2015 Judge Imogen Robertson

Literature Works is delighted to announce the winner of the First Page Prize 2015. Alex Coulton entered the first page of her manuscript of a novel called Worse Things Happen at Sea which immediately caught the judges interest and won them a cheque for £1500 plus a professional read and report by a Literary Agent.

Tracey Guiry, CEO of Literature Works says “Literature Works develops writers careers at all stages but we are particularly delighted when we uncover new talent. The First Page Prize is a great way for new writers to gain the confidence to share their work, and the best of our entries have gone on to be published in various formats and we look forward to watching the career Alex Coulton.”

Literature Works started the First Page Prize because there was nothing like it available in the competition market. The publishing industry is extremely tough for new writers to break into so the First Page Prize competition is a great way find high impact writing which might have publishing future and get it in front of a professional agent.

The Head of the judging panel and Literature Works Trustee Imogen Robertson, said Alex’s writing demonstrated “a fascinating voice, a confident and intriguingly written opening and a very interesting synopsis.”

FIRST PAGE WRITING PRIZE 2015 Winning Entries

Lee

Lee dreams she’s suckling a baby beneath an acacia tree.

Her breasts are bigger — pregnancy, or wishful thinking? – and despite the fact that the baby is pink-and-white, eyes grey as an autumn sky, she knows it’s Deenie. Dewerdine Kafele McCundell. A flamingo sun sets behind them, and with the baby’s first swallow, Lee feels complete astonishment at her own sheer and animal competence. The baby looks up curiously as she sucks, as if she too is surprised that Lee can do this at all.

It’s only when the suckling stops that she feels the thickening of the darkness, the fatal slippage of the sun.

And then the movement.

It always happens there, just beyond the periphery of her vision, a glimmer like the white of an eye or a bursting star. He hasn’t been back for years, but he’s up there now, in the branches. She can hear the grating of long nails on wood, can smell his breath. She knows him with that dread which is a species of guilt, treacly and pervasive as an oil-spill at sea. She looks down at the baby’s tummy and, dream-within-a-dream, sees herself sprinkling talcum powder onto her after her bath. She knows that he can scent the baby on the cooling air — the warm gluey smell of her new-born bones beneath soap and milk and the pink, play-dough smell of her nappy.

His breath on her shoulder. Then the lurching branch, the scratched bark, the hiss of his yellow breath in the leaves. A hand on her neck and over her mouth, smell of diesel and cigarettes and sweat. She wants to fight him, but she’ll drop the baby, and anyway, she doesn’t dare. A bird cries in the distance.

She doesn’t dare.

Waking winded in a slice of London light, all she can see is a roiling sky and the withered arm of a tree. Black wings in her chest, wet cheeks, raw throat. Even the sound of the alarm makes her jump. Just a bad dream, she hears Missy say. Worse things happen at sea.

Alex Coulton was born in Winchester and educated at Hereford Cathedral School and Brasenose College, Oxford. She was an English teacher for thirteen years, most recently at Highgate School in north London and then at Radley College. She is now a full-time writer and Worse Things Happen At Sea, her first novel, was written during a six month period in Paris, where her dog also kept a blog about his impressions of the sartorial and social habits of Parisiens and their dogs. Alex is married and lives now in Herefordshire with her husband and their dog Bazil

A woman came to the Barn today. Her hair was the colour of walnut wood. Her eyes were the colour of bracken in October. Her socks were the colour of cherries, which was noticeable because all the rest of her clothes were sad colours. She had an enormous shoulder bag, canvas. Her mouth was hanging open, very wide. She was shifting from one foot to the other by the open door, so I told her to come in.

“I’m sorry to be so rude but I am gobsmacked.” She did look it, to be honest. “You didn’t …make all these?”

I told her yes.

“Wow! I just can’t believe it!” she said, looking round.

I asked her why not.

“Well, it’s not exactly what you expect to find in the middle of nowhere!”

Perhaps I should have pointed out that this is not the middle of nowhere. Not at all. Exmoor is the most somewhere place that I know and my workshop is an extremely somewhere part of it. But it would have been rude to contradict her.

Morning light was pouring in from the three windows. It outlined the sloping rafters. It floodlit the curls of wood shavings. It silvered the edges of the curves and arcs all around us and made strung shadows on the floor.

I think I must be in a dream.”

I offered to pinch her.

She laughed. Her laugh was interesting: explosive and a little bit snorty.

Then I asked the following eight questions: How are you? Do you have any pets? What is in your enormous shoulder bag? What is your favourite colour? What is your favourite tree? Where do you live? Do you enjoy being the Exmoor Housewife? Would you like a sandwich?

She answered me the following answers: fine, thank you; no; a big camera and a jotter pad and a thermos with soup; red; birch; about five-miles south-west of here; urn; that would be very nice.

Hazel Prior studied English and Medieval History at St Andrews University, and then music as a post-graduate at Dartingon College of Arts. She lived in Italy for some years and taught English as a Foreign Language. She tried out various jobs and lifestyles in Edinburgh, Dorset and Bath whilst dreaming about writing and music. Then severe chronic pain put her out of action completely for five years. Hazel was eventually diagnosed and surgery saved her, as well as making her reassess what she was doing with her life. She started writing her first novel and rekindled her love affair with the harp. Since then she has won several writing prizes and become a free-lance harpist. She lives on Exmoor with her husband and two fat cats.

Kwame walks up the hill, scuffing his feet in the rutted red earth. It’s dry now, but when the rains come, this will be a water course, pouring mud and stinking filth into the main street below. He turns through a broken-down gate and walks across the yard. A mangy dog jumps to its feet and yelps, then sinks back on its haunches and follows his movements with its eyes.

The building was painted white once. Pale flakes cluster around rusty lines where the structure is breaking through the pitted concrete. In the single row of windows running below the flat roof, several panes of glass are missing. Five women sit in the dirt against the wall, stealing what little shade they can from the over-hanging roof. As Kwame unlocks the shining padlock on the door, they rise and slowly follow him into the building. A cloud blocks out the sun and the first raindrops splash into the dust.

The torrent hits the corrugated iron roof like stones from an angry crowd. Kwame uses a metal pole to stir the thick, creamy liquid in the cleaned-out oil drum. They’d given him the pole to replace the old wooden stick he’d used before. `Splinters in the mixture mean extra filtration,’ they said. ‘That would add time and money to the process,’ they said. ‘We can’t afford either,’ they said – and neither could he.

The men are coming back today, bringing brightly coloured labels and delivery instructions. They will be cross if the bottles aren’t filled ready for labelling and packing. He doesn’t want them to be cross again. They hurt him when they are cross.

After they have gone, Kwame glances at the dispatch instructions for the latest batches of cough syrup: three government purchase houses; two regional hospitals; and a large distributor. They are spread across Malawi, Botswana and Zimbabwe. He is relieved, as always, to see his own country missing from the list. Not his people, not this time. But, one day, he knows, it will be their turn.

Elizabeth Ducie trained as a scientist and technical writer, and worked in the international pharmaceutical industry for nearly thirty years before deciding she wanted to make a complete change of direction. She gave up the day job, began studying the craft of creative writing, and now writes fiction more or less full-time. Elizabeth has an MA in Creative Writing from University of Exeter, has published three collections of short stories and appears in a number of anthologies. Her debut novel Gorgito’s Ice Rink was runner up in the 2015 Writers’ Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year Awards. She also lectures and writes on business skills for authors.