2022 Doris Gooderson Competition – FIRST


by Christine Howe

Gerald’s eyes no longer brightened on seeing Joyce, but he would raise his shaggy eyebrows when she sat down and took his hands in hers. These days it was all about clinging to the little positives. Was it preferable to lose your other half suddenly, or to have this disappearing-into-the woods sort of loss, wanting to beckon him back? Joyce visited twice a week at The Magnolias where Gerald was cared for, but captive.

She bent to give him a hug, but he wrestled himself free of her embrace. 

‘Lewis,’ he said, ‘Lewis.’ His voice was growly and cross.

‘Who’s this Lewis?’ A care assistant rustled by in her plastic apron, dispensing tea in beakers and drinking cups. ‘He says Lewis all the time now.’

Joyce shook her head. ‘I’ve no idea.’ To Gerald she said, ‘Tell me about Lewis. Shall I bring the photo album next time and we’ll look for him? Yes?’

Gerald mumbled, and withdrew his hand from Joyce’s patting. She watched him eat gingerbread and drink his tea; calm only when eating. He was restless these days, pacing about the lounge while the more sedentary residents tracked his movements like spectators at a sporting fixture.

Back at home Joyce phoned their daughter Catherine. ‘Did your dad ever mention someone called Lewis? He’s got this Lewis on his mind.’

‘Inspector Morse’s sidekick?’ Catherine laughed. ‘Honestly Mum, it could be anyone.’

Joyce frowned. In her mind’s eye she saw Gerald pacing, eyes not brightening on seeing her, arms pushing her away. 

For her next visit she put the photo album in her shopping bag, together with short-sleeved shirts for Gerald to wear in the warmer weather and a pack of his favourite caramel wafers. She called in at the library before catching the bus and found an illustrated book of dog breeds, and put that in the shopping bag too. The bag was heavy and it dragged on her arm as she toiled up the hill from the bus stop to The Magnolias. Gerald resisted when she went to greet him with a hug. It wasn’t an aggressive resistance, just a firm push away. 

‘Still repeating Lewis,’ a care assistant said chirpily. ‘Not solved the mystery yet?’

‘Doing my best.’ 

‘Well, not to worry. He enjoys his meals and he’s a good sleeper. Doris over there says toodle-oo from morning ’til night.’

Beneath the cheeriness Joyce sensed that having to listen to both toodle-oo and Lewis endlessly repeated during an eight-hour shift was wearing. She smiled in acceptance of the young woman’s attempted comfort; words as sugared as the cake now being dished out with the afternoon cup of tea.She opened the dog book and began to turn the pages. 

Gerald jabbed a sticky finger at a page. He’d marked the image of an Old English Sheepdog with a smear of butter icing. Unlikely that such a large dog could have been the family pet.

‘Oh, clever you — you’ve remembered the dog from those paint adverts.’

A spark had been ignited in a dark recess of Gerald’s mind. Another little positive. She took a tissue from her handbag and wiped the page clean. Next, she tried him with the photo album, which they had looked at together several times, but not with the Lewis objective.

‘Catherine.’ He pointed at their daughter squinting into the sun on a holiday photo. Another achievement to chalk up that day, but still no Lewis.

That night Joyce lay awake. How could it be that in all their years of marriage Gerald hadn’t mentioned Lewis? Or perhaps he had related an anecdote about him and she had been inattentive, his words and the name drifting over her head like a balloon while she concentrated on her cross-stitch. If she had failed him then, she mustn’t fail him now. In the darkness she wiped her eyes. Etched in her memory would be his repetition of Lewis and his endless circuits of the care home lounge fuelled by his frustration.

Their next significant wedding anniversary would be Diamond, if Gerald lived long enough to greet it. The thing with a long marriage was that it seemed like your whole life and all your experience.

By the time the sun came up she was cheerful, though gritty-eyed. She’d identified other avenues to pursue in the search for Lewis, so those sleepless hours hadn’t been wasted. Lewis could be a former colleague at Fraser’s, or a pal from the carpet bowls club. Gerald and their neighbour Sydney had gone off to play carpet bowls every Wednesday afternoon with their bowling shoes in drawstring bags, until Gerald had become too unwell to play. 

Sydney was hanging out his washing and she called to him, ‘Sydney, did Gerald ever mention someone called Lewis? Bowls club maybe?’

Sydney shook his head. ‘Why?’

‘He’s got this Lewis on his mind and I don’t know who he is, or was. Any ideas?’

Sydney picked up his laundry basket. ‘Didn’t Gerald do National Service? Maybe Lewis hails from that time.’

He scuttled back indoors, leaving Joyce standing by her empty washing line. She hadn’t seen any photographs of Gerald on National Service. She would look in the sideboard for their large manila envelope labelled Miscellaneous Photos. Joyce found the envelope and in it a photograph of a Fraser’s staff Christmas meal from thirty years before. It hadn’t made it into the album as the photo was a poor one of Joyce, catching her with a forkful of turkey half-way to her mouth. Several potential candidates for Lewis, though. From the bus that day she admired people’s front gardens. The season inspired hope.

She was completing her entry in the signing-in book, glancing at the clock on the wall, when a care assistant passed by and said, ‘Your Gerald has a visitor. It’s the mystery man, Lewis. Been here an hour.’

Joyce dropped the signing-in Biro on its tethering string and rushed to the dementia wing. Through the toughened glass panel of the lounge door, she saw Gerald with a man she’d never met, a man who held Gerald’s hands in his. Faces in the lounge turned to look at her, but she had eyes only for Gerald and Lewis. Gerald bent forward and rested his head on the other man’s shoulder, his face turned in to his neck. A sob rose in Joyce’s throat.

‘What a burden you’ve carried all these years,’ she whispered, her breath misting the glass.

She turned away, and deposited her shopping bag containing more summer shirts and a further supply of caramel wafers in the corridor outside Gerald’s room door. And then, touching the wall with her hand to steady herself, she made her way back to the main entrance.

‘Not staying for a cup of tea today, Joyce?’ a care assistant called after her.

Over her shoulder she said, ‘No, I’ll let Gerald enjoy Lewis’s visit. They’ve waited a long time.’

‘I’ll sign you out. It’s not like you to forget.’

Joyce hurried away, down the hill to the bus stop. Gerald’s retreat into the woods had come to a temporary halt. Hers had only just begun.


Christine Howe lives in Cumbria and is a member of Carlisle Writers’ Group. The urge to generate some words of her own came after the passage of many books through her hands while working in libraries. She is currently planning her fifth novel and hopes to find a publisher for at least one of the other four. In 2020 she was awarded second prize in the Louise Walters Books Page 100 competition. Her short fiction has been published in anthologies such as The Best of CaféLit, shortlisted in a Flash 500 competition and is featured in the Carlisle Writers’ Group latest anthology and on their blog: https://carlislewritersgroup.wordpress.com/

Christine’s own blog, Writing from a Small Place, can be found at https://christinemhowewrites.wordpress.com

On Twitter she is @christimhowe


2022 Doris Gooderson Competition – SECOND

The Potent Lily

by Heather Alabaster

When I first saw Jane, she was standing, in that odd way she does, with her arms folded behind her back, among the seasonal lily display. When I say ‘among’ she was right in between the pots, head low to inhale the scent, so that her coppery hair all but tangled with a bevy of golden stamens. I was bewitched, there and then, by her subtle beauty. 

I was on what we called the ‘shoplifter-lookout’ till – with a good view down past the racks of small items, seed packets, string, hand tools and so on, and a partial sight of the plant courtyard beyond. Jane looked stunning, roaming along the racks and stands, scanning them intently – a picture in her sleeveless summer dress. When she picked things up, I could see her slim-fingered, pretty hands. I glanced at mine – well, half a lifetime of heavy work, lifting and shifting, had left its gnarly marks. Strong hands they are though, capable.

So I watched out for her after that, and I was lucky, she came in often, sometimes checking a list, always purposeful. She bought netting and stakes, a curved pruning knife, weedkiller, and one day an axe, chosen carefully for its grip. She nearly always bought gardening gloves too. I watched her try them on; at first she bought the flowery cotton sort, but soon moved onto thicker ones: canvas, then leather. The day she searched for heavy, rubberised builder’s gloves I was standing behind her, and I saw her poor hands close up. They were now coarse and red, grazed on the knuckles, and I think there were blisters on her palms. I wanted to kiss them away.

That was the day when everything changed. She beckoned me and asked for a pair in her size. I picked them from the display like precious objects. When I put the gloves into her hands I couldn’t help holding on. I held on to her hands, and she looked right into my eyes, and through my flesh and bones it seemed; before she pulled away.

‘I’m so sorry’, I murmured. ‘I can see your hands are sore, and these gloves are stiff, may I help you ease them on?’ And she let me smooth them over her fragile hands, while I flushed with ridiculous confusion. 

‘That’s kind, thank you.’ she said hesitating. Then twisting back to the shelves, she spoke softly over her shoulder; I could see her cheek and the side of her pink-painted mouth as it moved. 

