Head of English Mark Payton has announced the results of the 2023 QM Creative Writing Competition!
A big thank you and well done to all those who came up with such wonderful contributions for the creative writing prizes this year. Special mentions go to Izzy (Year III), Amanda (Year IV) and Emily (Year V); and huge congratulations to our overall winners, Belle (Year III) and Issie (Year IV).
Belle is awarded the Joyanne Ball Cup for her consistently excellent creative writing, and particularly her short story ‘Chanceux Manor’, a thrillingly descriptive and atmospheric tale of mystery and intrigue at a boarding school (where do they get these ideas?) with an expertly Gothic style - convincing and compelling.
Issie is the recipient of the Ann Green Cup for her imaginative conceptual approach and engaging writing style, particularly in her short story ‘The Sprinters’, set in a dystopian future (in the tradition of Orwell and Atwood) in which a renegade group lives in fear of a totalitarian regime intent on dehumanising society - all told with a sophisticated and assured narrative voice.
Chanceux Manor by Belle (Year III)
Nothing and yet everything had changed. Chanceux Manor had not changed. It still stood, tall and imposing, surrounded by overgrown lawns and dead trees. The old building was choked in strong emerald ivy, and guarded from the outside world by the tangle of branches and leaves known as Westfire Wood. On the other side was the vast unknown. Cars were streaming up and down the gravel drive, and teenagers were racing through the large wooden doors, dragging overflowing bags behind them. That had not changed. That would never change. The sky was steel-grey, and the clouds were large and foreboding. Wind blew in icy blasts and howled like a wolf into the night, echoing down the candlelit corridors of the school.
Torrents of rain were cascading down, battering against the windows and pooling outside, creating a temporary moat. Blinding flashes of light announced the dark looming shadow to all the surrounding land, and it looked in every way like an old gravestone, balancing precariously at the top of the hill, drenched in shadows.
There were shouts and squeals and sobs from every corner of the school. Pupils were shivering as the wind flew down the chimneys and shot down the corridors. The voices were loud enough outside, but were amplified even more by the stone corridors which echoed every sound tenfold. The confusion was infectious. The dining hall was filling up as everyone rushed there, desperate for the warmth the food could give. No one noticed a tall girl with bouncing blonde curls as she crept outside into the cold and wet and disappeared into the mystery of Westfire Wood. No one saw the dark shadow that crept through the undergrowth like a panther.
She stumbled along quickly, guided by the trampled ground and the faint footprints. She was blending in with the surroundings and, apart from short sharp breaths, made no noise. The trees were closing in, and the night was getting darker. Lightning was her only guide. She sighed in relief as she saw the warm light ahead of her, sneaking out of a small square window. She was drenched by this point; her teeth were chattering and she was shaking violently. She forcefully slammed open the door and immediately sank to the floor by the fire, bundling herself up in blankets. There was a sound from upstairs, and instantly the clattering of feet was heard. Within a couple of seconds a small girl with a curly brown bob came hurtling into the room.
“Alli!” called Beatrice in alarm when she saw her and immediately sank down to the girls’ level and pulled her into a hug.
“I’m fine!” Allison chuckled breathlessly as she pulled away from Beatrice to grin at her, “It took a bit longer than expected, but I got the parcel!” At that, she pulled a bag out from inside her coat and laid it on the ground in front of her.
“Well, that’s something!” came a haughty voice from the door. Another girl stood there, thin blonde hair pulled into a tight ponytail, “but what took you so long?”
“Didn’t want to be seen, Jemima, and with the school being so full, that was quite hard!” she laughed again, standing up and throwing off the blankets. There was silence for a few moments and then the sound of more feet clattering down the stairs.
The lanky figures of a two boys appeared; one of them moved forward and grabbed the bag. He checked the contents and nodded. He turned to the other boy.
“So, what do you think, Jamie? How much longer do we have to stay here for?” he asked, “We’ve got what we need! We can be off in half an hour!”
“Have you looked outside, Max?” Allison huffed, “I am not going back out in that!”
The other boy spoke up: “It will look suspicious if it disappears and then we disappear. He will be here by tomorrow to question us. If we’re gone, he’ll know we’re guilty and we’ll be caught and back where we started. No. That won’t work. We play innocent for a couple of days. Let the storm die down and when Headmaster Knight turns his attention elsewhere we’ll be off.”
There was silence for a long moment, only interrupted by the pattering rain and ominous rumbles of thunder.
“I suppose that makes sense,” admitted Max finally, “how long do you think it’ll be before the storm is over?”
