'No More Heroes' is now being marked, and the winner will be announced on Wednesday. Competitions run Monday to Friday - new title to be released on Monday. Sign up to be notified by email.
8th June 2017
Judging writing competitions is not something I have done before, so please don’t be offended if I have not chosen your entry (it’s probably down to me not you). It has been a great honour to judge your work which is far better than anything I am sure I could ever write myself.
Firstly I would like to say what a great collection of pieces. From brain-washing and poisoning, to companionship and binary lives. It was great to see such a variety of different interpretations of the title – some very pure focusing on ethical or responsible business (something that I deal with on a daily basis), others taking a much more fantastical view of it (something that I sometimes wish I spent more time dealing with).
All of which made it very difficult to choose a winner with such a variety of pieces. However, I have managed to choose one.
The winner for me was 2644. I was drawn in by the dark humour in the piece and the twist at the end. I loved its conversational style. My favourite line is ‘I suppress the image of a new-born hybrid, it’s too horrible to entertain’ as I too was conjuring up quite an unpleasant character based on the descriptions of the three protagonists. The depressing thing is that there are many companies the world over are being led by the likes of Colin.
2642 was a strong runner-up. I really enjoyed the story and felt quite moved by the relationship that developed by Jimmy and the old lady at number 42. The assumptions we all place on people we don’t know (especially the old) and the entrepreneurial spirit of young people were well expressed bringing the reader closer to the two lead characters. As I read the story I felt I had a sense of foreboding. Although the ending was sad I felt the relationship that had developed between Jimmy and the old lady at number 42 had perhaps provided some level of closure for the old lady.
My final choice to make it into the top three was 2649 and the dad’s letter to his daughter about how cynicism became a patented product and he ended up in jail. I loved the premise of the story and how the whole idea slightly ran away with the main character – it made me think of the many billion dollar tech companies that are appearing on a daily basis, creating things that no one really understands but seem to get billions and billions of dollars of investment without even turning a profit, followed by the founders being caught up in some awful negative media storm. Being a family man dealing with business on a daily basis I rather liked the sentiment of the final line ‘family is the best business to do’.
Thank you for your time in entering the competition – I’m off to see if I can persuade Colin that doing good business actually makes good commercial sense and is not just some PR you do on the side.
The chicken Hero died on Sunday
called so from Hero and Leander of
course (it's a girl's name but you
knew that), and it was not really
a good hero's death: a wound
unnoticed, infiltrated by maggots
e'en before the grave, and in fact
as it was a hot day I said burn her;
don't bring her back so fallen;
but importantly, remember (note
to self) this is not Anglo-Saxon poetry
not the Dream of the Rood, and her
demise was not a prefiguration nor
was meant to be.
I will kill my squirming
maggots and I will live.
Heroes can resist the
stench of the grave and
the false allure of heaven
if they believe.
- Seth Dinario: WhoA! That was an adrenaline rush. Discovered the competition only today and, rather than wait until next week to spend five days really crafting something great, I thought 'I can do a 2K story from scratch in an hour, no sweat.' Incorrect. Buckets of sweat, and an incomplete story! Anyone else had this issue? Hubris, I mean. The last time I paid money to feel this jacked up yet frustrated was my first (and second) driving tests. FYI, markers, the final sentence should have been: 'Ms Chattingham, start the procedure.' AND there was going to be loads more in there about the bottles, where they're from, what they're for, yada yada yada. Sigh.
- Hour of Writes: Thanks for the feedback Safemouse. I always enjoy hearing from you. Hope you'll be able to enter 'For The Many' :-) Alison
- safemouse: Thanks for your reply, Alison. Of course, HOW is your baby and you must do what you want with it. As a semi-regular user I just wanted to give you some feedback...
