Traditional Publishing

International Short Story Contest

Ninth short story contest winners

The Ninth International Short Story Contest closed on May 1, 2013. Deliberation over the final line-up of winners was long and hard, but by July 2013 the following successful entrants were announced:


Congratulations to Amelia Ashton of Winchester, who wins £200 for her winning story, "The Wish". The story is published below.

Amelia Ashton is an aspiring writer and a voracious reader. She is currently writing the dissertation for a MA in Critical and Creative Writing at The University of Winchester.

Ten special commendations go out to the following entrants (in no particular order):

The Wish

By Amelia Ashton

The ragged piece of sand blown tarmac seemed an unpromising carpark. It didn’t offer the confidence that might dispel the parking stress which was heightening the tension.

“Do you think we can park here?”

“How would I know? I haven’t been here for thirty years.”

“I only asked what you thought.” Tom’s voice rose in exasperation

“I was only eight the last time I was here and not that in tune with the parking bye laws of Misery-on-Sea.” Petulance gave way to pleading as she added. ”Please, Tom, let’s go somewhere else?”

“No. Harry and I want to go to the beach. We’ll get the car in there, under the overhang of the dune.” He pointed at a sand bank barely held back by wiry grasses.

“Oh bloody marvellous. Knowing my luck the car will probably end up buried.”

“We’re here now.”

“So? Is that really a good enough reason for staying?”

“Oh for God’s sake cheer up. It can’t have been that bad. We’ll just go down to the beach for a bit. Come on, Harry.” He said turning round to the back seat.

“I know you can’t or won’t understand but do you think you could try for once?” Her husband hadn’t heard her or perhaps just not listened.

Harry was already out of the car and heading towards the beach. Convinced less by Tom’s argument than by her son’s desire for the beach, she followed them; through the tunnel of briar, over the large dog shit in the middle of the narrowest most overgrown part of the path and out across the fairway.

“Whatever you say I can’t believe this wasn’t an idyllic place to spend your childhood summer holidays.” He’d heard her, he just hadn’t listened.

She made a sound, acknowledging his remark without actually having to agree with it, and then, taking in the bright sunshine and the postcard beach, she felt churlish. Weren’t you supposed to remember the past in a honeyed glow? Why did it all look rather better now than what she remembered from her childhood?

“It wasn’t always like this though.” She shouted after him, but this time he hadn’t heard her. He was knee deep in the sea whooping with as much joy as Harry.

Of course he was right, which was what was making her behave badly. The beach was wide and pale yellow and curved, with a few rocks and pools tucked in below the cliffs offering shrimping or Canute-esque damming. The beach was reached across the golf course, ideal for finding golf balls cunningly hidden in the middle of the fairway and early morning mushrooming. The road down from the house was lined by pale ice cream coloured houses surrounded by fuchsia bushes hung with their puce ballerinas. She looked up and behind her at the cliff and the chimneys of the house. Happily the ugly pebble-dashed house couldn’t be seen from the beach; its position meant that it was the only house in the row that had a clear view of the entire bay, hence its inappropriately twee name, Sandy Bay.

She’d always hated the place, even before the summer of the dead seagull although that year had sealed its fate in her memories. She wondered rather irrationally if the seagull was still there on the lawn in front of the house, where they had left it thirty years ago. It had seemed to be all feathers and no flesh, but that hadn’t deterred her uncle’s lurcher. It must have been quite late in the evening because she remembered the seagull seeming to glow white in the half dark, and it was August.

Her mother sat on the lawn next to the seagull wearing knee length pink gingham culottes – a fashion sin that provides the time line; it was 1973. Her legs, partly tucked under her pink checked bottom, were tanned, which seemed in retrospect unlikely because the 30’s villa would always be associated with the wet and damp of cold Augusts in Devon. The smell of wet Guernseys, bare feet in damp wellies – well it was summer so why wear socks? – the little eddies of sand next to the washing machine and on the floor in the downstairs loo; the repository of all family holiday paraphernalia from dirty clothes to cricket bats and back braces. On that evening her mother sat on the grass unconscious of being watched, sobbing steadily, not hysterically, but rhythmically, allowing little time for breathing or the comfort of the unsmoked cigarette – a No. 6, another extinct brand – in her left hand.

Certainly her crying mother was regarded as more upsetting to the sensitivities of a child than the small show of middle class violence that had erupted in the sitting room. Perhaps to over compensate for the fact that she, her siblings and cousins had just witnessed her uncle hit her father, they had all been ushered to bed, quickly now. In retrospect it must have been really quite comic. Undoubtedly heartfelt, it was a swing of slapstick incompetence at her understated and largely reserved father as he stood in the doorway, suitcase in hand, making his announcement to his wife and her family.

