Creative Writing Winners 2022

We received a great range of entries for the Lincoln College Creative Writing Competition in 2022. Lincoln Alumnus and author, Kienan McKay, was the judge for this year’s competition; he note that the entries were very strong.  The first prize entries for poetry and prose are available to read below.

First Prize: Poetry

My Life by Brendan Nham

Draw your eyes to the ethereal sky

And speak to me the road laid down by wind.

My father once said that life is shaped in the leaves of bonsai,

A distant memory that keeps me pinned.

 

The bells dance at the call of daytime,

Echoing voices with each hint of chime.

My friends used to chant the muffles of routine playtime,

Oh, my soul… it was once at its prime.

 

What is the meaning of life?

Sadness? Anger? Fear?

My scarred hands have always served as a souvenir,

Each line of wisdom etched carefully under the knife.

 

They say that experiences are where dreams are born,

Put perhaps it is a reflection of the mind left worn

My lungs are tangled once again in the strangles of thorn,

Desolate, lifeless… let me mourn!

 

Oh, how I wish that time would cease

To cloud the world in eternal death.

My heart cries out for that everlasting peace

And with a sigh, I honour you my final breath.

 

First Prize: Prose

The Red Umbrella by Erin Chin

The atmosphere was perfect for doing art. Other students around him worked on their pieces, some for their courses and some as their hobby, yet all of them were immersed as the pattering of rain assaulted the large French windows of the class. It was almost like a trace, the way everyone kept their eyes focused on their canvases and boards, breaking for a moment to mix paint or change materials. Indeed, it was the perfect atmosphere.

Yet Cecil couldn’t bring his hand from his lap, yet alone make a stroke.

The canvas stared back at him, barren and blank. He gripped the brush in his left fist, a sigh escaping him as he ultimately released it. The session was nearly over, and he hadn’t produced a single mark. Just like last session, and the one before that. The rain still pounded down around him but instead of lulling him into a creative state, it merely rattled in his head as an empty echo.

Whether it was the years he had whiled away in these art classes or simply a sixth sense, he began to pack up his workstation with dull hands. True to his feeling, his university art professor raised his head seconds after, looked at the large antique clock on the opposite wall and gave a call for everyone to pack up. Cecil didn’t need to be told twice, already slipping his navy cable knit sweater over his paint-stained shirt and grabbing his bags before others had even moved from their canvases.

He said goodbye to no one in his class, pushing open the heavy wooden door before anyone would even have the chance to get a word in. The hallway air felt damp and heavy in his lungs, and his mood soured knowing the weather was even worse outside. At the building entrance he could see the torrential downpour, and he considered for a moment how long it would take to simply wait it out. With the force that the drops were pelting from the sky, he figured it wouldn’t be over quickly like he hoped, and if he did wait it out, he would be making dinner quite late that night. Leaving the fluorescent lit lobby, he picked up his umbrella from the stand near the automatic door and waved it in front of the sensor.

He was met with a cold blast of air that made him wince. It was colder than he had anticipated, and he held his bag closer to his body to ensure it would be protected by the umbrella. With the push of his thumb the umbrella opened, and the blue shield sprung to life above his head. He had gotten wet momentarily as the wind changed, flicking water into his black hair and drenching his collar. He began walking towards the bridge that connected the inner city to the more residential parts of town. On a good day Cecil normally made the trip in ten minutes, but with the strength of the wind and the rain combined, he was likely to reach home later than he would like.

Another thing to add to the list of disappointments for the day.

The rain fell in splatters across the plastic canopy above him, allowing his mind to drift off as his feet carried him on their familiar path. He only had a few more weeks to complete his piece, the piece he hadn’t even made so much as a sketch mark on. He had been doing so well recently, so why now? It was almost as if it had happened overnight, the way his inspiration dried up as if it rose with the morning sun and out of his reach. He sucked his teeth in annoyance and let out a sigh. Surely there was something he could paint in time.

He came to the large bridge, the curved incline making small rivers pour down the footpath and onto the nearby road. It was a historic piece, with large grey slabs of exposed stones creating an impressive banister that was lined with ornate metal streetlights. Their bulbs glowed faintly in the rain, the temporary easing of the downpour allowing him to look closer at their details. An impressive bridge indeed, but nothing worth painting. The sky was grey and so was the stones. The water that ran underneath and the water that fell from the sky. All of it was so monotone, lacking life.

That’s when his eyes caught sight of something on the bridge. Speeding his steps to make the crest of the bridge, he confirmed that his eyes hadn’t betrayed him. Bobbing like a boat on a raging sea, was a bright red umbrella. It wove around other pedestrians and protected its owner from the gloomy weather, yet managed to remain vibrant like a beacon in the throng of commuters. Cecil didn’t realise that he had hurried to fall in step with the owner of the red umbrella until their pace was matched, each on opposite ends of the street. Water flecked his round glasses from him craning his neck out to follow the subject that had somehow piqued such interest.

