Friday, September 30, 2011

New Rose Prize 2011: Runners-Up and Special Judges' Mention!

As promised, here is the second announcement for The New Rose Short Story Prize 2011 - our two runners-up and the winner of our Special Judges' Mention award!

It is my great pleasure to announce that our two runners-up in the 2011 New Rose Short Story Prize are:


The judges were incredibly impressed with the quality of both stories and, in particular, the way in which each entry drew us into the characters' worlds. Massive congratulations to Stacey and Heather, who both receive a critique of any piece of their work from Head Judge, Jamie Guiney, together with signed goodies from me.
You can read both stories below.

We also decided to award a Judges' Special Mention to I'm Yours by BROGAN BOWIE. At only 15 years old, the judges felt she showed great promise and we wanted to recognise her talent with this special award. Brogan wins a goody bag from me - congratulations! You can read Brogan's entry, I'm Yours at the end of this post.

So, without further ado, here are our two runners-up and the winner of the Judges' Special Mention award. Enjoy!

When I Died by Stacey Matheson

When I died, people weren't shocked. They weren't even surprised. After my numerous attempts at suicide over the previous three years, it was expected. It had to work sometime. Everyone walked around with sad faces for a few days, maybe even a couple of weeks. But life moved on - for them.

I think I'm in purgatory but I'm not 100% sure because I never really paid attention in church. I feel a bit ashamed admitting that because I used to go to every Sunday, even when I was really ill. But I was only paying lip service to the All Mighty Whatever you want to call Him. I never really believed so I never really listened.

The minister spoke, my mind wandered. My mind likes wandering. It's nosey - it pokes around in all the dark corners, prods things with sticks, ignores people when they're talking and then somehow brings the conversation around to me. I don't know why it does that. I'm not interesting, and I'm not interested in talking about me. Frankly, my mind is an embarrassment and I'm pretty pissed off that it's followed me here. Wherever here is.

A definition flashes up on a screen in front of me: "Purgatory is the condition or process of purification or temporary punishment in which, it is believed, the souls of those who die in a state of grace are made ready for Heaven". Who knew you could Google in the afterlife?

I have a funny feeling that killing yourself doesn’t qualify as a “state of grace”. And if this isn’t heaven, then the only other way is down. Ooops.

So. This is hell, is it? It’s really not what I was expecting. I thought, when I passed out, that it would be forever blackness. I didn’t realise I would spend eternity meandering through my old life. My life (afterlife?) today is identical to my life before the eight packets of paracetamol and two cans of cheap wine in the expensive hotel room. I’m surrounded by the same people, the same petty situations; everything that made my life a living hell. Oh…so that’s where the saying comes from.

I wondered, for a while, if I was a ghost, but I can’t walk through walls (I did try. Don’t ask). If I’m a ghost and I can’t walk through walls, I’m going to have serious words with Someone. Walking through walls is a bogstandard feature for ghosts. Who can I complain to, here in the forever-after?

I certainly feel like a ghost. I’m solid but people don’t see me. They look right through me. They talk past me. I’m not there, in their world. I’m here, stuck in my own little world of “wherever”.

Let’s not bother too much about where “here” is for now. I’d settle for knowing “when” it is. Time dithers around like you wouldn’t believe. One minute is sometimes just that: one minute. Sixty seconds. The next minute can stretch into hours and days. I don’t know whether I’m coming or going, whether it’s day or night. Sometimes it feels like everything’s happening at once, and then nothing happens forever. It’s more than a little unnerving.

It’s like that feeling you get when you wake up from the dream where you go to work in your pyjamas? Everyone’s had that dream. You might be going to the shops, or walking down the aisle on your wedding day. You might be wearing a tutu, like that Sex & the City woman, or you might be naked…but it’s that “oh shit” thud of the stomach as it bounces off the soles of your feet. Then you wake up.

You wake up; I don’t. My stomach is permanently set to “roller-coaster”. Just as I’ve winched it back to central, I get another of those “pyjama” moments and I’m scraping it off the floor with a metaphorical spatula. Good job I’m dead and don’t need to eat anything; I’d never keep it down.

It’s night, but I can’t sleep. I haven’t slept since that night, and that wasn’t really proper sleep. It was a medicated hammer to the head. My last memories are of popping pills in batches of four, washing them down with greedy gulps of wine, staggering to the bed and collapsing across it, my head spinning off my shoulders. Next thing I knew, I was here. No bright light, no tunnel, no loving voices calling me. Not even Death with his black robes and permanent grin. I’m cheesed off about that. There should be someone to explain the set-up to us newbies. That’s another thing I’ll mention whenever Someone gets round to seeing me.
I don’t know how or why I ended up back in the hospital. Not the one where they pronounced me dead, the psychiatric one. The nut-house. The loony bin. I can call it that - I’ve earned the right after three years as a permanent in-patient. I’ve been here longer than half the staff. Why the hell did I choose to come back here? Hah…there’s the hell word again.

They’ve cleared away all my belongings; other than the bed, my little room is completely empty. Just me and the dust. Maybe that’s my fate? Maybe I’ll slowly disintegrate, molecule by molecule, until I really am part and parcel of this “institution for afflicted humanity” (that’s the officially polite way to say nut-house). The staff always told me I was becoming part of the furniture. It’s a bit creepy to think that might actually happen.

I wander around the ward, from my emptied room to the patients’ lounge; from the quiet room to the dining room. A week later, I decide to watch TV; although, because this is hell, I’m forced to watch endless repeats of Emmerdale and Coronation Street. Maybe, if I shout loudly in someone’s ear, they’ll hear me and turn over to something decent? I’m sure I saw a film where they did that; was it Ghost? Oooh, now wouldn’t it be great if Patrick Swayze were the one to come and tell me what the hell I’m supposed to be doing? (Note to self - stop using the “h”-word!)

I drift down the hallway, unseen by all, and slide into my usual seat in the corner of the television room. It’s nice to see that people are respecting my memory and choosing to sit elsewhere. Actually, a patient did try sitting here and one of the nurses actually said “That’s Stacey’s seat”, which I thought was nice. Ho hum…it’s dead in here tonight; as silent as the grave. (Jeez - even my dark sense of humour has followed me here into death.)