So uncharacteristic of her father about whom there was no drama – a cold fish although obviously, it occurred to the adult her, he had a passion for women. It became clear that he was good at initiating these liaisons, rarely foreseeing the consequences and more often than not relying on the help of others to extricate him. Of course it wasn‘t desire for drama or attention on his part but rather cowardice that had resulted in this particular scene. He needed the safety of numbers to deliver his news, like a school boy using the protective presence of a friend before summoning the courage to confess.

Later, having been bundled upstairs she processed what she had seen – her weeping mother and her exiting father. In hindsight she wondered at the logistics of her father’s escape to London – it was after dinner, so he must have driven under the influence, pursued by ill will. Then she lay huddled in her nylon sleeping bag at the bottom of the trough shaped mattress with bunny, teddy and her thumb, sobbing by now as reality, or her eight year old understanding of it, began to sink in. No more dogs, no more Treacle, no more anything. No more Daddy ever crossed her mind. She doubted that it would have concerned her overly and certainly it was not going to rank alongside the expected loss of her beloved dogs and pony. Her father was at best a remote figure in her life. A disciplinarian who felt little need to engage. Regular presentation during his own childhood, newly laundered and coiffed, at 6pm for his parents’ inspection had set a precedent for his own parenting skills. He seemed to have had little interest in his children, which slightly surprised her; he was an egocentric man and they were after all an extension of him.

Happily he was a better grandfather to Harry than he had been a father, prepared to show an interest in him, he made frequent visits which seemed to be something more than duty. She and her father were still not close and she was contemptuous of the supposed fond father-daughter bond of fiction. But they were now both more prepared or more able to see the admirable in each other, reaching a cool but satisfactory relationship. Time and maturity had diluted the events of that summer.

For a long time any feelings of loss were accompanied by the nausea of guilt as she remembered her birthday cake wish for an interesting life, to be different from other girls her own age. Hadn’t she even wished for this? How wicked could she be? Was this all her fault? But she hadn’t meant it. Or at least she did not think she had. Perhaps she had wished that her parents would divorce and it had made her a different person and in some ways she had benefited from that schism, but now it was payback time. She was next of kin to two lonely septuagenarians in two separate houses with two different icy paths to break a hip on. Her mother still sobbed for or about her father and her father still failed to come to terms with the only women left in his life, his daughters and his sister. There were still endless motorway miles to be covered and Christmases to be negotiated.

Of course life had changed after that summer, but her worst fears hadn’t been realized and her dogs and pony had hung around. She had been different from her contemporaries for a time, but not for long as more and more of her friends had their homes broken. For a long time she had thought not ever to marry. She couldn’t see the point of losing your irresponsible independence if you just ended up sobbing next to a dead seagull, but with time she had mellowed, the black and white of childhood had become the grey of maturity, and more significantly she had met Tom.

She supposed she must look like the 1970’s photographs of her mother and aunts, as she sat huddled in several layers on the beach with a towel across her knees and a now half empty packet of biscuits in one hand. No fag as they had had constantly on the go – more was the pity. On the upside no head scarf either.

She should not have come. It was a mistake. Actually it had not been her idea; it was all Tom’s fault. His childhood had been so sunny and every summer holiday a joy. He was convinced that such happy memories existed for everyone if they just tried hard enough to find them. But she had never liked going back, always avoiding reunions, and perhaps that had started here.

“Come on you two, let’s go. It’s late and it’s getting cold.”

Her boys walked towards her like cowboys wearing chaps, their swimming trunks and limbs stiff with salt and cold. Their faces blue and their skin mottled and marbled. Harry finally feeling the cold, having seemed impervious, had begun to cry. Despite being kept dry the towels were already salty damp and gritty with sand but eventually both boys were at least slightly less cold and wet. She picked Harry up and as he wrapped his legs chimp like round her waist she looked over his shoulder at Tom.

“I am sorry I was so cross. I just don’t like it here. Too much stuff.”

“I know, Sweetheart, and I am sorry I am such a bully. Now cheer up and let’s go and find some tea. There must at least be a café or a fish and chip shop.”

The three of them stumped back up the beach and across the golf course to tea, avoiding the dog turd. At the last she turned to look back towards Sandy Bay and knew she wouldn’t come here again.