The Yeovil Literary Prize

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2018 Results

For full details of the results, choose a category:

Results Table Report Novel Short Story Poetry Writing Without Restrictions

Novel Category

FIRST PRIZE - Clare Golding

SECOND PRIZE - Warwick Cairns

THIRD PRIZE - Warwick Blanchett


Nick Owen · Clare Hawkins · Beverley Stark · Nathalie Chong

Short Story Category

FIRST PRIZE - Michele Evenstar

SECOND PRIZE - Dennis Harkness

THIRD PRIZE - Christopher Holt

Poetry Category

FIRST PRIZE - Laurence O’Dwyer

SECOND PRIZE - Glen Wilson

THIRD PRIZE - Christopher M. James

Writing Without Restrictions

FIRST PRIZE - Bob Shepherd

SECOND PRIZE - Jilly O’Brien

THIRD PRIZE - Valerie French


The Western Gazette Best Local Writer Award

The Western Gazette Best Local Writer Award has been won by Bob Shepherd. Congratulations Bob! You can meet Bob at the Yeovil Literary Prize Past Winners' event at the Yeovil Literary Festival on Friday 26 October at 10am in the Johnson Studio of The Octagon Theatre, Yeovil, where he will receive his prize.

Report for 2018 Yeovil Literary Prize

The range of excellent writing this year has made the crucial decision making – judging – extremely enjoyable, but very difficult. The number of entries rose yet again, and all your kind comments about this being a friendly competition that offers opportunity and inspiration to such a wide range of writers, are truly appreciated.

"I can't thank the organisers and judges of The Yeovil Literary Prize enough for giving international writers in every corner of the world a platform to share work and hopefully shine!"

We are proud enough to once again use that quote from a previous winner, as our aim is for writers everywhere to feel confident in sharing their work.

We have been told how valuable our winners have found belonging to a writers’ group or writing circle has been. Building confidence in reading your work to a group of established or emerging writers, hearing their helpful comments, and then editing or refining your piece, is universally appreciated.

During the Yeovil Literary Festival on Friday 26 October 2018, we will be privileged to listen to the winners of each category this year. We are enormously pleased to give a platform for writers of this calibre to read to an audience. A previously commended, now published, author, Anjana Chowdhury, will also have her own event at the festival.

The Yeovil Literary Prize team love hearing how entering our competition spurred entrants on to subsequent publishing success. The three winners of the 2018 novel category, in our opinion, all deserve to have their novels published as they could definitely earn a place in any bookshop or sit on any book shelf.

Our judge, Annie Barrows, said “The candidates for the Yeovil Literary Prize in the Novel category could well have passed for a survey of the novel form; the genres represented ranged from young adult to crime to historical novel and the sensibilities from hardboiled to exquisite. While it was an enormous pleasure to see that the phylum Novel contains so many species of great vitality, it was challenging to undertake a comparison of such distinctly different creatures. The central criterion of all literary criticism, however, is not How well do I like what it is, but How well does it effect what it wants to be? By this measure, many of the pieces shared traits: fully felt characters, able story-management, and above all thoroughly imagined worlds.”

The Short Stories were excellent this year in themes, tight plots and believable characters. It was difficult culling so much brilliant original writing into a long list. Victoria Hislop said of the short list, “Please congratulate the winners from me. It was enjoyable to do and I hope all ten on the list continue writing – they all had very strong voices.”

Yes, creating your own ‘voice’ as a writer is vital, and to develop plots, themes and dialogue for characters is such a rewarding, and can be a fun, aspect of the writing process.

Poetry is a thought-provoking category and Katie Donovan had the pleasure of selecting the winners. She said “A medley of different voices here, with some of poetry’s eternal themes in evidence: love, death, travel, the landscape of home, the complexity of relationships, the quest for meaning and the finding of significance in unusual places. There are sprinkles of humour as well as craftsmanship and innovative use of language and form. A high standard. Well done to all.”

