We are a small group of writers, editors, lecturers and of course readers who wish to actively support creative writing. Our intention is to run quarterly competitions throughout the year with closing dates at the end of March, June, September and December.
Our aim is to encourage as wide a range of writing as possible and competitions will all be open for any subject and any style.
The competitions are non profit making for us, any profits are given to ‘Save the Children’.
It is our intention to produce a book of the prize winning stories and those commended by the Judges. The possible date for this is 2017. Someway off, I am afraid, but it would be nice to see the stories in print.
To find out more about us you can contact us by e-mail at email@example.com
Or telephone Graham Jennings at 01604 407934
June 2015 Competition winners are-
First Prize: Douglas Murdoch of Christchurch for ‘Rugged’
Second Prize: Harriet Avery of Felixstowe for ‘Ego,I’
Third Prize: Christine Griffin of Gloucester for ‘Mr. Pollock’s Bicycle’
I didn’t catch your name the first time you said it me, but I nodded anyway because I didn’t want you to think I didn’t care. The music was loud and the bass was beating down on my skull – I swear it was doing damage. But you were there and something felt different, so I stayed.
I didn’t speak to you again that night. Not for lack of trying, might I add. I looked for you – I really did – but you’d left the club for bigger and better things by the time I’d plucked up the courage to ask you, well, anything.
The second time I spoke to you was at the bus stop. I’d just finished work and it was late; dark clouds blotted the starry sky, and a chill had whipped up in the air. The bus was late, which was convenient for you, because you turned up slightly after it was due, tipsy and gorgeous. You said you recognised me. I explained how we’d been out the week before and then we got to chatting. You spent quite a while complaining about your ex, who I guess must have been both a complete dick and, all things considered, entirely blind, because you said he cheated on you. I remember finding it hard to imagine how someone could find anyone more worthy to spend their time on than you.
We got on the bus together and you fell asleep on my shoulder. You looked so peaceful, which made it hard to wake you when my stop arrived. But you sleepily acknowledged my departure with a gentle smile.
It was a Thursday when we spoke for the third time. I remember because I was working at the pub and, by that point, I was only working Thursdays and Fridays. You walked in with a bunch of your friends – friends who, whilst attractive, paled in comparison to you. I remember realising at this point how incredibly out of my league you were – I was pale, spotty, unshaven, with messy hair that a comb could not tame. You? You were angelic.
But maybe you took pity on me, because you sat perched on a barstool across from me for most of the night. I was thankful that it was quiet that night – I was able to actually talk to you without too many interruptions, even if I did stumble over my words. But you took it in your stride; you smiled, you laughed, you started up conversation when words failed me, as they so often did in your presence. And frankly, you overwhelmed me. You stayed until the pub closed that night, and it was only after I’d shut it all up and was ready to leave that I realised you’d waited for me. Your friends had gone and it was just you and me.
I asked you why you waited for me and you said you realised you forgot something.
And then you kissed me.
The fourth time was just you and me. I invited you out for coffee. You talked a lot more than me but I was glad about that, because you’d already told me a full story by the time I was able to get past the nerves to string a coherent sentence together. I remember that at one point, my hand was on the table and you placed yours on it, softly stroking my skin with your thumb. It was just a little action, but it was enough to confirm to me that I liked this. I liked you. You invited me round to yours later, and said goodbye with a kiss.
When I got to yours that evening, all we did was watch TV, but it was perfect. It was halfway through some crappy American sitcom that you kissed me again – and this one lasted for longer. When you pulled away, you smiled. Your eyes rested on mine and we looked into each other for a few minutes, trading emotions, sharing secrets, sending words through our eyes we’d never let leave our lips. I stayed over that night, and I slept with my arms wrapped around you.
Your flatmate was there the fifth time we met. Her name was Justine and she was nice – we got on well. She said you’d made a good choice with me and that (God knows why) she approved of the “rugged” kind of look I was modelling. It wasn’t a look I was aiming for, but it required no effort, so I took the compliment, rather happy that my scruffy style now had a more appealing name. After that, you kept calling me Rugged – it basically became my new pet-name. I’m not sure how I felt about that, but you were gorgeous, and you were mine, so I couldn’t complain.
