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Hall Caine Memorial Prize for Creative Writing

BUDDING WRITERS: At the presentation ceremony for the Hall Caine Memorial Prize for Creative Writing are, from left, judge Gloria Rukeyser (great granddaughter of author Hall Caine) with category winners Eve McGregor (primary), Katie Craig (key stage five) and Isalen Cooper (key stages three and four) and Education Minister Eddie Teare MHK

BUDDING WRITERS: At the presentation ceremony for the Hall Caine Memorial Prize for Creative Writing are, from left, judge Gloria Rukeyser (great granddaughter of author Hall Caine) with category winners Eve McGregor (primary), Katie Craig (key stage five) and Isalen Cooper (key stages three and four) and Education Minister Eddie Teare MHK

THE winning entries, reproduced here in full.

Memories, by Katie Craig, 17 (winner in the keystage 5 and Isle of Man College catagory).

My leg hurts. My eyes barely see and my ears barely hear, but I am used to this. It does not bother me; it provides respite from the bustling nurses with their prim dresses and fake empathy that treat me like a backwards child. I’m a slight embarrassment that’s best swiftly dealt with and not mentioned; they leave me alone for hours to stew in my own mortality.

The room is too cold, it’s icy outside. My leg hurts.

Am I being unthankful? My children; my dear, beloved children, placed me in this nursing home. They pay for my existence, and they pay dearly. I heard they had to dismiss the home tutor such is the cost of my lifelessness – I would hardly call it ‘living’ but nonetheless, if they are so kind as to pay for it, I should be so kind as to not die just yet. But I have waited years in this antechamber of the afterlife, watching my grandchildren grow and enjoy the youth I once possessed. Jealousy overcomes me when I think of them; their youth is obscene and my old mind is cruel.

Where is the nurse with that painkiller for my leg? She is young, prompt and cheerful. She makes me unspeakably sad. She reminds me of the shadow that stretches out behind me; it drags me down towards that self-indulgent pit called melancholy. A dead wife, a dead child, dead friends. Forgotten and left to gather dust, I am a dying Ulysses. My hopes are faded, weather-worn and old, I can barely remember them nowadays.

But I am moaning, I should not moan. Did I tell you how much it costs to keep me here?

My memories flicker like candles, each going out one by one before I can attempt to write them down. For who or what I’m not sure; the wheel of life will spin the same way despite the warnings of the old. We learn nothing from history. I keep my notebook in the bottom drawer of my desk underneath a stack of papers so the nurses won’t find it until I’m dead, I prefer it that way. Perhaps it will be the only way I am remembered, by a dusty little book of scribbles found in a drawer; but who is remembered by anything else? Even the great men of history are remembered only in books, who is to say I am not as great as Socrates or Plato?

Oh but how I hope someone will take the time to read those scribbles. They’ll see my time on this earth imprinted on scraps of paper with a shaky hand and cheap ballpoint pen. They’ll see my old friends, family and lovers. Those long teenage years spent playing on the beach or seeing girls, revelling in our anticipation of what life had to offer. We were invincible, we were to inherit the earth and sculpt it to our ideals; we were so cocky and proud. Our young lungs filled with sea air, our young minds filled with stupid ideals, our young hearts filled with too much love and undue sadness.

Then the war came, I have a lot written about the war. That’s the part I hope they’ll read the most, it’s the part they need to learn from. It’s obvious that they won’t, but I must admit it’s pleasant to imagine. That wonderful heady excitement the first time I saw a Spitfire tearing across the bright blue open sky, leaving a trail of white that was blown into patterns by the strong winds. How I longed to be in one like that, but had only just turned eighteen, they wanted me on the front lines. Good machine gun fodder, I was. That bright blue sky soon turned to the dark mud of the trenches.

