Posted in competitions, critique, literary festival, writing

BeaconLit Flash Fiction Competition Year 3 Results

Hello everyone. I’m delighted to bring you the results of this year’s flash fiction competition (the top three then the runners up)…

First prize (winning £75 plus up to 5,000 words critique from the competition’s judge Gareth Davies, worth £50, plus free entry to the literary festival in July 2021, currently worth £26.50)

Deborah Cross with ‘Hope in Springtime’

The moon hangs low in the sky. It is becoming fuller, but it’s heavy, struggling to rise. I have stood every evening on this balcony since it all began, to relax, to breathe. There is so little time. It helps me believe there is a higher hand in all this. These last few weeks are the darkest I can remember.
Across the way in the next building in the dim moonlight, I see the dancer, supple and lithe. She creates beauty in her dance, and I understand. This is her time too.
A patient I recognised arrived today, scared. They all are, struggling to breathe. So many coming, confronted by their own mortality. I treated him elsewhere in London for cancer, and he’d responded well till he caught the killer virus. Now, doctors and patients alike are moved to Nightingale hospital. Struggling to breathe between coughing fits, he gasped, “Don’t end up like me. Face your fears, your regrets. While there is time to change.”
His words stayed with me, as I watch the dancer twirling and pirouetting. She and the moon are my solace in this crazy pandemic; the first in 100 years. Every day, the news is bleak, swallowed by death and logistics. My patient is right to be afraid.
I think back ten years, to my training. Claire, the student nurse I asked on a date at Kings College hospital. I’d missed my train and stood her up. I was embarrassed. We didn’t speak. I haven’t seen her since. She found a new guy almost immediately and then it was too late.
Sighing, I take out my phone. I see the dancer has gone inside. I flick through patient updates, treatment plans. So many of us, working in unfamiliar teams, housed separately from our family and friends for their safety.
The next evening, the moon has turned a pale pink. She dances, but I cannot see her face. It was truly brutal today. I checked on 30 patients, 50% of whom will be unlikely to survive, giving instructions. The dark-haired nurse nodded and started organising the treatments. She was swathed from head to toe in protective mask and plastic. I filled my details on the patient record, then hurried on.
Wearily, I crawled back to sleep at the end of the shift. As I am nodding off, a text message pinged. I pick up the phone. “Balcony man, thanks for your message. Perhaps we can dine under the stars at 8pm?”
I am stunned. How could she know my number? Its 7:30pm now, so I shower quickly. When I venture outside, she sits 100m opposite. She waved across. “Glad you made it.”
“How did you find my number? I’m David – I’ve lived here since I studied at King’s.” Momentarily, she replied. “The dancing helps my stress levels. I trained at King’s too. Claire.”
I look up – surely not? The moon is full, immense and pink. Unusual and beautiful, it’s the April Supermoon, signifying the start of Springtime.

*

Second prize (winning £50 plus up to 4,000 words critique from the competition’s judge Gareth Davies, worth £40, plus free entry to the literary festival in July 2021, currently worth £26.50)

Pat Mernagh Thompson with ‘Muse no more’

This story was inspired by BBC4 documentary on Lee Miller; a life on the front line.

And so we move from the Metropolis into this backwater to play happy families. Roland deemed it for the best. If he could inhibit my brooding we could create a new satisfactory life. If he can filter people and deflect their interest, there will be some peace.
Here alone at night, in our strange English garden, I sometimes find respite from the phantoms. Too often they cleave to me like they clung onto life long after it should have been extinguished, that skin with protruding bones barely human, those crazed eyes in sunken sockets. They waited too listless to react when we ventured in as friends. It was, will always be, cataclysmic. By opening the shutter I showed the ultimate degradation and evil to the world. My camera recorded the horror.
I lie on the grass and look at the sky. It is not as vast as my American childhood sky, nor hypnotic like the Egyptian desert sky punctured with celestial menace, but more sheltering. I like the English damp that falls, when the sun descends, in sprinkles. The stars, in their capricious shimmering, still hold our fate.
There’s a yellow glow and odd bursts of merriment from the house. I cannot be involved. The visitors, not always invited but always welcomed by Roland who is thinking of his next project, exude surreal intellectual confidence. Discussion around love, life and the meaning of art no longer grabs me. Picasso’s opinions bore me, Man Ray has nothing new to say, Henry Moore’s in love with himself. I am no longer muse, nor beautiful icon. No more a looker, I choose to be merely wife and mother, the silent partner. And cook. I create lavish food experiences that assault the senses, I dispense generosity from the whiskey bottle, my own glass first, I hold my baby.
In Munich I posed in Hitler’s bath, a glamor model. I deliciously defiled the pristine room with the human detritus of Dachau from my boots. Later, I crawled stupefied into the Fuhrer’s bed for a sleep of the dead. When I woke, I staunched the thoughts that breathed, with a slug from my flask: there would be time for grieving after. I buried thoughts of rape and humiliation, theirs’ with mine, deep down. And continued my work as witness. The world had to know. This could never happen again.
Now I cannot rest from the ghosts. Oblivion will not come.
I will lie here until the house lights go out and dawn threatens. I will lie here until Roland comes to lead me in. We will sleep in the same space, apart, till noon.
My camera is wrapped in once-worn silk stole gifted by Vogue and consigned to a place where I will not chance upon it. Roland has boxed it away. We are complicit in this fiction.
One day I will record my son in more than snapshot detail. But not yet.

