The Writing Competition. Extract from Written Off

The room hushed as Chapman explained that each writer would read the first five hundred words from their opening chapter and then the delegates would decide the winner.

Eric, like everybody else in the room, was keen to hear the readings. In theory, this quartet represented the high water mark of unpublished writing and anyone wanting to get a deal needed to rise above it.   The first reader, a strapping, sandy-haired man-mountain tented out in a plaid shirt, strode to the lectern. ‘The Turning Of the Tide,’ he said in a gruff Scottish accent, and then proceeded to read. ‘He made his first mistake before they left the Quayside tavern. Playing spoof with Big Muldoon and Lennie Quinn was only going to end one way. Now, down to the emergency £20 note he kept in his boot, he was reduced to the cheapest deal in the whorehouse.’

‘What genre is this?’ whispered Bronte in Eric’s direction.

Plaid shirt carried on, his broad accent punching the lights out of each word as if they were gatecrashers at a Hollywood wedding. ‘In the dim light of the bordello she could have passed for 35 but close up he could see past the powder and paint to the cadaver that lurked beneath…’

Alyson paid especial attention at the mention of a bordello, while Con and Eric exchanged glances that said, ‘This got shortlisted?’

As man-mountain’s reading reached its premature climax he was met with polite applause, and the second reader took to the lectern. Eric guessed from her appearance, a white-haired grandmother, that her extract may cover different ground to the first. ‘The Sun Never Shines on the Poor,’ she intoned in a flat Yorkshire accent that seemed out of kilter with her twin-set and pearls. ‘Barely had the cord that connected us been cut, they took her away. Whatever life she was now destined for, the sense of loss would never leave me. They say when you lose a limb you can still feel the dismembered arm or leg tingling, itching and squeezing, protesting the denial of its existence. I wasn’t even to be blessed with a phantom child.’

Alyson nodded towards Bronte as if to say, ‘This is a bit more like it.’

Twin-set lowered her voice to gravel level and continued, ‘I’d never owned anything in my life, and now I owned even less…’

Eric started to feel the colour rise in his face. If his work didn’t possess literary merit, this did? But everybody seemed to be lapping it up so what did he know?

Next up was a young gamine who was so short it took about a minute to adjust the mic height. ‘Dungeons For Eyes’, she eventually announced in Estuary English. ‘There was no question of her paying the executioner to kill her any faster.   Even if she possessed the means, the good burghers of Wilton liked their witches to suffer as they burned them to a crisp. “It was God’s will,” they said.’ Bronte’s ears pricked up – she liked where this was going. ‘As they tied her to the stake she could see the crowd, whipped up into a frenzy, jeering her, taunting her. One face in the crowd stood out, passive against the seething backdrop of hate. Martha, whose life she had saved just twelve short months before…’

‘That was my favourite so far,’ pronounced Bronte.

‘I think I preferred the second one, myself,’ countered Alyson.

The final speaker now readjusted the mic back to its original position and took a deep breath. Eric thought he looked like a professional man – middle-aged, smart, and sophisticated in a casual sort of way. Not unlike how he viewed himself. He wanted him to win.

‘My extract is from A Man Without a Shadow,’ he began. ‘Marvin Mitchell hadn’t planned on a life on the run, but then he’d always been highly adaptable. It had all started when he was feeling peckish. That’s not a crime in itself, of course, but even Marvin had to admit that finding the dismembered remains of his wife in the freezer when he was looking for a pork chop would arouse suspicion.’

‘That’s funny, and you said humour didn’t sell,’ said a smug Con.

‘He couldn’t remember putting her there,’ continued the narrator, ‘and in any event he’d only just restocked the freezer. This was going to ruin Christmas…’

‘It’s crime as well, and I said that did,’ Eric hissed back.

‘Shush,’ said the four women sat opposite.


Written Off by Paul Carroll now available at Amazon and other outlets: