas.  Generally the detail was good and it was interesting to see that, as with the younger age entries, how the authors had the ability to maintain tenses/narrative.  We thank everyone who entered and are sorry if your story wasn’t shortlisted but that doesn’t mean that you scored badly. The marks were just extremely close, sometimes with only one point between them.

The winning stories are attached below, together with Beth’s critiques. She wrote to say “I’ve now completed judging the writing competition, what a terrific set of stories! Superb quality! Thank you so much for involving me in the Curry Mallet competition this year, it has been a joy.”

FIRST PLACE

The Night He Slept” by Phoebe Wall of Dursley, Gloucestershire

Critique

Congratulations on winning the Curry Mallet writing competition.

Your story quite simply took my breath away. I knew it was the winner as soon as I read it. It is mature, moving, thoughtful, extremely well composed, and raises difficult questions which need to be asked.

Well done! (I am applauding loudly).

One thought – how would the story come across if it were a monologue – the wife talking to her husband directly, rather than about him? Just a thought, but it might be worth trying.

PLEASE keep on writing.

PS, you might enjoy my writing courses at Kilve Court: http://www.kilvecourt.co.uk/enrichment/

SECOND PLACE

The Wooden Soldier” by Megan Erwin of Ballyclare High School

Critique

Congratulations, this is a stunning piece of work. It is communicative, mature, thought provoking, moving and meaningful.

I loved the extended metaphor of the wooden soldier. It was such a simple idea, yet it worked on so many levels: the toy and the child’s ‘Life journeys’, the wounds that can and can’t be healed. This is very, very good.

My only concern was I had to re-read the piece several times to work out who I was ‘observing’ at any given moment. You did try different typefaces, which helped, but it might be worth experimenting with the character’s direct voices: so rather speaking about the father, the son and the wooden soldier, maybe it could be their actual thoughts (even the wooden toy’s thoughts!)

That way we’d be getting ‘inside’ each head, and it might simplify things for the reader so we can ‘hear’ what’s going on a bit more clearly. You can still use different typefaces, but you might not need to. It might be worth experimenting with.

I suspect you may be a poet as well as a prose writer? If not, give it a go; I think it’ll be worth it. Read T.S. Elliot if you don’t already. I have a feeling that the First World War poets would be proud of you.

PS, you might enjoy my writing courses at Kilve Court:

http://www.kilvecourt.co.uk/enrichment/

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Picturing-Rosie” by Iona Bradbury of Colchester Essex

Critique

Congratulations, I very much enjoyed reading your story. I am very impressed by the way you poured so much history and humanity into a nutshell. You kept the facts and emotions together very skillfully, the scene in the train is particularly moving.

Just a thought, I have a feeling you may be good at writing radio plays: http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/

Have a go, why not?

You could try converting this story for radio, but make sure, at the end, the main character actually does “picture” Rosie, by tracing her face with his hands. I think maybe he needs to hold her and bury his nose in her soft curly hair?

Think about how blind people extend their other senses.

Whatever genre you choose, I do hope you keep writing.

PS, you might enjoy my writing courses at Kilve Court:

http://www.kilvecourt.co.uk/enrichment/

2013 Short Story Winners – Children’s 12-16

1ST Prize – SOPHIE MORGAN aged 14 of Vives, France.

Angie Sage commented “So many good things about this story – the quality of the writing, the confidence in the use of words and the wonderful, redolent atmosphere.  The characters are drawn quickly, with a light touch, but we know at once who they are.  It is a beautiful story, and it felt like a gateway into another world.  Keep writing – please!

END MY LIFE AMONG THEM

I think our garden shed is a time machine.  I went out to call Janny in for dinner and there she was leaning against the aged green paintwork and puffing desperately on a cigarette like she’d just seen a ghost.  I asked her what the matter was and she laughed, “Silly old me” she said after a moment.  “Came over all queer.  D’you know, just a second ago I was convinced I’d had a talk about the roses with old master Denjer.”

Edmund Denjer was my grandfather.  He favoured the hybrid tea varieties and died seven years ago.

