The 2021 finalists are here..

Big congratulations to these three writers, the finalists in my 2021 Page 100 competition. It wasn't easy to pick three from my short list of six, but after a lot of deliberation, here they are:

WINNER: Sextet by Electra Rhodes

 

RUNNERS-UP: Ormaig by Andy Maclean and The Last Line by Stephen Pidgeon

The winning page 100s are below, with a few words from me to say what I enjoyed about them.

I hope you enjoy them too. 

Sextet by Electra Rhodes

We sat in the small café attached to the bookshop and compared purchases.

 

We were all surprised when it turned out they had both bought the same book. I kicked myself for always having a type.

 

xiii.

On the way home I could tell Tom thought something was up. He didn’t mention Val at all. And I had to stop myself. I’d heard someone in a radio play call it ‘mentionitis’. I caught myself doing it several times, each of them innocent in themself but all together revealing. Too revealing.

 

Odd, isn’t it? When you can check yourself, but only up to a point. You expose yourself in all kinds of other small ways. Humming a tune about a forbidden romance. Watching a film because of the lead actor’s hair, flopping around like an eager spaniel. Ordering a special coffee because he suggested it that one time.

 

I tried to stop myself. I tried.

 

xiv.

 

I’m not sure that’s true.

I loved this one from the first reading. It drew me right in: the construction is intriguing, and it left me wanting to know what had got these characters to this point, and where they would go next. I love the details: the lead actor's hair, "mentionitis"... I also love Electra's sparse and spare style; the overall originality of this page won me over. I am so looking forward to working on the whole project! 

 

Electra wins book tokens, some LWB books of her choice, and a manuscript assessment of her novel. 

Ormaig by Andy Maclean

Do you knock on the door? Car was clean, new. Mainland sticker. Maybe a hire. Iain tried the door. Open. Knock as you enter. He realised Phil had held back. He went back out of the lean-to porch and saw him staring down the fields and moorland and the sea beyond.

      "We need to go in, Phil. You need to get out of that disgusting coat."

      Phil turned, shrugged, looked to his right, came back.

      "This coat saved me."

      Phil went ahead, through the porch and the back door. No one in the kitchen. Iain guided himself past Phil and went to the main room door. There was talk in there, a radio playing and live voices. She was there standing, like she was waiting for him. On the couch was a bald dome, white hair. He stood. Before he even spoke Iain could see he was American. He'd seen enough in the hotel. Something in the jeans, the knitwear, the face. If Iain was lucky this wasn't Burkes but his luck was out.

      "Iain, you better get in here. I thought we'd missed you."

      "Phil's in the kitchen. He's kind of dead. He needs that fire."

      "Has he said anything?"

      "He didn't have to say he was wet, cold and moving in on exposure."

I loved this one too from the first reading. It's so stylish... Andy is a great writer and I sincerely hope he will find a publishing home for his wonderful work. There is a raw, almost cold, quality to this, and a stream-of-consciousness feel... and I wasn't expecting the word "knitwear"! I picked this as a runner-up largely due to the sophisticated, unpredictable style. Brilliant work, Andy!

 

Andy wins book tokens and some LWB books. 

The Last Line by Stephen Pidgeon

An argument broke out between a prospective host, Mrs. Burton, and one of the evacuation coordinators, Miss White I presumed - she looked the spitting image of Billy White who I’d signed up with a lifetime ago. Mrs. Burton, who was known throughout the town for getting the best price on anything she turned her eye to, wanted the last girl. Miss White bravely informed her the girl had to be kept with her brother. They came as a matching set. Mrs. Burton, who hadn’t come out to get two, grabbed the girl and tried to pull her out of the line. The girl was clutching her brother and sobbing, while Mrs. Burton told Miss White she should be ashamed of herself for letting the children dictate terms to her. Miss White, showing more spine than I’d expected, kept a smile on her face, and insisted that the offer on the table was two or none. Mrs. Burton left with the pair, but I didn’t fancy the boy’s chances of getting much of a decent berth.

            Once the girls were taken, the strong boys were the next to go. I saw Mr. and Mrs. Shepherd, both in their seventies, who struggled to get by with a rather lackluster twenty acres and an even more lackluster daughter and son-in-law, make a beeline for two strapping lads who looked like they could pull a plough without breaking a sweat. I heard them telling the boys there’d be as much rabbit and eggs as they could eat – neglecting to mention that the boys would have to supply said rabbit and eggs by means not strictly legal. Everyone in the transaction seemed happy, so who was I to judge.

            That left me and Mum, standing with our properly completed forms, eyeing a pasty-faced boy of about ten. Grey shorts, grey shirt, everything threadbare. His neck was livid with what looked like a nasty parasite. His pale face was a mask, eyes betraying nothing. Miss White watched us hopefully, and I nodded to her, prompting an audible sigh of relief on her part.

            The transaction was completed. We had what we’d come for, after a fashion, and the young school-teachers had done their job of placing the hopes and dreams of England’s future with generous and kindly hosts. At least, that’s what the newsreels would say, making the evacuation scheme sound like the best thing that could happen to these lucky young children, all of whom would end up rosy cheeked from the pure country air, the good life on the farm, and the exposure to all kinds of other benefits that rural life would bestow on them.

            The boy’s name was Frankie, or so the luggage label tied to his wrist said.