I remember how we were surrounded by so much death but we had never felt so alive, the roar of bullets whipping past our heads and the constant fear kept us together. We were comrades in that hellish trench with mud up to our knees and gas masks draping heavily from our bruised necks, but love had never seemed so genuine. We fought together with such devotedness it would make Achilles and Patroclus green with envy. I’ve never felt quite the same passion, not even for my wife, bless her soul. War has a way of sewing people’s lives together in a way that nothing else can, it’s the fear of death that hangs in the air like a bad stench. Many of them died in that war. I was left to linger on.

I can see the sun setting from my window here in the nursing home, it won’t be long before nightfall. The grey light is drifting over the grey buildings. The nurse still hasn’t come.

I wrote about the limbs that dangled hopelessly from the barbed wire casting dark silhouettes against our new-found friendships; so much misery to accompany the love on those lonely battlefields. Boys drowned in muddy water and their heroics lost in the mists of the gas attacks.

Then we were sent to fight the Italians in Somalia and lost. We were pushed back running with our tails between our legs over the bright orange plains with the most turquoise of skies bearing down on us, the bright sun mocking our defeat. It was so hot. So unbearably, heavily hot that it was a relief to be sent back to Britain. They needed more fighter pilots to fly against the German Blitzkrieg in the south of England and had chosen me, since I had first applied to join the air force. I was so new to the world, even then. I will always say that it was the air force that truly made me a man, everything before had been a build-up and everything since has been a let-down.

My memories from the air force seem to be saturated; soaked in so much colour that they can’t take any more. I sit in my small anonymous room in this small anonymous nursing home and let my mind drift back aimlessly towards them until the nurses believe me to be mad. I think this is called escapism. My body fails me now and I let my mind take over.

Bright, beautiful people flashing daring smiles and leading glamorous lives, that’s how I remember it. Dashes of red lipstick on breathtaking girls with short blonde hair whipping in the wind, the rush of adrenaline when you left the ground for the first time and realised you were flying with the birds. The joy of shooting down an enemy plane mixed with the dread of seeing a British Spitfire plunge into the navy depths of the English Channel. The camaraderie when everyone returned to the barracks and the wailing moan of the sirens echoing across the valleys in the middle of the night. The best weeks of my life were spent killing German men. This is a fact I live quite contentedly with.

I was shot down on the 1st of January 1941 above a small army port near Dover. I can remember it so clearly that it was barely an effort to write down, it’s all bright colours and open skies and falling towards the enormous earth. I could see the entire country laid out before me and I still say to this day that it was the most touching moment of my life, not that anyone listens to the ramblings of an old man like me. When I landed my leg cracked at the shin and hasn’t been quite the same since, it hurts in the cold weather. It’s been aching for a while, a constant reminder that I’ve lived my life in the shadow of the war and that the adventure is almost at an end. The world will have to live and love without its heroes.

The sun is setting over the grey buildings, it’s icy outside and soon England will be cast into shadow once more. Everything is grey to me now. My heart beats slower than it used to, my hands are shaking and I can barely walk. This Ulysses has grown tired. It is time to rest.

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Thin Ice, by Eve McGregor (winning entry in the primary category).

Phoebe trudged down the stairs, with her stripy dressing gown wrapped tightly around her freezing body. She was a girl of nineteen, who lived with her mum and dad. She sat down on the yellow chair next to the window and gazed out.

Phoebe was fair haired, with beautiful, mysterious grey eyes. She had a thin figure and had always been small for her age. She was a bright, young girl, but something had always troubled her.

Suddenly a cold chill came over Phoebe and she shuddered. Outside a fine glinting layer of frost was laid across the fields, the lake to her surprise was frozen. It reminded her of a horrible memory from years ago….

The young ten year old Phoebe dragged her mother out into the cold day. There was a crisp layer of glittering frost lying on the green fields. Phoebe was so excited… the lake had frozen and she was determined to be the first to walk on it.

“I’ll just be over here reading my book!” shouted Phoebe’s mum. “Remember, do not go on the lake!” she called as she walked over to the bench. Phoebe had not even heard her mother’s warning, for she had stopped at the edge of the slippery, silvery lake.