*

Third prize (winning £25 plus up to 3,000 words critique from the competition’s judge Gareth Davies, worth £30, plus free entry to the literary festival in July 2021, currently worth £26.50)

Sarah Foord-Kelcey with ‘A Letter to Mr Coleridge’

An imagined letter concerning an iconic poem, sent to the poet Coleridge from Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of William.

My dear Samuel
Good news! We are solvent once more and William is writing.
Allow me to explain. William had been in the doldrums all winter, lying on his couch and pondering Matters of Universal Importance. Even the glorious sights and sounds of spring outside his window failed to rouse him.
Meanwhile, our coffers were almost empty. I outlined our financial position to William in the starkest of terms, describing the mountain of unpaid bills, the increasing lack of civility shown to us by our creditors in Grasmere, and little John’s need for new shoes. The solution would be for William to write more poems, as his publisher, Mr Cottle, has repeatedly requested. Simple, uplifting verses that his readers could learn by heart and recite. Alas, his mind was on Higher Things and he would not take heed.
In desperation, I read him a description of daffodils from my journal, hoping this might inspire him, as my scribblings have sometimes done in the past. It worked. William rose immediately and started writing feverishly at his desk. Within two hours he had drafted a poem entitled ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.’
‘See if Mr Cottle likes this sort of thing,’ he sneered.
I read the poem. It was charming but one word jarred.
‘And all at once I saw a crowd,
A mob, of golden daffodils.’
‘‘Mob’ will not do’, I told him. ‘It fails to uplift.’
Try as I might, he would not change it.
‘It hints at Revolution,’ he countered.
On Sunday, while the vicar was delivering his sermon, I, as usual, entertained myself with an examination of decorative elements visible from my pew. A new stained glass window has been installed on the south side of the nave, and for the first time I witnessed brilliant sunshine illuminating the scene. It is a loose interpretation of The Last Judgement. God sits at the centre, surrounded by tiers of angels, and smiles approvingly at the benefactors, a local mill owner and his wife, who kneel before Him. A legend in Gothick script unfurls across the sky. Try as I might, I could only make out the mill owner’s name and that of his wife, the words ‘heavenly’ and ‘angels’. Then another word revealed itself, which I now like to think was Divine Intervention.
After lunch, at William’s request, I made a fair copy of the poem in my neatest handwriting to send to Mr Cottle. When I reached the word, ‘mob’, I paused, then replaced it with another.
Yesterday, William received a reply from Mr Cottle, together with a banknote for ten pounds, more than enough to pay our most pressing debts.
‘Dear William,’ he wrote. ‘Your poem is first-rate. The uplifting image of ‘a host of golden daffodils’ will remain with me forever.’
William has not mentioned the matter since.
From your good friend
Dorothy Wordsworth

And the seven runners up (each winning one free entry to the 2021 literary festival, currently worth £26.50 each) – in author name alphabetical order:

  • Chris Tattersall with ‘Discharged’ (theme: The fifth)
  • Fran Egan with ‘Bibliophilia’ (theme: The female assassin)
  • Julia Grieve with ‘The Trial’ (theme: Norma knows best)
  • Katy Todd with ‘Spring Fever’ (theme: The spring)
  • Lydia Clark with ‘Made with Love’ (theme: Sweet and sour)
  • Ramsay Dunning with ‘A Sticky End’ (theme: Sweet revenge)
  • Sherry Hostler with ‘Take on Me’ (theme: Fourteen again)

A huge congratulations to everyone. We’re awaiting a final figure raised but are confident it’ll be around the same as previous years (£400-£500)… we’ll let you know asap.

