2019: Winning story

Winner: Ninevoices Summer Short Story Competition 2019

 

 

The Chocolate Summer

by Barbara Leahy

 

Six months after my father died, when the money had run out, Grandmother Allen found us a cottage by the river, and paid the first month’s rent. Our new home squatted in a shady hollow, overshadowed by yellow-leafed birch trees. The sagging roof gave the impression that the cottage was sinking into the landscape, in retreat from the river, the fields, the road beyond. The inside was dark, the ceilings low.

‘She’s coming to see us tomorrow,’ my mother said, folding my grandmother’s letter. She sat in my father’s old armchair, drinking spoonfuls of tea from the cup I’d brought her, something she never allowed me to do. ‘Don’t forget to thank her.’ The tea became a bitter medicine; she swallowed with difficulty, sending the spoon rattling back to the saucer.

‘It is a pity about the children. He is not used to children.’ I came downstairs next morning to find Grandmother at the basin, sinking a jug into the water, rinsing my mother’s long brown hair. ‘They say he lives in a chateau in Normandy.’ Grandmother eased my mother’s head from the basin. ‘It is your only hope, Margaret.’ My mother knelt in silence, dampness darkening the back of her blouse.

Later, I watched my mother dress. She was going to a dance at the Grand Hotel with a man she had met that afternoon, a man my grandmother knew. He was a Frenchman, an old college friend of my father’s. He came to the village every summer to study the wild flowers on the riverbank.

My mother had only one evening dress; a coral satin she had not worn since my father died. ‘Sponging would ruin it,’ she said, fingering a wavering tidemark at the hem.  I saw a dark spot form suddenly on the satin, then another. She stood up, covering her face. ‘Run and cut roses for my hair. Watch for thorns.’

We weren’t allowed into the parlour when Monsieur Florian called. Tom hushed May and the twins, and I pressed my ear to the door. I heard a voice, light and musical, yet still a man’s voice; a voice that seemed to dance around the room.

Footsteps approached. With a swish of her skirt, my mother came into the kitchen and placed a box on the table. ‘For you,’ she said. ‘From him,’ and with a warning finger over her lips, she slipped back through the door.

The box was pink and flattish, tied with a maroon ribbon holding an adornment of silk roses. I uncurled the soft petal of one rose with a fingertip. ‘Fancy sweets,’ Tom said, turning away.

I took one end of the ribbon and pulled, until the bow unravelled and fell away from the box. The lid glided upwards in my hands.

It seemed to me then, that something pushed up through the earth and slate into the dimly lit kitchen; a fragile, unfurling hope. The box was filled with glossy chocolates, their perfect polished surfaces unclouded by touch. Crystallised violets, Grecian silhouettes, iced curlicues in a language I could not read. They nestled in delicate paper cups, frilled, lacy underthings. I breathed in cocoa butter and salted caramel, strawberry fondant and coffee cream.

‘Bastard!’ Tom said, grabbing the box and mashing the lid closed. He swung the back door open and ran through the garden. At the river’s edge he raised his arm, and the box flew, lid lifting, chocolates jolting. The pink cardboard floated downstream, dragging a clump of sodden flowers behind it.

One night, later that summer, when I brought roses for my mother’s hair, she was sitting at the mirror, smoothing fingertips over her cheeks. ‘Henri loves roses best,’ she said, as though speaking to her reflection. The satin dress had been massaged in cold water, rolled in fresh towels, but two tear stains still showed on the bodice.

Monsieur Florian greeted me every week with a precisely angled bow and a kiss to my right hand. We used to sit together in the parlour, waiting for my mother.  Sometimes he jumped to his feet to admire the view of the river. ‘I am a botanist, like your father,’ he told me. ‘I knew your father; a good man.’

Soon footsteps would sound on the stairs. Like a magician, Monsieur Florian would conjure a box from nowhere, present it with one word, ‘Mademoiselle!’ I would take the box with a stab of longing for the chocolates clustered in paper petticoats, knowing they would be thrown, minutes later, into the river he had admired.

One evening, he told me he was writing a book about flowers native to the region. ‘I have discovered varieties most rare,’ he said. ‘Someday, perhaps, you would like to see?’