Our Writing Without Restrictions judge Michael Jecks said “Many thanks for asking me to get involved in the Literary Prize and judge the short list. It was a really fascinating read, and difficult to make a series of top choices. However, I have done my best to make my choice and give some sort of analysis. I hope it works,”

This category is there for you; write something you are proud of that does not fit the usual competition categories, and enter it in this wide-open, barely any rules, category.

Our winner of the Western Gazette Best Local Writer Award is Bob Shepherd, who was placed First in the Writing Without Restrictions category. Bob, who lives in Crewkerne, Somerset, is an active member of the Yeovil Creative Writers’ group. This shows how completely anonymous our judging system of only reading an entry with a unique reference number on it, works. What a pleasant surprise when we checked the database and found his entry Return To Sender had been chosen by Michael Jecks as his winner. Congratulations and it endorses the benefit of joining a writing group.

It is always a pleasure to read the entries and we are looking forward to your sharing amongst writers everywhere details of this important, international writing competition. Use social media – tell the world. We hope agents and publishers who read our website will give those who are recognised a further chance of success. We know writers are good at spreading the word among their writing groups and friends, so feel free to carry on the good work.

2019 Yeovil Literary Prize

Our 2019 Yeovil Literary Prize opens on 1st January, so start developing those ideas and plots, and always look for that piece of excellent writing you were not sure what to do with, and you’ll be ready to enter.

Our Novel category judge is Vaseem Khan who definitely knows how to create characters and put them in intriguing places and exciting situations. We will also have the pleasure of again meeting Vaseem at the Yeovil Literary Festival. We welcome such a prestigious and experienced judge.

For the Short Stories our judge is Laura Williams, agent with the literary and media agency Green & Heaton, who will enhance our links with the world of publishing. Several past winners and Highly Commended, as well as Commended, entries have been published over the years, so we hope you can produce that gem of writing to excite our judge this year. Welcome Laura.

Our Poetry judge next year will be the very accomplished, and much admired Philip Gross. We are very happy to welcome Philip, who is an esteemed poet, novelist, playwright and academic. He has won the TS Elliott prize for poetry, and published many poetry collections. A very worthy judge for 2019.

The Writing Without Restrictions category needs someone with wide appeal, and we welcome Chris Redmond, an outstanding performance poet and writer who, once you have seen him performing, will always be remembered. You will definitely get your feet tapping when you listen on YouTube ‘Let the Pig Out’. Welcome Chris.

We welcome you as well; writers from home and away who are keen to launch your words into the literary world.

the Judging Team

Novel category Report

We had 458 entries this year and with such a high standard of writing it was a hard task to define the cream of the crop.

Our judge was Annie Barrows

Annie began her career as an editor and switched sides after receiving her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing in 1996. The author of some twenty-odd books, she writes for both children and adults. Her works for children include the best-selling “Ivy and Bean” series for young readers, The “Magic Half” and its sequel “Magic in the Mix” for the middle grades, and the recently released “Nothing” for young adults. She is the co-author, with her aunt Mary Ann Shaffer, of the international best-seller “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”, now the basis a major motion picture releasing in Spring, 2018. Annie’s most recent novel for adults is “The Truth According to Us”. Current projects include an eleventh book in the “Ivy and Bean” series, a picture book entitled “John Marco”, and a third adult novel, the title of which remains shrouded in mystery. Annie lives in northern California.

Comment from our judge Annie Barrows

“The candidates for the Yeovil Literary Prize in the Novel category could well have passed for a survey of the novel form; the genres represented ranged from young adult to crime to historical novel and the sensibilities from hardboiled to exquisite. While it was an enormous pleasure to see that the phylum Novel contains so many species of great vitality, it was challenging to undertake a comparison of such distinctly different creatures. The central criterion of all literary criticism, however, is not How well do I like what it is, but How well does it effect what it wants to be? By this measure, many of the pieces shared traits: fully felt characters, able story-management, and above all thoroughly imagined worlds.”

