Voting is now open and will close at 11.59pm on Monday 25th May. To vote, simply use the poll at the bottom of this blog post.
Prompt: Use the phrase “Winter is Coming” somewhere in your piece. Style: Write in any style you please. Including but not limited to fiction, poetry, playscript, non-fiction and creative non-fiction. Limit: 400 characters, not including the title.
Entry 1: Departure You are leaving: used baggage tags are crumpled on the bed and your lips rehearse the words and wine of elsewhere. Winter is coming: green ribbons of leaves turn sepia, dry and fall; the sun is covered by a thick grey blanket. I shut the gate watching tail lights and the way you sit and stare straight ahead.
Entry 2: Is Coming Spring is coming, it will soon be here Spring is coming, it means no more fear Spring is coming, bringeth new love, bringeth new birth Spring is coming bringeth joy to the earth Summer is coming we toil and acquire Autumn is coming, we divorce and retire Winter is coming, it will soon be here Winter is coming, it means no more fear Winter is coming, an end in sight Winter is coming to extinguish the plight
Entry 3: I Lost Autumn Autumn passed by me in barely a trot One moment twas hot, and then, well, it was not Yeh, I did see the changes, the trees turning brown From the lounge room bay windows, the leaves falling down But closed up inside home, your cut from the world And the friend’s front-gate banter has all but been foiled So while sunshine was there, on many a bright day I know winter is coming, cos we’ve done most of May.
Entry 4: Winter’s First Day The sun is slowly setting at dinner time The sun is slowly setting on May Dew covered grass greets us in the morning now Winter is coming With a multitude of multi-coloured beanies Welcomed warmly back onto my head Presents will arrive in brown cardboard boxes Ordered and wrapped for myself None of it will be a surprise But I will celebrate anyway My birth coinciding with winter’s first day
Entry 5: Unprecedented Weather After three days of torrential rains and single figure top temperatures, I heard a guy from the Bureau of Meteorology predict, “Winter is coming”. It seems an unprecedented cold blast of moist air is blowing up from Antarctica. Two days later, snow down to 300 metres, with falls up to ten centimetres in regional centres across Victoria. The State is unprepared for such falls, roads blocked, rail services halted; you’d think it was Covid-19 or something.
Entry 6: Changing Seasons The icicles on my eyelashes dripped into my hot chocolate as the crackling fire danced light around the room. Hot chocolate sprayed everywhere as I felt something cold caress the back of my neck. “Shit Lorelai don’t scare me like that.” “Aw Luke, you were so intently listening to the radio, I didn’t want you to miss hearing that winter is coming.” “I think it came a month early.” “I’m a month late.”
Voting is now open and will close at 11.59pm on Monday 27 April. To vote, simply use the poll at the bottom of this blog post.
Prompt: Begin your piece with the words “The last thing I expected was…” Word Limit: 150 words
Entry 1 ‘Now That Is A Surprise’ The last thing I expected was this.
No warning that this might happen, none at all, things like this just don’t happen to me.
I’m a dormouse, my husband Peter understands and keeps the cats away and I wave to the neighbours, they are all friendly, but my boss at work doesn’t even know I exist, let alone who I am or what I do.
But this was the last thing I expected, the look on Peter’s face was one of those precious moments I will cherish for the rest of my life, it almost glowed. Mind you, he hasn’t thought through the implications yet, but he will, and then he will undoubtedly worry for the both of us.
But for the moment we are together, in the dark and quiet, cherishing every second together. Our moment was interrupted for the foreseeable future.
Triplets were the last thing I expected.
Entry 2 ‘No Extra Charge’ The last thing I expected was to be kidnapped.
As my friends boarded buses at the airport, a man checking our itineraries singled me out. “This way, Mumma”.
He bundled me into a smaller bus and my only thought was my passport, left with our guide. Losing your passport in a foreign country – every traveller’s worst nightmare! Then I realised that I was the only one on this bus.
Don’t panic, I told myself. I managed a weak “I’m on the wrong bus”.
“No, Mumma. Right bus.”
As we hurtled through the dark African night, my imagination rioted and not panicking was no longer an option.
Hours of bumping along atrocious roads punctuated by “Look Mumma, elephant!” delivered us to a resort, where the manager explained that I had been taken to the wrong place. No kidding!
He actually suggested that my African adventure had been enhanced. No extra charge.
Entry 3 ‘The Last Thing I Expected Was To Be At His Mercy’ The last thing I expected was to be at his mercy. His eyes mesmerized me, like magnets we were drawn together. Slowly, barely touching, warm breath over flesh. Slowly, shyly, I opened myself a fraction to him. He leaned in gently, considerate at first. Not wanting to alarm or frighten me, this, my first time.
I returned his ardor as he slipped in further, wrestling, the slipping and sliding becoming more insistent, until I could stand no more.
Pushing him from me, I stared deeply as his eyes bore into my soul, drawing me back.
We clung together, our thrusting becoming more sensual, enjoying this, our first kiss, one of many.
Entry 4 ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ The last thing I expected was to be living out of my van. I had a dozen staff working under me at the start of the year and the business was growing. Then the government shut everything down. I don’t live under a dictators regime, I live in Australia. The lucky country.
We had just survived the bushfires from hell then everything got a lot darker with the virus. As it spread faster than the fires the government quarantined everyone in their homes. The police started using drone patrols. Tracking everyone through their phones and putting ankle bracelets on anyone caught breaking the new laws.
As I sit gazing out my van window at the barren landscape with 1984 half read in my lap I wonder if there will be anything left to celebrate by New Years Eve.
Entry 5 ‘The Shirt Trick’ The last thing I expected was the ocean of shirts hanging in my dead father’s wardrobe; they were catalogued in the same style and colour: white, lilac, cobalt blue and black. But the revelation that each colour came in a different size from medium to massive caused me to shake my head. That old bugger!
I used to sit across from my hypertensive father, watching his plump fingers push food into his mouth. ‘I’m worried, dad,’ I’d say. ‘You seem to be putting on a lot of weight. It’s dangerous!’