Before I could reply, my mother came in, her hand already extended for his kiss. They left me in the doorway, staring at the gauzy crepe paper wrapping of his latest gift. The box smelled faintly of orange blossom. I would make Tom keep it, I decided. This time I would taste the dainty chocolates.

But that box followed all the others, flying through the air, floating downstream.  The pulped cardboard caught on a rock, released, and washed away.

The following Friday, Monsieur Florian told me the foliage of weeping birches should be green, not yellow. ‘Disease,’ he said, tapping a forefinger against the window pane. ‘An advanced case.’

Words spilled from me. ‘Tom throws your chocolates in the river. You must never bring them again.’

He turned to face me, and I saw I had confirmed something for him, stamped a seal on a letter already written.

‘So many children,’ he said.

Next morning, my mother’s bedroom door was closed when I arose, and downstairs I found three roses wilting on the slate floor.

It was midday when I found the parcel on the doorstep. I brought it upstairs, and my mother turned away when I placed it on her pillow.

When I returned later, her face was grey. One fist clutched a closely-written page. She nodded at a package lying on the sheets. I read my name, underlined with a flourish. Inside, wrapped in crackling cellophane and tied with a spray of curling gold ribbons, was a chocolate heart, as big as my hand, iced with an embroidery of flowers and twisting vines. I traced stem to leaf to flower, finding a tiny sugared butterfly, a candied ladybird, hiding among the petals. ‘He was fond of you,’ my mother said. ‘Yes, I am certain he was fond of you.’

I could hear her weeping softly as I closed the door. I thought of sharp teeth biting into the heart, crunching through the sugar paste, crushing the intertwining flowers. It was too beautiful to eat.

At the foot of the stairs I saw the flowers I had woven into my mother’s hair the night before. The edges of each petal were tinted russet brown, the colour of dried blood. The chocolate heart would melt in the heat of the summer, the icing would crumble. Whether it was eaten, or thrown into the river, or hidden in a cigar box under a bed, it could not last forever. Outside, a gust of wind sent a flurry of decaying yellow birch leaves rattling against the cottage windows. Autumn had arrived.

 

—–OOO—–

Barbara Leahy
Picture: Miki Barlok

Barbara Leahy is from Cork, Ireland. Her short stories and flash fiction have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies including Flash Magazine, The National Flash Fiction Day Anthology, The Irish Literary Review, and the Bridport Prize Anthology. Her stories have also been broadcast on RTÉ (Irish National) radio. She is delighted to have won the 2019 Ninevoices’ short story competition. 

We Have A Winner!

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It is with great pleasure that we are able to announce that the winning story in our competition is The Chocolate Summer, by Barbara Leahy of County Cork in Ireland, with the runner-up being Indefinite Delay by Norman Coburn of Fife.

This was a challenging exercise on our part and we would like to stress that because your own story wasn’t a winner doesn’t mean it might not go on to triumph in another competition. As it is, your entry has contributed to a worthy cause and you are in possession of a fresh short story which we hope you enjoyed creating.

Nearly all the members of ninevoices have had stories which were rejected first time round but went on to be shortlisted or to win in a different competition. Our mantra is that of Sylvia Plath: I love my rejections. They prove I’m trying.

We will shortly post Chocolate Summer on this blog.

 

 

 

 

Competitions to Enter in December

Perhaps we are being unrealistic, thinking you might have the time and inspiration over the festive season to enter writing competitions. Yet perhaps this would be the ideal thing to distract you from worrying about not managing to make a home-made Christmas pudding. Or possibly you could tweak your entry into our ninevoices short story competition and send it to fresh fields?

