Grazia Orange writing contest – we have a winner!

07 June 2011

We knew Grazia readers were a literate bunch, but the phenomenal response to the Grazia Orange First Chapter competition totally blew us away. Over 1,200 of you submitted first chapters inspired by an introduction from bestselling author Kate Mosse – more entries than any competition the Orange Prize has run in its 16 year history. After much deliberation, and many late nights, the judges unanimously named Bethany Whittle the winner. Her creepy, suspenseful and surreal first chapter was beautifully written and utterly original. She'll share the stage with the Orange Prize authors and pick up her winner’s cheque for £1,000 at the glamorous ceremony on June 8.

You can read Bethany’s winning story in today’s issue of Grazia. Meanwhile, here on Grazia Daily you can read the first chapters written by Karen Fickling, who came second, and Katie Forster, who came third.

Congratulations also go to the 11 writers the judges also shortlisted….

Pauline McLean

Ritu Manhas

Tessa Manisty

Christina Martins

Pauline Laurenson

Annette Thomas

Alice Elizabeth Autrey

Sophie Alderson

Marie Chilvers

Beth Morrey

Jennifer Cullen

Find out more about the Orange Prize for Fiction at www.orangeprize.co.uk

How Kate Mosse began the story….

 

THE DEADLINE

 

 

She stood looking up at the house. At the blank grey walls, the shuttered windows with empty boxes on the concrete sills, the stern front door. The house said nothing about what it was or what took place inside, it was unassuming and nondescript and uninviting. She’d come here several times before, but never got the courage to go in. Now there was no choice. The deadline was today, no last chance of a reprieve or change of heart. If she was going to do it, it had to be now. She shivered, chill from the sudden drop in temperature now the light was fading, or from excitement or from fear, she didn’t know. Also, the sense that, by pressing this suburban doorbell, her life could – would – alter for good. But still she lingered on the unwashed step, picking at a thread of wool come loose from her glove, caught between the girl she was and the woman she might be. A deadline she never thought she would face…..

The story continued – by Karen Fickling (second place)…

The baby kicked restlessly inside her, a constant reminder that she had no choice. Heart pounding, Anna pressed the bell. The door flew open immediately. The angry, middle aged woman in front of her must be Jane.

 

‘I thought you weren’t coming,’ said the woman.

 

Anna glanced at her watch. She was shocked to see how late it was. Jane’s instructions had been specific. Any later than five this afternoon and the offer would be withdrawn. She had only just made it.

 

‘Thank you for waiting.’ Anna didn’t know what else to say.

 

‘You’re younger than I thought you would be,’ said Jane, as she stared at Anna.

 

Anna fiddled with her hair. She wished she’d worn it up. The baby kicked again. Anna usually placed her hand reassuringly on her stomach, but resisted the urge this time. Despite the fact that the bump was obvious, she didn’t feel the need to draw any more attention to it than necessary. She’d heard enough stories from Richard about Jane’s temper. Her back ached, she needed to rest. She felt as though she was being valued for auction.

 

Suddenly, Jane turned and disappeared inside the house. Nervously, Anna picked up her bags and followed her, the door clicked shut behind her. She was in a small hall with an archway in front, leading into the kitchen. She could see Jane standing by the sink, still observing her. To her left were the stairs with cream banisters. To the right, what must be the living room. She eased her bags onto the floor. She undid her coat, but left it on. She bought herself some time by slowly removing her gloves, finger by finger then shoved them into her coat pocket.

 

She walked tentatively towards the kitchen. The work surfaces were bare. A wooden table, surrounded by four chairs stood in the middle of the grey tiled floor. Anna longed to sit down, but was afraid that it would only add to her vulnerability. Instead, she leant against the wall, hands behind the small of her back, hoping that with her feet out in front of her, it would alleviate some of the weight.

 

‘Well, this is it,’ said Jane, her arms folded. ‘You wanted my life, now you have it,’ she continued bitterly.

 

Anna felt sick. ‘I didn’t realise…’ She didn’t know how to explain what had happened with Richard. ‘I didn’t mean…’ The lump in her throat stopped all the things that she felt she should say.

 

‘How old are you exactly?’ snapped Jane.