FIRST – In Just One Day written by Clare Golding

Clare Golding

Clare Golding

Clare Golding, originally from Athens, Georgia, is an American immigrant living with her family in England. She’s a former Hollywood-ite, furniture salesperson, teacher, support technician, graduate student, and waitress. For the past eight years she’s worked at becoming a professional writer of young-adult fiction after over a decade of storytelling through film, as a history and ESL teacher, and later as a mother. Her writing is inspired by her family, friends, the Hogsback Writers, former students, and people who’ve wronged her. Since 2016 she’s been gathering steam on long and short lists alike but remains, as yet, pre-agented. She feels incredibly honoured to win the Yeovil Literary Prize.

Our judge Annie commented

“This excerpt demonstrated remarkable ability on a remarkable number of fronts, offering its readers a heroine who is simultaneously touching and engaging; a narrative voice that is authentic without sacrificing specificity; and a dramatic arc that ensures readers’ investment while also securing their belief. Despite the inherent difficulty of the expository task with a first-person narrator, information is deftly dispensed in these opening scenes. But while the elements of story-telling are admirably poised, what truly elevates the work is the keenness of its observation and the nuanced emotional rendering of its world.”

SECOND – The Master Thief written by Warwick Cairns

Warwick Cairns

Warwick Cairns

Warwick Cairns wrote “Yeovil opens doors. Being long listed or shortlisted, for an award like the Yeovil Literary Prize can make a real difference to an aspiring author. It can mark the moment when you go from slogging away month after month and year after year to churn out yet another unsuccessful manuscript for the slush-pile, to being someone agents and publishers actually want to talk to. It makes a difference for readers, too. It’s always a thrill when you come across fresh new writers, and characters you want to spend time with. Awards like Yeovil are where you can find them first. So a big thank you, Yeovil. I promise I’ll keep you updated with how I progress in the career you helped to kick start.”

Our judge Annie commented

“Here is a fully imagined London of 1600, as detailed as a Brueghel and similarly immersive. The copious research undoubtedly required to create the scene does not, however, over-freight the mechanism of story, which is adeptly set in motion in this piece. Characters are distinct and vivid, notwithstanding their array, and each is so confidently presented and set upon his or her collision course with the others that their individuality is unquestionable, and readers may simply submit themselves to the world of the novel.”

THIRD – Warwick Blanchett – Evening Rain, Storm Mountain

Warwick Blanchett

Warwick Blanchett

Warwick Blanchett was born in New Zealand, has lived also in Canada, where he worked as a musician and a translator. In 2000 he published Mrs Rochester, a satirical sequel to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. His agent in London is Christine Green.

Our judge Annie commented

“Written with an attention and precision that seems to mirror the esthetic of the world it depicts, this notably elegant entry manifests both a sense of design and of control. The setting is distinct and interesting, and the characters, while operating under unfamiliar protocols, are emotionally accessible, their fates urging our attention.”

Annie also felt that four of the shortlisted novels should be awarded VERY HIGHLY COMMENDED

Seven Dead Bods written by Nick Owen from England
Annie commented: “I loved this character and his predicament. A genuine page-turner.”

Red Steel written by Clare Hawkins from England
Annie commented: “A very well-drawn and well-imagined scenario.”

The Days Are Falling In written by Beverley Stark from England
Annie commented: “The military scenes in particular were excellent. Pleasing characterization of hero.”

Silent Was Our Song written by Nathalie Chong from England
Annie commended: “Adept pacing and nice management of various time periods.”

SHORTLISTED / HIGHLY COMMENDED (in no particular order)
James Pierson (England) Tears of Wrath
Lorna Riley (England) Locusts
Sara Tidy (England) Time After Time
LONGLISTED / COMMENDED (in no particular order)
James Woolf (England) Three Steps Behind
Heather Chadwick (England) Heartwood
Dakota Canon (San Francisco, USA) The Unmaking of Eden
Ira Mathur (Trinidad & Tobago) 17 Resthouse Road
Jessica Morriss (Amsterdam, Holland) Einstein’s Fish
Helen Chamberlain (England) The Master-Piece
Sarah Reader Harris (Brussels, Belgium) Plums Taste Different Here
Michael Pert (Australia) The Kissing House
Nikki May (England) Wahala

Short Story Report

This year we had 401 Short Stories entered, all very different and totally enjoyable.