Ruth Rendell Short Story Competition. Flash Fiction: max. 1,000 words. Fee: £15. Prize: £1,000 plus commission to write four further stories for InterAct Reading Service over the course of one year. Judge: Margaret Drabble. Deadline 2 December. Details: http://www.interactstrokessupport.org/ssc2020

Angelica Poetry Competition for poems up to 100 lines. Prizes £50, £20 and publication. Free Entry. Closing Date 1 December. Details: https://anglica.co.uk/poetry-competition/

Chorley & District Writers’ Circle Annual Short Story Competition. Short stories, maximum 2,50000 words, on the theme: ‘On The Edge’. Prizes: £100, £50 3x£20. Entry fee: ££6, or £10 for two. Deadline 15 December. Details: http://www.chorleywriters.org.uk

Magic Oxygen Literary Prize for short stories up to 4,000 words and poetry up to 50 lines. Prizes: £1,000, £300, £100, 2x£50 highly commendeds in each category. A tree planted for every entry. Entry fee: £5. Deadline 31 December. Details: http://www.magicoxygen.go.uk

Henshaw Short Story Competition for stories up to 2,000 words. Prizes: £200, £75, £25. Deadline 31 December. Details http://www.henshawpress.co.uk

The Moth Poetry Prize 2019. Prize of 10,000 Euros for an unpublished poem, with three runner-up prizes of 1,000 Euros. Entry fee: 15 Euros. Deadline 31 December. Details: http://www.themothmagazine.com

Words Magazine Short Story Competition for stories up to 2,000 words on the theme ‘murder’. Free entry. Prizes: £50 and £25. Closing date: 31 December. Details: http://www.wordsmag.com

Arkbound Short Story Competition for stories between 500 and 1,000 words on the theme of ‘time’. Prizes: £100, £50, £25, 3x£10. Entry fee: £3. Deadline: 31 December. Details: http://arkbound.com

Good luck – and please remember to check all details before entry.

STOP PRESS:  

WATCH THIS SPACE, BECAUSE TOMORROW WE WILL BE PUBLISHING THE NAME OF THE WINNER AND RUNNER-UP OF OUR OWN SHORT STORY COMPETITION ON THE THEME OF SUMMER.

We have a Shortlist!

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We are delighted to be able to give below our shortlist of summer stories, given in alphabetical order. Our winner, and runner-up, will be announced on December 1st.

Alaskan Salmon Fishing, Judi Johnson

Black Dog, Alwyn Bathan

The Chocolate Summer, Barbara Leahy

Destination: Summer Lane, R Herring

Day of the Flying Ants, Melanie Ross

Indefinite Delay, Norman Coburn

Synchronicity, Roz Balp

Summer Cycle, David Smith

Take Wing, K E  Olukoya

Under Canvas, Imogen Fairweather

This has been a challenging exercise. Some stories were absolutely loved by one or two of us, but didn’t chime with everyone. Others had promise, but could have done with one final edit. Saddest of all, one or two good stories had to be eliminated because they went over our stipulated word count. So, if your story isn’t on our list, don’t be despondent. Enter it into another competition. These things are notoriously subjective.

Our winner and runner-up will be announced here on the 1st December. Well done those that are on the shortlist, and thank you to everyone who took part. By doing so, we will be able to send a worthwhile donation to a charity providing much-needed support to people in need. We hope you also enjoyed creating a new story.

 

(Picture credit: Tom Hart @ Flickr)

 

Writing Competitions to Enter in November

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November. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Of curling up by the fireside and reading story books. Or – better still – of sitting by the fireside and composing your very own stories…

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize, open to all Commonwealth writers, is for a story of 2,000-5,000 words. Prizes: £5,000; £2,500. Entry is free. Deadline 1 November. Details from http://www.commonwealthwriters.org/cssp-2020

Scribble Annual Short Story Competition. Maximum 3,000 words on the theme of DECEPTION. Entry is £4, but free to subscribers. Prizes: £100, £50, £25. Deadline 1 November. Details: parkpublications.co.uk/competitions.html

Caledonia Novel Award for the first 20 pages plus a 200-word synopsis of a novel by an unpublished writer. Prizes: £1,500, trophy. Entry fee: £25. Closing date: 1 November. Details: http://www.caledoniannovelaward.com

Paul Torday Memorial Prize for a first (published) novel by a writer 60 and over. Prizes: £1,000. Free entry. Closing Date: 15 November. Details: http://www.societyofauthors.org

Bath Children’s Novel Award for unpublished and independently published children’s novels. Send first 5,000 words and synopsis. Prizes: £2,500, feedback, Cornerstones online course. Entry fee: £25. Closing date: 17 November. Details: http://www.bathnovelaward.co.uk

The Poetry Kit Autumn Competition for a poem of any length. Entry: £3.50; £8 for three; £10 for five. Deadline: 20 November. Prizes: £100, £50. Details: poetry-kit.org.

