Nobody wanted a critique this month, so I will confine myself to some general observations. And in truth I would have found very little to say, had anyone requested one, as the writing was uniformly good. There were some very well-turned lines and plenty of imagination around the theme “How Do You Like Your Eggs?” One person even managed to work Brexit into a plot line about a shortage of Easter eggs. The stories were largely cliché-free, which is refreshing. I found a few examples of tautology - always worth re-reading and taking stock to spot these things - and unnecessary additional adjectives. It's tempting, as you strive for effect, but often just the one will do. (I fall back on my usual advice - just read a few pages of John le Carre.) I'm surprised that more people haven't taken the war in Ukraine as a setting for a story. The one person who did this wrote a very poignant tribute to human kindness. Fiction, but mirrored by real events and encounters repeated countless times over the past few weeks. Another story anticipated future sexual harassment legislation, giving two predatory males their comeuppance on the dance floor. And in another, breakfast eggs not cooked as they were requested are the cause of a memorable family outburst. And I liked a story where Daniel Defoe’s experience in the pillory for seditious libel is set alongside a man who takes an unexpected hit in the stocks at the village fete. People were creative this month. There were some good lines - I particularly liked “Thunder darkens her face.’ And 'basic human decency still prevailed, someone cared and Olena wept.'
Winning stories in no particular order for April 2022 :
In no particular order:
Never do today 0301
On The Face of it
One Across and a Bit Down
Saved by Belle
End of the line
The Exodus of the Majestic
Home Sweet Home.
Gareth is a journalist and a writer. He spent 30 years as a freelance for the Sunday Times. He first worked there on the Scene pages as a feature writer – reporting on nature, landscape, travel and conservation, when these subjects were little covered – and as a copy editor. He later worked in the Sunday Times News Room, and on the Sunday Times Magazine, in the Business section, and on the Property and Public Sector pages. Gareth also spent twelve years as a feature writer at Radio Times. Another outlet was the Melbourne Age in Australia. Over the years he was one of the regular writers in the travel sections of The Times, Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday. His interests include the environment, nature, climate change and renewable energy. His other writing takes in two hardback books (one on the river Thames) and five e-books, variously on Turkey, cricket, and a Welsh journalist from the 1930s. For more details about Gareth’s writing, see his website here http://www.garethhuwdavies.com and his Amazon page here http://amazon.com/author/garethhuwdavies.showcase a premium service.
Our Judge, Gareth Davies, remarked, ‘The standard was once again high, and any one in the final 10 prizewinners could have made it through to the top three. The final choice reflects the way in which the three stories were so unlike one another, and excellent examples of their type. Number One was a classic chiller, set where no one can hear you scream, and still worryingly unresolved at the end. The second is a story for our times, practical therapy to put yourself, and a relationship, together again under the strains of lockdown. The third was a satisfying “how to solve a problem of everyday life” story.’
You can watch Adina Campbell announcing the winners live at BeaconLit 2021 on our YouTube channel here.
The winners are:
First prize: £75 plus up to 5,000 words critique* from the competition’s judge Gareth Davies (worth £50) and free entry to the following year’s BeaconLit fest festival in July 2020 with publication on the BeaconLit website:
Semi-detached by Julian Harvard Barnes
Second prize: £50 plus up to 4,000 words critique* (worth £40) and free entry to the following year’s BeaconLit festival, plus publication on the BeaconLit website:
Piece by Piece by Lynda Casserly
Third prize: £25 plus up to 3,000 words critique* (worth £30) and free entry to the following year’s BeaconLit festival, plus publication on the BeaconLit website:
Barking Mad by Susan Kittles
Seven further prizes of free entry to the following year’s BeaconLit festival, in no particular order:
Party Boy by Pat Mernagh Thompson
Paula’s Clown by Douglas Goodrich
Next! by Simon Shergold
Match of the Day by Barbara Young
No Going Back by Sue Massey
The Grimshaws Rosie San Jose
Little Journal by Kaitlyn Valler
And here, in reverse order, are our three fabulous winning stories:
Poppy Barrett-Jones lives next door. She has Cerebral Palsy. Speaking to her requires patience as her words are ‘strung out’ and her voice hoarse. Once attuned to this though it is possible to have a pleasant conversation. I am a recently retired teacher and also a writer. Since retiring I’d noticed Poppy was picked up at 9.30 am each day by a rainbow coloured mini-bus and whisked away, to be returned at 4.30 pm. From September to Christmas all was well. I spent hours poring over maps of Europe planning walking and cycling holidays for the Spring. The rest of the time I bashed away on my laptop churning out chapters of my fourth novel. So far unpublished, I knew this was the one. The peace of the day interrupted only when the schools turned out which was my cue for afternoon tea. At Christmas a well meaning relative, named Auntie Betty, acquired a rescue dog for Poppy. Roland had apparently not had a good start in life, but I was spared the details. He was a scruffy little mongrel with sad brown eyes. He barked to go out and then again to go back inside . He barked monotonously and loudly when Poppy went out. The only respite coming when he whined instead. Poppy’s condition had rendered her hearing impaired and I suspect she turned her earring aids down more often since Roland’s arrival. Some bright spark had suggested she get Roland a garden kennel for daytime to help stop the little puddles he produced. Roland barked in the garden all day now. I had written a list of solutions: • Feed poisoned meat (cruel and criminal) • Shoot through the heart with an arrow (no bow, not skilled marksman) • Acquire diazepam and sedate daily (dog not me) ( no access to the drugs to date) • Move house (drastic and expensive) • Go to the Library to write (parking costs and distractions) • Befriend Roland! *** “I’d like a large amount of your cheapest beef please, for consumption by a dog.” I explained to the butcher. I’m a vegetarian so this was the first time I’d been surrounded by dead meat for decades, the smell was making me nauseous. “Can you cut it into tiny pieces please?” Once back home I looked over the fence at the mutt. “Alright boy?” Roland had a moment of silent panic, then bared his teeth at me, growling. An unpleasant din of growls and barks applauded the failure of my mission. Perseverance though is one of my many qualities. Three weeks later and Rowdy Ruddy Roland, (one of my more affectionate names for him) was now eating out of my hand. The following week I cut a large cat flap style door in my fence. Now Rollie sits curled up in my office while I get nearer to finishing my masterpiece. We do stop at 4:30 pm though when Poppy gets home. She’s started coming straight round to get him and staying for a cup of tea.
