Entries were received during June and July 2017 and the winners announced at the SAW event at the Westerwood Hotel, Cumbernauld in September. The competition rules asked for any form of prose – life writing, non-fiction, short story, with a maximum 2,000 words. The entry must not have been published before.
1st Place: Moring – the Fishing Village by Jeanne Dron
2nd Place: Travel with Theos Lines by Morrelle Smith
3rd Place: Love and Revolution by Catriona Courtier
Highly Commended: Sixty Seconds in the Death of Henry by James McPherson
Commended: Krakatoa by Ellen Dickie
You can read the winning entry below. The runner-up and 3rd place will be posted in October.
GENERAL COMMENTS BY THE ADJUDICATOR.
The competition was adjudicated by me. There were 40 entries, all of a good standard. The entries demonstrated the same thing that the main interviews demonstrate – that sixty or seventy plus is a wonderful place to be if you are a writer. You have more material to draw upon than at any other period in your life, which you can write about with a wider perspective and a more balanced judgment than when younger; and you can write about old age with an insider knowledge that those of fewer years do not posses.
In many of the entries the voice and viewpoint of elderly men and women, their thoughts, physical problems and worries, their losses and bereavements were recounted with a convincing authority, often with an accepting, self-deprecating humour, gently poking fun at their own infirmities.
Other entries were about none of these things, but simply showed that a late flowering of talent is definitely possible.
Jeanne Dron’s winning entry was a wonderful description of an East coast fishing village, somewhere near Aberdeen, in about 1940. Dylan Thomas meets Grassic Gibbon.
1ST PLACE MORNING – THE FISHING VILLAGE
by Jeanne Dron
Take a deep breath –
The air is crisp and salty with the smell of drying seaweed, rich with the warm earthy dampness of the distant moor. You can’t see it in the dark, but the first hint of burning peat is seeping and swirling up from the cottage chimneys by the shore, mingling with the scent of purple heather on the hill and the sharp fresh sweetness of early spring.
Inside, people are awake. Lighting lamps, dressing, packing provisions and whispering farewells before, all along the steep passages and narrow streets, doors creak open, flashing warm yellow lantern-light as shadowy figures pass out into the still dark morning; feet clattering on cobbles, voices softly yawning.
Now, mumbling greetings as they gather in the glimmer of pre-dawn light down on the beach, the wool-clad men of the households set to work. Here, where there is no comforting harbour, but only the unprotected open shore, ruled by wind and weather, gulls rise screaming from their sleep, anticipating the morning catch, while worn boots labour, crunching wetly through sand and shingle, as the nets and lobster pots are thrown aboard.
Then, with knotted shoulders braced against salty timber and biceps burning at the ropes, they push and shove the heavy wooden boats, hulls churning from their settled they got backk, heave and creak.bed of stones, down toward the sea.
So another day begins.
One by one calling voices fade into the splash of feet on wet rippled sand. Water swirling around canvas bound legs as they leap in amongst the creels, crushing the tang from fronds of crusty dried seaweed. Then, oars clunking into place, they’re away; pulling, muscles straining, into the surf. Each boat finding its path through the tideline rush and tumble of waves and out into the deep, deep green-black, cold and cruel ocean.
And now the long haul while daylight creeps up over the horizon, hands thick and calloused from the grip and roll of the old smoothed wood as oars dip, backs bend and muscles tighten. Heave and creak, heave and creak: hauling the perilous wooden craft through the wild waters to the fishing ground day after day. And all the while their wives wash and cook and do the endless crofting chores, and needles flying, tightly knit the village pattern into the lifesaving warmth of their spouses next woollen jersey.
There, on the empty beach an old man now stands alone. The sailor’s shouts fading with the cries of wheeling gulls. But still he watches; until the clunk of oars and the power of strong back muscles working against the tide, have left a shadow on his mind, against the gentle rush and rattle of shore bound waves.
His arms longed for the work they could no longer accomplish. His tired hands itched for the smooth roll of the oar and ached for the feel of the silk-worn wood. It was this time, when the sun crept up over the horizon and the sounds faded away, that were the best and the worst.
