So, do not blame me if you don't like the judgement. It wisnae me, as they say over in the west.
By the way, I am assuming that you all have the right to submit these works for publication here - in other words that they are your own words and copyright is yours. If they've been previously published somewhere, you need to make sure you have the rights. Paranoid, me? If you have any doubts, let me know.
I loved lots of your stories, including many that didn't make the list. If I'd been judging there might have been a few differences, though not many. As you can imagine, it's easy to come up with a larger list than we need and much harder to decide at the margins. I asked the judge not to give an order of merit, but he felt that one was outstandingly a winner. I allowed him that but when he also wanted to do a second and third, I told him to shut up and stop interfering.
Remember that there's not much objectivity that can be brought to bear when you get lots of stories of a high standard. (As we did.) Can you tell I find this difficult?? The judge tried to include a range of styles and genres, so that there's something for everyone. And for goodness' sake, it's ONLY chocolate!
Another thing - I was delighted to get a number of entries from teenagers. I think it was the chocolate that did it. I decided to reserve one prize for the best young writer - and I planned to judge that one, since I claim to understand teenagers and used to teach them, but the judge refused to let me. There was an amusing mother and daughter competition going on, and some witty rivalry by email, and I was so hoping that both mother and daughter would be winners. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, but I think you'll see that there was a happy ending after all...
Sally Zigmond - who won my last creative writing comp so she's maintaining a v high standard. Sally's a talented short story-writer and I loved both her entries. This was the one the judge picked. It's mysterious and you can read it in different ways, but the description is intense:
The box alone was seductive. She ran her finger along the black velvet, the black satin ribbons. She teased open the lid to reveal, nestling within, ten dark mounds of pleasure; ten dusky, creamy mouthfuls of chocolate bliss. She savoured, licked; devoured.
Soft and sated, she opened the note now revealed. “Your novels are my pleasure. They woo me. I am utterly yours. The next one you write will seal the bond. You are mine. Forever.
Fear froze her. Her fingers were dust; her keyboard ashes. She would never write again. She had sold her soul for chocolate.
Julia Dalby - very chilling indeed and highly original. There's a lot going on in this story:
"For you," he says. He takes the small lilac box, and smiles; her sweet beauty warms him, even after love.
She reaches for something. "Please. Post?"
He takes the sealed envelope.
"I pay back, for stamps." Her eyes hold his. "Please."
Downstairs, he opens it. Her language, but there, this address. Clever girl! She has eyes and ears, learns quickly. Near the door, men sit and drink. He hands the letter to one, slaps the shoulder of another. He won't return for a while; damaged flesh takes time to heal.
Upstairs, moments later, a box of chocolates is crushed underfoot.Barb Ettridge - Barb's story is told from the POV of a chocolate bar, about to be eaten by a writer who always rewards herself with chocolate at the end of a chapter. Hmm, I identify with that! The chocolate bar has a real personality that comes out in this piece. And Barb nicely avoids over-writing - difficult when writing about chocolate...
She's writing again.Clare Donaldson - Clare is the mother whose daughter also entered. I really want to give her daughter, Isla, a prize too, not just because I liked her story but also for very humorous emails to me, in which she said that her mother had far too much chocolate and shouldn't win. (I've probably caused war in the Donaldson house now.) ANYway, I am going to give Isla an extra prize: any one of my books, signed. I know, not as good as chocolate but may last longer. Here's Clare's story, and I think that to have so much structure in a 100 word story is pretty clever. I cried, idiot that I am.
The clack of the keys has a determined sound, so she must have found a
way to write the cliff-hanger. I heard her muttering about it earlier.
How she was going to get them together, while giving a reason that
their love could never be.
Please don't let her be finished. Writer's block, procrastination,
maybe her laptop crashed. Anything but the end of the chapter.
She's here at the pantry.
Oh god, she's opening my foil wrapper.
DEATH BY CHOCOLATE?David O'Connor Thompson - another previous winner keeping up standards! David doesn't mention fear explicitly but the story makes me feel fear. It's very chilling.
Remnants of chewed paper. Brown crumbs. Finn’s brown-smeared muzzle. He stands to greet me, but collapses, unable to bear the weight of his swollen body.
A note on the table. Kate’s writing, “A Hallowe’en treat.”
Ears buzz. Heart thumps. How much chocolate is fatal? How long before it takes effect? Fumbling, I phone the vet. Engaged.
I sit on the floor and stroke Finn’s silky head. He gazes at me, his eyes like pools of melting chocolate – the irony does not escape me.
