Workshops talks and winners at writers’ day in Witchford

One of the winners of the short story competition, Roger Rix (right) and the Mayor of Ely, Councillo

One of the winners of the short story competition, Roger Rix (right) and the Mayor of Ely, Councillor Mike Rouse, at the writers' day in Witchford. Picture: ROSEMARY WESTWELL. - Credit: Archant

Talks, mini-workshops and opportunities to mingle with other writers were all part of the annual writers’ day in Witchford.

Speakers at St Andrew’s Hall on Saturday October 13 included Dominic O’Sullivan, who gave an insight into writing, Alan Moser Bardouleau talking about writing groups, Jackie Tyler with advice for short story writers, Julie Newman talking about the beginnings of her new writing career, Roger Rix on literary publications, Rosemary Westwell on ’Doing Dialogue’, Ben Langley on ‘Do I need to do a Writing Course?’ and Mike Rouse talking about his writing experiences.

Refreshments were provided by Jackie Tyler and the winners of the short story competition were announced.

Joint first prize went to Roger Rix and Lauren Thomas, third prize Rachel Winter, and highly commended Ida Johnston, June Linscott, Lorney Hoey, Madeleine Funnell, Allison White and Brian Foster.

The next Writers’ Day in Witchford is on Saturday June 29 as part of The Isle of Ely Arts Festival.

To enter the short story competition send your unpublished 500-word story inspired by ‘Landscapes of Life’ to by June 22

It is free to enter and there will be a cash prize for first prize winner.

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Winning stories

First Prize

Winter by Roger Rix

Winter was angry. He sat slumped in his chair across my desk shaking his head. “This just can’t go on,” he said. “Something has to be done!”

I must admit I wasn’t at all surprised. When he had first demanded an interview I was warned by others in the Universal Complaints Office that I could expect fireworks. I’m afraid that ‘Old Hoary Locks had acquired quite a stormy reputation.

“Come now,” I said. ”Things can’t be that bad, can they?”

“That bad!” he shouted. “They’re all against me. They’re trying to get rid of me.”

“Just who has got it in for you?” I replied,

“That poisonous gang of three; that young upstart Spring, and his fat friend Summer who spends most of his time out of the office. He says he’s on business, but I know he’s gone off on holiday. And Autumn, don’t ask me about Autumn. ‘Season of mellow fruitfulness’ my arse. Supposed to be in charge of the Harvest, but I’ve never known him do a stroke of work in his life. He just sits at his desk taking calls from his broker and canoodling with his secretary, that Greek Nymph, I’ve forgotten her name. But enough said about that.”

“Well,” I said. ”Have you any proof?”

“ Proof! Have I any proof?” His white hair began to wave ominously over his head, and the icicle on his nose began to tremble dangerously over my coffee cup.

Here he fumbled in his pocket and threw a bundle of soiled papers across my desk.

“Read that.” He commanded. “It will make your blood freeze. It did mine I can tell you. They’ve hired a pack of insolent scribblers to praise themselves to high heaven while making me look like a cold hearted killjoy!”

“Here, let me read you some of their grossest libels.”

“Here’s one written in praise of that young rapscallion Spring,

‘Nightingale , Lark in sky – merrily, merrily to welcome in the year.’

Written by that William bloody Blake, what a plonker! And what about this from our very own Will Shakespeare ; ‘When daisies pied and violets blue , do paint the meadows with delight.’ Sentimental rubbish , all of it! And when it comes to praising Summer and Autumn, well they’re all at it. Keats , Shelley and that scotch git Robbie Burns.”

“Well,” I said.” What do you want me to do?”

“I suppose you could find some poets of your own to write some sympathetic words about how Winter can be a lot of fun. Christmas, New Year and all that.”

Winter sat for a moment, before he began to smile.

“You know ,”he said. “I think that’s a capital idea.”

He scooped up his papers and almost skipped through the door.

A few days later I came across a poem in praise of Winter in The Daily Blog.

It began, ”There was a young lady called Pinter,” but I don’t think I’ll bore you with the details.

Joint first prize

‘Autumn Leaves’ by Lauren Thomas

Jasper was a collector, but never more so than in autumn. He would come home and lay out his treasures on the table, small hands working quickly. Conkers and their broken shells, waiting to be unsuccessfully pieced together like an impossible jigsaw. Large red leaves that left a rusty confetti on his fingers. Cobnuts that he would later place in piles in the garden for the squirrels he liked to watch from the windows. The only items that never made it home were the blackberries that he would eat as messily as possible, leaving purple kisses on her cheek when he ran through the door. She would inhale deeply as he placed his arms around her neck, his red hair smelling of warm earth and sour apples.