‘Rubbish! Look!’ And he’d pluck his collar away from his stout neck. ‘See how loose this is? I could hardly do the top button up a few weeks ago!’
He’d been right of course; he hadn’t been able to do the button up on the smaller size, so he’d bought a bigger one: same colour, same style.
Entry 6 ‘Leave’ The last thing I expected was to leave as soon as I arrived in my dream destination, but the world changed overnight. I arrived in Ronda, excited and tired, after a day of driving in the Andalusian countryside where white villages peppered the mountains. I expected to arrive in a bustling town and it was packed full of parked cars taking up every inch of the curb but there was no people in sight. I parked the car in a lot and Google mapped the hotel then wandered the narrow, medieval lanes grinning.
“Good evening.” The hotel receptionist greeted, with a look of surprise.
“Ola.” I replied, “It’s very quiet outside.”
“Yes. Yes. When do you leave?’ she asked looking concerned.
“I just arrived.” I laughed.
“Leave Spain?” she asked again.
She shook her head with concern. “You need to leave now.”
I was 1200kms from Barcelona.
Entry 7 ‘Cause and Infect’ The last thing I expected was to cause a pandemic.
I’m a writer. I write on VLine. Over coffee at the shopping centre in Bacchus Marsh. Anywhere really. Poems, short stories, long stories.
Last November, in that shopping centre, I wrote a poem about consumerism, how our economy relies on unnecessary spending. Desires not needs. “Unicorns prancing in the aisles, saying you need these brand new styles.” Then I thought, what if unnecessary stores were removed from here? What would be left? Supermarket, chemist, clothing, shoes, hairdresser, a cafe and the post office. Perhaps a third of the stores left. It would never happen.
Now that centre is ghostly. Essentials only. Did I manifest this? What if people find out? Thousands of lives lost. Or, is this cabin fever? My guilt escalated as I isolated.
Finally, my daughter consoled me over Zoom. “It’s okay Mum, the unicorns will be back.”
Entry 8 ‘Love Me Tender‘ The last thing I expected was slugs. Carefully preparing the soil, tenderly planting the seedlings and lovingly watering them only to be devastated by the emaciated leaves that greeted me the next morning. I immediately blamed the greedy blackbirds who had been gorging themselves on the ripe cherry tomatoes and then bathing unashamedly in the birdbath with glee. I gathered the skeletal leaves of my seedlings placing the evidence in sealed plastic bags which I promptly presented to the cheerful young man at the plant nursery.
“Had many blackbirds in your yard?” he asked.
“Yes”, I replied jubilantly.
“Slugs”, he uttered. “Blackbirds scour the gardens for slugs”.
I departed with my box of poison destined to be dinner for the unsuspecting slugs and guilt for blaming the blackbirds who I will allow to forage in the cherry tomatoes and then to bathe ceremoniously in the cleaned birdbath.
Entry 9 ‘Covid 19 and I‘
With the current social distancing restrictions, and the semi ‘lockdown’ at home, the last thing I expected was to be happy with my personal situation. I thought I would be climbing the wall, bored, anxious, possibly argumentative. But I am surprised at the ease with which I exist within this Covid-bubble!
I have an extensive vegetable garden. My quinces need stewing, the cumquats to transform into marmalade. The strawberry guavas and feijoa will be ripening in the next few weeks.
I have unpacked, recharged and loaded my e-reader. There is the daily newspaper quiz, crossword and sudoku, and I have found the SBS Movie channel.
As a pensioner, I’m told that I am at risk, but think I am fortunate. My thoughts are with those who have lost family and friends, the hundreds of thousands, their livelihoods, have tenancy fragility and the future burden of a $230,000,000,000 mortgage to service!
Entry 10‘Untitled’ The last thing I expected was – we would Allow the rich to cream the poor and stand by. For each of us to obey, little narratives Some of condemnation; others praise Delivered boldly … even with a lack of grace Towards the old, infirm, poor and disadvantaged
Let’s walk away from the democracies, it took so long to create Jettison our minds wholesale And watch the mess that remains.
Where are we bound? But for more unequal ground So some need to beg and others – laugh at what they have found Telling themselves they deserve more every time around, Because above the line, there is nothing amiss So… why do we frown? The ones that lead have to follow Whatever is set to drown the voices of the poor, the weak And recompense those already fat with what they have found.
Voting is now open and will close at 11.59pm on Tuesday 24th March. To vote, simply use the poll at the bottom of this blog post.
Theme: EVOLUTION Word Limit: 600 words
Entry 1 ‘Evolution‘
Foetus, almost spiral, grown, born. Small child wandering, learns to cross road, please, thank you i before e.
Family slips down slide, small child forgotten, discarded, smokes, drinks, here, now, hot weather singing, wide serpentine of her shrieks, begs.
Lost child passing.
Entry 2 ‘A Gardener Evolves‘
It had taken Hyacinth decades to feel confident in her gardening skills. Sitting back now, a fresh cuppa’ on the bench beside her, she let the gentle pulse of her surrounds take her back to that first, tiny, Carlton balcony.
The flat was almost totally in shade, south-facing and the pot of petunias only lasted a couple of weeks! She thought it might have been her plant selection, so her next foray saw a small red rose. It also failed to thrive!
But a lover led to a wedding, in turn leading to a bigger flat. A light-filled, ground floor unit that accessed a small patch of ‘dirt’. A tentative trial of roses, planted in the sunlight and, with Spring, big blousy blossoms! The nursery had suggested hellebores and aquilegia for the shaded parts of the garden, and, as Autumn softened the heat, they too flourished. Bulbs and a selection of herbs went into pots. She acknowledged her own, small triumphs with quiet satisfaction.
Children, a move out to suburban Nunawading, a small house with a tiny garden, followed. The kids helped dig the vegetable plot, and with the planting of apple, pear, apricot and plum trees. She smiled as she remembered the day that the small helpers weeded out the carrot, lettuce and zucchini seedlings!
