I’m reprinting the picture here, just to remind you of the task: to write a 100 word (max) mini saga, inspired by this photograph.
I was pleased that I didn’t have to disqualify anyone for going over the word count and all but one of the stories had a title – hurrah! Why did some of you not use your full word quota, though? One story was only 83 words long! That’s a whole sentence you missed out there which could have made all the difference.
If there was a prize for ‘last-minute-ness’, Sian would win it, as her entry arrived with just 2 minutes to spare, at 11.58pm! And if I could give an award for the longest title, it would definitely go to Helen, who made the most of the fact that I hadn’t put a word limit on the title, with her 13-worder, “To dear Carys and Ellie, who wouldn’t sit still long enough for portraits.”
There were quite a few stories along the lines of ‘an evil presence lurking in the woods’ and several deathbed memories (and dying, in general – you morose lot!). I suspect lots of those were ‘first thoughts’. Always try to dismiss your first, second or third ideas – they’re likely to be other people’s too. In a competition, making your entry stand out (for the right reasons, like originality), is all-important.
But in addition to the evil presence and the deathbed stories, the stories included: ghostly daughters, postnatal depression, an unexpected pregnancy, a nun wondering about the children she might have had, a funeral scene, conquering cancer, a grandfather’s joy and an older girl failing to care for her little sister.
Some of these were great ideas and the writing was good but sometimes the stories themselves were too complicated (keep it simple!) and while they’d have made good ‘full length’ short stories, they just didn’t work in 100 words.
And then there were the 5 that I shortlisted:
1. Journey’s End
Dorothy reached for her sister’s hand as their plane descended towards Switzerland. The answering squeeze made Dorothy feel guilty. She should be comforting Sandra.
“Is my big sister scared of flying?” Sandra teased.
No, just of journey’s end.
“Don’t the autumn colours look lovely, Dot?”
She couldn’t see through her tears, but nodded. In her memory saw the two of them running through crisp fallen leaves, laughing when they found bright shiny conkers.
“Come on, one last adventure together,” Sandra said. Outside the airport she hailed a taxi, “Dignitas clinic, please.”
Whose hand would Dorothy hold on the flight home?
“Daisy, there’s another one!”
“Oh, yes. It’s the rain brings them out. You don’t see many in the dry weather.”
“Will you pick it up, Daisy? I don’t like touching them.”
“Well, silly, you eat them, don’t you?”
“That’s different. I eat a lot of things that are disgusting when you think about it.”
“We can’t eat these for at least a month. They have to be starved to get rid of all the poisons.”
“No crueller than eating a burger.”
“And what are they called again? Cargos?”
“No, Ellie. Listen carefully. L’escargots.”
“L’escargots. Got it.”
Watching the girls she shudders.
Fifty years and fifty miles make no difference.
She remembers the damp air, the crisp sound of shuffling through fallen leaves, the promise of toast and hot chocolate at home, the shout, being thrown to the ground by her new, shadowy, companion, the noise of the pursuit, being held in strong arms, soothing voices asking hard questions.
She would never bring her daughter to the park.
She had hoped to show her granddaughters the magic of autumn but she could not find it.
‘Come along girls,’ she called. ‘Let’s go for toast and hot chocolate.’
And this, I say, is still my favourite….
Sunlight shafting, smoky air. Me, breathless, chasing, clutching leaves. Trees shedding gold. Listening to Annie, always my guide. “These are called Deciduous”…laughing…”because they decide to lose their leaves. They just let them go.” A leaf falling, where I stand. Discarded. “But an evergreen hangs on to its leaves,” I am picked up, tightly held, “for ever and ever.”
The photograph, the moment, now on the table.
Yes, I was happy there.Well kept. One of the family, Mrs Atkins..Moira, then…I’m sorry? No, not ‘Mum’. I can’t. Not yet.
5. Catch a Falling Leaf
When I was young my Grandpa said: ‘Catch a falling leaf and you’ll be lucky!’ I twirled through flurries of gold and bronze, snatching at empty air. He gave me thruppence anyway, for trying.
Seasons changed, my life moved on, joy outweighing sorrow. And suddenly I’m as old as he was then.
I walk with my granddaughters through the woods. Leaves scrunch underfoot, releasing an earthy tang. We hold our breath as one lone leaf drifts down to my outstretched palm.
The children are delighted, ‘Gran,’ they cry, ‘You’re lucky!’
‘Yes,’ I smile and agree with them, ‘I am!’
The anonymous shortlist of 5 was passed on to my fellow-judge in the order they’re listed above and he chose the overall winner. He loved ‘Deciduous’ and thought that Christine’s description of the autumnal scene in the photograph was the most evocative prose in any of the 5 stories. This story wasn’t placed higher simply because the last line was, he felt, a little unclear.
So, it was a choice between Patsy Collins’ ‘Journey’s End’ and Jacqueline King’s ‘Catch A Falling Leaf’. Both these stories have a feeling of ‘completeness’ and provide a satisfying read. They’ve clearly been carefully compressed, from a much larger idea and vision.
In the end, Patsy’s story was runner-up (well done!) but the winner (because it’s so uplifting and focuses more on the photograph), was declared to be:
‘Catch A Falling Leaf’ by Jacqueline King.