13th May 2015
Wouldn’t we all rather be on the way up than on the way down? ‘The way up’ conjures images of triumph and achievement, of conquering the summit. ‘The way down’ sounds like the place where bad things happen. It speaks to me of failure and defeat. A stumble on the steps, a slip on the ice, a fall from grace . . . the moment the lift drops. Or perhaps that’s just the devil inside me, because where I would have conjured dark scenes and failing characters, many of the writers this week found light and colour and hope on the way down.
As I read each shortlisted piece, I was surprised by the variety of creative interpretations and the quality of writing. From mysterious cracks in the floorboards and Beirut-bound transvestites to cable cars and Winston Churchill, each one was a pleasure to read. However, I am allowed to pick just two featured entries and one overall winner, so . . .
The first featured entry, 838, rather took me by surprise. Dementia is a cruel and terrible thing, conjured quickly and effectively in this short piece of writing, but this is not a downbeat story. It didn’t leave me bitter. Instead, I felt a bright sense of joy and hope. Oh, and I love ‘wings of pure flight’.
The second featured entry, 826, The Way Down takes the title literally and puts us in a lift - or rather, it puts us in the head of a man in a lift - which is making its descent from the 12th floor. The writer has chosen a topic we can all relate to – that of trying to find the courage to be open and honest with someone, while at the same time fretting over the consequences of that openness. Giving the reader a few more of the character’s thoughts as each floor passes, is a neat device. It’s a countdown ticker until that moment; the moment of choice. My only grievance is that I still don’t know if Jane put the flowers in a vase or dropped them in the bin. But then . . . sometimes it’s better not to know.
But what about the winner?
Well, when I began reading, I expected death. Not mine; I mean one of the characters. This piece of writing builds character, place, and plot in just a few words, and I began to suspect the set up for an unhappy spouse to finally do away with an all-controlling partner. I was wrong. There is no set up, just a wife who is happy to see her husband enjoying his holiday, and a husband who doesn’t understand his wife’s fear. But this writer understands the fear, and understands that it doesn’t go away.
‘She hadn’t known it was possible to sustain a sense of absolute terror for so long, but throughout the 45 minute trip up the mountain, her fear never subsided.’
And the last line of the piece goes directly to the heart of it. While Martin is enjoying the magnificent view, Julia can only think of one thing. The fear of going back down the mountain.
Well done no. 823, whoever you may be!
About Dan Smith
Growing up, Dan Smith led three lives. In one he survived the day-to-day humdrum of boarding school, while in another he travelled the world, finding adventure in the padi fields of Asia and the jungles of Brazil. But the third life he lived in a world of his own, making up stories . . . Which is where some people say he still lives most of the time.