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12th November 2017

As somebody who's spent the last few months looking at creative work inspired by roads,The Open Road was always going to be an interesting brief, promising as it does a wide variety of interpretations, and I was excited to see that several of the entries took the theme in an unexpected direction (pun unintended!). 


One of the most eye-catching interpretations of the theme was Entry 2830: The Navajo Legacy which touched on some painfully timely themes of choice and political action, whilst also connecting with the culturally laden touchstone of Roswell. I was also drawn to Entry 2823: The Open Roada story of personal liberation and bravery set in a very contemporary environment. As with Entry 2830I welcomed the wider resonance of this story, particularly in today's political and cultural environment. The idea of the open road, for me, always has to reach somewhere beyond the apparent limit of the story, and I felt that both Entry 2830 and Entry 2823 did this with success. 


The other entry which caught my eye was Entry 2822, a poem which sang into some tight, vivid imagery. Lines like 'cellophaned bunches of flowers' were handled well. I also enjoyed the dense yet acute imagery in the final stanzas of this piece. I returned to this poem several times to let myself fully understand and start to come to terms with the amibiguity and depth to some of the moments; a welcome task! 


I was immediately drawn to Entry 2819: Sometimes A Car Crashes and Nothing Else is Near and for me, this was a clear and definite winner. Sometimes when it comes to writing, less is more and the appealing tightness of this poem, with its self-contained stories and imagery, was hard to deny. The characterisation of space within the poem was well done, contrasting the idea of the intimate space inside a car with the wider locations of the service station and the 'tidy hedge'. I particular enjoyed the final stanza: 'The rear light of a small family / car flickering through the gap, / a tiny hedge' and how it engaged both a sense of visual movement but also time. 


My congratulations to everyone who submitted work! Reading your entries was a stimulating and interesting experience and I'm pleased to have been able to to do so!





Daisy Johnson is a writer, researcher and a librarian and also the current A14 'Writer In Residence', at the Institute of Continuing Education at the University of Cambridge. Along with writing her own work inspired by the landscape, Daisy is looking for people with their stories to tell about the road, whether they're real, fictional, poetic, or avant-garde performance poetry... You can find her online at and more about the A14 project at


Jake's racing car can fly and he often soars above the town where he lives, lifts himself above the constricting streets and travels far above, feeling the wind in his hair and the whoosh of delight in his belly as he rises, up and up, higher than everyone he knows. Sometimes he takes his mum along for the ride, because she deserves it. She screams and whoops along with him as they fly. Other times it's just him alone up there, cloud-dodging and dipping so that his stomach does flips.

He can fire rockets of rice-krispies at people too, at the nasty people, the people who dare to do bad stuff to him while he's flying. He takes aim, fires and peppers them with his rice-krispie gun, which makes them laugh and say sorry and be his friend again. He takes on bullies, thieves and the boy who always looks at him and laughs. That boy, Kev, the one his mum tells him he must feel sorry for. He does, actually, because Kevin doesn't have a racing car and although he's named after his dad, his dad isn't there and has never been there, when at least Jake knew his a bit. Kev has to laugh at other people to make himself feel better, so Jake gives him extra rice-krispie shots to make him smile.

At school Jake has all the advantages of an ancient brain, won when he travelled back in time and fought the dragon on Dragon Hill, the dragon who guards the good brains and only gives them to the worthy. He sets riddles and brain teasers and though Jake had the advantage of Super Intel, the questions and riddles were hard and he struggled. But he won, took on board the extra brain power and now he's top of the class - top of the school in some things - and the teachers call him Super Brain (but only quietly, because they don't want the other kids to feel bad. Jake doesn't boast - his mum told him that wasn't nice - so he's quiet with his talents and he ever so quietly comes top in most stuff. It helps that he has an on board computer to help him convert his thoughts to words, but the power of those thoughts is strong. He has the Force of the Ancient Brain taken form the Dragons who guard all the ancient brains in the world and make sure only the most deserving get them.

Jake even gets extra days off because his brain is so good. No, he doesn't have to go to school every single day - sometimes he goes to his special place where his on board computer gets recharged and his racing car checked and his bionic heart monitored. On these days his mum reminds him how absolutely lucky he is, and reminds him that his mates at school will be stuck indoors doing too easy maths. And he's lucky because he has other friends, too. His friends in his special place and boys with super powers just like him, and they are all brilliant, lucky kids.

It's an extra day off today. He asks his mum if she wants to fly but she looks unhappy and her mouth is set in a line and her fingernails are more badly bitten than usual. He knows something is up but he doesn't know what. Shes doesn't want to fly so he drives instead, along the bumpy stained pavements, jerky movements hurting his car. Flying is better but Mum says no.