I loved this one too from the first reading. It's a great example of a great page of fiction. Characterisation in abundance, through small details. I was particularly taken with "Miss White, showing more spine than I’d expected..." Such a telling detail about both Miss White and the narrator. Economical writing, making each word count. This is a fabulous page, easy to visualise, and very readable. Great work, Stephen. 

 

Stephen wins book tokens and some LWB books. 

 

And below, please find the three page 100s that were also on my short list of six. As you can see, it was a tough decision to pick out the winners. 

Invincible Jacarandas by Zahirra Dayal

Maryam’s eyes scanned Zaynah’s bare legs. The girl should be covering her legs by now. She was already 14. Maryam had bought expensive fabric and gone to the tailor downtown to  sew shalwar kameezes for both her granddaughters. They never wore them! Of course their mother couldn’t be trusted to teach them to dress modestly. Look how Ella herself dressed - short sleeves, men’s trousers, even jeans! It was important for a girl to cover when they reached a certain age. Men were men! They had dirty eyes. Even the ones that lived in the same house. She brushed away the cold thought that followed…of her own brothers-in-law, when she’d first got married…that was the reason the sexes were strictly segregated in Islam. Women always had to compensate for the weaknesses in men.

        Maryam stood by the front door waving. Zaynah had gone and she was alone again. Maryam called Any to close all the curtains. The house felt colder; she wrapped her black shawl with the orange embroidered flowers around her body and searched in her bedside drawers for her silver bajar tin. Rasheeda scolded her for the brown powder she rubbed on her gums – but it was an old habit. She didn’t want to give it up. Over the years, all her anger had settled in her teeth from the clenching and grinding. The bajar numbed the pain, but it also mutated her teeth into weak brown stubs.

        Maryam smiled when she remembered a much younger version of Zaynah, unscrewing the lid of her bajar tin and burying her little nose in the powder to induce a sneeze.  Zaynah did that every time Maryam asked her to fetch her bajar tin for her. Maryam knew that her granddaughter walked slowly down the passage to give her enough time to get as many sneezes. She didn’t say anything to the child, not wanting to spoil her fun and discovery of the world. Her job was to make sure her granddaughters’ lives were happier than hers had been. She wanted them to be educated and get jobs like men did. She hadn’t even finished primary school: her parents saved the money for her brothers. It never occurred to her that she could refuse Raheem’s marriage proposal, so little she knew about her rights in Islam!

A Thousand Grains by Sarah Hegarty

‘Not all of us. You’d be surprised,’ Lee says.

     ‘You mean the men at Nina’s? They’re liars too.’ Anger wells up in me. ‘I tried to talk to them, but they just repeated slogans off the TV. They didn’t want to tell me the truth.’

     ‘Whose truth, Anna? Women’s? Because you have the power?’

     ‘You have your own power – bearing a child.’

     He crosses to the window and peers through the blind. I have a sudden image of his comrades, scaling the walls, swarming into the apartment. What would they do to me?

     ‘We know you won’t give it up easily. But what do you need to keep us down?’   

     ‘Keep you down?’

     ‘You need us to carry babies.’ He turns. ‘“Carry” – that’s the right word, isn’t it? We carry the burden for you.’

     ‘If a man used that – medicine – he’d still have to go to the Birth Centre. If there was any suspicion… he’d be arrested. No father would –’

     ‘It’s not easy. But neither is this.’ He strokes his belly. ‘We’re invisible. Yi ge baozi. My little dumpling is invisible. On the bus home, a carrying man had to stand, all the way past First of October Street.’

     ‘We’re not all like that.’

     He shrugs. ‘Maybe we should have had this conversation a long time ago.’

     It’s too late to change your mind now.’ I touch his arm. ‘Please, Lee. Give up this protesting. Put our safety before your own selfishness. Don’t you feel – any connection with the baby?’

     ‘Do you?’

     I look away. ‘I’m not carrying it.’

Apples in the Dark by John Taylor

I had a new friend and new stuff to think about – lots of new stuff, mostly from my new pet science encyclopaedia. Rachel and me still argued over making stuff, but it was fun-arguing, not in-a-temper arguing. And we made a lot of stuff.

        We didn’t just meet in Granddad’s workshop. Often, we went down to Wellfield Road and met Rachel in the coffee bar after her work, but some days, she worked really late and we just talked on the phone.

        Some happy weeks passed when Rachel had no more seizures and neither did Shareen at school. I told Shareen I had an adult friend with epilepsy, but Shareen didn’t want to talk about it. Didn’t want to talk at all.

        Actually, they weren’t happy weeks.

        They were shitty weeks with happy bits when I was with Rachel. Mam never ever stopped worrying about Dad, but he stayed out of trouble, mostly, and he was getting an exhibition together. But the money had dried up again, and Mam was running more classes and looking shattered, every night. I didn’t complain about the number of takeaways, but Mam always looked guilty that she didn’t have time to cook.

      School was the shittiest place of all. The Evils started a thing where saying anything at all to Miss Akoto was banned. Which made the gobby class nerd stand out a mile. I couldn’t not talk.

      One day, Kamala came and stood next to me and said, ‘Don’t let them bug you.’ Kamala was a new girl who came from another school. And she had a sort of air about her – like she was above the Evils.

      Easy for her. She was the biggest girl in class and sat with a boy called Jake who

 

As soon as I have the time, I will send brief feedback to all the short-and-long-listed writers. Thank you to everybody who entered, helping to make this a bumper year. I'll run this competition again in 2022. Entries will open on Wednesday 1 June!