Competition Results

Short Story ’23 Winners

Read Winning Stories – CLICK HERE

Organiser’s Report

2023 was another bumper year for the Southport Writers’ Circle short story competition. We received almost 200 entries, the vast majority of which were digital, from across the globe. Stories were submitted from exotic locations such as Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and (it says here) Barnoldswick. Again, we have been let down by Antarctica, from where we had no stories entered. Perhaps, one day, a carrier penguin will make it from the frozen South to Sunny Southport.

Everyone who entered should be proud of themselves, it takes a great deal of bravery to put creative endeavours under the scrutiny of judges. Many excellent stories could not find their way past our initial sifters: on another day, they would have found some success. Do not be disheartened, do not give up, there are other competitions, indeed other years and your work may yet be recognised.

There were a couple of entrants whose failed to follow the rules, and whose entries had to be excluded from the contest. A couple more failed to put sufficient postage on their envelopes, and only the Royal Mail are enjoying those stories. At least the winners we can share with you able to read the rules correctly.

I would like to extend an especial thanks to the members of the Circle who were volunteered to read the entries and select the best to go forward to our Chief Judge. Their diligence and dedication is to be commended. I hope that their therapy sessions will minimise the PTSD somewhat.

Our Chief Judge for 2023 was John Maguire, an actor, writer, director and tour guide – quite the man of many faces, really. His play “Kitty: Queen of the Washhouse” has been performed all over the country, and celebrates Catherine Wilkinson who improved public health in the Liverpool of the 1830’s. There is a statue in her honour in St. George’s Hall, where the play has been staged. He is also a great teller of tales, his “Liver Bird Safari” providing an excellent history of Liverpool’s famous avians and highlighting places – some unexpected – where they can be found.

Message from Pamela Gough, writer of the winning story
“Good evening, everyone. I would like to thank Southport Writers’ Circle for organising this competition and the awards evening – I know that a lot of work goes into making these things a success.  Many thanks to the readers, and especially the chief judge John Maguire, for selecting my story from all the entries. It is heartwarming to think that my writing has resonated with others.  Once again – thank you””Good evening, everyone. I would like to thank Southport Writers’ Circle for organising this competition and the awards evening – I know that a lot of work goes into making these things a success.  Many thanks to the readers, and especially the chief judge John Maguire, for selecting my story from all the entries. It is heartwarming to think that my writing has resonated with others.  Once again – thank you”

1st

A Good Kid?

Pamela Gough

2nd

The Right Prescription

Sue Hoffman

3rd

Heterochromia

Sue Hoffman

Commended

The Swimmer and the Queen by Natasha Derczynski

The Farmer’s Wife and Her Dimpled Thighs by Genevieve Flintham

Short Story ’23 Winners Read More »

Poetry ’23 Results

Judge’s Report – Cynthia Kitchen

Thank you for inviting me to judge your present poetry competition and I was very happy
to do so. It reminded me that I had been an adjudicator for Southport Poetry Competition in
2006 which seems a mighty long time ago.
It is always an honour and quite humbling that people are willing to expose so much of their
inner selves to a stranger, but for me, honoured and excited to see what lies within
a shortlist.
After an initial read I slowed to absorb words and phrases that took poems beyond the
surface and how effective this was in each case.I was looking for originality in ideas,
language, structure, use of metaphor, imagination, a poem that opens the mind or changes
how we see things, a poem prepared to take risks. Peggy Poole, the well known North West
poet said –
“I know a poem when I see it,”
and I feel at the least, a competition piece should be enough of a real poem to affect the
mind, spirit and heart of the reader.
There were many poems dealing with loss and sadness but there was uplift also. Some
poems had a structure that didn’t quite work or needed a definite form, an awkward line or
uneven rhythm and a poem should always be well presented on the page. Finally they were
read out loud which acts as a litmus test, the importance of how the words sound in
harmony.
There were poems that nearly made the final sifting and it came down to their various
strengths and how they moved me, so many did.
Thank you to all who entered.

No 1  EACH MORNING NOTE

Gareth Culshaw

was drawn into this poem from first reading by the deceptive but beautiful language.
Each reading intrigued me more with its many layers. The blackbird/ morning imagery
made it mysterious and breathtaking:
“ a morning that pours out of a blackbird.”
“ I keep walking into the blackbird’s song.”
A journey of the spiritual, the actual and with strong emotional layering it felt like
love and death combined. I particularly liked how the last three lines didn’t try to explain
but if anything, added to the intrigue. A wonderful achievement.

