Writers' & Artists' Yearbook Team announce the winner and 9 commended entries for the Writing Children's Fiction Competition with Kickback Media...
A massive thank you to everyone who entered our children's fiction writing competition with Kickback Media. The esteemed panel of judges took great delight in reading through each entry and entering the different magical worlds conjured up within each submission.
Without further ado, let's announce the winner shall we?
We're pleased to reveal that the winning entry is...
The Touchstone Diary by Jennifer Watson
This is what our panel of judges had to say about the The Touchstone Diary and why it is a worthy winner:
"We were particularly impressed by the fresh and distinctive voice in The Touchstone Diary and its strong, intriguing sense of character. The energy and immediacy in Jennifer Watson's prose quickly pull the reader into her story world in just 2,000 words and her confident, vivid writing evokes a striking gothic atmosphere."
The nine stories that very nearly made it to the winning spot, and are highly commended are (in no particular order):
The Space School by Zoe Cookson
The Purple Planet by Jenny Pearson
Helix 51 by Peter Canning
The Door Marked P by Anna Cole
Born of Both by Amanda Thomas
Mani by Antonia Leckey
The Twelve Labours of Laurel Williams by Hannah Dunn
A Murder of Crows by Linda McCullogh
Dove and Olive by Ayesha Braganza
Read the winning entry: The Touchstone Diary by Jennifer Watson
This was the summer that I learned to be afraid.
I hope, one day, I can look back and say that. Because if I can, then I’ll still be here and they won’t have won.
Every year, same beach. Same run-down hotel where you have to keep your trainers on until you go to bed because the carpet’s wetter than the sand outside. Every summer of the last twelve years, marking time since he left. I know she’s looking for an answer.
I already know everything I need to know. How he disappeared when I came along. No mystery, no magic. Nothing personal. Just that being a dad didn’t suit his image, or fit with his schedule. Or something.
But this summer, everything changed and there’s no way back.
‘Montgomery Glass, you’ve got to go back.’
Flea’s face and tone were serious. She took her glasses off, rubbed the bridge of her nose, and squinted up at him.
‘I mean it. Even if I didn’t land you in it, someone else would notice and a hundred tons of hell would drop on you from a height. They’d send the Black Surf to hunt you down, or worse, your mum. Imagine what she’d do if she found out you’d been cutting school.’
Monty scowled and stared out to sea. It was as flat and dark as he felt. Flea knew how to hit where it hurt. She knew he’d never deliberately upset his mum. His getting a place at Castlerigg had meant the world to Fiona Glass – it had given her hope. Flea hadn’t finished.
‘And you’ve got to stop doing that.’ She pointed down at the small hole in the sand by his right foot. ‘You’re going to draw the wrong sort of attention to yourself.’
Monty pulled a sour face and scuffed with his foot until the hole was completely filled in. ‘I don’t care. What are they going to do? Put me in detention? Make me muck out the stables?’
Flea held her palm up. ‘Don’t even joke about that. You haven’t been allowed in, but Dad took me down there once when the keepers weren’t busy. I’ve seen the state of those sea caves and let me tell you, buddy, there isn’t a ventilation shaft big enough to deal with that kind of emission. Man, those things are animals.’
Monty snorted. Felicity Aurelia Armstrong could always make him laugh. Burdened with a name that was bigger than she was, everyone called her Flea, even Monty’s mum, who didn’t usually do nicknames. Flea – a bouncy little bug that can’t be shaken off. Monty shoved her playfully and she staggered sideways, almost turning her ankle in the other hole that he had forgotten to fill-in. She slapped him on the arm.
‘Dumb-ass. Seriously, Monty, at least try to stop. No-one else would understand. They’d think you were a digger. They might even try to stop you going to school’. She considered for a moment. ‘Which would be a shame, seeing as how you’ve only just started.’
‘I’m not a digger, you know that.’ Even to his own ears Monty sounded sulky.
Flea didn’t meet his eye.
‘I’m not. You were there – you heard your dad – the Glasses practically came in on the First Wave. I don’t see what the big deal is anyway. Making dents in the sand is all I seem capable of. Hey, maybe that’s my thing: Montgomery Glass and his amazing tiny holes. Watch as he has absolutely no impact on the world whatsoever.’ Frustrated, he kicked out again. ‘It’s probably Mum’s fault I’m the way I am. Useless.’
They both watched as little rivers of sand trickled away from his foot even after Monty had stopped moving. Flea sighed.
‘Come on. It’s time we went back. Break’s nearly over. We don’t want anyone to notice we’ve been gone.’
They turned away from the sea and started up towards the rusty gate. The tunnel in the cliff would take them back under the shield and into the kitchen garden at the rear of the castle. Being friends with the daughter of the Guardian of Castlerigg had its perks; none of the rest of the class knew about the tunnel. It was a steep climb and Flea had to take two paces for each one of Monty’s, but she kept up.
‘And by the way? You’re not useless. Boneheaded, maybe, but not useless. I did listen to Dad and if you were listening properly you would have heard him say that it can take time for the tells to emerge. They need to find the right path that’s all. We just don’t know what that path is yet. There’s no rush. After all, they didn’t know you were you until this year.’
Instinctively, Flea flexed her fingers, relishing the surge of warmth that came as she did so. Monty watched out of the corner of his eye. He had seen her in class, learning how to tie knots in the air with her hands and marveled as the tiny sparks of energy began to fizz at her fingertips. Flea’s power was coming. She may be a beginner, but her feet were already on the path.
