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    The Margaret Birley Memorial Prize for Writing

    This year we have three winners from Years 7, 8 and 9.

     

     

    A competition to reward excellent writing at CSG has been made possible through the generosity of Margaret Birley and her family. Margaret attended this school from 1929 - 1940. Born in 1921, Margaret read English at Reading University before working at Bletchley Park, the Civil Service Commission and then the Medical Research Council after the Second World War. She then followed a career in social work and became Principal SWSO at the Department of Health and Social Security.

    Her nephew Michael describes her as a very active person, who was both competitive and a team player. She swam, played hockey and netball and croquet in later life. She also loved to play the piano, taking it up in retirement, as well as woodwork, embroidery and the flute.

    Margaret Birley always loved literature and she retained fond memories of Camden School for Girls throughout her life. A generous legacy to the school means that we are able to support our young writers with this annual competition.

    This year we have three winners from Years 7, 8 and 9. You can read their fabulous short stories here.

     

    Year 9 Winner: Blue by Daisy

    She had been sailing for weeks. Far out in the vast ocean, she had had no sight of another boat for a fortnight. Just as she liked it.

    For the past eight days, the ocean had been rough and rocky, the waves ganging up on each other and fighting for dominance. The woman sat alone in her small yacht which was fighting against the ocean in a seemingly hopeless battle. The crashing water had begun to scratch off the paint from the yacht, revealing the worn down wood underneath.

     

    The interior of the boat was warm and comfortable, with a small kitchen, a dining area, a bathroom and a large bedroom.  This small space had become the woman’s home- although she owned a house in Port Douglas, a small town on the coast of Australia, there were just too many people, and she much preferred to be out here, in the comfort of her own space, steering her own boat and her own life.

     

    This weather, however, was too much even for her. The rain had been drumming on the upper deck for days and had begun drumming in her head too. With each thud of a wave against the side of the boat, the whole vessel tilted downwards as if ready to give up altogether. Not to mention the sky, which had been grey and foggy in contrast with the blue, blue water.

     

    The water was freakishly blue, not the grey-green hue expected of a storm like this. The blue could be compared to various things of the woman’s past- the delicate detailing on her grandmother’s china plates, the sapphire embedded in the necklace her father had given her as a young girl, the colour of her mother’s eyes as she glanced nervously at her one and only daughter.

     

    Two more days passed, and the waves continued to brawl and wrestle in a way that reminded the woman of her own grandfather when he would get into one of his moods. He would storm into the house and her mother would instruct her to run upstairs. As she clicked the bathroom lock into place, she knew that it would be hours before she could return downstairs. Ah, what a relief. Her grandfather’s moody days were the only days that she could be alone and at peace. Alone with just her thoughts. She would often look at her reflection in the mirror and stare at her gleaming face, noticing only because of the mirror the smile that had crept onto her face just at the thought that she would have a few hours at peace.

     

    And now, she was smiling aboard the boat in the middle of the terrible storm at the thought that she now had the ability to forever live this way. The boat was her escape from the real world, the real world that was filled with people- but it was not the people. It was the men! Oh, how lucky she was to be able to escape. She realised that many women would never be as lucky as she was right now. She stood there in the bathroom looking at her own grimace for an hour before she felt the water.

    The icy sensation against her ankles sent a chill up her spine. Looking at the tiled bathroom walls, she watched as the water level in the small room inched up towards the ceiling. She waded to the bathroom door and slid the lock out of place. The combination of the water pushing against the door and the terrible rocking of the boat made getting out of the room hard. Just as expected, the whole vessel was filled with a pool of cold water. As she reached the deck and felt the sharp stings against her bare skin, she was snapped out of her dreamy haze. It was now that she realised in a matter of minutes this whole yacht would cease to exist. Her time was limited. With each wave, the boat rocked back and forth in a way that slid the woman from one side of the deck to the other, the railings the only thing stopping her from plummeting into the angry waves below. She was no longer steering her own ship: they were. Oh, how she hated them for this. She was completely in their grasp, under their rule. And as much as she tried to deny it, she was powerless against them. There were just too many, and she was just too small. She was insignificant in this vast space, just as thousands like her would be for the rest of time.

