Best of words 2008

The winner of the Best of words 2008 competition, announced during the launch of the Let’s Pretend short story collection on 9 October, was Billy Bonar (pictured below). Billy was presented with a bottle Jura Superstition whisky by Craig McGill from Isle of Jura distillery.

The winning entry, Real Writing (In Residence), is published below, along with the entries from the five runners-ups, Mary Paulson-Ellis, Christine Byrne, Felicity Parsons, Ingrid Lees and Amanda Ferguson. The competition was open to anyone who produced work at words 2008. In total, over a hundred pieces of work were produced during the exhibition.

Winning entry

Real Writing (in Residence)

By Billy Bonar

In here
a real Hollywood writer’s desk
short of a few props perhaps
a white-faced clock with speeding hands
a filling wastepaper basket
a pack of Lucky Strikes
a bottle of bourbon emptied
that rolls back my cuffs
undoes my necktie
musses my hair —
but not my brilliantine mind
not my hard-bitten
twice-wise dialogue.

on the hot LA streets
the cab-driver who will rush me
to the sound-stage
is cruising
the belated sisters of vice
still carrying a torch for Richard Gere —
the skinny on my
drunken womanising and
missed deadlines
already gone to press.

the clackety-snap-ping
of the type-writer
will be frozen
by the telephone
Rrr-ing Rrr-ing Rrr-ing-ing
Hitchcock loud
and we’ll stare at each other in rapid-cut close-up.

You’ll see the sweat on my lip
as I crush a Lucky Strike
in my squalid ashtray and
the final page.



By Mary Paulson-Ellis

She died like this – with her shoes on. And nylons wrinkling at the knee. She had a glass in her hand. Or on the floor by the table leg. Or on the side in the kitchen, the bathroom, some other room. Something like that. I cannot be certain, but I’m sure there is someone who ought to understand.
She died like this – with his name wedged under her fingernails, gathered between her toes like thin rolls of lint, scratching at the soles of her feet. And the girl’s name too – rattling, rattling, rattling.

It’s one way to go.

She started like this – with somebody who was not her pressing up against her thigh. Against her stomach. Pushing and squeezing their way past her and over her and under and around and about her. There was blood in her eye. She could not see where she was going. It was most disconcerting. Most uncertain. Most… Well, somebody else would no doubt be able to say.

She started like this – with a bruise on the side of her head, with a tiny fist in her mouth, with a heart beat rocketing that wasn’t even hers – ba boom, ba boom, ba boom, ba, ba, ba… She was always going to be the weaker of the two. The most unexceptional. The one who required something ‘other’ to prop her up, to keep her standing, to maintain her place in the world. She never did learn to fight back.

She went on like this – with ruby lipstick in her hair. That matted it and tattered it all up. That caused it to go all raspberry ripple. That stuck to her ear where it folded over at the top, where it curved in on itself, where all her secrets were held so they got heavy and bloody. Arterial. All glued together and smeary, one mixing with the next so it became impossible really to say what or why or when or how or… Still, she went on.

With children playing under her window, shrieking and laughing, reminding her always. With ropes and balls and chalk and all the other things she believed must be there. It was only when she finally peered out, through glass which hadn’t been cleaned in all that time, that she understood. It had been nothing more than a few small girls, grown up now, and some ordinary piles of coats. Twenty years. Then some more. That’s a lot of shouting to try and wash away.

She filled those years somehow though, in ways that perhaps it would be better not to admit. There was certainly more blood. There were more fists. More people pushing and squeezing and yelling and squealing. And staring too, all around and about and above her, but never in the eye. Which was a pity. She had nice eyes. Dark grey. One of her best features. Still people preferred that she be put somewhere. In a box marked, ‘Do not open’ perhaps. Or dropped into a black hole where she would remain forever falling until she was so small no one would even know she was there. Years pass. No-one says anything. It’s one way to be.

Eventually the ruby lipstick leaked into the crevices around her mouth. A thousand canyons. Ten thousand cigarettes or thereabouts which had created their own landscape. She faded quickly then. Crumpled quietly. Curled in on herself like the top of her own ears.

Something ate her from the inside. Pressed up against her. Squeezed itself around and about her, in between and underneath her. Against her thighs, her stomach, her lungs so she had to breathe in quick shallow gasps, until one morning she woke and looked in the mirror and noticed that her eyes were raspberry ripple too. Stained. Still, she didn’t complain. I told you that she never learned to fight back.

