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Toaster Poetry

by Agata Spasik, Braden Forest School

It burns like an awkward goodbye at a cosy coffee shop
Never quite right,
With one corner still lukewarm and another
Fizzling like the remnants of Pompeii
In an ideal world, half melted gold would glaze the top
But here in reality
You fumble with the knife
And tear right through
The surface
Crunching in tune
With your frustration
To spread a solid as a liquid
It wasn’t from the fridge and yet,
Still cold
And disobedient
It’s such a little, stupid thing
Whispers rush to scream
That it’s yet another mistake

Why are you crying over burnt toast?

First Place

Agata Spasik

"So simple, so beautifully put together, and really quite profound."

"This made me smile. Very neatly done metaphor and such great, sparse writing."

"Superb, succinct and profound"

Creative Writing Winner

Jackson and Olivia

by Charlotte Minett, Chipping Campden

“Come to the dance? Everyone’s going!” Amber asks as I pull up to her house. Jackson tenses, probably overthinking what would happen, and I know he would feel uncomfortable going.

“I’m not sure Amb, we were just going to stay at home.” I reply looking over my shoulder to look at her. I couldn’t go and leave Jackson alone. His brother, Henry, is abroad ‘clearing his head’ and their sister Ella is too upset to talk to anyone. Whereas Jackson will only talk to a few of us. I look at him and see he’s already looking at me.

“I’ll go if you want.” He said quietly. I do want to go but I’m not sure how well Jackson would handle it.

“Okay good! Guess I’ll see you later,” she hops out then pokes her head back in, “wait there a minute, I have the perfect dress for you.” She runs into her house and comes back holding said dress. She puts it in the back, waves and then leaves.

I drive towards Jackson’s house and he says, “I’ll pick you up at like 7 ok?”

“See you then.” I reply and begin driving home.

***

“Jackson’s here!” my mum calls from downstairs. Looking in the mirror, my jewellery stands out against the black dress. It has silver glitter all over and my hair is wavy.

I walk downstairs to see Jackson in a black fitted shirt and black jeans. His hair is messy, but he is wearing a few rings – all silver. He looks nervous but I want him to have a good time, so I don’t mention it.

“Ready to go?” he spoke lightly. We say goodbye to my parents, then walk together to his car. He holds the door open for me and whispers in my ear, “You look great Liv.” I blush a deep pink and get into the passenger seat.

It takes 15 minutes for us to get to the school hall and park. I get out of the car and go to Jackson’s side because he hasn’t got out yet. I open his door and ask, “Hey, are you okay?”

“Yeah. Just not fond of the crowds anymore.” He shrugs but gets out of the car, takes my hand, and walks towards the entrance. Ever since his mum contracted the virus and passed, he hasn’t been the same. He gets anxious and has panic attacks occasionally, but he assures us that he is alright.

Amber spots us and walks over. “You two look amazing! Want a drink?” “No, I’m on driving duRes.” He looks at me, but I decide against it too.
“No thanks, not looking to have a hangover tomorrow.” I giggle and pull both to the dance floor. Jackson dances hasRly and Amber disappears with a friend.

20 minutes have passed and we’re still dancing. Jackson holds onto my hands and pulls me towards the door. His chest is heaving, and he looks flushed.

“Jackson? What’s going on?” he looks incredibly ill. “It’s... I’m having a... a...”

“It’s okay, sit down. You’re alright” He slumps against the wall and looks at me helplessly. “Jack, listen to me. Jack follow my breathing, together. In. Out.”

His breathing slows and soon it’s back to normal. He is sRll shaken, his eyes watering slightly. I sit next to him and he leans his head on my shoulder.

“Let’s go back to my house, come on.” I lead him to the car and take his place as driver.

25 minutes later and we’re sitting on my lawn with a blanket over our shoulders. He looks upset, but slightly more comfortable.

“I’m sorry Liv, everything got too much, and everyone kept giving me the look. I’m sick of everyone’s pointless opinions, nothing can bring her back and that’s that.” He seems void, but I know he is hurting badly.

“Jackson it’s not your fault, you got overwhelmed and that’s okay. You’re not alone, we’re all here for you.” He squeezes my hand, holding on tightly.

“I know.” For a long time, we just sat there, holding hands. It was peaceful and we both savoured the moment for as long as it was there.

Second Place

Charlotte Minett

Lockdown has affected so many people and I wanted to bring more attention to the suffering that they’re going through mentally. I thought writing about a supportive friendship could help others to realise that they’re not alone. In a way, writing about an anxious character allowed me to release some feelings of uncertainty and worry that I was having myself and I thought others could relate to as well.

-

"Impressive for someone so young to have the confidence to write simply and concisely, not falling back on long words or too much description. She captures the nature of grief and bereavement incredibly well. You could imagine reading a novel by this writer."

"Simple, elegant, poignant and frankly amazing for 16."