The sixth and seventh times we met were in Octavia Park. The first time we just walked along the river, had an ice cream, and tried to avoid getting rained on. The second time we set out a picnic on the grass – and again, tried to avoid getting rained on. Neither went to plan – both went much better. Soggy sandwiches under a not-too-sheltered tree turned out to be much better than sun. It was stupid and beautiful – us two, fiercely set on having a day out in the park as the rain soaked us to the bone; I think I laughed more that day than I ever have.
On the eighth time, you texted me saying you were upset and I was round yours as soon as I could be. When the door was pulled open, you told me I didn’t need to come over – you were fine. I told you I didn’t care. Five minutes later you were sobbing on my shoulder. You explained that some days you just got like this – you just got sad. You told me it used to happen about once a week. You told me this was the first time it’d happened since we met. I held you closer, and soon the tears stopped. It sounds terrible, but I loved that night. I saw you. I properly saw you. When you had no words left, you spoke so much louder. I saw flaws, faults, scars, jagged edges – and I saw how you were dealing with them, how they weren’t hidden away. And I respected you so much.
The ninth time we met, we went out with my friend, Jake, and his girlfriend. I remember being so proud to show you off – yes, this one’s mine! Yes, really! I know! We had a nice meal despite conversation being almost entirely centralised around Anna, Jake’s girlfriend, because Anna enjoyed talking about Anna. A lot. The evening dragged on as we heard about Anna and Anna and more Anna.
When you and I went home, we spent the rest of the night jokily complaining about her. Your impression was flawless, but you always impersonated her narcissistic tones with a blush. You didn’t want to be rude – or mean. You were very conscious that you might be meeting her several times in the future, considering how close I was to Jake. Turns out that wouldn’t be an issue; Jake and Anna broke up two days later.
The tenth time we met, I started losing count. Days with you blurred into one perfect experience; days without you turned into non-events. We’d chat every day online. Every night, you’d end your texts with “Love you, Rugged. Love you quite a bit.” And always with six kisses. Never more, never less. Always six. I’d look forward to counting them every night – counting those six kisses that reminded me how lucky I was that they were for me. That you were mine.
The final time I saw you went too quickly.
We were at the pub – the pub where you kissed me – where I used to work. Cringey 80s music was being vomited by the jukebox, courtesy of a drunk group of middle-age men. It was terrible music, and we grumbled about it a lot, but every now and then we’d catch ourselves humming along and we’d share a grin. By the time we’d had a few pints, we were singing along to each song as it arrived, laughing and jarringly moving in a way we called dancing. It was you, me, Jake and another of my friends called Sara.
We had a laugh, that night. We really did. I remember leaving you at the doorstep. I said you should come round mine, but you had work in the morning so you decided against it.
You kissed me. I kissed you back. And then you walked off, waving a little as you did. You looked amazing in the moonlight.
You were amazing.
I loved you.
It was 5:32am when I got the call.
I was practically asleep, but then they said your name and asked if I knew you and I said yes. And suddenly I was awake because they were saying these things, these impossible wrong things and they were asking when I last saw you and they were trying to work out who did it and the neighbours had heard cries of fag! and punches and there was blood too much blood and no no no!
You would’ve hated your funeral. It was solemn and full of tears. You didn’t want to go this way. You wanted glitter and smiles, but no, there you were – in a box, surrounded by broken shards of people who were trying to accept that you weren’t there anymore.
The police said it was probably a hate crime. A homophobic attack. They haven’t found the people who did it yet. But they will. I swear to God, I’ll make sure they will.
You were twenty years old.
You still are twenty years old.
You’ll always be twenty years old because those boys couldn’t accept it. Those boys with their knives and their hoods up and their cries of fag! fag! couldn’t accept that a boy could love a boy, and that that could be okay. That you could love me, and that that could be okay. That it could be more than okay – that it could be the best goddamned thing that ever happened to me, that it could make me feel like I could do anything that it could make me feel like the stars were mine and the sun was ours and that everything was going to be okay even if it didn’t seem that way and that everything was okay as long as we were together that nothing mattered but you that nothing mattered but you why couldn’t they understand it why could they understand?!
I don’t know.
I miss you.
I miss you so much.
I wish I could kiss you six times.
He saw tree trunks striped vertically; pale shapes of sky taut between the branches; orange ferns at knee-height; wind like water above his head; birdsong.
