Competition Winners

What’s happening in August and September

…it might be a bit quiet round here! Our next winning pieces will be published in October – here’s why the gap:

This summer we are extending our monthly competition so that rather than having three 500-word challenges, we’re having one prompt for 1,500-word pieces over the next three months, July-September. From October the usual monthly competition will resume.

You can write in any genre, and we welcome fiction, non-fiction, flash fiction, poetry and scripts; there is no minimum word limit. It can be a complete piece (or three shorter linked pieces!), or a stand-alone extract of a longer work.

For July-September the theme is music –

…whether it’s music to your ears, or time to face the music, your piece could centre on a swan-song, an ear-worm, or a one-man-band. Maybe your characters meet at a concert, disagree on which is ‘their’ song, or walk through life wearing headphones.

As usual, submissions will be read anonymously by a Reader, and their favourites published on this site. There is also the possibility that a print anthology will be created of these pieces early in 2019 – you will be notified if your work is selected for this.

Please note: there is now a google form for submissions here. The email address is still monitored for enquiries and other communications, but from now on please submit your competition entries via the form.

We will aim to have the winning pieces published as soon as possible in October, but please bear with us – it can take our Reader time if there have been a lot of entries! All entrants will be notified when the winning pieces have been published.

Read work selected as ‘Reader’s Choice’ in previous months here. Want to be a Reader for one of our competitions? Get in touch via didcotwriters@gmail.com.

Deadline for submissions: 30th September 2018

[This text is copied from our home-page, full guidelines for entries can be found there.]

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Reader’s Choice: Puckers

Puckers

By Ian Marshall

“Do you remember Puckers? You must do. The big red neon lips above the entrance and the lurid mauve sign – Puckers! The Toast of the town! No? It was a nightclub on the wrong side of town. Well, I lived in the north and Puckers was in the south so from my point of view it was on the wrong side of town. Even more so when you consider the terrible bus service and most of the taxis packed up around midnight. Not only that, back then you couldn’t risk driving to the place because you could guarantee that as soon as you inched out of their car park you were going to get pulled over for a breath test. And who wants to go to a club and not drink? Not me for one!

“Mind you I have been there a few times. I remember seeing that Scottish guy in there. You know the one on the telly, he does the football analysis. Oh what’s his name? You know him; he’s got a square jaw, peroxide blond spiky hair and a really thick Scottish accent. Anyway, when I saw him he was surrounded by girls and was buying them all drinks. He was knocking back Stella Artois and the more he drank the more indecipherable he became. Eventually he started to sound like one of those deeply religious people talking in tongues, only they’d seemed more coherent than him.

“I went to Dave Jackson’s stag do there too. What a disaster that nearly was. He got off with a girl he knew from his work and completely ignored the rest of us. Actually he was ignoring everyone and everything so he never saw his fiancée Helen turn up with her hen party. And blow me down if she didn’t get off with that fireman, Geoff. I still have no idea how Dave and Helen never saw each other. It didn’t bode well for the marriage did it? I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did. Pity they didn’t reach their first anniversary. Hey ho.

“Then there was the time when the whole of the southern part of town suffered a power cut and we were stuck inside with just the emergency lighting for illumination. I think those bulbs were so poor they made it look darker. After about 20 minutes someone must have twigged that they’d got an emergency generator so that helped no end. Everyone was in such good spirits. There was a real camaraderie going on. Then the cops come in and said we had to file out as quickly as possible because there had been a bomb threat. Bomb threat my arse! I bet it was some stupid plonker having a laugh. It finished our fun that’s for sure; we had to wait hours in the freezing cold for a taxi.

“Anyway what was I talking about? Oh yes, Puckers. Yeah Puckers – the toast of the town. It closed down on Friday.”

Ian Marshall is a gentleman of a certain age with a bad memory.

Our Reader said:

I liked the way this monologue tells the story of somewhere we’ve all known, and works in the theme of toast, perhaps unexpectedly.

Reader’s Choice: Chips

Chips

By Gill Ainsworth

Jack couldn’t believe his eyes when his wife’s body exploded, splattering blood and body bits all over the kitchen. If he’d known beforehand, he’d have escorted Jocelyn onto the patio, then he could have hosed her, and her stench of burnt black pudding, down the drain. Now he had hours of cleaning ahead of him.