A Vacola preserving kit arrived one birthday, and with Margaret Fulton’s benchtop guidance, she stewed apples and pears. She made pots of jam, chutney, sauces and pickles. Her pantry became quite a family ‘conversation-piece’, brought up in dispatches as a new, labelled preserve found its way onto the shelves.
The children sometimes complained about the ‘home-made’ garnishes, and overheard remarks between school-friends, in the backyard, confirmed a need to cut back the production line. There was also a none too subtle hint that her birthday and Christmas presents needed to change, too!
The children started to leave the nest. Where had the years gone? Grandchildren were playing under the large, overgrown fruit trees. More space might be helpful for the kids to play, more sunlight, particularly as the winter days were getting bleaker, nowadays.
There seemed to be not as many birds visiting the garden, except when the summer fruits were on offer! The exception were the blackbirds! People complained of their mulch-scraping habit, but she secretly thought it a small price to pay for their beautiful warbling.
Cancer took her partner prematurely; unexpectedly. A diagnosis, a few short months, and she was alone. She knew it was time to move.
She worked at a Kondo-declutter, restocking both the Salvos and Vinnies. She packed a few treasures, a shoebox of photos and moved to a delightful, two-bedroom cottage in Gippsland. A new start was on offer!
She had become a Peter Cundall devotee, forced latterly to follow that horribly-bearded Costa. She had lots of ideas and birds were going to be her gardening ‘thingy’. She drew up plans for lots of insect and bird-attracting natives. Swathes of Poa, Wallaby and Kangaroo grasses would combine with plantings of ground-hugging grevillea, callistemon, leptospermum, banksia and acacia. They would provide protective canopies for small wrens, finches, even the parrots. There would be shallow ponds for the frogs and lizards; maybe even a trickling fountain to provide an aural dimension. Each morning kookaburras were perching on the limbs of an old gum, and a family of currawongs were seen, busily fluttered through.
It took a few years, but the garden plantings worked. The birds had appreciatively taken up residence; nests were built, families raised.
Visiting grandchildren and the background chatter of the wildlife collectively endorsed Hyacinth’s gardening expertise!
Entry 3 ‘Pandemic’
The situation is dynamic Evolving Primordial fears bubbling up Catching in our throats Another day, another press conference We wait, unconvinced Everything is as clear as mud
Entry 4 ‘J Man’
I sat transfixed as they delved into the evolution of his career. I’d never bought a single album but I’d previously seen the interviewer, and he wasn’t like the rest.
Just like last time from the very start, it was raw and open. More like two friends privately chatting than an interview to be watched by millions. His popularity grew as quickly as social media did enabling millions of fans access into his life like never before. I quickly found myself enthralled by his uncommon honesty.
Before me sat a megastar of his time. Someone who could quite possibly sing the phone book and still make it to number one.
Before me also sat a man freely admitting his failings as a boy. I was literally not just metaphorically, on the edge of my seat. Here was someone who’s music I didn’t care for and yet he had my undivided attention.
As he opened up about making the choices he had in years gone by it became increasingly evident he wasn’t the same person. He had grown up with the whole world watching yet what did we really know about him?
His revelations of how hard he pushed himself were of no surprise. So many creative people can be perfectionists, which usually isn’t a healthy combination. From eating healthy to taking ice baths certainly isn’t the image the tabloids have portrayed over the years. I’ve previously struggled with the implications of being a semi-known personality. I don’t want to think of the impact being the most googled person on the planet could have on my mental health.
Hearing him share that having money doesn’t mean all your problems magically go away, rang true. Sure having more finances can give you easier access to getting assistance but it doesn’t inoculate you from feeling and thinking in broken ways, as we are all prone to do. Even working out how to live a healthy married life when his parents weren’t married or healthy is a process he is working through.
I still haven’t listened to his new album but I’m curious to discover the lyrics. His claims in the interview of no longer being selfish came across as very genuine. He spoke so lovingly of his new wife. His admission of not being with her until he could be the man she deserved was certainly more revealing than what was needed to sell units.
Even more intriguing were his repeated and very natural references to the difference Jesus had made in his life. Not just a thank you at the end of an acceptance speech but references interwoven throughout the conversation like his decision to follow Jesus was as natural to him now as breathing.
Sadly the examples of Jesus he had growing up were a poor reflection of who he truly is, and naturally this gave him a twisted perspective. From being self-destructive to now laying aside his own desires to live for someone else is definitely a sign of a changed person. Hearing him saying loving someone is a daily decision to lay aside one’s own selfish desires for another had me feeling inspired that there was hope for humanity.
Naming his new album changes I’m curious to listen and discover what he has to say after taking a step back for the last few years. For an interview that lasted nearly an hour very little time was spent talking about the new album. It was a very free-flowing discussion about life and I feel my life has been enriched having listened to it.
Entries will not be accepted if they exceed the maximum word limit – even if by a word, and must comply with all the stated parameters.
All entries are to be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, 21st October. Your email must include author’s name, story title and word count.
Voting will open the next day here on the blog.
Come along to our Members’ Night on Wednesday, 26 October, 7pm at the Bunch of Grapes Hotel to hear the winner announced. (Results will also be posted here on the blog the day after.)
Entry 1 Mon cher
J’etais tres heureux to stay a votre maison. Le jardin etais tres jolie. I am lonely sans vous. Il ya a un petit problem. If you look under votre table you will find my chewing gum and stuck to that is mon key.
Return a moi, s’il vous plait.
Entry 2 distracted at yoga
“Exhale, right arm up and across.”
“Inhale, stretching forward.”
I should be concentrating more not
thinking about my writing.
“Stretching further on that front leg.”
I see a pattern it looks like
a face smiling at me on the floorboards
like a monkey or an ape.
Entry 3 How the Monkey Got Her Tail
Monkey’s Tail was Emma’s favourite bedtime story.
It was long. I was tired. Emma’s eyes drooped.
I skipped pages shamelessly and fell asleep beside her.
A small hand patted my face.
Dancing before my blurred vision was the Monkey Tail book,
held open at a page that had been skipped.