She ended like this – in a small, square box. Cardboard. With a sticker on the outside and a name:

They gave her to me in a plastic bag. There was a name on that too:

Every little helps.

But nothing helped her.

They were brown, her shoes, when she went. No one ever discovered whether perhaps she might have preferred blue.

Moleman was my landlord!

By Felicity Parsons

Every so often, I walk people past the house.
A claim to fame never hurts.

Bill – as he was known then,
back in the days when he
advertised his rooms in Loot –
had a yellow Citroën Diane
and an opera-singing ex,

which accounted for the piano
in my basement flat but not,
perhaps, the gas-fired fridge
and the lack of a kitchen floor.
I used to cook ankle deep in earth.

The burrowing had already started.
The large hole next to my front door,
concealed behind a dead washing machine,
led to an underground sauna. Or so he said.
I never gave it a try.

Years later, a chasm appeared in the road outside,
swallowing a passing bus, three parked cars
and a small boy on a bicycle. You’ve heard
– of course – of poetic licence.
I renew mine every year.

Now, would you like to see the cuttings?


By Amanda Fergusson

And now you’re walking down the street, and you feel this rage within you and it grows stronger and hotter and you want to hit something, someone. Anyone.

And there’s a blind man coming towards you, tap-tap-tapping with his pathetic white stick splayed across the pavement and as he comes close you lash out with your foot and kick at the stick and it’s worth it for the look on his face. This has never happened to him before and he stops and his lips form a dry question and you laugh and shove past him, leaving him leaning against the wall, breathing heavily.

And next there’s a mother and her two weans, one in a buggy and the other on a wee push-trike and you stop. Stand still in the middle of the pavement and they have to go round you and step off the high kerb; and the trike tips up and the wee boy howls as his mum drags him and his trike off the road before the heavy lorry can crush both of them. And still you don’t feel any better. You laugh, but the rage within burns brighter, harder.

You keep walking and now the rain starts and it’s that heavy wet rain and it runs down inside your collar and plasters your carefully-done hair across your forehead and drips off your nose. And you want to kill someone.

You see a black cat slinking along beside the parked cars, trying to get out of the rain. It has a velvety red collar around its sleek neck and you grab at it, get hold of it, raise it yowling in the air and chuck it over the wall. You laugh as it slides down the steep river bank, scrabbling desperately at the leaf mould and slippery mud and failing to slow its descent. At the last minute, just before it tumbles into the fast-flowing river, it manages to cling onto a weedy outgrowth and begins to claw its way back up the bank. You pick up an empty plastic bottle and throw it straight at the cat. It yowls again and streaks off to a safe place out of your reach.

Even the insides of your pockets are sodden now and you take a short cut through the graveyard and take shelter in the derelict garage round the back of the shops. They’re all shut now, of course, and with slow deliberate aim you launch broken bricks and lumps of concrete through the empty door-frame of the garage and smash every single window you can reach: the baker’s, the butcher’s, the hardware shop and the optician’s.

A man comes piling out of a back door, waving his fist, red-faced and furious. You laugh, then turn and run too. Faster than he can manage. Down the lane, over the bridge and into the park. You keep going, splashing through puddles, till you lose him, then find shelter under the railway bridge. It is still raining heavily.

Two pairs of eyes peer blearily in your direction. Kids. Plastic bags held close to their faces, aerosol cans held limply in chilled fingers. You punch the nearest in the stomach, aim kicks at the rear of the other as they both lurch away, vomiting as they run. Dirty little bastards. Scumbags.

Still it rains and you want to go home. You want your Mammy. You want to go home to a welcoming fire-side and a steaming-hot mug of tea and a smiling face.

And you start to cry.

Ode to the banana

By Ingrid Lees

in tropical head
cool to the touch

yet glowing
so yellow
so warm

curved like a mother’s fingers
her newborn’s head

and inside
safely wrapped
waits a promise

sweet mellow flesh
with rich sunshine

your stalk
yanked off
frayed fibres bristle

from a hand

and hunger
robbing your people
of more lives
dare I
and eat you?

Family gathering

By Christine Byrne

I had left them squabbling
settling old scores
Funerals are like that
A chance to rake over hurts
inflicted eons ago

When the snow came
and the frost came
as I headed South
the tyres crunched and crackled
assaulting my ears like their insults

My eyes blinded by the snow glare
I pulled off the road
but I didn’t rest
I re-ran the scenes like an old film
Reel after reel of slights and scars

We could have made up
Exchanged kisses and hugs
words of comfort
But we didn’t
not that day

I make that journey again and again
and each time I remember

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