 

‘Nineteen,’ replied Anna quietly.

 

‘You’ll learn before very long that there are always consequences,’ said Jane harshly.

 

All of a sudden, she stared at Anna’s bump as if acknowledging it for the first time. ‘Then again, you already have,’ she added snidely, as she took some keys out of her bag and handed them to Anna.

 

Anna stared at the keys resting in the palm of her hand. She felt terrified. What had she done?

 

‘Why are you doing this?’ she blurted out suddenly. Her voice didn’t sound like her own. Ever since Richard had gone and Jane had been in contact, her mind had been in turmoil.

 

Some of the anger seemed to leave Jane’s eyes as she looked at Anna almost pityingly. She sighed and ignored the question. ‘If Richard isn’t back before the baby’s born, is there anyone else who can be with you?’

 

Anna shook her head. Her situation was impossible to explain.

 

Jane shrugged as though to remind herself that Anna wasn’t her problem, then headed for the front door. There was an icy blast, winter wanted to make it’s presence felt.

 

‘Be careful Anna, people aren’t always what they seem,’ were her parting words.

 

Anna sank down on the bottom step, her head in her hands. She was both petrified and relieved to be on her own. She hadn’t prepared herself for beyond today and it didn’t seem real that she was finally inside the house. She’d wanted to know what it was like for so long. She carefully made her way upstairs. It was comforting somehow, switching all the lights and flooding the bedrooms and the bathroom with light. She wondered about the bills. Who was responsible for them? She turned them off again.

 

This was her new home. She tried to imagine living here with her child and hopefully, Richard. She couldn’t. Despite the fact that Jane had taken most of the furniture, the house had an inbuilt air of lifelessness. The colours of the walls were dull, the carpets neutral. Anna felt that no amount of colour or decoration would bring this place to life, which was odd as everything about Richard was alive and vibrant.

 

Anna checked that the front and back doors were securely locked, then forced down a sandwich she’d bought earlier. She needed some rest and would figure everything out in the morning. Unrolling her sleeping bag, she decided to sleep on the living room floor. Upstairs didn’t feel right somehow.

 

The baby objected to the environment and wouldn’t settle. Each time Anna thought that the night must surely be over, her watch would disappoint her. In the early hours, she gave up. That’s when she noticed the envelope resting on the mantelpiece, her name written boldly on the front.

 

Tearing it open, she shook out the contents. There were some legal documents and some photos. Her hands started to shake as she stared at the images in front of her in disbelief. Her brain was trying to absorb the implications when she had a second shock.

 

The sound of keys fumbling in the front door. A crash as they fell to the step. Swearing. A familiar voice. She quickly stuffed the items back into the envelope.

 

The world was in slow motion as she slid the chain off the door then stepped back, waiting.

 

The door opened.

 

‘What on earth?’ said Richard angrily, staring at Anna as though he’d seen a ghost.

 

How Kate Mosse began the story….

THE DEADLINE

She stood looking up at the house. At the blank grey walls, the shuttered windows with empty boxes on the concrete sills, the stern front door. The house said nothing about what it was or what took place inside, it was unassuming and nondescript and uninviting. She’d come here several times before, but never got the courage to go in. Now there was no choice. The deadline was today, no last chance of a reprieve or change of heart. If she was going to do it, it had to be now. She shivered, chill from the sudden drop in temperature now the light was fading, or from excitement or from fear, she didn’t know. Also, the sense that, by pressing this suburban doorbell, her life could – would – alter for good. But still she lingered on the unwashed step, picking at a thread of wool come loose from her glove, caught between the girl she was and the woman she might be. A deadline she never thought she would face…..

The story continued – by Katie Forster (third place)…

Clare swallowed as reality set in. In her heart of hearts she knew that she could ring the bell all she liked, he wouldn’t be there. Tension and sadness made her throat ache. She should leave it, there really wasn’t any reason for her to be back here. The thread of wool on her glove became even more fascinating and she tugged on it slowly and deliberately, deriving a guilty pleasure from watching the pea sized hole expand to the size of a bottle top before common sense made her stop.