Our judge was best-selling author Victoria Hislop

Inspired by a visit to Spinalonga, the abandoned Greek leprosy colony, Victoria Hislop wrote The Island in 2005. It became an international bestseller and a 26-part Greek TV series. She was named Newcomer of the Year at the British Book Awards and is now an ambassador for Lepra. Her affection for the Mediterranean took her to Spain, which inspired her second bestseller The Return, and she returned to Greece to tell the turbulent tale of Thessaloniki in The Thread, shortlisted for a British Book Award and confirming her reputation as an inspirational storyteller. The Sunrise, published in 2014 and Cartes Postales from Greece published in 2016, were both top ten Sunday Times bestsellers published to widespread acclaim.

Our judge Victoria Hislop commented, “Please congratulate the winners from me. It was enjoyable to do and I hope all ten on the list continue writing – they all had very strong ‘voices’.”

FIRST – Voice by Michele Evenstar – England

Michele Evenstar

Michele Evenstar

Michele Evenstar was born in and has now finally returned to Devon (lured back by Dartmoor, the sea and the expectation of more sunshine than the rest of the country). She has also lived in Libya (as a child), London, South Africa, Mozambique and Bristol.

From early childhood reading gripped her (not least because books offered an irresistible alternative to reality). She stumbled into a career in computing but recently retired to see what happens when she has considerably more time and less money. She has discovered she loves writing and baking chocolate cakes.

Lately, encouraged by a group of friends (‘The Friday Writers’), she has entered some competitions. She has had a short story published in Writer’s Forum magazine. Michele is hugely delighted, slightly terrified and immensely encouraged to have won this category in the Yeovil Literary Prize.

The plight of people driven to become refugees was behind this story. Michele has donated half the prize to Save the Children’s Syria Emergency Appeal.

Our judge, Victoria Hislop, commented

“This is a very poignant story that gradually unfolds as time goes on in a very fresh and surprising way. It is about regaining the voice in both a real and metaphorical way. The situation that the writer describes is a very current and very important one – the trauma and recovery of a refugee child. There are some wonderful observations and passages of writing too.”

SECOND – A Stranger At The Door by Dennis Harkness – England

Dennis Harkness

Dennis Harkness

A Liverpudlian by birth and a Somerset resident for the last sixteen years, I won my first ‘Literary’ prize in 1947, with the Meccano Magazine (those were the days!). Since university a varied career, including Assistant Manager at Port Talbot Docks; and Sales Director for an Engineering Company; until, at 40 I found my metier as Mr Brog of Brog Puppets, a peripatetic one-man puppet theatre. I wrote the plays, 14 of them, all involving lots of constructive audience participation. In 2002 I retired to the Quantocks with my wife (Juliet Harkness, the artist). Since then I’ve been writing stories with a Creative Writing Group of Bridgwater U3A.

Our judge, Victoria Hislop, commented

“This takes us into the mind of someone suffering from dementia. Once again it is extremely poignant and uses language in a very clever way. I found it sad and moving, but also has a real truth about it. And the ending surprised me – it was well constructed in that way.”

THIRD – The Clasp by Christopher Holt – England

Christopher Holt

Christopher Holt

Christopher Holt was born in Exeter in 1941 and has worked as a teacher, farmer, ecologist and administrator in Africa, Australia and the Solomon Islands. He lived for a time in Communist East Germany at the height of the Cold War. His experiences have inspired his fiction, not through nostalgia but from a belated understanding of their significance to the present day.

Christopher was the winner of the novel category in the 2016 Yeovil Literary Prize with his novel, Orphaned Leaves.

All four of his self-published novels have been shortlisted in major UK competitions and he is presently researching material for his next book.

Our judge, Victoria Hislop, commented

“It was well-written, very original and also profound. It is bleak, but often short stories are (and most of the ones in this short list were fairly tough in their themes). This was lyrical and deals with death in a very poetic fashion.”