He had no idea where he was.
His head pounded. This made no sense. Why was he here? There must have been some kind of accident. His lungs seemed to be constricting – he sucked oxygen – the world span – it was all he could do to remain upright. Around him, the forest rustled and nodded impenetrably. His eyes searched, but he recognised – nothing.
There must have been some kind of accident.
He stepped forward. Shivers bounced through the ferns underfoot – something flew from a branch. Twigs and needles spiralled, a disintegrating shower marking the invisible flight. And then he saw the car.
He stared at it for a long while. It was half-submerged; the bonnet, bent around the unyielding oak-tree, was almost invisible under the brambles. Pieces of metal sprouted from the forest floor, jutting between the leaves. Only the rear wheels were exposed, trailing deep red ruts in the churned earth.
He waited for recognition to kick in. He knew the badge – Mercedes, a C-class model. But the numbers and letters on the number plate were entirely unfamiliar.
It occurred to him that he might be hurt. He looked down at himself, a swooping sensation looping through his stomach. With a certain amount of relief, he could see no immediate sign of any injury: all his limbs, present and correct, with a reassuring lack of blood. He touched his head carefully, and then put out his hands, examining the crevices criss-crossing his palms, his life-line, his heart-line, his marriage-line.
Although, actually, he didn’t know if he was married. He stopped, and frowned. Did he have a wife? He thought about it. That was really something he ought to know. No face came to mind, but equally, no certainty that he was unmarried.
This worried him. How could he not know?
The answer was obvious. He knew it before he was prepared to admit it. He had woken, confused, following a car accident. Something had obviously happened to his memory. He pushed through blank jigsaw pieces with increasing desperation.
There must have been some kind of accident.
He took several deep breaths. ‘Ok,’ he said. ‘Ok.’ This made him feel better. He needed to hear a voice – he needed to hear his own voice. He needed to hear his own voice saying his own name: ‘Ok, now…’ he said again – but the blankness behind his eyes, in his brain, was now tangible. No name rose to his tongue. Nothing.
Panic engulfed him. He moved abruptly, ripping through the undergrowth. The driver’s door gaped open; he leant inside to the glove compartment, and shoved the clutter aside. He found a wallet. Inside: a driving license.
There, printed, was his name. Phillip James Gillings. He ran his finger over the thumbnail photograph and the handwritten signature, feeling his chest deflate, the tightening subside. Yes, there were the words he’d written and supplied. He leant back, and spoke his name aloud.
The name was strange. He knew he did not recognise it. Fervently ignoring this, he flipped through the wallet, discovering a photograph in the card-holder. On the back were scribbled words: Helen & Joy. He sat in the car for a long, silent time, looking at the photo. The dark-haired woman had her cheek pressed to the baby’s forehead. She had grey pimpled smudges of tiredness under her eyes. The baby was pudgy and plain. He felt as little attachment to them as to the wooden banisters behind them in the background.
He threw the photo down. The rest of the contents of the glove compartment had spilled out. Papers fanned across the floor-mat, an incomprehensible table of numbers and codes. Shuffling through the pages, he saw the grid continued, apparently without change, on and on. The same blue logo headed each page: Hewitt&Devlin LLP. This must be his job.
He tossed them aside, and picked up a paperback book – entitled The Aeneid. A page was marked with a receipt. Infandum, regina, iubes renouare dolorem, he read bemusedly. Wondering vaguely if he’d forgotten how to read, he flipped the pages until he discovered a glossary: ego, is, ea, id, he read; (nominative), I, he, she, it. He threw it down in frustration: the English pronouns were as unhelpful as the Latin. He looked at the receipt: it recorded the purchase of Wine-Gums, Horlicks and a birthday card. It was dated 07/07/2014, from a Tesco in somewhere called Trimley. He wondered where that was, as he emptied a capsule of Tic-Tacs into his hand. The tiny plastic pills trickled across his palm. He couldn’t bring himself to swallow one.
He ran out of things to reboot his memory. Slowly, he climbed from the wrecked car. Getting out of the car was worse than finding himself next to it. He felt that he could remember a screaming explosion; the breaking of the undergrowth; the shriek of the tyres as he lost control.
The only sensible course of action now seemed to be to follow the tyre-treads grooved deep into the ground. They were scars; furrows of dirt carved out, into the broken ferns.
