Writing competition – the Winner

The Next Good Joy That Mary Had

by David Abbott

I mean God being non-binary is old news, no? So much lost in translation. Did you ever see a nativity scene with folks the right colour? As if the only brown yolks were the donkeys. The baby Jesus, the colour of snow and his mammy a natural blond. Joseph looking on like some bearded Shoreditch hipster.

As a child I belonged to a funny old outfit called the Legion of Mary. We were some kind of army ready to fight if she returned to earth. Fearsome we’d have been. All aged about 10 and natural selection having removed us from sports activities on a weekend.

Me at that age an unknowing but obvious homo. Loved to skip. It’s actually a very economical way to travel. Always met with fierce resistance, mind. My mam let me cut bluebells from the garden, soak them in loo roll and take them up to the convent to adorn the Virgin.

So, this one day and I’m off to join The Legion and doesn’t Sister Mary Evangelista of the Holy Roses stop me at the door and ask me to nip down to the church and get the statue of the big Lady and bring it to the convent for our meet.

Talk about give me joy in my heart keep me burning! Flushed with the obvious leadership status this affords me among the ranks I race at speed to the church of the Sacred Heart of the Immaculate Jubilation.

Spotting Mary Marilyn of Monroe in the corner I am suddenly afeared that she is almost as tall as I am. Undaunted I pick her up and sure she’s made of something terrible light and no bother to carry. It feels wrong to put her under my arm, so I hold her upright and steady against my chest and head off back to Convent HQ.

It’s been a beautiful frosty morning and I’m careful enough not to skip but truth be told I can’t properly see my way as Mary’s big veil is in my eye-line and I don’t see the patch of ice on the pavement. I go down in slow motion, but the feels come at me faster than a bullet. If a single bit of her comes to harm, I’ll be hell bound before you can say a decade of the bountiful mysteries.

In my falling I cling on to her so tight. I make sure that every bit of my body hits the pavement and not one bit of hers does. I hear the tinny thud of impact and rejoice that it is me and not her.

I sit for a few moments on the ground. Mary stood next to me. Traffic going by and no-one pays any heed. Nor does Sr Mary Eva of the Angelic Fashionistas when I knock on the convent door, blood in my hair.

Sacred Blood, I decide.

Blood of Honour.

Blood of The Cross.

Blood of The Legion.

David Abbott lives high up on a hill in Wales with his boyfriend and a rescue dog called Roxy. He is a very occasional writer of fiction.

David Abbott

Writing competition – the Runner-up


by Dudley Martin

It’s a creature. The thought seems to lie in wait for the sound. I can’t tell if it’s hunger or curiosity which freezes me. The noise comes again from the reedbed, in a slightly different place; a spoor of crumpling, fracturing. Something moving.

First rule of listening: stop. Now scan, locate. A fox does this, can swivel its ears through half-circles. Is it reynard in the swamp, tempted by ice-bound waterfowl? I look for a viewpoint, a gap between blackthorns. But you cannot see far into reeds before the eye falters. A bittern understands, stretches a vertical neck, hides itself in slender rushwork.

Unusual here, so near the coast; ice. Golden sunshine falls on ivy by the track, blue flies bask. It might be Summer, but for a damp tunic. It is ivy Summer. Contrary as the back of the moon, ivy wears her garland of blackjacks; which the redwing gathers with its needle, the fieldfare with pruning shears.

Farther away now, the movement. Twitches and waggles of reed seedheads. Bleached and wispy, they hold their own frozen light, give body to the wind. I think about deer, have seen roe not far from here. Might one have strayed into the reeds and got into difficulty? I hope for a flashing white rump, a roe hind jumping clear. There is no deer.

What if it isn’t mammals at all, or birds, but fish? Maybe pike have woken to see winter midges settle on the surface of the ice; black stars in a white firmament? Pike stirring, rousing their great hulls to smash through ice. No. Midges are small meat. Pike will be lying deep and still, silent as boatwrecks.

Staring low into the edges of the swamp. Oily, rusty water skinned with white wafer-ice. Evidently the flood has receded and the surface frozen several times, because the ice is layered like thin-breads. Leaves of ice clasping stems in Runic shapes. A feather breeze shivers the reeds. A volley of shattering slingshot-falls, yet no shot was flung. Imagine a Winter feast, the revellers all eating crackling.

A chorus of squeals. I clutch my bowstring, crouch lower, but it is not boar. I’m losing sense of their spoor, beginning to forget their sound. Water rails are calling deep in the reedswamp. Sharmers. They squeeze between reeds like shuttles through the warp. I’ve seen very few in all these years. They know who the creature is.