Monty sighed. She might be right, in which case he would just have to sit it out in class, waiting. Or she might be wrong. In which case … in which case, there was no point thinking about it because he wouldn’t be allowed to stay at Castlerigg and he didn’t want to think about that. This summer had changed everything and Monty couldn’t un-know what he now knew.
Clenching his fist inside his pocket, Monty’s fingers curled around the thumb-stone. He had found it when he was poking through boxes of childhood junk stored in his dad’s old room at the Spyglass Inn. Most of it was rubbish – battered old cars, dusty comic books, but there was a telescope which looked alright and a box of rocks with labels on them, evidently a collection of some sort. Monty had taken some of the stones out for a closer look. Most of them seemed pretty ordinary. But there was one that was surprisingly light for its size. Its surface was slippery smooth, almost oily, and the carefully written label (which Monty had scratched off with a grubby fingernail) identified it as an opal. It wasn’t the pretty sort that people put in jewellery – all flashes of hidden fire – it was dull and pale, with a shallow indentation on one side that formed a natural resting place for his thumb.
Monty wasn’t sentimental; he didn’t care whether his Dad had spent hours polishing these rocks by hand or had picked them out of his boot, but the odd stone warmed easily to the touch and it was nice to hold so he had pocketed it. In an idle moment, he googled, ‘opal’, and learned that it was a hydrated form of silica – part rock, part water – which amused him. Like the Spyglass, it sat on the boundary between land and water. Normal rules didn’t apply.
Something pale and slippery that Monty found much less appealing was waiting as he and Flea dashed back into the tower classroom. Lurgen Moss was smiling – never a good sign. If Lurgen found something funny, it meant bad news for someone else. His white lips were peeled back, revealing pointy front teeth. He hissed softly as he laughed – he couldn’t help it.
‘I sseen you, digger boy.’
‘And what is it you think you’ve seen, fishlips?’ It was Flea, as always, leaping in before Monty had the chance to think of a good response.
‘You know what, Fleabag. You’ve been out. Your boyfriend’ss been building ssandcasstless again. Ain’t that ssweet?’
‘I’m not her boyfriend.’ Monty squared up to the kelpy boy. ‘And why would you say that unless you’ve been out as well? What is it, Lurgy, can’t bear to be away from me for too long?’
Roughly the same height as him, Lurgen was only half his width, but Monty knew that he would never beat the kelpy in a straight fight. Mostly sinew, Lurgen was wiry and fast, his eyes were already darting for advantage behind their green-lensed glasses. He sensed Monty’s hesitation and hissed triumphantly.
‘What iss it, digger boy? You sscared?’
‘Back off, Lurgen. You don’t scare me. I’m not scared of anything.’
So, ok, in terms of stupid things to say, that was right up there. And I know that I shouldn’t have risen to the bait. I should have listened to Flea and just let it wash over me. I should but I didn’t. This time I couldn’t, I don’t know why. Maybe I was just fed up of him and his mates, sick of all their jokes and their snidey comments. So I’m new. Maybe I’m a bit of a late-starter, but I got the call just like them and I have a right to be at Castlerigg whether they like it or not. Twelve years is up and guess what? Montgomery Glass is the rightful owner of the Spyglass Inn.
You can always rely on your dad to give you something you really don’t want.
So anyway, like I said, this time I didn’t let it wash over me, which is why I ended up in the last place under the earth that I wanted to be, with the last person on earth that I wanted to be with.
Well, besides my dad, obviously.
‘I do not want to be here. I do not want to be here.’
Monty kept repeating the mantra inside his head, trying to keep his focus on the words rather than on the fact that he had just broken into the stables – the private property of the Black Surf. He and Lurgen were so far out of bounds that, if caught, they would probably both be thrown out of school.
Or eaten alive.
It was a toss up as to which was worse.
Truthfully though, there was a very small part of Monty that was curious to know who or what it was that he could hear rasping for breath in the dripping darkness. But it was a very small part and, as he stepped closer and the thing made a loud chittering noise, it vanished along with the daylight. Flea had not been exaggerating about the stink – it was overpowering. Monty could taste it on his tonsils: sour and sharp with undertones of rotting fish. He froze, fighting the urge to gag, unwilling to move his feet until his eyesight had adjusted to the subterranean light. Lurgen, standing motionless a few steps away, had whipped off his glasses, his eyes reacting quickly in the gloom. But he didn’t seem keen to move forward either, and it dawned on Monty that Lurgen may be regretting the dare as much as he was.
After a long dark while, Monty realised that the faint light he had thought was coming from the rock walls was actually being produced by a kind of glowing seaweed that dripped and clung to them. Its greeny-brown glow was dim, but just enough to be able to make out the dark pools of stagnant water that lay between them and the massive retaining wall at the back of the ancient network of sea-pens.
Lurgen cleared his throat. ‘Alright, digger boy, firsst one to touch the wall.’
His voice bounced confidently off the cave walls, but his feet still hadn’t moved. Monty nodded, though he couldn’t be sure whether Lurgen had seen him or not, transfixed as they both were by that distant wall and the black, cold water they would have to wade through to reach it. It was about to be the slowest race in history and neither of them wanted to start.
The weird chittering rolled around the cavern again, but this time it sounded further away. They stepped down into the water together.
A massive congratulations to our winner and runner-ups!