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The
hamercaskie
over 40's
non-fiction
Writing competition

The Hamer/Caskie 

Non-fiction Writing competition for people over 40 years old.

 

 

I am delighted to announce the winners of this competition and to publish the stories below.

 

The competition is generously sponsored by my Literary Agent Robert Caskie Ltd who offered cash prizes to the three stories which in the judges option were the best of the 125 entries we had.

 

We asked for a piece of lyrical non-fiction writing of 500 words or fewer. The judges Marc and Kate Hamer read them all and passed on a shortlist naming those we thought were the winners to our wonderful sponsor and co-judge, Robert who agreed with our choices.

 

There were stories about human relationships with nature, with water, with birds and animals and with each other. Stories by experienced writers and by first time writers. All the entries came from a generation of people with some life experience behind them - so we read of loves, of families and loss, real lives lived, endured, survived, accepted and held dear. All things you can only really know with any depth when you have some story behind you, it was a joyful and life affirming experience that only fed into my personal belief that were are all connected and are all just wonderful flowers in this vast garden. I would love to run a competition again some day! Breaking into writing as a mature person is not an easy thing to do, and I should know! My own apprenticeship took decades.

 

We have had fun running this competition, we have never run one before, but have both entered one or two over the years and doing this has helped us as writers to understand the process. Different stories could have won on a different day or with different judges. It is a personal thing, there were stories that I loved that Kate didn’t and vice versa but over the days that we read and discussed and re-read these three came to the surface and stayed there.

 

The 500 word limit posed a significant challenge and the winners managed to carve an enjoyable story with its own pace, it’s ups and downs, to show love and frustration and the very real and deep joys and pains of a life lived.

 

Here they are...

 

 

 

First Prize winner £250.00

 

Daily Exercise

by

Becka White

 

A slightly different route today for our daily exercise. My six-year-old’s school has invited us to collect some seeds ‘to plant in the garden’. I tell my son they forgot to add ‘or on the windowsill’. I wonder how many other flat-dwelling parents noticed this wording – after all, one in five households in London don’t have any outdoor space. I decide it’s me being over-analytical again.     

    

I’ve brought some pavement chalk along to add some colour to another dull day. My three-year-old crouches at the edge of the path cutting through the small hilltop field and asks me what to draw. “How about a rainbow?” I suggest. I look at the skyline of Canary Wharf in the distance, hazy in the heat. They call it ‘London's Highest Earning Postcode'. Surreal to imagine those shiny, silver offices devoid of bankers – a smattering of cleaners, security guards and baristas instead.  London’s lowest earners, keeping the capital going.

 

My littlest shoves me off the path and out of my daydream. 

    

'Mummy! People coming, make space!'
 

His fear of other humans has been normalised. I peel him off me gently and he resumes his drawing. Not so much a rainbow but a tornado of colours. His fat little fists press down so forcefully, the pastel shades look almost neon.

 

A dog-walker looks in our direction. She tuts and mutters, 'That doesn’t look like exercise to me', while her considerate dog takes a shit two metres away. I try to find an age-appropriate way to explain to my eldest why people are wary, why the rules are important. 

 

Next thing I know he’s scrawled on the ground ‘WE DON’T ALL HAVE A GARDEN’. I stop to take a photo of this fully washable graffiti – unsure whether I’m proud or sad. I realise a jogger has been waiting for me to finish. Anticipating more disapproval, I snap – 'You just had to say excuse me! I would’ve moved!'  

    

His voice calm and sincere, he replies, 'Wow, why are you so angry?'

    

My phone buzzes. Carla’s sent me a selfie from the garden - striped bikini top in close-up, kids in the paddling pool behind her. Caption: 'wine o-clock'. 

    

Yesterday she’d shared a photo online of a thronging Peckham Rye. Caption: “We’re in a fucking pandemic, how can people be so selfish?! People are dying ffs!”.

    

So many people are dying. I know how lucky I am. They said in the ‘Resilience during COVID-19’ course at work to note three things         

 

I’m grateful for every day. 

    1) I’m grateful I’ve loved but not lost this year. 

    2) I’m grateful I feel safe in my home. 

    3) I’m grateful I still have a job. 