He grinned. Her self-destruct had hit early. A hundred was the average age for annihilation. She’d only turned seventy the previous week. His good.

Before cleaning, he had to find her chip and register her end. Praying it hadn’t disappeared down the plug hole – he shuddered at the thought of delving into a slimy U-bend – he looked round the kitchen. The work surfaces and hob were buried underneath Jocelyn’s remains, but the mess wouldn’t conceal her chip. Then he heard a faint bleep and turned towards the sound. A green light was blinking inside the coffee percolator: her chip. Again, lucky. But no coffee until he got a new machine. He couldn’t win them all.

He could win the game though. Easily.

His best move had been to take practical subjects at college: cooking, entertaining, bodybuilding. And it was proving lucrative. Verity, an agile hundred and seven, swooned into his life a month and a day after Jocelyn’s demise. He sold his late wife’s house, banked the money and moved in with Verity.

Me good.

Not so good when, at a hundred and eighteen, Verity was still enjoying his attention. And his French cuisine. By forty-two, he’d expected to be with a new wife.

That’s what agile does for you, he thought, as he added mushrooms to Verity’s coq au vin. Next time, I’ll choose someone a little less fluid in her movements. How she managed to stay so slim with the rich food she ate, he had no idea. He’d had to increase his exercise regime to keep his weight down, and he only tasted teaspoon-samples to check the flavours were balanced. She might be an agile old lady, but she was also a cantankerous one. Still, he consoled himself, She’s got to end soon, and I’ve got plenty of years a-

Pain streaked through his guts. He doubled up, rubbed his tummy. Verity’s fancy food might suit her, but it didn’t suit his belly.

The pain subsided, and panic took its place. His stomach seemed to twist inside out and his heart raced. Wiping sweat from his forehead, he grabbed his ladle and stirred his latest creation, hoping it hadn’t become his latest cremation. He tasted it. Grinned. No taint of burnt food. His good.

Pain hit again. Only worse.

Then it happened.

Whoosh. His abdomen exploded. Heroically, he grabbed his chip with his right hand. To save the coffee percolator. And for Verity. She’d be chuffed.

You’re toast, brown bread dead! his brains shrieked, as his organs spilt into her coq au vin.

His final thought was more of a laugh:

Extra protein. Me good.

Gillian Ainsworth is a British writer and editor. Her fiction has seen print in the UK, Germany and the USA.

Our Reader said:

A different angle entirely was taken in this dark futuristic tale.

Reader’s Choice: The Familiar Toast

The Familiar Toast

By Mini Gautam

“The maid will cook anything you like, why do you eat toast every morning?” Ayush’s mother was visiting him and he was getting tired of her interference in his daily life. He knew she meant well, but he was twenty-nine years old, not a child anymore.

He shoved his laptop in his bag and searched for the car keys. There was a crystal bowl next to the door, and it was always kept there. He couldn’t find it and started shouting at the servant. His mother came rushing, “Beta, I kept it inside. Relax, I’ll bring it.”

“Ma, please, you will let everything remain in this house as it is. Please.”

“Ok, ok, I’m sorry. Here, take the keys.”

He rushed into the car and closed his eyes; a cool breeze came over his face as the air conditioning switched on. This was his refuge, his car, his ride to work. He had started spending long hours in office, there was nobody to come home to. Engineering had not been his first choice, but many things in life had been forced on him. He was never given a choice, not in his career, not in his marriage, and not in the death of his twenty-eight-year-old wife. He hardly knew her when they got married, and within two years she had become his best friend and soul mate.  Aira was an easy person to live with, she made each day so manageable. But after she left, everything seemed to be like a never ending apocalyptic movie climax. It had been a year, and a year was a long time for a person in grief. A year was a long time for a person who was counting every minute.

Ayush came back from office at 9.30pm, and his father was sitting in the balcony with his scotch. “Ayush, come here.” he called out.

“Yes, Dad?”

“Your mother is trying to solve your problem: it’s her natural maternal instinct. She doesn’t know that your problem can never be solved.”

“Dad, but… I am fine.” Ayush stuttered.