They get to his special place and none of his friends are there. This makes him sad. In the special room where he can play with extra special stuff JUST for him and his friends, there's a young girl, and she's crying, and she's all alone.

When Jake's mum goes to the big yellow desk to say they're here, Jake drives his car over to her and asks her if she'd like a go. Her car is much smaller. But she shakes her head and says her mum's in the loo and she likes her own car. But she says chair, which Jake's about to tell her is wrong when her mum comes back, and Jake can see that she's been crying too. Jake's mum - who has superpowers when she doesn't mind people seeing, comes over and gives her a big hug and they go and stand in a corner so Jake can't hear what they're saying. Jake's got supersonic hearing though so he can drop eaves, which is what his mum tells him he mustn't do with his special powers. He gives the girl his best smile and drives backwards just a little so he can hear them.

'...was our last hope but they won't... no further treatment options.... can't believe it... so angry and feel so useless... America... money... what do I tell her?'

Mum sees Jake and send him a telling off eye beam so he goes back to the girl, who's stopped crying.

'What's your name?' he says.

'Molly,' she says. She has a lovely voice; soft and serene, like an angel, Jake thinks. 'I'm dying,' she says, matter-of-factly.

'Of what?' Jake asks, after a while when he doesn't know what to say. He's going to live forever thanks to his on board computer, unless that computer breaks and he has to go and have it fixed, or unless the computer decides he's ready for the next level. That's what his mum told him would happen one day and that when it did, he'd not be able to see her again but might get another mummy. he told her not to say scary stuff like that and she said that he had to know. That was about the time his daddy left for cigarettes (that mummy hated) and didn't come back. Mum told him the cigarette God caught him and took him away.

Immediately he feels sorry for the girl, because his life is going to go on forever and hers isn't, so he thinks he'll tell her a story, to make her feel better.

'One day,' he says, 'your racing car will be able to fly, just like mine and you might get an on board computer, just like me. But the people who make the computers have special powers and they have lots of jobs to do and one day, you might have to go back and help them with something, or get it fixed, or get it changed. Then you get to go and live somewhere else for a while and it's all a big adventure.'

The girl's eyes are on his and Jake feels all funny in his tummy. Her eyes are deep dark brown and they are big and shiny and he finds himself wanting to look into them. He can feel his super powers deserting him because he doesn't know what to say, so he smiles back.

'I like that story,' she says. 'I'll tell it to my mum.'

'Jake Bradley?' calls a voice.

Jake's mum appears by his side and she makes as if to push his car. He drives away from her and she does an awkward little fall forwards, regaining her feet just in time. Jake giggles and so does the girl. As Jake drives away he looks at her and she's smiling, and waving with two of her fingers. A super power wave; it's the one he does. She'll be all right, he thinks.

Jake's mum laughs too and follows him, jogging to keep up, as he drives to the Superpower Office - his mum's name for the place he goes and gets everything checked. Last time they were here they took some of his blood away in a tube to see how his superpowers were doing.

'Hello Dr White,' says his Mum, and then in a rush she says, 'Are the results back?'


Jake's got too big to lift now and he can't levitate like he used to, so he has a special machine to make him levitate. His mum helps him into it and swings him over to his bed, where he finally gets to rest after his day saving the world and flying. His mum helps him get changed.

She sings him the special song she made up for him about what a magical kid he is but at the end she's crying, just like Molly's mum. Jake knows what this means. It means they want him to go back and get his computer checked out and maybe send him somewhere else.

'I don't want to go anywhere else. I want to stay here, with you,' he says. His mum leans across his super-high bed and hugs him, hard. It hurts, a little. He can smell her perfume, the one she's worn forever, that she only uses a tiny bit of, because it's expensive. But Jake has a super-nose, so he can smell it anyway.

'You're too important to them, the ones who made your computer. You're too important and they want you back, to help teach other people about building new stuff. Because you're so special. I want to keep you here but you're too important. I can only keep you for so long.' His mum's voice goes all wobbly.

'When do I have to go?' Jake says, quietly, into his mum's sweet-smelling hair.

'Soon,' she whispers, and Jake feels her body wobble as well as her words. 'Not yet, but soon.'

She straightens up and wipes her eyes, gives him his super meds so that he gets to fly at night as well, and then leaves the room, leaving the door ajar and the light on so that if he wants to go for a magic night wander, he can find the way.

Jake's mattress rolls gently under him so he doesn't get sore bits, the thing that turns his air to super-air hisses behind him and he thinks about Molly. She was nice. Perhaps if he has to go and she's there, it might not be so bad.

He falls asleep and his dreams are colourful ad vivid, as they always are. In them he's with him mum, running across fields, jumping over grasses that sway gently in a sweet breeze. At one point his mum lets go of his hand and he's off upwards, floating away, up to the clouds. She's smiling at him and he knows that she'll be okay, because he can see her, and he'll always be able to see her. He floats upwards and hears his name being called in a soft voice that he knows. There's Molly, floating towards him.

