Winners of the 2023 page 100 competition
I'm pleased to announce this year's winning entry. It's been a great year with some fantastic entries. But there has to be a winner, so without further ado, congratulations to Frances Ridley. Her novel is called Cloud and Compass and I'm delighted to share Frances's page 100 here:
‘Miss Merrit can withstand a splash of coffee,’ said George. ‘She seems capable of benefitting from the most adverse situations.’ He sat down opposite, and cast a critical look at Simon. ‘I cannot say the same for you, old friend. You look terrible. How are you bearing up under Weekes’s onslaught?’
‘I am fine, George,’ said Simon defensively. ‘A few temporary setbacks, nothing that will not come right in time.’
‘And now – the truth?’
Simon looked down at the spilled coffee. He could not summon the energy to mop it up. ‘I will probably have to change my lodgings,’ he admitted.
George leaned forward, his tone urgent. ‘Simon,’ he said in a low voice, ‘you must fight back, I beg you. Please, write to Miss Firmstone. You must ask for her help. Ask her to speak up for you, take your part. Beg her to take you back as her family’s physician. You cannot ignore what is happening for a moment longer. You are letting Weekes win. You are letting him trample all over you.’
‘I admit I am surprised at the speed with which he has managed to turn the world against me.’
‘But I am not,’ said George. ‘It is what he does – it is his job. He is getting a cut from Peverill, I am sure of it. They are in league. He has probably struck a deal with the saintly Miss Merrit, too.’
©Frances Ridley 2023
I was struck by this page from the very first reading, and I knew it would be on the short list. The writing is assured, vibrant, active. It's almost all (excellent) dialogue and I don't know about you, but I want to see those first 99 pages to find out what has led up to this moment. I am minded of Kate Atkinson's writing, which I think is quite an accolade. In the end, this had to be my winner. I've read it several times and I'm hungry for more.
Frances wins a full manuscript report for her novel and I'm looking forward to working on her writing.
There are two runners-up, as ever. Amanda Barton's The M Word is second. Here is her page 100:
she realised with a start. She’d smelt it after Tom’s late-night returns from the gym. And mistaken for one of his cheap deodorants.
‘I’ll be back for the rest of my stuff later,’ roared Tom, stomping down the steps.
As she watched him drag the suitcase along the towpath Lizzie thrust her middle finger high into the night air, her breath coming in sharp bursts. It was a gesture she never used. She hated seeing other people do it, seething in their cars over petty parking disputes. But now it felt just right.
Even after Tom had turned the corner she still stood there in the doorway. She felt like a sweary version of the Statue of Liberty, with her slightly trembling finger raised high, braced against the anger and the waves of pain in her stomach. When she finally lowered her hand, a drawn out ‘BAAASTARD’ ripped through her lungs and echoed through the darkness.
In the dim light at the bottom of the garden, a long, slow shape emerged. The steady pfut of an engine pierced the stillness of the canal. Lizzie’s arms stiffened at her sides as she held her breath, like a toddler trying to make herself invisible. When the end of the boat drew level with the cottage a deep, sombre voice cut through the engine noise.
A shaft of moonlight fell on the bearded face of the jolly captain who’d witnessed her last expletive explosion. This time there was a small dog perched by his side as the boat chugged past. Lizzie couldn’t be sure but she guessed they were both open-mouthed. She gave a stupidly polite cough and, as if screaming curses into the night was completely normal, raised her hand in a wave and squeaked back, ‘Evening. Bit chilly tonight.’
‘Aye, it is that,’ said the man as the boat slid off into the darkness.
The frosty night air pricked at Lizzie’s burning cheeks. Above the murky water of the canal the moon was a clear, bright disc on a black canvas studded with as many stars as she had muddled thoughts in her head. What the hell had just happened there? She rested her hand against the splintered doorframe, her head spinning. Had she just dumped her partner of ten years? Had he just left her? Was that really ‘it’? Or – best case scenario – was this some horrible nightmare, and she’d just imagined the last awful ten minutes? Even the whole day? Just like she’d imagined seeing Mani.
©Amanda Barton 2023
Again, an assured page 100. This story is in full swing. I was struck too by the wonderful imagery of the Statue of Liberty - this visual drew me in from the first reading. The scene is alive, living, breathing... and the canal-side setting, at night, is alluring and atmospheric. The gentle humour adds texture. All in all it's a great page 100.
Amanda wins an assessment of her first three chapters.
And in third we have a 1960s-set novel by Sophie Neville:
As far as Redemption could see, the only provision being made for the future were pickles. Juba kept dancing about, making excuses to touch her limbs while she was stowing the glass jars. At one point, he picked up a slice of mango that had fallen on the floor and dropped it into his mouth.
“Don’t eat that!”
“Have you never looked down a microscope?”
“No, why should I?” He reached for her with mango-y hands that would stain her clothing.
Redemption grew irritated as he fondled her hips, urging her to kiss him like a European film star. She decided that being united with someone who lacked learning would soon become confining.
The backdoor slammed. Abdul had returned from the Residency in a bad mood. “All this fuss about Independence Day provides no satisfaction,” he said, staring at Juba who lurched backwards. “The gaiety in town is nothing but a distraction.”
“From what?” Redemption asked.
“Pestilence. We need the monsoon.”
“Have any wells failed?” she asked.
“Nah,” Juba said, slurring his words. “The water comes from Kilimanjaro.”
“How can it flow beneath the ocean?”
“It’s all downhill.”
Abdul looked horrified. “Have you been drinking?”
After he tumbled down the kitchen steps, Juba’s dignity was only spared by rain, which began to fall in sudden flurries. Fed up with his juvenile humour, Redemption chased him off
©Sophie Neville 2023
This was another easy short-listee. Great dialogue, again, and gentle humour, and that sense of a story in full swing. The first line is fabulous! I felt drawn in by that one line on the first reading. I am looking forward to seeing more of Sophie's writing.
Sophie also wins an assessment of her first three chapters.
There are three other short-listed writers. I've included here the part of the page 100 that I enjoyed the most: the bit that got them on to the short list, really! Please enjoy these excerpts from their page 100s:
Bev Goldfarb, The Secrets of Temple House:
He poked his head through the doorway and stared past her at the narrow shaft that plummeted into darkness. "You climbed down there?" He just stood there without moving.
She grabbed hold of the handles and twisted, like a gymnast preparing for a double vault. She descended a few rungs and looked up. "And you call yourself a historian."
©Bev Goldfarb 2023
Saleel Nurbhai: When the Fun Stops:
I ignored the second question and answered the first. "Well, she always comes back..." What was the word I wanted: happy, floating, enervated? "She always comes back... There's a word, I know it, just can't think of it."
"Tired?" suggested Maggie.
©Saleel Nurbhai 2023
Jude Simms: Dead in the Water:
Brierly took it. "Aye, I remember, the little silver thing she had with her when..."
His hesitation, no doubt sensitively meant, irritated Arthur. "When she died," he said. "You want the truth, so let's speak the truth. Caroline's gone, drowned, taken by the flood. She's dead, Thomas."
"Very well. I see I need not be delicate with your feelings after all. Caroline is dead."
©Jude Simms 2023
I hope you enjoy all the writers' work as much as I did. It's not easy to write, and even harder to write well; many congrats to all the short-listed writers. And many thanks to all who entered. The competition seems to go from strength to strength. Last year's winner recently signed with the Madeleine Milburn literary agency! Big congratulations to Jane Mansour. I worked with her on her novel as a mentor, and I couldn't be happier for her.
Next year's competition will open for entries in May 2024. Please pop it on your schedule! I'm not sure yet what the prize will be... I'll think about that over the winter...