Monday 26 October 2009


The moment you've been waiting for is upon us: the announcement of the ten winners of the Hotel Chocolat Halloween Writing Competition. Ugh, I hate this. In fact, I hate this so much that I didn't do the judging at all but "out-sourced" it, which is the posh word for wimping out. Thing is, several of you have become friends and it wouldn't be fair. Oh, OK: what I mean is I couldn't take the strain of your potential disapprobation. Not to mention the fact that several of you actually tried to bribe me and do all sorts of inappropriate things to sway me. Many of which could easily have worked. So, I thought the easiest and most honest thing was to pass the buck, and I did. Buck-passing I can do.

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...

OK, stop waffling. I'm going to do the runners-up first, in no particular order. Hooray for:

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.
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.
A pause.
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.
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.
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.
Redial. Engaged.
Text from Kate. “Hope you enjoy the treacle scones!”
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.
Dear Rose,
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
Douglas Bruton  -  a subtle story which almost contains no ingredients of chocolate, fear or the written word, unless you look carefully.
 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.
Gina 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.
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.
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."
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:
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....
AND the overall winner IS: Dayspring MacLeod. Well done!
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. 
    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.
I love the combination of war-time setting, deaf girl, and synaesthesia so I was very glad the judge also liked it so much.

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.)


Clare said...

Wow, I'm humbled that "Death By Chocolate?" was selected to be included with such talented entries (some of those really gave me the shivers - the unwritten proving to be so much more chilling than the overt) - THANK YOU!
War in our household? Not yet because Isla's still at school and I have a day off - hee,hee! - it was the other way round when she sent her entires in!
TBH, I wouldn't have got around to entering if Isla hadn't kept pestering me about it so she shall share the chocolate (as long as she chooses one of Nicola's books that I haven't already read and then lets me read it!)

Sally Zigmond said...

Thank you, Nicola and judge. I am both honoured and tickled pink to find myself amongst the lucky ones.

Simon Kewin said...

Ooh, that's fantastic, thanks Nicola (and mystery judge). My children will be delighted about the chocolate. I hope to see some of it myself.

I'm thinking I might work on my "riotous werewolf / vampire story" a bit - there could be potential there for a longer story.

fairyhedgehog said...

I'm breathless with excitement and thrilled to be amongst the chosen ten. (Are we allowed to know how many entries there were?) I feel a bit of a fraud as the other entries were all so very good. I especially loved Death By Chocolate.

Many thanks to Nicola and mystery judge.

Harry Markov said...

Yey, congrats on all the winners. Great entries. I didn't enter for lack of time, even though shipping chocolate my way is dangerous business.

Anyway it's pretty cool you have a Book Baby. I bet more people will get published after reading this blog.

Kate said...

Congrats to all the winners. I really enjoyed reading those stories

Kate xx

Anonymous said...

Well done to all the winners. Lovely writing. Though I'm heartily suspicious of that Zigmond woman, who seems to win an awful lot...

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

Great stories! Congrats to all the winners!

Anonymous said...

WTF? This whole damn thing was rigged. I didn't even get an honorable mention? This just -proves- that the quality of the work doesn't matter, and it's all about who you know.

Down with Nicola!


David John Griffin said...

Drat, I started to write my entry then got waylaid by other projects, then...forgot. I've missed out big time: the possibility to have won skull-shaped choccies!

Hearty congrats to all the winners; all enjoyable stories. My favourite is....I'm not going to tell you!

Catherine Hughes said...

Heh heh, was the judge perchance your hubby??

I'm gutted not to have won and shall throw a tantrum of extreme proportions, before burning all my manuscripts and asserting that I shall never write anther word, not ever, ever!

I mean it!

Whoops! I just wrote some words.

Oh well. I shall have to work on my 'hurt and offended' demeanour. Anyone know how to set fire to computer files??

Cat x

Unknown said...

Wow! Thank you so much, Nicola! I feel very honoured to have been mentioned and have a special prize all of my own! I think one of your books, signed, is an even better prize than chocolate (it WILL last longer!)! I might even let my Mum read it, in exchange for some chocolate! Thank you to whoever judged the competition and chose my Mum, WE are looking forward to the chocolate! Thanks again!

Isla :)

DOT said...

Thanks so much for this honour. And a big thanks to you for organising the competition.

I, like others, enjoyed reading the entries. Amazing the range of themes on such a tight brief.

JaneF said...