- Hour of Writes: Thanks Safemouse! I appreciate your response, and the balance within it - also that what you like about HoW is not politics (I think you can assume that I am aware of that, and was when I wrote the email too). However, I think there is virtue in using something built for one purpose for another one. I grew up in South Yorkshire during the miners' strike in the '80s, the last Tory government, so personally have a very negative experience of Conservative policies. I am pleased at the way this election is becoming properly competitive in a way the last one never seemed to, the 'Milibean' image getting in the way of anything approaching policy. Having a proper opposition means that the Tories won't be able to get away with as much exploitation as otherwise. The question of 'evil'/Tories/left-wingers is a fascinating one and deserves its own conversation, and indeed, research project in my opinion. We need a better system to have these conversations on the site. I will see what I can do.
- safemouse: Alison, Having read your recent email I would say this. I am going to uni in September as a mature student and I don't begrudge paying fees. Afterall, I don't pay anything til I finish uni and then only after I earn £21,000 per annum,which is alot of money to me. In particular, I think it's unfair for people who go to university to expect those who didn't to fund their education. As for who to vote for, I'm enjoying the retro feel of this election cycle and am torn between the different options. The Tories are bringing back grammar schools, Labour are going to nationalise the railways and UKIP are bringing back highway men and gibbets. Seriously though, on this occasion I could quite happily vote for almost anyone (i.e Tory, Lib, Lab, Green) or no one. I'm a genuine floating voter. I don't think the sky would collapse if we scrapped Trident, I don't think the Tories are inherently evil. You caution against the fear and brow beating agenda of the right wing perhaps without seeing those elements in your own message. A message which implies that unless I vote for the 'true alternative' the swords of hunger will come beating on my door! Granted , they are here already somewhat and a Labour vote might best further my own interests but... I don't seek a political solution to my core problems which will remain, by and large, whoever gets in. I will study the manifestos and vote as wisely as I can but my life is not really about politics and the political aspect of HOW is not what makes HOW attractive to me...Just sayin'.
I've only got an hour. I'll tell you what I know so you can make sure it doesn't happen again. Why you? Because I trust you to do the right thing. I lost track of what was right for a while, but I know, now and I'm throwing myself into making things right with as much energy as I've got left. All of it. But it might not be enough, and if I don't succeed, you'll know by tonight, and you'll know what to do about it.
Ready? You probably won't believe a word of it but just read it all, before you decide. I am telling the truth, and I'm telling you because I don't trust anyone else. I used to trust everyone - you called me naive, once - but that's gone now. I trust you and you alone. I've known you my whole life, since we were at playgroup together. I've never lied to you before, and I'm not going to now.
I don't know how to start.
Sarah, you've got to believe me, okay?
I went to get hypnotised. I told you I was going, remember, to that place you'd suggested, that you found on the internet? It was about biting my bloody nails - how trivial and self consuming this seems to me now, with everything else that's about to happen. I made the appointment and went in and sat down and got hypnotised. I didn't pay much attention to the therapist - she was young, efficient and not keen to get involved in small talk so I decided to just get on with it and get it done. I felt like a bit of an idiot actually, but having tried my entire life to stop biting my nails and with the job interview coming up I was out of options. I don;t blame you, by the way. You weren't to know what would happen.
So. One minute I was there, on her sofa, next minute I'm having all kinds of crazy dreams. One in particular - remember Zadie? From school? Yes. That Zadie. I can see your face - crinkling up in distaste as you remember her bullying us. How we used to plot our revenge.
Well, three months ago, she got run over. On the same day I was hypnotised. And the dream I had... This is where you're gonna have to trust me, Sarah. I didn't tell you I'd heard about her death. I didn't tell you because... I did it.
Stay with me. I know, I know what you're thinking but I have not lost it. Christ, 15 minutes gone already. And they may come early. I think I'll hit SEND and get each bit sent to you because I might not get to finish it...
Ok. Zadie. She died. At the same time I dreamt I had a car and I could see her about to cross a road, with the green man flashing, and the lights were red and in the dream all that anger I felt came rushing back and I floored it.
God, I feel sick just thinking about it.