No2  Water Muscles

Denise Bennet

This is a heartwarming poem with a modern yet timeless theme and an effective blend of
metaphor and literal interleaved. The water muscle/ resilience idea works well and is
very moving.The satisfying last stanza feels exactly right. I loved the warmth and caring
here.

No3.  Night Bus

Doreen Hinchliffe

The poem invites us on a journey, cocoons us in the fug of the bus and draws the gaze out
from present to past and back again. There is evocative language :
“ the disused cinema is longing for the usherette’s torch,”
“a haze of breath hovers”
creating a sense of the real and surreal throughout. A use of sibilants adds to this.

HC. Industry and Genius

Patricia Leighton

A worthy poem with outstandingly strong lineation beautifully presented.

C     WANING

HAZEL TEARE

A strongly written poem with a clear message about climate change and a clever use
of language/ metaphor.

C.   The Girl Who Shares My Name

Doreen Hinchliffe

This poem drew me back to it many times and had an unsettling narrative and intriguing
build throughout to its climax.It uses good descriptive language, a strong sense of mystery.
and felt chilling in parts.

H.    ANOTHER ANCIENT MARINER

Alec Taylor

The Humour Prize is a Villenelle which concerned the great moment of meeting our
heroes or hero and spending time in their company, in this case our local poet Roger
McGough. What was impressive was the rhyming coupled with sustaining the humour
and managing to find full rhymes for “celebration “ throughout. Well done!

Poetry ’23 Results Read More »

Joan Nicolson Award 2023 Results!

It has been a while since March, but we finally have the results for the Joan Nicolson Award 2023! Well done to everyone who took part and thank you to Hayley Doyle for her words of encouragement and motivation. You can find more information about Hayley’s own novels here.

Our top three writers were: Phil Fenerty, Alan Williams and Chris Carr. Hayley was really impressed with the emotive use of language, humour and descriptive techniques to pull off pieces that certainly show rather than tell. The dialogue in each was intriguing and the concept of time travel was interpreted in many different ways. All three writers have kindly given their permission for their entries to be shared.

Phil Fenerty was the overall winner and gleefully gets to keep the Joan Nicolson cup, which he has polished especially! You can read his entry below:

The Man From Nowhere

“The doctor says that you can talk to him now,” said the nurse. “But you can only have ten minutes.
He’s still very weak.”


“Thank you, nurse…” Detective Inspector Bailey paused and looked at her badge. “Amy? Amy what? None of these badges have surnames on them.”

“Ah, we took surnames off as a security precaution. It’s to stop infatuated patients trying to find out where we live and wait outside the front door.” Amy smiled at the police officer. “You be surprised how many people mistake healthcare for something else.”

“So how would an infatuated policeman go about getting your phone number?” Bailey asked.

“You ask my boyfriend,” Amy said, and opened the door for him.

The patient was propped up on pillows, the back of the bed raised. He had tousled blond hair which fell across his grey eyes, and two-day old stubble over a square chin. Under the hospital-issue pyjamas, Bailey made out a lean, muscular physique.

“Are you here to investigate me?” said the patient, his voice accentless.

“I’d like to find out more about you, yes,” said Bailey. “Whilst you were in a coma, we took fingerprints, DNA samples and dental records. We circulated your photograph. You’re not on a driving licence or passport. None of our searches gave positive information. ”

“It wouldn’t. I haven’t been born yet.”

“What? No! You must have been born, you haven’t sprung out of nowhere.”

The patient looked annoyed at Bailey’s reaction. “Well, yes, I was born. But not in your time. I came from the future.”

“You can’t be serious. Time travel isn’t possible.”

“It’s not possible with your technology, but in my era, yes. What did the doctor say about my chances of recovery?”

The detective checked his notebook. “She said it was the worst brain injury she’d seen, and you had a 95% chance of never coming out of your coma.”

“And here I am, two weeks later, talking to you as if nothing had happened. Superior tissue function means extended lifespan and reduced mortality from serious injury.”