Then he saw, on the ground, a rectangular gleam of reflected light. It was a mobile phone.
After some muddling, he found the name Helen in the Contacts list. After the fifth ring, an unfamiliar female voice spoke: ‘Phil?’
‘Helen?’ he said. ‘Helen. Listen, I’m fine, but I’ve had –’
‘Phil? Is that you? You sound weird. Have you got bad signal?’
‘Helen – I’ve – I think I’ve –’ It suddenly seemed foolish to say it.
‘Actually, Phil, is it important? You know I’m busy right now,’ she interrupted. ‘But Joy wanted to speak to you. She said she was going to ring you – hang on, I’ll get her.’
He was puzzled. The image of the baby in the photograph floated in his mind. ‘But Joy –’ he stammered. ‘How old is Joy?’
A frosty silence followed. ‘I’ve been wondering how long it would take you. She was nineteen, Phil. Last week.’
With a sudden jerk, he hung up. He wanted to throw the phone down, and back away from it. But instead, he dialled nine-nine-nine.
The police dispatcher was brisk and efficient. ‘We received a call from this number ten minutes ago. Are you the same caller?’
He paused at this unexpected question. She took his hesitation as confirmation.
‘Sir, the team are on their way. The address of the emergency is still outside St Benedict’s?’
‘I don’t know.’ He began to walk along the tyre marks. ‘I’m – I’m having some trouble remembering things.’ The ground sloped upwards, his feet pushing into the loose soil and crushed leaves.
He heard rapid clicking. ‘OK, it seems you mentioned a head injury…’ He crested the incline and saw the trees thinning ahead. Beyond, there was a large red-brick building. He hurried towards it. ‘Can you tell me if you are experiencing any difficulty in seeing, Mr Gillings?’
‘No.’ He stepped out from the trees, and stood in the centre of a deserted road, which curved away from him on both sides. Ahead was the building, looming above him behind metal railings. There was a gate, which was wide open. For the first time, he felt as if these things, and more specifically, their presence in this particular place, right there in front of him, made some sort of sense. He seemed to have expected it.
‘And have you felt nauseous, or been sick at all? Can you describe the location of any pain?’
He answered the dispatcher’s routine questions, searching the imposing building with his eyes. He was oddly unwilling to enter through the gate. He peered up and down the road.
‘Excuse me!’ A new voice called to him. There was a woman coming towards him from the building, dressed in a nurses’ uniform. He began to back away into the forest, and then stopped, confused at himself.
‘You look lost. St Benedict’s Hospital?’ she said, inexplicably. He didn’t understand, so he said nothing. ‘Don’t worry, we get loads turning off too early, and getting lost here,’ she said. ‘If you follow the road round, you do reach the entrance eventually.’ She closed the gate, drawing the bolt across. ‘I would let you in this way, but we’re on security alert right now, and I’d get into trouble.’
‘Ok.’ He didn’t know why he didn’t ask her for help.
‘Someone has wandered off from Psych apparently – nightmare…’ she threw up her hands in a gesture of frustration. ‘Not my ward, thank goodness… Anyway, I’d get yourself to reception asap, ok? They’ll give you a visitor pass.’ She walked away, back into her own world, tutting at the incompetence of security guards.
He watched her disappear.
‘Hello? Hello?’ The police dispatcher was still on the other end on the phone.
‘Hello – did you hear that?’ he said.
‘Yes – you are outside St Benedict’s.’ More clicking from her end. ‘Ok, Mr Gillings, can I suggest you follow her advice and head to the hospital reception? The unit are on their way, so they will sort your car, and I’ll tell them to find you in the hospital. It sounds like you should get yourself some medical assistance.’
She ended the call. He stood for a while in the road, hesitating. Then he turned round and heading back into the dark of the forest. He could not bring himself to go into the hospital, although he was unsure why. He felt a distinct relief to be retreating from the redbrick building.
As he descended the slope, something emerged in the leaves at the corner of his eye. A dark shape prone in the ferns. He veered towards it, approaching the thing slumped on the ground. As it became clearer, he stopped.
It was a man. He was on his back, with blood running down his head. The blood was astonishingly bright against his white skin.