Creative Writing Winner

Your Name Is...

by Jamie Moody, Cirencester College

You’re 6 years old, you’re at Disneyland and your name is Benjamin. Mum just said you get to pick out an extra birthday present from one of the shops and you’re dancing your way towards the nearest one. You already know what you want. At least you thought you did. There’s a lot more stuff here than Toys R Us. You’ve got to hurry up or you’ll miss the parade. Nemo or Mickey. Nemo or Mickey. It’s frustrating and you’re about to say so until mum says that if you get the smaller ones, you can have both. She’s the best mum ever.

You’re 8 years old, you’re at your aunt’s house and your name is Benji. 6- year-old Sophie is having a tantrum about how she only has boy cousins and why wasn’t she allowed to go Lucy’s house. It’s starting to get annoying and you don’t really want to play with the others, so you tell Sophie that, even though you’re a boy, you’ll play whatever game she wants. Together, you tell the story of Sophia, the fighter princess who saves the kingdom from a dragon by becoming its friend. Matt says it’s stupid, but he’s the stupid one.

You’re 10 years old, you’re in a pool and your name is Ben. You’re starting to regret having a pool party because that weird feeling in your chest is back. You want to put your t-shirt back on but that’ll look weird. And it’s your birthday. You should enjoy yourself. The presents are cool: Nerf guns, Lego, and Theo got you a big Hot Wheels set. He asks you about the bag with the skirt in. Grandma’s present. You make something up about a cousin with a similar birthday and he buys it.

You’re 12 years old, you’re in the canteen and your name is freak. Jacob tried to cut your hair in maths and you both got told off for messing around. He invited you to his birthday last year. Last week he wouldn’t let you in the changing rooms because “I don’t want some freak staring at me.” He didn’t use the word freak, but you really don’t want to think about the one he did use. Katie punched him for saying it. She’s sat next to you now and just gave you half a Kit Kat. It’s nice to have a friend.

You’re 14 years old, you’re at your computer and your name is Orianna. When Katie first told you about D&D, you were confused: that’s a nerd thing, and Katie’s anything but. You’re now 4 months into the campaign, 8 months on blockers and you’re having the time of your life. Orianna has magic and a sword and horns and confidence. And Katie even flirts with you. But that just her character Atien. Just Roleplay. Definitely not real. No matter how much you want it to be.

You’re 16 years old, you’re at a party and your name is Jade. The dress you picked out doesn’t fit exactly the way you want it to, but the shadows and colourful lights make it look like it does. Katie’s the only one here who knows you, and she casually introduces you as her girlfriend. You falter a little when they start asking questions, but a little of Orianna’s confidence creeps in and after 3 hours and a few drinks, you feel like you’ve known them for years.

You’re 18 years old, you’re moving out and your name is Jade. Mum’s tearing up as you tuck little mementos into your suitcase and by the time Katie pulls up, she’s full on crying. Worried about her baby being all those miles away (“It’s an hour in the car Mum”) and making sure you know how to get to the flat and promising to call her if you’re worried. As you climb into the passenger seat, Katie kisses your cheek and promises to Mum that she’ll take care of you – before you remind her of her cooking skills. You start crying 15 minutes into the drive, but you insist that it’s just Sam Smith.

You’re 20 years old, you’re at your computer and your name is Jade.

Third Place

Jamie Moody

Creative Writing Winner

The Boy

by Alex Masters, Ridgeway School

It was a sombre morning, crisp and cold, with a thin veil of fog encircling the mess.
Private George Taylor sat on a bench, an unforgiving seat by anyone’s standards, and tried desperately to swallow the guilt for an act not yet commi?ed.
He had been detailed yesterday to be part of a firing squad, for a condemned man at dawn the next day. The man’s Dme of judgement was a mere twenty minutes away.
A yawning chasm of time, yet a fraction of a blink of an eye. In twenty minutes, he would shoot a man dead, a man who, until showing his ‘true colours’ was his ally, his comrade, and his brother in arms.
In truth, the man was likely driven insane by the relentless bombardment, the unending, unstoppable explosions, slowly creeping towards you. George was trying to steel himself, to remind himself that this man was a traitor, a coward, who hadn’t fought when called upon by his country.
But deep down, he knew that this man was terrified, and couldn’t possibly bring his frozen limbs to climb the ladder, up towards the buzzing, vicious projectiles.

He took a gulp of his secret hip flask and tasted the burn of brandy. It wasn’t enough to dull the keen blade of shame on his soul, but it strived to deaden his nerves.
The tent was empty, the only sounds his breath and the slosh of liquid courage.
He glanced at the face of his watch, a single crack tracing its way across the grubby glass.
He had four minutes left.
The Dme had escaped him. He was no longer safe, hidden behind the unbreakable parapet of time, he was now here, his bloody deed all too close.
His hands already dripped with the blood of a man whose only crime was being human. He stood, legs supporting him only because they could not sense the forced intention of his mind, muddied by the sharp tang of brandy.

He walked to the courtyard, as sure-footed as a new-born, his stomach clenching Dghter than a clenched fist. He retrieved a rifle, not his own. He could never see a rifle as a personal object, something to be owned. They were brutal instruments, the hand of a cruel and uncaring god, made only rain hellfire and brimstone on its enemies.
A single bullet, pressed into the yawning crevasse of the gun, pushed forward into place by his hand. The hand responsible for nothing less than a murder.
Eleven other soldiers were doing the same mundane, horrible task. There was no talking, no banter, only the deafening sound of oppressive silence. Then the man was walked into the courtyard and tied to the post.

