Archives: NorthWrite 2018 – Competition

NorthWrite 2018 Mini: Springing Out of Winter

Contestants were asked to write away their winter blues by entering the Northland branch of the NZ Society of Authors national short story competition.  Previously unpublished stories on any theme and up to 1500 words were submitted. Judges were Diana Menefy and Justine Payen and the prizes were:

  • First prize – $300 plus publication on the NorthWrite website
  • Second prize – Editing of a short story of up to 3000 words
  • Third prize – $50 book token

Northwrite 2018 Competition – Judges Report


1st Place: A Medical Definition by Sheila Blackburn (Northland)

2nd Place: Danny by Greg Hall (Auckland)

3rd Place: The Promise by Anna Granger (Whanganui)

Highly Commended: Service Station by Stuart Lee (Auckland), and Foggy by Greg Hall (Auckland)

Judges Report

Thank you to everyone who entered the NorthWrite 2018 Short Story Competition. There were 69 entries, of which two were disqualified by the word count and twenty-three more on the first reading for obvious technical and stylistic issues. Another twenty were eliminated in the next reading because, although they were well written overall, they were lacking some components of great storytelling. There were some very good non-fiction stories but these couldn’t compete against the magic of the fiction entries. That took the pile down to twenty-four stories and over several readings these were filtered down to the final five. While we were able to give only three placings, there were two stories that were so close to being placed that we decided to give them both highly commended. These were: Service Station and Foggy.

1st Place: A Medical Definition 

This story offers a powerful, haunting glimpse into the reality of life. Despite the less-than-ideal presentation, the story has a strong narrative voice with fresh, believable characters, effective imagery, fabulous use of techniques and beautiful wording that grabbed both the judges and stayed with us well after the readings.

2nd Place: Danny

This story is a perfect snippet of family dynamics. It is based on a well-constructed, imaginative idea and flows beautifully, with skilfully placed humour, good characterisation, wonderful dialogue and a satisfying ending.

3rd Place: The Promise 

This story is a great example of ‘telling’ mixed with showing. The visual pictures created by the description places the reader firmly in the setting, the characterisation is good, the language used has an enticing rhythm and the ending links to the beginning in a satisfying way.

Thank you, everyone, for your stories. We enjoyed reading them and wish you all the best with your writing in the future.

Diana Menefy & Justine Payen.

Short Story Competition – First Place

Congratulations to Sheila Blackburn who won the NorthWrite 2018 Short Story Competition. Here is her story.

A Medical Definition
by Sheila Blackburn

Dementia:  the loss of mental ability severe enough to interfere with normal activities of daily living, lasting more than six months, not present since birth, and not associated with a loss or alteration of consciousness.


Words, words, too many words. They danced and skittered through his head, disappearing when he needed them only to leap into his mouth unexpectedly, when they shouldn’t be there, spewing forth with a life of their own, startling, strange and uncontrollable. Elusive meanings that careered away down dark alleys, hiding out of sight. He watched their eyes and knew they thought him mad, gaga, deranged, so better to keep quiet and float in that world of soft touch, smells, flashes of familiarity, fragments of memories, strings of disconnected consciousness. Repetitive movement soothing his head. Stroking the familiar patch on the arm of the chair. Turning the key. Easy and satisfying patterns that led away from the jungle of words and the harsh, demanding faces of the people he didn’t know. They assaulted his senses and scared him with their expectation of answers. He drifted in an amorphous universe spangled with briefly winking moments of understanding that died as quickly as they were born. Shining stars of memory glowing down through a life time of days. A universe of existence with an all-consuming black hole at its centre growing, swallowing life while he drifted ever inwards with no sense of place or time or purpose other than the fear. Always the fear. It consumed him though he couldn’t say why.  Waiting for that last, tiny, fragile spangle of star light to be consumed and then…stroke the fabric turn the key,  stroke the fabric turn the key, soft so soft…keep going, keep going.


