Monday, 17 August 2015

First Page Competition 2015 - THE RESULTS!


1st Prize Winner
A Piece of Broken Sky by Claudia Cruttwell

2nd Prize Winner
The Little Black Pig by Sharon Bennett

3rd Prize Winner
The Taste of Cider by Catherine Edmunds


Nathan Kane by Rebecca Kemp
The Book of Mercies by Barbara Weeks
Linger and Die/Port Phillip Dreaming by Neil Brooka
The Red File by Alison Morton
The Penitent by J. J. White
Bigglesdyke by James Robinson
Blues After Hours by Mo Foster
Mother Runs by Natalie Newman
Golden Tesserae by Elizabeth Willcox
The Anatomy of a Hat Pin by Vanessa Matthews
Dead Branches by Benjamin Langley
Deep Feelings by Alan Coley
Delivery by Angi Holden
A Bow Full-drawn by Don Wells

Judge's Report by Guy Saville

The moment I sat down to start going through the shortlist, I was struck by the difficulty of the task that lay ahead. There was such a wide variety of subjects and styles that I didn’t know where to start. In the end, my decisions were instinctive – and so entirely subjective. If you’re not one of the winners, do not see this as any judgement on you or your writing. Just as with the real world of publishing, a book can be rejected by one editor, then be picked up by the next and become a bestseller.

A couple of general observations. There was a lot of sex and illness in the entries! What this says about WWJ readers I’m not sure. Perhaps you’re fans of Freud… or Woody Allen. On a more serious note, if I had one piece of advice after reading so many first pages it’s this: be wary of overloading on information. A number of entries were weighed down with too many characters, and too much scene-setting. Try not to make too many demands on a reader when they first start your book; let them settle in. Keep your first page intriguing, but also focused and simple.

Here are my winners:

1st Place – A PIECE OF BROKEN SKY by Claudia Cruttwell
I liked the title of my winner, and titles are something never to underestimate. They are the first words any agent, editor or reader will encounter. Make them count. The first paragraph sets the scene, implying the heat of the night with the open window and cicadas. But instead of the usual chirrup from the insects, they are ‘lamenting’. This unexpected word drew me in. A few paragraphs later, there’s another unexpected moment: a roasted pig’s head which the narrator illicitly snacks on. This combination of striking imagery and simple, evocative prose is why I chose this as my winner.

2nd Place – THE LITTLE BLACK PIG by Sharon Bennett
I was intrigued by this entry. A man finds a message in a bottle washed up on the beach. I’m sure it’s something we’ve all imagined. The message begins with a confession of petty shoplifting, and ends with something much more ominous: talk of a gun. It’s a great narrative hook and suggests a plot of mystery and danger. I’d certainly want to find out more.

3rd Place – THE TASTE OF CIDER by Catherine Edmunds
I promise there will be no pigs in this choice! There are, however, ewes… and some great writing. I thought lines such as grass ‘aching where sheep have trampled’ were wonderfully evocative. It’s not all in the language though. There’s also a hint of conflict and jealousy between the narrator, Patrick and his wife.

Winning Entries

1st Prize Winner
A Piece of Broken Sky by Claudia Cruttwell

It is late at night. The window is open and the cicadas are lamenting the newly clipped lawn. I step out of bed in my nightdress and shy away from the mirror. I do not wish to encounter myself. The moon picks out the room’s simple furnishings, selected by my husband who has made an exhibit of my childhood home. I leave him to sleep. His seed lies in a fine crust on my thigh.

I mount the stairs to the living room. Here, the window lets in, not just the moonlight, but also the distant lights of the town. The town where I was once a chambermaid. The town which, according to Papa in his craziness, was never there before. The town which lay unseen behind a stone wall. It seems to be saying to me, ‘You were never hidden from view. Nothing that you did, or that others did to you, went un-noticed. There has always been a window on you.’

A centipede scuttles up the wall: a thin line of silver with legs stuck out straight on either side like an ariel mast. Its many legs carry it quickly to a crack in the wall through which it disappears as if it has been sucked in by a straw.

I am hungry. I go to the kitchen and open the door to the fridge. Manila has put away the remnants of the feast in uncovered bowls. There is nothing but hardened vegetables and wilted salads. I close the door and see, there on the dining table, the roasted pig’s head.