That’s a thought - I don’t know where my grave is. Maybe I was cremated? I should try and find out what happened to my mortal remains…

The evening passes at a dirge-like pace. By the time the clock eventually ticks round to eight o’ clock, I’m fed up watching life move on without me. It’s pretty bloody lonely being dead, let me tell you. You’re there, right in the middle of things, yet nobody includes you in a conversation. Nobody asks your opinion on the latest X-factor drop-out. Nobody offers you a sweet. Nobody asks if you want to play cards with them. Nobody asks if you’d like to go for a walk. So, however lonely it is on my own, at least I’m alone and lonely. It’s the worst feeling in the world to be alone when surrounded by people.

Slowly, I trudge back to my room. Visitors are filling the dining room with flowers, magazines and lively chatter. Nobody has come to visit me (obviously), although a visiting puppy sees me and barks. Its owner swats it over the nose and I immediately feel guilty.

I flop facedown on my bed and stare at the patterned bed-spread for a few months. I don’t bother switching the light on. What’s the point when I’m dead? Switching on lights would make me a poltergeist and I’m not ready to take that step yet…maybe in a hundred years once I get really bored.

“Are you new?”

Huh? I look up. A woman stands in the shadows of my doorway.

“It’s just that I haven’t seen you around, so I figured you must be new. I only arrived a few days ago myself.” She hovers in the doorway. I mean, she doesn’t literally hover like a…I was going to say “like a ghost”, but we’ve already established that certain ghostly behaviours are a load of codswallop. What I mean to say is, she’s standing there looking a bit uncertain about things, which is perfectly understandable because I’m still uncertain about things and I’ve been here for aeons.

I sit up. “I don’t really know how long I’ve been here; it all runs together after a while. Do you know what we’re supposed to do? I don’t know if I’m supposed to do anything or go anywhere? Nobody’s really explained what happens now.”

“Didn’t you get your orientation?” She sounds puzzled.
“No. Who gave you an orientation?” Now I’m really ticked off. I’ll definitely be making a complaint about the shoddy service I’ve received.

“Oh. Well I’m sure someone will come and see you soon. It’s best to get settled in first; let the initial shock wear off.” She leans against the doorframe. “What happened to you, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Overdose,” I reply, very matter-of-factly. “I stole my husband’s bank card, hopped in a taxi, bought a load of pills and booze and booked myself into a fancy hotel for the night. I feel a bit sorry for whoever found me, but that’s the way it goes. What about you?” I’m curious as to whether this mystery woman also committed suicide, confirming my theory that this is a special hell reserved for us cowards.

“Slashed my wrists.” She holds out her arms, dispassionately. In the deepening gloom, I can make out the knobbly disfigurement of bandages. I’m impressed.

“Tried that a couple of times, but I never managed to cut deep enough. It’s a pretty overrated method, if you ask me.” I’m a bit jealous, to tell the truth. If I’d been more proficient, I could have died years ago!

“Yeah,” she agrees. “I don’t really like to talk about it though. We’re here to get better after all.”

I’m a bit confused - is hell actually some sort of suicide recovery scheme? Is someone about to descend on me with a twelve-step agenda?

She fidgets in the darkness. “Where’s all your stuff? Did they take it away?”

Now I’m really confused. Hasn’t she ever heard the saying “you can’t take it with you”? I decide to humour her. She’s only recently died, after all.

“Yeah…well, it’s not like I need it anymore. I guess I’ll have to move out of here sometime soon as well.” I sigh. I couldn’t wait to leave this shitty little room, with its institution green walls and brown carpet, when I was alive. But I’ve grown attached to it in my death.

“Where would you move to?”

This is all getting a bit philosophical…and then I twig. She’s some sort of angel, sent to test me to see if I’m ready to move up to heaven. This is more like it!

I lean forward eagerly. “Well, obviously heaven would be top of the list. But how do I get there?”

“You don’t want to try again, do you?”

Try what again? Great - I’m going to miss out on heaven because I’m too dumb to pass the entrance examination. I knew I should have listened in church.

She’s backing away. “Look, never mind. It’s been nice talking to you, but I’ve got to go now. My mum’s come to visit. Do you want me to call you a nurse?”

I jump to my feet and switch on the light. She’s not an angel. She doesn’t have wings or a halo; just her bandaged wrists and a rather scared look on her face. I’ve been talking to a nutter who sees dead people. Just my luck.

“Is everything all right?” It’s Sandra; she was my named nurse when I was alive. She puts her hand on the “Sixth Sense” woman’s shoulder and then looks directly at me.

Oh shit…that’s why this is a living hell. I didn’t die.

* * * *

Margaret by Heather Gauthier

Living with Carl wasn’t the easiest thing, I’ll tell you that much. We was married 6 years ago, and I’m surprised we lasted that long. I wasn’t his first pick you see, some other girl was, but she wasn’t interested in my Carl. I thought Carl was something else. He reminded me of James Dean the way he smoked his cigarette, and wore those leathers. I was smitten with him, so when he asked me to marry him, even though I knew he was doing it out of spite, I said yes. Truth be told, I slept with him first. The real reason he asked me to marry him was because I was pregnant.

Imagine Carl’s displeasure when I lost that baby. I was 6 months, almost 7 months gone. I had to give birth to my angel, who was a boy, and I had to bury him too. Carl was so angry at me for losing this baby, called me a slut and all other types of names, but I was angry too, I mean had Carl not given me that beating the night before, I don’t think I would have lost Carl Junior at all. But Carl didn’t see it that way, he said real women know how to keep their babies, he said that Juniper Rose (his first choice) would have known how to keep her babies. Carl would-a-never hit Juniper Rose. He idolized her, in her denim jumpsuits and her flaxen blonde hair.