Twelve rifles were levelled at the man, who, in truth, was little more than a boy. Most likely, he was sixteen or seventeen, and had lied about his age at the office.
The sheer stone walls leered down at George, as his sweaty palms tried to both grip the rifle and throw it down.
His breath ra?led noisily in his throat, which felt constricted, like the hand of the devil itself was choking him.
His body was racked with shivers, making his rife judder and shake, his heart struck with savage force, threatening to ba?er its way out of his rib cage. George blinked, hard, and then gripped the rough, wooden rifle as hard as he could, his knuckles creaking. He forced the solid stock painfully into his shoulder.

The boy, for that was what he was, hung limply from the post, the glaring white patch over his heart folded slightly. The twelve barrels screamed silently, eager to destroy the weak body before them, bullets hungry to smash their way through flesh and bone.

“Fire!”

Twelve guns roared; twelve bullets ripped the man’s life apart. George released the breath he had been holding, and he knew he would never forget the sight of the wretched figure drooping downwards, his chest sprayed with gore and blood. His blindfold had slipped, his sightless eyes boring into George’s own

“and he said, what hast thou done? The voice of thy brothers’ blood crieth unto me from the ground” - Genesis 4:10

Fourth Place

Alex Masters

"Very assured writing, emotive and descriptive and a great sense of place and time."
Sarah Pinborough

Creative Writing Winner

“f#c£ shakespeare”

by Hollie Allison-Soule, Cirencester College

These violent delights have violent ends
Fire and pitchforks, transforming to pens
and text- or rather, lack-thereof,
they didn’t reply- so ,now, you feel... off

Romeo and Juliet forced ends to meet,
although their love, might not be one to call discreet;
or OKAY!
Despite this, I think it’s safe, to say:
that when your liver fills with bugs and flies,
that thus with a kiss we will both, surely, die.
Star crossed lovers, Venus to Kalliope I;
Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs,
and in a brilliant tomb we do so, two lie,
pa:ent for our painful, poisonous demise;
we shouldn’t let shakespearian tragedies ruin our lives!

We are not stuck in the Tempest,
I am not MacBeth.
There are no roman:c conquests
or menial yet plentiful deaths.

We’re just kids,
at the end and their end of days,
we’re just kids!
Sipping Robitussin, from a Pepsi lid!
We’re just kids,
smoking weed on a Tuesday to just say that we have lived—

fireworks, Thatcher’s cans, shopping trolleys;
falling off our scooter or, popping an Ollie.
Shakespeare might have made up words,
he can inspire us, but -realistically- he’s the worst:

Romeo is, like, eighteen and metaphorically Juliet’s two,
And in sword fight, Paris needn’t die too.
With thous and thys and one thousand premodifiers;
one million eyes, on one million midsummers;
soliloquies, monologues, poems, plays;
We still shouldn’t let Billy Shakes rule our day!

For it is in the East, and Juliet is the light that comes for me,
Is life not something momentous, and definitively not cheap?
Cheap like Romeo ditching his original beau,
and Benvolio not falling for Mercutio!

What is a life,
if not one billion snapshots?
Not just one,
where children kiss and a f#cking corpse rots.

it’s quite sick,
not like a kick flip,
and kind of.. sad
though, unlike, a chick flick.

Love is everything; except what it is.
Two blushing pilgrims- ready! stand! my lips:
no mannerly devotion should be portrayed like this.

Just live your lives; aspire, endeavour, make a wish!

Highly Commended

Hollie Allison-Soule

Creative Writing highly commended

Highly Commended

Olivia Ipkendanz

"Beguiling, like a cross between Lorca and Scott Walker."
Kevin Wignall

"I loved the scope in this imaginative poem. And a lovely poignant ending."
Sarah Pinborough

Creative Writing highly commended

I don’t wish to sleep for fear of nightmares

by Olivia Ipkendanz, Cheltenham Ladies College

When night comes Charlie leaves us,
shutting his eyes and transcending to a realm none of us can see.
A world of caverns and chasms and holes in walls that go on for miles in the dark.
It’s a playground of sorts - rusted,
the hauntingly beautiful skeleton of a child with unfulfilled hopes and pipe dreams.
Charlie flies here.
No rules,
no social norms or
societal constraints.
I suppose that’s what happens when you have a place all to yourself,
you become limitless simply because the concept never existed.
All is authentic here:
no worries of a falling facade
no copyright lawsuits filed by petty kids who know no better,
everything is made in the factory of his mind as the cogs
churn
in his sleep.

You’ve tried to find it haven’t you?
The kingdom of Charlie’s mind.
You joined the kings quest to retrieve the lost boy,
a reward of pride too tempting to surpass.
But
there is no map to that location,
because there is no
set destination.
His world is a gypsy caravan he intends to ride alone.
Why would he return to something he wishes so deeply to get away from?