     

    Returning downstairs, the water was now had now reached her waist and the yacht was beginning to sag under the weight. An inch. Two. The water was rising at such an extreme rate. Floating. Upwards. The sound of the drumming of rain above got clearer and louder as she was whisked higher. Her heart rate. Increasing. Beginning to match the pulsing raindrops. No time to think. The water had her now. Instinct was the only thing left. Tiptoes. The flood now taller than her. Ripping. Cracking. And the water’s rate doubled, in sync with her heart.  A voice: her grandfather’s, angry and raised. One of his bad days.

     

    “You are insignificant in this world of men and you have to accept that.”

    A thud as her head touched the ceiling. She began to gurgle and spit as the water cut off her mouth. She was drowning, gagging. Her nose.

     

    Her mother’s voice:

    “Just breathe in and out, sweetie. You’re okay. He didn’t mean it.” Who was she fooling? Of course he meant it. Even as a seven year old girl she knew that.

    And so she did. In.

    And out.

     

    Year 8 Winner: The First by Sylvie

    “My name is Natalia North. I am seven years old.”

    “Is that what your parents told you to say?”

    “...Are you here to take me away?”

    “No, no. Of course not.”

    “Are you going to hurt me…? Like you hurt them…”

    “No, Ira. I’m sorry to say that your parents are liars. We didn’t hurt them. We...we just helped them to be...better. But you can see them again very soon, if you come with us.”

    “Really? My mummy and daddy…?

    “Yes. Just let the nice lady give you the injection and everything will be okay.”

    “You promise?”

    “I promise.”

    Water. Water, water, water, filling my lungs, my mouth, every singly tiny space in my body, nowhere left to breathe or speak or move. My heart thumping, thumping, thumping, a violent erratic beat. Panic rises in my throat and head. I’m shaking now.

    Let it take over. Just let it go.

     

    NO.

    I can’t.

    FIGHT. IT.

    Please. It hurts…

    IT ALWAYS HURTS.

     

    My eyes flicker open. Slowly, slowly. Lights burn into my retinas, then drift away and sink into my subconscious. Tears are warm on my cheeks.

     

    It takes what feels like days for my surroundings to come into focus. I deduce that I am lying on my back, upside down and staring up at a stark white ceiling. Still disorientated, I inch my head to the side to look at my arms and legs. I’m floating. Held in the air by huge, long black tubes that protrude from my body. They’re connected into every part of me, my back, my torso, my neck and all of a sudden I can’t breathe because wherever I look there is glass encasing me and trapping me and as soon as I realise this, the pain sets in. Jabs of agony like a knife twisted left, right and centre. I open my mouth and scream as loudly and as long as I can possibly muster, pulling my body into a tight ball. But the pain...it just keeps going and going and going…

     

    ...and I don’t remember blacking out.

     

    But when I wake up again, it’s to the sound of someone singing. I bolt upright, and immediately am pulled back down again. I’m tied to the bed with rope. I look up. I’m in what seems like a hospital of sorts, with rows and rows of empty beds lined up against the walls, and heavy equipment set up next to each of them. No windows. A door at the end of the ward. And a woman, all dressed in white. She’s sitting in a chair next to the bed, staring out into the distance, and humming softly under her breath. Her features are soft, gentle. Honey-gold tanned skin, and light, sun-kissed hair tied in an elaborate updo on the back of her head. She looks at me, and smiles.

    “Good. You’re awake.”

    I blink, then nod.

    “Would you like me to untie you?”

    I try to speak, but my throat is so dry not even a sound comes out.

    So I just nod again.

    “...And just in case you want to try anything on me, I have a gun. And permission to shoot you.”

    She gestures to a bulge in her left pocket.

    The woman unties the knots at the sides of the bed, then hands me a cup with a blue, glossy liquid inside.

    “Drink.”

    I drink.

    It burns the roof of my mouth like acid and trickles down my throat. I flinch.

    “...It burns…” My voice is croaky and worn.

    The woman laughs.