Entry 4 Caught in the act
Gathering around the box of firecrackers, we planned our assault. Johnny would scare the girls with penny bangers; Millie– light the spinning wheel near old Harry’s window; and Charlie– fire the rocket over the chook house.
Then around the corner marches Johnny’s father. ‘What are you young monkeys up too?!’
Entries will not be accepted if they exceed the maximum word limit – even if by a word, and must comply with all the stated parameters.
All entries are to be submitted to email@example.com by Friday, 26th August. Your email must include author’s name, story title and word count.
Voting will open the next day here on the blog.
Come along to our Members’ Night on Wednesday, 31 August, 7pm at the Bunch of Grapes Hotel to hear the winner announced. (Results will also be posted here on the blog the day after.)
Entry 1 Water Tight
Detective Stoner cast his eyes over the body of the young girl. Drowned they said. Three teenage boys sitting by the edge of the river; fear in their eyes. Stoner looked at the still water and shook his head. They’d been swimming, they claimed, when the girl had been dragged under. Stoner’s stomach tightened – no crocs in this river; no currents. Turning the body over, he noticed the ripped bathers, the broken teeth. Stoner strode across to the older boy, glimpsed the damaged knuckles and turned to the sergeant, ‘Take them to the station,’ he ordered in a sonorous voice.
Entries will not be accepted if they exceed the maximum word limit – even if by a word, and must comply with all the stated parameters.
All entries are to be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, 22nd July. Your email must include author’s name, story title and word count.
Voting will open the next day here on the blog.
Come along to our Members’ Night on Wednesday, 27th July, 7pm at the Bunch of Grapes Hotel to hear the winner announced. (Results will also be posted here on the blog the day after.)
Entry 1 Election Day
The booths were crowded. For weeks before the big birds expounded ideas of compromise, cultural diversity, mutual respect, vegetarian diets, strutting impressively and kissing babies. The bush creatures gathered to vote, reassured by these radical new ideas. Except Bobby bandicoot, who elected to run while the eagles feasted.
Entry 2 Hard to Swallow
Working at a polling booth on Election Day, I was enjoying a tea break with co-workers when I was called out to assist. Returning, I finished off my tea, as Sally, with a look of horror, cried out, ‘Was that your tea, I’ve just tipped in all the dregs!’
Joy Merritt is May’s winner with her story, Cloud of Smoke. Congratulations, Joy!
Word count: 50 words
Entry 1 Night wandering
The creaking of floorboards woke her. Heart hammering, she peered out from behind the shield of her duvet, gaze fixed on the bedroom door as dread clouded around her. The approaching footsteps, so familiar. She reached for the stained, sticky knife by the bed, and whispered, ‘Stay dead, Uncle.’
Entry 2 Potential
What is it about a creeping grey and black mottled cloud that fills me with a strangely exhilarating horror, the sense of something, someone bearing down dripping necklets of ruby, invisible fingers probing, moulding my heart, paring back layers of my mind, and exposing a potential for the unthinkable?
Entry 3 The Last Goth
Charlintha was her name the last of the Goths,
tried and sentenced under the law of witchcraft,
exorcism of the living, rebirth of the dead.
She was condemned to death by burning upon the stake,
on a night when the cloud hid tears of the moon.
Entry 4 Cloud of Smoke
Word count: 50
The crowd gathered on the cobblestones around the caped magician. Watching the illusions, delight shone on the children’s faces.
He tipped his top hat and winked, announcing the grand finale.
A huge cloud of smoke was conjured with flair, and once it dissipated, the magician and the children had disappeared.
Entry 5 The Waiting
Darkness was gathering. Overhead, heavy cloud threatened to break. Still, I would not enter the house. Something was watching me from inside. Blank windows stalked me. There was no escape, save barren cliffs and, below, the rough, rocky sea. Death waited patiently, my decision irrelevant. Would I jump?
It’s our annual holiday and I smile across at you as I stop the car. The smell of the sea, the sound of the waves, soothes my soul and calms my troubled mind. ‘Come on,’ I laugh, jumping out. The sand burns my feet but the sea beckons. The wind carries your plea, ‘Wait for me.’ Running over the dunes and down to the roaring sea, I sense you behind me. ‘Hurry up,’ I cry, glancing back. But your vision has faded– as it always does –and pain strikes my heart. I sink into the soft wet sand, and weep.
Entry 2 | Trevi Sorrow | 100
It was eerily quiet on the ancient cobblestone streets. The dawn light was mellow and so blessedly cool. Thank goodness for jetlag, for we had the city to ourselves. With our arms around each other, we each tossed a coin over our shoulder into the Trevi Fountain. He smiled, then kissed me. I sighed and blinked away tears. Tom’s leave is over soon. He’ll be going back to the war. To Afghanistan. And all I could think as I tossed my coin and heard its gentle ‘plop’ in the water behind me was, ‘God, please, bring him home to me’.
Entry 3 | Holiday | 97
Dear diary, Today was cold and grey, a very good day for a holiday. I stayed in my warm P J’s, putting my phone and iPad on ‘do not disturb’ mode. In my studio I placed a new, large canvas against my easel and enjoyed the smell of the oil paint as I spread a deep shade of green over the surface. My mind was full of dreams and ideas of the trees that would flow from my mind, my hand and then onto the canvas. It will be added to on another holiday .
Entry 4 | Hello | 100
Hello again, It’s me. It’s funny. I don’t know when I first really registered you were gone, though there were many moments momentarily ambushed by memories. I cook, eat, garden, I enjoy some things again, like the sun on new growth, and today’s unexpected warmth after winter. But its funny the holes people leave in your life. You think you’re ok. People leave, and when they do you grieve, you regret, and then you adjust until some little thing happens. Today the rose you planted bloomed for the first time, and I had to say goodbye, all over again. xxx
The parameters for this, the Inaugural Pamela Miller Memorial Prize, were 400 words in any genre about the power of the written word. Here are the entries. Vote at the bottom:
ENTRY 1: The Power Of The Written Word | 400 words
I sat there at my computer with my finger poised ready to press the send button. I could feel Angela’s eyes searing into my back.