The skin of its face is dark, the eyes shrivelled and glazed. I take a knife from the drawer and stab an eyeball, drawing it out whole with ease. Yes, I cannot resist. A little nugget of juicy fat, easy and pleasant to chew.

I tear off a piece of the crispy skin and suck on its sweetness. I take the knife to the right ear and eat this also. It is salty and crunchy. Grease dribbles over my hand.

I continue to explore with my knife and fingers. The meat at the temples, just above the eyes, yields a particularly tender and juicy delight. There are little sealed pockets, fatty cavities, all over, which I break open to find the meat inside still warm, even though it is many hours since it was cooked.

2nd Prize Winner
The Little Black Pig by Sharon Bennett

Robert picked his way over the rock pools, zigzagging towards a discarded bottle at the base of the grassy cliff. The carelessness of holidaymakers irritated him and he was keen to add this piece of rubbish to the black sack swinging by this side. The cork was still wedged in the top of the bottle, but it felt light. He took a closer look. There was a note inside. A prank surely. Straightening up, he looked around to see if anyone was watching, but there were only a few people left on the beach, mostly locals, and nobody was interested in Robert’s activities as a voluntary litter collector.

Once back on the firmer ground, Robert leaned against the breakwater and took another look at his find. The bottle was still warm from the day’s sun and freckled with damp sand. He worked at the cork until it released its grip from the bottleneck, and then tipped it upside down, giving the bottom a pat. This made the paper inside expand and cling to the sides, so he tried reaching in with his middle finger, pressing the paper against the glass and rotating the bottle.

The A5 paper came out dry. The writing on the page was neat, written in biro and with wide margins. A little black pig had been drawn in the top right hand corner. Not a doodle, but a carefully drawn black pig with a little curly tail.

I have two confessions, he read. The first is that this bottle, selected from a supermarket near my house, has not been paid for. This is my one and only experience of shoplifting. If I had ever made it home that day, I would have realised my mistake and gone back to the shop to pay for it. But I didn’t make it home. This bottle has stayed in my bag since that day and travelled with me, unopened, for three months. Today I opened it, sitting on a beach miles away from home. I poured myself enough to fill a white plastic cup and tipped the rest away. Then I buried the gun in the sand. That’s my second confession.

Robert paused to take another look around before studying the drawing of the pig again. Something nagged at the back of his mind. He continued to read. 

3rd Prize Winner
The Taste of Cider by Catherine Edmunds

Patrick keeps a small flock of sheep on the fellside beyond the last bridge, grows turnips and leeks the other side of the wall. He’s part of this land; it’s grown him. I imagine God finding him drinking cider one day, high in the dales and saying, “Yes, he’ll do.”

Early March, cold, and I’m helping with the lambing. We work the rhythm of the ewes in labour, wipe the birthing muck off the newborns, the last few; too cold out on the fells this year so we’re in the byre.

Edna comes in, says hello; Patrick answers. I don’t. I’m busy, have to be busy. She watches us together. I wish she’d go. She ought to be making tea, pretending she’s the farmer’s wife.

Go on. Get out of here. Leave me alone with Patrick and the lambs. I need this time.

Patrick’s hair is red and his beard is red and when he takes a lamb in his broad hands it’s safe; its mother trusts; and when he wipes it down with straw, the sweet smell overpowers me and I look at the ewe and the ewe looks at Patrick and he looks at the lamb, and outside the wind lifts the heather and roams away across the fells.

Listen! No, listen! Forget that distant bell, forget the twilit chapel in the village below. This is what matters: this grass, aching where the sheep have trampled—it’s coming back, it’s growing again now I’m home. Me and Patrick, we don’t have to do or say anything, just wait for me to get stronger, and then we can drink cider together, and yes, I know I’m lying somewhere in this, but it’s truthful too.

Has the silly woman fetched the tea yet? Yes, she’s back with a tray and she says something to Patrick and he smiles at her, so I jump up and Edna, she calls after me—“Ros,” she says—“Ros, wait!” But I say something about fresh air and stretching my legs and I’m gone, running up the fell, jumping from tussock to tussock, flying, landing when I know the flat stones lie just below the surface. I don’t want her tea. I don’t want the way Patrick smiles at her when she says hello. She’s not the farmer’s wife, she’s nobody, she’s Mrs Mop, she’s the help, she’s nobody.

Congratulations to all the winners!

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