His father smiled kindly, “Of course you are, on the surface. You are going to work, living a seemingly normal life. Do you think I am blind? I can see what you are doing. You are drawing comfort from the experiences you shared with your wife now that she isn’t around, like having toast for breakfast. Both of you were busy with work, and used to rush after having a couple of pieces of toast. But beta, can’t you see? The person is who made the experiences special; the experiences mean nothing without her, so let go.”

Ayush cried his heart out that night, he felt lighter when he woke the next morning. His body was burning with a fever, but he felt strangely calm. His mother brought a plate of hot toast to the dining table, and Ayush looked up to her and said, “Ma, I want to eat scrambled eggs today.”

Mini Gautam’s first novel was published in 2017. She also writes short stories for online/print magazines in India and abroad.

Our Reader said:

I liked this story for its well roundedness, the mood, and its dialogue.

Reader’s Choice Winner: Burnt

Burnt

by June Barclay

She couldn’t remember whether it was a sign of a stroke or a heart attack when you smelled burnt toast. She wondered where she’d read it. Probably in an old Reader’s Digest. She could certainly smell it now.

She opened her eyes to pitch blackness. She couldn’t see a thing. She tried to move, but couldn’t. Her head was aching. She was lying on her back. She felt enclosed. Where was she? What was wrong with her? She forced down a surge of panic and thought back.

She remembered letting him in the front door and going to the kitchen to make them tea then – nothing. Until waking to this smell of toast.

She heard muffled voices – something about elevenses – a peal of laughter.  She tried to call out, but there was something in her mouth that she couldn’t spit out. Then the sound of footsteps.

Next, she felt whatever she was lying in being moved. It was uncomfortable being carried this way. She felt and heard whatever she was in being pushed onto something hard. An engine started and she felt movement. Was she in a car?

She tried again to move, to cry out. But, terrifyingly, her body refused to do anything but lie flat.

After the engine stopped she felt herself being moved again.  This movement was unsteady; bumpy and slightly at an angle.  There were more muffled voices. She could have sworn she heard her brother. She hadn’t seen him for years.

Then, more stillness for a short while.

She heard another sound; almost inaudible. Music. It must be Sunday because she began to hear some of her favourite hymns being played.

Next she felt the sensation you get when going down in a lift. Finally, she smelled burning wood.

June Barclay recently retired and thinks of plots when walking and writes when her cat isn’t sitting on her laptop.

Our Reader said:

This Edgar Allen Poe-esque story conveyed great description of normality turning to horror with the final twist, as well as black humour.

Our Reader for June

Our Reader for the June competition, themed ‘toast’ was Mike Evis.

Mike Evis.JPG

Mike Evis is a member of Didcot Writers and lives in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.
He is a software engineer with a long standing interest in writing, obscure indie bands no one else has heard of, plus an inability to pass any bookshop without
wandering in, browsing extensively, and buying something.
His stories have appeared in several anthologies.

Mike’s story, Telling it like it is, was a Reader’s Choice piece for our very first competition in January 2018. You can read it here.

About the winning piece for this month, Burnt, by June Barclay, Mike said:

This Edgar Allen Poe-esque story conveyed great description of normality turning to horror with the final twist, as well as black humour.

Thank you to Mike for taking the time to read all the entries this month.

If you would be interested in being our Reader for another month, please get in touch at didcotwriters@gmail.com.

Competition winners for June

Thank you to everyone who entered the June competition, on the theme of toast.

A quick reminder that this month (actually three month)’s theme is ‘music’ and full details are here.

Our anthology, The Most Normal Town in England is also open for submissions until the end of September. Details here.

The winner this month is:
Burnt, by June Barclay

And other Reader’s Choices were:
The Familiar Toast, by Mini Gautam
Chips, by Gill Ainsworth
Puckers, by Ian Marshall

Congratulations to all!

Don’t forget to ‘Follow’ this site to receive all winning entries straight into your inbox, compete with comments from the Reader, as well as details of the Reader themselves. Posts will come out on Mondays and Fridays during July.