'You're right,' she says. 'It's magical up here. Look at me! Look at what I can do now!' And with strong arms she pulls him close and kisses his cheek, and then she pulls him fast, over the trees and the hills and the fields. When he looks back he can still see his mum standing there watching, so he does an extra twirl just for her.

It'll all be okay, he realises now, in his dream. It'll all be okay, when it happens. He knows he must remember this to tell his mum when he wakes up for another day of sorting out bullies with rice-krispies. It'll all be okay and she's not got to worry or be sad. I'll tell her. And he goes back to his dream, where he and Molly have landed in a field and are running with strong legs across the grass, laughing together.

Heaven… On… Earth

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Featured Entry

by runner duck
It happened a long time ago, or so my grandmother told me. It was in the winter when she was a girl that her father entrusted a story to her. It was true he said. But whether that was the same as it being factual she didn't know. He had pulled up two chairs and put them by the fire after supper one evening and begun:
“You are of an age now to be a guardian of a secret. Your mother is gone and I have no son and as much as I grieve for that you have been as loyal and dependable as any boy could have been. We've worked hard the both us keeping the farm going, but I'm tired now and you will be leaving me soon. So listen carefully little one for that is still how I think of you even though you are nearly a grown woman.
There was civil war in the land and your enemies were under your own roof. Neighbour saw neighbour hung without flinching and the church stood by protecting its wealth, doing nothing to save the parishoners who it fleeced week in week out.
One day a monk, close to death who had been beaten and viciously stabbed crawled into a barn on this farm. It was centuries ago and he died the next morning but he told a tale to the farmer – my great grandfather that made his blood run cold.
The devil had come to earth and was changing hearts and instilling hatred into every soul that succumbed to his seductive words and promise of riches. He went in disguise as a juggler travelling around the fairs and bewitching children and adults alike with his quick hands and wonderful showmanship. Only one person recognised him and that was a child. She saw with eyes of truth and clarity. She warned her parents, she warned her friends but no one believed her. What did a girl know? And a blind one at that?
Fair after fair. Village after village and then city after city fell into the hands of the juggler. Whenever he moved on he left men and women who had given him their hearts and souls in charge of ensuring that hatred bewteen neighbours flourished and the civil war claimed more and more lives.
Eventually men and women of prayer in abbeys and convents realised the danger the earth was in and sent monks and nuns around the nation speaking out against the divisiveness of the juggler. Some listened to their message but most did not and many of them were beaten, some killed.
The juggler grew more daring and performed in castles and palaces alike before finally arriving at the gates of the great city of London itself.
It was here the devil made his mistake.
He fell in love.
The woman in her early twenties with fair skin and golden hair was already married but the devil didn't care, he was besotted. He stirred up a group of men in a tavern one night and they beat the womans husband to death, falsely believing he had stolen from their purses. Consoling the widow and using his charm and assuring her that he would care for her he smiled and relaxed, thinking the woman his own. She however was truly grieving and despised the juggler though she pretended otherwise. She planned to kill him, take his earnings and move back to her family in the countryside of Kent.
The devil finally saw through the womens false affirmations and a battle boke out as had never broken out before in his own soul. Enraged he provoked more and more riots and yet so in love was he that he couldn't bring himself to kill the woman and desperately tried to convince himself that she would fall for his charms.
The woman fled and travelled back to Kent under the protection of three monks who were returning from a pilgrimage in the capitol, going back to their abbey near sevenoaks.
They almost made it to safety but the devil had stolen a horse and gone after the woman catching up with the quartet just a few miles from her family farm. He unleashed a terible violence and hatred that had never been seen before. He dashed two of the monkks to pieces and tore out the heart of the woman. No one would have it if he couldn't. The third monk had hidden and crawled away to a barn where he later told the tale.
The last bit of which I will now share with you little one. But first I must have a drink for my throat is dry and my eyes`are heavy.”
The girls father drank the mulled wine that she brought him and closed his eyes for what seemed like an eternity. The effort of telling tne story had taken a lot out of him and he had aged.
Finally he opened his eyes, passed the mug back to her and continued the story.
“The devil exhausted by the violence and with the body of the women he loved at his feet, moved under a tree and slept. When he woke he found himself looking into the face of another. He went to lash out but the gaze held him and his arms hung useless at his side.
"It's not too late” her voice said, “not even for you.”
The devil laughed, his cockiness and self assurance instantly returning. So she wanted to save his soul well that was a mistake. He went to stand but his legs gave way.
Why won't you let go?” she asked and in that moment the devil knew he was beaten. He howled and the animals and birds and everyone who heard it cowered in fear. It was a terrible sound. The sound of a thousand men going to their deaths. The sound of pain and longing and hatred. It was a hideous sound that turned the sky black and dried up streams. It was a sound that moved his companion to the marrow of her bones and as the devil looked up he saw tears rolling down the face of a little blind girl. It was more than he could bear and he tried to reach out his hand to dry them.
The blind girl though vanished from his sight and he hung his head in shame.
He buried the bodies of the monks and the woman he loved and untieing the horse shooed it away and went and lived in a little hut on the edge of a field..
He lives there still little one and the blind girl watches over him”
“What is the secret I'm to be guardian of? I don't understand. If the devil is tamed and being watched over there is no danger is there? What has this story to do with us?”
“The hut is on our land little one. It is at the spot where the field becomes wood. It is a spot no-one ever goes to for nothing grows there and no light penetrates the trees that overhang his living space”
The girl got up and walked over to the small window.
“Is that why you always told me to not to play there?”
“Yes. No one knows if the blind girl will die or if the devil will regain his power and no one must ever go to the hut to see.
This farm will be sold soon and you will move to the home of your husband but it is your task to pass on the secret to the next generation who will live here. It is a burden but you must find a way. Then if the terrible things that happened all those years ago begin again they will know that the blind girl has died and they must seach for someone new who can move the devils heart and once again bring peace. For that is heaven on earth little one. You must watch and wait and not leave it too late. Do you understand ?
“Yes father “
The girl said as tears rolled down her face. For news had reached her yesterday that fighting had broken out in the neigbouring village.
Brothers had fallen out with each other and three of them had been brutally beaten and killed.

