Swanwick Writing for Children Competition 2023 - Winner

Lucy Smallbone

Swanwick Writing for Children Competition 2023


Lucy's story is the winning entry in the writing for children category of the Swanwick Writers' Summer School Win Your Way to Swanwick Creative Writing Competition 2023, run in conjunction with Writing Magazine.

Fingerfarce By Lucy Smallbone

It came in the post.  Tucked inside a soggy brown envelope, labelled Ecuador.  It was a long, grey finger-like thing, with red smudges along its sides but it wasn’t like any finger I’d ever seen.  My heart pumped like the sound of the football against Mrs Raft’s wall.  I wasn’t scared of it.  I was like Wednesday from the ‘Adams family’ with her pet hand.  I imagined the finger running around the house, turning on lights, pointing at the teacher and scaring my friends.
   George used to play a neat trick.  He’d put his finger through a hole in a matchbox, wad some cotton wool around it and add ketchup as fake blood.  Then he’d pretend to cry, and everyone went ‘Oooo’ and ‘Ahhh’ Georgie has lost his finger.
   I remove it from the wrapping, poking the pink spongy end.  I empty my pencil tin and hide it in there.  I sneak some sugar from the kitchen, placing a teaspoon in the tin.  Mum says sugar gives you energy, maybe it will give my finger some energy, then it can follow me around the house.
    Mum won’t know, dad won’t care.  I heard him leave last night, it said 4am on my clock. He works ‘The graveyard shift’, that’s what he calls it, imagine that, working in a warehouse full of coffins, although dad says they’re crates.  George’s dad works in a warehouse too, he has a green uniform with thick gloves to protect against the cold and drives a forklift truck.  
   Dad doesn’t have a uniform, he wears black army trousers, a long leather jacket and carries a torch.  He could be a ninja, the ninja of the graveyard shift.  Maybe he fights zombies and vampires in secret.  The police visit often, he’s helping them with their investigations.  They don’t ask about the money, but they do search his crates.  Dad tells me we’re going on holiday soon, somewhere nice with a big fat bonus from work.  He bought mum a diamond ring and he’s promised to buy me a pet dog.
   “Tate, where you at?” shouts mum.
I hide the tin under my bed and stuff a pillow in front.  I slide down the banister, only to find dad is back, storming around the kitchen like a dragon out of puff.
   “You ain’t seen it?” He stomps over to granny’s dresser, dumping knives and forks on the floor, his collar is undone, and his face is red.  The scar on his cheek pops out like lumpy plasticine.
   “Nah love, there weren’t no package.” Mum sucks on the Vape, her legs crossed under the fleecy blue dressing gown.
Dad stalks over to me, “You seen a package?” His eyes search mine and I cross my legs, trying not to pee.  His eyes are wild and bulging.  I manage to shake my head, but my heart is going bumpety bump.
   “Goddammit!” He sweeps the post off the table, and we jump like crickets in a jar.
   “Calm down, love.” She reaches for his cheek, but he slaps her hand away.  She turns to me, her face is the colour of sour milk, her lip’s part to reveal the gap where he knocked out her tooth.
   “I need this deal.”
   “Can’t you make another?”
   “No, Lind,” He rubs his scratchy chin.  “They’re not easy to get and it’s a messy business.”
 I want to ask him about it, but I’d get another bruise to match the one on my cheek.
   After beans and mash, I get ready for bed.  When I hear dad’s whistling snores, I pull out the pencil tin.  I open it and a nasty smell leaks out; the finger is swollen and yellow.
   Why isn’t it moving? It hasn’t touched the sugar.  I lift it out carefully, place it on the bed and look through my magnifying glass at the oozing thing.  
   I prod it, “Come on, wake up.”
It wiggles and I scoot back.  With shaking hands, I scrape it into the tin.  
    When I wake in the morning, I feel jittery, like I’ve had too many slush puppies.  I should check on the finger, but the smell of crusty toast and fresh coffee tempts me out.  I slither down the stairs on my bum.  There’re voices drifting over the crackle of eggs and sizzling bacon.  A cop stands at the counter sipping coffee and looking down at his feet, a delighted smile on his face.  His has on a pair of dad’s special shoes, they look like they’re made of animal skin and my stomach knots up when I think of his crates.
   “They’ll last you a while…” Dad looks up, raising his mug. The cop drops his foot, shaking his trouser leg down.
   “You alright kid?” Asks the brown-haired cop, his blue eyes crinkling at the corners.
I shrug and reach for a box of cereal.  Dad bars my way, “Just give us a minute, son.”
   I return to my room, reach for the tin, but the lid has come off.  My stomach lurches and I begin to feel hot, as panic stabs my heart.  Searching the room, I spot a beautiful moth clinging to my curtain.  I learnt about them in Forest school, they have feathery things, called antennae and three main body parts.  I can see its wings shimmer from violet, to blue, to silver depending on which angle you look.  I reach up to stroke it and some powder rubs off.  Then just like that, I know what I want to do when I grow up.  I’m going to protect animals and stop poaching.  I reach up to open the latch and the moth glides away.

Judges Comments

The runners up in the writing for children category of the WIn Your Way to Swanwick 2023 competition were:

• Second: A Sort of Housework Fairy by Alison McLaren

• Third: Player of the Match by Alison Luke