Dudley Martin is 53 and lives in Worcester with his partner and daughter. On Twitter you may find him @ivysuckle, where he tweets about garden wildlife and and close encounters with nature. One of his true loves is the natural world and it is in the wonder of nature that he finds the inspiration to write.

Dudley Martin

Writing plans for 2022

During the last three months of 2021 I focussed on writing my circus novel, and thanks to enormous help and support in Nancy Stohlman’s Flash Novel Mastermind course, I completed a full first draft before Christmas. Its working title is Thistles in the Cirrus, which is clown-speak for Things in the Circus.

My number one priority for 2022 is to do a comprehensive edit of the circus novel and move it forward from there.

At the same time I have started submitting shorter work to journals and competitions. I will be writing new work, and I also have a fair number of flashes and short stories sitting in my ‘unpublished’ file which I will be sending out.

Once the circus novel is at the next stage and I have sent it to first readers, I will be turning to another work in progress. More about that when the time comes.

In the meantime I will be posting news and thoughts about things writerly here at least once a month, and in February I will run another competition, so look out for that.

Happy writing and reading, and do share your writing plans for the year ahead.

Deri dewpond – photo copyright Cath Barton

Catching up

I’m still here.

I’ve been writing, and I’ve completed the draft of a sequel/prequel (what do you call that – a sprequel , maybe?) to In the Sweep of the Bay. It’s currently with beta readers.

Bay has been doing well, I’m pleased to say, and was shortlisted for Best Novella in the Saboteur Awards2021 It’s still available to buy from my lovely publisher, Louise Walters Books or from your local bookshop. Several book groups have chosen to read it and Louise offers a deal on purchases for book groups.

I’m working on another novella-length story – one I started last year and put aside. It’s currently rather baggy and has some significant holes in it. Like an old jumper, but not comfortable like that! I’m hoping to pull it into shape very soon.

Meanwhile I’ve had minor successes – some flashes published, a few longlistings and shortlistings, and one win! I’ll be updating my Stories page with these very shortly.

I’ve also been reviewing for Lunate – reading critically is, I think, an important skill for writers to develop.

So, on this Midsummer’s Day I give you roses from our garden, and wish you sunnier times.

Never too many roses, photo copyright Cath Barton

New Year’s Wishes: a story for our times

It took me a bit of fumbling to get the locker door open; I never can see well without my specs. But I seemed to have got the wrong locker. No clothes, and something else in there. Something yellow. Something squeaking.

‘What the–?’

More squeaking. High-pitched. ‘I’m your fairy duckling.’

I stepped back, rubbed my eyes. ‘Okay, so I suppose I get three wishes.’

‘Correct. Three wishes for the New Year. How did you guess?’

‘Cut the wisecracks. Where are my bloody clothes?’

‘Your wish is granted. Look on the bench.’

I whirled round, holding onto my towel as a girl walked past me. ‘Nice duckling,’ she said. I scowled at her. On the bench was a pile of clothes, covered in dried blood.

The duckling had jumped down from the locker and waddled across the changing room.

‘Okay, Mr Cute,’ I said. ‘I don’t know how you’re doing this, or who’s behind it, but it’s not funny. I need decent, dry clothes.’

‘Your wish is my command,’ squeaked the creature. It waved a little wand with one of its wings.

Now there was another pile of clothes on the bench.

‘These are women’s clothes,’ I said, picking up a pink skirt.

‘Yes, and they’re mine,’ said the girl who’d walked past before. ‘Get your hands off them. Why are you talking to yourself, anyway?’

‘I, I–’ I stuttered. ‘I’m not talking to myself,’ I said, firmly now. ‘I’m talking to the duckling. Where’s it gone? You saw it.’

‘Why don’t you sit down,’ she said, patting my hand. ‘I could fetch you a glass of water.’

‘Now you get off. And I don’t want to sit down.’ I was beginning to feel hysterical. ‘I want to get out of here.’

Which was how I found myself out on the street on an icy December day with only a towel round me, explaining to a police constable that no, this was not a New Year’s Eve prank and no, I did not need to be escorted anywhere, thank you and yes, I would go quietly.

I could have done better with my wishes. Much better. We’re in lockdown now. Gyms and swimming pools are closed. Pubs too. Just as well, my wife says, after the incident with the so-say duckling last New Year’s Eve.

I’ve just looked out of the window. There’s a yellow duckling on the path. Waving a magic wand. I’m drawing the curtains before it sees me. Time to pour a drink.

Cheers! And a Happy New Year!

Cath Barton

Image by Chris Franklin from Pixabay