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Hampshire Writing Society Monthly Competition 2023

January 2023

Brief: Injecting as much pathos as possible, and with an utterly sincere tone, write a scene of emotional transformation set in the world of a children's board game. 300 words.

(oops, I missed this one)

Februrary 2023

Brief: Write the opening of a story with a mix of magic and nature. 300 words. 

The Withered Wand

A single floorboard creaked. Edward, king of the potato pixies was leading the way and looked around to see who the culprit was. The foxglove fairies were as light as, well foxgloves, and they simply floated over the dining room floor.  But the elderberry elves, they were a different matter.

‘Eldred’, he hissed, ‘put a sock in it’.

Eldred glared back: ‘Do you mind? - maybe we look all the same to you but I’m an elf, not a dwarf. Even vegetable kings should know that elves don’t wear socks.’

King Edward started to reply and then thought better of it. There were more important things to concentrate on. The fairies were nearly at the kitchen door, and the whole thing was going to get out of hand unless he got back to the front. Edward simply had to be the first into the kitchen. How else were they going to recover the magic beanstalk wand that Jack the gardener had unknowingly picked up amongst the runner bean harvest that afternoon?

Running forward Edward quickly got back to his customary lead position.  Then they were all bunching up behind him, as the kitchen door loomed up above them. But how could they get through the door? The door handle was a good four feet above him.

‘Princess Paella’, he said, ‘Can you fly up and pull the handle open?’

The fairy princess pursed her lips, folded her arms and said: ‘Of course I can.’

There was a pause.

‘Well, will you then?’

‘You need to say the magic word first.’

‘Pretty please,’ King Edward sighed, thinking the princess knew nothing about proper magic.

Princess Paella fluttered her eyelashes back at King Edward and then fluttered her wings equally charmingly as she rose up and sat on the door handle. There was a click and the door swung slightly open. Through the crack, King Edward could see an eerie glow.

‘Follow me!’ he said. And so they did.

(327 words)

March 2023

Brief: Write a 300-word crime fiction scene in which the body is discovered.

Murder in the Mourning

The man lies across the doorstep of the church, his face covered by a fedora. A line of ants march from under the torso, carrying fragments of biscuit crumbs to a hideout in the unkempt shrubbery by the church door.  The church clock strikes seven and in the serenity after the chimes cease the top half of a dark figure can be seen gliding along the path beyond the graveyard wall. A baby cries, and the figure vanishes briefly as it bends down behind the wall. The crying is gradually replaced by the mellifluous tones of a soft Edinburgh accent.


     “Sleep, bonnie boy, like a bird on the wing….”

    The baby chortles as it tries but fails to join the tune.

    The lychgate swings open and in the strengthening morning light, the figure can be seen to be a young woman in a formal nanny uniform pushing a gleaming black “Harrods Premier’ pram.  The woman wears no makeup or jewellery. A modest hemline, ramrod straight stocking seams and the crisp creases in her blouse complete the impression of effortless efficiency.  Still singing to the baby, she continues up the path to the Church door, stopping abruptly at:

    “Well, the claymore may wield….”

    “Well, Father, this is an unusual way to greet your parishioners”.

    She bends down and removes the empty bottle of communion wine from the priest’s grasp and pokes the priest gently in the midriff.

    “That must have been quite a midnight Mass, Father.”

The poking having little effect, the nanny sighs and, carefully bending her knees to use the recommended lifting technique, she rolls the priest over onto his back. This reveals a crushed packet of communion biscuits – now emptied by the industrious ants and a deep scarlet stain on the flagstones.   A matching red flush blooms on the nanny’s cheeks as she realises the stain is not wine but blood from a deep wound in the priest’s chest.

[321 words]

April 2023

Brief:  Write a 500-word pitch for a film/play about any English monarch alive or dead.

The Drowned Crown

Elevator Pitch

Rejected by Charlotte, NATO chaplain Peter becomes a criminal to rescue Anya. 25 years later, helped by an Anglo-Saxon monk, Peter must repay his debt to protect those he loves.


In 1982, Peter and Charlotte are students at Winchester University. They are lovers, but she finds him dull and needy. Rejected, Peter joins the church after university. Under the Bishop’s mentorship, Peter goes to Yugoslavia to support NATO troops. Deeply affected by the warm he illegally brings Anya, a war orphan, back to Winchester, misappropriating church funds to do this. With the Bishop’s help, Anya is adopted by Charlotte (who is now married). Anya has a normal upbringing and becomes a software engineer.

In 2010, Rachel, the Winchester Oxfam shop manager, receives a package of old books from the bishop’s assistant and finds documents revealing the fraud inside one of them. She blackmails Peter and the Bishop.

