Thursday, 18 August 2016

First Page Competition 2016 - THE WINNERS!

We are delighted to announce the winners of our First Page Competition 2016, which has been judged by Piers Alexander. www.piersalexander.com

The shortlist is as follows:

A Cruel Blow, by Annie Walmsley

Barik's Blades, by Henry Hyde

Bloodjacker, by T.D. Edge

Colours in Black and White, by Julia Thorley

Coming Home, by Vanessa Savage

For The Record, by Sara Green

Melody of the Two Lands, by Amanda Huskisson

Midsummer's Eve, by Tracy Fells

Paul Swan, by Andrew Stott

The Palimpsest, by Eivind Nerberg

The Quantum Eavesdropper, by Richard Gibney

Underneath, by Anne Goodwin

Warthog, by Andrew Broadfoot

The Devil’s Cataract, Sarah King


And the winning entries are:

FIRST PRIZE, £500

A Cruel Blow, by Annie Walmsley

The day Dad nearly kills me, we’re out in the park. The rain’s like feathers on my skin. I scrape down the slide. I don’t mind getting wet, or dirty... in fact, I’m always covered in muck: oil, mud, leaves… There’s a special tub of Swarfega that’s kept just for me. It’s a secret. A big tin of green jelly that lives in the dark of the kitchen cupboard like one of those weird fish at the bottom of the ocean. Anyway, Dad’s dabbed that stuff just about everywhere on me: my legs, my arms and my forehead; all wiped clean before Mum can purse her lips and say, “What on earth is that? Call yourself a young lady?”

After the sticky slide, it’s the swing. Dad smiles and it’s like a door opening. He’s pushing me, and I can feel the excitement balled in my stomach. Dad’s six foot four and really fit even though these days he does a desk job. He whistles and I laugh, because it’s my song and I’m going really high now. Giggles float from us like bubbles.

I fling my feet out as the air fizzes past. I could reach up and do a full circle over the iron bars at the top. My head explodes at the thought. Dad catches the swing suddenly and then holds it. I dangle helplessly in midair - delirious, dribbling with anticipation. I’m level with the tops of the trees; I’m like a bird… then Dad lets go, giving it one last, massive shove. Trouble is, he doesn’t know his own strength and I’m projected off the swing, all curled up, into the trees. Dad’s screams follow me, “Liiizziiieee!!!” I do a forward roll as I land and come up, arms in the air.

“Ta da!” I bow, laughing, though my head is hurting where I’ve bashed it.

And Dad’s running towards me, his forehead folded with anxiety. He grabs me and I feel like I’m drowning. But it’s lovely because in that moment, it’s all about instinct and nothing to do with manners or what ‘young ladies’ should do. Now I know just how much he loves me. And it’s a lot. I bring out this moment, like a treasure, when they tell me those things later; when they say, “He isn’t really your father, you know.”

Judge's Report:

“The day Dad nearly kills me, we’re out in the park. The rain’s like feathers on my skin- ” now that’s how to grab a reader. A Cruel Blow pulls you straight into its off-kilter reality and doesn’t let you climb back out. It’s just a dad pushing a girl on a swing, but the story has all the intensity of childhood. Deceptively simple and with a sly rabbit-punch at the end.


SECOND PRIZE, £100

Coming Home, by Vanessa Savage

The sold sign went up today. People crept out to watch; standing in silence as the big red Sold covered up the For Sale everyone assumed would be there forever because who the hell was going to buy that house, right? All the other ghouls cling to the shadows, but not me: I stand in the middle of the street, arms folded – I’m not scared of the Murder House.

“Who do you think bought it?”

I look at the man who slunk out of the shadows to ask and shrug. He offers me a cigarette and I lean in so he can light it. Close up, he smells fousty and his breath is meaty and sour. I want to use the burning cigarette to seal his mouth shut.

“Maybe someone who doesn’t know,” I say and he stares at me like I’m nuts.