After a lifetime of longing to rest, away from the toil, the danger and the exhaustion; now, now that time was all he had, it was ironic how that slow, powerful rhythm of the oars pulled at his heart, how the very smell of the fishing wafted deep into his soul.
So, what was there left for a man no longer needed, a man whose tasks were complete; an empty home, a table bare but for a half drunk, mug of cold tea? The boats were almost out of sight.
Breakfast held no interest for one without apatite: yet his memory was ripe with the longing for it, rich with the need for porridge and bacon, for thick slices of fresh baked bread, of yellow butter, new from the churn and hunks of precious cheese. And there it was again; the rock of the boat, the cries of the gulls, the cloth wrapped piece in his salty fingers and that longing for site of the shore and the safety of home.
Yet now, with the safety and comfort of home all that Dougal Cameron had; he wanted none of it.
Up the street in the second house on the left, Mrs. Maclean was scrubbing the table, worn and scored by generations of thoughtless men and careless children. She knew every crack and scrape and stain. There, was where Rosie left the beet lying all night, and here, the score where Victor dragged that thumping great creel he was mending.
This was a table that worked for a living, the hub of their home. The scrubbing brush was old too, smaller than the one she used on the floor, its bristles worn almost flat over the years. But there was no need to get down on her knees to do the floor today. She would make the bed; just the one bed now the children had homes of their own. She would tidy and sort the washing, feed the chickens and then, when the table was dry, she would have her tea; her skeins and balls of wool spread across the time worn surface. Then she would cast on the first of a new pair of socks. The thought brought a smile to her round face. Last night had seen her sewing up the jumper she had worked on for many months, the complicated pattern denoting her man. And her thoughts turned to Molly Stevens further up the hill.
Molly was at that very moment, running tentative fingers across the pattern of salt hardened stitches that had identified her husband’s body when it washed up thirty miles down the coast. The men had buried him in his best, but this jersey, she had washed and dried as if it would be worn again, because she didn’t know what else to do with it. Though it would take a week of soaking and soaping to bring it back to life. That was within her power. She knew exactly how to bring the empty sweater back. But not her Gordon; he was gone.
For now though, still stiff with the remnants of the sea, she folded it, pulling open the creaking, hefty oak drawer and smoothed the dark and lonely symbol of her life, down amongst the socks. Everything there, smelling of the wash she had been so proud of until now; now when she only longed for the smell of him. Gone, washed away. Her man.
Mrs. Mclean’s needles were clicking now, four thin shafts to make the circle. The sound would accompany all her resting, waiting, even walking time. Because the weather ruled their lives, and the cold was their enemy. And she knew how to make the neatest, warmest, most watertight, life sustaining woollens to keep her husband safe.
The old man had left the beach, climbing the steep hill behind the village and looking out towards the horizon once again. This time he searched for signs. A tumble of clouds or a soft whisp; a shadow on the sea, a dimpling where a shoal of fish gathered; choppy waters or the shadow of rain heading their way.
His life no longer depended on the weather. Those others could see the signs for themselves. But how to change the things that made you, the thoughts and actions that had been your life?
Billy Turner was out and running, barefoot, hardfoot; running to meet his day. The cow would be waiting, anxious by the gate, udders heavy and sore for want of his pulling hands. And he was late. The cats would have gathered in the barn, mewling and hungry for the smell of the milk that squirted wet and warm, splashing into the pail. Hungry for a drip, dribble or spill. Sometimes, pointing a teat at one, he laughed at its look of shock mingled with satisfaction, as, with an impossibly long pink tongue, it licked itself clean.
Later there would be school, but he was happy there in the barn, where the smell of fresh hay mingled with the odd sweetness of cow; his forehead resting warm against her soft flank. Where the gentle sound of her munching mingled with the pleading of cats. Kittens running, chasing and tumbling. Outside, the cockerel crowing his importance to his chuckie hens.