“Should only last for a couple of days; then the journey begins. We should rest and pack tomorrow. Goodnight!” And with that Jamie disappeared upstairs. Everyone nodded.
Allison and Beatrice were the last to leave the room. They both stood side by side, staring at the fire. They could both feel it.
“There’s nothing else we can do, is there?” Beatrice whispered back, clutching at Allison's arm.
“We’re doing all we can. If we deliver the parcel on time, then everything will be okay.”
The two headed upstairs, both lost in dark thoughts of what was to come, if they failed.
Something sinister was happening. Something none of them could control. Something all of them would suffer from.
The Sprinters by Issie (Year IV)
“Attention all citizens. A message will screen in ten seconds.”
A robotic voice grates from a small speaker across the room from me, and my head jolts up from what I’m doing in the kitchen. I suppress a groan as the small television-like device implanted in the wall blares into life suddenly, broadcasting a message from the government.
“My dear people of Karta, I come to you today with a message, a message I am proud to bring ...”
The sprinters I share my apartment with are sitting around me, watching with varying emotions and attention spans. I eye the reviewer warily and take my place on the battered couch alongside my housemates. As always, I sit down and wonder how a couch could possibly be so extremely uncomfortable: it is rock hard, and I’m fairly sure there is a spring poking up through the cushions and into my leg. I am, however, completely past the point of caring.
"For nearly six decades we have improved our country for ourselves. We have become a nation of builders, constructors, and improvers ...”
The reviewer shows a scrawny middle-aged man with a clean-shaven face and beady eyes that stare right through the dusty screen and into the apartment. The man (I can’t remember his name. Governor Charles? Charlton?) is standing in front of the white marble government building in the very centre of Karta’s capital city - New Karta. There is a slight breeze blowing around him which makes the leaves of the plastic potted palm trees that line the building bristle.
“For sixty years, since the discovery of the disease, you have built the diseased into better people. You have constructed a better population. You have improved our nation. And I could not be more proud of where we are today ...”
I curiously watch them all react - some become closed off, others are frozen to the spot. A couple of them become overly bubbly in an attempt to distract themselves from the issue, and most stiffen, enraged by the government and its messages. Carver, who is slumped next to me, is blatantly favouring the latter approach. He clenches and unclenches his fist, glaring angrily up at the screen. I watch him, though he soon notices and snarls at me slightly. I roll my eyes and snarl back, which doesn't seem to have much of a positive effect on his grim mood.
“We are quickly nearing the 60th anniversary of our beloved red report phones. For nearly 60 years, you, the incredible people of Karta, have reported others’ diseases on our red report phones and we, your government, in return have ironed out society’s creases using advancing technology and a merciful hand.”
I’m fairly sure that I’m glaring along with Carver now. I hate watching the government’s reports. The only messages that their broadcasts ever spread are lies. Lies about me, about the people I share this house with, even the ‘perfect’ society that we live in. As the report continues, Carver spits at the wall next to the reviewer and misses by centimetres, whether he misses on purpose or not, I'm not entirely sure.
“Carver,” says Brazen from his spot on the sticky, carpeted floor, “while you may be determined to live out your best dreams as an alpaca, I would quite like to be able to watch the reviewer without having to try and work around your saliva.” I snort loudly and try to hide my smile behind the collar of my jacket. Brazen is one of the few people who is completely unrattled by government broadcasts; owing to this, he makes it his job to try to calm us all down. He’s good at it as well; I’m not sure he's failed once yet.
“Can you all shut up? I want to listen!” I’m brought crashing back to reality by Achuta, who scolds from the long table situated to the right of the sofa. I feel it in the room as we all communally roll our eyes - Achuta has made it her life’s passion to make an already hard life harder than it needs to be.
“Yet, I come to you today with two messages: one of pride and one of pity. Today I also come to you with news of the rising statistics of the diseased. Recently, the numbers have been growing by staggering rates, to a point which we, quite frankly, find alarming. We now have a 22.4% diseased population. 12.5% of this number are the ‘sprinters’, the diseased who have run from the law. ‘Sprinters’, as you know, are the diseased who escape from law enforcement and avoid robotic replacement of their affected body parts. These ‘sprinters’ have grown to populate more and more cities, dirtying them and spreading the disease further. How do we stop them? Well, people of Karta, you must step up. We hand the delicate reigns of the nation to you once more. You will fulfil our expectations. You will control this madness. You will slow the sprinters to a stop. As always we trust you …"
The screen flickers to black and we all sit in a tense silence, our jaws slightly slack. I feel the world spin into slow motion around me. We are going to be hunted. Hunted even more than we already are. We will have to hide further. Slip even deeper into the cracks. How is this even possible?