You’re probably thinking I’m a fanciful child, and you wouldn’t be wrong exactly.  But it’s not like I’m being illogical.  I took Janny inside and we had tea and jam to settle her before I asked anything more – the whole thing’s served to have cheered her up a bit actually, she’d been down in the mouth before this.

“Didn’t mind it actually.  Like being in a dream – ‘cos I was, I suppose.  The sun came through the window like morning and the leaves made the light green like they used to and Eddie Denjer – yes, he was Eddie once – said to ask Farmer for bull manure.  Said I’d bring him a cuppa tea and all!”

Not a ghost then.  Time machine is the only logical explanation.

There have been no roses in the little green shed for years now.  Just bits of dusty orange pots, cracked by frost and warmed by sun.  Little earthen things and rusting tools all covered in cobwebs.  Their inhabitants lurk in the shadows.  I don’t go into that shed anymore.  Not since the roses were cut and dried.  Not since the spiders came.

I worked up the courage the next afternoon.  Janny wouldn’t come; she said it was a waste of time with her having laundry to do, so I took the wheel barrow with me in the pretence of lugging some of the junk out in it.  (I was supposed to do that years ago, but I cried when Mother asked me and felt it was a sacrilege.)

The door felt warm and real against hesitant fingers.

_

It’s warm, inside.  Like the day is young but the sun is hot, and the roses are everywhere.  When I look out of the window I see the garden is yellow and purple and green and bright.  The roses seem to be swaying on their slender stems like sunflowers following their namesake.  They are every colour and more besides.

“Herr Hitler can’t take our flowers now, can he?” asks grandfather, as I hand him his cup of tea.  I think of my mother’s terse smiles and shake my head no.

At the bottom of our garden, there is a mass of splinters that once were green.  Flowers grew there once but most of them died.  The ones that survived the blast are pressed between the pages of my grandfather’s journal.  The rain had washed them of the blood.

FIN

Author’s Note The title comes from Wilkie Collins’ “The Moonstone”….when I have a moment’s fondness to bestow, most times….the roses get it.  I began my life among them in my father’s nursery garden, and I shall end my life among them, if I can.

 

 

2ND Prize – KIRSTY MILLAR aged 15 from Ballyclare High School with her story entitled Slash.

Angie Sage commented “A really interesting take on this.  Very atmospheric and haunting.  I loved the way the story is told from the point of view of the tree.  There is a very nice sense of rhythm and good repetition.  Very skilful and assured.  The language is also very lyrical.  A writing tip: sometimes less is more.  Compare your first paragraph: Ghosts don’t sing in tune, but somehow their hauntingly disjointed wailings rend my fragile heart more so than any teen-pop-sensation every could.  with an edit: Ghost’s don’t sing in tune, but their wailings rend my fragile heart.  Less words, more oomph.  Great potential.  Keep writing.”

SLASH 

Ghosts don’t sing in tune, but somehow their hauntingly disjointed wailings rend my fragile heart more so than any teen-pop-sensation ever could.

I have lived in the grove all my life.  Being rooted in place for 75 years gives you a lot of time for worries and regrets.  Not only about bitterly cold winters or vulnerable saplings but mostly the people whose cries I have ignored.

Axe Murderer Grove is a less than enamouring place to find yourself at night when your car, like so many others before it, grinds to a halt, miles from all civilization……Except for a 3-storey farmhouse, that’s a little too old and shaky to instil confidence.  The first rustle of a bush will have you racing past me towards that house.

You will never make it.

A cluster of trees lie in the middle of the most direct route.  Here I stand; here he stands.  You don’t notice me.  You don’t notice him.  Your eyes are fixed on the farmhouse you’ll never enter.

You don’t see it coming or have time to wonder just why you drove through a place called “Axe Murderer Grove”.  I wish I could say you have no time to scream, but blunt, rusty, blood-spattered axes have a way of failing to kill on the first blow, so actually, there’s plenty of time to scream  Maybe even enough to realise he’s the man from the petrol station, the peculiar one with a limp, beer-smelling, who said “see you later.”

We trees try our best not to acknowledge the murders, it’s not a matter of our concern…but how can it not be?