    

Everyone keeps saying that the pandemic is bringing out the best in people. Community.  Solidarity. Humanity. All my favourite abstract nouns.

  

For weeks I keep an eye out of the window in case I see the jogger passing by. I want to tell him I’m sorry. I want to tell him why I’m so angry.

 

***

 

 

Second Prize of £175.00 goes to:

 

People smile at me

 

by 

 

Maria Farrell

 

People smile at me. People I’ve never met, walking London streets where we mind our own business to get where we’re going; they smile and walk by looking fractionally lighter. Estate agent white-guys in too-tight suits take a break from their Jordan Peterson personal mantras, their David Mamet cosplay monologues, and for three seconds crack open in these goofy, boyish grins that - if they only knew this - women would take one look at and let them into their hearts and bodies and lives. Groups of black boys let loose in itchy, crested acrylic jumpers and just outgrown trousers from the punitive academy nearby, the one that says ‘respect’ but means ‘submit’, they squeal and leap back, their whole group contracting then exploding across the pavement in teasing and shoving and the softest, bravest one who looks up and asks “Can I stroke your dog, Miss?”

    

I have a smiling dog. Just going about his day he looks like he’s laughing in pure joy at the world. He has a long white coat, usually scruffy and un-brushed, but resplendent all the same. It grows down to his knees, making his legs look like a beetle’s as they move quickly and almost independently of his carriage. His long tail curves half-way up his spine and fans out like an inverted tutu, leaving his rear exposed. With trimmed back legs, he looks from behind like a large man in tights learning to walk on heels. 

    

Milo knows nothing of the oddly anthropological ways we describe him, how people say his face is a bear’s, his fur like clothes, his tail a feather duster. He just knows that toddlers scrunch in concentration and mash his ears. Teenage girls scream like he’s a distant idol apparitioned IRL onto the high street. They drown him in helpless mewls of affection for the one thing they can love that won’t hurt them back. 

    

I see people at their best. I don’t mean that I choose to interpret humans in the best possible light. I mean I actually get to see it. The pure unguarded merriment you drink in from a baby’s laugh, I get to see, three seconds a time, on the faces of strangers every day of my life. 

    

‘What kind of dog is he?’

‘How old?’

‘Does he take a lot of brushing?’

    

I answer these three questions most days, as we walk to our park and stop into the café where Milo is unofficial mascot. The answers are; 

 

‘Samoyed’,

‘Seven and a half’ (children nod seriously at this), and 

‘He should, but…’

 

My London is different to yours. It stops to chat like the small Irish town I grew up in. It shouts “Hi, Milo!’ across traffic. It buries its face in the soft, soft fur on top of his head and whispers the names of friends we no longer see, friends who didn’t make it through the long covid winter. 

 

My London smiles and I smile back.

 

 

***

 

The third prize of £100 goes to:

 

Raising  the  Dead  

by

Gaynor Beesley

 

Mercifully,  Aunt  Sarah’s  niece,  my  Grandma,  possessed  neither  the  gift  or  the  imagination  required  to  aspire  to  it,  and  so  my  dad  was  spared  much  of  the  stigma  attached  to  being  attached  to  a ‘fuckin’ spooky  witch.’  By  the  time  I  appeared,  Sarah’s  house  guests  had  settled  and  failed  to  rock  with  the  ebullience  of  former  times.  Still,  dad  told  tales  of  disembodied  kitchen  scissors  snipping  at  the  empty  air  and  fire  irons  swinging  violently  on  their  hooks  to  herald  the  passing  over  of  a  family  member.  Visitors  would  nervously  sniff  the  scent  of  death  which  pervaded  the  house  weeks  before  a  terminal  event.

    

'So  what  does  it,  death,  smell  like  then?'

'Like  decaying  flowers.  Roses  that  have  been  left  standing  in  the  vase  for  too  long.'

    

Christmas  1970  and  Aunty  Sarah  sat  engulfed  by  Grandad’s  armchair,  alert,  glowing  like  a  frowsty  blackbird  in  the  halo  of  an  open  fire. The  air  hung  thick  with  the  fumes  from  Grandad’s  homemade  barley  wine,  Aunty  Patsies’  Woodbines,  and  the  crackle  of  her  Derry  drawl.  Sarah  had  the  frame  of  a  famished  twelve  year  old,  still  I  fell  caught  between  the  fascination  and  shyness  common  when  extreme  youth  is  presented  with  extreme  age.  Sarah  winked  at  me  through  the  fug.