When I came round the woman was smiling at me. A completely genuine, happy as hell, huge smile. Like she'd discovered something amazing. I sat there shaking - physically shaking - and she told me to take some time and recover and that I'd done well.
Then we heard the sirens.
Turned out Zadie was back to see her mum. They'd been out shopping. You didn't hear about her death because I'm the only one from school you're in touch with and with you so far away - well, there didn't seem a lot of point. The truth was worse - I was terrified to tell anyone, anything.
I paid the fee and left that office without even saying goodbye. I got home, no idea how, it's all a blur. But I avoided the high street where-
When I got home I went to bed and I slept. And when I woke up, I thought I'd dreamt the whole thing. But I hadn't. And the worst thing? The very worst, awful thing? I couldn't stop the thought coming 'she deserved it'.
I felt like the most evil person in the world. After that big sleep, I wasn't able to sleep properly again. I kept reliving it. I ended up drinking wine which got rid of the thoughts, and also helped me be more rational. It was a coincidence. I wasn't evil. I was going nuts and had imagined the whole thing.
After two weeks, I went back. This time I paid more attention to her. 'Amber Smith' - I'd not even got her name when I first went - smiled at me. She was younger than I even remembered. Beautiful, in a magaziney, perfect way, but cold. Cold eyes, cold hands. When she took mine she examined my nails. 'I see you've not stopped biting them,' she said.
I shook my head. 'You want to try again?' she said.
I nodded. And that, Sarah, was all it took. Because that voice, that evil voice, kept saying, 'she deserved it'. And I thought... maybe I could put other things right, too.
I can almost see your face. I don't blame you for being horrified. Writing this, it seems horrifying. And you know me, I am not a bad person. It was like that woman - Amber - changed something in me. I now know it was control - she slipped in and found I was lacking in confidence, strength, something that could stop her. And in she slipped, and left the door a tiny bit open, once she'd left. And that's how I ended up back there.
You know what happened next. Mr Randall had a heart attack and is now living his life out paralysed in an old folks' home. payback for all the times he put us in detention for not doing maths, you could say. Or payback for all the times he gave us the cane - remember how he knew it was about to be banned, so he used it as much as possible?
And then Ian Dudman. That boy who... he shouldn't have ridden so fast.
And Alex. That awful illness that now keeps him confined to his bed. You don't know Alex but I told you about him - he lives nearby and he's been a bastard to me. Calls me the eternal spinster, even though he's older than I am.
I'm dirty, Sarah. I've become something awful.
And I'm running out of time.
What happened next was this...
'Shall I read on?'
I shake my head. The policeman is trying not to smile. 'I'm guessing you know the rest of the contents of the e mail. I just wanted you to hear it aloud, again. Just so you know why...'
'I've read it several times. Poor, poor Jules. She's been my best friend for 37 years. I just can't believe she ended up like this. I had no idea.' I brush away some tears. Crying for Jules won't bring her back.
'Thank you for bringing this in. It doesn't change the murder charge, but it will, perhaps, allow Jules to receive a more lenient sentence.' The policeman looks at his computer. 'I'll need you to come in and make a formal statement,' he says.
'Of course,' I tell him. 'Can I ask you something though?'
'Fire away,' he says.
'If the guys she and Amber killed were radicalised and about to commit murder themselves, wasn't Jules doing us a favour? By setting up the meeting Amber drew them in, and then she and Jules killed them - isn't the overall end of that a good thing?'
'There's no evidence that they were radicalised,'
'Yes there is!' I cry, before remembering. 'I mean, according to the papers...'
'No formal evidence. I appreciate you want to give your friend hero status, but she - and Amber Smith - are murderers at this stage in time.'
I want to say more but I'm running out of time myself, now. I've got an appointment in 25 minutes in Stonehaven and it'll take me most of that to get there.
I make arrangements to go in and make my statement then I'm off. In the car I exhale, and cry properly. I'm gutted to lose Jules - all that trust I'd built up. It helped, knowing her for so long, but really the trust had really been created these last few years, when her depression and total lack of self esteem saw her fall down so badly.