 

Forcing herself to look up at the house again she couldn’t believe it was the same place. The place where she’d spent fourteen of the happiest months of her life. Back then the window boxes had been full of flowers and herbs, at least for that summer. She wanted, she told Ant, every morning, on throwing open the shutters, to inhale scented air and the beginning of the day. He’d teased her, saying that all sounded jolly nice but what was her plan for winter? The first morning they’d had a frost, a Tuesday it had been, she’d opened the bedroom shutters to find a bunch of delicate, fragrant lilies placed in the window box. Every Tuesday morning after that there’d been something; a single rose, a pot of basil, once a pot of freshly brewed coffee, another time a block of incredibly strong French cheese which had reduced her to fits of laughter and which, rather disgustingly, they’d then eaten on toast, for breakfast, with marmalade. If she woke up during his surreptitious preparations (although Ant could be surprisingly stealthy and cat like for such a tall person) she’d kept her eyes tightly shut and pretended to be asleep, sticking to the rules of the game.

 

The house had belonged to a distant aunt who had let it to Clare, starting her post graduate history course, or delaying real life as her father good-naturedly put it. It was a short bus or cycle ride to the centre of Cambridge and better than any college accommodation available, also giving Clare a needed sense of change, some progress from studenthood.

 

In return for cheap rent the aunt had asked Clare to act as landlord and fill the other two rooms. She’d duly found an earnest, well meaning American girl on a year’s exchange to take one and Ant had materialised via a friend of a friend. He’d done his English degree and wanted to be a journalist, deciding that getting stuck in on the local paper was the best way to start. The flat share he’d arranged had fallen through at the last minute, he needed a room quickly, she had one going and that was that. Later she couldn’t believe that such momentous, life changing events could really be formed by such delicate, insubstantial tendrils of chance and timing. What if she’d already let the room? Or hadn’t happened to run into Ellen in Sainsbury’s and mentioned that she had room to let in case she, Ellen, knew of anyone who might be interested.

 

Now the aunt had died and the house was being sold. Tomorrow the new, oblivious, hopeful owners would move in and absolutely everything would be just a memory. She glared at the doorbell, remembering the countless times she’d forgotten her keys and Ant had had to let her in, insisting on her giving him the password of the day first. This was usually resolved by her futilely attempting to rugby tackle him to the floor and them ending up in a laughing heap on the doormat. Except for the time when, completely out of character, she’d silently lifted her top up and he’d fallen back speechless and laughing to let her pass, before chasing after her, throwing her over his shoulder and striding upstairs.

 

Clare smiled to herself, God that poor American girl though, they must have been unbearable to live with. No wonder she’d moved out after a few months, leaving Ant and Clare to wallow selfishly in each other’s existence, covering the extra rent themselves without needing to discuss it. Playing house she’d called it. Merging, converging, combining, he’d called it. Inextricable. Fate.

 

They made plans. She’d finish her PhD, the process of which would reveal what she should do next. He’d get some experience, establish a name for himself and then they’d move to London, where he’d get a job on one of the broadsheets and she’d do the thing that she was going to do. Now she was there, doing it alone.

 

Abruptly she pushed the doorbell hard and let it give one, long, shrill ring. The house stood, unmoved. No footsteps responded inside. No laughing voice greeted her. No crinkled brown eyes peered round the door. She sank down to sit on the step. Some days she could feel the sadness just leaking out of her, her skin like a sodden paper bag that might give way at any minute and rip and tear in a mulchy mess but which, meanwhile, just left a faint, damp imprint of desolation wherever she went.

 

She fumbled in her pocket for the key. She had to do it. She’d go inside, take one last look round and that would be it, closure, of sorts.

 

It had been a Sunday, the last time she’d seen him. They usually walked to the newsagent around the corner first thing, bought all the papers and took them back to bed with coffee and orange juice. But she’d had a cold that Sunday and Ant had insisted she stay in bed, saying he might even pick up a couple of her favourite pain au chocolates as apparently they were just the thing for colds. Then, five years, three weeks and one day ago, he’d put on his ridiculous Sherlock Holmes, deerstalker hat, given her a kiss, run down the stairs and out of the door and never come back. Vanished, it seemed, from the face of the earth.

 


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