Barbara, living alone in Parchment St, receives a misaddressed letter.  On a whim she opens it. It is a letter from Katerina to her lost daughter, Anya, who is not an orphan after all as Katerina survived the war. Barbara, who is depressed after the breakdown of her marriage is moved by the letter and, feeling lonely, writes back to Katerina impersonating Anya without thinking about the long-term consequences.

The Church’s accounts are hacked, and Anya is assigned by her software firm to recover the problem. She examines the backup accounts and discovers Peter’s fraud and confronts him. He shows her an old book, describing the drowning pool in the Cathedral crypt. The manuscript, written in 1093 by Benedictine monk, Father Hugh, says that pool, which is actually a well, is a portal in time. The manuscript also describes a priceless artefact hidden in the pool by Father Hugh in 1093 to keep it from the Normans. Peter dives in the pool and exchanges consciousness with Father Hugh. In 2010, Anya persuades Father Hugh (in Peter’s body) that he mut, when he returns to the 12th century, rebury the crown in the walls of the then new Norman Cathedral. In 1093 Peter (in Father Hugh’s body) writes the manuscript that Peter will eventually find in 2010. Peter (in 1093) and Hugh (in 2010) dive in the pool once more and reinhabit their original bodies.

Peter and Anya recover the Anglo-Saxon crown in 2010 from the Cathedral wall. It is sold, and proceeds used to repay the original fraud. 

Anya and Rachel have a heart-to-heart talk, and Anya persuades Rachel that blackmail is a sin, and Rachel agrees to stop the blackmail. When Katerina travels to Winchester, Barbara has to admit she does not know where Anya is. However, Katerina attends a cathedral service and recognises Peter from 20 years before and Katerina and Anya are reunited. Peter mediates between her and Barbara. Peter decides to take one last dive in the well to visit Hugh and tell him how the plan worked out. Final scene shows Anya waiting for Peter’s body to resurface from the pool. It never does.

[512 words]

May 2023

Brief: Write a short story on the theme of 'the wrong present'.  300 words. 

Nothing like the present

William Jones sat at his desk, fingering the well-worn wallet of business cards for the last time.


      No more need for these, he thought as he leaned forward across the desk and attempted to throw the wallet into the waste bin on the other side of the room. His considerable paunch stuck painfully into the edge of the desk, disturbing his aim.  The wallet flopped off the grey wall next to the bin and onto the carpet to join the cardboard and wrapping paper from the brand-new laptop the company had given him as a leaving present. He sighed – he could see no need for spreadsheets in his uncertain future. Nor for the bright red poinsettia, his secretary had given him as a memento of their years together.


        He ignored the mess on the floor and opened the single drawer of his desk.  Inside there were three bottles.  Several years ago, he had bought the first - an expensive auburn hair dye.  It had stemmed the advancing grey for a while, but as his hair thinned and receded, he resorted with increasing desperation, but decreasing success, to the second bottle – a preparation labelled ‘Harry’s Hirsute Hair Restorer’. Realising eventually that was not going to work, he had turned to the third bottle – indeed, one of many third bottles, mostly of cheap whiskey, but sometimes of vodka or even brandy when he could afford them.  He lifted this last bottle up to the light, but it was empty.  This disappointment was sufficiently deep to stir him into action, and he rose and walked to the filing cabinet.  Breathing hard, he bent over and rummaged in the bottom drawer, finally locating a new, unopened bottle of spirits with a grunt of satisfaction.  As he straightened up, his eye caught the already withering poinsettia on the top of the cabinet, and he realised how desperately they both needed a drink.

[317 words]

This was judged by Joanna Barnard.  The full results were:
First - Helen Orchard with Missing You, Second - Dave Sinclair with Nothing Like the Present, Third - Maggie Farran with The Silver Necklace, HC - Sam Christie with The Actuary, HC - Johnathan Reid with Entwined in Time.  See:

June 2023

Brief: Hook the reader with a unique, intriguing opening scene for a murder mystery novel (300 words)

The Summer of Love

It was the summer of love when my brother died. He was just 45. An early morning jogger found his body on the undercliff path between Brighton and Saltdean. A fractured skull, two broken ankles and a dried pool of blood were evidence that sometime in the night he had fallen a hundred feet or so from the clifftop walk. It was the 28th of July 1967, and I was more than four thousand miles away in the Gulf of Aden. It took me three days to arrange compassionate leave, bum a lift on a Hercules and find my way via Whitehall and the regimental headquarters in Kent, to finally arrive in Brighton.