Fuck, Fuck, Fuck. The smell of piss was strong and acidic, animal in its intensity. That stupid old cow did it deliberately. She’d have to drag her out of the chair and change her again! Sod it, she could just sit there and wait till someone else came. She’d done it twice this week already. Her eyes raked the room as she turned to go. Only that one in the corner and he wasn’t going to tell anyone. He couldn’t even remember his own name. If he wasn’t sitting there stroking the arm of the chair he was wandering round with that bloody key jamming it in the door locks then screaming at her ‘cos it wouldn’t come out again. Look at him! He was doing it now, stroking the chair like it was a fucking dog. It was creepy. He’d wear right through it in a few more weeks. She looked away. At least he didn’t piss his pants or throw things at you like that skinny bitch down the hall. Why did they have to be so bad-tempered? Like spoiled kids, they were. Throwing food around, shouting and screaming, talking gibberish then getting mad ‘cos you didn’t know what they wanted. She didn’t have time to run after them or sit and hold their bloody hands. Each day was eight hours of stripping pissy sheets, forcing tablets into gormless mouths and washing shitty arses. Her back ached from pulling up and lowering down creaking bodies. Her feet ached from going up and down the stairs looking for lost glasses, missing teeth, fucking hearing aids. Why bother? Waste of time talking to them. They forgot what you said before you were out of the room. She wanted to go home but she had agreed to do an extra shift. She needed the money. The pay was shit and without overtime she wouldn’t make enough to pay the bills. She felt sorry for some of them, she did, but she was tired and tomorrow would be the same round of shit and piss and puke and shouting and screaming and throwing and scratching and there was nothing she could do about it.  She was just doing a job ‘cos she needed the pay check. She left the room. So tired. It was all she could do to just keep going.


She slammed the car boot and spun around.

“Just go. I’m not telling you again. You’re going whether you like it or not. We paid a fortune for these lessons and for that bloody piano and now you think it’s boring. Well, just get in there and be bloody bored. I don’t have time for this.”

“You never have time for anything to do with me. It’s not fair. My friends don’t have to go to stupid piano lessons. Everyone else can… “And on and on and on. So young, so ungrateful, so entitled and so unaware of just how unfair life could really be.

She climbed back into the car and began to pull away. Through the rear window she watched her daughter kick her back pack before picking it up and moving away. Had her father watched her do the same thing? Had she been as selfish, as consumed by her own world that she hadn’t even seen how hard his life was? A sickly wife, a son who brought only trouble to the door, a daughter railing against the unfairness of being expected to help. Tears burning.  Breathe, breathe, keep it together.  Guilt, frustration, helplessness, duty, love, loss, anxiety, pain, fear. Her head roaring. Again, every visit, every time all over again. Wanting to go, not wanting to go. Watching for that illusive flicker of cognizance. Desperate for a thimbleful of the person who had once been a flood. Watching as he was wasted on parched earth that absorbed him without leaving a trace. Seeing him shrivel and dry. An inexorable march to nothingness. And what could she do? She was so busy – her husband, her job, her children, her life. Did he know he was lost? Guilt crawling across her skin. Was he terrified, grabbing for hand holds, screaming silent screams? Tears slipping down her cheek. Turning into the car park. He must hate her. She sent him here. She deserted him. Too many demands. She couldn’t do anymore. “It’s not fair.” No, it’s not fair, is it. She wiped her face. Go through those doors and smile. She put her feet onto the black tarmac and started to walk… keep going… keep going…


She sat across the table from him and smiled. Something scratched at his brain. Someone he should know? Say nothing …silence. Better than getting it wrong.

“How are you today?”

“Oh, you know.”  He trailed off, watching her face for the effect of his tentative step onto the tightrope of conversation. She smiled again.

“What have you been doing?”

“Oh… not much.” He paused, waiting, and the sound slithered into his mouth: “Fishing.” The word felt comfortable like well-worn fabric against his skin. “I went fishing.”

She nodded. “Yes, you always liked fishing. Sometimes you used to take Si and me with you. Do you remember?

Tumbling names. Si and Susan, Mary and Tom, who, when, where?

He looked at her waiting.