SHORTLISTED / HIGHLY COMMENDED (in no particular order)
Kevin Chant (England) Moonlight Jasmine
Juliana Feaver (New Zealand) Religious Disbelief
Simon van der Velde (England) The Derby Winner
Michael Fleming (England) The Queen of Letting Down
William Konarzewski (England) Desirous of Leaving
Robert Kibble (England) Canal Turn
Kath Kilburn (England) I'm Straight, Me
LONGLISTED / COMMENDED (in no particular order)
Jez Hodesdon (England) Fleur
Jay Fejer (England) Aftermath
Janet Upcher (Australia) Persephone Down Under
Peter Villiers (England) Washy And The Crocodile
Geoff Lavender (England) The Oval
Jessica Kirby (England) Tom
Neil Beardmore (England) Phantom Moon
Martin Jones (England) Piece of Carrot Cake
Helen Morris (England) The Change
Graham Hubbard (England) The clean-up
Gabriel Griffin (Italy) The Right Load
Taria Karillion (England) Choosing Another Goodbye
David Russell (Australia) Ted’s Six
Daniel Knibb (England) Being There
Clare Reddaway (England) The Clown
William Hillier (England) Three Whole Days
Diana Powell (England) Miss Bird Catches a Wave
John Irving Clarke (England) Too Much Peanut Butter
Tim Luther (England) The Carriage and Horses
Jonathan Brown (England) All Right in the End

Poetry Report

This year there were 428 entries and Katie Donovan judged a long list of 60 from which she chose her winners and shortlisted. The YCAA judges recognised excellence in the long list shown below.

Katie Donovan lives in Dalkey, Co Dublin. She has published five books of poetry, all with Bloodaxe Books UK, the most recent of which, “Off Duty” (2016), was shortlisted for the Irish Times/Poetry Now Award. Her other collections are: “Watermelon Man” (1993); “Entering the Mare” (1997); “Day of the Dead” (2002) and “Rootling: New and Selected Poems” (2010). She is the 2017 recipient of the O’Shaughnessy Award for Irish Poetry. With poet Brendan Kennelly and the late critic A. Norman Jeffares, she edited the acclaimed anthology “Ireland’s Women: Writings Past and Present”, which was published in Ireland, the UK and the US in 1996.

A former journalist, she is a graduate of TCD and the University of California at Berkeley. She has taught Creative Writing at third level - NUI Maynooth and Dun Laoghaire IADT – and in diverse settings such as Mountjoy Prison and St Vincent’s Hospital Dublin (where she facilitated a group of women with breast cancer to produce their own anthology, “The Right Kind of Breeze”). She worked as Writer-in-Residence for her local borough, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown, from 2006 to 2008.

Katie Donovan said of the judging:

A medley of different voices here, with some of poetry’s eternal themes in evidence: love, death, travel, the landscape of home, the complexity of relationships, the quest for meaning and the finding of significance in unusual places. There are sprinkles of humour as well as craftsmanship and innovative use of language and form. A high standard. Well done to all.

FIRST – The Old Light by Laurence O’Dwyer from Eire

Laurence O’Dwyer

Laurence O’Dwyer

Laurence O’Dwyer holds a PhD in paradigms of memory formation from Trinity College Dublin. His first book of poetry, ‘Tractography’ (Templar Poetry, 2018) received the Straid Collection Award. In 2018, he was a visiting scholar at the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge. In 2017, he received a fellowship from The MacDowell Colony. In 2016, he won the Patrick Kavanagh Award for Poetry. He has also received a Hennessy New Irish Writing Award. His work has been published in The Guardian, Warscapes, World Literature Today, Salamander, Mudlark, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Stinging Fly, Magma and elsewhere.

Our judge, Katie Donovan, commented

“This poem caught my attention right away. The scene in an old working shed is described with vivid, fond exactness: “windows/grimed in spume and salt’ and “sepia bottles, brushes, pallets”. With its rusty contents and memories of more productive times, the shed becomes a metaphor for a lost golden age of a fisherman’s daily tasks, and a lighthouse that could once shed light for twenty miles: ”Centuries dim and are diminished”.

