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Triumph in Born to Write competition

Congratulations to Saskia L on her recent success in the Born to Write competition organised by St Mary’s Shaftesbury.

This was the first Born to Write competition and was open to young people in North Dorset and South Somerset. With over 60 entries from a number of local schools, we were delighted to hear that Saskia won the senior age group with her fantastic short story.

The competition was judged by St Mary’s librarian Min Edmonds and former Booker Prize judge Fay Weldon, who also presented Saskia with her prize at a presentation evening.

You can read Saskia’s story below.

City of Dreams

The road to the City of Dreams does not favour the weary.

Put one foot wrong and you’ll find yourself flat on the ground with an aching head. Look up and you’ll see crows, circling, circling, as if already predicting your death. Look down for too long and you’ll forget why you even came at all.

Pip was weary. His feet dragged in the dust of the road. His eyelids drooped; the road had transformed into a single, relentless riddle. Are you coming, or going? Are you going, or coming? His own choice had been either to escape to the City of Dreams, or ‘help your aunty to skin you alive’. And Pip wasn’t a fool.

Not like his brother had been.

Aunt Romillie was a witch. Pip was certain of this for three reasons.

  1. It was why Father left, claiming that even the journey to the City of Dreams was better than one more day with his sister in law.
  2. Aunt Romillie had a habit of returning from the market place, not with the usual groceries, but with a brown bag of potions instead. Unlike others, she loathed hedge birds, new mornings, and singing.
  3. Skinning people alive wasn’t a normal practice for responsible guardians. 

Pip sometimes fantasised about Aunt Romillie meeting her doom in a pot of boiling stew, or being nudged over a clifftop by the farmer’s most vengeful goat. He’d never supposed he would be the one walking away from the house he’d first grown to love, and then to despise after Father left. Strange how one building could unravel so many misunderstood secrets. 

The City of Dreams better resembled a wolf hearted nightmare to Pip. He’d been expecting an old friend. As he entered the gates, crowded streets lined the outskirts, black eyed giants stared him down at every crossroad. The backpack slung across his shoulders, now alarmingly light, held as little gold as it did nourishment. He would have to sleep on the streets.

Before his eyes fell shut entirely, crouched on the cobbled pavement with the cold seeping into him, Pip faltered. He was back in the familiar house for one fleeting moment. Aunt Romillie was feeding the crackling flames in their once cosy kitchen, leaning lower, wielding to the heat. Then his eyelids won.

* * *

Back home Pip woke each morning to stinging palms. They stung through the birthmarks that were passed inexplicably down the generations of his family - two curling, laughing symbols. One, inhabiting his left palm, was small and round, while the other held a longer, more intricate pattern. One for each hand. His only remembrance of a fickle family.

So it was unusual, on this particular morning, to be woken by a sound, not a throbbing pain. Melancholy, like a kitten’s first yowl, but softer, more like a snake’s crisp embrace. The sound pricked him like a needle, pulsing through his numb feet. It was alien, jumping from shrill to deep, like a rickety conversation. Yet there was, Pip distinguished, some order to the noise. Some tune.

So he followed the sound, deciding the quest to find his lost father could wait a few more precious minutes at least. Into a crammed square, where a gabble of people hustled around one stooping figure, bearded and clothed all in ragged black. What startled Pip was the wooden object clutched in one of his weathered hands. Fingers of the other strung a low reedy sword, not quite a spear, across a row of silver strings, connecting the beautiful twisted wood like the skin of a pumpkin. 

Pip hadn’t been raised with music. Aunt Romillie detested singing, so much so that even the hedge birds stifled their morning songs. But the wooden object didn’t just sing. It talked like a child before it first opens its eyes. Slave to the noise, Pip edged his way to the front of the crowd. One step, two shuffles, almost dancing as the crescendo began.

There was silence, and in that silence the city held its breath. The whole world paused. The instrument had found its audience. Then a man coughed. A lady straightened her scarf. A boy whined and stamped his feet. All at once, the player had lost his power.  

Yet for Pip, leaving this busker, his window to another emotion, was too much to comprehend in that cold, windswept square. Instead he warily approached the player, stepping as lightly as if he were playing with bullfrogs. The man had an honest face, furrowed brows, deep-set eyes. His case matched the grain of wood, which he cradled gently. Pip couldn’t help wondering if the musician was a father himself, and if his children ever felt envy for this object of his affections. Probably not.

“Finished now, son.” 

Pip jumped a foot high - the man had spotted his creeping glances.

“You wanted something?”

Pip whispered “What is it? The wood you’re holding?”

“Why, it’s a fiddle of course! She’s a loyal old friend, this one - got me out of a few sticky situations!” He held the instrument delicately, “Could do with a polish though!”

“A Fid…dle?”

“An instrument, son.”

Pip still looked blank. Amusement clouded the musician’s face.

“Guess I’m not such an old fool these days, then. Look son, I’ll be back here next week. Same place, same time,” he was already turning to leave, “But I’ll play a tune just for you … if your mother lets you talk to a poor busker!”

Suddenly aware of the busker’s own tired face and his shabby appearance, Pip thanked him shyly, and held out his hand. The busker shook it warmly. His hand lingered as it left the boy’s. Something was dark on the pale skin. Stained, yet perfectly curled. One mark carved like a dutiful sentry, into the man’s wrinkled palm.

A curling, laughing symbol.

Then the busker turned.

“Next week then,” he told the boy, but Pip didn't reply. Instead he stared, dumbstruck, at his own two hands. A matching black mark lay on one outstretched palm, the other bared a more modest version. One could almost say they resembled a father and son, or merely two clefs on a sheet of music.