” Ok,” I swivelled my chair around to face my friend’s judgemental glare. “Let’s have it. I can see you disapprove.”
” Look Sharon, I admire your dedication to the job. I just wonder have you really thought just how powerful the written word can be. I mean we’re talking about the Mayor’s career.”
“Angela he has been abusing his wife!”
“I just find it so hard to equate the man we all know as a wife beater. He seems so dedicated to her and he is so great with his son! He puts hours into coaching little league every week. This will surely bring his career to its knees and he has been so good for this town. It seems such a shame. What if Mayor McLaughlin is innocent?”
“I saw the bruises myself.”
“Don’t you find it interesting that this story coincides with Helen McLaughlin finding out about the Mayor’s relationship with Sally Stretton? His career is already in tatters, this will definitely seal his fate.”
“I know what you are saying Angela, but I believe Helen. I think she has been silent for a long time and the discovery of the extra marital relationship was the last straw. As a journalist I am dedicated to bringing the facts to the public no matter how uncomfortable it may be for some. Not to mention my moral obligation here. Domestic violence has been an issue people have been silent about for far too long now.”
“I agree with you there, I just hope this is a genuine case. Why hasn’t she reported it to the police?”
“She is on her way here now and we are going to the police together. I think like a lot of abuse victims she has been too afraid to go public before. Maybe because she is frightened people won’t believe her” I added drily, giving a pointed glare.
I swivelled back to my computer ready to press the send button.
“Alright, but I just hope you know what you are getting into here. He has some pretty powerful people around him”.
My finger wavered nervously.
I looked up to see Helen walk in with a fresh bruise on her face.
I quickly pressed send.
ENTRY 2: A Candle In The Darkness | 309 words
In 1981, in what was then Yugoslavia, a young theology and law student, Dobroslav Paraga circulated a petition seeking the release of political prisoners in that country.
For this he was arrested, sentenced to three years jail and himself imprisoned in the notorious Goli Otok, where he suffered torture, sleep deprivation and 271 days of solitary confinement. When he appealed, his sentence was extended to five years.
Far away on the other side of the world, Paraga’s arrest coincided with the formation of a local branch of Amnesty International in the Victorian town of Ballarat.
Members of the fledgling branch became aware of the young man’s plight. In the tradition of Amnesty, the newly formed regional group employed the power of the written word in defense of the prisoner of conscience they adopted.
They launched a campaign of letter-writing protests involving churches, trade unions and human rights activists. A constant flood of letters on Paraga’s behalf were written directly to the Superintendent of Goli Otok and to the Yugoslav Presidency.
Such was the dedication of this small but dynamic group that long before the days of Facebook and Twitter their protest went global and they were astonished to receive a letter from the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace confirming that even the Vatican had become involved.
The world spotlight was now on Goli Otok. Upon Paraga’s release, Amnesty Ballarat received recognition from the London International Secretariat for the snowball they had set in motion to secure his freedom.
They also received a letter from Paraga himself, in which he said:
‘Your constant care for me and the efforts you took to publicise my fate did not permit injustice to triumph. I pray God enables you to feel my gratitude.’
Paraga’s story is but one example of many triumphs Amnesty International achieves employing the power of the written word.
ENTRY 3: Dedication | 159 words
When discussing dedication
and subsequent perspiration
We meet many complications
Which I’ll discuss a little more
Do we vent our frustrations?
Do what’s best for our nation?
Or chase market penetration?
Honesty, or muffled roar?
Is this psych-emancipation?
Do I make it my vocation?
Breezes on an empty shore?
Do we indulge in exploration?
A cheeky re-interpretation?
The mirror crack’d? No nevermore!
A poetic exploration?
Full of stranger conjugations
Bizarre new word creations
Since we never can be sure
Does this warrant publication?
Or simply relegation,
A hard-drive humiliation
Left where it’s easy to ignore
Enough! I’ll make my presentation
And I’ll risk jeers for adulation
I’ll begin the conversation
And together we’ll explore
For all time our compiling
Endless lists of words beguiling
Causes shame, tears and smiling
For those long lost and gone
Please, forgive my complications
Know my tears and perspiration
This poem’s my dedication
and I thank you all for yours.
ENTRY 4: The Written Word | 394 words
At a time in my life when all seemed lost, I found a reason to live. War had left its deathly mark; families had fled, their homes destroyed. Our way of life had vanished, and I raged at its passing. Wandering down narrow streets I searched for traces of my past– old familiar places now in ruins. There amongst the rubble I came across a small abandoned library, full of torn and damaged books. One novel lay intact; its pages yellow, the edges torn. Dusting off the cover I started to read.
Here was a man who spoke of a life shattered by loss, who wrote of the pain of eternal grief, of a life torn apart by the cruelty of other people. His anger was my anger; his revenge my revenge, a cancer that ate at my heart. He too felt lost, as I had felt as I wandered through life looking for reasons, for understanding, for answers.
He began to write, to release the pain that so absorbed him, and sought peace as he told his tale in written words on bundles of paper. Page after page he wrote, the words bursting forth with a force all their own, until he was exhausted, and lay down his pen. In his writings he had reclaimed his life, and from the deep darkness of grief, found his soul again. The pages became a book– a testimony to the power of the written word– with a truth the world could understand.
As I read his story I witnessed his suffering; and his humanity– a man who fought his nemesis with words, with courage, as I desired to do. But I was full of doubts– how could I write of my life, and express the pain, the sadness and the loss of so much, for I was lost and uncertain.
Then, in the final words of the book, I began to understand:
‘To be creative we must follow a path of our own. When we are lost, we must find our own way home.’ (Sheldon Kopp 1992.)
In those words I found the will and determination to find my own path; to write my story in dedication to a man who dared to bare his soul; that others may write their stories, in their own way, in their own words.
And so I began to write.
ENTRY 5: Cod Liver Oil | 159 words
You will know her.
Dedication to a 1961 Mum.
