2021 Doris Gooderson – First Place

Biography:

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

Biography

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

Biography

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

Reflections

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

Jan Johnstone’s new book on John Wilkinson

Jan Johnstone has just released her latest title, John Wilkinson, Ironmaster – Told By Those Who knew him. It’s available from Amazon in Kindle and paperback format.

Told in a creative non-fiction style, most of the characters within the pages were real people: his father, mother, brothers and sisters, business colleagues, wives and mistress but in order to carry the story, some of the characters are necessarily fictitious these identified in the contents page thus (*).

What they relate however, is based on actual recorded events. At the end of each chapter is a section entitled ‘Historical Notes’. Here the reader will find brief details of what happened to both the people and the many locations where John Wilkinson and his family were involved along with details of sites open to visitors today.

Jan Johnstone has lived in Shropshire all her life and has been writing for as long as she can remember. She has had numerous articles as well as short stories published both at home and abroad in historical, specialist and general interest magazines.

Social history is a particular interest and two books have been published by Pen & Sword, Oswestry and Whitchurch in the Great War and Shropshire at War 1939-1945. Two other books are available on Amazon, Promise ofTomorrow written under the pseudonym Jan Davies, a fictionalised family saga beginning in Ironbridge in 1759, and Hadley – The Story of a Shropshire Village written in conjunction with her sister Margaret Jones.

For more information, visit: https://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Wilkinson-Ironmaster-Those-Knew/dp/B096XM7FKY/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=Jan+Johnstone&qid=1624189555&sr=8-2

The Call Of Catalonia by Sue Crampton

The Call of Catalonia by Sue Crampton

Sue Crampton’s latest book has recently been published.

Sue was enchanted with the Costa Brava when she visited the country in 1962 on her family’s first foreign holiday. She returned forty years later and fell completely under its spell. The magical landscape, unique culture, and charisma were still there but now the people had re-established their Catalan identity and were struggling towards independence from Spain. Their history and this struggle inspired these stories.

Continue reading

Writing for Broadcast Media

by Chris Owen

I was reading in the Shropshire Star (issue: 5th Sept) of all places, a piece written by David Banner of their news desk with the shock headline: ‘Monty Python wouldn’t get aired today’

The world-famous entrepreneur and auteur 80-year-old John Cleese, a man of not inconsiderable experience of writing, producing and acting in TV all around the globe, was being interviewed about writing for TV. He was espousing about original broadcast comedy writing in general and said that: ‘those Executives currently in charge, (even in 2020) basically did not have a clue.’ He was of the opinion that they should hand over creative control to artists (i.e. writers) instead of making bad decisions based on what ‘marketing people’ said viewers wanted to see aired on radio or TV.

When asked if he thought his classic Monty Python Show would be commissioned today he replied:

‘No, I don’t think it would.’

Continue reading

John Cooke is All At Sea!

Congratulations to John Cooke whose book, All At Sea, is published this month.

One man’s voyage through life It’s the late 1960s – a decade of Mods and Rockers; Beats and Hippies and full of peace and love. Aged seventeen, John Cooke ventures out on the roads, hitch-hiking around the UK. On the South Coast, he gets caught up with the romance of the sea and foregoes his freedom when he signs away more than nine years of his life by joining the Royal Navy. It is only after signing on the dotted line that he realises he’s made a monumental mistake; and there is no legitimate way out. John recounts his adventures as an adolescent who sails to the Far East; visiting Cape Town, Singapore, Sydney and Perth along the way. His voyage through the tempestuous sea of life was interspersed with time spent in Military Corrective Training Centres as well as in the Royal Navy Detention Quarters. But this epic journey is only the beginning for John on his road to discovery…

Order your copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/All-at-Sea-John-Cooke/dp/1800460740/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=John+Cooke+All+At+Sea&qid=1605972082&sr=8-1

Lisa Jade’s New Book Now On Pre-Order

The Tomorrow Project by Lisa Jade

Lisa Jade’s latest book, The Tomorrow Project is now available on Amazon for pre-order (release date: 31st October 2020).

Blurb:

The whole world knows Alya Mathis. She’s the Tomorrow Girl – the stuff of dreams. Born in a lab and raised by the Tomorrow Project, she’s the world’s first immortal human.

