“The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”
…This was a remark attributed to British statesman Sir Edward Grey on the eve of the First World War. It is not certain whether Grey, who was the Foreign Secretary, in fact made such a statement. Nevertheless it has earned considerably historical and popular attention as an expression of popular perception of the war.
This was the opening gambit for the recent writing competition run by Mardibooks and IdeasTap as a memorial to all those who served in the First World War and gave their lives in this and other conflicts. Emanating from this brief, there were many fine short stories, fictional and non-fictional which addressed in a creative and interesting manner, the notion of war and peace, personal and private, from many perspectives, locations and periods, real and imagined.
In selecting the final compilation, the judges were seeking original stories, well plotted which were engaging and enigmatic and presented by new voices with captivating narratives. Our panel of judges highly commended a further 25 runners up and we hope you enjoy the collection presented here as much as we all did.
MG, BH, JA January 2014
Writer biography & story synopsis
Alexandar Altman (Leichenfeld)
Alexandar Altman was born in Zagreb, Croatia in 1984. He emigrated to New Zealand at the age of 24, but attended the University of Transport and Engineering in Croatia, receiving his Master’s Degree in 2008. Currently he’s finishing his first novel, a hard-hitting spy thriller of violence, betrayal and redemption.
Already broken by the failures in his personal life, Charlie Quinn, an English soldier, confined to the trenches of World War I, climbs over the parapet again and witnesses the extremes of man’s inhumanity. Surviving the onslaught of German artillery and machine guns, he finds himself stuck in a shell hole, having a philosophical discussion about God and war with the most unexpected individuals.
R M F Brown (First Day)
A historian, poet, philosopher, and cartographer, R M F Brown is a multi-genre author who dabbles in Crime, Sci-fi, Horror, Historical, and Romantic fiction. He also freelances as a film critic for TV Bomb. His works include: ‘Death to Love’, ‘Dr Acula’s Book of Horror’, and ‘A Rat’s War’.
‘First Day’ is the story of a young officer, a Chinese coolie, and their respective first days at the front-line. It addresses the balance of forgotten contributions of young officers and of Chinese coolies brought over from China as slave labour.
Dominic Brown (He Dreamed of War)
Dominic Brown, aged 25, took up writing to help with an anxiety disorder. After studying sociology and criminology at BA level and social research at MA level, he now teaches English as a foreign language in Buenos Aires.
‘He Dreamed Of War’ bridges decades, documenting a nameless man’s struggle to keep a hold on reality. Seamlessly slipping from the horror of his past in the WWI trenches to his hazy and indifferent present, both protagonist and reader begin to question which of the dissociated realities is true…
Gavin Bryce (The Blessing Of The Bomb)
Gavin Bryce is a freelance filmmaker and writer, based in Edinburgh. He produces promotional films and motion graphics for a range of clients in the UK and abroad, providing script and concept as well as technical and creative services. In addition, he writes poetry, short stories and screenplays, some of which have been published, performed and filmed.
At an unidentified location in an unnamed war, a new weapon is unveiled by the Royal Air Force. Designed by the greatest minds of the generation, it is the bomb to end all wars – if it works. As events unfold, a chaplain meets a young pilot with a haunting confession and a disturbing question…
A D Cooper (John Keaton)
A D Cooper is a copywriter, scriptwriter and director of short films. She has also been a rugby journalist, published two volumes of jokes, and made seven short films in three years. However, she will always remain ‘a writer at heart’.
‘John Keaton’ features a protagonist who recounts his harrowing experience of war. His words are filled with regret at the terrible price paid so that future generations can live in peace. The story provides an opportunity to find hope of resurrection in the Flanders mud that is something other than what’s been seen or heard before.
OK David (Long, Long)
OK David writes fiction and illustrates. He doesn’t write for any age group in particular, mostly writing novellas. In his opinion fiction should tell you about how life is, and be full of unexpected surprises.
‘Long Long’ is the story of Moussa, a stable boy from Sierra Leone who volunteers for the front and is sent to fight in France. He volunteers because he wants to honour an old military character called Lord Lumley, who is his employer in Freetown. Is Moussa brave enough to stay or will he run away, fearing his undoing?
Peter Ewing (Cracked)
Peter Ewing is a NHS general practitioner but also works part-time in psychiatry. He served in the Territorial Army for six years. He won prizes in four different writing competitions in 2013.