I open the box and scoop through the pieces, combing the fractious knots joining two or three together. This jigsaw, ‘Birds of the World, 2,000 pieces’, is a serious commitment. A few weeks ago, and for months, I’d had no time; was ‘a key worker’, until hours zeroed, I went from ‘essential’ to nothing. Christmas came and went and now in the new year, I need to work out how to leave the world of work, be an essential worker on myself and re-connect with my husband. I’m going to re-do me and us, a piece at a time. My need to impose a plan - I’m a big-picture thinker - and order any situation, drives me to find the edges, scope it out. John’s irrationality annoys me – uninvited, he free-ranges over the pieces like a cowboy, galloping fast after those he can make fit and leaving me to apply the grind of order. Within a few hours he’s lassoed a magpie and a bee-eater. I watch and try to learn the joy of impulse and how to share again. Days later – after hours of virtuous edging- I realise that I have to re-consider. The coffee table in the sitting-room isn’t big enough and we’ll need the dining table. ‘This is going to take - the whole kitchen!’ I announce to my husband, like we’re going to DEFCON 3. He shrugs and wheels in a small occasional table, used for drinks and nibbles with neighbours. At first I protest, but then as the days turn into weeks – and this jigsaw has now taken three – I enjoy sitting down to smaller plates at the diminutive table. As we eat, the minute wheels chatter unevenly on the flagged floor and sitting opposite each other we talk more, I loosen, and we have time to laugh. Hair and make-up and ‘out through the door in five’ is gone. I let the birds preen themselves as I fit piece to piece, occasionally finding gorgeous tails and glorious polls. Scattered across almost any flat surface are the pieces that still need sorting: pots of tea, dog- paw -wiping and laundry airing now take place around the still hundreds of homeless, many of which are light-bangingly plain white. I’d begun another rigorous ‘system’ of sorting based on avian anatomy, but I’ve had to change this too, because on this scale, even with a magnifier, I can’t make out a single supercilium. Now there are just ‘red bits to the right, blues to the left and yellow in the middle’ and beyond the primaries a sea of green on the breakfast bar. It’s snowed in the weeks of this new year and I’ve discovered oblique afternoon light reflected from the snow is best for sorting the oranges, greens, and violets. If I don’t get to the jigsaw until 3 p.m., then I forgive myself – there is no rush and watching my husband – it’s not just my puzzle - we piece ourselves together anew, him and me.
Two houses sit attached to each other in a field in which rapeseed once grew. One has been mine for half my life. Its walls are sturdy and painted bright. The other has been empty for as long as I can remember. Its eaves sag. The roof tiles have flaked off one by one to leave a red crumbled halo around the cracked perimeter. The house has grown bald and ragged and I have hidden it from view behind a fence taller than me. The fence too now fails, bowing under the weight of a rapacious ivy that will not die. How strange it was, after so long, to see that great rusting lorry turn down my track. It creaked along the rutted path and I watched it from my kitchen. It lumbered with the weight and certainty of some great predator and my hands shook a little. For the oddness of it, for the fact that until now I had been entirely alone here. It seemed to accelerate as it passed my window and hid itself beyond the fence. Inside the cab, I quickly made out a group, silhouetted and somehow undefined in the pre-spring gloom. I smiled and waved. They did not. The clap of lorry doors echoed around the empty fields. The house opened up with the shuddering scrape of bloated wood on stone and the high yawn of rusted hinges. Snow was starting to fall. A thin wind whispered through it and carried on it a child’s laugh. So strange to hear in this place. An alien energy that felt like a caffeine tremor — too much of it. I sought out lower frequencies but I couldn’t find them. The adults must be mutes. Only the child, or children, rose over the thud and drag of heavy things, continuing like that as the sky dimmed. After a time I heard a swing creak. All the while, the ground turned to grey sludge around me. White settled on the untamed field. Night came on and still the children laughed. I tried to sleep but the laughter grew louder and the swing screamed back and forth, pendulum like, unceasing. Yet somehow, from sleeplessness, I woke. A faint dawn light struggled through mist. The silence felt emptier than the silences I had known here. Beyond the fence, the lorry had gone. The house looked more fragile than ever. They had left but they would come back, I knew. That knowledge gnawed at my stomach. It pricked at my limbs. I liked it here very much. It’s quiet and I can be with my memories - of her and him. I would stay here, no matter the neighbours that would one day move in. A house cannot remain empty forever. The fence was falling under the weight of the ivy. They would return and I would greet them next time.