However there are tales of a rare species,
that seize the palace as he travels there by night and turn it into some city in a nightmare.
Cesspools of darkness flood the town,
vapours condense into tears that crawl their way back into the eyes of lost people.
Even in his head it will always find him.

It’s said that once they were inseparable,
but as time went on things remodelled,
and the ‘other’ became something to fear.
Charlie pleaded for it’s toxicity to end,
but by then it was too late,
his nemesis had nested itself in his thoughts.
The hourglass had flipped,
few grains of sand were left to fall,
no time left to break free from the nightly cycle of depression.

So night by night he dived into his ghost town’s playground of wants,
hoping someone would come find him,
wishing he’s left something behind,
a sign,
a warning,
instead of an empty promise to return come morning.
But up top his family were forgetting their son they treasured for so long,
slipping away into their own dreamworlds.

Torture came in the form of a mockingjay, copying the sweet sweet voices of those whom he loved.

Despondency was a thing of below,
above there was one who still tried.
His brother who hadn’t lost sight of it all,
who trudged through the mud ridden jungle,
clambered through vines and swamp,
weaved through the labyrinth of Keros
to get to the portal of darkness,
guarded by the other he’d see fall.

They battled and cursed like warriors,
but one victorious won,
a brother who’d fought against evil with only the power of love.
He spoke into the void : ‘where are you?’,
was he too late for it all?
But out of the ether stepped Charlie,
the boy who’d been lost for too long.

Quiet

by Indigo Maynard Watts, Pates Grammar School

A lot of people have told me that I’m quiet.
And trust me, it’s not that I don’t like you.
Trust me that my silence doesn’t mean that I don’t trust you
It’s just that... I don’t know what to say.
Which is strange, because a lot of the time I feel like I have more to say than anyone I know.
My mind whirls, worries unfurl until it feels like there’s nowhere to go
And it’s scary.
My expectations of myself can scare me.
Infinite opportunity, ‘you can do anything’,
And that’s brilliant because I’m not limited but limiting because I can’t do everything and I am limited because I’m human and that’s ok.
I’m ok.
What’s not ok is the pressure that is put on me to compare myself to others.
To aim for what others have and what others do whilst not instilling in me that others are not other but they are like me too.
Their heads are full of what has been, of what could be, and not often enough: what is.
I struggle to appreciate what is because I’m pondering those infinite possibilities of what could be.
I don’t want to do this, but I still do.
And thinking of what could be is important.
I have always been one for planning and I’d never turn down a good list.
But when the list is never ending, maybe it’s not a good list.
My mind is stuffed full, but I don’t want to pour it out on you, I want to take in what you have to say.
I have a long way to go even if I don’t know where, but so does everybody else.
That hurricane of thoughts helps me appreciate the beauty of this world and the privilege I experience in it, so I don’t think the noise I hear is screaming... it is music.
But I can’t help wishing it would shut up sometimes.
So don’t tell me that I’m quiet, because it’s bloody loud in here.

Highly Commended

Indigo Maynard Watts

Creative Writing highly commended

"A lovely turn of phrase in this poem, and a powerful message delivered with a lightness of touch."
Kevin Wignall

"This was smart and relatable and something a little bit different in a poetry entry."
Sarah Pinborough

"Brilliant, intense, meaningful and beautifully put together."
Simon Kernick

Soma

by Rebecca Davies, Burford School

In the corner of the village stood a shack, with cracks in its wooden walls and holes in its straw roof. Nobody remembered it being built, but the villagers all agreed that it had been such a fine dwelling once, and its disrepair was truly a shame. They would shake their head at the nearest bystander upon passing: miteni demko, they would say, so tragic.

In the centre of the shack stood a man hunched over a barrel of wine, stirring unceasingly. His clothes were clean, his skin callous free; his hair fell delicately over his face, feather soft, pumice light, though not one of the villagers had ever seen him relinquish his barrel.

Sometimes children would sneak up and peep in, curious of the estranged man. They were hurriedly shooed away by their elders however, chastised non mirine, do not bother him.

Occasionally, someone would gingerly approach the man, and beseech Haneri siko... min?, Can you help me?

The man would listen carefully, pausing his stirring. Licking his lips and he would pronounce quietly, Mo haneri, I cannot help you.

Sha, iip’kola, he would continue, offering a cup of golden liquid.

Hesitantly, the villager would take a sip. If the villager glanced up, they might catch a glimpse of the man’s bright grinning eyes beneath his locks. Later, the villager would proffer the story to their neighbours, saying he had eyes like honey, or stars, and for this the man earned his name Soma, meaning the most luscious of golds.

Slowly, the villagers’ afflictions would alleviate, though the methods by which this occurred could be quite... unusual.

One such unfortunate tale, since we have the time, is when a young man begged Soma to help his sister. A horrible rash had spread across her skin. Tem iip'kosemate... He breathed, He hated to see her like this.

Soma exhaled: mo haneri, sha iip’kola.

Like the others, he drank the wine.

A month later, disagreements between neighbouring colonies bubbled into war, and the young man became a soldier, but lost his eyes in the battle.

