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25th February 2015

The Peace Deal is a theme that was open to many interpretations and I had always hoped that entrants would think more laterally than politically. Each day life is filled with negotiations - minor and major - at which (hopefully) we learn to become more adept as we grow older, in order to lead a balanced and happy – peaceful – life. Many of these negotiations are made through subtle behavioural traits that can be a challenge to describe in writing. For some, however, peace is an illusive concept, much beyond the level of the domestic, like for those living in a country at war.

My hopes for variety in interpretations of the theme were lavishly fulfilled. There was a strong emergent theme of negotiating human relationships – between mother and children, between home-sick spouses, and a particularly interesting and unexpected one between an individual and a chronic affliction of tinnitus, among many others.

This week's stand-out pieces were about navigating relationships that are slightly outside of our 'normal' experience.

My first honourable mention goes to The Peace Deal. While I normally have no interest in Fantasy set on other planets, this piece cleverly developed a universally applicable problem, and one that appeals particularly to my background in anthropology – our behavioural arrogance in other cultures, and an ignorance of the sometimes dire repercussions of our 'perfectly normal' values when imposed on those with different value systems. The narrative was engaging, the characters well developed in a claustrophobic space. There was a sense of the madding crowd being inches away from the bubble of tension in which the scene was set. The release of this tension came in a form that was of no help to the protagonist. I enjoyed an ending that was emotionally unreconciled.

My second honourable mention goes to (No Title ID 577) which bravely wanders into territory that is so rarely written about – incest - in a well-rendered domestic scenario. In few words, the years' worth of silent negotiations are brought alive. The protagonists' discomfort with themselves, and with familial and societal pressures, is effortlessly interwoven with very believable images of the everyday:


‘I call him out to the yard. It is covered by a beautiful layer of green grass longing to be stepped on. It is the place that carries memories of us playing cricket and breaking into a fight. Our parents always thought it was just some good old sibling rivalry. It was not. There are corn fritters, on a table, with some orange soda.’


It is an uncomfortable situation, and took a second reading for me to take it in. Being written from inside the thoughts of one of the siblings about to engage in incest, in such relaxed prose, we are reminded that we do not choose who we love. It is a very original interpretation of the theme.

The winner is a deeply touching appeal to a shared humanity. In beautifully rendered and image- thick poetry, 'Shell' keeps you on the cold hard knife edge of loss – of territory, selfhood, of love, while keeping those things that are lost in close view at all times, in the hope that they remain retrievable:


‘Our grievances hang
like raindrops on a washing line
waiting for their turn to fall.’


It asks us to leave aside the notion of putting our hopes for peace in a Political Solution, and rather to remember our selves as fellow humans with an innate sense of dignity and respect for our neighbours:

‘come, there’s room beside me still,’ 

A clarion call for all humans (and animals), in all cultures and all lands, it could not better encapsulate this week's theme. 


About the judge:

Sarah Thomas is a nature writer who started life as an anthropologist, and found her way to writing through film making. In 2013 she won the prestigious Penguin Summer Wayfarer award, which saw her wander Britain on foot for two months, wild camping and reporting from the hedgerows on AJourney On Foot. Prior to that she had lived in Iceland, two degrees south of the Arctic Circle where she started a blogJourneys In Between to make sense of it all. She is currently writing a memoir about that period of her life, which was turbulent and beautiful in equal measure, both for herself and for Iceland.


My Notes