REVIEW: Writers' delight with inspirational stories in Witchford

PUBLISHED: 11:06 03 July 2019 | UPDATED: 11:06 03 July 2019

Ely Arts Festival Writers’ Day 2019 in Witchford. Author Alison Bruce is pictured. Picture: SUPPLIED

Ely Arts Festival Writers' Day 2019 in Witchford. Author Alison Bruce is pictured. Picture: SUPPLIED

Archant

Inspiring workshops from local writer Alison Bruce were presented at the Isle of Ely Arts Festival Writers' Day.

Ely Arts Festival Writers’ Day 2019 in Witchford. Picture: ROSEMARY WESTWELLEly Arts Festival Writers’ Day 2019 in Witchford. Picture: ROSEMARY WESTWELL

It was held on June 29 at St Andrew's Hall in Witchford.

Alison Bruce delivered inspiring workshops on 'Character' and 'Plot' and Ben Langley gave a short talk on how he created his first novel.

It was generally agreed that it was a highly successful day with one participant described it as 'inspiring, informative and a great incentive to get writing'. It is planned to have a similar Writers' Day with differently-themed workshops at the end of June next year.

At the end of the day, the winners of the associated short story competition were announced. Entries came from all over the world including Spain.

Ely Arts Festival Writers’ Day 2019 in Witchford. Picture: ROSEMARY WESTWELLEly Arts Festival Writers’ Day 2019 in Witchford. Picture: ROSEMARY WESTWELL

The results of the Short Story Competition are as follows:

1st 'The cookbook of Life' by Benjamin Langley

2nd 'Rules' by Gail Aldwin

3rd 'Shifting Sands' by Rene Griffinn (highly commended)

'The Thorn Tree' by Lorna Hoey

'West Runton Beach' by Jon Platten

'Changes' by Wendy Rolph

'Landscapes of Life' by Mrs June Bird,

'One Saturday Morning' by Rosemary Evison

The stories:

FIRST PRIZE

The Cookbook of Life by Ben Langley

Borlotti beans? Peter studied the can, scrutinising the image to ascertain whether they were the beans in that delightful stew he'd enjoyed with Helen under the Tuscan sun on their thirtieth wedding anniversary.

Or were they cannellini beans? He returned one can and picked up another before glancing at his list again. It hadn't changed. It still bore the same mistake - the same omission. He'd only written 'beans', not what type.

An impatient shopper grunted as he reached past Peter, knocking his trolley to one side to grab the goods he needed.

When did the world get so rude? Peter pondered, and let his mind wander back to Italy. What a holiday! The medieval architecture of San Gimignano provided the perfect setting to celebrate their love, and given it was their first holiday together after the wedding of their youngest daughter, it felt like the beginning of a beautiful new chapter in their lives.

If he could recreate the meal from that holiday, maybe everything would be okay. So far, he'd had no luck. The leaves in the Greek salad he'd tried to replicate from the holiday in Crete for anniversary thirty-three, where they'd enjoyed the sun setting on the Old Venetian Harbour of Chania, were bitter, and the dressing too oily. His Moroccan tajine, slow-cooked over a whole afternoon, was a chaotic mix of flavours that made him reach for the Moroccan wine he'd bought to accompany it, and did nothing to evoke the memories of the glorious backdrop of the Atlas Mountains they'd experienced during anniversary thirty-five. Even his French onion soup was a failure, the giant croutons dissolving into a mush that was nothing like the delights tasted in a restaurant with a view of Notre-Dame only three years ago, anniversary thirty-seven.

He returned the can. What did it matter? He was no cook. Every recipe in the cookbook of his life had become a disaster. As amazing as the Notre-Dame French onion soup had been, everything since had tasted flat. That was when Helen had let him in on her secret, her malignant secret, her inoperable secret.

What was cooking a Tuscan stew going to achieve anyway? It wasn't a recipe for reincarnation. Recreating one of the best meals he'd ever tasted wouldn't bring Helen back, but if he could recapture those flavours, make his mouth water the way it did that night, then Peter hoped other memories would return too. Alongside the smell of the food, he might recall the smell of Helen's perfume. Then he could close his eyes and hear Helen's voice once more, restored to the way it was before she became so frail that she could only speak in a whisper. Maybe, in his dreams, she'd look like she did on that night again, not the withered flower dying in her hospital bed.

He grabbed the cannellini beans, certain they were what he needed, and shuffled onwards, seeking the rest of the ingredients for his memory stew.