Carl and I lived in Smithlock trailer park. Like locksmith, only opposite. Everyone kept their lots nice and clean and cared for. There was a park in the middle for the kids to play in, and even a pool. I felt proud living there. I tried best I could to make our trailer and yard look as nice as everyone else’s. I didn’t have much money, and didn’t bring in a lot of money from working down at the Wendy’s, but I’d save some throughout the month, and buy a little something for my trailer or my yard when I had enough. Most of my money had to go to Carl; he said I had to help him pay the rent. Woo if Carl ever found out I kept a little for myself, I’d get it good. I used to keep my money hidden under our plant by the front door, but one day Carl decided that might be a good place to put his key. When he saw the money sitting there his eyes turned into something else, he grabbed the money and punched me in my face with it, then he stuffed it in his pocket, covered with my blood and all, and went down to the local bar. Now I kept my money in a jar in the toilet, I knew Carl would never go in there. Handy he wasn’t, and cleaning was women’s work. Every time I’d get something new, I’d tell him that one of the ladies in the park gave it to me, and they’d concur just in case, they didn’t like Carl.

I stayed with Carl, because you see I think Carl had a point. Maybe I wasn’t a good woman? Maybe I didn’t know how to be a good wife? My mother and father both were drug addicts, and I didn’t know either of them. I was raised in one foster home after another, until I was 14 and my foster father started having sex with me, then my foster mother called me a slut and threw me out on my ass. I tried my best, I tried to learn to cook, I was pretty good at cleaning, and sexually I agreed to try anything Carl wanted to do, but nothing ever seemed good enough for Carl. I think that if I was Juniper Rose and just sat around in my jammies all day watching soap operas; he would have liked me a lot more.

I bought a bird house on a pole for my front lawn. It was so pretty, I couldn’t resist it. It was white, with a white picket fence, and pink and purple flowers painted all over the bottom. This little bird house would have been my dream house had it been big enough. I smiled every time I looked at it. While Carl was at work that morning I put it out, and stood on the drive to admire how it looked in my yard. It was a little brightness, and I thought just what my yard needed. Trouble is, I was so excited about this bird house, and spent so much time making sure I had its pole far enough in the ground, that I forgot to hide my Wal-mart bag, and receipt.
I was still outside when Carl came home. I had stew in the crock-pot ready for him, I felt good. The house was clean, the dinner was made, and well my birdhouse looked wonderful. I must have been outside for all of 3 minutes when I heard Carl hissing my name, at least that’s how it sounded to me. “Maaargaretttt come in the house for a minute would ya?” In a sweet syrupy voice he would, and that always meant trouble. When things were going well, Carl just wouldn’t talk to me at all. What could it be I had wondered? What could I have done now? Did he find my jar in the toilet? My heart raced, I could feel the sweat across my brow, if it was something bad, I knew what was coming next.

I don’t think I got two feet in the door before he plowed me in the head with his fist. I think I blacked out he hit me so hard, and then he threw me on the floor. I just lay there, I knew better than to move. In a few seconds he was standing over me with my Wal-Mart bag, and my receipt. I tried to tell him it was a gift from one of the ladies in the park, but the receipt was date stamped for today, and he knew it was me, there was no way around my lying he said. I lay there while he hit me, over and over. Eventually I couldn’t feel anything. He hit me with his fists, with his belt, and with the metal spoon I had sitting beside the crock pot. I could see my own blood, but I was too tired to scream anymore, so I just laid there quiet.

I lay there all night I think. I had a pounding in my head that would not go away. I must have fallen asleep for awhile, because when I woke up Carl was watching The Price is Right, and eating my stew. I sure hoped he liked the stew, I couldn’t handle another beating tonight. He was laughing and happy, so the stew must have been good. He must have been drinking too because he kept saying “Margy…you’re the next contestant on the Price is Right! Come on Down!” I tried to smile, but I don’t think I did.

The next morning I was still on the floor, Carl must have left for work already. I had a blanket over me though, and for a second thought Carl must have felt bad for leaving me there like that. I got up and moved around a little bit. My face was a wreck, I thought I probably should go to the hospital, but how would I explain it to them? I was naked too, from the waist down, so I thought Carl must have gotten frisky last night while I was sleeping, it wouldn’t have been the first time.

I could do nothing. I ached so bad. I just sat on the couch and cried for myself. I watched a little of the TV, because Carl hadn’t turned it off. I don’t know how long I was there when I noticed the police cars pull up to the front of the trailer. My first thought was to hide, I didn’t want to have to explain why I looked the way I did. My second thought was “What had he done now”, my Carl was always getting into some kind of trouble with someone.

I felt a little panicky when they started knocking on my door. There was four of them I could see through the slit window. I couldn’t get up to let them in fast enough, and they was mad. They were pounding on that door, I tried crying out to them that I was coming, but my voice was horse from not talking for so long. I made it onto my feet, but not before they busted down my door. They didn’t even look at me when they stormed in, didn’t even make eye contact with me. Here they gone broke down my front door, and they can’t even look at me, tell me what they’re there for? They just walked all around the trailer, shouting things at each other. They looked through my bedroom, my closets, even my deep freeze. They found my blood from the night before all over the front floor, and that’s when I noticed that my rug was missing. My dusty rose rug that I had for so long in front of our TV. There was blood all around were the rug used to be though, and they was looking at that. I tried to tell them I was fine, thinking that maybe one of the ladies from the park told them what had happened the night before, but they weren’t listening to me. They didn’t answer me when I asked if something happened to Carl, they didn’t seem to care when I told them I hurt myself, and that’s why there was all this blood around. I was still naked from the waist down, but my shirt was long enough to cover…but I tried explaining that too, that I just woke up, and apologized for my nakedness. They didn’t pay me no mind. They just went about their business. Carl must have done something big this time I remembered thinking. I was still standing on my feet, it was getting a little easier to move, and I was feeling a little less like I was hit by a truck.

About the time I thought they were going to leave, I saw them pulling some of that yellow crime tape out of the trunk of one of their cars. They looped that tape all around my blue trailer. I went out on my porch, to see if maybe I should leave? Maybe they didn’t want me here for their investigation into whatever it was they was investigating. I even went out as far as my front yard, but they just kept walking past me. I was getting quite upset about it all; it made me so anxious and nervous. All I wanted to know was what was going on. When I got outside I noticed my lovely bird house first. It was ruined. Carl had taken an axe to it, and it sat in pieces. I just cried and cried. That birdhouse meant more to me that it just being a birdhouse you know? I mean it brought me joy, and there it was, all over my yard, all my joy.

