Jean Hare – Winner of the 2021 Frances Copping Memorial Prize for Fiction

We are excited to announce the results of our 2021 Frances Copping Memorial Prize for Fiction Competition, named in fond remembrance of our Lifetime President who sadly passed away in 2020.

This popular competition again received a good number of entries from both inside and outside Hay Writers’ Circle and we very much welcome external interest in all our writing competitions.

We were honoured that our judge this year was none other than Carly Holmes, author and Publishing Manager at Parthian Books.

Prizes are awarded for first, second and third place and this year we are extremely grateful to Parthian Books who kindly agreed to sponsor the winning cash prizes. First Prize £50.00, Second Prize £15.00 and Third Prize £10.00.

Find out more about Parthian Books at http://www.parthianbooks.com

Below are Carly’s comments and her winning selection:

“It was a real pleasure to be asked to judge this year’s fiction competition for the Hay Writers and to read through the entries. The thing that struck me the most was how varied these stories are, in theme and style but also in location and narrative voice. When reading through competition entries or submissions, I often find that an unconscious thread emerges across the stories, whether it be a reaction to the current political/social climate or a response to the genre that is currently proving to be the most popular in the publishing world. With these stories, the only real thread that emerged was a general sense of poignancy, which is not surprising given the current state of the world.”

IST PLACE: End of Therapy

“I really enjoyed the sharp, incisive language the writer used in this story, and the acute way they used tiny details to focus the reader, for example noticing that the therapist’s mole had been removed and replaced by a scar. It told a complete story in less than 1500 words, and the end was uplifting in a way that wasn’t trite and left me feeling very positive.”

2ND PLACE: Death and Life

“This story set the scene well from the first paragraph and used rich, evocative imagery to pull the reader in. The tension built through the drama of the fire, and the ending had a real emotional impact.”

3RD PLACE: Apprentice Piece

“This story employed strong character development from the start, offsetting the ‘brutish’ appearance of the traveller against the distanced elegance of the landlady, and then relaxing them both as the story progressed so that they became warm and engaging. The dialogue was very good as well, adding to the character development. The ending was quite obvious but no less endearing for that.”

And The Winners are:

1st Prize – Jean Hare

2nd Prize – Kerry Hodges

3rd Prize – Shane Anderson

Many congratulations to our judge, worthy prize winners and to all our imaginative entrants who submitted a wide variety of pieces.

Thank you.

DEATH AND LIFE BY KERRY HODGES

We are delighted to now showcase Kerry Hodges’ “Death and Life”, which we hope you will enjoy.

Death and Life  

When does fear start to fade and reality become accepted? 
 

When does the twist in the stomach and the knot of the heart begin to relax as the  

realisation dawns that what has been feared would happen for the past ten years  

has finally happened. The mind hasn’t yet taken it in but there’s no need to be afraid  

any longer. 

This I ponder as I sit on my bed in the small guest house. Autumn leaves on a  

gnarled tree sweep the roof. The gentle brushing assists my meditation. 

It’s been a long journey. Nearly 24 hours of travel. 

As I drink the last of my green tea and place the delicate china bowl on a coaster, I  

decide to walk, see a little of the city. I am tired, I am restless. I need distraction.  

Tying my laces, I grab my tattered straw hat and leave. 

Outside the heat curls around my body, coating it with expectation. The smell of  

barbequed meat inveigles its way into my nostrils, pricking my appetite awake. 

Two small children eye me with curiosity and I smile as they scurry away. 

With the city wall to my right I can’t get lost. 

The narrow road opens into a square and before me stands a mosque adorned with  

tiles of brilliant hues – lapis, verdigris and sun gold. I feel the gasp which halts my  

step. The colour, the splendour. Have I wandered into a fairy tale? Will Princess  

Aurora or Sleeping Beauty bedecked in sumptuous fabrics and tiaras appear? When  

a princess actually does appear; I am not surprised. She wears a cream silk  

meringue. Tiny pearls drip from its bodice and a veil is held in place by a glittering  

crown. But she is no princess. She is a bride, an Uzbek bride with her suited groom,  

examining the streets of Khiva, searching for the best vantage point from which to  

take the most breath-taking photos. I soon realise this is not unusual as I spy three  

more brides and their new spouses, floating along, all looking the same, like they’ve  

borrowed the same dress and the same thick dark eyebrows. 
   

I dawdle past stalls selling Russian fur hats, exquisitely carved Quran stands,  

brightly coloured crockery painted with the distinctive Ikat design. Bed spreads richly  

embroidered with pomegranates, oranges and lemons.  

‘Maeve would love one of those,’ I murmur, ‘the one with the blue pomegranates.’  

A small man with weather aged skin displays his wares on a rickety table. Camel hair  

scarves in an array of tempting colours and I’m buying one, grey and black. A  

mouthful of gold teeth is revealed as the vendor smiles. I am reminded of the early  

Bond films I used to tolerate with my Dad sat beside me, chewing fig rolls. 