Her baby is alone. Left safe enough will only cry and sleep, sleep and cry, and will be checked on by the Italians. –For her to earn her coin. –For her to feed this baby. Sunshine powdered milk, cod liver oil and Pentavite. She uses a washboard and mangle when the new era all abounds, arounds, surrounds. Shiny machines— Short skirts—
The water guides her lipidious oils out through her fingers and cells become dehydrate and crack. Her youth keeps up so it lathers things back. The sun glows on her cheeks and shoulders and sweat mystifies her labour. Early loneliness sinks her eyes back minutely and only God sees this. Her weighted brow will not get her through. The rose in the garden is so beautiful. Latent traits will only etch when her vulnerability is ripe.
He walks in with his coin.
With his bad temper.
He ruffles through her.
He does not see the rose.
He leaves her
She meets a man most kind, most kind, most kind, most kind.
ENTRY 6: The Mighty Mississippi | 397 words
From northern Minnesota, the Mississippi River flows southwards for nearly four thousand kilometres to the Mississippi river Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. It’s one of the world’s major river systems, the fourth largest in the world. I’ve never seen the Mississippi River. Nor have I taken a great interest in it. But skilful dedication to the written word by an American travel writer has left with me a formidable impression of this mighty artery and a fascination with its history, not earlier evoked by the words of others.
Jonathan Raban flies over the Mississippi. It’s in flood and he considers the flat farms of Minnesota as akin to a theological problem.
‘The farms are square, the fields are square, the houses are square; if you could pluck their roofs off from over people’s heads, you’d see families sitting at square tables in the dead centre of square rooms. Nature has been stripped, shaven, drilled, punished and repressed in this right-angled, right-thinking Lutheran country. It makes you ache for the sight of a rebellious curve or the irregular, dappled colour of a field where a careless farmer has allowed corn and soybeans to cohabit.’
But Raban can see that there are no careless farmers on this flight path. ‘The landscape is open to your inspection – as to God’s – as an enormous advertisement for the awful rectitude of the people. There are no funny goings-on down here, it says; we are plain upright folk, fit candidates for heaven.’
But then the river in flood has wrecked these images. ‘…a broad serpentine shadow that sprawls unconformably across the checkerboard. Deviously winding, riddled with black sloughs and green cigar-shaped islands, the Mississippi looks as if it had been put here to teach the god-fearing Midwest a lesson about stubborn and unregenerate nature. ‘
The stylistic outline of this orderly landscape, carelessly traversed by an indiscriminate river, also alludes to the river’s awesome status amongst those who live on it. It will be the river’s ‘muddy turmoil’ that will dictate the terms, not necessarily as the farmers want it to serve them.
‘You’d better respect the river, or he’ll do you in,’ growls the lockmaster.
Raban’s overview, followed by such remarkable imagery has left, in my mind’s eye, an indelible panorama of this bold and impudent river in all its glorious chaos. Such can be the power of the written word.
ENTRY 7: What Is It? | 189 words
It is intrinsic
It is in there
E very word
Black on white
Until in sight
Then alive like a magpie
And fed beef on a balcony
It is under my skin
Extruding onto leaf
To get under yours—
The paper barks!
You tattoo words on mental matter
Chemical etching on organic metal
Metal Mental Matter Matters!
On my mind
It works for me
For times now and later
For recall and reuse
But there is always mush
I must remove.
So I read you, as new, at my leisure.
More books than man
More bytes than man
All around man.
Words flow from man.
Spoken word is the immediate plot
And it bubbles and boils in our thinking pots.
On paper alone it has no heat
Written words are alone
And powerless without
So what is it?
A place to empty to
And to return to
A recycle bin
Or public tip
From which to scavenge.
ENTRY 8: Original Gatekeepers | 381 words
I have always been a vicarious and hungry reader. I recall the early days of going to primary school with my little bag of well-read library books. During morning recess the group of Grade 4s, would team up with a buddy and would head down to the school oval, lining up to visit the mobile library during the weekly visit browsing the shelves looking for more books to devour.
While I was keen on playing some random sports, I was always in the school or public library, finding new books, getting recommendations from the librarian and just reading anything I could get my hands on. I would often walk into the centre of town to visit two bookshops that I was a fan of. Each week I was either buying more books or ordering new authors. I had become good friends with the bookshop owners so they were ordering and putting books under the counter for me.
Getting into University for my Librarianship degree, I remember the Course Coordinator on the day of enrolment asking what my major degree of librarianship was going to be, what else but English Literature!?! I was in University studying to be a librarian and reading the classic books that are usually in the Top 100. Getting into University I was like a sponge to the written word and spent many hours in the library.
More than 20 years later, and I still continue my pursuit and love of the written word, and the power of data, information and knowledge.
Over the years it has been my own personal dedication to the written word and the power of information to pursue, research, catalogue and retrieve the written word. There is nothing quite like the thrill of the chase, and finding the hidden gem. The missing book, or the uncovered article completing the request for the customer.
While I am now buying books online, conducting research to find more books, reviewing for new topics. I am still in the public library finding books and discussing with the librarians new authors to read.
Librarians are the original gatekeepers of information and it was Samuel Johnson who originally said “Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.”
ENTRY 9: The Church’s Sign On Graham Street | 382 words
Mary’s sick again. She didn’t get up from bed yesterday morning when I left for work and when I returned she was still there. In the same silk camisole, the same glass of water still half empty on her bedside table. I made dinner, enough for both of us, but when she didn’t come to the table I didn’t go to get her.
When she’s well, it’s great. We whirl through the days in a cheeky waltz, mid week dishes with a squeeze on the bum and a little couples-friendly porn on Sunday nights. But the down times are getting more frequent and Mary can’t even keep her job anymore.
I can’t go home and see her lying there again. I can’t stomach the smell of the bedroom that would have that rank sweetness about it by now. They tell me that my dedication is admirable, but just because I’m not the one in bed, doesn’t mean that I’m not tired. There’s enough of my clothes at the beach house to get me by for a while and the commute to work won’t be easy, but it’s doable. The kids will be over at the house on Saturday so, Mary will be checked up on- If they don’t cancel again.