I followed them around a bit, keeping my distance. They seemed so angry, I didn’t want to get in their way, but I needed to know what they was doing. I followed them out to the back of the trailer, not really a back yard, just a slit between our yard and the next trailer. They started pulling off the lattice that was around the bottom. I was upset about this; it had only been a few months ago that I painted that lattice white to match the trim on my blue trailer. But there they was, just pulling it off, with no cares. One of the officers climbed underneath, and shouted to his buddies that he’d found something. I waited, I wanted to know. Had Carl been hiding drugs down there? It wouldn’t have surprised me, not a bit. I waited for what seemed like forever. Some more people came, and they did a whole bunch of stuff there under my trailer. I couldn’t see, so I didn’t know, I sat on the grass and waited. These guys still never even looked at me, and neither did the new guys that showed up. My eyes must have been welled up with tears that whole day; about dinner time they were finally ready to pull out what they found. Three guys went under with rubber gloves on, and started to pull the stuff out. I was astonished to see them pull out my dusty rose rug. What the heck was it doing under there? I don’t get mad often, but right then I was mad at Carl. That rug was one of my favorite things, and it had cost me a lot of money and a lot of favors for Carl.

When they got it out on the grass I noticed how dirty it was, brown and rusty looking. But there was something in it, something big. The officers started to unroll my rug, and I saw that there was a body in there. It was something awful it was. I couldn’t look at it for a minute. All I could see was the feet hanging out the bottom. They left the carpet open, and then went to their cars. I think they was taking a break or something because they just left me there beside this body in my dusty rose rug. I could hear them talking in the front, I could smell one of them at least, was having a smoke.

That’s when I decided I had to look at the body. All day I wondered what was going on, but would have never guessed it was someone dead, under my trailer. I started at the toes, and made my way slowly up the shins, to the knees, when I saw the pole for my birdhouse shoved up this poor ladies cooter. I was sick, and I vomited. When I was done I just got up and started walking. You see that poor lady was me. My Carl had finally done me in. I walked until I felt peaceful, and I did, for the first time in my life. There was no bright light that I followed, no long hallway, just the laughter of my Carl Junior. I took his hand and together we walked, I realized I’d been dead my whole life and now I could finally live.

* * * *

I'm Yours by Brogan Bowie

I felt the train coming closer and closer to where I stood and watched its power shift the snow off of the tracks. I closed my eyes, took my foot off the platform ground and began to step forward. Suddenly I felt a hand wrap round my arm and pull me back onto the platform. I opened my eyes in confusion to find myself looking at the most beautiful human being I’d ever seen.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” he said, slowly letting his grip loosen on my arm and eventually letting his hand fall down to his side. I found myself speechless and I had to make an effort to say something.

“Well..,” I paused thinking of a clever reply I could say back to him, “you’re not me, are you?” He laughed gently at my comment and nodded his head.

“That’s right, I’m not you, but I’d prefer it if you didn’t do something like that,” he smiled. The snow began to softly fall on both of us and I found myself gently smiling back to him. The train doors opened at this point in time and before I knew it the stunning human being was making his way towards the train. I followed him with my eyes as he stepped onto the train and turned around to face me. “You fancy coming?” he asked, his eyes containing a cheeky sparkle in them.

“I don’t have a ticket,” I said quietly, disappointment showing in my face. He stepped off the train with one foot, leaned forward towards me and held out his hand.

“Neither do I.”

During the train journey we learnt so much about each other. I explained to him that I was a boring normal sixteen year old who hated school, hated her life and was called Crystal. Jack (the name suited him perfectly) told me that he was a seventeen year old who thought life was too short to spend going through daily life routines and that he made everyday an adventure.

“So, you just hang around train stations everyday?” I asked staring right into his eyes. His eyes were amazing, dazzling brown with an added scar of blue in his left one. Whenever he spoke to me, I found it hard to make eye contact with him as I answered because all that did was make me forget my answer completely and feel like I was slowly being hypnotised.

“No,” he smiled, “I just happened to be there at the right time for you,” he explained, looking out of the train window. “So, tell me, why were you,” he paused, thinking of the best possible way to say it, “giving up on life?”

I looked straight up at him, trying not to feel embarrassed.
“Everything seems to be crumbling away in my life. Anything I do, it doesn’t go right. My mum and dad have split up and no longer speak, my brother not long died in a car accident and, I just feel like it’s not worth it anymore. I’m not a quitter, believe me, I’m not, but right now, I feel,” I took a breath of air and looked down at my hands, “I feel like I’ve got nothing left living for.” Jack sat there in silence for a few seconds until he finally opened his mouth and said one sentence that made my heart flutter.

“Well, you’ve just found something worth living for,” he said reaching over and taking my hands into his, “me!”

Suddenly the train slowly began to stop moving and Jack stood up walking towards the door.

“Jack, wait,” I said, turning in my seat, not even bothering to stand up. He turned his head towards me and waited for me to speak. “I don’t even know what I’m doing here!” I laughed nervously, shaking my head. Jack gave off a small smile and walked towards me. He knelt down in front of me and looked up at straight into my eyes.

“I’m going on an adventure Crystal, I was kind of hoping you’d come with me.”

Joining Jack on his life adventure was one of the best decisions I’d ever made in my life. Of course there was that small voice in the back of my head that sometimes interrupted my thoughts, asking me what the hell I was doing and advising me that I should go back home. But Jack always helped me get rid of that voice and assured me that everything was fine. When we got off the train he took my hand and he seemed to know where he was going. After nearly twenty minutes of walking the apprehensive part of me crept in and forced me to ask him where we were heading for.

“I’ve got this little place just up this hill, it’s nothing special but I thought it’d do.”

“Jack, I don’t even know where we are,” I said, looking around me, trying to see if I recognised anything.