I wasn’t here when it happened. I was here when the house was something else, not the Murder House, just a house. These people, all these people passing by, they were here. You can tell by the way they avert their eyes, they way they cross over the road, like something or someone will gobble them up if they get too close.

I lied to the man with the rotting breath. I do know who’s moving into the Murder House. You’re coming home, just like I have. It’s been so long and everything and nothing in this town has changed. The graffiti is dirtier, darker, the rot more deep-seated; a smell that lingers, a pus-stained bandage, a red streak of infection meandering away from the festering heart of it.

This house has always been the entry wound, sealing the infection in so it spreads under the surface, insidious, swelling and killing the healthy flesh around it. And You. You at the centre; the dirty needle, the rusty knife, the cause and the result.

In the dream I keep having about the Murder House, there are all these rooms off the landing and I don’t want to look in any of them because I know something terrible waits inside for me. But it’s okay because the doors are closed. They’re always closed.

Last night, though, there was another door at the end. I don’t want to fall asleep tonight, because there’s a door at the end that shouldn’t be there. There’s another door and this one is open.


Judge's Report

It’s risky for a narrator to tell you straightaway that they’re a nasty piece of work - but in Coming Home, it works. You want to know more about this person who considers themself a ghoul, who knows about the Murder House, who wants to seal someone’s mouth by burning it with a cigarette. “This house has always been the entry wound” - a metaphor that is nauseatingly extended, that makes you want to scrub your body after reading it - but I still wanted to get hold of page 2!


THIRD PRIZE, £50

Warthog, by Andrew Broadfoot

Adamson Mushala stood at dawn on the sun-cracked earth and smelled the coming rains and hanging fish. Across the stream, gutted bream hung between dry-season saplings, their bellies pale with a dulled silvery gleam. Six bullet pocked shacks leaned into each other, sharing tin roofs and mud walls along the banks. Each bore one end of a vine hanging rope from which more fish fluttered erratically like his father’s medicine skulls, stagnant pond fish left to weather for the week, sweetening the meat, curing it from the bone.

Thunderheads replaced the horizon, beams of sunlight flaring and dying inside them, the valley guiding the hot wind in chafing gusts through the heart of the place. Mushala, fifteen with sun-blackened skin, watching in a soap-dried shirt open and fluttering to the wind, his eyes wide and white as if seeing his ancestors rise once more. He was barefoot and rail thin built from brittle sticks that ought to have snapped in the wind but never did, a body not built for work but destined for a lifetime of labour. He sniffed at the clouds and thought of his scant provisions and the many mouths of the family, the dilute mealie meal scraped from the cauldron. The few green twigs yet to dry will make a smoky and inadequate fire.

He turned back into the hut and his mother who sat rocking herself cross-legged in the dust, murmuring tunes without words or melody. Mostly she was quiet, occasionally tutting to herself and staring at the fire or the dead ashes of the fire, scratching at some vague itch. Other times, she wore a thin smile as if knowing a secret she’d never tell, or remembering when she was a young woman and not yet First Wife, dancing shoeless across the tangled bush of the Nsama Province. Tall, dark and enchanting she’d been, until the ritual, and her mind shattered. She’d let the pieces scatter to the wind, to the river, to the earth and never willed for their return.

Nabumino, Mushala’s father, the revered nganga who could speak with the spirits, conjured nothing useful before he bounced away along the rutted road in the chief’s pick-up truck. He said he’d be back with many good things, promising magic, avoiding questions. “When you see this face, that’s when I’m coming back.”

That was a dry season ago, just as the soldiers came.


Judge's Report

Warthog drops you into the smells and sounds of Africa, a domestic scene that’s tense with past violence. Adamson Mushala may be young, but he sees what’s around him clearly, and his parents are vividly drawn in their trauma and wilfulness. Nothing happens, but we know that Adamson will be pulled out of his normal world and into something much darker. A good use of “less is more”.


Congratulations to all the winners, we will be in contact soon.

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