When he returned, after the war diminished, his sister hugged him until he couldn’t breathe. He smiled, enjoying the sound of her giggle, inhaling her scent, stroking her soft hair, elated at hearing her so full of life. He stroked his empty eyes and silently thanked the man- if his blindness was the price for her recovery, then so it be.

Alas, he was deceived; the illness remained. But without his eyes, he could not see the lesions snaking around her neck, and a year later all laughing ceased as the illness stole her breath away. The man wept for days, and upon confronting Soma, he only received marthi tuo, you got your wish. In his heart, the man knew Soma was correct: he did indeed no longer see her suffer.

Many more stories spun into similar endings, but I’m afraid I could not bear recounting any more. This continued for many years, perhaps decades, as Soma’s youth was seemingly eternal, until finally the villagers’ anger blistered and they pointed their weapons towards the shack. Inside, Soma tutted at his barrel. Finally, it was empty. Sighing wearily, he rested his stirring stick on his shoulder, glanced one last time at his dwelling, and vacated. He walked barefoot but left barely a smudge, let alone a footprint in the icterine sand.

The villagers converged on the shack, cries of osa nala!, Burn him! Surging through the crowds. They struck the shack alight, too blind in their rage to realise it was empty. They cheered, staying un?l the last flame glimmered out deep in the night. They slept soundlessly every night after.

Meanwhile, Soma teetered along, supporting himself with his stirring stick. In the next town, people bustled about under the shrimp pink sky, and for the first time in a while, the man sat. A boy joined him, lonely as his parents went to work, and rested his head in his palm, muttering about his unrequited love. Soma smiled gently, mo haneri... He revealed a canteen and offered it to him, who marvelled at the way its contents shone and moved as if alive.

Sha, iip’kola.

Highly Commended

Rebecca Davies

"I absolutely loved this. Thought it was well-paced, beautifully written and well-structured. Controlled and assured."
Sarah Pinborough

Creative Writing highly commended

Swifts

by Jasper Raistrick, Burford School

Swifts so joyous and free, slicing through the air,
a grey blur as if the wind itself
Brilliance of the infinite sky,
reflection of blue from the ocean,
a mirror sea
They swoop in screaming parties,
the royal fish of the sky
Streamlined feathers swept into the form of speed,
beaded droplet eye, black polished obsidian
Pluck flies from their bumblings, fly high,
cartographers observing the barn in the happy green.

Commended

Jasper Raistrick

Creative Writing commended

The 3rd World War Was Over

by Amy Boatman, The Cotswold School

An overwhelming chill ascends upon the last of the surviving human race. The Third World War was over…finally, the years of bloodshed and murder were behind us. Or so we thought.

475 years later 

A crimson glow radiates from the horizon, illuminating the ribbed lime leaves of the trees, casting a golden light that awakens the day. The only movement being the mottled peach skies briskly floating past and the soft susurrations of the dew covered grass. That’s what I imagine I would have seen had I ever seen the sun. Or trees. Or sky. Instead, all I see is a cold metallic wall, displaying the message I see every day: ‘Theta-7b Green_Room 12’ in peeling white paint. Apart from that, there really isn’t much else to be interested in. Of course, I have necessary protocol items, which include a steel framed bed, speakers for announcements and a small fiberglass lamp – courtesy of Endillan welcome council. Pretty much the only thing I don’t have scribbled all over with Endillan is a simple, grey watch. It used to be black, but the hours of work for years have stripped the colour right off, making it now a stone grey. It is the only thing from my old home. After I moved out from Delta-2c Orange, they wouldn’t let me keep anything, it was a struggle getting this small watch through security, let alone anything else. 

So here I stand. One of the last of the human race. One of the select few chosen to work our already skeletal hands until they will work no longer. Competing to be spared by the D.I.C.E, head of Endillan, when every year, the pod not reaching workload requirements is sent to the world above. The real world, almost. The barren landscape provides no relief from the creatures who infect the world above, our world once, now colonised by the monsters we once cared for. Now known as them, for none have the nerve nor valour to speak of their true identity.

Judgement day is one of the few days I can see the whole of Endillan, and it can see me. The usual desolate landscape is now humming with life as we gather, waiting for our fates to be decided. 

“People of Endillan! A congratulations is in order for this month’s work…” The loudspeaker drones on until they announce the pod leaving. The silence is unnerving.

“Delta-2c Orange”, my previous home.

The world stands still yet my heart speeds up. I run into my pod and crash into the wall but I don’t care. I don’t care about anything anymore. My whole family are in that pod, before I was split, I would have been there too. Why does it have to be? The hysteria rises unbearably in my chest as out of the door I see my home for the last 18 years disappear from view through the vast chamber ceiling. 

And that’s it. They’re gone.

My hands shake so much I struggle to clip in my seatbelt. No one says anything. After all, it’s just another month. Everyone knows the pain. The pod uproots itself with a rumble; travelling to the new area of work this month just as I buckle myself into the chair.

The journey only takes a few minutes but it seems like hours. The heartbroken feeling sinks into my body, making me limp and shaky. I want to scream, shout, cry, but I know it will only result in punishment. The same punishment I have just witnessed.