“We’re in a small village called Darnick.” I nodded my head, I’d heard of the place, never visited though. We stopped suddenly and I just managed to stop myself before bumping into the back of him. Once I found my bearings I realised we were standing in front of a small blue door. Jack put his hand in the small hanging basket and found what he was looking for, the key to get inside.

“Well, that’s safe,” I said sarcastically following him into the building and closing the door behind me. Jack was right, the flat wasn’t anything special but it was dainty and had enough space for the two of us.

The first evening I spent with Jack we talked for hours, learning more about each other as each hour went by. Finally I felt my eyes getting heavy and I found it hard to concentrate on what Jack was saying to me.

“I think we should maybe head off to bed now,” he said, getting up off his chair and taking the plates that we’d eaten our Chinese takeaway on. I nodded my head and then felt my face turn red.

“Jack, where are you sleeping?” I asked, realising that this flat only had one bedroom.

“I’ll be sleeping on the sofa, you take the bed,” he chuckled coming back through to where I was sitting.

“Ok,” I said shrugging my shoulders, “night then.”

He took hold of my wrist gently as I stood up and brought his face closer to mine. His face being in touching distance was dangerous, I could feel myself breathing faster and I had to focus on not letting my knees collapse.

“Night, C.” He let go of my wrist and started making himself a bed on the sofa. That night I lay wide awake wondering why I was, living if you like, with a semi-stranger and also, how he could afford this flat and everything in it. When we’d been having our ‘get to know you’ chat he’d explained that he didn’t believe in boring nine to five jobs. Don’t tell me he was one of those that claimed benefits and didn’t really need them, mum was always complaining about people like that. But I don’t know why, I somehow managed to put those doubts to the back of my mind, locked away in a drawer and whenever that drawer popped open, I just walked over and closed it.

Everyday of my life when I was with Jack, he kept his promise to me. Each and everyday was an adventure to me, new memories that I knew I would never forget were always being made. Being in love with Jack was like flying, I felt that when I was with him I was free to do anything I wanted.

One of the most special memories was our first kiss together.

“Get your coat,” he said, opening the door and waiting for me.

“Where are we going?” I asked, following him towards the door.

“No questions just follow me,” he said, shutting the door behind us and getting into the car that was waiting for us outside. It had been two months exactly since the day we’d met and I still hadn’t asked him how he could afford everything. I guess I just predicted that a family member had left money behind for him which meant he didn’t have to work. We drove for a while until he turned off and drove up a small countryside lane. We got out of the car and we talked as I followed him. I loved it when he took me places, it was like being a kid all over again, giving me that feeling of Christmas morning, finding out what Santa had brought you! We came to a big poppy field and he walked to the middle of it until he sat down and asked me to sit down beside him.

“We just need to wait a minute, it should be soon,” he said, taking my hand in his. I gazed around me and realised we were on quite a high hill. I could see the village below us and when I looked further, it triggered what we were waiting for, the sun set. The sky’s colours were breathtaking; I’d never seen anything quite like it.

“It’s beautiful,” I whispered, feeling the warm glow of the sun on my cheeks.

“Yeah, I know,” he said. I realised he was looking at me and not the sky. He moved closer to me until his lips were finally touching mine. That was the moment I fell in love with Jack Marcelo.

We were both a soppy little couple, we’d made up our own little anniversary which we called “I Know You Anniversary’, which basically meant an annual celebration of when we met. I walked out of the small corner shop near our road. I’d been out all day so I felt really guilty for leaving him on our third “I Know You Anniversary” which made me buy him an extra big slab of chocolate. The wind blew in my face sending shivers all along my body but I didn’t care, I just couldn’t wait until Jack had his arms around me. I got my key out thinking about this day three years ago when I’d been standing at that train station. I went to put my key in the lock but the wind blew the door open.

“Why is the door open?” I mumbled to myself. I closed it behind me and walked along the small corridor. “Hello?” I called, a smile forming on my face. I was so excited to see him which made me search for him faster. I walked through to the living room to find it empty. It was then I noticed the glass coffee table was broken, smashed to pieces all over the floor.
“Jack?” I shouted, my heart beat picking up slightly, concern running through my voice. I laid the card and chocolates down and looked around the flat. A picture of Jack and I that had been taken in the poppy field was lying face down on the floor. I picked it up and suddenly my breathing started to get heavier. There was a small note clipped to the frame, written in someone’s handwriting that I didn’t recognise. The note said ‘It had to be done.’ I carefully placed the photo on top of the fireplace where it belonged and walked towards the bedroom, my thoughts struggling to make sense of what was happening. The door was closed and as I turned the handle my mind began to go crazy. Was this some sick joke of his? Why was he doing this to me? I opened the bedroom door and walked in to find the love of my life on the white sheets of the bed, covered in blood. His eyes were closed, his hair a mess. His clothes looked like they hadn’t been washed in years and his face was swollen. I heard someone screaming and crying and then realised it was me.
“Jack!” I screamed, running over to him. His face was even worse close up, all bruised and scarred. I lifted his top to find his chest was badly bruised too.

“Jack.” I whispered, tears running down my cheeks and falling onto him. I started to shake, my hands were uncontrollable. My eyes were sore from crying and my voice ached from screaming. Suddenly my heart began to beat even faster. I ran to the phone and quickly dialled the emergency services. I threw the phone down and went back to him. He hadn’t moved an inch, I wanted him to sit up and tell me everything was okay.

“Jack, please wake up. Just talk to me,” I said quietly, my hands cupping his face. I heard the door being slammed down and a group of people came into the bedroom. I realised they were the ambulance team. They’d told me on the phone they would be at least fifteen minutes, how long had I been sitting here for? I tried to explain everything to them, unable to stop my tears interfering as I watched them communicate quickly to each other and listen to me at the same time.

On our third anniversary, eighteenth of October at 19:08, I was told that Jack was dead. At that moment, I couldn’t breathe properly. My hands began to sweat and I felt myself feel dizzy. I didn’t believe them and ran to the Doctor telling him that he was wrong and that my Jack was going to live forever, with me.