In any weather, this was the place to be. Even on those days when the gales drove the cow to hide amongst the gorse on the hill and he had to trudge through the mud, leaning against the wind in search of her. Even then, slipping and skidding with her eyes rolling in fear, they knew the warmth and safety of the barn was waiting.
Recently though, his unruly thoughts had changed direction. Cows and hens, foxes, eagles and stoats, rabbits, traps, ropes and kittens had given way to one single image. A smile from Kirsty Morgan.
That smile, having been directed around the room, and at no one in particular, Kirsty’s thoughts were elsewhere. Amongst the secrets sewn into the patchwork quilt on her bed. Revealed, mistakenly as her mother searched through Gramie’s button box. The scrape of tin against wood and bone, ending with a sigh as she pulled one free, remembering. The look on her mother’s face speaking to young Kirsty, of longing and romance.
It had been covered with a yellow cotton print. The same material as the patch Kirsty now ran her fingers across, stitched neatly into the bed cover. It must have been a summer dress, buttons at the neck perhaps. What memories might lie behind that sigh? And what other unknown memories lay silent in the many squares of faded fabric beneath her fingers, warming her through the winter nights?
Greer, grey hair wild on the windy moor, lifted the rabbit to her belt and reset the trap. There were another three amongst the trees, higher up. She tutted, seeing Dougal in the distance, still looking out to sea. With the cow milked, the hens fed and the tatties already hoed, she was impatient at such idleness. For her, time raced by. How could he waste it? She smelt the coming rain and still needed to get up the hill to dig the peats.
One trap was empty. But two rabbits hung from the low branch, supper in waiting, for collection on her return, as Greer trudged on up toward the diggings. The empty creel rubbing a sore on her shoulder. But for now, she needed the woollen head-scarf to protect her ears against the wind that made walking all the harder. With no man to help in the digging, Greer’s limbs would be yellow dyed and mud splattered by the time she had filled the creel. Perhaps by then the wind would have lessened, freeing the scarf to pad her sore shoulder on the way back.
Then there would be soup. The smell, rich and warming as she opened the door. Her tiny croft welcoming her home, to rest before she started her days work. At the weaving.
INTERVIEW WITH JEANNE DRON, WINNER OF AUTUMN VOICES OVER 60 WRITING COMPETITION, 2017
Jeanne, aged 70, lives in Fife . She worked as a photographer for the Ministry of Defence both in London and Rosyth Dockyard before having her two children, and later managing a conservatory design centre. A self-taught artist, she has been drawing, painting and creating for as long as she can remember. Jeanne then added creative writing to her repertoire, joining the Inverkeithing Writers’ group and then the Southeast Scotland branch of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is currently working on a children’s novel, Boodika Bron and the House of Horrors.
‘Any writing skills I have, I owe to the constructive comments and discussions held with other writers in the two groups I have belonged to. Am I inspired by this competition? Absolutely. Confirmation that you are on the right track is invaluable.’
Jeanne explained some of her thinking behind ‘Morning – The Fishing Village’: ‘Simpler times and situations help provide a clarity that is confused in our complex modern lives. This piece is reflecting on our astounding human ability to adapt to different circumstances and make the most of them, however difficult. To form our own place in the world and create the symbols that comfort and support us. In the long term, those circumstances mould us into the person we become; like it or not. Flexibility fades with time. – A small thought perhaps.’
Jeanne believes strongly that, given the opportunity, older people have a valuable contribution to make to society.
‘In the history of the world, how many devastating mistakes could have been avoided if lessons from the past had not been ignored or forgotten? Not to mention the skills that have been lost and those it is still possible to preserve. In our own lifetime we have seen too much wisdom entirely dismissed in favour of fresh new ideas. Perhaps the opportunity has come to combine forces. Your Autumn Voices project could be the start of a movement to bring that collective experience and understanding into the mainstream. I believe there are a lot of fine minds out there, just grumbling to themselves about the state of the world, when they have it in them to make a difference given a combined voice.’ An Autumn Voice perhaps?