‘They say “write what you know” – and I know the British soldier. I was one’ –Peter Ewing. Lieutenant Peter Mann, soldier, is back from Afghanistan – at least, most of him is. But the aftermath of war brings him both disaster and redemption.
James Friend (Taken Flight)
After a long-founded dream of doing something different, James Friend, aged 36, decided to try his hand at writing short stories. His degree in History and Philosophy at Wolverhampton University has proved invaluable in facilitating a tapestry for his stories.
An action adventure story set in June 1940, ‘Taken Flight’ tells the story of a celebrated WWI fighter pilot named Claude and his imperturbable wife, Egrette. With France set to fall into darkness, they decide to flee their homeland and seek the relative safety of Britain. Their journey takes them to war torn skies in an obsolete biplane.
James Graham (Goldcliff Court)
James Graham, 31, is a Law graduate who currently lives in the South Wales countryside with his deerhound Hector. He is a recent convert to creative writing, focusing chiefly on historical fiction. He likes rugby and films. You can find him on twitter @JamesGraham41.
‘Goldcliff Court’ tells the story of a Jewish boy from Vienna who was evacuated to South Wales as part of the kinder transport rescue mission, shortly before Europe descended into war. It is a true story of hope inspired by real people, places and events.
Elizabeth Howliston (Wet Fish)
Finding inspiration from her home near the coast in Northumberland, Elizabeth Howliston has written all her life. She is a health worker and has brought children up and supported older parents. ‘Wet Fish’ was inspired by the death of her two great uncles in the Great War, and the life of her grandfather.
A fishmonger returns from war, looking out on to his village, wonderful in its domesticity. It is peacetime. However, the fog and fish guts remind of him of war. Making the adjustment back to normal life will not be easy.
Michael Jones (Financial Boom)
An electronic engineer by trade, Michael Jones has enjoyed writing creatively over the last two years. By entering competitions, he hopes to receive guidance that will further develop his writing skills.
Whilst war may seem a frightful undertaking, Albert Perkins looks upon it as an opportunity to make something of his small business venture. Though, as with any gain, there are always risks…
Samantha Leighton (The End)
Samantha Leighton is a forty-year-old mother of two. After writing stories at home for her children, she decided to enroll at college on a ‘Creative Freelance’ writing course and has not looked back since.
Composed as an unwritten letter to his mother, ‘The End’ is narrated by a 19-year-old boy who is posted to Flanders. Will he survive the German troop’s gas attack or fall victim to the frightening horrors of war, far from his family farm and peaceful life?
Robbie MacNiven (Lost)
Robbie MacNiven is an aspirating author originally from the Highlands of Scotland, currently studying History and English Language at Edinburgh University.
‘Lost’ sees past and present intertwine as two young Highland-born brothers are plunged into the nightmarish hell of a gas attacking during the Great War’s Western Front.
David McVey (Island Harbour)
David McVey is a writer of many published short stories and non-fiction. He has taught in Higher Education, enjoys reading, writing, hillwalking, historical sites and watching his local football team.
When the inhabitants of a remote village in a largely Scottish colony off the African coast learn too late that WWI has broken out, they fear unwelcome change will affect their easy-going community. The arrival of a German U-boat makes these fears even more pronounced.
Alex Pearl (Scared To Death)
Alex Pearl is an advertising copywriter living with his wife and two children in north-west London. In September, 2011 his first teen novel, ‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’ was published by Pen Press and launched at Waterstones. His passions in life include music, cinema and good food.
Thomas Highgate was 17 when he signed up to serve his country in 1913, but the dreadful realities of trench warfare were soon to prove too much for him and, as a result, he was to become the first British serviceman to be summarily tried and executed for cowardice.
Rachel Pownall (The Night Shift)
Rachel Pownall works part time running a Foundation Degree in Digital Media Production at City of Bristol College, after numerous years working as a documentary director at the BBC. Whilst attending courses and writing prose on and off since her twenties, it is only recently, after her children have grown up, that she has found the time to concentrate more seriously on her writing.
Based on Rachel Pownall grandfather’s wartime experiences in the trenches, ‘The Night Shift’ recounts the story of a nurse working in a military hospital near Ypres in late September 1918. One of her badly wounded young patients, Ted, has a series of nightmares linked to his experiences on the front. He is running a fever and there is little the nurse can do, fearing that he will not last the night.