“What did you have for lunch today?”

“We had a nice pie. Mary makes a nice pie.” Mary, Mary. The word felt right. A key turn, opening doors, fluttering memories….  Mary, Mary quite contrary…. A picture of a woman in a garden.

“Good. And did you eat it all?”  Words spun in his head then slipped into place.

“Where’s Mary? I want to go home. Mary will be looking for me.”

The woman smiled at him and patted his hand. “Dad, Mum died years ago. You live here now.”

He looked at her, this strange woman saying incomprehensible things. The fear bubbled up in great gouts of blackness.

“Not. Not, no, my home, out out, Mary…” The words gyrated and danced in his head and forced their way out of his mouth in strings of dissonance. The tightrope snapped. He didn’t want her here saying those things.

He got up, turned and walked back to his chair in the corner, sat, and started stroking, letting the tactile burst of soft sensation fill his head and calm him. He didn’t like the strange women. He closed his eyes. His hand in his pocket closed around the key. For the briefest instant he knew what it was. He saw the home, the wife, the family, the life. He started to turn the key and was lost in the rhythm of the movement. Stroke the fabric turn the key, stroke the fabric turn the key… keep going.


His daughter watched as he settled into the chair. Both helpless. No more today. She turned to the door and kept going.

Short Story Competition – Second Place

Congratulations to Greg Hall who came second in the NorthWrite 2018 Short Story Competition. Here is his story.

by Greg Hall

A wise man told me that everyone carries a pig on their shoulder. The pig chatters in your ear, seeding doubt, trying to destroy you. I made friends with my pig long ago.


Danny comes to the window and peers out. His morning breath clouds the window and bounces off the glass. I have to back away. Then I point.

‘What’s that?’

‘That’s a truck, Dad.’

‘I can see it’s a truck, Danny. I heard it last night, or was it sometime this morning?’

‘Whatever, Daddy-o, it’s still a truck.’

‘And it’s still there, Danny.’

‘Yeah, it’s still there because it’s mine. I brought it yesterday.’

The pig wakes up.

‘Bought it – you bought it yesterday.’


‘Why, Danny? Why did you buy a truck and – when you’ve answered that – how…? How did you buy a truck? You don’t have any money.’

‘Okay, fair enough, Daddy-o – two questions. Here’s the answer to the first question. I BROUGHT the truck because me and Tim and Nigel are starting a band and the answer to the second question is – hire purchase. I put five hundred down from the money you gave me and I’m paying it off.’

The pig says, ‘Oh dear.’

Option one is where I call him stupid, ask what the hell he was thinking and remind him again that he and I have an agreement – HAD an agreement – that he would not, under any circumstances, ever, just go off and do something on a whim. He will call me a control freak,  say that if I was so shit hot how come I’ve been fired from the bank, how come I’ve broken up with his mother and then – really, Dad, you’re just a fuckin’ failure and now you’re trying to turn me into one too. I tell him I was not ‘fired’ by the bank, I was made redundant and he says ‘whatever’. Then he storms out and gets drunk for the next three days and I have to go pick up the pieces wherever they land, which might be the police station or my ex-wife’s place or somewhere far away. Once I had to drive to Palmerston North.

So I stop and think about the other way.

The pig is disappointed.

‘Danny, I have a suggestion.’


‘How about you have a shower and put on some fresh clothes and I’ll make breakfast.’

‘Scrambled eggs with toast, ham and coffee?’ he says.


‘Sounds good.’

‘And then we’ll talk,’ I say.

‘Whatever,’ Danny says.

He appears as I’m spooning out the eggs onto the hot toast. The coffee is done. Two cups side by side, flat whites – along with DNA the only thing my son and I have in common.

‘Looks great, Dad.’

We eat, and drink coffee then we push the plates away. I get up and put them in the dishwasher.

‘Can you do another coffee?’ he says.

‘Let’s talk a bit first.’

‘Oh, okay, your rules, Daddy-o.’

I let that slide. ‘So, Danny, can we just unpick this situation a little.’