Not everyone knows about her older sister, Reya. They only know her as a binge-drinking, potty-mouthed troublemaker with a mean sarcastic streak. They only know that she routinely gets into fights, both with the Project’s detractors and Rene Mathis, the Project Head.

Almost nobody knows that Reya was supposed to be the Tomorrow Girl. Nobody ever discusses it. It’s like it never happened. But Reya remembers. She remembers a time when the Project were like family to her. She sees their detractors growing in numbers, and becoming more violent with each confrontation.

She’d do anything to make things right again. Even if it means betraying everyone and becoming something else entirely…

2020 DG Comp: Third

The Misfortunes of Lady Alice

by Stephen Palmer

Biography

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

Biography

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…

www.valeriebowes.com


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

Biography

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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Behind the Oleander: A Story from Iran by Sue Crampton

Sue Crampton’s first novel is available in print and Kindle format via Amazon.

The backdrop to this thriller is Iran and the last years of the Shah’s regime. Annie and her teacher husband Mike arrive to live in a remote expat community contracted to supply military expertise. She struggles with life changing decisions; she encounters Major Jack, and makes friends with two Iranians. Can they all solve their problems or will the escalating political situation prevent this happening?

Sue Crampton worked in Iran with the British Army in the years before the Iranian Revolution. More recently, she lived in Catalonia and helped her husband run a walking holiday business. Inspired by her love of history she has written stories about the Spanish Civil War, about the forgotten early Labour woman MP Edith Picton – Turbervill O.B.E. from Shropshire, and a memoir about her Dad, ‘Disgusted Tunbridge Wells’. ‘Behind the Oleander’ is her first novel. For more information, click here.

 

Hadley: The Story of a Shropshire Village

When Shropshire Star journalist Toby Neal said to Jan Johnstone, “Nothing’s ever happened in Hadley,” that set her mind running. And here’s the proof he’s wrong. Out now in Kindle and paperback format, Jan (and her sister’s) local history book about Hadley!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/HADLEY-Shropshire-Village-Jan-Johnstone-ebook/dp/B08FXMQYV4/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1598261765&sr=8-1

Roland Twynam: On The Other Side

Congratulations to Rolan Twynam, who has just self-published his novel On The Other Side.

 

Synopsis:

When Brendan and Anna O’Neil arrive in New York from Ireland in 1889, their dreams of a new life are crushed within hours. Attacked and robbed of their money, implicated in the death of their assailant, the young couple flee — with a Pinkerton agent on their tail. Forced to work in an anthracite mine with little money and less food, Brendan risks their precarious life for the sake of shooting a rabbit for Anna’s pot. When a benefactor recalls them to New York, they have no choice but to face up to American justice. Will this young couple from Donegal get the chance to start again?

On The Other Side is available in paperback and ebook format from Amazon.

Tomorrow Can Wait

Tomorrow Can Wait

By Chris Owen

Being isolated at home for any length of time can be a trial but with a full programme and a steady repeatable daily schedule the time passes well for any productive writer.

If you believe in your own talents and want to push on with the next project without worrying about agents and publishers’ commissions then go for it. There will be many alternatives for publishing your book or whatever when finished and if not the magazine article market is still out there hungry for online contributors even during the lock-down.

Take regular breaks from using IT media. Work 2 hours max per session. Then stop, relax take a stroll in the garden or your special space.

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Promise of Tomorrow by Jan Johnstone

Jan Johnstone, writing as Jan Davies, has self-published her novel, Promise of Tomorrow, and its available via Amazon in both digital and paperback format.

‘Promise of Tomorrow’ is the story of five generations of the Greenwood family who lived in and around Shropshire’s Coalbrookdale area, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, during the construction of the world’s first iron bridge. Beginning in 1759, each generation relates the story of their lives and their efforts to better themselves, whilst other family members, friends and enemies, also add their recollections to the ongoing Greenwood saga.Can this family succeed in bettering themselves against all odds, despite the hardships they encounter at every turn? This is a story of class inequality, hardship and love as the Greenwood family battles to achieve their dream of the ‘Promise of Tomorrow’.

Ebook £1.99, Paperback £7.99

Click here for more information

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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