‘It’s just that there’s rubbish I have to clear up, useless leftovers, that wouldn’t … that I couldn’t get rid of. So I’m burying everything, smothering it. It’ll rot down into compost, mostly. I’ve made a good start, but it’s tough going and I need to get it finished.’ Her face tensed, and the rubber-hidden hands clenched into fists.

‘Is there anyone to help?’ I was fishing, and she knew it, and again took her time to reply.

‘There was, but well, it didn’t work out, it was suffocating me’. Her voice was low, there was even a catch in it, but then it brightened. ‘So I’m clearing up, making a new start. I suppose you could say I’m turning things round.’

And then she did turn round, and shot another questioning look from under her eyelashes, and I swear she was smouldering at me. I took a risk and held her elbow, angling myself beside her, so close that she must surely have felt the heat of me. She didn’t draw back.

‘If you’ve come this far, and you’re nearly finished, let me help you.’ Which was when she unpeeled the gloves, took firm hold of my capable hands and pressed them to her breast.  


 Ruthie continued working at the garden centre. She didn’t move in with me until long after the fuss over Harry’s disappearance died down. Investigators, reporters and earnest counselling volunteers came and went. I gave them tea and lavender biscuits, sitting on the terrace, all through the sultry remnants of summer. 

‘Harry was a private person, secretive.’ I told them. ‘A little selfish too. I’m afraid there were girlfriends, more than one. I didn’t confront him, I didn’t want him ever to leave me, I wanted him close. But whatever has become of him, I feel sure he cannot forget me and our last hours together.’ Then, when I wrung my hands or dabbed an eye and bravely pushed back my hair, they would pat my bare knee lightly, squeeze my shoulder for a long moment, or even offer up a prayer.

We began to grow more lilies Ruthie and I, our favourites. Because the barrow we had made was perfect for them, arching quite naturally out of its tranquil spot. Close to the river, and fretted with shade from a shimmering silver birch, the earth was moist and deep. So, through grasses and summer campion, we had dug, heaped and sculpted a smooth mound, turfed and set it with lilies and twining periwinkle, like the shrine of an ancient idol. And of course, as Ruthie drily remarked, there was no need of extra nourishment for the soil. 

So now, at midsummer, Lilium Regale rise up like a troop of tall angels lifting their slender, rosy-backed trumpets to the sky. There are proud folds of Stargazer and white Casablanca too, whose gales of scent billow from their extravagant, jostling heads. Such luxurious abandon, such rich pleasure — it was always at the root of us, it bound us. Ruthie would bring me sheaves of lilies in the early days, and still sometimes now. When she does, she is perfumed by them, and there may be amber dusts of pollen on her sleeve.


Heather Alabaster lives in Durham with her husband. She wrote occasional stories and poems from early school years, though work years, in libraries and in publishing, were all about facts and not fiction. Now that her focus has changed she often has themes in her head – then when the opening lines show up, she knows she can get on and create interesting characters to give life to them.

2022 Doris Gooderson Competition – THIRD

The Other People

By Denny Jace

The Other People walk past our flat all day; I watch them through the window. They hold bags, phones, steaming cardboard coffee cups and sometimes each other’s hands.

Yesterday a mum and dad swung their boy right off the floor like he was a monkey. Every two steps they’d stop and swing him high. His face crumpled with laughter, I was too far away to hear his shrieks of joy, but I imagined his mouth open wide and so I made the sounds myself until the window fogged up. I rubbed it clear, pressed my cheek against the glass pane as they passed by, straining to see, not wanting them to disappear. When they’d gone, I stretched up both of my arms, high above my head and imagined it was me swinging and not just The Other People.

Today the streets are empty, the storm has frightened them all away. The livid wind hurls debris from its wicked fingers. Bashing walls and bending trees until their leaves scatter and die. The birds that sit on the pilons have gone back to their nests; the air too thick to fly.

I roll my forehead across the glass pane and then look up. The sky is low, swollen and bruised. I worry it might fall but then I remember that I can catch it because I’m a brave little chicken.

I wish the storm away and for The Other People to come back and then I see two boys on the pavement down below, arguing and shoving each other. They puff out peacock chests, their hair soaking glossy helmets, clinging to their heads. From up here they have no faces, like God forgot his pen.  I bang on the window; they can’t hear me but I’m giggling because I imagine them with drawn on moustaches and wobbly spectacles. They look so small, the same size as my fingers as they press against the glass. 

Outside is like a dolls house; The Other People are tiny puppets; new ones appearing throughout the day. If I opened the window I could reach down and scoop them up, carry them in the palm of my hand. They could come inside to play; they’d be perfectly safe. If they stayed quiet. Perfectly safe as long as you stay quiet, that’s what Mum says when she knows Laura Parker’s coming to visit. Nosey fucking Parker is also what mum says. Laura wears a lanyard with her picture on and carries a clipboard. I wear my clean dress and smile. She asks questions to catch mum out and makes lots of notes and nods. They talk about what The Other People do and what we should do, but don’t. 

I push at the plastic frame, run my fingers across the locks that don’t have keys. The windows don’t open, Mum says it’s not safe outside so that’s why we stay in. Mum is right and Laura is a liar. But then sometimes, mum makes a play promise’; next week I’ll take you to the park. But a promise is like a dream, it’s not real, it won’t happen and eventually you forget about it.

The rain batters the street, shards of glass stinging the pavement. It bounces up and stabs at my window. I stretch my eyes open wide, play a little game with myself where I refuse to blink, even when I think the glass will smash and splinter itself right into my eyeballs. 

I am bored now that The Other People are hiding. ‘I spy with my little eye something beginning with… ’ No one answers so I use my other voice but that doesn’t work either. My breath fogs up the window, so I use my finger as a pen to make shapes on the glass but the shapes cry tears that trickle down into a puddle on the window ledge.

I look behind me, the lounge is as empty as me. I don’t like to be alone.

I am not alone. Mum is here and so is Gary. The last time I checked, they were asleep on the kitchen floor. He was wearing a tie with yellow ducks that didn’t quack. But it was tied tight around his arm instead of his neck. He’s not like The Other People, he’s real like us. He fixes Mum with needles and pills, foil and campfires. He doesn’t live here but when he comes, she is as happy as a clown and dances around the lounge, turning the radio up full blast. But then they fall asleep, and mum forgets about our dinner and our tea. I think that she forgets about me.

My tummy rumbles, the angry lion is rattling my ribcage. I know the cupboards are full of nothing, so I mooch around the floor searching like an anteater. Yesterday I found a lonely apple that had rolled under the sofa. It was velvet with mold. I didn’t eat it. It was a bad apple, which is sometimes what Gary calls me. 

On the coffee table are little sweets in a tiny plastic bag, pretty rainbow colours. I crawl on my hands and knees towards them. Too small to be Smarties, too flat to be Skittles. I know that they are special because of the look Gary gave to mum when he pressed the bag into her hand. They had kissed and I hid my face behind a cushion

Share and share a like, mum says when I sit in her bath water, so I’m sure she won’t mind sharing her kissing sweets. I empty them into my hand; Eenie Meenie, Miney Mo. 

2021 Doris Gooderson – First Place


Alison is a professional copywriter in the IT industry and she also writes for pleasure.  She usually writes humorous verse and performance pieces, often as Alison Absolute.  She’s an ex slam champion (Cheltenham Lit Fest, Worcestershire etc) and a member of Bridgnorth Writers. “I will now write more short stories!” she says,

Her younger son is a keen ornithologist and so they’ve spent many a happy hour together lurking in bird hides near marshes.  That’s what inspired the story – that and him growing up and away from her, as children do.  Alison’s prize money will go towards buying him a kayak for his birthday, so he can pursue the unfortunate birds even more closely!

The Hide by Alison Nichol-Smith

It had snowed this year, and the day was crisp, bright and breathtakingly cold. I had hoped for some patches of clear water where waders and waterfowl might gather, but the pools were almost iced over.  Still, the intense cold meant the paths were frozen too, making them easier to negotiate, even those leading right across the marshes.  I was wearing Hunters, but Colm was just in trainers, so that mattered. 

Oh, but it was beautiful, that morning on the marshes.  The dry brown rushes rimed with frost and every green blade of grass a tiny explosion of crystal stars beneath our feet.  Together we crossed the little wooden bridge, where the stream still ran deep with rich brown silt, giving us hope that the top pool might not be frozen. 

And then we were at the hide; a dark bulk rising up, silhouetted against the sky with the sun behind.  Every year, we come to this same place, and every year, as we reach the path, I feel half an urge to turn back.

And so we climb, Colm in front, me following, up the steps of the Endersley hide, our hide.  It’s empty, of course, as always, every year.  We choose our stations along the bench, lift and peg back our chosen flaps, steadying our elbows and binoculars on the ledge.  

Colm looks out over the frozen water, while I sneak a sideways glance at my beautiful son.  Thirteen years old today.  He has changed so much over this past year.  He is taller now; not quite my height, but very nearly.  By this time next year he’ll probably tower above me.  His face has changed too.  There has always been the calm intensity you’d expect of dedicated birdwatcher, but there is a solemnity now, a gravitas befitting his advancing years.  On a lighter note, his complexion could be worse, but adolescence is peppering the area around his nose with pimples and blackheads. I itch to squeeze one; an unworthy emotion I fight to supress.