“It just means that you got lucky, you’re in the 5% who make a recovery.” The patient’s smile was that of a teacher to a child who has just added two and two and made five.

“Think that if you like, Mr Policeman, but it’s not the truth. I’m the product of an advanced medical society, from the future, who’s travelled to the twenty-first century to carry out historical research.”

“What’s your name?” asked Bailey. “We can check that against all kinds of records, here and abroad, to find out your identity.”

“We don’t really have names any more: my designation is 6456386, though my friends call me Sharn.”

The detective wrote down the number and the name. The patient gave him a benign smile. “You won’t find me with those details, you know.”

“Right now, it’s all I’ve got to work with. If you are persisting with this time traveller line, where’s your time machine?”

“Hidden away, but it’s broken. Once I get out of hospital, I’ll leave a message which can be picked up by my people, they can come and get me.”

“Convenient.”

“We have a system. We try not to leave researchers littering up the past if we can help it.”

Bailey looked up from his notebook. “Convince me you’re a time traveller.”

“My miraculous recovery wasn’t enough. Well, then, what would you have me do. Change the past? Tell you something that will happen in the future?”

“Can you change the past?”

The patient gave him a smile: Bailey wanted to record it as a “shit-eating grin,” but that would not have been appropriate in an official police document. “I can’t have Germany win World War Two, for example, but little things… well, they can be adjusted, shall we say. It’s partly what I’m researching, so it will be useful for my report.”

Bailey nodded his head towards the main ward. “Can you arrange it for me to go out with Nurse Amy? The red-headed one out there.”

“You want to use me as a time-travelling dating agency?” The patient shrugged. “I suppose it can’t hurt. Consider it fixed. I’ll make the arrangements once I get out of here.”

The policeman fixed him with a cool stare.

“What?” said the patient. “You don’t think that will be quick enough?”

“We’ll see,” said Bailey, and looked again at his notebook. “Did you get a look at the driver of the car that hit you?”

“No,” said the patient, “but I know who it was. It was an older version of me, trying to stop my researches in their tracks. Now I’ve survived, I won’t be able to try again. I know I don’t die, so trying to kill myself is impossible.”

“You’re not making any sense,” said Bailey.

“Maybe it was a fever dream from my coma,” said the patient, giving that same obnoxious grin.

“What about superior future technology healing your brain?”

“Perhaps some of it isn’t better after all,” replied the patient. “Perhaps you should come back tomorrow, when it’s healed some more and I might have prepared answers you can believe in.”

“Very well. This isn’t over, I’m determined to get to the bottom of this.” Bailey put away his notebook and pen, bade the patient goodbye and reminded him he’d be back the next day. He left the private room, wondering what he was going to put into his report. As he passed the nurses’ desk, Amy waved him over. “It’s OK,” he said, “I’ve left him hale and hearty.”

She pressed a piece of paper into his hand. “It’s my number. Call me sometime,” Amy said. “I don’t know why I said I had a boyfriend, I dumped him a fortnight ago. It’ll be fun to have a date with someone new.”

Bailey left the ward, humming the chorus to “Just Like A Pill.”

Alan Williams is up next with:

A Remote Possibility

“The telly’s gone funny, Danny. I didn’t do anything. It’s just stuck.”

Dan Seagrove usually called to his mother’s home before going to work, simply to check everything was well with her. Joyce, was in her early seventies and relied on him for many of the jobs that her late husband, Carl, used to do so competently. Remotes and computer thingies were fine … until they did something unexpected..

“You probably pressed the wrong button again, Mum. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t bought you that special remote. There’s too many coloured buttons. You’re spoilt for choice.”

“That’s funny, Danny. ‘Spoilt-for-choice’ Joyce. You’re so clever.”

“Show me what you did. And I wish you’d call me Dan. Danny is so … childish.”

Joyce explained the sequence of buttons that she had pressed.

“I was watching the news about that Harold Atom Smasher thingie in Switzerland. They showed it being activated after them modifications. See there it is still showing the same thing.; some big-wig throwing the switch.”

“Mum. You pressed the pale blue button. I’ve told you- it’s ‘pale green for screen’.”

“I thought it’s’ pale blue for view’. What are you looking like that for? You’ve gone all pale yourself.”

