Reply To: Den monthly competition September 2018


Thank you so much to everyone who entered the first Den of Writers monthly competition. We now have a whole new section of the forum just for the monthly comp, so all future versions will be held there. Here’s the link:

For those not familiar with the monthly competition from the Word Cloud on which the Den’s is modelled, the judge does not have to offer feedback, but if you can, it’s generally appreciated!

To the entries:


New Beginnings – One In A Million

What starts as a lighthearted monologue takes a genuinely surprising turn into much darker territory. This was undeniably hard-hitting, though ultimately I was not totally convinced by the voice of the foetus and the epilogue lacked enough nuance to do the subject matter justice. I feel your ambition outstripped the word limit a little here, but credit for pushing the envelope.


The Power Word

A horrifying vision and the ultimate ‘be careful what you wish for’. It’s sketched with confidence and economy, and I like the return to the tree every so often as a common thread running through. It raises intriguing questions, too – how did Jeff get hold of the Power Word? I sense there is a new beginning coming, but we don’t quite get there. Perhaps it’s more about the desperate hope for a new beginning? Again, I felt this was a touch constrained by the word limit – it would be great to see it expanded so we could experience the full desolation of Jeff’s catastrophic mistake.


Dancing With Words

This is delightful. A truly uplifting celebration of our new online home, with a sprinkling of metaphors that brought a smile. I’m so glad someone sought to talk about our own new beginning here on the Den and to express something of what it means to you – and articulated the sentiments of a lot of people, I’m certain. Thank you, Janette



Another uplifting tale to offset the darkness of the earlier entries, and told with your customary command of voice. It takes some skill to be able to tell a whole life from childhood into adulthood, with the modulation of that voice from innocence to cynicism, and with the thread of the evolving sense of the simple word ‘bonjour’. There were a couple of parts that I felt risked sliding into a bit too much ‘tell’ over ‘show’, but that hardly seems fair considering what you achieved in the word count – and you always won me back with a line such as ‘she seemed the sort of person who might tolerate me.’



I don’t know what it is about this month’s theme, but there’s some serious ambition on show. This is another stunning encapsulation of a life over decades, and told with nearly 80 words to spare. The world you present is realised with such deft strokes it put me right there in all the sensory details – pickled onion Monster Munch, the drips wiped with the sleeve of a Harrington jacket. And, my god, the punch in the guts in that third section. It’s all so unpretentious and almost anti-romantic, but the tenderness at its heart. Wow. If I had a complaint it would be that the ending felt a touch abrupt, but this is such a special piece of writing it feels churlish to say so.



This is as powerfully bittersweet as it is unassuming. It’s as minimalist as the unnamed ‘him’, at a tiny 173 words, and understated, but all that emotion, and hints of the history of the relationship, hovering just beneath the pristine surface… wow. Again, I wondered if there was a little bit of ‘tell’ in the middle that could have been evoked more strongly, but then the way it is done suits the deliberately minimalist style. Superb.

Karen Telling @karen


I don’t know whether this is fiction, fact or some blend of the two but I am utterly convinced. This is so poignant, speaking of a life that you could not help but fall in love with, coming to an end. There’s the odd slightly cliched phrase, but other than that this is a beautifully observed and deeply, disarmingly personal piece about an ending and a new beginning. It’s a tribute to the strength of the voice that you don’t let the grief for the ending overwhelm the uplifting nature of the beginning. Well done

Jules @jillybean


It’s great to see another genre entry, and this is pulse-pounding sci-fi adventure at its best, with overtones of the Golden Age zines. You keep us guessing, and the pace racing until the very end. I love the little hints of the wider history glimpsed in the cracks between the MC’s experiences, and some great images – the evac-tubes flaring past. Love too, that epiphany of mankind as a single organism whose life and death is just an aspect of the universe’s struggles to understand itself. My only complaint is that the decades-long voyage, and the life after the new beginning, can only be hinted at.

Raine @raine

The Place Where You Fell

Mesmerising, poetic – almost a prose-poem, in fact – and layer upon layer of meaning. The language is beautiful, lyrical and wistful. I had to read it a few times to draw the thread of the narrative from it, as it was so easy just to get mesmerised by the rhythms. That’s not exactly a negative, as the style of the piece is such that it rewards careful and repeated readings. There is so much more unsaid than said, though so much is said. A beautiful fragment of folkloric reminiscence.

Alan Rain @alanr

Your World

I’m so glad someone entered a poem. I freely admit that despite many years studying literature, I never really got the hang of poetry criticism, but in narrow terms of whether this worked for me or not – it did. The tone of it, the rhythm, the cadence I found affecting. There were some lovely turns of phrase, and a despairing new beginning rather than a hopeful one, and such hopeless longing in the last line.

Sandra @sandradavies

Summer 1999

Such a great voice in this one. The clipped, fragmentary sentences are so expressive of someone used to disappointment, of not even trying to hope. I can feel their actual voice being like that, saying as little as possible. It’s really clever, and I’m right in that hall with your narrator. I love how the last line takes us into an as-yet unknown future, and it’s really possible to imagine how your not-daring-to-hope character responds. Lovely

John S Alty @johnalty

A New Dawn

This is another of those pieces that rings so true it seems it must be written, in some measure, from personal experience – I would love to know what! The atmosphere is completely convincing. I’m there in the heat, the dust. The slow reveal is handled so deftly that when it becomes apparent what and who Daniel and his mother are there for, it was almost a punch-the-air moment. And that revelation in the last line – so understated but so powerful. A line or two here and there could have been a little less on-the-nose, I feel, but that’s a minor point.

And so, after lots of ado, without any further of it, to the result.

The winner of the inaugural Den of Writers monthly competition is Seagreen

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