Feeling my eyes on him, Colm turns and gives me a quick, self-conscious smile.  I smile back, and we both return to our binoculars,  But I can help looking again at him, the wonder of him, the beauty of his profile, the  sweet curl of his left ear, and he turns and grins again.  This time, we both hold the smile and he shuffles a little towards me, along the wooden bench.  I shuffled towards him too, until we are close enough to touch gloved hands, which we do.  

‘I do love you so, my darling’ I say to him.

‘Me too, Mum’ he says. I squeeze his hand, then release it so he can get back to his birding. 

The hide has the cheap insistent smell of cut pine, the interior raw and orange-toned, too bright against the white glare of snow and ice.  Hides should have dark corners, hidden places.  High up here above the marshes, in the bright snowlight, I feel exposed.  

‘I can see a heron’ says Colm.

I can see it too on the far side of the pool, grey and stately, balanced solemnly on one slender white leg, blending into the rushes, astonishingly still. A heron is not in general a big deal for us, but on a day like this, it’s something.  And we need something to mark this particular year.  The year it snowed.  The year we saw the heron.

Thirteen years old.   I can hardly believe it.  He’s wearing a padded black jacket, some sort of ski wear perhaps, blue jeans, white trainers.  He carries a backpack which I know will be full of his favourite bird books.  His hair is not really blond now, more a pale brown, very fine and silky.  He wears no hat or scarf.  He must be cold.  Goodness knows I am.  And the air is growing colder as the sun lowers in the sky, the light thinning and metallic.  At any moment, Colm is going to say:

‘Should we go back?  Should we go to the cafe?’

I know he’s going to say that.  He says it every year.  And so I play along.  

‘What will you have?  Hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows?  Or are you too old for marshmallows now you’re a teenager?’

‘I’m never too old for marshmallows.’

I rise.  He stays seated. Still watching.

‘You go ahead.’  He says ‘I’ll follow along’

The sun slants through in dazzling golden bars behind him.  I can barely see his face.  I move towards him, bend and kiss the top if his head, his silky brown hair. He smells of herbs, dried bracken, soap and nice boy’s sweat.

‘Happy birthday, Colm darling’ I say.  ‘Thanks, Mum’ he says, his clear hazel eyes looking so candidly into mine.

I close the door of the hide behind me, and stumble down the steps, heart thudding against my ribs; not just with the cold.  Along the path, I pick half a dozen fat bull-rushes, tugging and snapping the strong stems.  You’re not meant to, but I always do.  I walk quickly down to the cafe, boots crunching on the frozen snow.  Don’t look back.  

He doesn’t follow, of course, as I know he won’t.  Can’t.   I buy a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows, and sit there drinking the sickly stuff myself, alone.  On the table beside me, the bull-rushes thaw and drip.   

Four o’clock, and it’s time for them to close up.  They show me out tenderly, the last visitor of the day.  I drive home, stopping off at the cemetery, as I do every year. In the growing dark, I place my bull-rushes on Colm’s grave. 

Thirteen years old today.  Who’d have thought it?  Fourteen next year. That’s twice seven: he’ll have been gone then for as many years as he was here with me.  And I will survive another year, against all the odds, against my own inclination.  Because he’ll hold me to that one precious day, his birthday, when we’ll meet again at the wildfowl reserve he loved so much. 

He’ll be taller than me next year, his voice will have settled down, and maybe we’ll see a water-rail, or even a kingfisher if the weather is kinder to us.  And maybe one year he’ll have grown too old for birdwatching, and that will be that: I’ll visit the hide alone.

But until then, I still have my son.

2021 Doris Gooderson – Second Place


Maria is a science journalist who loves to write short stories in her spare time. After making it on to various competition shortlists over the past few years, such as the Wells Literary Festival, HISSAC and ChipLit, this year she was delighted to win the Bibliophone short story prize (https://www.bibliophone.com/) and come second in the Doris Gooderson competition. Perhaps one day she will take the leap and start that novel she’s always wanted to write.

Twitter: Maria Burke @MariaBstories

Mister Beaman’s Bible by Maria Burke

I was 16 when Ma volunteered me to help Mr Beaman. He must have been about 92 then.

Ma said to make sure to get some fresh air in, on account of old folks’ houses smelling pretty off sometimes. It’s just what happens when you get old, she said. Maybe my room smells that like that too now.

I was as nervous as a deer that first time. I’d never met him before though I’d seen him driving round town in a red truck, his little grey head peering over the steering wheel. Strange thing was I felt comfortable with him right from the get-go. I went twice a week to do the cooking and the cleaning. I didn’t mind – not that I had any choice in the matter – and anyway, I was used to it, being the youngest of ten. 

Sometimes he’d put the gramophone on and we’d sing along to a record. I’d tell him about my little job at the school, helping the teacher. Or there was always some family drama to relate, what with there being so many of us and the family growing all the time. 

Sometimes he’d tell me about his family. About what he got up to with his brothers on the farm. They’d all passed away by this time. He’d lost his wife a long time ago, too. Barbara her name was and she had red hair ‘like the leaves in the fall’. Their two little babies had red hair, too, but they never made it past their first birthdays. ‘Being the last one at the party is no fun, Violet,’ he said.

Then one day Mr Beaman sat me down. I must have been visiting for a year or so, I guess.

‘Now, Violet, I want you to do something for me. I want you to marry me.’

My mouth dropped open like a trapdoor. 

‘Times are tough. Jobs are hard to come by. I know your family are struggling. But I can help. If you married me, you see, you’d get my war pension when I die.’

‘Oh Mr Beaman,’ I said. ‘It wouldn’t be right!’

‘Now, Violet, that’s not so. I should say… ’ He cleared his throat. ‘There’d be no intimacy of the conjugal sort. You’d still live at home and come here just like now.’

I was as red as a beetroot, as you can imagine. 

‘Nothing would change but when I pass over I’d like to know that you’d be looked after.’

My eyes filled with tears. ‘But what would people say?’ 

‘We’d keep it secret and no-one would know.’ He sighed and took off his glasses then. His lovely blue eyes were all cloudy. He looked out the window but I knew he couldn’t see anything, what with his cataracts and all.

‘Violet, I was just about to give up when you came along and now I feel better than I’ve done in years. Marrying you would be my way of saying thank you.’ 

In my heart I felt it was wrong, but this was the Great Depression and he was right, times were hard. And that’s how it happened. We married in secret and things carried on as they always had, only now he would joke that I should call him Jack. But he was always Mr Beaman to me. We were married for three years before he died in his sleep. I truly believe it was our marriage that kept him going just that little bit longer. That’s why I agreed to it in the end, if I’m honest.

Nobody knew. Not till now. I knew there’d be a scandal. And I couldn’t bring myself to claim that pension. I made my own way in the world. 

I’m 101 now. People ask ‘what’s the secret to a long life, Vi?’ Just get on with it, I say. There’s too much complaining these days, not enough suffering in silence. My great-nieces are always weeping over this or that. They say I’m a tough cookie, not even shedding a tear at their parents’ funerals. Pastor Jonah says I’m stoic. I had to look it up. It means unflappable. I guess that’s about right.

There’s another secret to my long life, I might add. Having people around me. That’s why I like being here in the nursing home. And I understand now what Mr Beaman must have felt. You don’t want to be the only one left at the party.

When people ask me why I never married, I tell them to mind their own darned business. Never met a man I liked enough, and that’s the truth. But I don’t mention Mr Beaman. He’s always been a secret.  

Do you know Pastor Jonah? We have very good conversations. I’ve been a Methodist all my life but I’ve never met a pastor like Jonah. It must be this modern approach. Anyway, we were talking one day, like we do. And I thought – what the heck – I’m going to tell him about Mr Beaman. So I did, and he was pretty flabbergasted. But it was when I told him about some of Mr Beaman’s stories that he really sat up. 

Because of Mr Beaman being a veteran of the Civil War. I had no idea it was such a big deal. Mr Beaman didn’t like talking about it much, but sometimes he’d tell me bits and pieces like when I found his Union medal at the back of a cupboard.

Anyhow, Pastor Jonah got real excited. ‘That means you’re a widow of a Civil War veteran, Miss Stone. Gosh, there can’t be anyone left alive that can claim that!’

So one thing led to another and he got in touch with some group here in Missouri. And they checked my story, and found Mr Beaman’s Army records. There being no marriage certificate I could show them, I let them see the Bible. It was the one thing I saved from our time together. 

Handle it carefully now, the pages are so fragile. In the front is Mr Beaman’s family tree written in his own hand. There’s his grandparents, then his parents and his brothers. Then Barbara and the two babies. And here do you see? His writing is very shaky now. Can you read it? Violet Emily Stone, that’s me, married September 3rd 1936. 

Now I’m famous, apparently. How Mr Beaman would chuckle. I’ve done lots of recordings for these so-called heritage organisations and schools and such. I like it, talking to people. Not much else to do at my age.

But you’re the best visitors I’ve had, and that’s a fact. You could have knocked me over with a feather when you told me who you were. Fancy, Mr Beaman’s brother having a whole family I knew nothing about. 