National Association of Writers’ Groups Open Competitions for Short Story/Poem on the theme of BETRAYAL. Prizes for each category: £200, £100, £50. Entry fee: £5. Deadline 30 November. Details: nawg.co.uk/competitions

Fish Short Story Prize. Word limit 5,000 words. Prizes: 3,000 Euros; Week at Anam Cara Writers’ Retreat; 300 Euros; 200 Euros for 7 runners-up. The 10 best submissions will be published in the Fish Anthology 2020. Entry is 20 Euros (12 Euros for subsequent). Deadline 30 November. Details: http://www.fishpublishing.com

Betty Trask Prize for published or unpublished, traditional or romantic (not experimental) first novels by authors under the age of 35. Prizes: £20,000 total, to be used for foreign travel. Free entry. Deadline: 30 November. Details: http://www.society ofauthors.org

Cinnamon Press Awards for 10 poems, 2 short stories or up to 10,000 words of a novel. Prizes: publishing contract. Entry fee: £16. Deadline: 30 November. Details: http://www.cinnamonpress.com

The above competitions pretty much offer something for everyone, so please curl up by that fireside and get composing, or revising, or editing…

Just remember to carefully check all entry details before doing so.

Competition 2019 – judging begins

Many thanks to everyone who entered our 2019 competition.  We will now roll up our sleeves, fasten our reading glasses on firmly, and start deliberations.  The differences in our opinions is always a reminder that competitions are sometimes about ‘hitting the spot’ with a majority of judges.  There will be hot discussion!

We plan to release our shortlist in mid-November.

National Bookshop Day

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Let’s all raise a glass in praise of our wonderful bookshops. Along with libraries, they are the best friends of all readers and writers.

My other half and I spent time (and a modest amount of money) in Daunt’s Bookshop in London yesterday. A magical place in Marylebone.20191005_150451-1.

It is tempting to save a pound or two by buying books from Amazon – though by the time you’ve added postage, the difference may not be great – but let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot by making book selling on the high street uneconomic. We don’t want to deny ourselves the thrill of one day seeing our own efforts on public display, do we?

 

National Poetry Day

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With National Poetry Day in mind, we thought you might enjoy a poem from The Faber Book of Parodies, edited by Simon Brett, and written in tribute to our famous Bard.

 

HAMLET’S SOLILOQUY IMITATED
Richard Jago
To print, or not to print—that is the question.
Whether ‘tis better in a trunk to bury
The quirks and crotchets of outrageous fancy,
Or send a well-wrote copy to the press,
And by disclosing, end them? To print, to doubt
No more; and by one act to say we end
The head-ach, and a thousand natural shocks
Of scribbling frenzy—’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To print—to beam
From the same shelf with Pope, in calf well bound!
To sleep, perchance, with Quarles—Ay there’s the rub –
For to what class a writer may be doom’d,
When he hath shuffled off some paltry stuff,
Must give us pause.—There’s the respect that makes
Th’ unwilling poet keep his piece nine years.
For who would bear th’ impatient thirst of fame,
The pride of conscious merit, and ‘bove all,
The tedious importunity of friends,
When as himself might his quietus make
With a bare inkhorn? Who would fardles bear?
To groan and sweat under a load of wit?
But that the tread of steep Parnassus’ hill,
That undiscover’d country, with whose bays
Few travellers return, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear to live unknown,
Than run the hazard to be known, and damn’d.
Thus critics do make cowards of us all.
And thus the healthful face of many a poem
Is sickly’d o’er with a pale manuscript;
And enterprisers of great fire, and spirit,
With this regard from Dodsley turn away,
And lose the name of authors.

