Short Story Retreat Winner!

Thanks again to everyone who entered the competition. This has been such a hard choice to make. I’ve spent days re-reading the shortlist and thinking about the stories while out walking. I really wish there was enough space at the house to give everyone a place – but there isn’t and I also couldn’t afford to!

So, after much pondering, I am delighted to announce that the winner of the competition to win a place at the Short Story Retreat with Paul McVeigh is…

Last Judgement by Rose McGinty

What really made this story stand out as the winner was the completely original take on the prompt, and the grand scale of the world we are presented with in such a small piece. The narrator’s voice is strong from the very first line and although it is a dystopian vision of our world, it feels like we’re not too far from it being very real and it shines a light on our social issues without ever seeming preachy.

Read It

Well done and congratulations, Rose! I look forward to seeing you at the retreat in June.

And I need to give a mention to these three stories that were in hot contention for the prize:

  • Selkie Song by Marianne Paget – beautiful imagery and two distinct points of view made this stand out.
  • Caveat Emptor by Carol Caffrey – brilliant voice and it left me wanting to know more.
  • The Rift by Elinor Perry-Smith – surreal, fast-paced and quite an experience with a really distinctive narrative voice.

Last Judgement by Rose McGinty

Last Judgement

Rose McGinty

 

It wasn’t really great weather for the beach, but I should have known it would lash today. God walks towards me, for all the world looking like a mobster. Shit. I lean against the sea rail, spray pisses up my back. How has it come to this? On the last day, I am the last man standing.

They always said it was godforsaken, this grey stretch of coast with its arse-end towns. Sent all the junkies and screwed up kids from the city. Bussed them out by the hundred. Easy to forget down here. ‘Wonderland’ it said on the front of the buses.

That’s how it started, pushing the problems far from the city. Let the city gleam again. Put the cameras up. Big all seeing eyes, stretching out on metal beams. Pick out the problem faces. Choose. Reach out. Remove.

The news hounds cheered us on, you should have seen the headlines. Grannies could sleep in their beds at night, yummy mummies could let their little ones play in the street while they slept off their vodka prozacs of an afternoon, and bankers didn’t have to step over beggars on their way into Costa.

The votes rolled in at election time. No one predicted it, except the poets who looked up in the indigo sky to the dark birds of history. We took the Parliament in a landslide, the Union followed, then all the United Nations. We had the technology. We had the scale. Let’s bleach the country, the Continent. Hell, why not? The planet. Keep pushing the problems out.

Got the branding in place-black on red-classic. We went global. That’s when we had to think about efficiency. Bussing out the no-names wouldn’t work. Omniscient logistics were requisite. It had to be epic. We were the gods now.

Push the bodies in the pits, scatter the earth. Burn.

Again. City after city.

I wore a suit like his, sharp, when I mapped the migrations, traced the burn lines. We were all slick, fifty floors up in the sky in our shard offices, watching the distant dark plumes. Not a speck on my threads, I was always proud of that.

I was the cartographer of the cleansing.

Shit, his shoes gleam. He approaches. The last judgement, here in the rain, at the end of the strand.

 

 

Short story retreat long and shortlists

Thanks to everyone that entered the competition to win a place at the short story retreat at a thatched cottage on Chesil Beach. I have really enjoyed reading all of the entries and I’m so impressed by the standard. There were more than 70 stories submitted in total and it has been a tough job coming up with these long and shortlists. The winner of the retreat will be announced on Friday 22nd April. Choosing the final winner is proving to be a very hard choice!

Longlist (A-Z by story title)

