Traditional Publishing

International Short Story Contest

First short story contest winners

The First International Short Story Contest closed on May 1, 2005. Deliberation over the final line-up of winners was long and hard, but by July 2005 the following successful entrants were announced:


Congratulations to Alexandra Fox of Northampton, United Kingdom, who wins £200 for her story, "Cradle Song for Isobel". The story is published below.

Alexandra is a mother and grandmother from a village near Northampton , England . She unexpectedly started writing short stories in January 2004 and has now won fifteen first prizes in short fiction competitions as well as numerous placing and publications, print and web, including a commission from Virgin Atlantic to write for their in-flight magazine. Her uncompromising story 'Bonsai' was nominated for the StorySouth Best of Web 2004 Award, and she has a runner-up story in the forthcoming Asham Anthology. Lexie writes with Alex Keegan 's online Boot Camp and finds (as do her family) that writing has taken over her life.

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

All eleven stories are available to read now in the First Short Story Anthology, which is available to download as an ebook from,, and other Amazon outlets around the world.

The stories will also will be published in issue 8 of firstwriter.magazine.

Cradle Song for Isobel

By Alexandra Fox

I will not think of Isobel.

I’ll think of Jamie and his football match this afternoon, and how he’s missed so many training sessions that he doesn’t know if he’ll be in the team. I’ll think of keys left under doormats, peanut butter sandwiches with the jar open on the side, two-day shirts with grey lined collars, hair that needs a trim. I’ll think of his round questioning face that doesn’t dare to question

But I’ll not think of Isobel.

I’ll think of Amy and the doors she needs to slam, the stamping up the stairs that starts, then stops half-way, the shouting swallowed into tight throat and twisted gut. I’ll think of the parents’ evening I missed this term, absence notes unwritten, homework unhelped, and all those lifts from other mums that I’ll never be able to return. I’ll think of how to pay for the ski trip in January and whether to mention that her blazer smells of cigarette smoke, and maybe I’ll even try to talk to her some time

So I will not think of Isobel.

I’ll think of getting someone in to fix the hoover, buying bleach and new yellow dusters. I’ll consider having a good spring-clean, wearing myself out with the work of it, mindlessly scrubbing baths, and polishing and brushing those cobwebs from the cornices

And I won’t think of her.

I’ll think of other people all the time. I’ll be fat and cheerful, coping oh-so-well. I’ll talk to the mum over there and say isn’t it wonderful that her little boy’s well enough to go back to the normal baby ward, and it’s shame that he’s blind but he’ll still have a wonderful life, after all, he’s so loved. And I’ll put a quiet arm around the girl on the window-seat, lost in the bright-light confusion of bags and dials and beepings. We’ll look together at her scrap of a baby in the goldfish tank and I’ll explain in soft sounds because the long words of the nurses have passed over her head like a cloud in the wind and she’s so frightened. And I’m frightened too, but I will not think of mine.

I’ll think of the efficiencies of nurses, and the astuteness of doctors, and the acumen of consultants, but not of Isobel.

And I’ll think of buying some chocolates for the staff and bringing them in tomorrow when it’s over.

I won’t think of her

And I won’t think of the tall shadowy man beside me, because if I think of his grief I might rip a tear through the strong sheet that hangs between us. If his sorrow spills into mine I’ll melt, overflow, dissolve and my whole self will turn into a salty liquid, slightly acid, and seep, seep across this scuff-marked lino and evaporate, till all that’s left is a dry white powder lifted by the breeze from the window.

I’m so lucky. I’ve got the two already. What’s this point-four but a statistician’s glitch? One-point-four ounces, lung function point-four of what’s needed, half a brain working, half-sighted, part-deaf, (wholly mine), fully, excruciatingly finger-tip aware of pain. That’s why I can’t think of her.

I’ll think about the priest, dear bumbling Father John in his creased stole with the fringing missing from the edge. I’ll see the fatness of his finger as he tried to mark a cross on a forehead that had no room for it, and I’ll try not to remember that he said, “Isobel ... why not call her Mary? Save Isobel for the next baby. I’ll pray for you. There’s always hope.”

But I looked at her and I could only think of Isobel.

I’m almost thinking of her now, as the clever fingers of the soft-eyed nurse unclip the wires, and I’ll breathe with her as the tube is pulled from the clinging of her throat, and she mews faint with the tearing of it. I’ll press my nails into my palms, and watch them take the needles from her neck, her scalp and listen to the suck of the electrode pads peeled from skin as thin as tracing paper.

And then I’ll think of Isobel

As she is put into my hands, and I stroke her with my fingertips, so softly, round and round, painting my love on her. And I see that great black-haired hand come down over mine infinite in its gentleness, and cup her head. With my thumb I’ll feel her heartbeat slow, and the racking of her lungs as they try to pull the hard air into them. I’ll breathe soft, warm into her mouth and let her take her fill of me one first-last time.

I’ll wait, wait. Then I’ll put the empty body in the empty box, small, so very small, not half a baby, but taking with her more than half my heart. And in the years to come, through all the busy-ness of life, I cannot ever see myself forgetting her.