Monday, 11 August 2014

First Page Competition 2014 - THE RESULTS!


1st Prize Winner
The Concealment by Lorna Fergusson

2nd Prize Winner
Wake by Jacqueline Molloy

3rd Prize Winner
An Inspired Mess by Georgina Jeffery


The Evening of the Second Day by Catherine Edmunds
Blood on the Booze Aisle by James Collett
Memories of the Piano Revival by William Walker
The Midlife of Dudley Chalk by Peter James Lamb
Netherwood by Gary Power
Superior by Perry McDaid
Condemned to Live by Clare Hawkins
Shadows of the Night by Vanessa Knipe
Heading for the Wall by Caroline Jestaz
The Storyteller by Marlene Brown
The False Prophet by Marlene Brown
Severance Kill by Tim Stevens


Message from Alice by Ginna Wilkerson
Lighter than Air by Susan Pope
Running from Sarah by Carly Pluckrose-Gates
Rahul and Sweetie by Martin Cornwell
The Bridge in the Middle of Nowhere by Pamela Robertson
The Red Hill by David Penny
I'm The One by Pat Black
A Hard Trail by Grace Rostoker
Hannah's Voice by Robb Grindstaff
Infixion by K E Coles
Lucifer Matches by Lorna Fergusson

Judge’s Report by Orna Ross

1st Prize Winner
The Concealment by Lorna Fergusson

The outstanding quality of The Concealment, is good old-fashioned fine writing. “I am not a good man,” the opening insists, and a few deft paragraphs introduce us to a man who, through guilt and misanthropy, has locked himself away from others and from the soft comforts of life. Unusual vocabulary -- the “scuttering” of insects, the “sough” of the Canadian wind; the “cresting” of a ridge; a “rickle” of branches -- show that we are in the hands of a confident writer.

Then we find this opening is a prologue and the scene changes, from first person to third, from cold isolation in a strange land to a Mr Thomas Ross, surveying his land and his soon-to-be-built house in its ideal location, a “casket in which to display” his beloved fiancee.

A lot happens in very few words and the quality of the writing, its tone and pitch ideally suited to the historical fiction genre, is here what makes the reader want to read on.

2nd Prize Winner
Wake by Jacqueline Molloy

Humour wins out in Wake: “Lying on your back under a coffin is not the ideal place to eat a chocolate biscuit,” is its opening line. Indeed.

In the paragraphs that follow, we are introduced to the 13-year-old narrator, a confident, independent thinker; a brother and dad, an aunt Sarah who didn’t care all that much about, her now-dead husband, Uncle Frank, and a mother who’s conspicuous by her absence, especially as we learn that the girl has been to at least a dozen wakes in her short life.

Her ordinary world of tea at six o’clock, of making the best of whatever situation you find yourself is juxtaposed with her curious under-the-coffin situation, in which she has to keep quiet. Who or what is she hiding from, as she focuses on the possibilities of the chocolate biscuit?

The lightness of tone, as well as the bizarre situation makes this story beginning irresistible.

3rd Prize Winner
An Inspired Mess by Georgina Jeffery

Tone of voice is what made An Inspired Mess a winner. “It’s a strange sensation, being dangled upside-down over the side of a bridge in the middle of the night,” it begins. “You might say that it brings about a contemplative state of mind.” The offhand, understated tone that is at odds with the content continues, through details of “dodads” and “curios” that the self-aware and self-deprecating narrator tells us he sells on The Black Market.

The market is “beautiful and surreal” while the light shimmering on the surface of the Thames conceals sharp rocks: in this story, it seems, nothing will be as you might imagine it should be, down to the substance he’s been dealing - “inspiration”.

As a beginning, it’s intriguing and compelling and impossible not to want to know more.

Winning Entries

1st Prize Winner
The Concealment by Lorna Fergusson

I am not a good man.

There are some who will tell you that I am; they seek to aid me in my destitution in this foreign land.
They would persuade me to rest on a feather-bed, to sup good food by a roaring fire, to ease the pains of age and agues with fine company and strong whisky. They are horrified by this place where I sojourn.

Sometimes I drop the bar over the inside brackets of the door, though all it would take is a hefty push to burst bar, door and building, to shiver it all into matchwood. I shut them out. I shut myself in.

I lie here, listening to their pleading. I have listened to pleas all my life, it seems.

I will not rise and unlatch that door and let soft hands draw me to comfort, for I do not deserve comfort.

Here is where I must be. Here, amongst scutterings of insects and the sough of Canadian wind, with damp in my bones and my chest glued with phlegm. Here, lying on a rickle of branches lashed into the semblance of a bed; here, low down, where I can smell the cold seep of the earth, waiting for me.