 

'Come  over  ere  Darlin.’ Her  pitch  surprisingly  low,  I  advanced.  

'Want  t'see  my  party  trick?”  

I wasn’t  sure,  but  it  was  happening  anyway, I  nodded. With  the  flair  of  a  card  shark,  Sarah  swept  her  skirt  to  the  knee  to  reveal  a  neat  silver  leaver.  She  raised  her  thigh  slightly  and  there  was  a  staccato  recoil  as  her  leg  shot  violently  forward  from  the  joint  like  Billy  Wright  taking  a  penalty  for  the  Wolves.  I  regained  my  composure  to  the  explosion  of  a  jubilant  chorus  from  behind.

   

'Well  yoe  done  it  agen  Sarah'.

'Another  un  aint  gonna  forget  yoe  in  hurry'.

'Jesus  Christ  Sarah,  the  chiald’ll  be  scarred  fur  life!' 

 

Sarah  flourished  a  wave. I  studied  the  calf  of  polished  mahogany  with  its  serviceable  black  shoe.  

'What’s  ‘appened  to  your  leg?'

'It’s  not  my  leg,  little  un'

'Where’s  your  other  one  then?”

'In  the  freezer  at  The  Royal  Infirmary'  

'Why?'

'I  made  the  Doctor  who  took  it  off  promise  to  keep  it  there  so  I  could  have  it  buried  in  the  coffin  with  me  when  my  time  comes,  I  aint  goin  to  ‘eaven  without  me  leg!'

'What  if  he  forgets?' 

She  grinned, cocked  her  head.  That  blackbird  again.  It  opened  its  sly,  yellow,  beak.                               

'Then  I’ll  haunt  ‘im  until  he  remembers,' It  sang. 

    

I’m  in  the  back  garden,  crouching  low,  squinting  into  the  late  summer  sun.  Dad  bends  over  the  rose  bushes  intent,  sweat  darkening  the  rim  of  his  cap,  as  the  spiteful  beak  of  his   secateurs  nip  the  stalks  and  heads  off  the  scarlet  roses.

    

He  points  

 

'Yoe  see  there  Bab, cut  away  the  dead  rubbish  'n  all  new  growth‘ll  come  through,' and  I  watch  until  all  that’s  left  is  a  white  bleeding  stump.    

 

 

***

 

 

We hope that you enjoyed reading these pieces and if you didn’t win please remember that these were our winners on the day, there’s always another day!

 

 

Happy writing!

 

Marc Hamer

THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSEd.

entry rules

Writing Competition Rules

 

1. This is a competition for people who are 40 years old and over and living in the UK who have not had a book published by a trade publisher. Entries are allowed from people who have had a work or works published in an anthology. Entries are welcome from people who have self-published their own work.

2. The competition is to write a piece of lyrical non-fiction e.g. an essay, life writing, nature writing etc. Any Non-fiction genre you like of 500 words or under. There is no minimum number of words.

3. The competition closes at dawn on October 25 2021. Entries received after that will not be read.

4. The judges will be Authors Marc Hamer and Kate Hamer.

5. Each work must be the authors own work. Any quotations used must be credited in the text.

6. Winners will be notified by email.

7. Entries must be made by Email to: 2writersreading@gmail.com with the Title: Non-Fic Comp. In Either Word or Mac Pages format.

8. There is no entry fee.

9. Prizes:

    a)The winning entry will be published on this dedicated Competition Page at www.hamerwriter.com, and a link to the page will be tweeted. The only information included on the page about the work will be the work itself and the name the work was submitted under. Copyright remains with the author except for this one instance.

    b) a selection of five recent non-fiction books selected by the judges.

    c) cash prizes of: 1st Prize - £250, 2nd Prize - £175, 3rd prize - £100. 

10. The judges decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

 

Cash prizes are sponsored by Robert Caskie of Robert Caskie Ltd, literary agents

The inspiration for this competition came from this article in the Independent by: @Claire_Coughlan