Well of course at the moment I hate all the winners, but will eventually have to admit that these are great stories. I particularly like the 'Dear Rose' one - so creepy!

I'm amazed that you have all worked so much into so few words. I found it really hard and a very useful exercise. Next time someone suggests I write a short story instead of trying to write a novel - so much easier surely - I will get them to do this!

Essie Fox said...

Well done everyone. These were great to read...and I can confirm that Hotel Chocolat has the best chocolate. My husband bought some for me on Saturday, though he made such a fuss about how expensive it was. And then I noticed the half price/out of date sticker on the back! It was still gorgeous.

HelenMWalters said...

Well done to all the winners, and thanks to Nicola for such a fab competition. I don't normally do really short fiction these days - but this inspired even me to have a go.

Barb said...

Wow - what diverse entires. Thanks so much for oragnising this. I shall use the chocolate as an incentive during nanowrimo. Cheers!

Rebecca Knight said...

It was wonderful reading all the entries. Death by Chocolate? almost made me cry, too!

I absolutely loved the winner's! Congratulations to all!

catdownunder said... fur is standing on end and they were talking about chocolate, not tuna!
Congratulations to the winners.

Douglas Bruton said...

Thanks to Nicola for organising this.

Thanks to the judge for taking on the role.

Congrats to everyone who wrote something... I am not always a fan of the 100 word flash - it just requires so much effort.

Well done too, to the winners. A very interesting range of pieces.


Anonymous said...

Okay. What happened to Nicola? She never lets a thread get this long without spreading joy amongst the commentariat.

Nicola Morgan said...

Anon - sorry am not at desk and in v rubbish connection. Will be back tomorrow. Glad you missed me!

Dayspring Jubilee said...

Thank you so much, Nicola (and your lovely judge friend!). I am extremely surprised and delighted to have won some chocolate - and the accolade, recognition, etc - but let's keep our priorities straight! ;) I happened to discover a Hotel Chocolat today while wandering in London and they gave me a free sample which, needless to say, whetted my appetite for more.

I thought the other winners were fabulous and so creative. Never seen flash fiction before, and it's amazing how few words we really need to show a complete picture. A lesson which, I hope, will stay with me!

Flixton Mum said...

Wow, some good spooky stories. I might try to frighten my children by telling a few of them...

Who's the Blog Baby? Who, who, who? That is very exciting news.

Anonymous said...

I had two people competing for nomineeship. How am I going to break the news to them? ~Miriam

Nicola Morgan said...

Excuse my absence. House selling and all manner of stuff. When I'm away from my desk i can usually read comments but it's hard to comment back.

Proe - you didn't enter, you silly person! (Did you??? Or have you revealed your real name but not attached it to "Proe"?) Hmmm.

Runnerbean / Isla - I hope everyone has noticed that you think a book is better than choclate?! Because most of these adults probably think that teenagers don't care about reading. (Also, most of these adults wanted the chocolate!) Your book went in the post today. So it will probably arrive by Christmas.

Miriam - I don't know if this makes you feel better or not (possibly not??) but you were the next on the list.

All others - thanks for your comments and your magnanimity. And yes, Catherine, it was my husband! I wasn't exactly keeping it secret, just never got round to saying. He is horribly horribly honest and wouldn't allow me to sway his decision (I tried!!). So, whatever else you think about the judgements, you can be sure that no funny business went on. (Well, not in the jurdging sense...)

Yes, isn't it interesting how difficult a short piece is, and yet in many ways how satisfying? I think it's a brilliant training exercise. If you can apply so much care to ALL your hundred word sections, you'll be published in no time!

Jayne said...

Well done everyone! A real pleasure to read them all over a cup of tea (not chocolate) at lunch. :)

Anonymous said...

Well, no. I didn't enter. But my point stands!


Jan said...

Congrats all winners! Your pieces were wonderful - so atmospheric and evocative and yes, frightening. Alexandra, I'm dying to know what's in those sweets, and am scaring myself with horrible imaginings - perfect :)

Anonymous said...

I'm delighted to hear I was next on the list. I never expected to do that well! Can you tell me which of my two stories nearly won?

Clare said...

Dropping back into this thread to confirm that there is not war in the Donaldson household - there is CHOCOLATE! (Thanks to Nicola, Nicola's husband and Hotel Chocolat.)
And how flattering to find that Hotel Chocolat had appreciated my entry so much they inscribed the title on their chocolate tombstone! ;)
Promise we'll keep the chocolate and the treacle scones out of the reach of the dog this Hallowe'en!