‘Uh-oh, a situation,’ he says. ‘Go on, Mr Tailor, unpick away, James – James Taylor – Tailor, get it?’ Danny laughs and sits back on his chair, arms behind his head, big grin on his face, waiting. I take a deep breath.

‘Before we get to the truck, let’s talk about this band.’

‘What band?’ Danny says.

‘Danny, come on.’

The pig whispers, ‘Take option one.’ I ignore it.

‘Which one – out of you, Tim and Nigel – plays an instrument? I’ve never heard you talk about playing music, so I’m just wondering about this band.’

‘Dad, we won’t get anywhere if all you do is dump on my ideas. Okay, so right now we may not be a band but after we’ve practised and had lessons and stuff, who knows?’

‘I’m not dumping on your ideas, Danny. If you and the others want to put a band together, then all power to you. What about instruments; where are you getting them, who’s playing what?’

‘We got, like, two guitars and a set of drums with the truck and we’re gunna experiment…See who’s best at what.’

‘How do you mean, “With the truck”?’

‘Well, the truck was two grand and the dealer said he would throw in the instruments and, by the way, Dad, quite a lot of other stuff.’

‘Throw it in?’

‘Yeah, well, for another two grand. It’s good gear.’

‘So, you owe four thousand?’

‘Nah, like three and a half because…’

‘Oh right, I forgot about the five hundred. So you and Nigel and Tim owe three thousand five hundred. About twelve hundred each, right?’

‘Well, right now it’s all in my name, so theoretically, I suppose, I owe it all and Tim and Nigel owe me.’

‘Danny, what about paying off the computer, like we agreed, and the course that you said you always wanted to do, at tech.’

Danny sits there, arms folded and looks at his feet. I lean forward on my chair. He pushes himself further back and stretches his legs.

‘What happened to Mum’s five hundred?’ I say.

‘Jesus Christ, Dad. You want a chat and it always turns into a fuckin’ interrogation, doesn’t it?’

‘Where’s the other five hundred, Danny?’

‘Look, it’s just, like, gone, okay? After we spent it and I realised that, yes, once again, in your eyes, I’ve totally fucked up, I thought, like, I’d better do something about this and that’s when we found the truck and the instruments…And that’s the plan, Dad. We’re gunna be a band and we’re going to, like, earn money and I’m going to pay you and Mum back because that’s what you want, isn’t it – money? You’re obsessed by it.’

I look down at my knuckles. Pure white and shaking despite the grip on the chair.

The pig whispers to me.  I nod.

There’s a knock on the door.

‘Saved by the bell, Daddy-o.’ Danny laughs and throws his hands up.

I get up to answer it. There’s a man at the door wearing a cheap suit and carrying a briefcase. ‘Mr Martin?’ he asks.


‘I’m Mike Mackenzie from Mackenzie’s, the second-hand traders.’


‘Can I come in? I’ve got these guarantee papers for you to sign, you know, for the loan on the truck and the instruments.’

‘I’m not signing any guarantee.’

‘Oh, okay, well that’s no problem. I’ll just collect three and a half grand, plus an early repayment fee of five hundred, Mr Martin.’

The pig tells me to smash Mackenzie’s smug face in.

I take a deep breath. ‘Look, why don’t you just take the truck and the gear? It’s all out front.’

‘I saw that, yeah, but listen, we don’t have any interest in the truck. Your son owns it. He just owes us the money. Look, Mr Martin, seriously – this is what happens, right. You walk away. Your son owes four grand. It soon becomes five. You don’t make the payments, we take him to court. We get judgement and then what? It’s now six grand and he can’t rent a house, he can’t hire a car or get a power account, and he can’t buy a telly or a washing machine. No one wants to know him. He’s stuffed. Look at the guarantee, think about it. I’ll come back in a couple of hours.’

He hands me the papers. I stand very still then ask him to come in. He looks happy. We walk into the kitchen. Danny stands up. I tell him to sit down. I ask Mr Mackenzie to sit down. He does. He hands me a ballpoint pen and opens the document to the signature page and indicates where I should sign.