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Winning entry by jaguar
All the colours of the past revealed by the curling paper. She laughed at the walls stripping like she used to. At least they revealed more attractive selves than the present day – her clothes were better looking than her flesh.

Something stuck in her teeth again, between the two that reminded her of an old couple, leaning on each other. Nothing should come between them, particularly not old vegetable gristle trying to resist its final journey. She teased it out with a silver toothpick and the bleeding started. Everything was on its final journey now, even her teeth.

She swallowed, savouring the tang of iron, such flavour. Each day she was more aware how much of her was water but it smelt and tasted so strong. Outside the wind berated the windows so she couldn’t hear the fighting. Most days the metallic sounds of war dominated, words spelt out by bullets now the dialogue's stopped.

The walls of her room groaned as if tortured while her building struggled to pull itself out of the ground, free itself from this cursed street. The sign above the apartment entrance crashed to the ground, half-buried by rubble. Just the last three letters of Olympus showed. She laughed at her own stupidity believing she might find her paradise here.

Yet it was once Heaven on earth. Not this cringing apartment building with its grandiose name but only a few streets away. A street-level house, a garden full of fig trees and flowers. Scent, colour and personalities too large to remain earthbound long. They’d risen like balloons, off on their journeys somewhere better but were the trees still there? Who'd hurt a tree?

Did she still believe the other side wouldn't, out of spite? She wasn’t sure. So many of the stories had worn too thin for purpose. She could see right through most of them. You get what you deserve, expect rewards if you work hard and don’t complain. Lives were torn as easily as tissue paper. As pointlessly, there was no overall plan. People were no better than wasps in a jam-jar, stomping the weaker down so they didn’t drown.

Yet that was how her enemies wanted her to feel – trapped in a tiny jar - about to go under their feet. If she believed that they’d won. She raised her chin and pulled the blind back from the window. The silence was so unusual she wondered if her hearing had gone. The wind had dropped and taken all the clamour with it, the shooting and the shouting. Her city was still and it was still her city. All of it not just these few streets.

She put her creaky boots on forcing her feet inside. Her outdoor shawl fastened she clutched her purse and her stick. For once the lift responded to her request. She hesitated before entering it but she had to die somewhere of something. To her surprise she was outside the apartment block before she’d realised she was going straight out. She was in the quiet street, blinking at the sun, thrown by the absolute silence.

She started walking fast, small steps that propelled her forwards with each touch on the ground. she didn’t slow even as she crossed an invisible border, the divide between her people’s territory and the enemy’s. Could they tell by looking at her she held different beliefs? Were they using her clothing to sort her, staring down their cold barrels, making up their minds?

She walked faster, almost running now, her breath catching with the shot of pain each step delivered. She stopped, retraced a few steps and swayed in front of a row of houses, a rubble-filled garden, the skeletons of fig trees. One hand covered her throat, the other reached towards the blackened branches. A fierce whine broke the silence and she leapt forward, fire-working blood.

Her last thought was of her childhood, of belonging, of being back in the sanctuary her parents created. Here but not here. Heaven on Earth.
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