“The TV. It shouldn’t be doing that, no matter which button you pressed. It’s frozen.” Dan looked around the room. Nothing was moving except for the two of them. Two flies were suspended in mid-air, the curtains that were blowing in the easterly breeze were now still but billowing like some weird sculpture.

Puzzled he dashed to the window and stared at a swoop of swallows, stationary in the sky. Their chirps had ceased. Moreover, their wings weren’t moving and neither were they.

“What’s the matter, son? You look as sick as a dead chicken.”

“It’s stopped, Mum … it’s all stopped.” Across the street the Russell toddler was kicking a ball watched by her vigilant father. The ball hung in the air.

“Maybe there’s something on the telly … oh, I forgot. It’s not working.”

“Mum. What did you say you were watching?”

“That atomic switch on. You know. It was boring so I was turning it over to Lorraine. She’s so nice. Don’t you think … Are you listening to me, Danny?”

“They were turning on the Hadron Collider and you were pressing the pale blue button on your remote at the same time …?” Dan’s mind was jumping to conclusions now but suddenly it was beginning to make sense. The remote that he purchased on E-Bay, that was from Switzerland. He thought it was strange at the time.

“Mum. I think something has happened all around us, maybe all around the world. I think you stopped time.”

Joyce stared at her son until her eyes began to fill with tears.

“You … you mean it’s my fault? You mean … I broke time?”

Dan hugged his mother, comforting her until the sobbing subsided.

Finally, she pulled back from him, wiping her eyes with the checked apron she always wore. “But you can fix it, can’t you, Dan. You’re clever.”

“Mum. Sticky tape or a new screw isn’t going to help us. Let me think. Make us both a nice cup of tea, will you?”

“Are you sure? You’ll be late for work …  Oh yes. Time’s all busted. I guess that you have a few minutes for a cuppa. Under the circumstances, I’ll use the extra strong tea bags.”

Dan tried to ring Amanda, his wife and their children.

“There’s no dial tone, Mum. I can’t lose them, too. Not after Dad passed.” Outside the swallows, like the morning sun, remained poised in the same position in the skies above. Pressing the buttons on the mysterious remote did nothing and his mother hovering over him didn’t help. Maybe there was a special sequence of buttons to press to unlock the timeless prison they were in. And why were his mother and he spared from this trap?

There were twelve coloured buttons. He considered the choices available. Even if the sequence was only three buttons in the correct order the permutations were enormous. Four buttons? No chance of guessing it.

He gazed up at his mother. “Mum. I can’t do it. There has to be a way of unlocking the remote. I don’t know how to, though. Looks like we’re stuck in Nowhen forever because time isn’t travelling along like it should. I’m so sorry.”

Joyce felt responsible for breaking time. If only she hadn’t pressed the pale blue button. She thought back to Danny’s childhood and all those battery-operated toys he and his Dad played with. What would Carl have done if a remote didn’t work? Then she remembered.

“Son. Have you tried wiggling the batteries around? That’s what …”

“Dad would say. Of course. Or I could even remove them. That’d turn it off properly. How stupid of me.”

Wiggling then pulling the two batteries out didn’t work but the moment he pushed them back into place, everything came alive again.

“You did it, son.”

“We did it, Mum. We repaired time. Now. Promise never to touch the pale blue button again.”

“Righto, Danny … sorry Dan.” After he left, Joyce made another cuppa. She stared at the remote. All right. She’d promised not to touch one button – the one that stopped time. But there were other choices, other things this strange gadget might do. And if it went wrong again, she knew how to fix it. Let’s see. Pink was her favourite colour …

Last but not least, we have an entry from Chris Carr:

Forget me Not

“Closure. I see.”

“Just, something, I just can’t live any more like… this. It’s everything, every day, all around me. She’s gone and it’s my fault.”

“How long has it been?”

“Almost ten years now. She was everything. Is. To me. Everything.”

“I have to tell you, with hypnotic regression therapy. There are risks once you’re under.”

“There can’t be any risk greater than anything I’ve already tried. I can’t go on. There’s no point in living like this. I’ve done everything. Even got rid of everything in the house that reminds me, pictures, clothes, everything. She could be anywhere. I’ll never see her again and I pushed her away. Please, just, please.”

“Okay. Right, it’s okay. If you’re sure. We can schedule a session.”