He could see that the owner was tall, rugged up in a long tan coat and green scarf. The umbrella was always held on such an angle that he could never get a proper look at the persons face, always shifting at the last second before he could catch a glimpse. It was then that Cecil was convinced that a god must be watching him, as a particularly strong gust of wind wrenched the umbrella from the black gloved grip and sent it tumbling down the sidewalk. The young man instantly cursed and ran after it, sandy hair now pelted with merciless rain. It skittered away from him a few times, allowing Cecil to vaguely make out the stressed expressions that flashed across the man’s face every time he fumbled with the handle. On the third attempt he snatched it back in his grip, the chase taking him towards the end of the bridge. Shoulders sagging and coat damp, Cecil slowed to watch the young man take a left once hitting the main road once more, heading in the direction opposite him. He tore his eyes away and back to the path below him, counting each step of his dress shoes as he trudged home. Even as he made it back to his apartment, he couldn’t get rid of the red umbrella from his mind. Standing over the stovetop, hair damp from his shower and glasses fogged he absently stirred his soup.

The image of it haunted him all night and in his dreams, evidently seeping into his class the next day as he stared down in horror at the paint he had unconsciously added to his palette. The rain had refused to let up this day as well, still storming behind the panes of clear glass. He bit his lip and placed his palette on the small table next to him, grabbing the tube of red and trying in vain to scoop the pigment back into its container. He was successful only in causing more crimson to spill out, a few flecks adding themselves to his already stained shirt. He huffed and rubbed his temples, desperately thinking of how to fix his situation.

It was then like a fog had cleared in his mind, and he raised his head from his hands to think over his idea properly. “This could work” he mumbled to himself, hurriedly crossing the floor to grab a large wash paintbrush from a drawer. Over the next hour he worked with a renewed fervour, laying down his grey wash easily and sketching in some lines here and there. Despite his sleeves being rolled to his elbows, the grey wash sunk itself into the edges of the material without him noticing. With a white piece of charcoal, he began to define some of his previous strokes, the shape of the umbrella forming, and he drew the long coat and the black gloves clasped around the handle. The figure was beginning to become recognisable, and relief blossomed in his chest. He added a few more details to block out his colour, before working on the face.

Quickly the warm feeling in his chest ebbed as the lines worked against him, never capturing the right expression. Were the cheekbones always that high? and what about the lips? He couldn’t tell anymore. What was the emotion he saw before? With a frustrated grunt he placed the charcoal down a little too roughly, the fragile material shattering into two with a chime. He could quietly hear his art instructor ask if he was alright, but Cecil had already begun to pack up. There was nothing to be gained today, so with a heavy heart and frustrated mind he left the building, popping open the blue umbrella once more.

He scanned the bridge as he crossed it, hoping to see the red umbrella again. His heart leapt when he saw the vibrant canopy and he quickly fumbled in his pockets for a scrap piece of paper. The angle he had to hold the umbrella to rifle through his pockets allowed half of his body to get wet, but he didn’t care. All he cared about was capturing what facial features he had struggled so much to draw. Finally finding a broken piece of pencil he looked up frantically, running slightly to catch up with the mysterious owner. He watched for a few moments, but it didn’t seem like this day the umbrella was going to fly out of his sight. In fact, every time the man turned slightly towards him, he would be blocked by the umbrella. Had he been caught? the thought made his ears burn.

It turned out to be the opposite however as the red umbrella swung to the other side, revealing the man’s full face turned towards him. He felt choked for breath, realising that he had indeed been caught. The stranger lifted his hand and waved, tilting his head to the side to give him a smile. It was as if the sun dispersed the cloud momentarily when he beamed so widely, face pulled back in a childish fashion. The initial shock of it all and the fluttering in his chest almost made him forget what he had originally set out to do. Now it was Cecil’s turn to hide himself behind his umbrella, pressing the paper to his knee as he roughly sketched the expression. He could hear the light laughing of the young man across from him, and the sound made his hand shake. When he looked up again, the red umbrella was gone, and he was left with an incomplete sketch in his hand once more.

Every day for the next week he carried a sketchbook in his arms, a slow and unconventional friendship beginning to form between him and the umbrella owner. They would smile and wave to each other (or the other boy would, Cecil often hid his face in embarrassment) as they both went their respective ways home. One night, Cecil had enough from his rough glimpses to put a portrait together. The next day as others packed up from the art class, he asked to stay behind. Due to his lack of progress his instructor happily obliged, reminding him to turn off the lights when he left. As the night blanketed the sky, he remained the only one in the room, blending the oil paints on his canvas in a trance. He had only looked up from his work once, and it had been to check his watch when he mournfully realised, he wouldn’t finish in time to walk across the bridge when he usually would. Despite having a full portrait to work from, his heart felt heavy at the notion. Pushing it aside, he continued on through the night. It was past midnight when he finally finished and had packed up, the scene now complete.

