What’s Your Story?

By Xandra Bingley.

It was a thrill to be a judge of the short story competition created by On The Hill. Along with judges Val St John and David Goodman, we read sixty-nine entries from all different ages, which really revealed local residents’ talents for describing their thoughts and activities in Lockdown time.

David responded: “I enjoyed the entries for the many and various ways in which the authors reached out to engage with family, friends and the local environment. It was revealing how community is intimately tied up with local geographies ‒ the canal, trees, birds, the hill ‒ and how Lockdown enhanced their importance. I feel the stories gave me a new and fuller sense of the neighbourhood where we all live.”

Val said: “Most of the stories were rooted in the Lockdown fear and frustrations, but what also interested me was their imagination and creativity. This could involve exploration beyond Primrose Hill, or ghosts at home, or even writing as an animal or a tree. Creativity also featured in the sustaining pastimes of Lockdown, from music to jigsaws. As a teacher, I was also impressed by the literary skills and inventiveness of our younger competitors.”

Children missed their friends. Street neighbours made friends. Nature, hardly noticed before Covid, becomes a beloved friend. 

Here are quotes from the stories:

A grandmother wrote: 

“Zoom doesn’t work with two-years-olds, as I discovered when showing my lovely grandchild a favourite ‘London’ toy onscreen. 
‘Bring it here. Come now.’ 
It took a long while for his dad to console him.”

Someone metamorphosed into a fox: 

“Well, this new way of life for the residents of Primrose Hill has not really affected me because I live in my family foxhole at the back of the hill and I can come and go as I please…”

In one story a resident carries a food donation from Age UK, which she does not altogether require, down to the Salvation Army:

 “A uniformed man appears from a side door and thanks me. As I turn to leave, he asks me if I believe in prayer? 
Prayer? Me? 
He continues, ‘I was just about to go to Morrison’s. Before you rang I’d taken a call from a desperate mother ‒ divorced, three children, benefits not paid ‒ and she can’t feed them. This will keep them going for a few days. I can’t tell you what a difference it will make.’
I could feel my eyes filling up
.”

A visitor from Brazil who can’t go home wrote:

London to me has always been a lifelong dream. I have no idea what the future will hold but, like the view from Primrose Hill, hope is everywhere around us and right ahead of us. I have London to thank for that.” 

In another story, a young woman is not permitted to see her mother in hospital who is suffering from the virus:

“But Mum, what I really wanted to tell you is this. I fell in love. As I lay in the dark and he talked, I listened. Then I talked and he listened. We danced in the kitchen. 
I am still waiting to see you. Even if it is just for a short moment and through a pane of glass
.”

A line by a local refugee read:

Rosie had been known to dress up just for a telephone call. Dressing up was a connection to her country of origin.

In among the stories by exhausted mothers struggling to cook, clean, wash, feed a family, oversee children’s schoolwork, do their own work, were different stories about finding a path to reconsider life:

I have questioned what really makes me happy … who I really am. Without this Lockdown, I don’t think I would have thought about making changes. Covid 19, you evil virus, spreading so much fear and sadness in the world, have also given me some light and freedom to explore me and who I really am or want to be.”

Children missed their friends. Street neighbours made friends. Nature, hardly noticed before Covid, becomes a beloved friend. 

Our winners are writers with real talent. I hope in future that we will have a regular local story competition without the virus. Wonderful things can be discovered by writing. As E. M. Forster wrote, before W. H. Auden used the quote as well: “How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?”

The winners and all the entrants will be listed on this site in the coming weeks.


Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

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