Monthly comp – May 2020

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    For the May competition, evoke the movement of routine travel. Portray a regular or ordinary journey. Your character(s) can be anyone; the transport can be anything including walking. This task is about day-to-day life rather than big plot turns or realisations – the familiar, written anew.

    If you want, do a W H Auden in Night Mail:

    Pass cotton-grass and moorland boulder,
    Shovelling white steam over her shoulder.
    In the farm she passes no one wakes,
    But a jug in a bedroom gently shakes.

    Maximum 400 words. It can be a complete story, or poem/lyric, or part of a longer piece.

    • This topic was modified 2 years ago by Libby.

    Between 2011 and 2013, for some eighteen months, I participated in a ‘Small stones’ project; a daily moment of intense observation. Many were made during the twelve minute walk (six there, six back) to buy a morning paper. This is a 396 word selection.


    Stepping stones of yellow sycamore
    stuck to the rain-damp road

    And the sky this morning
    wet on creamy-papered wet
    Paynes Grey and a touch of Burnt Sienna

    Splendid pile of fungus:
    griddle scones awaiting maple syrup

    Two overhead geese, ten degrees apart,
    noisy enough for a ‘V’ of a couple of dozen

    Absence of blanketing wind
    enables tiny, coloured stitches of sound
    to be heard, as background pattern.

    Mediterranean colours:
    the bonnet of a turquoise car,
    scattered golden leaves
    rime-edged and frost-adhered.

    A slew of eggshells
    pale and slimy-stuck to tarmac,
    adherence for a cast-off car key

    Half-light. Half-dressed woman
    high heels and a towelling dressing gown
    searches the boot of her car
    for clothes


    Lilac clouds this morning
    and I ponder on the possibility
    of purple rain.

    For ten days now,
    a mattress and a divan
    brand new, polythene-wrapped
    left uncollected
    at the side of the house next but one.

    Not, as first thought, a man up a tree with a didgeridoo
    but the scrape of a branch against the hat
    of a close-standing streetlight

    Clouds both pink and blue,
    hedging bets:
    sex not yet determined.

    When the wind is in the west
    noise from the trains and planes get louder

    Giant strides (bigger than mine)
    and an apparently levitating dog
    allow me to play detective.

    The upward curving branches of the ash tree
    clamouring hopelessly toward the uncharitable white sky

    Glorious pink promise
    dish of dawn
    spiced with a scattering
    of silhouetted geese

    An asymmetric feather, light and lying in the road,
    sent me searching for the names of parts thereof.
    Shaft, web, calamis, brachis and barb

    Difficult to tell in the dark
    whether blackness of sky
    due to lack of sun
    or imminent pouring down rain

    Frowning to stay upright
    I dissuade all morning greetings
    and omit to post the letters
    I diverted for

    Recycling bags
    straight-sided and close-packed
    along the half-dark pavement edge
    An instant, urban Giorgio Morandi

    A rough, tobacco-damaged, dirty chuckle,
    conjured up a much-loved and delinquent aunt
    who took me apple-scrumping when I was eight

    Fallen small branch
    emulating adder
    or some other poisonous snake.

    Fifty minutes late
    and no-one says ‘good morning’
    – we have not the two years plus
    of graduated nodding
    in acknowledgement

    Darker yes, but oh the joy of striding out
    no longer feared of falling.

    • This reply was modified 2 years ago by Sandra.

    Down Memory Lane and Beyond
    I am nine and today choose to leave for school by our front gate. I step down into Sandy Lane. The tall trees shielding the convent opposite rustle their leaves as though whispering the secrets of a cloistered life. If I walk up the lane to the top road I will pass the allotments with their topiary birds unable to fly to foreign climes. But I walk down the lane, the sickly sweet scent of privet hedge blossom wafting over me. I glance at the house of the scary old lady who wanders the lane in her nightdress. We children do not understand she is ill. I hurry past the abandoned sand pit where an evil presence is rumoured to harm any child daring to climb over its fence. I glance at the forbidden territory of the off licence on the corner before turning onto the bottom road which will take me to school. It has nothing of interest until I reach the little sweet shop with its displays of sherbet lemons which fizz on the tongue and flying saucers whose papery coating sticks to it, so I busy myself with imagined adventures.
    The road bends and there is the falling down row of houses where once my curiosity had led me to explore amongst the rubble; feeling brave and nervous all at once. Had they been bombed in the war? Were people killed? I shake off these troubling thoughts and continue my journey.
    The school comes into view and I wave at the lollipop lady before entering the playground where at morning break my best friend and I wave at the engine driver as the steam train puffs grandly by on the nearby railway line. Where does it travel to on these daily trips?
    The school day ends. I choose a different way home, across the green and through the churchyard where one day I’d seen a tiny white coffin being carried into the church.
    On the top road I scatter sad thoughts and conjure up the seaside where we will soon be on our annual week’s holiday. Then down Lowlands Avenue I quicken my pace and soon reach our home’s back gate. The long garden with its abundance of vegetables, fruit trees and flowers seems to greet me and I smile. It had been my early childhood playground which had fuelled my imagination as I played happily alone.
    400 words


    Ten days left for anyone thinking about entering the May monthly Den competition 🙂


    A circuitous route – the same-old, same-old – but not so taken for granted as once it was.

    Hot grey asphalt, its dull top layer peeled back by sun and tyres, glistening wet and black under, suggestive of a just-laid stickiness.