It was a beautiful sight to behold for such a small girl. As the breeze swept by, the trees above seemed to sing “Lie low!” The sky was a peaceful pale blue above, as the frozen lake reflected off it. Phoebe could not understand why she must not have a stroll across the frozen lake. It was a lot to understand for a little girl.

What could possibly happen? thought Phoebe to herself, just one little go, it would not hurt. So slowly she pressed one foot down on the ice. Nothing happened. See, she thought, it was fine. So slowly and carefully Phoebe made her way out into the middle of the lake.

Phoebe loved the soft crunch every time she put her foot down. Finally she reached the very middle of the frozen lake. Wow! She thought, nothing to worry about. Phoebe stood there for quite a bit of time, taking in her success and the beautiful Winter afternoon….

Then suddenly, there was a deafening crack. The ice collapsed beneath Phoebe before she could even make a sound….

The water was freezing, so cold Phoebe could hardly move. She was not an amazing swimmer she found as she struggled to keep her head above the surface.

The last thing Phoebe saw was her mother running towards her as she lost consciousness….

Phoebe jumped as she came out of her memory. A chill raced down her spine, from remembering that horrific time. She had survived. Her mother had saved her but her terrible fear of water had grown every day since.

Phoebe’s mum came and sat next to her. Arms around each other, joined in memory, they stared across the lake, remembering that awful day.

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Mann’s Struggle, by Isalen Cooper, 12, who is educated at home at Garey, was the winning entry in the key stage three and four category (ages 11 to 16):

I remember the time when suddenly everyone on the Isle of Man was talking about Mona Kermode. We had just begun a new decade, 2020, and everything was changing. The countries of Iceland, Norway and Sweden had joined together to form ‘The Arctic Republic’ which made them one of the most powerful nations of the world because of their huge supply of natural resources. This is what got the Isle of Man into trouble: the U.K discovered a new supply of natural resources on the island and, although the Isle of Man is only small, the U.K would have done anything to get their hands on our resources. They had run out years ago. Mona Kermode was our saviour, our protector; we called her Mother Mona.

I learnt a lot at school about the world wide problem of natural resources running out. Our teacher, Mrs Cowin, told us all about how much we rely on electricity and how we need fuels to make it. We also watched a documentary about what would happen on the Isle of Man if one day all the electricity went off. It really frightened me.

That evening I went home and after dinner I told my father all about the documentary I had seen. He waited until I had finished speaking before responding,

“Now that you understand about the situation I need to tell you something even more important.”

“What’s that?” I whispered across the table to him.

He explained, “England is in charge of defending the Isle of Man but they cannot be trusted anymore so that is why Mona is setting up our own army. However, we cannot let any English people know what Mona’s plans are or they will try to stop us and take over completely!”

I listened to all he had to say about Mother Mona and although I didn’t understand it all, I sensed how serious and important the whole situation was.

The next day I walked a different route to school, avoiding meeting Katie who had been my best friend ever since she had moved from England three years ago. However, I saw her in the cloakroom just before class.

“Why didn’t you wait for me?” Katie asked, looking upset as she struggled to get her sticky, wet jacket off. Then the bell rang. “Could you help me please Onnie?” she said in a panic.

“Why should I help you? Why are you here anyway?” I asked with suspicion.

Katie frowned, “What do you mean?”

“Why are you here in the Isle of Man? You’re English aren’t you?”

“I really like it here. Why? What’s wrong with us living here?” she scowled.

“You don’t belong here. Anyway, I am not allowed to talk to you anymore,” I replied, storming off.

I took a quick glance backwards before I went into the classroom to see Katie’s long, dark hair falling over her forlorn face as she hung her head in sadness. My heart sank then and tears were falling down my pale cheeks by the time I was sitting at my desk.

During the following week I missed having Katie there to chat to while walking to school, but what really upset me was seeing all the other children picking on Katie when she did not know why. Then at the end of the week I remember when our teacher, Mrs. Cowin, told us all about the story of Anne Frank who was a Jewish girl in World War Two. This made me think about how people had treated Anne badly just because she was Jewish and suddenly I felt terrible about how I had treated Katie.