A man walked across a bridge carrying a red umbrella, puddles on the ground beneath his feet and backed by a scenery of stars. he felt proud of his work, relieved that he could finally finish it. Now that the push to get it done had waned, his body felt laden and desired nothing more than rest. He flicked off the lights and locked the door, dragging himself outside in the now light rain. His body ached climbing the slope of the bridge, and when he made it home, he all but collapsed on the couch. He made some more soup half asleep after having a warm shower, turning on the local news for background noise to prevent falling asleep at the kitchen counter. his eyes flicked to it every now and then as he stirred, but one shot made him stop entirely.

An accident had occurred near the bridge earlier that evening. The screen was filled with the images of paramedics and the police, the droning voice recording that a young man had been caught in the incident. Cecil didn’t focus on any of those details, however. His eyes were more drawn to the red umbrella lying at the scene, some of the metal spokes poking through the bright plastic sheet. He turned off the TV instantly, a pit forming deep in his stomach. He didn’t want to think about the chances. There were many red umbrellas in the world, and many more people that crossed that bridge every day. Even if it was what he thought it was, why should he be so upset about someone he didn’t even know the name of? He went to bed that night, regretting he never mustered up the courage to ask that one question.

Three days Cecil continued to walk over that bridge, despite his art classes having recently finished for the semester. He absently strolled, kicking rocks and puddles as he did laps around the area. He had sold the piece as soon as he could through a charity auction at a university event, he didn’t really want to look at it anymore. In fact, the guilt had pooled in his stomach to the point where he couldn’t hold his paintbrush anymore. It only increased with each passing day that he failed to see the red umbrella. Hands shoved deep in pockets and lips pulled between his teeth, he turned to go home once again. As he was turning, he heard someone call out, followed by a heavy hand being placed on his shoulder. He spun on his heel, looking up at the tall stranger that had stopped him. A large, sunny smile greeted him from underneath crinkled blue eyes. In one hand the man held a purple umbrella, the other obscured by a bulky cast.

“I’m glad I caught you, I wasn’t sure if you’d still be hanging around.” the young man chuckled, twisting the umbrella handle in his grip. “I only recently got released so couldn’t come back earlier. Oh, and I had to buy a new umbrella as well.”  Cecil could only look at him in shock, mouth unable to form words until a single question bubbled up. “You were looking for me?”

The man nodded, looking away for a brief second. Cecil’s eyes landed on a lanyard around his neck, reading the name ‘Christopher’ alongside the logo for the journalism students. So, he was from the campus next door then. “I was trying to find you after I discovered this.” he said, digging through his pockets with his good hand. From his pockets he pulled out a photo printed on regular printer paper; colours blurred but still distinguishable. Christopher held it to his face, comparing the photo of Cecil’s recently sold, red umbrella artwork to his own visage.

“You got the likeness down pretty good.” He laughed, moving to pose in the same position to better replicate the work. That alone made Cecil split into a smile. Their feet moved by instinct to walk across the bridge, the empty air being filled with the sound of their slow conversation. The angst that had filled Cecil’s chest had dissipated with each dumb comment Christopher made, and he found himself joining in. Just like the distress he had felt, the weather reciprocated by parting the clouds. Warm rays of light broke through the grey barrier above, sparkling onto the puddles scattered across the old bridge. The two umbrellas lowered and were closed for the first time in weeks.

Basking in the atmosphere, Cecil had a single thought running through his mind. “This is a perfect atmosphere for doing art.

 

Second Prize: Prose

Excerpt from A memoir of memory by Jess Khanduja

When the bright lights blind me…

And the winter nights make me lonely…

It’s you my mind wanders to.

The sunrise over Adelaide hills…

The sunset viewed from Fleurieu peninsula…

Don’t compare to the ones we watched together…

Lying on the mossy cement floor.

The pink Indian summer sky…

The yellow twinkling aeroplane lights…

The soothing songs you whispered…

Only exist in fading memory.

 

 

Third Prize: Prose

Excerpt from 32. Sally by Simone Palamara

Meanwhile the rain was coming down stronger and the coldness of it was how she felt inside. She could not hold it in for much longer, something had come over her. Sally rushed back down the long narrow hallway to her bedroom, leaving her daughters in the dark. Her chin trembled, tears welled from deep inside. She could not hold the heartbreak after all these years any longer, falling to her knees, her body looked calm, but her mind was tangled. She swiped at her eyes, but the tears kept coming. Sitting in the darkness she missed Elsa. It had been many years since they had talked and laughed like they once did.

All of a sudden, the rain subsided, the lights flickered back on like a glimmer of hope, giving Sally a feeling of well-being that somehow everything was going to be alright. She looked back outside through her bedroom window. No matter how strong the storm was, the sun shone again in a blue, wonderful and radiant sky. The light came again to illuminate the darkness. The dirt and grime of the trees were washed away. The smell of the cold air brought a notion of rejuvenation invigorating her body. Sally felt fresh like everything around her. Feeling new and ready for whatever was to come after the storm. She rushed to the lounge room and stood leaning against the doorway, proudly looking into the room at her daughters. Sally was overcome by a sense of relief, watching their laughter sparkle the room like a tiny ray of sunshine. It made her smile, like she once did when she was with Elsa. Sally wanted this feeling again. For everything to be golden.