    Pavements littered with the faded shadows of chalked rainbow messages to un-caped crusaders or old-fashioned hopscotch grids that beg to be hopped and skipped along, and causing a smile when temptation wins.

    The comfortable familiar warmth of hand-in-hand – a rare moment of human connection in an otherwise untouchable world. Steady steps, a measured pace, talking about the little things that are so magnified under the lens of crisis.

    Oversized daisies bobbing on delicate stalks. Jewel-bright bearded flags standing sentinel. Briar rosiness hanging over head.

    Veering sideways to give room.

    Noticing – properly – the details on buildings, the individuality expressed among a street full of the similar.

    The brook running fast and low, deep in its channel, hemmed in by overgrown stingers. The heady almost-stench of cow parsley clinging to the water’s route in a swaying tide.

    A rain of petals falls from gigantic conker trees, the mushroom seats beneath: empty.

    Foxglove and lupin spikes pierce the soil between the wildlife-area apple trees, the branches of the latter loaded with a strange new – unseasonal? Perhaps nothing could me MORE seasonal in this time and place – fruit of woollen pompoms, attended by fir-cone birds which fly between.

    A green man, previously ignored while the road lay empty, now obeyed as movement and life begins to be restored to tarmac’d lifelines.

    Peonies and ponds before a last corner turned, and feet walk along familiar territory where faces are known – even if names aren’t always remembered – and a small community has grown closer and stronger through simple kindness and concern.

    (Mr Squidge and I have a route we’ve walked in lockdown…)

    • This reply was modified 2 years ago by Squidge.

    All these entries are wonderful! Goodness, it has been hard to choose a winner. I love the way they all capture the detail of immediate surroundings at the same time as linking to a wider world, and how each one answers the competition’s brief in such interesting ways. All these pieces show acute sensibilities and curiosity, and I really enjoyed them.

    For instance, in Sandra’s poem(s) these verses are among my favourites:

    Frowning to stay upright
    I dissuade all morning greetings
    and omit to post the letters
    I diverted for

    Recycling bags
    straight-sided and close-packed
    along the half-dark pavement edge
    An instant, urban Giorgio Morandi

    This is so distilled it feels perfect. I like ‘omit’ rather than the more obvious ‘forget’. I like the Morandi reference, the feeling of the thingyness of things and how we see and interpret them. And, elsewhere in the poem, the light humour, the clouds pink and blue hedging their bets regarding gender, and the woman searching for clothes. What has she been up to?

    The narrative voice and a sense of character is also clear in this verse:

    Giant strides (bigger than mine)
    and an apparently levitating dog
    allow me to play detective.

    The whole poem is very impressive.

    In her prose Squidge captures our current moment in which any kind of travelling, even a casual walk, has been affected by coronavirus. The touch is light but the messages are clear: how do we and our communities respond? The problems and our reactions are noted with just enough emphasis to let the reader know what’s happening but without being heavy handed. I love the images too. ‘Hot grey asphalt, its dull top layer peeled back by sun and tyres …’ – the exactness, not overdone, is so effective. And: ‘Noticing – properly – the details on buildings, the individuality expressed among a street full of the similar.’ What a lovely example of telling it slant, of a subtle metaphor for the way the lockdown has overridden so much of our individuality but how we’re still here among all the rules and limitations.

    Another thing I especially enjoyed was Squidge’s portrayal of wildlife or garden life. I can see she really knows what she’s talking about. None of the incongruous pairings of plants or confused flowering times that sometimes appear even in well-regarded published novels.

    The winner, after much deliberation, is Jill. I think memories of childhood, whether in memoir or fiction, are especially hard to write well. That’s not to suggest any other form is easy but to me childhood recollections often feel burdened with the back projections of the adult writer; it can seem a particular struggle to have quite enough control or distance. There’s none of that problem here. The child comes across as clearly as if she is speaking herself. And I think what’s especially clever is the dual viewpoint, the early insertion of ‘ We children do not understand she is ill.’

    So we know there’s an adult voice too in the background but it’s not speaking too loudly. The child is vivid: ‘On the top road I scatter sad thoughts and conjure up the seaside …’ The vocabulary feels like that of an adult yet it would be understood by a nine-year-old and possibly even written by her, or some of it at any rate. I like that uncertainty, the merging of two perspectives that’s part of how memory works.

    Congratulations to everyone for such excellent entries. Over to you, Jill 😊

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 11 months ago by Libby.
    • This reply was modified 1 year, 11 months ago by Libby.

    Well done Jill – you came so close to winning on YWP that it is only justice you come first here.

    And thank you Libby for setting a theme which sent me back to all of these ‘newspaper’ small stones and properly gather them in one place (now up to #94

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 11 months ago by Sandra.

    Thank you, Libby – what a lovely surprise to find I am the winner for the interesting topic you set us. Loved the other entries and enjoyed going back down memory lane myself. I have many memories from that happy childhood, but having to focus on the school journey was good writing discipline! Less is more and all that jazz…

    Your critique of my little piece was a great boost. 🙂

    Thank you too, Sandra for your kind words.

    I have an idea for the June competition and I hope everyone will warm to it.


    I’m pleased the critique was useful, Jill.

    I forgot to link names, and as we haven’t heard from @squidge here’s a direct contact.


    Sorry – have had a deadline on the novel, so completely forgot about the May comp! Well done Jill!

    And thanks for the comments, Libby. You read a lot more into my little walk than I realised or intended… 😉

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