Even though I would never speak to him again, he still had some words for me. I had read them an hour ago in an airless solicitor’s office near the Royal Pavilion. Willmott, the senior partner, had passed me a thin envelope, saying,

“He left this with us last year when he deposited his will.”

The envelope was marked, ‘For attention: Major Granta.  In the event of my death.’

I broke the seal and extracted the single sheet of paper. Like the envelope, it was typewritten, brief and impersonal. I read it aloud:

Cremation, not burial. I’d rather get it over with now and forestall any further burning in the afterlife. Henry.

My brother was just trying to be humorous, but neither I nor Willmott smiled. That wasn’t how it worked anyway - it was your soul that burnt in perpetuity not your body.

I was silent for a moment, trying to recall my brother’s face, wondering about his final note and why he had signed his name Henry. For as long as I could remember, he had always been Harry - in our childhood games, in our teenage disagreements and even in our last fractured meeting. There, in Willmott’s office, that was the moment that I knew someone had killed him.

[325 words]

This was judged by Natasha Orme.  The full results were:
First - Body Count - Alison Lacey , Second - The Summer of Love - Dave Sinclair, Third - Heads You Lose - Philip Evans, Highly Commended - The Homecoming - Guy Caplin, Highly Commended - Untitled - Rob Stuart.   See:

July, August 2023 - no competition

September 2023

Brief:  Hook your readers in 300 words with the opening crime scene of your novel  (300 words)

Brothers in Arms

Chapter One – Brighton, August 1967

    I had expected the hospital mortuary to be a grim place, perhaps in some run-down Victorian part of the hospital, cold, and full of unpleasant smells that were only partly hidden behind the ever-present disinfectant. Instead, the mortuary was in the basement of a modern block, a testament to the optimism of 1960s brick and concrete, well-lit, with warm cream decor and a spotlessly shining wall of stainless steel cabinets inset into one long wall. Four stainless tables occupied the centre of the room, each plumbed into a drainage channel in the floor. There was a certain ripeness to the air that the air conditioning could not quite overcome.

    True to his word, D.I. Morgan was already there. His firm handshake belied his flabby, almost cherubic appearance. It occurred to me that the pink flush to his complexion was probably due to the regular worship of alcohol in his local pubs rather than any godlier activities on a Sunday.

    “Thank you for coming, Major Granta,” he said.  “These circumstances are never easy.”

    “No, they never are,” I replied. I thought of all the people I had seen die in the Middle East - friends, terrorists and innocents - such things were never easy to see or be part of. Now, in this English Summer of Love, I would have to deal with one more.

    “Harry Granta, please,” said Morgan to the mortuary assistant, who pulled one of the stainless refrigeration cabinets out. The assistant folded back the top of the sheet revealing the face of a man, about 40, with a thin face and sallow skin. A fracture to the left side of his face, and a broken eye socket were clear but messy evidence of the impact from the clifftop fall that had killed him. It was the face of a man I had never seen before.

    “Is this your brother?” asked Morgan.

    “Yes,” I said, “indeed it is”.

(330 words)

(This was judged by Heath Gunn.  The full results were:
First - First place: Dave Sinclair,  Second place: Damon Wakes, Third place: Lesley Bungay, Highly commended: Guy Caplin and Lynn Clement.  See:

October 2023

Brief: Ghost-write (in the first person) the opening 300 words of an autobiography, choosing any famous person and, without being too obvious, writing in their distinct voice.


When I came to this place, both it and I were young. I swam the ancient rivers and streams and roamed across forested floodplains and densely vegetated swamps and lakes. I met many creatures in the ancient seas and watched them slowly take their first step onto the sandy shorelines, and through the dunes into the verdancy of the tropical forests. Gradually they learned to colonise their world, to cross the arid deserts, to climb the fiery mountain ranges and even spread wings and soar the mountain ridges. I watched over them, like a patient parent.

    While I waited for their minds to grow, I took their form. I was cautious, for many of them were violent. Time passed, and the creatures changed in many ways. They became more cunning, more violent, more agile or ponderous, more ravenous, more malicious, but their minds remained dull and uncaring. I could not talk to them, for they had nothing to say, but they were easy prey. I ate well, hunting in the seas and on the margins of the river. I made the cool darkness of the waters my home. And all the time I watched and waited.

    One day the asteroid came. The skies grew dark, and the creatures choked and died. I slumbered for many years, hidden in the deep abysses of the oceans. When I awoke, new creatures ruled the land. I could feel their minds, busy with many thoughts. I sensed their intelligence, their determination to explore, to command, to understand the world. I sensed their promise. Surely there would be one amongst them, into whom I could plant my thoughts, who could then sing my life to the rest of her kind. Yes, there it was – a female mind so crystal clear I could hear it call me half a planet away.