Chapter One

Canada, 1886

Thomas Ross, mounted on a fine roan horse, crested the ridge and looked down into the valley beyond. It was a gratifying sight. In a few months, he thought, it would be even more gratifying, once the house was built. The situation promised rural peace, yet was not too far from the city. Amelia would be able to visit her friends, attend theatrical entertainments, pay court to her father, all without difficulty. Even Hugh Morrison, the parent in question, could raise no objections to such an idyllic spot.
He urged Jupiter forward, descending with a rattle of pebbles to the valley’s base, hearing the trickle of a stream, then the voices of the workmen. Thomas reached inside his jacket and checked the papers were still there, neatly folded in a packet. His dreams, soon to be made tangible, in timber and stone. The house, the casket in which to display his precious jewel. He smiled at himself for such romantic whimsy - though his heart beat fast, as it always did, at the thought of her - then he pulled his face straight and stern.

2nd Prize Winner
Wake by Jacqueline Molloy

Lying on your back under a coffin is not the ideal place to eat a chocolate biscuit.

I had two primary concerns.

One: I hoped I wouldn’t choke.
Two: if I did choke could I do it quietly?

I’m not allowed to eat lying down, but I wouldn’t normally be lying under a coffin at 6pm in someone’s sitting room. I’d be home having my tea, sitting sensibly at the kitchen table with my dad and brother.

But dad had always taught us to make the best of any situation you found yourself in, so I licked the smooth chocolate off the top of the biscuit and allowed my tongue to find its way through to the creamy mint centre. I sucked at it quietly whilst examining the swirly patterns in the wood grain above me. Did you know that the underside of a coffin is nowhere near as fancy as the top?

This makes sense to me, because if you think about it, how many people are ever going to find themselves underneath one? This was a big cherry wood affair with fancy brass handles and sculpted patterned panels. Aunt Sarah’s choice of coffin for Uncle Frank surprised me. I thought she would have buried him wrapped in Hessian in a cheap veneer box but here he was, laid out in the fanciest coffin I’d ever seen. Before you get all cocky and ask “how many coffins could you have possibly seen given you’re only thirteen?” I can tell you confidently – quite a few.

I don’t keep detailed records or anything but if I looked back over my journals that I’ve been writing since I was eight, there would be at least a dozen wakes mentioned in there. It’s what we’re famous for in Ireland, along with civil wars, potatoes and “tar and feathering”.

I wrote that in a school essay once.

My bum was getting a bit numb lying on the floor but so far I hadn’t choked. I just had to tackle the now moist biscuit base. Should I just shove it all in at once or take the risk and bite it in half and hope the crumbs didn’t backfire all over me.

I held the biscuit up above me and weighed up my options.

3rd Prize Winner
An Inspired Mess by Georgina Jeffery

It's a strange sensation, being dangled upside-down over the side of a bridge in the middle of the night.

You might say that it brings about a contemplative state of mind.

Look at the way the light shimmers over the surface of the Thames, your brain tells you. Probably big, sharp rocks under there, it points out, helpfully. My, the rope around your ankles feels rather thin, doesn't it? Sure hope it's strong enough to continue holding a full-grown man . . .

These were my unfortunate thoughts as I swung helplessly in the breeze. I was especially concerned about my coat slipping slowly down my arms towards the swirling waters below. I'm rather attached to that coat. It's a proper trench coat with lots of spacious pockets – I've no end of elixirs and doo-dads and curios stuffed away inside it. If I lost that coat I'd lose a small fortune in potential profits with it.

There is a tendency to typecast men in trench coats as crooked characters, shady figures lurking on the fringe of the crowd with a range of dubious watches on offer for the discerning patron. This is totally untrue.

I don't sell watches.

“How are we doing, Mr Hansard? Have you reconsidered my offer?”

This was the slick voice of Mr Scallet from high above. It was at his leisure that I was currently being, aha, held.

I probably deserved this, I thought. I'd been going through a quiet period lately; not one of my sales had backfired in the past month, and no one had tried to kill me. This was quite an achievement, considering my usual run of luck was about as long as a piece of string on fire.

This is the sort of thing you come to expect, when you're a dealer on the Black Market. The real Black Market, that is.

It is a beautiful, surreal place where abstract concepts can be purchased in neat little boxes; where success comes in the form of an edible powder and fame can be hung round your neck on a single cotton thread. In need of a little luck? Heck, I know a guy in Blackfriars who can sell you it in a bottle.

I'm a here and there man, myself. I specialise in everything, if you know what I mean.

When Mr Scallet had found me, I was specialising in inspiration.