Reader’s Choice: Framed Canal Prints

Framed Canal Prints

By Bridget Scrannage

Suzette sketched the monochrome lock gates, then the terracotta brick paths that ran in quarter circles beneath them.  Her fair, freckled skin reddened in the hot sun, exposed shoulders showing white lines beneath a strapless top, blonde hair flowing in cornrows down her back.  She glanced up from her barge every so often at the dog walkers and families who traversed the tow path, looking for suitable figures to draw.

‘Is that called the stern, or the aft?’  A young, male voice broke her reverie.  A canal nerd.  Suzette sighed.  The warm weather always brought them out with their plethora of inane questions.

‘Neither.  It’s the pointy end.  I don’t do technical terms.  Go bother somebody else,’ she said.

‘What’s that for?’  he persisted.

‘What’s what for?’  Growing irritated, she shielded her eyes to look up at him.  He was around 15 years old, with dark hair and an inquisitive face.  He pointed at a rusty L-shaped piece of white painted metal that lay on the floor beside her.

‘It’s my favourite murder weapon for people who ask too many nosy questions,’ she replied.

‘Oh come on, tell me what it is, please?’

‘It’s a key for the canal locks,’ she gestured towards some black and white gates further up the stretch of water.  ‘It has holes one end that you fit over a sticky out bit that’s attached to a mechanism thingy.  Wind it around like a mangle handle.  Flaps open and let water in.  Once both parts are level you can go through.  Happy now?  Will you shut up and let me get back to my artwork?’

‘What’s a mangle handle?’

‘Go away!’

‘Can I have a look around?’

‘No, you can’t.  It’s my home, not a tourist attraction.’

‘You live on it?’

‘No, I use it as a very slow getaway vehicle,’ Suzette sighed.  ‘Yes, I live on it, year round.’

‘Do you need any help?’

Suzette considered for a moment.  ‘Actually, I could do with moving along a bit further.  You’re not coming onto the barge, but you can run ahead opening the locks whilst I drive through if you like.’

‘Cool.’

‘I’ll get my new key, not that rusty old thing,’ Suzette said, ducking inside the cabin, where she pulled on a pair of gloves, took the key out of its plastic wrapper and placed it into a cloth bag.  Then she returned onto the deck and handed it up to him.  ‘Be sure to put it into the bag before giving it back.’

Suzette smiled as he ran off along the tow path.  His fingerprints would be all over the metal bar, but not hers.  She’d let some more canal nerds open gates and add their prints too.  When she did use it as a murder weapon they’d never trace it back to her.

Bridget Scrannage lives near Bath with her husband.  She’s founder of a writing community with more than 150 members, bridgetscrannage.wordpress.com

Our Reader said:

A powerfully written story that reveals just enough. There are a lot of unanswered questions at the end but that just makes it better.

Reader’s Choice: Millie Reading Her Mirror

Millie Reading Her Mirror

by David Hamilton

My family dithers a short hop from Gotterdammerung. Dad, a mini-tycoon unfettered by ethics, postpones the onset of alimony while he finishes re-defining a murky Swiss bank account as preposterous rumour. Ambition to plunder is why Mum stays married. Dad’s mistress Millie doubles as his secretary who wiggles around family edges.

‘Mum let on she bribed the shadiest of his three accountants – don’t ask how – and it boils down to Dad’s nefarious need for anonymous account access,’ my sister Julie whispered. Julie enjoys relaying teaser tit-bits. ‘After seeing a password the accountant told Mum, the bank will show text in code. If you can decipher it, the account’s open to you. He said she’d need a code key he can’t get, and it must be too involved to memorise because Dad boasted his copy is where nobody would dream of looking for it.’

Millie is a dreamy beauty who often reacts with a motive more innocently immediate than fully considered. That’s how a spilled cup of tea escalated into the display of bare thighs starting where a longish tee-shirt ended.

Mum and Julie felt a lad of only twenty shouldn’t watch and began ushering me from the room. ‘Tee-shirt flapped, I glimpsed a tattoo,’ I hissed in amusement.

They paused, exchanging glances. Then Julie wrestled my phone from my pocket and slammed the door on me.

I stood deflated, then the penny dropped. Two minutes after my hiss had dropped it for Mum and Julie, but in piranha mode they often do scent meat sooner than I do.

I blustered back in and wrenched my mobile from Julie. ‘Didn’t have yours on you, eh?’ I guessed.