The traffic lights turn orange on Graham Street, out the front of the white stucco church with the orange roof tiles. I’m no Christian, not really, but whatever is written on the signboard out the front always has an effect on me. Today, a tall but stooped old man with a ring of white hair on his head like a halo, is tending to the sign. He has already used the letters to write ‘In His Love, You Will Find.’ An old woman in a wheelchair tries to pass him the remaining letters, but she fails and they fall to the ground. The old man bends his old bones to pick them up and the old woman reaches out a frail hand and touches him. Just touches him. In a fleeting moment their eyes meet and I know that they are all each other truly have in the world.
With his boney elbows out by his sides, the old man places the letters to the last word on the sign, ‘Strength.’
ENTRY 10: The Case | 400 words
“Hey You! Yes You, Baggage Handler, careful, show some respect. I’ll have you know that I am not your plain, ordinary suit case. I wouldn’t be seen dead stooping so low as to carry a person’s dirty clothes and personal belongings, never-Indeed!
What? How do I know?
I know what I am because I once heard my owner, the Judge, saying to a barrister. “Madame, unlike my present case, your case is not open and shut. Open and shut cases are very rare, very special indeed. Madam your present case is fraught with complications.”
So baggage handler, I am telling you, I am an Open and Shut Case.
I will also have you know I am a law abiding citizen. I am totally dedicated to the judge who affectionately calls me, his Brief case. I can only assume that he does this because he keeps a spare pair of his Briefs, somewhere in my lid compartment. He is getting very old and sometimes he needs spare undies. Well you do know what I mean.
Baggage handler! I demand that you immediately stop throwing me around. Please treat me with the respect that my position demands. Please! Be gentler with me. I will have you know that the judge and I mix with very important people. I also carry his important documents.
The Judge always keeps me close, especially when we travel, whether by aeroplane, bus or train. I never, ever, mix with this common rabble of suit cases. In fact this is the very first time I have not travelled first class, in the cabin, with the Judge. There must have been some mistake as I am closer to the judge than his wife is. I am at his side 24/7.
Of course I do understand that his honour does have other cases. He has a case for his Chamber clothes, another case that he sometimes calls a Sympathetic case, oh, I have also heard him say that he does not like a Hard case. He certainly hates the Slimy case.
I have never seen even one of the Judges so called Legal cases; in fact I have never seen any of his other cases at all. That is because I am generally closed shut and hence, kept in the dark.” In any case, I am very pleased to be what I am.
ENTRY 11: The Diary | 397 words
Shirley was distraught. Her mother’s anniversary had passed, unnoticed.
As Convenor of the Cricket and Football Club’s Centennial Celebration, a feature of the ‘Back to Minhamite’ weekend, Shirley had been focussed on its success. She was nonplussed how, whilst emulating her mother, she’d not thought of this amazing woman. Edith was her treasured mum; whose memory continually provided support and inspiration to Shirley.
Edith’s forty-two diaries were arranged chronologically. Shirley chose 1972. It was a re-used exercise book that started with a pledge to ‘make a few more entries than in last years’ and a resolution ‘to try to write regularly to Jean E., Jean B. and Jeanne K.’
Noting her habits of adapting what was available and committing her goals to paper brought the warm glow of connection to Shirley. She did this, also.
The diaries bore witness to Edith’s dedication to the family’s doings and events on the farm and in the community. They also reveal her passion for sport. Typically, entries were thus.
‘January 1, Turned Biddy and Lynne onto Clear Hill, kept Legs and her calf here. Tom (husband) fenced all afternoon. Shirl milked … all to Kennedy’s. Illig’s (Telephone Exchange owners since 1968) retired at five to eleven. Good night’;
‘January 2, Late start. Shirley and I to Evensong’; ‘February 3, Tom to Grounds Committee Meeting, home 4.30 for dinner (lunch)’; ‘March 4, Shirley left for Melbourne. Feeling lonely all day. Going to miss her terribly.’
These last words lit up the page for Shirley. Her mother had never been effusive with her feelings, but here, in the familiar handwriting were words straight from her heart. Made more remarkable when you considered how detached Edith could be.
A decade earlier, Edith had been hospitalised for the removal of a small lump from her breast.
‘July 7 Operation at 3.30. More than expected. Didn’t know much… I listened to some cricket (a radical masectomy rather than the planned lumpectomy. Ashes Test, Lords)’; ‘July 8 Feeling pretty good considering …(Visitor details) Listened to all the cricket.’
Edith’s written words reinforced her daughter’s memories and confirmed what she’d always known, though rarely heard. She was loved.
Shirley marvelled at her Mum and her words. They brought comfort; her Mum would understand her oversight. And they reminded her of a loving, selfless woman who lived a life dedicated to her family and her community.
ENTRY 12: Stringer | 393 words
Bloke down our way has had it rough, has had for most of his life I suspect, you see he has a disability. I don’t know if he was born like that or whether he acquired it later in life, no one likes to ask.
You always see him about and you feel sorry for him. He can’t do anything by himself. Poor bloke needs a helper to do everything, things that you and I take for granted. You see he’s a Marionette, made entirely of wood with strings and all.
What amazes everyone is that he always has a smile on his face! His cheeks are rosy red and his complexion has a lustre that is thought to be polyurethane based. I don’t know his real name, everybody calls him Stringer, and he doesn’t seem to mind.
Something happened to Stringer one night that changed us all forever, Stringer more so. Somehow he came to life and became a real man! (Something I feel I had not yet become myself.) No one knows exactly what happened but there he was all flesh and blood, no strings attached. I don’t know what treatment Stringer was receiving, if any, maybe he was relying on the power of the written word and was studying with dedication, some self help guru, who knows.
People in our street decided to hold a “Coming to life party” for him, I went along but I felt strange about it.
