Once again, the W&A Team have been inundated with entries for our annual short story competition, sifting through close to 1,000 in total. We hand over to Writers' & Artists' Yearbook Editor Alysoun Owen to announce this year's winner and two commended entries...
Each year, before I sit down to read the shortlist of entries to our annual Short Story Competition, I get a small thrill: excited to see what wide range of styles, themes and approaches I’ll have the pleasure to read. This year I’ve encountered tales set in present times and in the past; stories woven with magic realism and very real issues such as depression and alcoholism; poetic styles and a tale told in a first-person patois. Thanks to each of you for entering, and if you have not been successful this time do try again next year.
The three stories that made it to the final cut, are tales that are well-told, with a clear sense of structure, purpose and a narrative that drew me in from their opening lines.
Congratulations to the following writers:
First runner-up: Dark Fruits by Imogen Phillips
I like the opening to this story: the seemingly inconsequential presents a narrator with birds-nest hair and obsessive tendencies on a specific date and time of day. What does ‘the sky darkening’ forebode? The subsequent narrative builds a picture of a woman at sea; in the detail of the everyday lurks the emotionally profound and unsettling: lonely, damaged lives. This is a well-conceived narrative with some strong writing.
Second runner-up: Gold by Lorraine Wilson
This story is a sensitive musing on the power of nature and what it can evoke in those individuals who take the time to look and care for it. The scene-setting is well executed and the emotions of the unnamed narrator are convincingly drawn. This is a poignant narrative that explores themes of love and loneliness.
Overall winner: This year's winner is Lamorna Peoples with her story How To Draw a Boy.
A great title for a piece that is a stark and emotionally taut story about identity, belonging and life chances. It asks us to consider what shapes an individual and the way they behave, react or even dress. The narrative moves along with a good pace and rhythm. It shuttles back in time; which is well managed by the author, as is the way the story is book-ended by a body on a mortuary slab. How much do we really know about the individual lying there by the end of the story?
How To Draw A Boy by Lamorna Peoples
You could draw him as a corpse.
No one knows who he is, he has no ID, no phone, his pockets are empty, just fag ends and sweetie wrappers, Love Hearts and Parma Violets; they shake their heads. The tattoos, they’ve seen young men like this before, thugs, they have the same tattoos, they think they are invincible, and usually they are. They’re not the ones lying on the slab, usually they’re laughing over the body, they’re joking in court, they’re giving the V sign to the world from the back of the prison van. But not this one, not this time, gang warfare maybe, turf wars, jostling to see who is harder. Not him, not this time.
There is nothing to identify him, nothing distinctive, just another thug who this time picked on some bastard bigger and harder. They don’t feel sorry. They feel annoyed. They will have to spend time finding out who he is.
So, you could draw him as a corpse.
Or you could draw him as a Nazi.
He sits in his room, a room that is always dark, in a flat that is always crowded which he shares with two ex-cons who he knows are frightened of him. He keeps the curtains closed and sits by the blue light of the lap-top, stolen casually from a house just up the road.
They had asked for it, left the front door open, they were in the back garden, he’d walked in, picked up the lap-top, and a couple of cans of Red Bull which had been on the kitchen counter, and grabbed their car keys. He doesn’t know how to drive but he takes them anyway and throws the keys into the rubbish bin at the end of the road, just to mess with them. He hadn’t hurried as he’d walked up the street, that was a youngster’s mistake, he’d made it himself a few times, got caught, given himself away. Now he knows better, now he knows to stroll and look as if you have all the time in the world, and he had smiled when he saw people crossing to the other side of the road to avoid him, and his stride had turned to a strut.
You could draw him as a Nazi, watching You Tube, checking Facebook, his head reeling with conspiracies and plots and Info Wars and Britain First. He clicks and clicks and clicks again and sees Nazis in Hungary, and they are strong, and Nazis in Austria, and they are strong, strong together, taking back the streets. He watches Nazis in Charlottesville, in Mississippi, and they’re not just strong, they’re deadly. This is where he belongs.
He goes out into the streets, looking for trouble, and he carries a bottle and he carries a knuckle-duster
but this time the person who looks at him twice is harder than he is, and meets his punch with a knife and he blinks in surprise as he is stabbed and the knife cuts and tears and blood spurts and seeps and drains away.
So, you could draw him as a Nazi.
Or you could draw him in his twenties.
You could draw him in his twenties, moving from job to job, stealing his way out of a job or fighting his way out of a job until one day he grabs a knife and the next person who looks at him the wrong way is his dad and he slashes him and his dad knocks him out cold and stamps on his arm and kicks him in the head and then phones the police.
You could draw him in his twenties. He tries it on with girls but the ones he likes tell him he’s too rough and too ready and they tell him to get lost and the ones he can have he treats like dirt. His heart is never touched. It is hard as granite.