After that lesson everyone seemed to have understood that Mrs Cowin was trying to teach us not to be cruel to Katie, everyone that is apart from Fynn. Fynn was a very naughty, spoilt little boy who would do anything to get attention; he loved picking on Katie and calling her names. The worst thing Fynn ever did though was trying to get Katie arrested when Mona’s soldiers came in to school one day looking for English children.

We were in the middle of a maths lesson when we heard banging noises, children screaming and crying. We all noticed how pale Mrs Cowin went as her eyes darted nervously to the classroom door.

“Children,” she began, “listen very carefully, especially you Fynn,” she said glaring at him, “there are soldiers here and they have come to take all the English children away. Katie needs our help now.”

“Well I am not going to help her! I hate her! She’s English and she needs to go back to where she came from!” Fynn shouted suddenly.

“Shh! You wouldn’t really want Katie to get hurt, would you?”Mrs. Cowin whispered. “But if you carry on like that the soldiers will come!”

“Hey soldiers come in here!” Fynn shouted purposely as he stood on top of his chair.

It was clear that Fynn was not going to help Katie and after a lot of struggling between Mrs. Cowin and the children on the back row, finally Fynn was locked behind the storeroom door.

“Now everyone sit down,” Mrs. Cowin urged as we all dashed back to our chairs.

Just then three huge soldiers dressed in black army suits came bursting into the classroom.

“Stand up!” shouted the biggest man. He looked rough with tattoos down his arm and scars on his face. We were all petrified. The man marched up to a girl in the class called Chloe. “Do you know any English people in this class room?” he asked her menacingly.

“N....no Sir,” Chloe said, looking very nervous. So was I. I was shaking so much that I thought he might hear my chair rattling! Then he walked over to Aedan who was one of Fynn’s friends and I was convinced he would be the one to get Katie arrested. I closed my eyes and hoped that he would not tell them about her.

“No Sir not in this class,” Aedan said. I was so relieved.

“Are you sure?” the man said in a very angry voice as he knocked some books on to the floor.

This made the whole class jump. Suddenly I heard a banging noise coming from the room that Fynn was in. Then the man swung around to look at Mrs.Cowin who went as white as a ghost; she could not even open her mouth to speak. The banging would not stop; I knew I had to do something.

“Mrs.Cowin! I am so frightened get him out of here!” I shouted, running up to her. I was praying that my outburst would cover up Fynn’s banging. Just then fate must have been on our side because the man’s telephone rang loudly. He scowled before answering the phone call.

“What do you want?” he grunted,” Don’t you know I am busy? Fine! I am coming now. Do I have to do everything around here?” he mumbled to himself as he thrust his phone back into his pocket. Then he did an about turn and strode out of the room.

Soon after he had left, Mrs Cowin said in a hushed voice, “I am going to call Katie’s parents, the rest of you keep a look out of the window and the door for any more soldiers.”

So Mrs. Cowin telephoned Katie’s parents and quickly explained what had happened, warning them of the situation. Then before long they were there at the back door of the school, ready to escape.

“Wait!” I said before Katie had a chance to run away, “I am sorry. You’re right, Manx people are bad,” I cried as I dipped my head down and the tears started to fall.

“No, Manx people aren’t bad,” Katie reassured me, putting her arm around my shoulder, “neither are English people, it’s just a couple of people in the governments that are making everyone turn against each other,” Katie reasoned as she gave me a hug good bye.

“Good bye Katie,” I said feeling so choked up that I could hardly speak.

“Good bye,” she replied, whispering one last thing in my ear before rushing towards the back door where her parents were waiting.

That was the last I ever saw of Katie. Mother and I had tried to find her but she must have been in hiding; at least we hoped that she was.

Now the situation is better. After all the fighting, treaties were signed in an attempt at finally finding peace. Everyone is sick of war and the coalition now means that countries are sharing their natural resources.

I often think about Katie though and remember her last words to me, they were such wise words.

“Don’t worry, we will all be okay because there are more good people here than bad, and we know the right things to do.”

She was right.

 

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