At the party everyone was happy for Stringer. I appeared happy too but I’m not sure how I felt inside. Look, Stringer had come to life and good on him, it’s just that I’ve been alive all my life and I still didn’t feel I had anything to celebrate. Life for me had been bloody hard work with only frustration, disappointment and exhaustion to show for it! So I celebrated with everyone else but my heart just wasn’t in it, the party lights were on but I wasn’t home.
Maybe I was resentful because I had never had the opportunity to rise triumphantly from being made of wood and then miraculously become fleshed out. Nor had I risen from the ashes of some real calamity to an exalted plain of happiness.
No, I had to live my life held back by the distinct disadvantage of being normal.
ENTRY 13: Song of Complaint | 386 words
Singing my song of woe and affliction. Singing my song of complaint. Broadcasting it to the skies. Gathering the birds to sing it with me. Flying on their backs across the world. Telling the people and the trees. Telling people who are interested, and people who aren’t. Telling all the different people. Not sure it will make any difference. Not sure at all. Going to do it anyway. Too long quiet with this load. Going to put the load down and sing out. Or maybe drop it on someone’s head from a great height. Tired of it. Tired of carrying it quietly.
Going to write a book about it.
Going to give it away for free on street corners.
Going to donate it to the library, make an audio book as well. Want to dedicate myself to the task. My dedication will be complete. People are going to listen to my book on long drives. People are going to hear my story on their way to the coast. Or driving to the doctor. Or picking up something for tea.
They will recognise themselves in my tale of woe.
They will say ‘yes, know what you mean’ in my song of complaint.
They will sing their own song. The world will be bathed in the sounds of sorrow. The music of affliction. The tuneless notes of grief.
We’re going to sing it out all over the world. We’re going to type it and publish it and read it. There will be public gatherings of singing and wailing. Our tears will form puddles beneath us. All together we say, this is too much. This is too hard. This is too long.
Everyone will know how we feel.
Everyone will join with their own song.
Then we’ll make choirs and print music and have concerts.
Then someone says, do you see that bird, that one you flew in on?
Do you hear that song of that bird?
And I say, yes I can it’s a song. Different. Got another sort of tune. What are the words to that one.
And the bird says, you can put down your music and books now. You can stop.
There’s another one, another song in the world.
Listen to this. This is a good one.
Learn to sing this beautiful song.
ENTRY 1 – A Bad Businessman. 200 words.
Since we grew up living away from our extended family we were fortunate to be adopted by elderly neighbours who became known to us as Ma and Pa.
Fortunate because this cultured couple who never seemed bothered by the racket of six noisy children next-door, brought into our lives art, music, gardening and…meat!
Pa was a butcher and owned his own business. The first week we moved into the house beside them, Ma called over the fence to my mother, holding out a parcel wrapped in butcher’s paper.
‘Would you mind taking this off my hands, dear? Pa has brought home much more than we can use.’
‘This’ was a mass of chops, strings of sausages and at least a pound of casserole steak!
As the years went by our adopted grandparents shared our triumphs and heartaches, were adored as if they really were family and kept passing parcels of ‘too much meat’ over the fence.
One day I watched Mum unwrap yet another bundle of chops and steak.
‘Pa’s a darling but he can’t be a very good businessman.’
Mum smiled. ‘In all these years he hasn’t figured out how much meat he and Ma can eat.’
ENTRY 2 – Little Claim. 199 words.
In time Williams was there first and longer for my sister than I but when I came into this world he loved me too. Before I could remember he gave me a handmade silver charm bracelet from The Sudan. A Sudanese charm bracelet has trinkets of all the essential items needed for the Sudanese way of life such as an umbrella, a basket and saucepan. Later on he gave my sister and I little perfume bottles bought from a duty free airport Perfumery. I saved my bottle. Even when the glass lid crumbled I wrapped all the broken pieces up in plastic and saved them too. When I was just two his foreboding dark shadow caught me using his gum-boot as a potty. Looking back I guess he had frustrations on his mind. Together, with mum, we all spent some family time in the French Alps. I can remember our train carriage travelling through lots of blank white. Many years later when I was very sad he recalled how I fell out of the bath, whilst at the Alps, and bit my lip and said ‘it’s sore’. Williams had remembered me with my first words for pain.
ENTRY 3 – Swimming Lessons. 200 words.
In the small country town where I grew up in the 1950’s, swimming lessons took place in the local river. It was the focal point for the children; the town offered few amusements other than those we created ourselves. Our family lived close to the river, so we found it easy to run down to the water on hot summer days. The swimming hole was near the bridge– we’d wave madly as the cars drove past. When my time came for lessons, I was taught by my older brother. He’d swim across the river while I held on to him, trying to kick. Sometimes I was pulled along on a rubber tyre, learning to paddle, desperately hanging on, for the river seemed deep and wide. I was fearful of things that moved in the water– slimy stuff that brushed my legs, hidden branches and mud that threatened to suck me down into the depths. But I’d cling on until we reached the other side, grab the rope hanging from the tree, and we’d swim back again. Gradually I let go of my brother, learnt to swim on my own, and little by little, gained a sense of resilience and independence.
ENTRY 4 – You Were My Rock. 198 words.
You were my rock. My back. You were there to keep me straight on track. My inner glowed because you were my mother. You taught me how to do everything. You loved me till the earth stopped spinning. Thanks to you, I have confidence to do anything in crafts, painting, sewing and cooking. You were my family. You taught me as your mother; my favourite grandmother, taught you. I savour the time we shared, allowing me to know who I was. Even knowing our togetherness started out on different paths; we were united. You rang me every day. We shared the love of conversation, movies. The love of reading. ‘I miss you’. I missed you when the conversation stopped. When you became confused, and didn’t know where anything was. I didn’t understand what was happening at first. But one day the enemy revealed itself; Alzheimer’s had joined us. Taking over your life, taking away my mother. Changing you with such speed between my visits. ‘I lost you’. My strong family memories remain with me. Everything changed; the little things were gone. The cuddles, your smiles and laughter. Today your love still warms me, and I truly miss you.
Results will be published here and the winner will be contacted on Wednesday October 7th.