  1. A Marriage in Winter by Sarah Baxter
  2. An Extra Ordinary Pilgrimage by F.E. Clark
  3. An Expedition by Sara Roberts
  4. Another Beach by Rebecca Russell
  5. At the beach with Bill and Chrissie by Jude Higgins
  6. Away from Home by Anne O’Leary
  7. Beached by Downith Monaghan
  8. Between the Waves by Caroline Sutherland
  9. Blackout by Carys Puleston
  10. Boats Against the Current by Chris Thomas
  11. Brothers by Ingrid Casey
  12. Caveat Emptor by Carol Caffrey
  13. Chesiled by Marie Gethins
  14. Dead Rain by Cheryl Behr
  15. Doolally Tap by Sarah Edghill
  16. Ebb and Flow by Eimear O’Callaghan
  17. Endangered by Christopher Stanley
  18. Fog by Julie Noble
  19. Forty two by Rose Stevens
  20. Hold Your Breath and Count to Ten by Jan Kaneen
  21. In Plain Sight by LV Hay
  22. Jimmy Choo Shoes by Shannon Savvas
  23. Last Judgement by Rose McGinty
  24. Monsoon by Erika Cule
  25. Nomada by Tina Freeth
  26. Sea Path by Isobel Brown
  27. Selkie Song by Marianne Paget
  28. Shelby Cove by Ann O’Keife
  29. Slip by Lisa Derrick
  30. The Arc of Lust by Marie O’Halloran
  31. The Boat Trip by Dan Purdue
  32. The Freedom of the Sea by Hannah Persaud
  33. The Rift by Elinor Perry-Smith
  34. Throwing the Bones by Sarah Baxter
  35. To Be The Beach by Mandy Huggins

 

Shortlist (A-Z by story title)

  1. An Extra Ordinary Pilgrimage by F.E. Clark
  2. An Expedition by Sara Roberts
  3. Brothers by Ingrid Casey
  4. Caveat Emptor by Carol Caffrey
  5. Chesiled by Marie Gethins
  6. Fog by Julie Noble
  7. Forty two by Rose Stevens
  8. Jimmy Choo Shoes by Shannon Savvas
  9. Last Judgement by Rose McGinty
  10. Selkie Song by Marianne Paget
  11. The Freedom of the Sea by Hannah Persaud
  12. The Rift by Elinor Perry-Smith
  13. Throwing the Bones by Sarah Baxter
  14. To Be The Beach by Mandy Huggins

Comp results: March 16 Themed Flash

Once again, the stories submitted for the themed flash comp were of excellent quality and it never ceases to amaze me how our brains work so differently and how such a wide range of stories can come from the same prompt. Congratulations to this month’s winners, who have both appeared in previous anthologies of winners, and to the writers who made the shortlist.

 

Winner: White Noise by Shirley Golden

This apocalyptic tale grabbed me from the very first line and the language really conveyed the desperate world that these characters were living in without us having to be told. I like how the theme of belief is embedded throughout the story and that all of the characters are believing something different about themselves and what their chances are. Really atmospheric, so much characterisation achieved for a flash, and feels like it could be a much bigger story without it feeling incomplete.
Read It

 

Runner-up: Identity Crisis by Tracy Fells

What struck me about this is the way the main character’s belief changes throughout the story. The seemingly small actions and random thought processes that reveal so much about her state of mind. Really impressed with how Tracy has shown not told so much of the story and the open ending left me wanting to know more. It felt like it could be a new beginning.
Read It

 

The Shortlist

  • Identity Crisis by Tracy Fells
  • Life After Love by Marty Mayhew
  • Lost by Ani Popova
  • Shame by Deannie Day
  • The End is Nigh by Sally Lane
  • White Noise by Shirley Golden

 

Thanks to everyone that entered the competition. The next theme is DANGER and the deadline is 30th April 2016. Get writing and enter your stories here!

Other competitions open now with cash prizes, publication with innovative indie press, Urbane Publications, and  the chance to get your work in front of a top literary agent are:

Identity Crisis by Tracy Fells

The slap of cold air mists my glasses. I take them off, as I don’t have anything to clear the lenses, yet without them the world remains fogged. It’s better this way, stumbling through the nightmare, faces and features blurred beyond recognition.

‘Here, use this,’ says the WPC offering a tissue. ‘Mine always do that, that’s why I’ve got my contacts in.’

I take the tissue and wipe the front and then the back of the lenses, then the front again. Now I’ve stopped I’m not sure I can move again. Perhaps I can stay here, on this spot, not knowing. Not knowing is believing.

The WPC takes my arm. She’s not going to let me stay. She wants this to be over, to tick the box. ‘You okay, Mrs Henshaw?’

I ignore this bloody stupid question.