Beneath us, our pod has rooted to the spot, with claw of titanium pipes that will remain embedded into the synthetic dirt until the next month. The loud speaker then thunders out the message we hear every month:

“People of Endillan! Work hard this month and you will be rewarded.”

Rewarded by not dying, I think.

“But if not, you and your fellow pod will pay the price!”

Death by ravenous beasts you mean.

“Good luck people of Endillan!” 

A crackle occurs and then abrupt silence. We are left to work. But this time it is different, the atmosphere is uneasy... misleading. Something is not right.

And that’s when I saw them.

Commended

Amy Boatman

"During the lockdown period, I was given time I never would have had when studying for upcoming GCSEs. When my exams were cancelled, it gave me time to write freely. The Cotswold Challenge then gave me the opportunity to showcase it."

-

"I don’t really do sci-fi, but this was SO nicely constructed and written with a real flair."
Kevin Wignall

"Powerful, and a really punchy ending."
Simon Kernick

Creative Writing commended

Commended

Noah Guerrini

Creative Writing commended

Diluvian Angst

by Noah Guerrini, Marling School

I threw rocks at a car's windscreen today.
The first few bounced off, but slowly the
glass started to give. I suppose it had to.

Silver threads spreading from the impacts
looked to me like vistas of stained glass.
I'd killed Moses - and beat Samson at his own game,

Almost. The cracks began to intersect,
a tapestry of German engineering.
But at least Goliath could fight back!

The last rock I picked was a monster.
A brute - jagged, aggressive, indelicate.
I couldn't bring myself to throw it -

I wanted to, but something stopped me.
The car was defenceless;
Moonlight flashed on the cracks like tears.

The damage was already done and anyway
a car can't feel pain but
some things are sacred.

I was taught not to throw rocks at cars
and although I'd started the job
and I wanted to finish it I just
couldn't
follow
through.

And Noah could have saved the humans.
Two Arks are better than one!
But Noah did as he was told
and lived happily ever after.

Grindylow

by Jack McCune, Bredon School

Grindylow lurks in the underbelly of his lake. Devoid of any organisms recognisable as natural, his dark aquatic residence is an aquarium for abnormalities. Blind translucent fish aimlessly weave through the depths, their snapping jaws an armoury of razor incisors. Ravenously, they dismember all hapless creatures. Yet even these gnashing brutes are but quarry for the swift limbed bestial hunters with whom they co-inhabit this shrouded gloom. Their supple, gossamer bodies barely sating the appetite of these voracious monstrosities. Concealed in the lake’s scum, fleshy tentacled cyclopean’s gaze, silent witnesses to the violent feeding frenzies. Brittle shelled crustacean’s squirm across the craggy malformed rocks that line the lake’s unfathomable trenches. Functioning as an intricate highway, the denizens of the darkness are able to traverse undetected, plotting evermore twisted ways to feast on one another. Extending to the tenebrous bowls of the earth, this tortuous labyrinth stretches, unmeasurable in its distance. And in the dankest and foulest of these pits, crouches Grindylow.   

In contrast to the sightless, primitive fish, Grindylow is secretive, shrewd and malevolent. Attributes which have afforded him the edge over his simpler brethren. Whilst contented to snarl and scrap with one another in the darkness, he yearns for more. The dark impulses that have twisted his mind perpetually coax him with the promise of sweeter meats. To this end, he slopes out of his submerged chambers. As he departures for the surface, all manner of foul vertebrates flee his presence, isolating in whatever sanctuary they can find. 

Petrified willows creak with discomfort as the howling winds jostle them into performing a disjointed dance for the amusement of the elements, whilst crouching in the quagmire, hoarse croaking amphibians provide unsettling music. Their audience, an ensemble of sinister carrion hawks, ruffled and filthy, their black and white feathers are shabby tuxedos for their sinewy bodies. Perched in their lofty nests of ivory they scrutinise the entertainment provided. The cacophony of music is interrupted by the abrupt sound of breaking water. Head bobbing to the surface, the bipedal wretch emerges. Snout held high, Grindylow inhales. Putrid air fills his lungs with the odour of fungus, soggy bark and mildew. Supplemented by the reek of withering carcasses, this ungodly concoction births the unmistakable aroma of a decaying wilderness. Lowering his head, Grindylow aims the harsh glare of his lamp-like eyes scanning the lake's surface for the slightest of motion. Honing in, his head turns towards the source of the rippling vibrations he feels traveling across the water. He spies his victim. 

Gently moving across the lake in a shallow bottomed rowing boat stands a young oarsman. Plunging the wooden pole into the swift current, he dictates the direction of his vessel. Barely visible, he just glimpses the warm hue of orange lights burning on the horizon. The safety of his home is within reach. Steadily approaching, his mind drifts to the prospect of re-joining the merriment of his household; the jovial laughter of his friends and the affection of his family. Eager to escape the stygian darkness that infested the very atmosphere around him he quickens his pace. 