And here I am now, telling my story to the wind as I sit in front of a gravestone that reads ‘Jack Marcelo, the love of my life. Died 18th October 2010, aged 20. You found me, saved me and loved me. I am yours, Forever.’

Jack only had a small funeral, I did try to trace his family, but I couldn’t find anyone. His death had never been explained and neither had the note that was attached to the photo. I pressed my fingers against my lips and laid them on the gravestone.

“Jack, I love you,” I whispered. It had been two months since his death and before today I thought he’d left me with nothing, but I was wrong. I lifted my hand that Jack had held so many times and laid it gently on my stomach. The snow began to fall and I smiled softly at the sky.

* * * *

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It Started With a Kiss 19 - stately homes and book tours!

All this year, I'm keeping a video diary of everything that goes into writing my third novel, It Started With a Kiss, due to be published on 10th November. This week, I take you to another of my favourite places - Himley Hall near Dudley - and talk about book 4 (and 5?!), author advice and book tours!

Thanks so much for your wonderful comments regarding my book trailer! I was so chuffed that you liked it - and the song, too!

So here, finally is the latest episode of my vlog. And I thought I would head out again and show you another one of my favourite places. Himley Hall is the inspiration for Hilford Hall in Welcome to My World - where Erin (a potential Juste Moi date for Alex) works. It's a really gorgeous place and the trees were just starting to turn for Autumn, my favourite time of the year, when I was filming there. Hope you like it!

As ever, please feel free to leave your comments and questions for next week in the comments section below this post. Tell me what you'd like to see next week and I'll try to include it in the next vlog episode!

Enjoy xx

p.s. This week's YouTube-nominated freeze-frame is entitled: 'When I Grow Up I Want To Be... Taller'

Sunday, September 25, 2011

New Rose Prize 2011 - THE WINNER!

Well, the waiting is over. We've read every entry, debated our shortlist and finally found our very first winner of The New Rose Short Story Prize!

It is my great pleasure to announce that the winner of the 2011 New Rose Short Story Prize is:

NAOMI FRISBY with her story Because I Was Too Much

This story was a unanimous choices of the judges because of its fantastic sense of place, great tension, pace and excellent composition. Of all the entries submitted, Because I Was Too Much remained in our minds the longest after we had read it - the proof of a truly special story. Massive congratulations to Naomi, who wins a place on one of Ruth Saberton's writing weekends in beautiful Polperro, signed goodies from me and the title of New Rose Short Story Prize 2011 Winner!

Keep watching this blog for the announcement of our two runners-up and our Special Judges' Mention award on Friday 30th September at 1pm.

And now, here is the winning story:

Because I Was Too Much by Naomi Frisby

Daniel stubs his cigarette out on the wall and drops the tab into the wheelie bin. He puts his key in the lock, turns it and pushes the door open. He steps inside to see his granddad sitting in his armchair, facing the portable TV in the corner. The test match is on. Daniel clears the breakfast pots and rinses them in the sink.

‘What do you fancy for tea?’ he asks. ‘We’ve got bread, beans, beans and bread.’ He pauses for a moment. ‘Beans on toast it is then.’
Daniel takes a lighter out of his pocket, puts it to the hob and then the grill. He grabs a tin of beans and the remains of a loaf of bread from the cupboard. He puts the beans on the heat and the bread under the grill and sits at the table.
The room he’s in serves as the kitchen, dining room and living room. Daniel’s lived there so long he can’t remember anything different and as it’s just him and his granddad it’s not as if they’re going to get in each other’s way.

‘Who’s winning?’ he asks. Granddad continues to stare at the TV.
Daniel turns the toast over and stirs the beans. When the toast’s browned, he puts it on a plate and pours the beans on top. They’re the local supermarket’s own brand.
He wolfs them down. When he’s done, he fills a pint glass with water and drains it in one. He puts the plug in the sink, turns the hot tap on and squirts some washing-up liquid in. He washes both the breakfast dishes and the pots he’s just used, placing them on the side to dry.
When he’s finished, Daniel goes to the front window, moves the net curtain just enough for him to see out and scans the street. Satisfied that there’s no one coming in his direction, he takes a key from the plant pot on the window sill and goes to his room. He kneels on the bedroom carpet and pulls a locked box out from under the bed. Inside it is a copy of Lord of the Flies. Daniel takes it out, lies on his bed and reads. Simon’s just discovered what the beast is. Daniel’s desperate to know what happens next.
Granddad taught Daniel to read when he was a toddler. He used to babysit him while Daniel’s mum was at work. They had been to the library the day she disappeared. While they thought she was at work, she was clearing the house out. Neither of them have seen her since and even if she did turn up she wouldn’t be welcome. They’ve managed just fine without her.

The book belongs to the local library. Granddad goes every week and brings something back for both of them. Daniel’s been working his way through the classics. He thought Of Mice and Men was brilliant and was embarrassed to find he had a lump in his throat at the end. He skived English when he knew they were reading it in class.
A beep from his mobile distracts Daniel from Simon stumbling towards the fire at the feast. Daniel digs into his jeans pocket and checks his phone. He slides off the bed, puts the book securely back in the box and leaves the room.

'I’m off out,’ he shouts through to granddad who is still sat in front of the cricket.
Daniel leaves the bungalow and heads towards the rec in the centre of the village. The village sits in the middle of a valley and the surrounding countryside reminds Daniel of Hardy’s Wessex. Most of the other kids who live there hate the place but he’s one of the few who doesn’t dream of moving to the city. It sounds lonely to him.
As he approaches the rec, Daniel can see Pete sat on the swings, a cigarette hanging from his lips. Daniel sits on the swing next to him and Pete passes him the cig. As they pass it back and forth, Daniel rocks on the swing. He’d like to swing properly, stamping his feet and pushing himself into the air, but Pete will only take the piss or wait until Daniel’s near the top and push him off.