He knelt beside the man, feeling more and more as if he were trapped in some sort of waking nightmare. The ground was damp; the ferns rose up to his throat. He touched the man’s face with his fingertips, avoiding the blood. The skin was cold and prickled with stubble. He stood up, and looked down at him, wondering what to do. He couldn’t call the police again. He was tempted to recoil – to run – but instead, he took a deep breath, and then, awkwardly, he rolled the stranger onto his side, aiming for the recovery position. The man flopped, heavy and limp. Something fell out of his pocket. The blood began to dribble across his face, leaving crimson tracks trailing behind like tyre marks.
Looking at that pale face, it suddenly struck him that he knew this man. Or not quite knew, exactly – it was just that his face was unexpectedly familiar
There must have been some kind of accident.
He had seen that face before. He knew it, with a cold certainty. Where had he seen it? It was not a face to which he could attach a story, or an address, or a voice. Then he realised; he recognised only the face because that’s all he had seen. Very recently. In a particular thumbnail photograph. On a particular driver’s license.
His heart pounding, he grabbed the object which had fallen from the stranger’s pocket, and looked at it. It was the man’s lanyard pass, its blue cord still looped the stranger’s neck. It was printed with two things: a name, and the blue logo of Hewitt&Devlin. He read the name, and then straightened slowly, letting the lanyard slip from shaking hands. Now he understood. Now he knew. Now his fear of St Benedict’s hospital made sense.
The name of man on the ground was Phillip Gillings.
Mr Pollock's Bicycle
He hadn't meant to scare the child, but it was nothing new. Most children screamed when they saw him. That's why he kept himself to himself as much as he could. All his life he'd walked in the shadows, creeping along the margins of life. He'd shuffle to the Post Office once a week or to the corner shop before it was properly light then slip back home before anyone could see him. 'Out of sight, out of mind, ' his Aunt Kath would say when she used to shove him in the cupboard under the stairs. ‘You’re not fit to be seen by decent folks.'
Mr Pollock had lived for decades keeping out of sight. Out of mind was easy since no-one knew or cared about him anyway.
Until now that is - a bright day in May in the fifty- fifth year of his life when everything changed. For on this day, Mr Pollock found himself in the grip of a longing so deep that he left his house, number 6 Regent Street, in broad daylight, crossed the road and knocked on the door of number 17.
Of course the child had screamed when his father answered the door. Anyone would scream at the sight of him he thought. He remembered his Aunt Edna's comment on his six-year old self- ‘Looks like one of those gargoyle things on churches.’ And worse his Aunt Kath - 'Midwife should have put a pillow over it at birth.‘ He remembered his soft, lavender-scented mother holding him saying, 'Reginald's got a lovely nature. That's what counts.' His other aunt, Aunt Izzie had snorted, 'As if anyone cared about that.'
'Can I help you, pal?' The man from number 17 put the child down and was staring at Mr Pollock.
'Er yes.' He wasn't used to speaking out loud and his voice was raspy and coarse. 'I was wondering...' And he pointed to the skip in front of the house. 'The bicycle'. The words in his mouth felt strange and marvellous, like a magical incantation. He pointed again. 'The bicycle.'
The man from number 17 stepped outside. ‘Yeah. Getting rid of it. Got a new one now. State of the art.'
Mr Pollock reached up and stroked the wheel. ‘I was wondering...'
'What-you want this tatty old thing do you?'
Mr Pollock nodded. The man from number 17 looked at him in disbelief, but there was no mistaking the earnestness of the strange man on his doorstep.
'Tell you what, pal -give us a week or so and I’ll clean it up a bit for you. Pop back then.'
Back in number six, Mr Pollock paced the floor. A week or so. Seven days. Seven days and he’d be the owner of a bike. Since he was a young lad, he'd longed for one. All the kids in his street had bikes, but no one ever offered him a go. He was too strange, too ugly. And it was no use asking Aunt Kath. When his mother died, Aunt Kath had done her duty and taken him in, but that was as far as it went. In all her life, she never showed him one act of kindness. She never called him by his name and never gave him anything. Not even on his birthday or at Christmas. The dog fared better than he did.
From his window, Mr Pollock watched the man from number 17 lift the bike down and take it into the house. Please don't change your mind, he thought. Don't decide you want to keep it after all.