Text from Kate. “Hope you enjoy the treacle scones!”
Dear Rose,Douglas Bruton - a subtle story which almost contains no ingredients of chocolate, fear or the written word, unless you look carefully.
I’m very, very sorry. I promise on my life it will never happen again. Promise. Promise. Promise. It was all my fault. I just lost it but you know how I hate it when you ask me where I’ve been. I’ve told you again and again NOT to ever question me on where I go or what I do. But you NEVER learn. Anyway I’ve left you these chocolates. They all have soft centres so you can eat them. Or suck them. Will come to hospital again tomorrow and hope you’re awake by then.
Love you loads
ALEGRIA IS AFRAIDGina Langridge, with a simple idea but with sparse and clear prose. The difference between the ecstasy and the shock of discovery is cleverly done, using pace to create atmosphere.
The waitress, Alegria, carries his order on a tray - a cup of coffee and a plate of white chocolate alfajores biscuits. She checks the clock.
‘Good morning,’ she says, so quietly that Xavier de Rosas does not hear. He is reading, like always.
She sets the cup before him and, a little to the side, his plate of biscuits. Her hand shakes.
‘Enjoy your coffee,’ says Alegria, giving her words kiss shapes and small sound.
Today her hair is different and she is afraid that he might not like it. She waits for him to look up. She waits.
Lucy eased off the purple wrapper, savouring the moment. The silver foil was harsh against her fingers as she pulled it back to reveal the dark chocolate within. Snap! She broke off a single square and placed it in her mouth. Bitter flavours melted into sweet. She held it on her tongue, allowing the heavenly liquid to seep backwards and slip down her throat. Her eyes closed.Simon Kewin had two great entries, each very different from the other; one was a riotous werewolf / vampire story with a twist and a great modern edge. And the other this, with a cleverly inscrutable ending:
Her eyes flew open. Her heart raced as she saw the shopkeeper pointing to the sign: "Shoplifters will be prosecuted."
"Forty pence, please, and next time pay for it first."
The waiter's face was expressionless as he set down the dark chocolate torte. Stephen sat still, hollow with fear. He had barely eaten anything all meal. The cake was between them on the cleared table, the words piped onto it in white chocolate. The question he couldn’t bring himself to ask her. He regretted the whole thing now, all the arrangements. It was a disaster.
He looked at her. There was confusion on her face. She hadn't wanted dessert. She was reading the words. There was a silence. Then she looked up at him. Her eyes were liquid with tears.The teenage winner is Alexandra Brogan, aged 13, with a sinister story for Halloween - I particularly like the way she doesn't tell us what the drug was and leaves it to us to guess. Well done, Alexandra:
Slowly the final drop of liquid seeped out of the bottle and into the gooey mountain of melted chocolate...This would be the ultimate stage of Dr. Smithe’s plan, all that had to be done now was to wait and watch the sweets be made and bought by thousands of unexpecting mothers. Which would in turn mean that hundreds of thousands of children will have these delicious sweets at the bottom of their trick or treat bags... This drug only did one thing and only Dr Smithe could make it so unpleasant. This Halloween could be the best yet....
Rose sat alone with her square of precious rationed chocolate. The family were gathered round the radio, but Rose couldn’t hear anything. Instead, she savoured things she could feel; things like the dull rich taste of the dark chocolate, the way it chipped off on her teeth and coated her tongue.I love the combination of war-time setting, deaf girl, and synaesthesia so I was very glad the judge also liked it so much.
Mrs Jackson was getting up from her chair. She wrote on a piece of paper and handed it to Rose. More bombing in London. So Mother was still in danger.
For others, fear was the sound of German bombers roaring overhead. For Rose, fear would always taste like chocolate.
Well done to Dayspring, Alexandra and all of you! And to the others, thanks so much for entering and for the very high quality of your work. I loved reading your entries and not a single one of them was badly written. There's some real talent out there, and NOT just amongst those ten winners.
Meanwhile, I need UK postal addresses for Gina, Douglas, Dayspring and David (asap, please) and then I'll let generous Hotel Chocolat know who to send the delicious Boo Boxes to.
Meanwhile, meanwhile - I just heard today that I'm about to have my very first Blog Baby! Yes, a blog-reader who was unpublished when she started reading this blog, soon landed herself a deal and the book is being published on Nov 4th. Even though it's obviously nothing to do with me, she was kind enough to thank me. More news when I interview her. (I wonder if she will have calmed down by then? Let's hope not.)