    “I’ll come back in a couple of hours. Try to stay awake.”

    She begins to stand up to leave, but I can’t resist asking a question.

    “...How long have I...have I been gone for…?”

    Her dark eyes lock on mine.

    “Five-hundred and forty-three years, seventy-eight days, and eleven hours.”

    And then she’s gone.

    “You’re the first, you know.”

    We’re walking through white corridor after white corridor. The woman seems to know where she’s going, though every door and room is identical: The same rows of empty beds, the same machinery, no windows. My hands are clamped together behind my back by a handcuff-like mechanism.

    “Why am I chained up like this?” I mutter. This is the first of roughly nine thousand different questions I have to ask.

    “Because you’re dangerous.” The woman looks straight ahead as she speaks.

    I furrow my brow. I could tell she wasn’t going to be very helpful.

    “What do you mean, I’m the first?” I say, in a more forceful tone. I keep my eyes fixed on the back of her head.

    “You’re the first to wake up.”

     

     

    Year 7 Winner: The Lady with the Pale Blue Scarf by Martha

    The police officer asks me what happened. And this is what I tell him…

    She wore the scarf all year round. Even when the sun was beating down, sweltering hot rays shooting down on the ground. She never took it off…

     

    Her white wisps of hair were scraped back into a tight top knot, the top knot was as white as the pages of a book. An old, rough linen shirt fell loosely off her thin body. A harsh ankle length grey skirt, her feet protected by black brogues, worn away by time. Her face...her face was wrinkled with age and yet still aging; it stayed emotionless all the time. All. The. Time.

     

    I saw her get Billy. As quick as a cat, she tiptoed behind him, into Gordon’s forest. The leaves on the fern-green trees trembled, the moon hurried across the sky. “Billy!” I thought, but my lips were silenced, in a paralysis of fear-they were as dry as a desert. Suddenly, the heavens opened, unleashing a torrential downpour, jagged bolts of lightning racing across the sky. She unwrapped the scarf from her neck. And, slowly, a chilling grin swept across her lips. My shoulders hunched in on themselves, as a single tear drop rolled down my cheek. “Stop!” I yelled, but it was too late. She is a predator, and Billy was the prey. All the life had drained from Billy’s once alive face. And then, without even a pause for breath, she used her already black fingernails to dig a sort of ditch and chucked Billy in. This was where he would rest forever, and she didn’t even have the decency to cover him properly with earth.

     

    The woods were ominous, as dark as night. The woods were a monster, hiding in its lair, waiting to strike. The woods were daunting, scaring even me. Tall fir trees stood like soldiers, waiting to salute. Soft mud engulfed anyone who dared cross. Billy had dared. The lady with the pale blue scarf had followed. And now Billy was gone, as dead as a dodo. And I had watched it happen…

     

    The lady’s scarf was different today. It was a pale blue scarf, dotted with specs of mud-like dirt.

     

    Jennifer, gone. As dead as a dodo. This time, it was by the lake. Ripples of calm water rolled across the lake’s glassy surface. Daffodils nodded their heads. The sun winked at me, beaming. SPLASH! “No!” I screamed, my voice splitting the ice cold silence. The grass started to wilt. The daffodils shook their worrying heads at me. The towering, green reeds stood tall, the lime green surrounding trees froze still. Jennifer struggled for water, but every time she rose for air, the lady pushed her down, tightening her grip on the scarf. The struggling stopped, the water stood still. It was over.

     

    Tommy. Such a lovely boy. His parents must be devastated. He was found today. By the old railway line. The old, abandoned railway line that hasn’t been used for 48 years. The harrowingly vivid images of his end still haunt my dreams to this day…

     

    “No!” I scream in an ear piercing way. “Not again!” She tightens her grip on the scarf. Pushes him. He’s on the floor. It is happening too fast. Brown dust engulfs him. I can hear the eerie screeching of a train coming to a halt. The tracks shake. And that was the end of Tommy.

     

    At least, that’s what I tell the police officer. Trying to suppress a grin, I exit the police station, and throw off my coat, which reveals my pale blue scarf. Tightening my grip on the scarf, I break into a run...