Their screams haunt me

There Ghosts haunt me

My own conscience haunts me

My youngest sapling is beginning to echo my thoughts.  He asks me daily why I don’t do SOMETHING to stop this brutality.  I can see his disappointment in me growing; but still, I am weak.

Then she appeared.  A beautiful dream, tall and graceful as a swan, with perfectly quaffed curls; still her beauty was not enough to prompt me to save her.  She was destined to meet a gruesome end….until I saw her son, pale, scrawny, utterly distressed; he was the image of my own anxious sapling, the sapling to whom I would soon prove my worth.

I flailed my branches wildly, thrashing them to and fro violently like a wild animal breaking free of a poacher’s bondage.  They gawped momentarily before understanding my message, and then fled petrified.

He was furious.  He couldn’t chase them, not on his bad leg; the leg he’d injured a lifetime ago in the fatal car crash that robbed him of his entire family and turned him to alcohol.

My guilt was over and I was set free.

As he came at me with the curved axe blade I let peace envelope me eclipsing past sins as the undergrowth cloaks forest floor veiling the grove’s dark past, and I

toppled upon my attacker, killing him instantly.

 

HIGHLY COMMENDED (3RD PRIZE) – ELLEN MCCOMBE aged 14 from Ballyclare.

 

Angie Sage said “Well written with lovely thoughtful and detailed descriptions of the young woman.  A glimpse of something strange very well conveyed.”

THE STRANGERS

‘Ghosts don’t sing in tune.’ She said.

He sighed, and glanced uneasily at her again. They took the same train every night. She always sat in the same place, opposite him.

Being a man of some importance and perhaps more significantly of some greed, to John, she was an annoyance.

She lacked the characteristics of someone with a poor background; indeed, the way she held herself and her pronunciation suggested the opposite. Yet here she was.

A failure, thought John disgustedly.

She was skittish, anxious; her pale blue eyes wide and bloodshot. Deep purple circles beneath revealed her lack of sleep, insomnia maybe. Her dilated pupils and light sheen of sweat made him think that her lifestyle was not entirely wholesome.

He had disregarded her because of her appearance. Her dark, greasy, shoulder length hair, her sickly pale skin, her mismatched clothing. A skirt with bells on the hem, her army boots, the brown leather jacket.

A tattoo of a snake drifted down her forearm and stopped at her index finger. A finger that was tap-tap-tapping on the emergency button.

He judged her ruthlessly.

But tonight her words unsettled him. Her voice had a strange quality that reminded him of broken glass, and her watery eyes fixed on him.

‘Ghosts don’t sing in tune.’ She repeated.

He brushed a smudge of dirt off his sleeve.

‘I wouldn’t know.’ He replied.

She broke her gaze to scrabble, feverishly, at the pocket of her jacket. She produced a white circular pill, and swallowed it.

Then she sat in silence, her eyes flickering, left to right, up then down, back to him.

He focused on the train’s interior. The posters, advertising films no longer showing in the cinema, and Alcoholics’ anonymous. The seats on either side. The various different shades of grey used in the walls and roof. The chewing gum on the floor.

‘They’re everywhere.’ She whimpered.

She rubbed her hand on her left elbow as though she wanted to rasp down to the bone, and rocked back and forth. She looked as though she might cry.

He rubbed the seat fabric. Greenish blue. It was covered in purple squares turned forty-five degrees, an orange dot in the centre of each.

He looked back at her.

She was sweating heavily.

‘Are you alright?’ he asked, concentrating on making his voice reflect concern rather than disgust. He checked the time.

‘They don’t sing in time either.’ She murmured.

‘Right,’ he said uncertainly, ‘right.’

She continued to stare at him. He tried not to notice.

She seemed calmer, more controlled. Even so, he sighed with relief as the voiceover announced his stop.

She stood up, and walked unsteadily towards the doors. He waited behind her.

She slipped. He grabbed her wrist as she leaned over the gap between the train and platform.

He let her fall.

He didn’t know why. It didn’t matter. He simply dropped her, and walked away, voices singing old songs out of tune and time ringing in his ears.