Posted in competitions, critique, literary festival, writing

Results of the 2018-9 BeaconLit’s BeaconFlash 500-word competition

I’m delighted to announce the result of the second BeaconFlash competition but first, a word about year 3. For the 2019/2020 competition, we will have a new judge – therefore the competition may be a little late reopening but we will announce the details as soon as possible.

Okay… now to the results. Drum roll please…

Top 3 (stories in full below)

  1. An Open and Shut Case by Jane Broughton (March 2019 – theme: main character is an inanimate object)… winning £75 plus up to a free critique 5,000 words.
  2. Ringing the Changes by Rosy Edwards (February 2019 – theme: the love affair)… winning £50 plus up to a free critique 4,000 words.
  3. A Public/Private Enterprise by Brenda Daniels (April 2019 – theme: the committee)…winning £25 plus up to a free critique 3,000 words.

The Next Seven AUTHORS… each winning free entry to the 2020 festival

  • Coming of Age by Barbara Young (August 2018 – theme: the first time)
  • The Shed by Carol Allison (April 2019 – theme: the committee)
  • Veg on the Edge by Glyn Davies (March 2019 – theme: main character is an inanimate object)
  • Saving Kaylee by Julia Grieve (September 2018 – theme: not what it seemed)
  • A Special Christmas Gift by Patricia Randall (December 2018 – an alternative Christmas / not feeling festive)
  • A Picture of Innocence (September 2018 – theme: not what it seemed) / Blood Stained, both by Sue Kittles (March 2019 – theme: main character is an inanimate object)
  • Upper Fiddling Town Council by Victoria Trelinska (April 2019 – theme: the committee)

Below are the winning top three stories:

FIRST: An Open and Shut Case (March 2019 – theme: main character is an inanimate object)

Frankie gripped the handle and jammed her shoulder against the door in an effort to hold it shut. The handle jerked painfully and then moved up and down, oiled by the sweat seeping from her pores. Frankie‘s breath came in gasps and she braced her foot against the heavy metal filing cabinet in an attempt to increase her resistance.

The door had seen all this coming. It had watched, in the way doors do, the activities of those unfettered beings that crossed its threshold. It had observed Frankie and had liked her. She pushed it open quickly and was always careful to close it again, gently but firmly. The door felt itself fit safely back into its frame after she’d passed through. On one memorable occasion she’d even rested her forehead against its surface and sighed, dropping salty tears that had coursed down the dry veneer. The door’s wood had warmed and it had allowed the moisture to soak deep into its grain.

It had seen the man who observed Frankie. It had witnessed the hunger flash in his eyes before he turned away. It noticed that the man continued to stare at Frankie obliquely, drinking in her reflection in the office windows.

This man had no respect for doors. He shoved them open and didn’t care if their hinges shrieked in protest. He let them slam shut and never stopped when their frames rattled or splintered. The door also knew he had no respect for Frankie. He wouldn’t care if she shrieked or splintered.

This had been a day like any other. The door had been so busy Frankie had wedged it open. “There,” she’d said, “That’ll save you the bother of opening and closing every few minutes.” It had enjoyed the rest and the way its hinges could stretch out for a while.

Time had passed and the office had emptied. Frankie was tidying her desk when the man had appeared. He hadn’t spoken. He’d pulled a large knife from up his sleeve and started walking towards her. Frankie had raised her hands and then something in his expression galvanised her and she’d leapt up. In one quick movement she’d turned and flung herself towards the filing room. She’d kicked the wedge away and, for the first time, slammed the door.

*

The door felt itself slowly starting to move. Frankie was weakening and could no longer hold the handle. She let it go and pushed both hands against the door desperately trying to hold it shut. The man was too powerful and the door knew that Frankie only had seconds left.

There are immutable laws that govern all portals. The door knew exactly what it was sacrificing but it didn’t hesitate. Its hinges sprung from their fixings and it added its strength to Frankie’s. It landed with the weight of a fallen oak. Both door and man shattered. Blood and sap mingled. Ruby and emerald snaked across the horrified wooden floor.

 

SECOND: Ringing the Changes (February 2019 – theme: the love affair)

The door jingle-jangled, another dripping refugee from the rain. The café was already jammed with sodden shoppers. Ladies had mud spatters up the backs of their stockings, trickling brollies overflowed the umbrella stand, shoes squelched. Seeing she was alone, I wondered whether one of my regulars might make room.

“Mr Maltby? Would you mind if this young lady shared your table?”

“Not at all, Mildred,” he said, looking her over. “My pleasure.”

Taking her order, I also promised to top up his teapot.