And what’s this? You brought me a present. Why, thank you kindly, you didn’t need to do that. Oh my goodness me! Is this Mr Beaman? He looks so young, so handsome. Gosh, I don’t know where these tears are coming from. Forgive me snivelling, it’s just… he’s the only man who ever loved me.

2021 Doris Gooderson – Third Place Entry


Alyson has spent the last thirty years living and working overseas in education. She writes short stories and travel pieces and has been published in magazines in the UK and online. She has several incomplete novels lurking in the depths of her computer which some day she hopes to finish but flash fiction remains her favourite medium.

Sea Change by Alyson Hilbourne

In town, the curling faded postcards depict an aquamarine sea that is undoubtedly bathtub warm and as clear as glass.
Today, however, the steel grey ocean snarls and flecks of white spittle decorate the curling lips of the waves. Breakers smash up on the beach, stretching as far as they dare and dragging away the sand as they leave. Between the waves, eddies appear, like bubbling cauldrons spewing foam from deep within.
“Lucky we’ve got the beach hut for the week,” Dad says, his words immediately ripped away by the wind.
He leads the way carrying the cool box while Mum toils behind with several camping chairs and a bag of towels. Danny and | trail at the rear, 

struggling to walk in new flip-flops, carting a tangle of buckets, spades and inflatable toys. 

Inside the hut we huddle in jackets, cupping tea brewed on the primus, while we listen to the wind hurt spray against the wooden hut. 

“We’re being watched,” Dad says, nodding through the open door. Out beyond the breakers, two heads bob in and out of the water, dark soulful eyes fixed on us.
“Atlantic grey seals,” Dad adds, peering through the binoculars. “Nosy blighters. Nothing to see here.” He motions at them to go away.
“Can | see?” Danny holds out a hand for the binoculars. Grudgingly, Dad passes them over and Danny grins as he looks through the lenses. “Pd like to swim with them,” Danny says. 

“Huh? They’re wild animals,” Dad sneers, grabbing back the binoculars. “They wouldn’t want you.” 

Mum flinches and stares down at her tea. Danny and | don’t look at each other. We sit, stiff and tense, as the air pulses with unsaid words. The hut is too small for all of us. 

Next day the sea is calmer, and we can explore the beach. Danny builds an enormous sand castle, digging a moat and piling sand up in a mound. He empties buckets of compacted sand around the edge to make turrets. I find him shells to decorate the towers. 

Two boys come across and stand watching. Saying nothing, they squat and use their hands to scrape out more sand from around the moat. In some silent understanding, the three boys dig a canal from the castle down to the water’s edge. As the tide turns, they try to protect the stronghold, shovelling up barriers of sand until they are all covered in it and rush into the sea, laughing and giggling to wash off. 

The pattern of the holiday is set. For a couple of days, the sun comes out, and the sea is invitingly calm. Danny swims with his friends and they push each other off the inflatable dolphin or kick a ball about on the beach. The three of them slip between the land and the water as if there is no dividing line. 

Mum keeps on her long-sleeved shirt and dark glasses as she dozes in her chair. Dad scans the beach with his binoculars and gives a running commentary on what other people are doing.
| stretch out on my towel, listening to my music, wondering what I will tell my friends when we get back home. 

“ don’t want to leave,” Danny whispers to me that night, back at the hotel. “It’s better here, isn’t it?” 

I give him a small smile. There are people around. It’s always better with people around. 

Our last day and the wind picks up, pummelling the wooden beach hut until it creaks and groans. The wooden shutters rattle. 

Mum, Dad and I stay under shelter as the sky turns slate grey and clouds scud across the sky. Large drops of rain pockmark the ocean surface while the waves rise up and start snapping at the beach. Danny spends the last afternoon with his friends. 

As the waves crest, they smash down on the sand, disintegrating into a lacy residue. Seagulls are tossed about like discarded sweet wrappers. The air tastes of salt and it’s hard to hear each other speak over the noise of the sea. 

“Time to go,” Dad says, packing up the chairs. Mum shivers and appears about to argue but then thinks better of it and puts towels and biscuits in her bag. | gather up the buckets and spades. 

“Danny! Time to go,” Dad yells from the doorway jangling the beach hut keys in his hand. 

He waits expectantly for Danny to scamper back. When he doesn’t immediately appear, Dad cracks his knuckles, scowling. Something heavy lodges in my stomach and Mum twitches. lt doesn’t do to keep Dad waiting. But as we look out of the hut the beach is emptying. The wind increases and it begins to rain. People beat a retreat to cafes or their hotels. Our beach hut is the only one still open. 

“Where is he?” Dad snarls, flecks of white spittle decorating the angry curl of his lip. “I thought you were watching him.” 

Mum shrinks away. 

“You were by the door,” she retorts, but | wish she hadn’t because Dad’s arm lashes out and smashes across her face, knocking her sunglasses to the ground and exposing the nicotine coloured ring around her left eye. Blood bubbies up under the skin of her cheek and tears glaze her eves. 

| slip away on to the sand, searching round behind the beach huts. “Danny! Danny!” | yell, circling back to the water’s edge. 

Above the tide line, just beyond the reach of the sea, I find, neatly paired, Danny’s flip-flops. 

| look up. 

Out beyond the breakers three heads with dark soulful eyes watch me, and | think a flipper waves before the next swell takes them away, leaving a lacy frill§ of foam between the waves. 

2021 Doris Gooderson Shortlisted Entries

The entries in the 2021 Doris Gooderson Short Story competition that have made it through to the shortlist are:

An Ordinary Birthday Party

Child’s Play

Fast Train Approaching

Freedom Comes in Many Guises

Her Things

In Which the Zebra Goes Visiting and Escapes from a Tight Place

It Takes All Sorts

Mac The Knife

Mr Beaman’s Bible: A True Story from Missouri


Rose Quartz

Sea Change

Seizing the Initiative

Shakespeare and Shoes

Stone Angel

The Hide

The Honeymoon

The Reluctant Ghost

There’s Always Tomorrow

Watcher in the Dry

2020 DG Comp: Third

The Misfortunes of Lady Alice

by Stephen Palmer


Stephen Palmer has had stories published in print and online anthologies and the first of his Manchester set historical crime novels, Scar Tissue, was published in 2013. He is currently working on a sequel, Dolls and Mirrors, due to be published in 2021. He was born and raised in Somerset, England before leaving to study philosophy at Bangor University, North Wales and then Manchester University. The result of these studies, Human Ontology and Rationality, was published by Avebury Press. In order to make a living that writing and philosophy have signally failed to provide, he has worked as a bank clerk, research assistant, civil servant, film reviewer and an assistant on an archaeological dig at the Roman remains in Castlefield, Manchester. He now lives in Manchester with his wife and son.

‘He was eaten by a tiger! That must have been awful for you.’

‘Well, yes,’ I replied, ‘but not half as awful as it was for him.’

We were having aperitifs on the terrace of the Hotel Renoir. The sun was setting and no doubt its light shimmering on the Mediterranean was very beautiful but instead of letting the sight bathe my aching eyes I continued to study my companion. I was wondering what exactly he intended.

His name was Geoffrey or George or John. Something beginning with a G or a J. I wasn’t listening when my niece introduced him to me. He was an archaeologist or architect or some such and, having exhausted the various ways of sympathising with my loss, began to flatter me after we moved into the restaurant to dine. At least he had the sense to extol my intelligence rather than my looks. I have no illusions regarding the latter. My father was American and ugly but very rich which meant he could acquire as a wife a beautiful but extremely stupid daughter of an English viscount. Unfortunately it was my father’s looks I inherited. My face could be described as plain if it weren’t for my bulbous nose and thin lips. My body does nothing to make up for these deficiencies. My chest is flat, I have no hips to speak of and my legs are spindly. And now my eyes are beginning to fail. To the society in which I am condemned to move there are only two things of interest about me; the fortune I inherited and the fact that my husband was eaten by a tiger.

Ah, yes, my husband. Dear, dear, Charles. He was the most egotistical man I have ever met and am ever likely to. He married me for my money but I didn’t mind. Adventure was what Charles sought and he needed me to fund his expeditions. With my backing he climbed previously unscaled peaks, crossed uncharted wastes and hacked through jungles never before explored. He was dashing and handsome and that strange combination; both the most manly of men and a screaming homosexual. I loved him with a passion that caused me misery for twenty years. It was a misery I relished and even now, despite everything I suffered when I was married to him, I regret that he underestimated that tiger.

My companion at the Hotel Renoir was, like all the men I come across, a poor specimen in comparison. I was hoping when I agreed to dine with him that there would be something about him to spark within me some interest. Perhaps he wanted me to fund the construction of a building he had designed or an archaeological dig at the site of some ancient civilisation thus far unexcavated. By the time we were half way through the main course – a most marvellous boeuf bourguignon if I recall – I had gleaned what he was up to from those words wittering from his lips I couldn’t help but hear.