The pig whispers to me.

I look at Danny and smile at the memories of the last twenty years. I take the ballpoint pen and, holding it in both hands, break it in half and hand the pieces to Mr Mackenzie.

‘Mr Mackenzie,’ I say. ‘Mike. I’ve always thought that I had only two options when dealing with my son. The first and most used has been anger and abuse. The second, reason, discussion and tranquillity. Neither approach has worked, Mike. Now you’ve come into our lives and I see another way, one that I had never before now considered and I want to thank you. You see, Mike, you’ve made me realise that this is not, in fact, my problem. You’ve lent him a great deal of money in the expectation, both yours and his, that I would sign your guarantee and that the two of you would be protected. He from any responsibility and you from a bad debt. That’s the third option – right?

Well, here’s the fourth option. Mike, and it’s perfect. You shove your guarantee up your arse, and Danny, get your stuff – I’ll help you pack the truck.’

‘Now wait a minute,’ Mike says.

‘Dad, you’re not serious,’ Danny says.

‘Oh, yes he is,’ says the pig.

Short Story Competition – Third Place

Congratulations to Anna Granger who came third in the NorthWrite 2018 Short Story Competition. Here is her story.

The Promise
by Anna Granger

Last summer I found myself dreaming of Cristina. I’d see her floundering behind the breakers and I’d dive into the sea to find her, but she was always just out of reach, the current carrying her further away. And when I woke I could still smell the kelp and feel the salt stinging my eyes.

When the dreams wouldn’t stop, I went back up north. I took a bottle of cherry brandy and a few things in a bag and drove all day to get there. Now the winding road to the coast was sealed instead of sandy, and the pine forests were bigger and darker. In the reedy swamps, skinny dairy cows grazed strips between black-water ditches. Near the beach there were more houses than before. Most of the little baches, with their tiny porches, crumbly curtains and rutted sandy lawns, were gone, and around every corner there was another beige box with tinted windows and a gleaming four-wheel drive parked outside.

The beach store was still there, but the wooden porch was now a slab of concrete studded with faded umbrellas. The bay windows painted with ads for Meadowgold ice cream and De Reszke cigarettes were gone and the whole shop front was a sheet of salt spattered glass advertising takeaways and movies. I parked by a cluster of white plastic chairs and went inside. A lonely-faced woman was wiping the counter. I was the only customer. I was going to ask if she knew my Uncle Frank, if he still sold manuka chips, and firewood, and bags of lemons. If he still shod peoples’ horses and fixed their lawnmowers and drove the school bus, and if he still made wine. But instead I grabbed a local paper and some water.

 “I’ll have these, thanks,” I said to the woman. “And a packet of De Reszke.”

She stared at me. “What are they? Some sort of biscuit?” A trickle of sweat ran down her forehead. It was a mean trick and I laughed out loud, but I wanted to cry.

“Sorry,” I said, turning to leave. “I’m really sorry…”

Only the beach hadn’t changed, rolling away up the coast, looking like a distant memory.


Out on the back road behind the dunes I found the house still there. What paint was left on the weatherboards now hung in chalky white flakes. Purple morning glory spread over one wall and hops climbed up the veranda posts, dropping a curly green curtain over the front porch. The lemon trees were covered in shaggy lichen and grapevine rampaged over the sheds and fences. I called out, but I guessed nobody would come. And when the cicadas stopped for a moment there was nothing but the roar of the ocean and the empty feeling inside me. Nobody could be living here anymore. I kicked the gate. It swung open and I went in, for a last look.

Uncle Frank sat on a dirty orange sofa on the sagging porch. When you don’t see a man for half a lifetime, you can expect him to be changed. He was small and brown, wrinkled like the last potato at the bottom of the sack. His thick white hair was chopped short and sticking straight up. He wore ragged overalls with food stains down the front and cut-down gumboots.

I struggled to get my breath for a moment. “Hello, Uncle,” I said. He stared blankly at me, then leaned forward, little cloudy eyes squinting behind thick spectacles that were mended all over with grubby sticking plasters. I stepped closer and leaned forward too, then he grinned and I saw several yellow teeth.