He shaves his head, gets a tattoo of a spider’s web and a swastika.
So, you could draw him in his twenties.
Or, you could draw him as a teenager.
He goes from one foster home to the next, and they say the same thing: it always starts off well. He is polite and pleased to be there; but it doesn’t last, he can’t keep it up, and what he needs is
a clip round the ear
or what he needs is
unconditional love or what he needs is
a job in the army.
And when he steals from them or spits at them or howls in the night or wets the bed, they chuck him out.
And when the violence starts, the punching the wall, the smashing of glasses, they chuck him out.
And when he stays out till all hours and he is drinking and they think he might be taking something, ecstasy maybe, something worse, not weed, he’s not chilled, he’s the opposite of chilled, they chuck him out.
You could draw him as a teenager. He gets in with the wrong crowd. He is the wrong crowd. Parents tell their sons stay away, he’ll get you into fights, into trouble, into bother. They’re right. That’s what he does. He doesn’t know how to do it any other way, how to deal with the world any other way.
You could draw him as a teenager. When they chuck him out of school he apologises to the Social Worker, finds his English teacher to say thank you for all she tried to do, and kicks the door of the Maths room so hard it splinters. They send for the police.
So, you could draw him as a teenager.
Or, there is another way. You might start with the stance.
Solid, square, facing the world and determined, determined to stare it down.
He has his fists raised, ready to smash in the face of any on-comers, ready to attack. But really, it’s about defence. Defending himself. Defending his world. His right to exist in the world.
You could start with the stance.
Or, you might start with the hands.
Long fingers, nicotine-stained, short dirty fingernails, bitten to the quick, a ring on his finger, too big for him, a signet ring with the initial L. His name does not begin with L.
He won the ring in a fight. Or maybe to say he won it isn’t quite true; he took it after winning the fight. Forced it off the boy’s hand. The boy was crying too much, his face too bloody, his nose too broken, to care about the ring. Now he wears it with pride.
You could start with the hands.
Or, you might start with the shoulders.
Hunched and clenched and rounded and thin and bony and indifferent, the off-hand shrug, take me or leave me, your choice, your loss. Or the chip the size of a continent. Or the burden of being a bloke, being one of the lads, weighing on him. No. It’s the chip the size of a continent.
You could start with the shoulders.
Or, you might start with the face.
Sharp features, a straight mouth which, when unsmiling, seems mean, pale skin, fair eyebrows, green eyes which stare at the world as if not quite focused, freckles on the nose and a dimple in the left cheek. A scar on the right.
You could start with the face.
Or, you might start with the hair.
Dirty blonde, cropped short because if it wasn’t it would fall into curls. Fine hair, soft to the touch.
Not cut by a barber, cut by a hand that wasn’t steady. Cropped short because he was full of rage. And they were there, ready for him, to suck up his rage, to welcome him into their world of rage. They cut their hair together, a test, an initiation ceremony, or maybe it was just the booze. It made him feel he belonged, it made him theirs.
The blood matts his hair. The bruises mar his skin. His jaw is broken.
But you should see the other guy.
So, you could start with the hair.
Or you could draw him in primary school.
In trouble for forgetting his pencil, his homework, his gym-kit.
In trouble for talking, for swearing, for lying.
In trouble for fighting, for stealing, for calling someone a bastard.
You could draw him in primary school. Uniform not quite like everyone else’s, the smell of him, dirty, and the white shirt is grey. Pale blue shadows under his eyes, like bruises, sleeping cramped and uncomfortable on a sofa in the living room at home, though he tells no one, and no one asks.
The bruises are on his chest and the burn marks are on his back and when he cries the punch sends him staggering.
So, you might draw him in primary school.
Or you could draw him as a toddler.
When he was two, his hair was long and curled at the nape of his neck. He wore brown cord dungarees and a checked shirt and black and white canvas baseball boots. His mum and grandparents could make him laugh just by showing up, his world alight because they were in it, that was enough, that was all that was needed. He was their laughing boy.
You might draw him as a toddler, falling asleep in his high chair, face smeared with chocolate cake, hands in the chocolate cake, face in the chocolate cake, asleep, safe.
Till he wasn’t.
You could draw him as a toddler, holding his dad’s hand, clinging on, running to keep up with him, crying. Crying even louder when the slap came.
So, you could draw him as a toddler.
And this, in the end, is how you draw a boy who, when he was a toddler, was a laughing boy, a laughing boy who clapped his hands when his mum came into the room, who laughed all the time.
Until he didn’t.
This in the end is how you draw a boy.
The mother who dies.
The father who punches.
The boy who cries.
This in the end is how you draw a boy, stone cold and stiff on a mortuary slab, in clothes that are soaked in blood, wearing a ring that isn’t his, a swastika on his neck and knuckles skinned and bruised.
You draw him as a corpse.
This is how to draw a boy.