Helen Raven (Underneath The Apple Tree)
Helen Raven is a part-time student at Nottingham University, studying Creative and Professional Writing. She is currently in her third year and has been published twice, once with University of Nottingham and secondly in Mardibooks’ short story competition winner anthology, Jam. She enjoys writing psychological thrillers.
‘Underneath The Apple Tree’ follows the lives of three different women across three generations over 100 years. Addressing the themes of unwanted marriage, love, knowledge and erraticism, each protagonist must make dilemma-laden decisions that could cause more hurt than good.
Katie Redford (Mummy, Why Are You Not Laughing?)
An actor and regular blogger, Katie Redford moved to London when she was 18 to study a 3 year BA course in Acting at Thames Valley University. After graduating with a First Class Honours, she worked as a floor runner at the BBC for various TV dramas and short films. She enjoys writing scripts and competing in marathons. The advice and knowledge she gained from attending a Mardibooks’ workshop motivated her to submit her first short story entry.
Delve into the lives of mother and daughter, Helen and Bella in ‘Mummy, Why Are You Not Laughing?’ Helen is keeping a heartbreaking secret from four-year-old Bella but there is only so long she can keep it. When events begin to spiral out of control, Helen’s heartbreak is exposed at its most raw…
Andy Robinson (Kissing the Devil’s Breath)
Andy Robinson is new to writing and currently engaged on a writing course. Recent success at University, with national prizes for his dissertation has given him the confidence to strive for a career in writing. This is the first story competition he has entered.
‘Kissing the Devil’s Breath’ is a story of the personal battle of two soldiers against the backdrop of an imminent gas attack and the horrors of this weapon unleashed on a trench of British troops. The protagonist fights gas and the other soldier, needing to beat both to save his life.
Fatima Safi (I Shouldn’t Be Here)
Fatima Safi is a 23-year-old English PGCE student in London, specialising in the works of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Writing throughout her childhood years and sharing her recent stories on her degree course has boosted her confidence, leading to entering the Mardibooks / Ideas Tap competition. Other than writing, she loves films, reading, theatre and football.
‘I Shouldn’t Be Here’ recounts the story of Johnny, who signs up for the war, blissfully ignorant of its potential horror and bloodshed. Told that the war will make him a man, his actual experiences are nothing like he had imagined. Caught in gunfire, he must save himself. How long can he survive?
Ramona Scarborough (The Wager)
Ramona Scarborough’s stories have appeared in national, regional and local magazines. Along with achieving second place in the Gracie Award this year and in the Oregon Women’s Report Contest, her stories have been placed for two years in the top 50 from thousands of entries in the Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. She has written five books, and has had three published. Her most recent novel is currently under consideration.
Flash Thomas, a swaggering Hawker Hurricane pilot, makes a wager. He says he can manoeuver his plane precisely in place into a hangar after taking to the air and landing. His friends rush to cheer this daring feat, but one small adjustment turns the ‘wager’ into a disaster…
Adrienne Silcock (The Boy Who Hid Beneath The Piano)
Shortlisted for the 2009 Virginia Prize and winner of a playwriting competition, Adrienne Silcock has written for much of her adult life. Her first novel ‘Vermin’ (Flambard) was published in 2000. Her subsequent novels include ‘Controlling Aphrodite’ (2009) and ‘The Kiss’ in 2012. Silcock has also published two pamphlets of poems, available on her website adriennesilcock.co.uk.
Twelve years after the end of The Great War, British families are still reeling from its effects. A boy loses his father due to sustained injuries, and he and his two siblings are hustled off to an orphanage school. Lost, frightened and subjected to bullying, the boy seeks solace in the music room, hiding beneath the piano, trying to make sense of why he is unable to return home.
Emma Stanley (Marred)
‘Writing has been something I have enjoyed as a hobby for a very long time, and it’s something I’d like to do in the future.’ Aged 17, Emma Stanley’s fascination with fiction translates most effectively in her passion for drama. She finds inspiration in her favourite novels and hopes to inspire others, as she herself has been inspired.
Returning home from war, James Harvey is filled with hope that things will be just as they were before he left, but tensions arise, challenging his mental state and hurting the people who care for him the most. Not only has he left something behind in the war, he has brought something dark home with him… something he cannot erase.