It was my money he was after but not me he wanted. He was playing the long game and who can blame him. I quite admired his forbearance in wishing to marry my niece and waiting for her to inherit rather than being saddled with me. I can, I have been told, be capricious. But not when it comes to my family. I may not have liked them very much but I am nothing if not loyal and Alexandra is the only family I have left.

Alexandra. I would like to say that, now Charles has gone, she is the light of my life but that would not be true. Sometimes I try to convince myself that I’m jealous. Not only will my wealth and estates be left to her when I die but she has the good fortune of having inherited her grandmother’s looks and her grandfather’s brains. She reads Russian novels in the original and looks very pretty as she does so but, much as I would like to, I can’t bring myself to envy her. I wish she was the sort of young woman who was poisoning me or plotting to push me down a flight of stairs so she can inherit without waiting for me to die of my own accord. Unfortunately Alexandra possesses one of those most irritating of dispositions, a sweet nature. She is kind and considerate to a degree that baffles me and so, of course, I am duty bound to protect her from men called Geoffrey, George or John.

So it was on that evening I decided to put him to the test, this Geoffrey, George or John who was buttering me up so that I would not object when he proposed to my niece. I began flirting with him. This is not behaviour that comes naturally to me and must have been a horrid sight but it is remarkable how a smile from thin lips can appear seductive and failing eyes seem to shine when there are several millions in the bank and a vast portfolio of stocks and shares behind them. The poor man was putty in my hands. Very wet putty it seemed given the speed with which his romantic attachment to Alexandra dissolved. He proposed to me over dessert – a wonderful chocolate crème brûlée. I ordered champagne.

So, here I am on the terrace of the Hotel Renoir. It is my wedding night although my husband is not with me. I made it clear that ours should be a companionable marriage. All that sex business would be rather undignified at my age. James – that’s his name, I think – made a valiant effort to hide his relief when I suggested this but failed. Alexandra is unhappy with me, of course. She was quite infatuated with my new husband and fully intended to accept him when he proposed. Her disappointment will pass soon enough. Especially when I put her in the way of a very handsome young Italian count with a fortune of his own who, I’ve been told, spotted her reading Anna Karenina and has expressed an interest in meeting her.

I stipulated only one other condition before marrying my second husband; that he should, as soon as the wedding was over, go out and find the tiger that ate my first husband and kill it. The poor fool took this as another example of my well known caprice and agreed. He is even now on his way to India whilst I am enjoying the reflection of a bright moon glittering in the dark blue waters of the Mediterranean. I must make the most of these moments of beauty before my eyesight fails completely.

When he arrives in India my husband will find that I have provided all the accoutrements necessary for a tiger hunt. He will have the very best equipment but, unfortunately, he is not the sort of man equipped for such an expedition. Thus I have high hopes of becoming that most exceptional of my sex; a woman who has suffered the misfortune of having not just one, but two, husbands eaten by a tiger.

2020 DG Comp: SECOND

Printing Over the Pictures

By Valerie Bowes


I’ve always loved writing. When I was no longer needed to drive a truck laden with plumbing materials around the building sites of London, I was free to put my words down on paper, instead of doing it in my head while negotiating traffic. Since then, I’ve had over 200 stories and articles published in magazines and anthologies, seen two of my plays performed on the amateur stage and reached the longlist or above in competitions. 2017 saw the publication of my first book, Battle For Love, a romance set in Napoleonic times. Unfortunately, the publisher folded so I’m still looking for one willing to take on my 4 other historical novels…


Something zipped past his ear. He ducked instinctively, his eyes snapping shut, his heart pounding a warning. His hands hovered, ready to shut out the blast that gave a second’s fraudulent silence before the thunder rolled over the bleak and battered landscape, flattening all before it.

The homely bumble of a bee foraging in the hedgerow and the abrupt clockwork trill of a peevish wren brought his eyes open, slowly, as if he wasn’t sure he would see the blanket of wheat, its green blades splashed with poppies as scarlet as Chelsea Pensioners, the yellow spires of charlock and the purple of poisonous corncockle. But it spread out before his eyes, uninterrupted by deep craters of mud and foul, stagnant water, and roofed by a clear and cloudless sky. High above him hung the bright ball of the sun, bathing his skin in golden light.

No storm. No darkness. No thundering guns. This wasn’t there.

The hedgerow scents, drawn heavenwards by the afternoon, teased his nose with honey and warm wood. Another insect streaked past but he was ready for it this time. Even if its path had collided with his, it would not have burst his head wide open to allow blood and brains to seep into the already reddened mud.

He gazed around at the quiet, gentle field, rubbing an ear of wheat between his fingers to release the flour that would become bread. How little it took, to turn a patch of earth from something that gave life to something that sucked it from you. For a moment, the light went out of the day again. The glowing greens and golds dulled into shades of brown and khaki. The leafy hedgerow loud with hidden birds went silent. It shrivelled, distorted, and grew a skeleton of barbs with a figure, crucified, hanging from the wire.

He’d had the means to help. Had it in his shaking hands. All he had to do was bring it to his shoulder and pull the trigger. Arthur wouldn’t have hesitated. Why had it been Arthur hanging there in no-man’s-land, not him?

Barren mud and shellholes morphed seamlessly back into the ripeness of summer as something moved. He saw the undergrowth quiver not far from his foot. Some small creature, no doubt, living its life, oblivious of the destructive power that could be unleashed at a moment’s notice. He moved along the field-edge, glancing casually down at the place where he had seen the movement.

And the eyes looked back.

Round and amber in a triangular russet mask edged with white and black and streaked with red, they were glazed with fear and exhaustion. Ears flattened even tighter to the skull as he stopped and stared, seeing the tangle of stout bramble shudder as the fox tugged unavailingly at the clutching thorns.

He’d never seen one so close before and stooped, peering. The fox froze, as if by stillness it could make this not to be. A slick of saliva dribbled into the green, tinged with blood from desperate gnawing. Teeth showed white and pointed in the panting mouth. Only a young one, then. But Arthur had been young. So had he.

He straightened. It was none of his business. It would get itself free eventually. If it didn’t, it was only vermin. What did it matter if it was trapped there until it died of thirst and exhaustion? He’d seen what happened when one got into a hen-run. The slaughter was indiscriminate and senseless. It didn’t deserve to live. 

He moved away a few steps. On the edge of his vision, Arthur hung, arms outspread, head hanging like the Jesus on the cross in the tiny village church. If he helped this time, as he hadn’t then, would Arthur go away and leave him in peace?

It would have been so easy if he’d had a gun now, but he had nothing. He bent to rummage in the hedgerow for a heavystone or piece of wood. The fox jerked, frantic at his nearness. Maybe it sensed what kind of mercy he had in mind. He went on searching, hoping the fear would give it added impetus and absolve him of the need to do anything. Why couldn’t it free itself? Surely it must thread its way through brambles every day?

Then, as he reached for a likely weapon, something scored a deep scratch in his hand. He withdrew it with an oath, to suck the soreness. Then he saw the glint where the rust had been rubbed from the wire. The barbs were deeply snarled in the fox’s ruff. He knelt to trace the strand. If he could pull it free…

Brambles were one thing, dirty wire barbs another. His hand stung already and he thought briefly of sepsis. Why should he risk further injury? Why should he risk it for a bloody fox, for Christ’s sake?

Because it was a life. A life as precious to the fox as the lives of all those young men had been to them. Possessed of sudden purpose, he wriggled out of his jacket and cast it to shroud the fox’s head. The softness of the fur astounded him. He buried his fingers in it, feeling for the barbs, pulling them free with one hand while he held the jacket tight with the other.

Like waiting to go over the top, when you were so keyed up for action you were like to burst, time didn’t portion itself into the regularity of a ticking clock. It seemed to take forever and then, with the suddenness of a shrilling whistle, it was done. He pulled the jacket away from the animal, expecting it to run. But it crouched there, its eyes fixed on his.

He moved back, bundling the tweed to his chest.

“Go on, then,” he said. “Don’t waste it. I couldn’t save him, see?”

The fox moved a tentative paw. Then it was gone, racing flat and fast into the safety of the concealing wheat and the man walked on with a new steadiness in his step, carrying the memory of the soft fur in his fingers and with the first dimming brushstrokes laid over the pictures in his head.

2020 DG Comp: FIRST

Always Plant Your Marigolds in April

by Pam Keevil


Like many people I began writing through a love of reading; a love that began as a little girl when I would climb a tree in my garden, perch in the crook of the branches with a book and a handful of biscuits. Bliss!

But write books? Me? Never! That was for people who did English Literature degrees or had famous relatives who already wrote or published. However,  as a teacher I was tempted to write for children so I began to experiment with short stories and completed an MA in Creative and Critical Writing in 2016. I realised what I really enjoy is the psychological interplay between characters and the relationships between them, using my knowledge of psychology and over ten years studying personal development. My first full length novel, Virgin at Fifty, a  poignant and funny feelgood novel about starting over, was published by Black Pear in 2018. With my husband, I co authored a book on happiness, called Finding Happiness after Covid 19 which was published in July 2020 and am in the process of editing a cosy mystery about estranged siblings who meet and fall in love and is set in Gloucestershire, where I live. I may yet get round to writing a children’s book. 