Millie now wore a towel as a skirt. ‘Do wash it before you return it, sweetie,’ Mum sniped as she left.

‘Why have a tattoo where normally nobody sees it?’ I enquired.

With Mum gone Millie could giggle and retort, ‘Your father normally does. He never explains it or why he wanted it so eagerly. I assumed it fits some kinky fantasy he has and had it done just to please him.’

Later I cornered Mum and Julie. ‘Spoiled the plan by getting my mobile back, did I?’

Julie fenced, ‘You’re mincemeat if Dad sees the photo.’

‘Mum knows the password and the tattoo will be readable on my computer. Third each if the Swiss roll?’

*

The bank official wore deadpan, with matching speech. ‘That is password correctness. Please now decipher this coded text.’

Mum performed.

‘You have conformed. The account is open to you. Following a co-conformer’s visit yesterday it holds ten Swiss franks.’

*

Millie is buying a new car and moving house, going up-market. She told Julie, ‘Your eagerness to photograph my bum made me think really hard.’

Julie warns that after borrowing my computer, Dad is going berserk. He hasn’t caught up about the bank yet, but wants revenge on a son who couldn’t have got that photo except by sleeping with Millie. Gotterdammerung is here.

David Hamilton: The piece you think will slay them never wins. The ones you send timidly occasionally do better. Sums me up.

Our Reader said:

This was a completely different take on the prompt and not one that would have occurred to me. I enjoyed the dynamic between the various characters.

Reader’s Choice: Once in a Lifetime

Once in a Lifetime

By Jan Brown

Mine’s not an attractive job: the thick miasma of worn shoe leather, burning rubber and polish; the constant teeth-aching whine and grind of machinery as people tap their feet impatiently, willing me to rush what once was a skilled, precise job but is now duplicated in moments. Mates pretend to recoil when I pop into my local for a quick pint before going home and no amount of shower gel can remove that subcutaneous layer of odour I’ve accumulated over time. But it’s my life now.

I’ve a display where the more patient customers can peruse the fruits of my years of searching for unusual keys. I usually find something intriguing when digging around in filthy car-boot boxes my wife wouldn’t touch.  A key can be a beautiful thing, a work of art. I’m torn between restoring them to their former glory or letting them retain the patina of life. I’ve stuck with the latter, believing that history should speak for itself. You shouldn’t botox away wrinkles and you shouldn’t polish keys. Yet there in the centre of my collection is one key, polished within an inch of its life. I buff it weekly and daydream.

It came into my possession when I was just finishing my apprenticeship. The key itself is less significant than the owner. In France they call it a coup-de-foudre: my perfect girl walked in, shook the rain from her curls, wrinkled her nose predictably and beamed at me. I melted. She needed a copy, please. How long would it take? Entranced, I foolishly suggested thirty minutes, gesturing to a chair where she would wait and I would procrastinate while engaging her in witty conversation, culminating in asking her if she fancied a drink later. It didn’t work that way of course. She looked at her watch, did a mental calculation and suggested her boyfriend collect it on his way home. He was moving in so they might as well start on the right footing. She wasn’t going to be his servant. Hopes of an after-work drink shattered, I took his name and never saw her again.

I never saw him either. He didn’t collect it. In my daydreaming moments, I created all sorts of possibilities. Did he bottle out? Was he run over on the way here, leaving her broken-hearted, alone? Was she living like Miss Faversham? If only I could have duplicated her as easily as her key. Each story became more preposterous. Had she too experienced that coup-de-foudre and dumped him? I reluctantly ruled that version out – she never came back to the shop. But I held onto the key, hoping.

I like to handle that key. It’s worn smooth by the mindless caress of my thumb over the decades. It links me with the romantic lad I once was. I’ve a grandson just like me, head in the clouds. When the business closes, I’ll give him that key. I’ll advise him to never stop dreaming.

Jan Brown lives in the UK. She’s learning how to write flash fiction and enjoying rediscovering her imagination.

Our Reader said:

The imagery in this was very vivid. I’ve never really thought about what it’s like in a key cutting shop but the description in the first paragraph summed up the sounds and experience perfectly.  The character was brilliant too.