Betrayed only by the faint splosh from the swish of his powerful tail, Grindylow dissects the water with carefully choreographed strokes. Each executed in time with the lapping of the youths paddle in the chilling waters. With his strokes masked, Grindylow silently approaches. Sidling up to the boat he extends a webbed appendage, latching onto the steering pole with a vice like grip. With a violent tug Grindylow strikes. Ripping the pole from the youth’s hands, unbalanced and disorientated, he topples backwards into the water. Grasping, clammy feelers coil around the adolescent’s flailing ankles. Helplessly pawing towards the surface the youth could only watch as his life line of air bubbles stream uncontrollably passed his bulging eyes.  As the last vestiges of air depart his depleted lungs, water fills his airways. With his vision ebbing away he gazes at the flickering gleams of light, observing how they become fainter and fainter as the pair descended further into the abyss.

Commended

Jack McCune

"Lockdown has affected how I am able to meet and socialise with my friends but, overall, I feel that lockdown has been a beneficial period in time for me. The Cotswold Challenge has played a significant part in this, especially by providing me with the opportunity I needed to kick-start my writing passion once more."

Creative Writing commended

Quiet Company

by Amelia Bolton, Cirencester College

I share my bedroom with a spider
He sits quietly on my wall
He never wanders, never whispers
Yet I still watch him as I fall

Asleep each night, and happily I dream
Of masterpieces spun, for only me to see
When I awake each morning, I wonder
Should I set him free?

But when I hear rain on my window
I’m glad he’s safe in here, you see
The world out there’s so scary
And I’m sure he’s scared of me

I used to fear spiders myself
But bigger threats made themselves known
Eight legged friends now need our help
And I don’t mind sharing my home

So I won’t hurt the spider
I think he knows that secretly
We’re both quite lonely, in a way
And I enjoy his company

Commended

Amelia Bolton

Creative Writing commended

Commended

Sofia Aira

Creative Writing commended

The Thursday Night Clap

by Sofia Aira, Farmor's School

We clap them every week, 8 o clock on the dot,
We bring out the neighbours, the pans and the pots,
We whistle and cheer and show all the praise,
For the heroes who wear masks instead of capes,

But if you stopped and took a moment to think,
Our saving graces are tipped to the brink,
They work around the clock, taking what we throw,
Yet all we can offer them is an hour at Tesco,

Do you ever wonder, the things they’ve seen,
Pictures ingrained in their minds, never to leave,
The endless hours they’ll never get back,
The backbone of society who we have the nerve to just clap,

When they return home, with their empty trollies,
They collapse on the sofa, and turn on the telly,
Another 500 deaths today, still no food on the shelves,
But don’t you worry - Boris’s plan is going well,

The troubles don’t end when they turn out the light,
No, they toss and they turn and endure sleepless nights,
Because these kind of horrors, they don’t go away,
With a cup of hot chocolate and Thursday night praise,

They wake in the morning and back to work they go,
Who will they lose today? They just don’t know,
A friend, a colleague, or a stranger on their lifeline,
Everywhere they look, there’s a loss of a lifetime,

Because somebody’s dead, then another, then another,
And they can’t stop it, they can’t always save each other,
There’s not enough protection, help or support,
These people aren’t soldiers, yet they’re heading into war,

They are everyday heroes, and they always were too,
And they have loved ones, just like me and you,
They’re underpaid, under-protected and their only thanks,
Is a rainbow in the window and a Thursday night clap,

So next time you bring out your pots and pans,
Remember when the lives of your family were in their hands,
They stood on the front line without a complaint,
To save us, and for that we owe them much more than a
Thursday night clap.

The Soldier

by Charlie Bailey, Pates Grammar School

He was going home.

After all these years of fighting, he was going home.

Not that it should have been years. They had thought it would be over by Christmas, him and his pals. They would go and show Jerry what-for and arrive back as heroes. He remembered conjuring up the jubilant scenes of his homecoming in the early days. A land fit for heroes. Street parties, alcohol galore and pretty girls…

How naïve they had been.

The guard blew his whistle, a sharp, screeching note, which jerked him out of his reminiscences as the train eased away from the platform. It seemed a far cry from his idealistic fantasies, going home alone on a silent train.

Those pals whom he had signed up with were dead, lying somewhere in the mud on a battlefield, or else imprisoned in distant lands. But he felt that the few who were still fighting were truly the unlucky ones. He and they would remain haunted by the sights they had seen. None of them would ever know peace as the stilled souls on the battlefields would.

But at least he was coming home to a wife, a child, a family. His son had been just a few months old the last time he had seen him, and the thought of him was all that had kept the soldier going throughout his long stay in a dingy hospital. The soldier couldn’t wait to hold him in his arms, and start afresh. He was coming home alone, and severely wounded, but he was coming home. It was better than nothing.

And it could so easily have been nothing.

The outside world was plunged into darkness as the train entered a tunnel. The sudden blackness turned the window into a mirror, and the soldier caught a glimpse of himself and grimaced. His face was drawn and gaunt. When he ran his hand up his chest, he could count his ribs. His right leg ended in a stump, still painful, after a shell blast. He had left England a young man, and returned old and decrepit.

He gradually fell into a restless slumber, dreaming of lost friends, lost limbs and home.

