One of the strange things about your entries was that pretty unanimously you thought the shoes were YELLOW. You foolish people without taste. They are lime green, as anyone who has seen them in real life knows. However, I did not hold this against you.
Before I announce the winners, let me tell you some of the things which stopped some of you being chosen as winners: well, one, actually - over-writing. Too often a perfectly good, even excellent, description was wrecked by being over-egged. Sometimes your next phrase said the same thing in a different way but a way that added nothing; or you introduced an element of cliché; or you failed to think carefully about your meaning. So, you became victims of your desire to impress, instead of just touching the reader in a clever or powerful way. One writer on the shortlist, for example, lost a place amongst the prize-winners because of one piece of weak, clichéd description in an otherwise good piece.
Oh, and "up to 150 words" doesn't mean "more than 200".
Of course, everyone's opinion of a piece will be different, but I was looking for tight writing, an original slant, clarity of sentence structure, and something that stood out as being written by a skilled writer in control of language.
Here was my shortlist, in random order: Sam Tonge, Sarah Fraser, Patsy Collins, Keith Havers, Sally Jenkins, Jennifer de Groot, Juliet Boyd, Rin Simpson, Betty Taylor, Helen Lyttle, Frances Hayes and Jo Carroll. Well done to all!
The winner is .... Helen Lyttle. Congratulations! This made me smile, and I'm sure you can see why, but it's fair to say that - even leaving aside the flattery... - this is tight writing, original, and has a nice little twist. It's perfect flash.
How will you know me? I'm quite a looker, so I'm told. I can seem crabbit in a certain light, especially if I haven't had enough chocolate. You're right, that could describe most women at the Book Festival apart from A S Byatt. Tell you what, I'll wear my favourite shoes. They're puce suede with cute little bows on. Yes, it might look odd if you stare at women's feet but that can't be helped. We will go to the Yurt and there we will exchange secrets for Mother Russia. Do the swans still swim on the Volgograd? No dear, it was spy talk. Yes, they do serve alcohol in the Yurt. What do you mean, am I married? I'm beginning to think you've misunderstood my coded message in the Literary Review lonely hearts column. You're looking for a baboushka of quite another kind. (by Helen Lyttle)In second place is Patsy Collins - well done, Patsy! Patsy's story is called "Walk a Mile", and one of the reasons I liked it was that although many of you took the theme of disability or old age, this one managed to retain excitement and lack of regret, which appealed to me. I think I'd have omitted "I wouldn't know", as it isn't actually necessary. But I liked the exuberance and the message and the sense of adventure in this person who can't have the types of adventures mentioned. It's not startling or particularly unusual but it feels right and strong.
Walk a mile in someone's shoes before you know them. That's what
'they' say. Maybe they're right; I wouldn't know.
I'd like to wear ballet pumps. Stand on the points of my toes, even if it gave me calluses. Or don flippers to swim in warm pools, or cold, dangerous seas. Skis sound fun, rushing downhill so fast my eyes wouldn't focus on the whitescape flashing by. Maybe I'd break my leg. I wouldn't mind the cast, not if it came after trying the skis. I'd have put on the boots of those Chilean miners and paced hopefully in the darkness, if I could.
Look at my shoes. Pretty, lots of colours. If you want to know me, put them on. Don't walk a mile. Or even a step. I can't you see. To know me, sit in my shoes and think where you'll walk when you've taken them off. (by Patsy Collins)
To be honest, it was hard to choose between Patsy's and Helen's entries, partly because they are so different. Helen's came in on the very last day of the competition and just pipped Patsy to the post!
I was supposed to choose two Highly Commended runners-up, but I had to choose three because I couldn't separate them: Jennifer de Groot, Frances Hayes and Jo Carroll.
JO CARROLL wrote a lovely story showing a snapshot of a child's game. This was my favourite sentence, conveying beuatifully that this is an older person playing with a child: "She plops onto the floor and I prop against the chair to lower myself; together we tiptoe our fingers between the lines on the floor."
‘What if,’ she says, ‘we were teeny tiny and played bears on this carpet?’
‘You have the best ideas,’ I tell her. ‘I wish I had ideas as good as yours.’
‘It’s because I’m six,’ she tells me. I believe her. ‘And because you’re sixty,’ she goes on, ‘you are the best joiner-in.’
She plops onto the floor and I prop against the chair to lower myself; together we tiptoe our fingers between the lines on the floor.
‘We have to pretend shoes,’ she says, as if I hadn’t thought of that.
‘Of course,’ I say.
‘Because the squares on this carpet,’ she says, ‘might lead us somewhere magic, where the path is made of bouncy cheese and the wind smells of chocolate and we can stay up all night and watch fireworks.’
‘What will we do in the morning?’ I ask.
‘Come home again, silly. I’ve got school tomorrow.’ (by Jo Carroll)JENNIFER DE GROOT wrote a poem. Now, I'm not an expert on poetry but I know most poetry entered in competitions is awful, and this definitely wasn't! I feel it's nice and rounded, with a beginning and end. It has a visual shape and it focuses on rhythm, rather than rhyme. It has the feeling of rightness and I could hear the shoes talking. So, it gets a Highly Ccommended from me.
With youAnd finally, FRANCES HAYES' piece is very different in atmosphere. It ignores the shoes and focuses on the rug, imbuing it with a rich history and atmosphere.
We have balanced on cobblestone streets
(And took the clinging pebbles in stride).
Waded through the muck of soggy leaves outside your uncle's house,
Trying to find your lost glasses.
(The boots he wore were attractive,
although your uncle isn't.)
Sunk into the plush carpet below every exhibit
at that wonderfully overcrowded art museum.
(We flirted with causing a mutiny
so we could stay and shoe watch.)
Accepted the remains of your lunch at the Vatican.
(The floors there didn't agree with us either.)
Danced with your niece,
(Who squashed our bows into oblivion;
we swear she has two left feet.)
And escaped with only a singe
When you left us on that steamy hotel vent.
(Pity your hotel stay wasn't that steamy.)
But we have reached our quota
And will not go another step
RevengeLovely - well done, all of you! Those five writers should send me their addresses - firstname.lastname@example.org - and Helen needs to tell me which two of my books she'd like and Patsy needs to choose one. And tell me who to sign them to.
We brought back the Khan's body.
After dark we seized his body from under the noses of their sentries and carried him back to our camp.
We stood guard, none speaking, all night.
In the morning we wrapped him in his finest carpet and lashed his body to the back of his favourite pony. Two of us held her head; she did not like to bear a corpse.
When we returned there was great mourning in the city. After seven days the Wazir summoned us and gave us golden trinkets, a reward for our service.
The carpet was hung on a wall of the mosque.
Then the redcoat soldiers came. They took the carpet, exclaiming at its intricate work, its vibrant patterns.
The most vibrant colour was the brown stain of the Khan's blood.
We could not stop them taking it; we did not tell them about the blood.
Thank you to everyone who entered. Please don't be disappointed if you weren't mentioned. The standard was generally really high and there's always an element of personal choice involved. The main thing is that you all wrote something and you were brave enough to send it out there. That's what writers have to do all the time and we just have to keep trying.
Back to your desks, all of you!