We’d like to thank you one last time for your contributions to this year’s Your Messages – both in terms of your responses and also your generosity to our chosen charity. We had said we would pick one winner, but as someone pointed out early on, that was always going to be impossible. We could have picked many, many, but after many re-reads and some lengthy discussions we have chosen two. They will receive two books each.
One is of thirty words, and one is of three hundred words. This isn’t deliberate, but it feels good.
So many congratulations to Jacqueline Haskell for her response on 13th November:
I dreamed of a closed sea and when I awoke, not understanding, I opened books: the letters swam a river before me and so I resolved to learn to read.
This exquisite response links both explicitly and implicitly to the original post but also develops its own theme and direction. The imagery is wonderfully suggestive (containment, moving from unconsciousness to consciousness, opportunity) and the ending has a poetic closure which completes the piece, in the sense of a decision made by the narrator, but also manages to remain open-ended. The three stresses at the end of the sentence – re-solved, learn and read – reinforce the conviction in the voice. The reader 'feels' the possibility of change in this particular life and might be encouraged to consider such possibilities in his or her own.
And congratulations also to Kathryn for her response on 19th November:
No one sees the dead babies. They are so much easier to cover up. Small. So harrowing is the sight of them that we see right through them to the ground beneath; the hospital floor, the bushes, the road.
Travelling along the motorway, we see traffic cones, blue lights projected at confusing angles, blankets, torn rubber and plastic, jagged remains strewn across the carriageway. A teddy bear. A tiny shoe. A policemen waves you on. You concentrate on the road.
Out walking the dog, the hedgerows stand motionless with the cold. Only those creatures preserved by centrally heated houses can overcome the sharpness of the frost in their lungs. Losing your footing in the frozen trench of a horse hoof print you twist your ankle. You are distracted by the pain. Your dog might sense a cooled body but he is on a lead and you pass by without noticing a thing.
You visit an elderly relative in hospital. You breathe through your mouth, avoiding the stench of urine and hospital sheets. You follow the brown signs on the wall. The endless relay of younger generations trooping back and forth with flowers reeks of the inevitable. As one patient passes, another enters the ward and a new family slips in to the ritual. Curtains are opened and drawn. And so on. It happens.
Down the street, behind the frosted glass door of a ground floor maisonette, is the silhouette of a child. A toddler. Not much more than a baby but it is standing. Because it has to. Its fists are smearing something on the inside of the glass. It is trying to reach up to the letterbox. It can't. The door is shut. The child screams. It is alone. You look ahead and keep walking.
It's someone else's problem.
This piece is skilfully crafted to tell a story – or series of stories - that might otherwise be too painful to read. The use of the second person works well here, drawing us in to what is nominally, as the writer says, ‘someone else’s problem’. From the beginning – No one sees – to the end – someone else’s problem – the tension is almost unbearable, with the use of varying sentence lengths and almost dispassionate reported language resonating long after we have first read it.
Their books will be in the post, but congratulations to us all too. This was a great way to spend November, and has been an enjoyable reminder of just how much good writing we can do when we commit ourselves!