And I am back home. My mind skates over the past weeks of hospital, bedside and  

coffin. My Dad’s pale grey face etched with the pain he’d so readily denied in life.  

Whoever said a person looks at peace in death?
  

I need a cuppa.
 

Stepping onto the roof-top terrace of a busy teahouse, I marvel at the view below.  

How could they have built such perfection. No electric drills or laser levels just bare  

hands and rudimentary tools.
  

I fill my bowl with black tea and gaze around. Noisy Russian tourists, replete, have  

left and peace descends. 

A woman sits alone at one of the traditional Uzbek table beds. She is supported at  

her back by a rainbow of cushions, their colour a scream of confusion. In the middle  

a raised platform holds a teapot and bowl. The woman, dark hair covering her face,  

is writing furiously as though if she stops her thoughts will end and she’ll never  

recapture them. 

I pay my bill as the writing stops; the face emerges and we smile. 

Wandering once more I see a half-finished minaret and learn from a helpfully vocal  

tour guide it hadn’t been finished because the Khan, for whom it was being built, had  

died. His son didn’t want it to be completed as it would be named after his dead  

father and this made him jealous.
  

‘Rumour has it,’ whispers my teacher, a little less helpfully so I have to lean in and  

concentrate harder, ‘the son’s harem was over the wall from the minaret which  

meant were it to be finished people would be able to stare at his collection of women  

and only the Khan was supposed to see his chosen few.’ 

Collection of women? Like a collection of classic cars or single malt whisky? Hackles  

rising for a man centuries dead, I hoped those women kept the jealous Khan in his  

place. 

It is dusk as I return to the guest house. Feeling weary, I decide to eat the remains of  

the picnic bought in Tashkent, read my book and get an early night.
 

As I eat the final date my thoughts inevitably turn to Dad. How often in the last years  

have I studied the number as my phone rang, fearing it might be Antony with bad  

news? How many times have I seen Dad’s body, smart in his favourite suit, resting in  

a silk-lined coffin? 
 

And then it happened. No longer a dreaded daydream.  

From the limousine I’d watched people doing their everyday jobs as we travelled to  

the crematorium. A white rose wreath adorned his coffin but was insignificant, an  

empty gesture. Dad’s favourite flowers had been spring yellow tulips. 

 I’d observed Dad slowly disappearing behind ugly plum coloured curtains, their  

closing taking Dad from me permanently. I had wanted to yank them back, rescue  

him from the flames.
  

Stirring from my morbid reverie I chide myself for going there again. For wasting  

energy, emotion, in acting out my Dad’s demise for the umpteenth time. 

I shower, message Maeve, climb into bed, and turn off the light. 

And there is Dad again. Creeping unbidden into my head as he always does in my  

quiet moments. He would be waiting for me back at home. Not sat at the table, a  

smile licking his lips and some pies warming in the oven. He’d be waiting in a brown  

urn. Dad. Ashes. A tear meanders down a cheek settling in the gully of my neck. 

It can’t be more than ten minutes later when I jump up. 

What the hell is that? A low whooshing sound has roused me and now I can smell  

smoke. See smoke pouring into my room through the gap between door and  

doorframe. 
 

Grabbing my bag, I slide each foot firmly into a mule and snatch a jumper from the  

chair. Cautiously I turn the door handle and am met with a wall of dense, acrid  

smoke while flames play peekaboo with me from the bathroom only feet away.
 

I am fortunate. The door to the courtyard is nearby. I gag and cough as I make my  

way out, bent double with head under the toxic smoke, forcing my smarting eyes to  

lead me to safety. Stumbling over a step, I find myself in the relatively fresh air of the  

yard where I shiver wildly, hugging myself for comfort. 

Two fire engines and men dressed in camouflage; work to extinguish the blaze as I  

am ushered into the lane behind the guest house. 

Akmal, the guest house owner, his wife and four little children observe silently. The  

youngest in her mother’s arms.  
 

In twenty minutes the fire is out, only the odd wisp of smoke escapes into the night. 
  

Akmal guides me into his own room where his children lie on a large bed. Their  

mother tries to sooth them to sleep but their dark eyes watch while I settle onto the  

sofa Akmal has offered me.  

As I lie down, wrapping rugs around me I see the insidious smoke creeping its  

deadly way into my room. What if I’d been asleep? I too may have been ashes,  

sitting alongside Dad in a brown urn. You were not asleep I tell myself. You are alive.  

Did I say that aloud? I don’t know but something in me feels different. Fear, for so  

long my unwanted companion, has loosened its grip, knowing it has outstayed its  

welcome.  

Tomorrow I will drink Russian vodka. Eat plov. Maybe bump into the dark haired  

writer and talk and walk along the walls of Khiva taking Dad with me. He never liked  

climbing but I can carry him this time. 

About thehaywriters

The Hay Writers : a highly active & forward thinking writing group based in Hay-on-Wye, the world famous 'Town of Books'. ✍️ In 2019 we celebrated our 40th anniversary.
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