‘Have you bought owt with yer?’ Pete asks.
‘No. Haven’t got owt.’
‘Well I won’t have owt til Thursday. Skint aren’t I?’
Daniel looks at the floor. He pulls a cigarette packet from his back pocket. There’s only one left. He lights it, passes it to Pete and throws the empty packet on the floor. Pete takes a drag, stands up and saunters off, cig dangling from his hand. Daniel doesn’t bother protesting. He’s known Pete since primary school and has seen what happens if you cross him.
Daniel’s not ready to go home yet and anyway, Pete might come back. Daniel decides to wander up the old railway track. There hasn’t been a train on this line since the early 1970s but no one’s bothered to take it up. It’s surrounded by trees and overgrown bushes. He hardly ever sees anyone else down here, it’s the sort of place parents tell their kids to stay away from.
He walks until he finds his tree, the one he’s been visiting since he discovered he was strong enough to climb it. He pulls himself up and onto his branch and sits with his feet dangling over either side, his back resting against the trunk.
It’s twilight and the cover of the leaves makes it dark. He tries to think of nothing but his head floods with thoughts of his granddad sitting there in front of a never-ending stream of television. It’s only been a few days but it won’t be long before someone starts to suspect.
There’s nothing he can do but wait.
He thinks about Simon making his way to the fire at the feast. Will he get there? Will the others believe him?
Daniel hears a noise and takes his lighter out of his pocket. Its yellow glow illuminates the space around him but not well enough for him to see what’s there. He assumes it’s a mouse or a squirrel and lets the light die out. He drops his head back against the trunk of the tree but his concentration’s been broken and he decides it’s time to go home.
He jumps from the branch, landing just short of the railway tracks. He places himself in the centre of the track and follows it back to the rec. When he arrives there he can see the lights flashing. He’s not sure, so he walks as far as the end of his street. From the shadows, he sees the body being carried into the ambulance.
Daniel wonders who realised; the librarian? One of his teachers? A neighbour? It doesn’t really matter, someone would have suspected eventually. He checks his back pocket for the note. It’s where it’s been for the last three days. He makes his way back to the tree, finds the rope hidden in the shrubbery and climbs to his branch.

* * *
Once again, many congratulations to Naomi and all the very best of luck to those waiting for Friday's runners-up and Special Judges' Mention Award*!

*Just to add a little spice of intrigue to Friday's announcement: the winner of the Special Mention Award is not someone on the shortlist!

Friday, September 23, 2011

New Rose Prize 2011 - a judge's view

Well, the waiting is nearly over - who has won the very first New Rose Short Story Prize? The decision has been made, and I'll be announcing the winner and runners-up on MONDAY 26th and FRIDAY 30th SEPTEMBER respectively, together with an extra Judges' Special Mention award that we created after we read the story in question...

While the nail-biting continues for a couple more days, here's what competition judge Jamie Guiney thought about the experience of reading the entries for this year's prize:

I wholeheartedly enjoyed reading and judging each entry for this year’s New Rose Prize. My main prerequisites for deciding the shortlist, were that each piece should not only be well written, but should also tell a great story. After reading through all of the entries, I had some observations and two main things which stood out for me.

I found it astonishing just how many talented, unpublished writers there were. A lot of stories were very well written, but were prevented from making the final shortlist by a flaw in the story itself - for example, some of the tales were unnecessarily long, others fell short of being able to hook me in and keep me there until the end.

The winning story really impressed me. For a piece that was written by an unpublished writer, it just totally blew me away! I will look forward to reading more of their work in the future!

I just want to also say well done to everyone for submitting their work. It’s not easy to send your stories out into the world, an experience that can be extraordinarily daunting for first-time writers. To all of those who were shortlisted, I offer my congratulations. Let this be a pat on your back: you have talent, keep writing, keep learning. To those who didn’t make it this year, some of you were closer than you’ll ever know. But keep on writing, keep on trying. You are all writers, all you need to do now is simply ...practice.

'Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.' Samuel Beckett

'You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success - but only if you persist.' Isaac Asimov

I'd like to say a massive thanks to Jamie for his expert eye and for all the hard work he has put into judging this competition. He put in more hours than anyone else and, to recognise this, we awarded him the title of Head Judge! We had an enormous amount of entries - more than any of us expected - and it was a pleasure and privilege to read all your work.

So, watch out for the big announcement on MONDAY 26th SEPTEMBER at 12 NOON (UK Time) - when I'll publish the winner's story here. The two Runners-Up and the winner of the Judges Special Mention award will be announced on FRIDAY 30th SEPTEMBER and you'll be able to read their entries here, too.

Best of luck to everyone - not long to wait now!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Check out my book trailer!

Well, everyone else has them, so I thought I'd make a book trailer for It Started With a Kiss

I'm filming the next episode of my vlog this weekend, but in the meantime I thought you might like something to get you excited about the book... I've had some early feedback from reviewers who have all loved the book (such a relief!), so I thought I would ramp up the anticipation a bit with my very own book trailer. Let me know what you think!

p.s. The music is Beneath the stars from my album About Time, which I'm hoping to have available to buy on iTunes (and on sale on my website as CDs) very soon!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Writer Spotlight: Sue Watson

On Coffee and Roses I like to bring you news of exciting authors who are either waiting to be published or published and worth checking out.

This week, I'm really excited to welcome the very lovely SUE WATSON into the Coffee and Roses Writer Spotlight...

When did you first decide that you wanted to write? (Was it a Damascus-esque flash or a slow burn?)
It was a very slow burn. When I was nine I had a wonderful English Teacher (Mr Winstanley) who would read out my stories to the class which I found mortifying, but at the same time encouraging. When he made me promise to send him a copy of my first book, the seed was planted. Writing that book has always been on my life’s ‘to do,’ list but I had to go through a career in journalism and TV first... life got in the way.

What interests you as a writer?
The fascinating thing about writing is that you get to know yourself a little more and having written several short stories, I’m currently writing my second novel, planning my third – and themes are merging. I wanted to write a lyrical, beautiful, soulful book that would make readers cry – but I soon realised couldn’t write a completely serious novel if I tried. Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes is essentially a book of humour and heartbreak - I have a strong sense of humour which has always pulled me through difficult times and Stella my heroine is pretty much the same. I also think food and wine (particularly cake consumption - obviously!) can say a lot about a character and create a mood or an event within a narrative.... well, that’s my excuse for eating my own body weight in cake and chocolate while writing.