I’ve won several short story competitions, taken part in Stroud Short Stories on two occasions and the Cheltenham Poetry Festival in 2017, judged competitions, including children’s writing competitions and am an active member of two writing groups. I have a regular monthly slot on Corinium Radio and my website www.pamkeevil.com will tell you more, including how to keep in contact. 

I am absolutely thrilled to have won first prize in this competition!

A shadow flits along the lane, like a man running. Not a jogger. More furtive. I rub my eyes and go to find my glasses. There’s nothing. I’d imagined it. That’s the trouble with being on your own. Things get out of proportion. I know I should go down to the lunch club every week. I might think about it later. Those marigolds won’t plant themselves unless I get a shift on. Stan always said marigolds need a good month before they start to do anything.

Pam Keevil
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2019 Doris Gooderson Short Story – First Place

Playing by the Rules

By Barbara Young

The coppers came to the house quicker than I expected. A stern, frowny detective with a scraggly beard, wearing a shiny grey suit, and a woman in bulky uniform that made her look fat. I had to go to the station for an “informal chat”. Not sure what they meant but Mam always told us to say nowt to the coppers. They asked her to come with me but she had one of her headaches – she was pissed – so my social worker’s here instead. 

“Rose, could you tell us what happened down by the rockpools?” asks the policewoman with a smile.

I think she’s called Tracy, or maybe Macey, I wasn’t really listening when she told me. She’s trying to make me feel comfortable, make me think she’s my friend. She’s got the same cheesy smirk my social worker uses all the time.  

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2019 Doris Gooderson Short Story – Second Place

Letting Go

by Sam Szanto

Amelia’s crying wakes me. The red eyes of the clock say 12.45. For a couple of minutes, I ignore her in the hope she’ll go back to sleep. She turns up the volume.

‘Don’t you know I have to be up for work in six hours?’ I mutter, dragging myself along our skinny corridor. 

There is an unfamiliar, plastic-y smell. I want to investigate, but Amelia’s cries are growing louder. The neighbours have never complained before but it would bug me to be woken by someone else’s bawling baby: my own is bad enough.

‘When’s this going to stop? I need to get you off the breast; you’re sixteen months… shush, sweetheart, shush….’

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2019 Doris Gooderson Short Story – Third Place

The Ladies          

by Vanessa Horn                 

Rat-a-tat! Rat-a-tat! The Ladies are here again. And it’s different today; I’m down in the hall and Mother’s upstairs. It’s the first time I’ve been this close to them, but I had a feeling they were around our area and my feeling was right – they’re just behind the door.

     The Ladies come every few weeks or so. Not regularly enough to guess exactly which day, though. I’ve never seen them in person, but I always know it’s them at the door; their rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat is different from any other knock I’ve heard. But even when I hear them, I’m never near enough to answer. Until today.

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2018 DG Comp – Third Place

Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition 2018




The Circus of Delight


By Glenda Young



A scarf of red silk drapes over my legs as I work. My stitches are small but no longer invisible as they once used to be. I work quickly, repairing trousers for Freydo and Pav before tonight’s show. If only my fingers could work to repair our tent, but alas I do not have the skill or the material to fix what is needed. The tent continues to leak and lets in much light, even on the darkest of days.


I reach to the table to pull yellow silk to my workspace. I mend Freydo’s yellow trousers with red cotton because I have to make do with what I have, not what I would like. I do not notice Freydo approach the open door to my van. He coughs gently to alert me and I look up and smile. I break the red cotton with my teeth and drop the silk to my knee.

“The trousers are ready?” he asks.

“And the tops are almost done. Sit with me, Freydo,” I ask.

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2018 DG Comp – Second Place

Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition 2018



Quality Time

By Dianne Bown-Wilson


Sixty-two minutes:

I glance at my watch counting down the time remaining until, once again, it will be over. Out of the 168 hours in each week this is the only one that matters, each minute as precious as a droplet of water to a parched desert-traveller.

Apart from me, the room is empty. Three easy chairs crouch round a watermarked coffee table and I perch on one, mindlessly ironing my skirt with my sweating palms. Looking around, everything I see is shamelessly functional: cream woodchip walls, cheap floral curtains, and serviceable carpet tiles contribute nothing to homeliness and if it were possible, seem to become even less welcoming week by week. Clearly, whoever designed this space believed that those who have to come here deserve nothing more.

The door opens and Myra’s face appears, creased but comforting like a well-used road map. “Ready, Eva?”

I nod.

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2018 DG Comp – First Place

Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition 2018



32 Ivy Close

By Janette Owen


I feel like the richest man in the world on bright days like this, though others beg to differ. I’ve seen ‘em, wrinklin’ their noses and muttering under their breath while they’re passing by, showing their ignorance. Druggy indeed; vagrant – cheeky beggars. I’ll have them know I have a place of my own and it’s finer than theirs, I bet. There’s wrought iron gates with fancy scrolls, and a flagged path what’s knitted together wi’ moss right up to my place; 32 Ivy Close. You should see the flowers arranged around it, and the pretties that take pride of place on my shelf. If any cared to look, they’d see that they’ve no room to turn their noses up. Still, they can think what they want if they leave me in peace.

Ah, the paper shop. I’ll cross the road while it’s quiet and have a sit down and a read afore I go to see our lass. She’s not been right well, you know, and it’s been too long since I saw her.

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2018 Doris Gooderson Short Story Winners and Longlist

Congratulations to our 2018 winners:

First: 32 Ivy Close by Janette Owen

Second: Quality Time by Dianne Bown-Wilson

Third: The Circus of Delight by Glenda Young

(To read the stories, click on the links.)

Here are the shortlisted stories – congratulations to all those who made it this far!

“Fitting In”

32 Ivy Close

A Leap of Faith

A Novel Experience

Before Midnight Strikes

Broken Chard

Cody’s Escape



Ernest and the Women

Evidently Sylvie 

Exit Strategy

Grass Widow 

I Don’t Have a Wooden Heart

Isle of Song

Lavender and Old Lace

Life Is Full Of Surprises!

Loose Cannon

Loosening Up

Quality Time


Taking a U Turn

The Circus of Delight

The Coach Trip

The Inevitable However 

The Maiden’s Garland

The Old Man

The Very Peculiar History of Hamish Anderson

The Will

The World is Silent

Time to Go

2017 Doris Gooderson Competition Third Place – Papa Bombo

Papa Bombo

by Mike Watson

Bamboo is not just a plant. It is a banner in the breeze. A whip in the wind. As supple as rope and wire strong. Bamboo is loose limbed with more fingers than hands can hold. It is a “hoo” and a “haa” with rhythm tapping roots and jazz filled leaves.

Bamboo is not just a plant. It is spears in the sunrise, sharp in the bright and tasselled in the breeze. And, when the big moon rises and silvers the ocean in the bay, bamboo is the hush and ghostly sway.

Bamboo is not just a plant. It is where Papa Bombo lives. Everyone knows that Papa Bombo has lived there forever. He was there before you were born, before the village was born and before the first footprint in the sand. Papa Bombo has always been there.

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2017 Doris Gooderson Competition Second Place – Snakeskin


by Michael White

Beth closed the black-painted cottage door and hurried up the lane.  Perhaps a blow in the sunshine would help.  She had often walked up on the moor with Mike.  On a clear day you could see Newcastle, thirty miles to the South, and the peaks of the Lake District, fifty miles West.  Today the wind had combed high clouds into plumes and tendrils against a blue sky.  She climbed the ladder stile and went on up the path through sheep pastures.  When the path steepened through heather and bilberry bushes, she unfastened her jacket.

A steep scramble between huge red-brown boulders led to the top.  She sat on an overhanging rock to get her breath back, dangling her legs in space.  To South and West it was dark: rain before nightfall.  Beth zipped up her jacket and thrust her hands into the pockets.  A hand closed on a wad of paper: Mike’s letter.  The world contracted as she tugged it out, cold fingers hooked round the crumpled envelope.  She made to throw it away, but it remained in her palm.  She straightened it and pulled out the single sheet.  Mike typed everything: he could never bring himself to write neatly.  But even the typescript was illegible to Beth’s stinging eyes.  She crammed it back in the pocket and patted it flat.  It wasn’t as if she didn’t remember what it said; she’d read it enough times.  Tangled hair blew across her face.  The broken rocks thirty feet below were uninviting.  She’d better go back to the empty cottage.

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2017 Doris Gooderson Competition First Place – My Grandmother, The Deep Sea Diver

My Grandmother, the Deep-Sea Diver

by Tracey Glasspool

Mrs Ki surfaces and breathes out sharply, a high whistling shriek. She holds an octopus aloft then swims for the boat.

“Your grandmother hated octopus,” she says as she hands it to me, “I’ll try for abalone.” A deep breath and she’s gone again.

I push the octopus into a sack; change my mind and drop it back into the sea. I also dislike the taste and the sack is already full of clams and sea-urchins. Besides, I’ve watched octopus in aquariums back home. I like them; their intelligence is obvious. Back home. My stomach contracts with guilt.