“Ben! Is it Ben? Yes? Haha! Look at you now! It is good to see you, very good, very good!” He was trying to stand, so I jumped the step onto the porch and helped him up.

“Cristina isn’t here,” he said, taking my hand and getting to his feet with a grunt, all hunched up and twisting his head sideways to see me. “But come in, come in, and I will make us some tea.” His hand squeezed mine before letting go to grope for his stick leaning on the wall. He walked bent over at the waist, shuffling down the short hallway to the kitchen. I followed him and saw that everything was the same, but coated with a grey layer of dust. The ceiling was draped in black swaying cobwebs and the walls were dingy with soot from the coal range. I thought I should be smelling fried fish and lemons, but instead there was the stink of old clothes and garbage.

Uncle Frank leaned over the stone-chip sink bench, which was piled with rotting potato peelings, tea leaves and empty sardine tins. He filled a kettle, talking all the time. He said he couldn’t drive or go fishing or make the wine anymore, and that the store delivered his groceries every Friday. He didn’t notice when I replied, so I guessed he was deaf as well as pretty blind. When he said he hadn’t seen any of the family in years and years, I shouted that neither had I.

The table was covered with greasy newspaper and crumbs. The old photos of our gum-digging relations were still on the wall and Auntie Tina still looked out from a frame on the mantelpiece. That face had once seemed old to me, but now the woman looked so young. Cristina hadn’t been able to remember her mother and had said she didn’t care. There was a picture of Cristina too, dark-haired, sweet and sulky in her school uniform, the colours faded into orange, the way snaps from the seventies all ended up.

I carried the teapot and Uncle Frank brought two chipped cups and a bag of stained clumpy sugar. He told me that Cristina had not been back from overseas. “But she is very busy with her work,” he beamed. “Look, see the pictures here.” I looked at the well-thumbed photos of a smartly dressed and beautiful Cristina with a variety of glossy well-fed children, and the shoebox full of Christmas cards from Sydney. The last postcard was over five years old.

“Of course this house is for Cristina,” Uncle Frank continued happily, his battered glasses crooked across his purple nose. “Yes, it’s an old house. But it’s a strong house, a good house. And a happy place for children… You remember, every school holiday? Christina’s boys will come too! They will ride the pony and swim, and pick the grapes, just like you and Cristina. But some work is needed, you can see – a few boards, a bit of iron for the roof, and of course paint…” He trailed off with a shrug, and dug in his shirt pocket for a thin pouch of tobacco.

I didn’t tell him that the place needed more than a few repairs and a bit of paint, and that the grandchildren would have grown into tattooed six-footers with iPods and mobiles grafted to their heads, who would rather stick pins in their eyes than cut manuka, pick grapes and take turns riding a ghost pony. I didn’t tell him that Christina always said she hated the house behind the dunes, the constant wind and the relentless drumming of the sea. I didn’t tell him how she had despised him for his loud clumsy foreignness and smothering love. And how I hated her for hating what I loved.

I didn’t tell him about the room I shared with Cristina in a cold villa in the city, about the plans we made, about the fights, the lies and why Cristina went away. And I didn’t tell him I could see she was keeping her promise, and that she was never coming back.

A drowsy afternoon breeze ruffled the hops as we stepped down into the sun. We walked slowly across the yard and, passing the barn, I peered inside. It was packed with timber, machinery and junk. I said, “You’ve still got all your tools, Uncle, that’s good.” But I don’t think he heard me. At the gate I remembered the brandy and gave it to him. He took a while to read the label, then grinned and we shook hands.

Now I’ve fixed the saggy porch, and this is where we sit in the evenings. Me with my laptop and Uncle Frank with his big-print fishing diary. Sometimes I think the sofa should go – it’s a bit of an eyesore. But Uncle Frank is right – it really is very comfortable. And later, in that deep sleep that comes from hard work and homemade wine, I never ever dream of my cousin Cristina.