Do you have a typical writing day? If not, when is the best time to write for you?
Yes I sit at my desk at 9 every morning until 5 every evening and write without stopping. Ha... I wish! I have a tendency to be rather low on self-discipline and it only takes one text or call from a friend, a fascinating item on This Morning or an invite for coffee and I am lost. I abandon my desk to head off for TV, retail/lunch/coffee and other, equally urgent matters. Most mornings I make packed lunches, see everyone off the premises, start my diet, watch Jeremy Kyle, think about writing, drink more coffee ... eat toast...text, tweet, go off my diet .... eat cake....then read someone’s fascinating online blog or tweet for too long while watching daytime TV. By about noon I drag myself from tweeting/online retail/ Heat Magazine and tell myself it was all good research. After a substantial lunch of chunky Kit-Kats I’m ready for work - I am very strict in the afternoons though and always manage to squeeze some writing in between Loose Women and light snacks.

Which authors inspire you and why?
I enjoy all kinds of books but one of my favourites is crime writing. Ian Rankin, Joy Fielding and Sophie Hannah are favourites. I love the way Rankin’s Rebus is such a ‘real’ character and I love the way the minutiae of his life is present in the narrative. His drink of choice, his record collection his likes and dislikes all create a very real and believable person. I am also a great fan of American writer Jen Lancaster too (she’s so hilarious I can even forgive her for being a Republican!) she’s smart, at times darkly funny and writes honestly about - among other things - weight struggles and TV addiction (more themes emerging here?) Jen Lancaster also procrastinates and avoids writing by watching TV... I’m convinced we were separated at birth.

Another inspiring novelist set me on my latest path is Miranda Dickinson. The Terrible Truth About Tanya Travis the novel I’m currently writing, is set partly in Nepal - I love the idea of this magical, mysterious place and was compelled to write about it. Initially I doubted that I could achieve the sights and atmosphere of somewhere I’d never visited. I then recalled a favourite book, Fairytale of New York, which was wonderful – and apparently the author had never been there. This inspired me to go ahead and write the book I wanted to and set it in the place it had to be. One day I will visit Nepal, until then I’ll live there with my characters and enjoy the views of the Himalayas from my kitchen table.

What are the best things about being a writer?
Being able to escape into another life, meeting new and fascinating people, inhabiting another world and having dangerous affairs, all from my kitchen table. Oh and watching Jeremy Kyle every day!

And the worst?
Watching Jeremy Kyle every day and the fact that you can never leave work. Anyone who writes will know you are actually working 24/7 because you can’t abandon your characters and are always looking for stories, settings, perspectives and answers.

Tell me about your new book.
Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes is all about Stella, a forty-something woman on the wrong side of twelve stone, struggling with age, weight, marriage, motherhood, a media career and a nasty boss. These combined ingredients just simmer away until something cataclysmic happens in Stella’s life and she has to consider a different future than the one she’d always envisaged. The book is also about cake – with some of Stella’s favourite recipes included in the book.

Do you have a dream project you would love to write?
I wish I could say I’d like to write a groundbreaking, life-changing feminist tract - but I couldn’t! If I’m honest I would love to write an outrageous Hollywood Hills bestselling bonkbusting blockbuster! I want to dip blingy toes into azure pools of the rich and famous and write about what it feels like to be internationally loved, glamorous and beautiful with men falling at one’s feet. This would of course take place in a white stucco mansion with sweeping staircases, priceless art its own gift wrapping room (darling you’re no-one without a gift-wrapping room in LA!). If readers of Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes want more of Stella – I also have plans for a sequel and something rather fabulous for our heroine – but I don’t want to give anything away so I’m not telling yet.

What would be your top three tips for aspiring writers?
1. Never give up. I abandoned my career with the BBC to write and went through many rejections before discovering Rickshaw, a new publisher who at the time was looking for new writers. We are the perfect fit.
2. Write everything down. Even when life and writing hurts and you can’t take any more - write about it - channel your feelings into words on the page. One day you may use them – or not – but either way you will feel better – I promise.
3. Be ‘out there’. All it takes is one person to spot potential. Send your writing everywhere in any form, publish short stories online, tweet, facebook and blog about yourself and your life – just make sure your work is seen.

Anything else you'd like to say?
Well, firstly thank you for having me. Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes is published on September 8th and it’s like a dream come true but it’s a strange feeling that I can only liken to pregnancy. I’ve waited so long and I’m excited about the new baby, but at the same time I’m very scared!

Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes is out on 8th September and available from online retailers, bookshops and Amazon. You can find out more about Sue at her blog. Many thanks to Sue for braving the Writer Spotlight!

If you would like to be considered for a future Writer Spotlight interview, email me at:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Rose Prize 2011 - The Shortlist!

At the end of July I launched the first ever New Rose Prize for short stories from unpublished writers. Nearly 80 entries were submitted, the judges pored over each one and now I am very proud to announce our shortlist!

First of all, I need to say an enormous thank you to everyone who entered. The standard of entries was very high and ranged from intense emotional pieces to shock fiction, comedy and even a fairytale! It has been a privilege to read your work and I know that the judges have enjoyed every minute of it.

So, without further ado, here is the shortlist for the New Rose Prize 2011...

The Apple by Jo Burnett
In Loco Parentis
by Laura Sandell
Because I was too much
by Naomi Frisby
Books, Scars and Me
by Matthew Laurence
When I Died
by Stacey Matheson
by Heather Gauthier

Massive congratulations to all our shortlisted authors and commiserations to our other entrants. Over the next week, I am going to mention a couple of entries that I liked which didn't make the list and we have also decided to award a Judges Special Mention Award for one entry which all of the judges felt should be recognised. So keep watching for that!

So now Jamie, Ruth and myself will be re-reading the shortlisted stories and deciding who will be our two runners-up and overall winner. We'll announce the result in the next couple of weeks, so keep watching and make sure you're following me on Twitter @wurdsmyth to be the first to hear the news.

Best of British to all of you! xx
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