After a lot of reading and re-reading of her shortlisted entries, Rose has chosen the winners of the How To Write a Page Turner course. The two first place winners get the course with feedback option and the two runners-up get the no feedback version, which is exactly the same course content but, you guessed it, doesn’t get the feedback from Rose at the end!
Congratulations to our winners and all of the writers that made the shortlist too, which you can see here. The challenge was to write a novel opening up to 200 words from the sentence starter ‘I read it in a book…’
Winner: The Names of Rivers by Julia Robinson
Rose said: This story is beautifully atmospheric, both the setting and characters become real and captivating through the sensual descriptions. The reader is also instantly immersed in the mystery and the promise of a deeply intriguing tale.
I read it in a book, the origin of Mary’s new name, ‘Rivers’. Mary Harlow had recently married Jack Popa Rivers, a blues guitarist and old white dog, first brought to New Orleans on board a merchant ship. Born in Liverpool, England, he had visited every port in the world.
We were on Mary’s houseboat, the Mississippi stretched before us, long and coiled, like a jewelled serpent. Mary’s red hair was tousled about her shoulders, her mouth curved in a close-lip smile. She was trying to avoid my gaze.
“It’s derived from the same Latin root as rival. Rivers have always been contested and fought over, in the same way as territory. And there are so many other meanings attached to rivers. Up the river – sent to prison. Down the river – betrayed,” I said.
Mary sucked in the air and turned her head to look me right in the eyes.
“And what is the origin of your name Lucy Pearl?”
I reflected. Jack Popa once told me that a Pearl is a thing of beauty. I licked my lips, tasting the salty tang of the river.
“A Pearl is opaque and hides its meaning under smooth, iridescent skin,” I said.
Winner: Duplicity by Jac Harmon
Rose said: This story was chosen as a winning entry because the tension in it crackled like the fluorescent strip lighting in the police interview room where it is set. The imagery used is striking and memorable, haunting. The final reveal is an intriguing twist and makes you want to turn the page.
I read it in a book …’ I shape the words with care.
He cuts in.
‘And you remember it exactly?’
Given who he’s talking to it’s an unnecessary question. I shrug.
He lounges back in his chair, tapping at his teeth with a biro. It makes me squirm and he knows it. I close my eyes. The lighting is harsh for such a small room. Fluorescent tubes pulse above and I think of the jellyfish in the seafront aquarium. Thin, utilitarian jellyfish. My head aches. I breathe slowly. In. Out. He’s waiting for me to fill the silence. I don’t. It’s an old tactic.
I open my eyes. He’s leaning forward on sharp elbows. One foot taps beneath the table.
‘You read it in a book.’
Statement not question. Another slow breath. In. Out.
‘As I said, it was written in the margin.’
‘On page 96?’
I don’t respond. He knows the answer. In my mind I see the words again, scratched deep into the yellowing paper. A black waterfall of ill-formed, skeletal letters written with the sharp nib of a cheap fountain pen.
The Detective Inspector raises an eyebrow. Our mother would be proud of him.
Runner-up: The Truth and the Lies by Lucinda Hart
Rose said: This story opening punches from the first to the last moment with a great hook and a final reveal that makes you want to know more about the narrator and their dark secret.
I read it in a book. The lie.
One of those gruesome-tales-about-your-county books that somehow my hand was drawn to, spinning on the carousel in the bookshop. It was only time before someone wrote about Rosie Barnes. Her bloodied and naked body abandoned in the woodland beside the main road fifteen years ago. How her boyfriend was found with blood on his clothes and a motive in his heart. How he shouted his innocence in Court, and then wept that same innocence as they took him down.
He didn’t last long inside. Killed in an incident, they said. But I think he took his own life, escaped to join his Rosie wherever she’d gone. To follow her.
And now the story, the legend, is printed in a slim volume for sale in my local town. Where people remember.
They remember what they heard at the time, but they do not know the truth. They do not know that what’s in the book is lies.
They do not know that when Rosie Barnes’ boyfriend cried his innocence, in his bloody shirt, that he was telling the truth.
How do I know this? you ask.
Because he didn’t kill her.
Runner-up: The Book of Future Past by Stephanie Percival
Rose said: The concept of this story is arresting and creepy and as a reader I am instantly drawn to the main character and concerned about the peril she faces. I want to read on!
I read it in a book. Not one of the hundreds which surround me in the bookshop, but the one in my back pack, weighing it down. I came here because it usually calms me. Not today.
I race upstairs to the café taking the steps two at a time, my feet in Doc Martens clumsy on the treads, so I nearly collide with a man descending, who swears at me. I need coffee and then perhaps I can open the book, consider the words again.
A mug of black coffee in front of me, and mumbling conversation around me, I take the book out. A musty smell leaks out with it. The book feels old; it has a leathery green cover. Ordinarily, I’d never select a book like this.
On the title page is an inscription, written in brown ink. Fading and blurred, as if written long ago. It reads:
Celina Delaney April 1st 1999 – Sept 17th 2018
My mouth is dry, my fingers clammy, because I am Celina Delaney. Nineteen years old, and my birth date is All Fool’s Day. Tomorrow is the seventeenth of September 2018.
More disturbing are the 3 letters which follow.