A deafening bang jerked him awake. He shot up off the seat, precariously balanced on his leg, and scrabbled around him for his gun. It was only as his eyes adjusted to his surroundings that he remembered he was on a train, not in the trenches. The bang, he realised, must have come from a carriage door slamming shut. He slumped back into his seat, heart thumping like a bass drum, a sheen of sweat on his forehead.

The scenery gradually changed, from rolling hills to a bleak, endless moorland. A shiver of excitement ran through the soldier as he recognised the changes, each familiar landscape feature feeling like the greeting of an old friend as he drew ever closer to his family. He remembered his wife’s twinkling eyes and the dimple in her cheek; the rapturous greetings of his faithful Border Collie; his baby son, gurgling with laughter as the two of them played peek-a-boo.
He missed them all so much it hurt.

As he stumbled off the train and onto the familiar platform, a tremendous bubble of excitement rose up inside his chest, and manifested itself in a spring of step and jovial yet restless humming of no particular tune. He hobbled out into the dusky town. The icy wind bit into the skin exposed where the fatigues hung limply off his undernourished body. The smoke from the factories curled up his nostrils, making him cough. But it smelled, to him, like roses on a summer’s day. His thoughts rested solely with his imminent homecoming.

This was it! As he turned the corner to his street, he quickened his pace still further. He eagerly searched the rooftops for the distinctive chipped chimney. Where was it? Even in the fading light, it should have been visible by now. Where was it?

There was no chimney.

There was no house.

His heart plunging into a black abyss, the pile of rubble that lay before him seemed to symbolise all that his life had become.

Commended

Charlie Bailey

"Lockdown took a while to adjust to. I did a lot of exercise, a lot of cooking and kept in contact with my friends on social media. The Cotswold Challenge provided me with something to work on. I wrote about a WW1 soldier returning home, as I was researching my family tree and had a great-great-great uncle who had fought on the front line in Mesopotamia. He sadly did not make it home. It was also the 75th anniversary of VE Day and there were old videos of soldiers coming home, so I tried to imagine what it might have been like."

-

"Incredibly well done."
Kevin Wignall

Creative Writing commended

Apocalypse Not Now

by Jack Dyer, Lydiard Park School

Safe to say this is not quite the apocalypse I was expecting. In recent times, the media has been flooded with ideas of what the apocalypse would look like. To be frank, I was hoping that it would be like The Walking Dead. As soon as I heard about the virus, I had images of everyone turning into zombies and me walking round with an axe like a baddass. In reality, I probably would’ve resembled something out of Shaun of the Dead, walking round with a cricket bat whilst trying to save my mum who has no idea of the gravity of the situation.

Unfortunately, what we got left with was rather dull. Instead of being able to annihilate a zombie with a shovel, I had to queue for an hour just to get into Asda for some loo roll. To the outside observer, you would think it’s Black Friday, with people waiting outside of shops, but in reality, its just a bunch of people who are bored and are looking for something to do.

During the early stages, upon entering the shops you were met with what could only be described as Armageddon. In truth, the shops did what they could to help us, but they forgot to take into account the utter stupidity of British people. You were meant to make your way calmly around the shop by following the arrows on the floor to make sure nobody crossed paths. Unfortunately, this was a bit too difficult for the plucky Brits. All it took was one person to get a bit impatient and it would end up like a first turn crash at Formula One with trollies flying this way and that.

Arrows around a shop is an easy concept to follow, and yet we still messed it up. But perhaps an even easier instruction is “one family member is allowed to the shops only.” However, this didn’t last long. Obviously, Legoland and Thorpe Park are out of bounds, so some parents were stuck on ideas for where their next family day out was going to be. In a stroke of what only quite a special few would call genius, a family trip to the shops soon became the highest rated place to go on Trip Advisor for a family of four. Needless to say, this outraged anyone with common sense who could clearly see that these morons were jeopardising the health of the nation. There are security guards at Asda that could easily prevent this kind of lunacy from taking place. Unfortunately, they are not paid enough to care.

Aside from a quick flurry to the shop every now and then, there is bugger all to do. People are talking about this war time spirit, but at least they had spontaneous bombings to spice things up a little. I remember before this all started that people were saying “I can’t wait to get it and then have two weeks in isolation.” It wasn’t until we all got into lockdown that we realised the novelty of eating Ben and Jerry’s in your bed watching Disney Plus wears off very quickly.

One positive that has come out of this is that it has got a lot of people out running. When I say that, I mean those people who did sport are now running to keep their fitness up. Those that didn’t do any form of sport have now become even more lazy than they were before. I don’t think the phrase “couch potato” has ever been more prominent in its short existence.

Yet, it must be said that things are looking up, if you’re old. Garden centres have re-opened, a huge victory in the battle against Covid 19. I think I can speak for everyone when I say my life has not been complete without the ability to go and buy a gnome whenever the idea flashed in my head. Who knows, maybe by September things will return to normal, and the only Corona that will scare us is the one that gets you a point on your licence if you go for a joyride after drinking it.

Commended

Jack Dyer

"A special mention for the very talented Jack Dyer with his comic monologue."
Kevin Wignall

Creative Writing commended
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