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2016 DG 1st – Mountains and Pebbles and Sand by Douglas Bruton


 By Douglas Bruton


There are fish bones in the mountains, pressed between the flat prayer-palms of stone, and ammonite shells shiny and ridged, and impressions of things that once swam in the sea caught in rock the colour of seabed-sand. That’s what Edwin’s grandfather told him. He said it was the earth’s story and it was like going back to the first page of a book and starting the story over, always going back.

And Edwin’s grandfather beginning in on a story of when he was a stripped-back boy, telling it like it was a new story even though he’d told it a hundred times over, not leaving out even the smallest detail, the smallest grain of sand.

‘It’s a pebble you want. Pebbles are best.’

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2016 DG 2nd – Yesterday’s Pastries by Carole Stone


By Carol Stone


She arrives at Paddington on the District line. Well-worn suede shoes, lace-ups, a shade of blue-grey with a thick flat sole. She is a stranger to this line. From where I sit it’s always the shoes I notice first. The polished city brogues, shiny patent stilettos, athletic sneakers. I’ve seen them all but never shoes quite like hers.

Amidst the rushing bodies she stands on the platform, the map she holds turning this way and that. Beneath the rim of her knitted hat, wisps of caramel hair protrude which float wildly as the air is sucked through the tunnel. Brushing it from her eyes she glances around, confusion on her face. Then my watching eyes meet hers and a smile comes my way, not fearful or sympathetic but the genuine kind not usually reserved for the likes of me. Momentarily I forget myself, forget where and who I am. Then a man rushes by, kicking my feet, sharply returning me to reality. I burrow down into my sleeping bag, hoping she won’t be there when I next brave a peek. Except the suede clad feet are already heading my way. Before long they are beside me.

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2016 DG 3rd – Lasting Impression by Jacqueline Cooper


By Jacqueline Cooper


‘He wants you to go to him to sign the divorce papers?  Don’t you dare!’ Sally’s mum sounded outraged at the very idea.  ‘You were at that man’s beck and call for 10 years. Let him come to you if he wants something. In fact let him come here to the house. I’ll get your Aunt Tricia and Aunt Betty round,’ she said grimly.

For a moment Sally pictured her soon-to-be ex-husband walking in to face her mum and the aunts, who’d be sitting in a row on the settee, arms crossed over ample bosoms, ready to lay into him.  The image made her smile but she knew it would never happen.  Greg, her ex, was the biggest wimp going.  He wouldn’t dare face her family. Her mum used to think the sun shone out of him, so once the truth about their marriage finally came out, mum had taken it particularly hard, especially when Sally had to move back in to the family home until she got back on her feet. At thirty years old she’d ended up sleeping in her old bedroom, working two jobs to pay off her half of the debts she hadn’t even known Greg was running up.

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2015 Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition Results and Winners

The 2015 Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition

The Winners.

Congratulations. The winners are:


1st place was Alyson Hilbourne from Yokohama with story “Stars in your Eyes”:

Alyson Hilbourne currently lives in Yokohama, Japan where she works as a teaching assistant. She enjoys writing short stories and travel articles in her free time. She has been published in UK magazines, online and in several anthologies. Her goal, whenever she has time, is to write the novel that has been fermenting in her head. She is a member of Writers Abroad online writing group http://writersabroad.spruz.com/


2nd place was Jacqueline Cooper from Bradford with story “The A to Z of Adultery”:

Jacqui Cooper currently lives in Yorkshire with her husband, a cat and a snake. The cat, she wanted, the snake, well that’s another story. She has always written but didn’t always submit her stories – until a couple of years ago when she gave herself a good talking to. Since then she has been published in People’s Friend and Take a Break. She has won the Henshaw Press short story competition and been placed or short listed in various others, including runner up in the inaugural 2015 Ann Summers short story competition. She also has a story in the Romantic Novelists Association anthology, Truly Madly, Deeply.

3rd place was Janet Hancock from Ferndown with story “The Pencil”:

Janet lives in Dorset. She has had several short story competition successes, and stories published online and in anthologies. She is working on a novel set in Russia and England in the early 20th century; a previous draft was longlisted in the 2013 Mslexia novel competition and shortlisted for the 2014 Yeovil literary prize; the opening chapter and a 500-word synopsis won 1st prize at the 2011 Winchester Writers’ Conference. Janet grows fruit and veg in her garden, from which she emerges at least once a week for several hours’ choral singing.



(Profits from the competition go to the Severn Hospice.)

Severn Hospice logo with charity number (2)

 The Shortlisted Entries

The following entries have made it through to the shortlist for the final judging. Congratulations to everyone listed here, and thank you to everyone who entered, because we’re able to make another donation to the Severn Hospice this year.

  • The Sun and the Moon – Cassie Beggs – Caerleon, Gwent
  • Shadow Over My Shoulder – Sheila Hollingberry – Etchingham
  • Nemesis – Wanda Pierpoint – Tamworth
  • Out for the Count – Marcia Woolf – Hastngs
  • Only In The Dark – Jim Waite, Perth
  • Born Again – Jacqueline Zacharias – York
  • A Paddling of Ducks – Elise Hawken – Gainsborough
  • Over the Limit – Andrew Giles – Darlington
  • The Other Mr Chips – Andrew Giles – Darlington
  • Worlds Apart – Kate Westgate, Ellesmere
  • Too Late to Remember – Malcolm Maxell – Guildford
  • The Idyll – Josie Turner – Hitchin
  • Neighbourly Spirit – Norman Kitching – Gosport
  • Absconding – Elisabeth Kondal – Worthing
  • The Pencil – Janet Hancock – Ferndown
  • Where’s Dad? – Jane Byle – Carnforth
  • Losing Lyn – Bruce Harris – Seaton
  • The Sand People – Jonathan Slack, Bradford-on-Avon
  • A Dish Best Served Cold – Myra Godden – Ashford
  • The Debt –Kevin Chant – Worcester
  • A Present for Teacher – Sarah Lovett – Lowestoft
  • The Open Cage – Pamela Keevil – Stroud
  • Free Range – Dianne Simmons – Bath
  • Stars in Your Eyes – Alyson Hilbourne – Yokahama, Japan
  • Jimmy – Clare Connolly – Weymouth
  • Other People’s Lives – Gillian Gardner – Shrewsbury
  • In Confidence – Ian Burton – Bournmouth
  • Waiting for the Pigeons – Tony Oswick – Essex
  • Rock Goddess – Karen McDermott – Hove
  • The A – Z of Adultery – Jacqueline Cooper – Bradford
  • A Special Vocation – Stephen Gage – Essex
  • Grandma’s Needles – Alison Wassell – St Helens
  • Thin Lizzy – Jo Derrick – Rugby
  • The Book – David Mathews – Bath
  • Galloping in Vain – Michael Callaghan – Clarkston

2015 Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition – Third Place

The Pencil


Janet Hancock



‘There’s nothing to it, Sajid,’ insists Manu. ‘All you have to do is push, shout -‘.

            But Manu, you have two arms, I want to say; two hands and two legs, skinny, yes, but tough, propelling a bony ten-year-old body; Manu thinks that’s how old he is. He has a cast in one eye.

            I don’t know my own age but I’m sure it isn’t ten.

            ‘Anyway,’ adds Manu, ‘as soon as they spot you, they’ll feel sorry for you.’ And Manu is off, along the platform. Continue reading

2015 Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition – Second Place

The A-Z of Adultery


Jacqueline Cooper

A is for my no longer secret admirer. A is for attraction. For anticipation. It is also for affair. And for Andrew, my husband.

B is for boss. For the buzz I felt when I first saw him. For the butterflies in my tummy right now as I wait for him. It is also for betrayal.

C is for the chase. How long has it been since anyone looked at me the way he does? C is for my curves which he says he loves. It’s for the control I feel slipping away as I nervously pace the floor. C is for the curtains I half close in case he’s lying about my curves. It’s for the clock I can’t help watching. It is also for cheating. 

D is for daring. Who’d have thought I’d ever be in this position?  D is for discretion, of course – that goes without saying.  And for desire. Dear god the desire! After twenty years of marriage I thought this giddiness was behind me. My mouth is dry. Should I open the wine? I have no idea how to behave. D is also for doubts. And dishonesty. Continue reading

2015 Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition – First Place

Stars in Your Eyes


Alyson Hilbourne

We cheered as you marched past, smart in new uniforms, heads erect, arms swinging, hobnail boots ringing on the cobbles.

The town gave you a good send-off. The colliery band strode in front along the route to the station. We lined the pavements to watch, sitting with our feet in the gutter to wait. They gave us children paper Union Jacks to wave.

I craned forward to see, brandishing my flag. 

“Papa, Papa!” I shouted. You didn’t turn your head but I saw your moustache twitch so I knew you heard. You were between Maud’s father and Willie’s older brothers. Half the colliery had signed up to go. You were all so straight and tall. I felt my chest swell as I pointed you out.

Mama stood behind me. Her best lace handkerchief was screwed up in her hand and pressed to her cheek.  Continue reading

2014 Doris Gooderson – First Place

The Charity Boutique


James Whitman


Everything looks washed out when the fog rolls in, cold and wet like a flannel left on a part-time radiator. Makes it even harder to find my way around these forgotten streets. But I don’t want to ask for directions. Not to where I’m going.