By the time I was back with her vanilla slice, they’d struck up a conversation. She was beautiful; long curly brown hair and a really dainty primrose yellow cardi. Anyway, Mr M left me a tanner tip as usual and I thought no more about it.

*

Over the weeks though, I realised they both happened to come in every Saturday around the same time. Initially at separate tables, just exchanging brief pleasantries, then sitting together. A date, you might say. Then I noticed he wasn’t wearing his wedding ring. Nothing wrong with that, him being widowed so long, but significant, I thought.

Must’ve been July. I’d gone to see Way to the Starsat The Adelphi and as I was leaving, something caught my eye in the back row, through the cigarette smoke: that yellow cardi. Definitely them. They didn’t see me of course. Far too… engrossed.

*

Every Saturday at eleven they’d sit in our corner booth, holding hands. Watching them together would brighten my day: seeing him smile again, hearing them giggle. On wet days they sometimes stayed for lunch. On fine days they’d often buy filled rolls and cakes and head for the park with their picnic. Dorothy, her name was. I’d guessed that, when I saw her hankie embroidered with a “D”. Then I heard him say it – and her calling him ‘Henry’.

*

Their romance was blossoming nicely. Then in November I was surprised to see her on a Thursday, with a skinny chap in his de-mob suit. He was skeletal. They sat in the corner quietly while he had three, mark you, three cakes: doughnut, apple turnover and a scone. She wasn’t herself at all, very subdued. But who wouldn’t be – if you were with someone just back from a Japanese POW camp? And she was wearing something different too – a diamond solitaire ring.

I was thanking her for her tip as I cleared their table, when she interrupted me, gripping my arm.

“Thank you, Mildred. You’ve always been so kind. I’m heading back to London next week – getting married.” She smiled up at me, but it never reached her eyes.

*

I was dreading seeing Mr Maltby again, worrying whether he knew. The following Saturday he turned up, but in the afternoon, and chose a seat facing the wall. His shoulders said it all. Leaving hurriedly, he pressed a shilling into my hand and doffed his hat without a word. I never saw either of them again.

 

THIRD: A Public/Private Enterprise (April 2019 – theme: the committee)

Dear Mr Postmaster,

On each visit to your post office over the last nine months, I have stood 35 minutes in a queue. Since my calls are weekly, my total standing time amounts to 1400 minutes or 23.3 hours.

I suggest you join Greenpoint’s Efficiency Committee (a public/private enterprise) to discuss ways of reducing this wait.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on my suggestion.

Your sincerely,

Anthony Grote (Chairman, Efficiency Committee)

*

Dear Mr Grote,

How lovely to hear from you and to know of your ardent support for our post office.

I know many letters have issued from your home in Greenpoint over the years. I affectionately remember delivering letters to Matilda Grote, your mother, when I was just a postman myself. Thirty-five minutes (that very same number) it took me to walk to the climax of the hill on which her house sat, and back again!

I’m glad you are well.

Kind regards,

Ben Whishaw (Postmaster)

*

Dear Postmaster,

Another week, another 35 minutes waiting. I actually brought a chair with me this time to make the wait more bearable. How about your employees donate their seats to members of the public? Then they would know what it’s like to stand for so long.

Please tell me if you agree to joining our committee.

Sincerely,

Anthony Grote

*

Dear Anthony,

Exciting to hear from you again, and so soon after your last letter. The letter is quite the most intimate form of intercourse isn’t it? But then I’m biased, having been coupled with the service for 49 years!

And what a stimulating idea to ask staff to donate their chairs ‒ it shows how impassioned you are. You take after your adorable mother. I can’t count the number of meals she lavished on me over time. How are you managing to fend for yourself without her?

Warm regards,

Ben Whishaw

*

Postmaster,

Forty minutes! That’s how long it took this week! And blow me down if I didn’t hear the sole attendant on duty asking the young woman in front of me (seated on a chair) how she was doing after having to euthanize her dog. I ask you! What has that to do with efficient postal service? No wonder we spend so long in the queue with all this personal chatter going on.

I absolutely insist you join the Efficiency Committee.

A. Grote

*

My dear Anthony,

Isn’t Edward Brown a gem? He’s been the backbone of our post office for ages. I’ll be sure to pass your comments onto him. He’ll be so pleased you noticed his serviceableness.

Regarding Miss Eleanor and the loss of her dog: Teddy was a loving companion to the woman after her fiancé was killed. I can identify on so many levels. It was after your dear mother died that I poured myself into my own little Nellie. Not a substitute for the affection your mother lavished on me but there you are.

With love,

Ben

*

Postmaster,

The Efficiency Committee has been disbanded.

XX