“Why does Autumn happen Mummy?”

“What do you mean sweetheart?” She watched as pulled his latest haul from the pockets of his bright yellow rain jacket, conkers glowing under the kitchen lights. The macaroni cheese cooking in the oven made the room smell comfortingly musty.

“Everything dies. Why?”

She folded her arms and looked at him. He never failed to surprise her with his questions, thinking deeper than his years. Her parents said he had been born wanting answers, his forehead constantly pulled into a thoughtful frown above large blue eyes that seemed to get brighter as he aged.

“Why do you think everything dies?”

He chewed a fingernail, a habit she hated but one she knew he had learned from her. “All of the leaves fall. We stomp on them until they’re dust and then the rain washes them away. The flowers in our garden die. Their petals turn a funny colour and then they shrivel up.”

She sat down next to him and chose a conker, rolling it between her fingers. “Ok. But what about spring when it all comes back again? Nothing has really died. The tree grows new leaves, and the flowers come back. They might not be the exact same flowers as before, but they have come from the same plant. They have transformed, like the way a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. It’s not dying. It’s becoming new.”

The frown. “Does that mean Daddy will transform and come back new?”

She had known the question was coming, thoughts of Andrew never far from their minds. His smell could still be found on their bedroom pillows, a mixture of woodsmoke and leather with a soft undertone of caramel.

“I’m afraid it doesn’t quite work like that with people. We have to keep them alive by keeping our hearts full with thoughts of them. But we do have daddy’s tree, and we’ll help that grow by sitting underneath it and telling each other our favourite stories about daddy. How does that sound?”

He took the conker from her hands and placed it with the others. “Will you help me choose some leaves from under his tree?”

She kissed the top of his head. “Of course I will.”

Third prize

‘Letting Go’ by Rachel Edwards

“They’ve accepted me!” Sam calls up to me in a strangled voice. “Starting in September. And I’ve got a place in Halls if I want it…” His voice tails off.

I hurry downstairs and envelope him in a hug. By the time he wriggles free (‘Oy- muuuum!’), I’m beaming, and the suspicious wetness around my eyes could easily be taken for tears of joy.

“That’s marvellous,” I tell him. “I’m so proud of you and-” I pause to swallow a croak, “I know your dad would have been too.”

We share a watery smile and then Sam rubs the top of my head. When did he get so tall? Is this the same boy who clung to me every year on that first day in the playground as Autumn began?

During the next few weeks though, it’s clear that the frightened child still lingers. Over breakfast one morning, Sam speaks solemnly to me about his responsibilities. “I should stay here with you. I’m worried that once I’m gone, you’ll never see a soul. Loneliness is the curse of the modern age, after all.”

I want to agree, but I know I need to let him go. So I hatch a plan. I begin by enthusing about the benefits of learning a new skill to keep the brain active.

“And even though I’ve knitted for years, I’ve never done colour work! Getting you to wear one of my fishermen’s sweaters was hard enough.” Sam rolls his eyes as he remembers, no doubt, the procession of cabled creations with which I unwittingly dented his teenage street-cred.

I ask Sam to teach me how to place an order on Amazon. When the package arrives, I leave my copy of ‘Complete Fairisle Techniques’ ostentatiously on the table, pages marked with post-it notes and cryptic annotations.

“Just think!” I say breezily as we walk into town one blazing August morning, “Once you’re up in Newcastle, I’ll have time to keep up properly with my knitter’s group at last!”

Sam looks unconvinced, as well he might. After all, it doesn’t require a huge amount of time to confirm that yes- Janine still’s a martyr to her leg and no- Gaynor still hasn’t pickled those plums that she discovered at the bottom of her freezer.” Hastily, I embellish the group with some new members.

“Grace has been desperate to come over and tell me all about her charity sky-dive,” I expand, “and Laura needs advice about a couple of chaps that she met on Tinder-”

Sam’s eyes widen and he frowns. “Not really?” he asks dubiously.

“Oh yes,” I continue. “I’ll come up and see you, of course, but most of the time I’ll be very busy here.”

Sam says nothing, but it’s always been easy to read him. The cogs are beginning to turn.

So it is that when Autumn comes and I wave him off, he knows I’ll be fine. And I will. Although I probably won’t be knitting him a Fairisle jumper any time soon...