*

Blake watches Emma as she lies on the couch across from him, her eyes closed, face plump and slack. The corners of his lips curl a little.

“You’re feeling very relaxed. Two. You’re completely relaxed, calm, and, One.”

He listens to her breathe. Unbuttons his collar.

“Emma. Can you hear me?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Take me to the day Isabella left. When you first saw her that day. Where are we?”

Blake sits back in his armchair.

“We’re in the hall of my house. It’s midday. I’m walking through to the kitchen to wash my hands. I see her walk up through the frosted glass of the back kitchen door. She comes in wearing a baggy jumper. It’s not hers. I tell her she’s mad. It’s June. She just walks past me.”

“Okay, so she’s just gone, disappeared. Did she say anything or have you forgotten? It’s hot outside.”

Emma’s head shakes.

“That’s what I tell her. It’s too hot for a jumper. I walk through to the living room. She’s standing facing the TV. She just turns round. She says ‘Mum I’m pregnant’.”

Emma’s fingers close and curl. The skin on her knuckle pales. Blake nods to himself.

“Let’s forget her there, and, let’s go to another time. Earlier. When Isabella was born. What can you see? Where are we?”

Emma’s eyelids flicker.

“I’m scared. Mum and dad aren’t here. They’re not here. Simon’s gone. I’m scared. The midwives are all around me sweating and shouting. The hospital is noisy and hot.”

“Do they congratulate you when she’s born? Is this a happy time?”

“She takes one breath and no more. When she arrives. She breathes in then doesn’t scream or anything. I’m scared. The midwife takes her outside into a corridor. I watch the midwife run up and down with her through the frosted glass of the windows.”

Blake looks around his darkened office. His eyes wonder to the ceiling tiles.

“Okay, now, let’s go again to the day that you last saw her. We’re in your living room. You’ve found out Isabella is pregnant. We’re in the room. What happens?”

Emma’s breath quickens.

“I tell her she’s stupid. I pull the jumper off her. I tell her she’s irresponsible, stupid, selfish. I ask her how far along she is and tell her to get rid of the baby. Isabella’s crying, she’s screaming at me and telling me no, no and to stop it. She pushes me away and I grab her wrists and slap her and ask who the dad is. She’s crying. Screaming why am I like this. I’m still shouting and telling her it’s harder than she can ever know on your own. She’s too young. She can’t do it. She’s not strong enough. She gets up and runs upstairs and a few minutes later I hear the back kitchen door slam. I think she’s gone to a friend’s, the boyfriend’s, but she’s gone. Gone.”

“Okay, and how old is she?”

“Seventeen.”

“So let’s go back to the hospital seventeen years earlier. She’s not breathing. The midwife in the corridor. Behind the frosted glass windows. We’re there. You’re scared. We see her try to get Isabella to breathe, running and doing all she can. We hear her encouraging coos. She tries for minutes. We’re there in that room. Emma, minutes go by before the running slows. Eventually the midwife comes in with tears in her eyes.”

Droplets fall from the corners of Emma’s tightly closed eyelids as though gyres rage behind them. Her head spasms and her jaw clamps as if set in stone. She breathes in fits.

“Emma? Can you hear me?”

Her face emits a drawn, muted moan.

Blake straightens in his chair. His eyes are focussed on Emma.

“Emma I’m going to count backwards from Ten, to One, and when I reach One you will wake up. The truth to you will be that your daughter is dead. You have been nobody’s mother. Ten.”

Emma’s head is shaking in wild bursts of violence. The skin on her throat is taut and flushed.

“Nine. Eight.”

Hoarse strains seep through her gritted teeth and pass her quivering lips.

“Seven. Six. Five.”

Her head stills. Her mouth opens.

“Four. Three. Two.”

She breathes deeply.

“One.”

*

Emma’s walking from her living room. She’s thinking it’s too early for door-to-door sales people or charities and that anyway they don’t work on the weekend. She walks down the corridor and sees the figure of someone waiting beyond the frosted glass of the window in her front door. When she opens the door there is a woman and a young boy stood outside.

“Mum, mum wait. Please, wait.”

She hesitates and smiles.

“Mum? Sorry. Not me.”

Joan Nicolson Award 2023 Results! Read More »

Southport Writers' Circle