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
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
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?’
‘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;
‘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
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'
'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.
'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!
THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSEd.
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: email@example.com with the Title: Non-Fic Comp. In Either Word or Mac Pages format.
8. There is no entry fee.
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