            So I wander up and down streets I never bothered with as a child. Lucy skips ahead, her red coat a bouncing blob of colour amongst the pale grey. Splashes and giggles and songs about butterflies flutter back to me; all I have for her are barked warnings about roads and dog poo.

            “Mam,” she says at one point, tugging my arm. “Come and see.” Continue reading

2014 Doris Gooderson – Second Place

Letter From Portsmouth


Jim Waite


Windermere, 1829


As the pony sweated past on the hill, Wilfred Potter winced at its leathery smell. The postman, relaxed in the saddle, touched his cap to the walker.

         “Morning, Sir.”

         “Good morning, indeed. A fine day.” Wilfred swung his stick, cut that morning from a lime tree in his garden, and inhaled the September morning. Below stretched a sultry Windermere; above, mountain-tops pushed into the cooler winds of a sapphire sky. Pebbles crunched beneath his boots. He remembered, years earlier, his little son running ahead on paths just like this.

         The postman had stopped at a cottage, a slovenly bundle of stones behind a wooden fence, with a few dejected lettuces and a cow tethered to a stake. Wilfred saw him dismount, take a letter from his saddle bag and cross to the door. He knocked, firmly, but without interest. Continue reading

2014 Doris Gooderson – Third Place

When Gloria Was Here


 Kathryn Clark


When the two of you end up together, people call you chalk and cheese, say opposites attract, and whisper that the baby will be along soon. Perhaps they suspect that your older brother, Jack-the-Lad, they call him, seduced her and did a runner. Gloria’s father rants from the rafters, bruises kiss her cheeks and you, good boy, do what your mother urges, and offer to marry her. Keep it in the family.

You have another motive, sly perhaps, and more pressing than honour or duty. The caramel flesh of her makes you leap inside and out. And it doesn’t hurt, seeing disbelief on the faces of girls who’ve turned you down and boys who’ve dreamt, as you have, of that soft mouth. Continue reading

2013 Doris Gooderson – First Place

Breakfast in Bed


Barbara Leahy


In the morning he brings her breakfast in bed: mushrooms on toast, and a mug of steaming tea.  She sits up, pulling the sheet primly around her chest, and he laughs.  He opens the curtains a crack and the morning sun creeps into the room, peeling back the night like an unwanted blanket.  A dull ache unfurls behind her forehead.  He sits cross-legged on the bed in his boxers, taking long thirsty swallows of tea, spilling blackened mushroom slivers onto the duvet. Continue reading

2013 Doris Gooderson – Second Place

The Sandwriter


John Samson

‘Some say he is mad. But there are those who believe in the power of the Sandwriter.’ Silas cast a furtive glance around the bar then stood back and pretended to polish a glass.

‘What about you?’ I asked, ‘Do you believe?’

His laugh was a little forced as he shook his head. ‘Oh, no. I don’t believe any of that stuff.’ Continue reading

2013 Doris Gooderson – Third Place

I am Annie


Julia Bohanna



I am waiting.

I hear the slam of a coach door, footfalls hurrying up the stone steps and the voices of expectation slithering into my house. It breaks the creeping silence of the past night where there was nothing to do but to walk the corridors, climb the staircase. I imagine the buttery Jamaican sun that drips thickly through the trees outside. Tourists have come to hear about the White Witch, shiver deliciously as they walk through my world. They will already be twitchy with stories of me, the terrible plantation owner who lived here over a century ago. If only they knew that I am with them in every room, in the long green velvet dress that was my hallmark. I drift with more freedom than I had when alive, undetected. In my bedroom that has been restored and furnished with fine antiques; there is an old mirror with rusty foxing on the glass like a young girl’s freckles. In stories I live again. Continue reading

2013 Doris Gooderson – Winners and Shortlist

With over two-hundred entries received, the Wrekin Writers are proud to announce that the winners of the 2013 Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition are as follows:

First place: Breakfast in Bed by Barbara Leahy from Cork, Ireland

Second place: The Sandwriter by John Samson from Rickmansworth, Herts

Third place: I Am Annie by Julia Bohanna from Caversham, Berks Continue reading

2012 Doris Gooderson – Second Place



Thomas Hancocks

The morning’s work had gone slowly. Interrupted by questions from students and conversations with colleagues, he had not been able to fully use the time he had set. Though still, by midday the paper was nearing completion. On the Essence of Moral Decisions, the follow up work to two exalted books, it would be his last push towards that open Professor of Ethics seat at the university where he had trained, taught and grown in notoriety. This paper would secure that seat, he was sure. And, with time, the life of public speeches, guest talks and book signings which he had aimed for since he was a student and seen others realise for years. The essay was unashamedly bold, it needed to be. What is a moral decision? Was the question it posed and on the way towards answering it would weave through history, literature and art in order to delve once more into the root of rectitude, as he had with his books. This was to be an auxiliary work, supporting those arguments he had carefully laid down at length. Man is a moral being; in man’s essence lies the moral instinct. With this, perhaps sententious, line he would finish. The piece needed to be bold. Continue reading

2012 Doris Gooderson – Third Place

Death and Shadows


Ian Bowrey


Death is not something a six year old boy dwells upon and I first saw its shadow when my dog died. He used to limp about and was blind in one eye and bumped into things, and was old – much older than I was, but he was loyal and was always with me and he slept in my room. Then he died and suddenly I had this nagging thought that I was going to die too, and be carried off with my dog to some heavenly place above the clouds in the sky. I was scared. Continue reading

2011 Doris Gooderson – First Place

A Time When Trees Walked The Earth by Susan White

It was Saturday and Usman sat on his trusty wooden bench outside his house in the old city of Kano.  You could tell the days of the week by the old man’s habits.

Usman sighed.  He looked up and down the alley that he knew so well.  The walls, red sand and sinking sunlight gave the whole vista an aura of that of an old sepia photograph resplendent of the colonial days.  Usman sighed a sigh that was even deeper.  He looked down with disgust at his old and tired body, his sinewy hands and his drooping bosom and remembered a time when this body was strong and resilient.  He was famous in the area for being able to carry a full oil drum on his back.  He remembered fondly with a chuckle when he would catch the women sneaking looks at his muscles out of the corners of their eyes.  Now, it took every ounce of strength to lift a cup of water to his lips. Continue reading

2011 Doris Gooderson – Second Place

Darren’s Day Out by Janet Gogerty

Darren’s face was pressed against the bus window as they came to a halt. Today they were visiting a new place and he hoped it would be more exciting than their usual visits to ‘the shops’. Darren trailed behind his mother and the double buggy down a busy street. He could hear her talking to him but he wasn’t listening, the familiar words washed over him. ‘Stay close blah blah don`t upset the blah blah or I’ll blah blah.’ His heart sank as they entered a shop and were soon engulfed by racks of clothes taller than Darren. Continue reading

2011 Doris Gooderson – Third Place

Bits and Pieces by John Enos

I certainly wouldn’t lose on the deal, but I wouldn’t make a fortune either.

I’d spotted the locked Gladstone bag in a dark corner of the Brighton Junque Emporium, as grubby and dust covered as the proprietor. My rummage had yielded nothing of obvious value to me but, at least, this looked intriguing. I felt I needed to buy something to justify the hour I’d spent hunting through the predictable but mainly unsaleable stock, and anyway, I’ve always been a bit of a gambler. The prospect that the bag might yield something of interest, if not value, persuaded me to ask its price. Continue reading

2010 Doris Gooderson – First Place

New Life by John Samson

He waited. The morning heat floated lazily down the dusty road while a cicada clicked out the daily news in competition to the brittle-thin voice on the battery operated radio. Neither bore good news. The beetle spoke of a long, hot day ahead while the voice that floated through the airwaves from a distance capital spoke of economic crises.

Old Man Maloi brushed away an irksome fly with a lazy hand and shuffled into the stifling warmth of his shop. The crises of which the voice spoke had slowed his step and hunched his shoulders but he refused to give in. He would see this through, like he had the last time. He just needed to wait. Continue reading

2010 Doris Gooderson – Second Place

Mum’s Best Friend, by David Wass

Mum changed when Grandad went to heaven. She used to be my best friend, but not any more. The vacuum cleaner’s taken over.

‘Josie! I said your school shoes should be in your room.’

It’s switched on now. In the hall. Mum’s shouting over it.

‘Not by the door where anyone could trip over them.’

She shouts at me all the time. Even when I’m at the dining table with my laptop supposedly doing my homework. Sometimes I wish she’d get a babysitter and go out with her mates again. Continue reading

2010 Doris Gooderson – Third Place

Bewitched by Danielle McLaughlin

Mrs Wilson and the library carpet matched perfectly in one of those rare triumphs of interior design.  I could never look on that particular shade of olive green without her pale, wrinkled face bouncing out at me.  It was no good reason, my mother said, for refusing to wear the almost pristine duffle coat that Sarah, my gangly younger sister, had just outgrown.  But I stood my ground, stubborn as a mule.  The duffle coat also itched about my neck and made me look even pudgier than usual. Continue reading