 

Writing Competitions to Enter in October

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Light in Our Darkness is the theme for The Word Poetry Competition, which is part of the first Lichfield Cathedral Poetry Festival, inspired by the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings. The first prize is £100, second prize of £50 and third of £25 in the age categories of 17-25 and 26 and over. The winners will also be displayed in Lichfield Cathedral. Poems should be original, unpublished poems that use ideas around creation, cosmology, space travel and astronomical discovery and reflect the origins of the universe and space, light and time. All poems must have a title. Entry is free. The deadline is 3 October and details can be found at: http://www.lichfield-cathedral.org/journeys/the-word-poetry-competition

The Dalkey Creates Writing Festival international contest is for short stories up to 2,000 words and poems up to 30 lines, with winners in each category receiving 1,000 Euros. The entry fee is 15 Euros and the closing date 6 October. Details: http://www.dalkeycreates.com

Virginia Prize for Fiction, for unpublished novels, at least 45,000 words, by women. Prizes: Development and publication of the winning novel. Entry fee: £25. Closing date: 1 October. TODAY! Details: https://aurorametro-com/virginia-prize-for-fiction/

Imison Award for original radio plays by writers new to radio. Prizes: £3,000. Closing date: 6 October. FREE ENTRY. Details: http://www.societyofauthors.org

London Short Story Prize for stories up to 5,000 words by writers with London postcodes. Prizes: £1,000, 2x£250. Entry fee: £10. Closing date: 7 October. Details: http://www.spreadtheword.org.uk

Bath Flash Fiction Award for up to 300 words. Prizes: £1,000, £300, £100, 2x£30. Entry fee: £7.50, £12 for 2, £18 for 3. Closing date: 13 October. Details: bathflashfictionaward.com

Retreat West fiction for up to 500 words; short stories 1,500-5,000 words. Prizes: flash: £350, £200, £100, £15 for each shortlisted; short stories: £400, £250, £150, £20 each shortlisted. Entry fee: £8 flash; £10 short story. Closing date: 27 October. Details: http://www.retreatwest.co.uk

Cinnamon Pencil Mentoring Competition. 10 poems, two short stories, or the first 10,000 words of a novel. Prize: a place on the Cinnamon Pencil mentoring scheme. Entry fee: £12. Closing date: 30 October. Details: http://www.cinnamonpress.com

The 2020 Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award has a first prize of £10,000 for an unpublished book by a first time writer. Runners up will receive £1,000. This bi-annual competition, in memory of the agent who founded the agency that became Rogers Coleridge White, wants the first 20,000-25,000 words of a work in progress, plus a synopsis and a biographical note. There is no entry fee, but writers must reside in the United Kingdom or the British Commonwealth. They can submit one work only and must not have published a full-length work or be under contract to a publisher. The deadline is 31 October and details can be found at http://www.deborahrogersfoundation.org

Bedford International Writing Competition for short stories up to 3,000 words, poems up to 40 lines. Prizes: each category £300, £150, £100. Entry fee: £6, £12 for three. Closing date: 31 October. Details: http://www.bedfordwritingcompetition.co.uk

McKitterick Prize for the best first novel, published or unpublished, by an author over the age of 40 on 31 December. Prizes: £4,000. FREE ENTRY. Deadline: 31 October. Details: http://www.societyofauthors.org

Southport Writers’ Circle is inviting entries for their SWC International Short Story Competition for stories up to 2,000 words on any theme. As well as the first prize of £150, there are second and third prizes of £80 and £30. Entry is £3 per story, or four for £10. Closing date is 31 October. Details: http://www.swconline.co.uk

Tom Gallon Trust Awards for short stories up to 5,000 words by authors who have had at least one story accepted for publication. Prizes: £1,000, £500 runner-up. FREE ENTRY. Details: http://www.societyofauthors.org

Carmarthen Book Fair Short Story Competition. Short stories for adults, 1,200-1,500 words. Prizes: £100, £50. Entry fee: £3, £5 for two. Closing date: 31 October. Details: http://www.facebook.com/CarmarthenBookFair 2016/

Please, as ever, check that I have all the entry details correct. Entering competitions is a good thing – even if you don’t win, you hone your craft and, hopefully, have fun.

With regard to our own competition, we are busily reading entries and will soon be able to give a date when we will announce the result of our deliberations. With Skipper insisting we be dogged in our efforts. Many thanks to those who entered.