My other bookend stands too close. Any body odour is masked by the overpowering stench of disinfectant. His white coat brushes against the bare skin of my arm where the hairs are raised. I should have worn a cardigan. I knew they were bringing me to this cold, hopeless place, but didn’t consider the practicalities. Always pack a woolly. Gran’s words are in my head. She never left the house without a spare cardy, brolly and one of those see-through plastic rain hats that tied under the chin.

The technician looks younger than my son. He scratches the stubble on his chin, then rubs his hands on his lab coat. Maybe this is his first time. Another day I would have smiled at him, murmured reassuring platitudes like any good mother. Today, I shrink from his contaminating fear.

In front of us stands the trolley. When the sheet slips from his face my world will collapse. I’ll sink to the floor, crumple and deflate with howling despair.

The WPC’s grip tightens as the technician steps forward. His hand is on the sheet.

What if I start to retch? I haven’t eaten since the police telephoned last night, my stomach is empty so I’ve nothing to throw-up. My eyes are stuck open, yet I can’t picture his face. I try to summon a memory, anything from his childhood, from our holidays in the caravan, from his graduation. I can hear his voice, ‘Stop nagging Mum.’ But the colour of his eyes, the shape of his nose have disappeared into the mist. What kind of mother forgets her child? What kind of mother lets her son fall off the radar, to live on the streets?

I wipe my glasses again, so I can see clearly.

Bowing my head, I breathe out my fear.

I understand why they called me. Age, height and hair colouring, all match.

IT’S NOT HIM.

I shake my head. This poor boy is not my son. I have a second chance. I can believe again.

In the corridor I sink to my knees. Hands touch the floor, as if in prayer, and I retch until my stomach hurts.

White Noise by Shirley Golden

We hiked to the ocean because Hanna didn’t want to die in the city. She hungered to hear the sigh of the sea and taste the salt-stained breeze. The buildings were tombs of rotting flesh. We scavenged supplies from dead supermarkets where refrigerators hummed with out-of-date meat. Hanna said we risked infection if we stayed. Kim followed Hanna without question, and I was too tired to argue. Owen said he couldn’t leave, as if an umbilical cord tied him. But when we loaded our rucksacks and headed west, he trailed after us.

I took the radio, substituting food supplies for batteries. But I kept that to myself. The static airwaves grated on them.

‘Give it a rest, can’t you, Ben?’ Mostly, it was Owen who made me stop. Hanna said everyone was dead; the virus had taken everything.

‘There might be others like us,’ I said. We’d witnessed the death of a city. Why did they assume that included the world, as if an egotistical need required them to be the last?

At the coastline, the brackish odour was better than the stench of rancid streets. Kim fell into the sea as if it was the first day of a holiday; even Owen kicked off his shoes.

‘The cove looks a good place for shelter,’ Hanna said, untying her laces but never removing her boots.

I learnt to light a fire by spinning a stick, using dried weed as tinder and driftwood as fuel. Mostly the wood smoked and spat, but at least I created sparks. No one minded that it gave little heat. We tried to condense saltwater, but the drops we extracted were never enough.

When they slept, I combed the airwaves, straining to hear beyond the static hiss.

In the early hours, Kim would wake and pace around the camp. She talked of shapes in the distance.

If Owen heard her, he’d say, ‘Go back to sleep. Save your energy for netting fish.’ He knew her from before, said she was a dreamer, said habits like that were hard to break.

Late one night, Kim crawled across the sand and leaned against me. ‘Did you hear it?’

Owen had warned us: she’s been drinking seawater.

‘A voice,’ she said. ‘You heard it, didn’t you? You know they’re watching, don’t you?’

‘I’ve sensed something,’ I said. But I was losing the frequency.

‘Keep searching,’ she said. Her eyes were glazed. ‘They’re watching; they’re waiting. But our seclusion is no fluke; they fear we’re carriers.’ Her phobias shivered through my body, towards my heart. ‘They’ll help, once they see… Owen’s wrong, people aren’t that callous.’

So, I twisted the dial and kept turning, even after the moonlight faded to a grey muddy puddle, and Kim slipped into sleep as morning stained the horizon with hollow pockets of light. Shadows like deformed arms opened across the bay; giant’s arms that could smother black holes in a dense embrace where nothing, not even light, escapes.