Six days, and twenty three hours later, he left his house and crossed the road. He was just about to ring, when the door opened and the man came out. He had the child with him and oddly enough it wasn't screaming this time. Just staring.
'There you go, pal. Cleaned up and oiled, ready to go.'
Mr Pollock was overcome. The rusty dilapidated bike had gone. In its place was a thing of wonder, blue and silver, shining in the sun. He stretched out his hand, and caressed the saddle. ‘Thank you, ' he said, the unfamiliar words strange on his tongue.
'Anytime, pal. Give us a shout if you need anything.'
Pal. How strange. As if the man actually liked him. As if he didn't see his ugly twisted face. As if he, Mr Pollock, was just any old guy walking along the street. He wheeled his new possession over to number six, his heart fluttering with excitement.
For a week, the bike took pride of place in Mr Pollock's sitting room. Each day he took a cloth and dusted it, marvelling at the gears, the glittering spokes, the shiny bell. It was the only thing he'd ever yearned for in his whole life – well apart from having a normal face and people to talk to, but he’d given up on those years ago.
Eddie Hawkins’ bike had been red. The memory of that day still stabbed him in the stomach when he thought about it. Eddie's dad had knocked on Aunt Kath's door holding the red bike. 'Thought your lad might like it,' he'd said. 'Too small for our Eddie now. You can have it for nowt.' Mr Pollock remembered crouching in the hallway willing her with all his heart to say yes.
'He's not my lad and I’m not having your cast- offs,' Aunt Kath said. 'Anyway, he's not fit to be seen outside. Give it to the rag and bone man. And get off my clean step.'
Eight days after he'd crossed the road for the second time and collected the bicycle, Mr Pollock got up very early. He made himself a cup of tea and stared at the bike. Then he put on his coat, pulled his balaclava over his head and pushed the bike towards the park. Time he learned how to ride, he decided, winding a scarf around his neck.
A few dog walkers were about and once they were out of sight Mr Pollock mounted the bike and wobbled a few feet before falling off. The lads in his childhood street had made it look so easy. He righted the bike and this time pedalled a good twenty feet before falling off.
The youths appeared from nowhere, slouching their way to school, smoking and looking for trouble. Mr Pollock was just remounting to have another go when he heard their mocking laughter. Then one of the boys threw a stone. It hit him just above the eye socket and knocked him to the ground. Unable to get up, he watched as they kicked his bike and stamped on it, laughing and jeering. Then while a couple of them heaved what was left of the bike into the boating lake, one of them aimed a couple of vicious kicks at his head before they all ran off laughing.
When he came round, he was aware of a sea of faces looking down on him and a babble of outraged voices. Then one voice detached itself from the rest. 'It's ok. I'll see to this. He's from my street.' A strong arm eased itself under his neck. 'It's alright, pal, I've got you. Let's get you fixed up eh, shall we.'
Mr Pollock hadn't cried since he was a child. He'd learned long ago that it got him nowhere, made matters worse in fact. But now hot tears flowed down his face biting into his cuts. A woman reached down to him with a handful of tissues and the tears flowed even more, gathering into huge shuddering sobs. Decades of misery and neglect flowed down his ugly deformed face, and all because a man had called him 'pal' and a woman was mopping his face with tissues.
'What's your name, love?' It was the tissue woman, crouched down beside him.
‘Mr Pollock,' he gulped through his sobs.
'No, your first name.'
'First name?’ He paused, remembering his mother. ‘Reginald’s got a lovely nature'.
'Mother used to call me Reginald.'
'Well how about that,' said the man from number 17. 'My mam always called me Reggie, short for Reginald. A real man's name that is.'
The crowd murmured its approval. Two of them were fishing the battered bike out of the lake, muttering about axles and gears. A ripple spread through them as they heard an ambulance siren threading its way across town.
'Won't be long now, pal. I'm going with you and when they've fixed you up, you're coming back to mine for a cuppa. The missus’ll never forgive me if I don’t so no arguments.'
The paramedic slipped a needle into his arm and Mr Pollock drifted into a pleasant trance. He wondered what it would feel like to go into number 17 and have a cuppa. As if he wasn't an ugly misfit, a church gargoyle hiding from the world, but an ordinary person, drinking tea with his neighbours like anyone else.
Maybe they'd talk about bikes. Or the little boy. Or the weather.
And maybe they'd just drink tea.