I helped her. All the things I did were to help her. And me, a little. After all, she wasn't the only one in those detentions, up against that wall... and her neighbour, the one who was nasty to her, that was just my little gift. But all of it, all of it was just training, for all of us. Amber will be so hard to replace but not impossible, but for Jules to be so suggestive... I don't think anyone trusts me that much. I can build it though, it's not as if I've not done it before. And with men it's easier to get that trust. Get them to fall in love and bang...
Understand though, that this is all for the greater good. I'm training, myself as much as the others. Removing myself by two people from murder is the best way to ensure my innocence. People just do not believe in mind control. Not like this. No, I'll never get caught. But I do have work to do.
The election last night threw a few curve balls my way. Nothing I can't work with, though. The masterplan isn't derailed, it's just a little off course. And I'll have more time to prepare, and train up some people.
It's hard working alone. I'd love to meet someone else with my talents. Imagine what we could do!
I put on some mascara and check the directions again. The place I'm looking for is just north of Stonehaven. The therapist I'm going to see works from home, which is pretty perfect.
And in a few months, when I'm ready again, I'll move a bit faster. Stop arsing about settling old scores and practising. I'll just go for it, and get things put right. These politicians, the ones who've been making such a bloody mess of things, I'm going to teach them a little lesson. Get things back where they ought to be. Give the good guys a bit of a helping hand.
Just a nudge. A few absences, here and there, to pave the way for the right people to take control. And then I'll sit back and watch things get back to normal. I'll applaud myself, silently, from the back stalls. Just a part of the background, that's all I am. A helping hand.
Last Week's Winner!
Winning entry by Seth Dinario
I tread the wooded paths
Dimly aware of the drizzle
And the way to go
Not lost, but lost in thought
Reflecting on his life and
Who he was to me
Today we bury my Uncle.
Saline springs to my eyes early
Who was he, really?
What was he to me?
Cautious, reliable, ostensibly dull
But with a definite humour
A wit that sometimes said:
"Let me out! Open my pages.
I see yours, let's write life together."
I wipe my eyes; I see a dog
An owner of some sort must be near.
I un-don my headphones, furl my umbrella
There she is: dumpy, blonde, forgettable
(If I was being cruel)
But learned, conditioned, habitual kindness
Bids me say at least "hello."
And that sparse greeting morphs shamelessly
Into a platitude regarding the unseasonal weather.
Her face drops its guard
A smile accompanies a reply
Not eager, exactly, but cordial
I hear my voice expand upon
Its meteorological gambit
I was woken at five by the deluge,
I say. Biblical, it was.
As much as I want
The quirky response
Some wit re: Noah
Or the allusion it may have been
A dream, a memory, a myth
I am oddly relieved
When she makes some trivial remark
About her plants:
As forgettable as her face, her clothes.
That is how the script goes
As I resume my solitary path.
I imagine the blonde woman and I
Caught up in a terror attack
It's easy to believe we'd team up,
If it came to it.
Push aside the likely outcome:
That we'd cower,
waiting for one
To tell the other
What to do
Until the end.
Cerebrally I snap back
To thoughts of my Uncle
The tears return
And I cannot tell
If I'm crying
Or the woman
I spoke to in the woods today.
I fled to Margate, to the beach,
all pebbled, unsteady under foot.
Felt finished as a spent breath,
In crisis I crouched down,
let the sea magnify the stones,
focused my mind on what could be found.
The earthy brown jasper
rounded as old shoulders,
warm as grandparents’ hugs.
Absolute white of quartz matched
my bones, never been so exposed,
keeping my soul safe from him.
Brown beach agate conjured up
my parents’ cars, 1970s curtains,
colouring books from childhood, big hands
steadying me on bikes, boards, beaches.
Mind and body back in tune
I turned to face the place
where Dream Land had closed down.