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28th October 2015

Where we live matters. A decent place to call home - rented, owned, mortgaged or any combination of the above - can make a huge difference to each one of us. 

The range of interpretations of the title was, in itself, impressive: political sketches and religious musings sitting side by side with childhood memories and fantastical inventions. It was rather a daunting prospect to thin the richness of poetry and prose down to three pieces.  

The two commended pieces have in common a sense of humour and a rather unusual take on this week's theme.  

Firstly, 1299, the scuttling migration of the hermit crabs, seeming to be set in some fantasy future where we must all move on, house to house, finding a home that fits us precisely.  Well written and wittily misleading, I loved the originality of concept as well as the faultless execution of the story.  The adventure clearly won over its readers: ‘I hope you win!’ commented one.  I'm afraid it hasn't quite won, but the writer should be congratulated for their well drafted crab's eye view.  

I also hugely enjoyed the raconteur of the ghostly 'Usual Suspects' tale (1316). The gentle humour and cheeky protagonists had me gripped as I read this piece and the tightly constructed prose packed a good adventure into its compact form.  

But enjoyable as these pieces were, there was one clear winner this week. The writer of The First Ashes succinctly and poignantly captured a world being pulled away from under your feet. The opening stanza, as one reader remarked, was superb:


“I have fallen through the floorboards

of my thoughts, collapsed beneath

the edifice we built, the place I thought

could last forever.”


I particularly admired this piece for its universality. It may have been about cancer (“cells divide too quickly”), but the alienation from other people and the collapse of all that seemed safe and permanent is one that too many people will recognise for a whole host of reasons.  

Where we live matters because home should be safe and secure and permanent for so long as we want and need it. The writer of The First Ashes has managed, in an hour, to portray the opposite in a chilling yet beautiful way.  


About the judge 

Currently a senior manager at a housing association, Catherine read English at St John’s College Oxford before going on to work in educational research and practice (school and adult). She moved into the social housing sector 10 years ago and  has worked with tenants to develop award winning models of influence and empowerment. A published author, she believes strongly that a good place to live makes a huge difference to people’s lives.

My Notes