That the “useless” modern day laser must be packed up and returned serves to emphasise how much of a haunted limbo this fascinating outpost has become. This poem features a poignant message expressed in atmospheric language, but there is more here for the reader to relish. The poet shows an admirable capacity to experiment with line length and half rhyme. This is mingled with a conversational quality that suggests the camaraderie between the workers as they box the unwanted laser.

One of the finest contemporary poems in the English language is “A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford” by the great Irish poet, Derek Mahon. “The Old Light” reminds me of Mahon’s poem. It is a lament made all the more potent by its humble setting.”

SECOND – View from Gullfoss by Glen Wilson from Northern Ireland

Glen Wilson

Glen Wilson

Glen Wilson lives with his wife and two children in Portadown, Co Armagh. He works as a civil servant and is Worship Leader at St Mark’s Church of Ireland Portadown. He studied English and Politics at Queens University Belfast and has a Post-Graduate Diploma in Journalism studies from the University of Ulster. He has been widely published having work in The Honest Ulsterman, The Stony Thursday Book, Foliate Oak, Iota, the Interpreters House, Southword, The Ogham Stone, The Luxembourg Review, RAUM and The Incubator Journal amongst others. In 2014 he won the Poetry Space competition and was shortlisted for the Wasafiri New Writing Prize. He was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing 2016 and The 2016 Wells Festival of Literature. He won the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing 2017 for his poem The Lotus Gait. His debut collection is coming out with Doire Press in 2019.

Our judge, Katie Donovan, commented

“This poem, about the great themes of love and death, manages to be both elegant and fresh. It also contains a twist that surprises the reader at the end. The poet shows an ease with rhyme and rhythm and the mood is uplifting and elegiac. The reader is left with a lovely sense of energy and surrender: “even my white-knuckled grief needs to go over the falls.”

THIRD – Dermochelys Coriacea by Christopher M. James from France

Christopher M. James

Christopher M. James

Christopher M. James started writing poetry in late 2016 after retiring from a career in Human Resources. He has been a prize winner in several competitions (Poets meet Politics, Sentinel, Poetry Pulse ...), notably winning the Earlyworks Poetry Prize 2018, and has been published in a selection of anthologies and magazines. Inspired to write about “all and sundry”, his recurrent themes include memory, mythology, everyday heroism, artistic endeavour and the environment.

A graduate in English/Philosophy, he is a dual British/French national and has lived for forty years in France, Italy and Thailand.

Our judge, Katie Donovan, commented

“In a clash of the ancient and the contemporary, this poem shows us the leatherback turtle as she lays her eggs. The perspective is that of the curious human determined to invade her privacy, yet whom she ignores. The concluding lines are particularly memorable: “eyes streaming on skin rind/like an old, old child’s.”

SHORTLISTED / HIGHLY COMMENDED (in no particular order)
Laura Thompson (Northern Ireland) Premonisitons
Julia Wallis (England) Spare Time, Lifetime
Moira McGrath (England) First Love, Last Love
Anthony Watts (England) Quantock Revisited
Lindsay Pettifor (England) Kings Thorn
Gordon Aindow (England) Early Risers
Daphne Martin (Mallorca, Spain) The Chat Market
Jill Flanders (England) Until the set of sun
Sharon Black (France) Lost (for Lucy)
Laura Theis (England) On Working In A Shop
LONGLISTED / COMMENDED (in no particular order)
Elizabeth Underwood (England) Daughters
Sheena Odle (England) Deconstruction
Eleanor Girvan (New Zealand) Waiting
Peter Burgham (England) Pavement from inside Costa Coffee King's Cross one winter evening
David Martin (England) Reasons Why I Do Not Close My Eyes
Gordon Aindow (England) Gansey
Shirley Anne Cook (England) Holiday Romance
Alexis Wolfe (England) Journeys: Doha - Great Ormond St - Transylvania
Deborah Harvey (England) Complicity
Gwen Seabourne (England) Mother-daughter phone conversation about tortoises and death

Writing Without Restriction Report

With 232 entries this year we realise we have created the perfect category for excellent and varied writing.