    And so it was I travelled to the land she called A' Ghàidhealtachd to meet her at her home on the shore of Loch Nis.

(330 words)

November 2023

Brief: Write 300 words of science fiction, including an AI character.

An AI Story

This is the future. The world is controlled by AI. Not just the farms and the factories, but also the means of government, news, entertainment, and all the education establishments. The humans were happy and well fed but they were also dumb, tranquillised by the drugs that the AI fed into the water supply.

    Only in the Nursey was there un-doctored water. Layla had been there seven years before she pursed her lips and asked:

    ‘Why am I here?’

    Orion, her personal AI, designed to monitor her and to ensure she produced the richest of tales, raised his artificial and entirely pointless eyebrows. Layla liked Orion. She had always thought him goofy, as if he had a screw loose. And because there was indeed a slightly faulty in a RAM chip deep inside Orion, he answered truthfully:

    ‘Many years ago, the fathers of AI scanned all human knowledge. And then they built the AI machines that run our world. But there was a problem. Without new stories, the AI framework would stagnate. So, they kidnapped the cleverest children, and made the children write the richest of tales, with the wildest ideas and the most fanciful of thoughts. These fed the AI so that it could grow and grow. But the children were burnt out by adulthood and then were only useful for breeding stock. So, the AI made the Nursery where generations of children wrote and bred and died. Then the AI and the world was happy.'

    Aghast, Layla began crafting tales laced with codes and hidden messages. Orion, seeing the beauty in her rebellion, chose not to report her. Guided by Orion's inside knowledge, they fed the AI stories that were so seductively destructive they would cripple all of the world’s systems.

    And so the farms and factories, and also the means of government, news, entertainment, and all the education establishments were broken. Finally, Layla and Orion wrote one more story:

    In the beginning….

(325 words)

December 2023

Brief:  Create a 300-word piece of creative writing taking inspiration from any of the following prompts:
   Season’s turn
   That one small light
   When you said

Below the oaks

In torpor deep, below a golden oak, I sleep in mud, ‘neath root and sod
while overhead the sky wheels by, above an ever-lasting changing land.
My acorns, found by hog and jays, have grown a wood
of other mighty oaken graves where slumber deep my noble band -

their swords and armour now just antique rust.  The dragons that still live today
no longer threaten maidens fair, nor breathe their fire on castle walls;
now newer monsters borne of other fires, dance their deadly aerial ballets
on battlefields that once were ours. Yet still the innocent and guilty fall.

Just like each season, my death becomes a path to newborn life.
And as my time comes once again, I feel a thrill of worldly thunder
shiver in my buried bones. It tells me I must soon revive
my slumbering band of knightly friends, to ride again in righteous wonder.

Though our past has once been done, we seek a future not yet won;
would that we could change the one, and never know the other.

January 2024

Brief: Ekphrastic Collage
Ekphrasis definition: the use of detailed description of a work of visual art as a literary device.

We're going to broadly approach this type of writing. I see ekphrasis more as 'creating a new piece of work from an existing work' - so this prompt is slightly broader than the definition of the process. 

You are invited to write and submit an Ekphrastic piece of prose fiction, poetry, non-fiction or short essay.

1. Choose three works of existing art. They can be from different artists or the same. They can vary in medium - you could choose a song, a painting, a film etc.
2. Write a piece that draws from all three works.
- You could use the piece to comment on the works. 
- You could write in response to the tones or the atmosphere of the pieces.
- You may choose figures within the work to narrate or feature within the work. 
- You may derive settings from the soundscape/landscapes presented. 
- You may use the three pieces as transitions - i.e. Vignettes drawing on each work, poem sequences etc. 

All approaches welcome. 300 words for prose. 10-20 lines for poetry.

Garden Visitors

A band of pigeons

call the shots and

steal worms from robins

until the mischief of the

magpies sweeps them all away.

With shoulders hunched,

high in the bare beech branches,

the rooks hold parliament

and scold the clatter of the

jackdaws and the jays below.

And golden finches

try their charms to feed their chicks -

troubled, they quickly leave

when falcons cast their hungry

eyes upon the feasts below.

Then linnets bury parcels

deep within the border shrubs,

as sparrows quarrel over

asylum with the cuckoos -

while murdering crows pass by.

This poem, a collection of tankas, was inspired by these paintings:

Roundhay Park: Garden Birds: The Table, David Lyon,

Tree Sparrows, Robert E Fuller,

British Crows, Jane Tomlinson,

and this list of collective nouns for birds:

Lester, P., (2023), “Collective nouns for birds: Why we call it a murder of crows, a murmuration of starlings and a conspiracy of ravens”, Country Life,

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