SECOND PRIZE

'Rules' by Gail Alswin

The skirt of Gemma's dress balloons as the breeze catches it. She wishes to fly away like the seeds on a dandelion clock, but she flattens the fabric as Grandma expects. The click-click-click of her grandmother's stick accompanies them as they tour the formal garden. Where she once collected jewels from amongst the chips of gravel when she visited with Daddy, they now crunch underfoot. Planted in the flowerbed, single tulip stems stretch their necks and nod their heads. It reminds Gemma of standing on the line at school, the beret on her head angled to one side just like the tulip petals.

'Do stand up straight,' says Grandma

Gemma pins back her shoulders. The collar on her dress almost chokes her as she stands rigid.

'No dilly-dallying,' says Grandma

Gemma rushes to catch up but stumbles on her own feet. She holds onto a section of railing where shrubs rub shoulders and behind them is a little house.

'Please don't tell me you need the lavatory.'

Gemma shakes her head.

'Keep up,' says Grandma.

The strap of Grandma's handbag hangs over the crook of her arm and the fingers in her white gloves are sticking out. Gemma thinks Grandma needs reminding that pointing is rude but before giggles escape, Gemma presses her lips together.

'You'll be stuck with that face if the wind changes direction,' says Grandma. When Gemma tilts her head to look up, she sees Grandma smiling and frowning. Best to smile back, she thinks.

They reach a crossroads. To go left will take them to the grand house with its windows like blank staring eyes. Going the other way and they'll head for the grassy slope and the fields beyond. Grandma turns her head from side-to-side while Gemma rubs her hands together. She tries to get rid of the grubby marks from gripping the railing. Handprints on her pretty dress will never do.

'Let's go this way,' Grandma points her stick and Gemma follows. It looks like she's heading for the bench with the brassy plaque. It's impossible to read the writing that's gone so faint from all the polishing. Grandma sits. Her knees and her feet are parallel lines.

'I'll stay here to pay my respects,' says Grandma.

Gemma stands still, as if stuck to the spot. She wonders whether she's allowed to sit.

'Stop you're dithering,' says Grandma. 'Get off and have a run on the grass.'

Gemma's eyes spring wide open. She can't believe it.

'Go on,' says Grandma. 'I'll watch you.'

Scampering away, Gemma hears her grandma call after her. 'But make sure there's absolutely no rolling down the bank.'

THIRD PRIZE

Shifting Sands by Rene Griffin

The grey London pavements solid beneath my dancer's feet I hurried from the tube station to the theatre. Like this manmade urban landscape, I was the architect of my life. My hard work and determination had gained me a place with the Royal Ballet in Covent Garden.

Driven on by anxiety and insecurity we all push ourselves beyond endurance and will often perform with minor foot injuries, for if you miss a performance there will always be a dozen dancers eager to take your place. Each ballerina has her own method of wrapping her toes to protect them from the pain of pointe work. But the agony I felt when landing badly signalled serious damage.

Months of physio followed the surgery. The daily training was keeping my body supple and strong. My foot was healed and becoming stronger. But I was told it would not withstand my punishing schedule of training, rehearsal and performances. My career as a ballerina had ended.

Devasted, I went to stay at my grandmother's bungalow on the Norfolk coast. Wrapped in my misery I fell asleep to the sound of the sea. Each morning I awoke to the sound of the sea and took the path which led from the garden down through bracken to the sand dunes. One spot was my favourite place. With just a small opening facing the sea I would sit encircled by sand and the course grass which held on tenaciously despite the salt laden winds and the eroding coastline. Clinging to what I had lost there was no space in my mind. Like the looming buildings of the City my oppressive thoughts were cutting out the light. My doubts and fears were like traffic exhaust fumes that polluted my mind. Here I was able to breath freely, to take time, to wander, to think, to grow and find inner strength.

Barefoot, I had been walking along the shoreline and stopped to take it all in. The waves surging in from an endless sea, connecting me with the eternal, reconciling me with a self I had lost along the way. The clouds racing across the sky, the gulls joyously soaring and diving, the grass waving in the wind. Everything was in movement and so beautiful.

'Only a dancer's feet could be this ugly' I thought as I stared down at what the years of brutal abuse had inflicted but my deformed toes were disappearing into the sand. And when I looked back at the footprints I had just made I saw the grains of sand were moving, falling into the imprints and would soon completely fill them. I had tuned in at last. The openness of this place had brought healing and a moment of clarity. Loss and change, loss and change - it is what life is all about. Nothing can be permanent for we walk on shifting sands. Somehow, we must learn to dance on them.

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