Michael Jecks is a prolific international novelist with more than forty titles published, five more collaborative novels, and many contributions to anthologies. His Death Ship of Dartmouth (Headline, 2006) was short-listed for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, and his work has been celebrated by the fountain pen manufacturers Conway Stewart and Visconti.

The founder of Medieval Murderers and Bloody Brits, he has served on the committee of the Historical Writers’ Association and as Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association. As an international speaker he has worked with the British Council and at universities and festivals all over America and Europe from Anchorage to Piacenza. In 2014 he was the International Guest of Honour for the Bloody Words festival in Toronto, and Grand Marshall of the first parade in the New Orleans Mardi Gras.

A passionate supporter of new writing, Michael organised the CWA Debut Dagger and has judged a variety of prizes such as the Paddon Award at Exeter University, the Impress Prize and the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. He runs workshops at the Swanwick writers’ summer school and has mentored and tutored students at Exeter University as a Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund.

Michael lives on Dartmoor with his wife and two children.

Our judge, Michael Jecks said about the competition:

It really was a hard task! Thank you for making it so, always a joy to find new voices to fall in love with. Congratulations to all the winners! And everyone shortlisted - a great list.

FIRST – Return to Sender by Bob Shepherd from England

Bob Shepherd

Bob Shepherd

Bob commented: “I have been a member of writing groups for many years. Writing groups are invaluable for sharing ideas and for getting feedbacks on what you have written. My other great love is running. Some of my best ideas have been developed when rushing through the glades. I love to write crime and if I can squeeze in some humour then I am a happy writer.”

Our judge, Michael Jecks, commented

“The mood of this piece, for me, was very sad. My immediate reaction was, that a middle-aged woman was being horribly badly treated by her old company and forced to resign because she must look after an aged, unwell mother. Then the slowly burgeoning relationship between the carer and her ex-colleague created in me (as a crime writer) an instant feeling of distrust and suspicion, a suspicion that was only enhanced when I heard that he was married. Then the invitations out, leading to a naughty weekend, and I was hooked. I knew, obviously, that the man was a sexual predator, and the poor woman who had lost her job, and by now her mother too, was nothing more than a rather pathetic victim.

And then the flurry of letters from her, all with no response, asking where he is, how they had ‘such a special time together’, how she ‘should like to speak with you soon as there is something I need to discuss’, and that she ‘must speak with you on an urgent basis’ and finally, ‘Is something amiss? My latest letter has been marked “Return to Sender”. What can this mean?’

All so predictable, and rather sad.

But the last letter turns the entire correspondence on its head. It was superbly well written, perfectly imagined and executed, and for that, for the quality of the characterisation in the writing, and the excellent tone of the piece, I think this has to get first prize.”

SECOND – Anne Boleyn asks Irma by Jilly O’Brien from New Zealand

Jilly O’Brien

Jilly O’Brien

Jilly O'Brien is a poet and psychologist. Originally from Yorkshire, with a family who hail from Dawlish, Devon, she now calls Aotearoa New Zealand home. She has had poems published in takahē, Catalyst, The Spinoff, the Otago Daily Times, Blackmail Press, and in various anthologies in both NZ and the UK. In 2018 she was shortlisted for the Open Book/Geometry poetry competition and the Federation of Writers (Scotland) Vernal Equinox poetry competition, and won the Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature Robert Burns poetry competition. Jilly is currently writing about women of history we thought we knew, but maybe didn’t. She is delighted to have won second prize in the Writing without Restrictions category, with her poem ‘Ann Boleyn asks Irma’, and thinks the judge Michael Jecks would make a mighty fine Agony Uncle himself, should he choose to do so.

Our judge, Michael Jecks, commented

“I thought this was superb. It’s the sort of dialogue one can imagine being sent in today by women who are the trophy wives of high-powered oligarchs - or, dare I say, an American president’s wife? - but set out as a series of letters to different agony aunts who each give their own advice based on their magazine (I assume - I’ve never read any of these women!)

It starts out pretty innocuously, talking about her ‘boss’ who wants to
sleep with me
well, have sex with me
and he is ‘creepy’ - but he’s ‘rich though’. And I loved the ‘p.s. I think he likes my sister’.

From there Anne starts to get advice from agony aunts Irma Kurtz, Mariella Frostrup, Peggy Makins, and Claire Raynor, each of whom has her own specific spin on the situation. Irma is blunt:
This is pretty tricky
It can get sticky, trust me and why invest in a toxic relationship?

Whereas Mariella takes the more Grauniad approach, and having heard the man’s married, she says:
you could play hard to get
try a little role play.

I loved the Peggy Makins advice, on hearing that ‘my boss is not that nice’ and on hearing he had to marry Anne:
… he juggled his schedule
changed vicars
went to court
Peggy’s response: ‘It sounds like he’s a reformed character’ was perfect!

And the last, plaintive note to Claire Rayner was indescribably sad, when she says she doesn’t ‘feel safe’, that:
he’s blaming me
and/or witchery
for losing the boy …
of looking elsewhere
for another baby
to love.

Claire’s advice, ‘Make sure that you have a plan B’ doesn’t work terribly well, as the last lines make clear:

Dear Anne
Is everything ok?


THIRD – Bright Spark by Valerie French from England

Valerie French

Valerie French

Valerie wrote,. “My entry for the prize is based on my experience of Internet dating. Trained as a journalist in Vancouver, I’ve been reporting and writing professionally for over 10 years. My work has appeared in various publications including The Guardian, Vancouver Sun and CBC/Radio Canada.

In 2016 I decided to venture into creative writing and, with the help and encouragement of my local writers’ group, I’ve had some success with a radio play submitted to Writers’ Room.

However, this is my first prize and I’m absolutely thrilled. But, more importantly, my drive and motivation has soared – a wonderful antidote to the many rejections! I believe competitions like this are a fantastic opportunity for writers, since they provide a purpose, a deadline and the potential to share their work.”

Our judge, Michael Jecks, commented

“Again, a brilliant piece of writing, and a cautionary tale for all those who are embarking on new relationships through internet dating. From the first impression, ‘you’re way shorter than me,’ to the bullying of two elderly ladies at the entrance, to the ‘Coffee and cakes first, you suggest. Aha! So that’s the secret to your girth,’ the writer sets out the gradual decline in interest in this potential Romeo, taking all the milk for his coffee, his endless talking, never letting the author get a word in edgeways, until the moment when she realises, ‘Any hopes for this date being “the one” were long ago doused, extinguished, drowned.’ And then he goes on, and on, ‘I consider stabbing you with a plastic fork,’ and ‘How much more can I bear?’

But still, being British, she is polite all the way to the end. As I said, this is a brilliant little piece.”


Life Cycle of the Worry Worm (Vermis Curarum) by Linda Burnett from England.

“I loved this. From the early beginnings, ‘tiny fingers teasing out the goodness’, ‘dormant ones can lie for many years’, and ‘The rest take hold as opportunity arises’, this has the reader thinking, nodding and thinking, ‘Oh, yes!’ The writer evokes recognition in every line from the highly imaginative series of metaphors and similes. A powerful, inventive piece of work.”

SHORTLISTED / HIGHLY COMMENDED (in no particular order)
Chris Salberg (England) An extract from 'Daily Thoughts of a news reader'
Karen Wright (England) Till Receipt
Sarah-Jane Huelin (Jersey) I Used to pick Cowslips in that Field
Elizabeth Rowe (England) The Mystery Boots of Bodmin Moor
Peter Burgham (England) Blackpoolium
Wendy Breckon (England) Fly on the Wall (Martha’s Café)
LONGLISTED / COMMENDED (in no particular order)
Divya Darling (Australia) Blindness
Louise Mangos (Switzerland) ...Never To Have Loved At All
Dawn Rapson (England) Why Don’t You Just leave?
Edward Sergeant (England) Twenty-first Century Quack Doctor
Joan Wilson (England) The Discomfort of Sid Shovelle P.I.
Elizabeth Tate (England) Olique
Elizabeth Rowe (England) Skin
Janet Upcher (Australia) Calling to Me (A Lament)
Michael Hall (Wales) The Receipt