Helen Liston - Winner

Competition: Writing for Children short story competition 2016

Helen Liston has been writing for two years and this is her first published story. She writes picture book texts and is a network organiser for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in the South West. Helen also writes flash fiction and short stories, and loves autumn walks, chai tea and making clay creatures with her five-year-old daughter.

Helen Liston

Daisy and the Dragon's Egg

Everything used to be good: I had my friends and I had my toys and I had my room and I had Mummy. And then, just about winter time, everything started to go bad.

First there was Mummy’s new friend Joe. Then there was Joe and his toothbrush and his shoes. Then there was Joe and his toothbrush and his shoes and all of Joe’s boxes. Then there was Joe and his toothbrush and his shoes and all of Joe’s boxes... and all our stuff in boxes, too.

Soon after the boxes, we moved to the new house in the country. But I liked my old bedroom just fine. Plus I had a new school, new teachers, and new friends. But I liked my old ones just fine.

Then came Bump.

Bump is all anyone talks about. They talk about how big Bump is getting. They talk about all the toys and clothes Bump is going to need. They even talk about all the toys and clothes Bump isn’t going to need. Worst of all is that Bump is so big that I just can’t cuddle Mummy properly. Joe says I can cuddle him instead, but it’s not the same.

I don’t really mind the new school and I don’t even mind the new house, but I wish I could have Mummy without Bump in the way. In the country there aren’t many parks, just fields, and Mummy’s too tired to play.

In the fields I play Kings and Queens by myself – I go up the tower myself, I get to always be the princess, and I’m my own look-out in the castle. When I see enemies on the horizon I’m the knight on his horse. Climbing the branches I’m the prince trying to save the princess and under the tree I’m the Queen still asleep, but – what? What is that?

An egg? In the grass. A huge shiny egg in the grass, just there. I pick it up. Where did it come from? WHO is inside? The egg is bigger than a boulder and brighter than the moon. Its surface ripples with purple and blue light. I dare to stroke it, and it glows at my touch.

With my very best gently hands I put the egg into the skirt of my dress. With my very best careful walking I leave my kingdom, then sneak through the back door with the egg. With my best ever tiptoes I creep through the kitchen, holding up my skirt with the egg inside.

Everyone is busy doing Bump things and box things, so I sneak past easily. But then I hear Joe coming down the stairs, so I hide the egg in the cupboard-under-the-stairs, quick.

Dinner time is sausages but I just wonder and wonder if the egg will hatch. What if the egg is hatching right now! In the cupboard-under-the-stairs! In the dark! All alone! What creature will it be? Where is its mummy?

Sometimes, if no one is looking, you can take your last bit of dinner upstairs. This time I take the egg, too. I put my toy box against my bedroom door so no one can come in. And then I put the egg on the bed in a pile of pillows. Everyone knows that eggs need to be warm, because usually a mummy sits on top, but I don’t think I will sit on it, in case it breaks.

But oh no, disaster strikes! I’m looking up about eggs in my books when Joe breaks through my toy box barrier, barges in and sits on the bed! He only just misses the egg. ‘What are you doing stacking things up like that, Daisy?’ Joe shakes his head. ‘I’m looking for the box with all the baby toys in, have you seen it in here?’

And I tell him absolutely no and he stops looking through my stuff and goes off looking for the stupid baby box – he has no idea that here in my room there is a real live dragon’s egg! I just know it is a dragon’s egg because it looks just like the one in my book.

When I shine my torch into the pillow nest there’s a noise – tap tap tap. What’s happening? The egg is hatching! Tap tap tap it goes again, and then – a tiny scratch. I shut the door, shove the toy box back against it, and put up my ‘go away’ sign. Then back under the covers.

Here it is again: tap tap scratch. Tap tap scratch – then a crack! A crack that gets bigger and bigger, until out comes a teeny tiny... claw!

IT IS A DRAGON.

Bit by bit the dragon pushes away the broken shell. The cracked pieces are dull and thin now, and I see that the egg’s glow had come from the dragon’s golden scales, rippling under its surface. The baby dragon glows gold in the dark, but it is so new that it is scrunched and sticky and creased. Slowly it stretches its tiny wings. When it opens its eyes it looks at me for a long time, then it makes a tiny squeak that I think must be its first baby dragon word. But what did it say?

The dragon needs to sleep a lot because he’s just been born. He sleeps in the tree outside my window. Now that I’m in charge of a brand new baby dragon, I have to be responsible. I watch him through the night to make sure he’s safe. And when Baby Dragon and Mummy and Joe are all sleeping soundly, I too fall asleep with my head on the window sill.

In the morning Baby Dragon is gone. But on my way to school I see him tumbling off a branch – his wings are stretched and strong, and he flaps and dives: up and down, up and down. He must be learning to fly!

Now that I have Baby Dragon, I know how to draw a dragon just exactly – and Mrs Adams agrees. I get a gold star for my picture and all the other children want to see.

When I get home from school, Baby Dragon is nowhere to be seen! The thought of never seeing him again makes my eyes fill with tears.

But there he is – by the tree where I found him when he was an egg! I think he wants to learn to play! We play Kings and Queens, and Dragon is the dragon – but for real. Mummy calls me home for bed and when I look up, I see a huge big dragon flapping over the tree. It wants Baby Dragon to go home too.

But when I wake the next day, Dragon is waiting at my window. He wants to play with me! I have to wait all through school, but as soon as I get home Baby Dragon and I play Pretend Queens and Real Dragons, but oops, he slightly burns my dress. I think he is still learning how to breath fire.

When the sky darkens, Mummy calls me home. She doesn’t see Dragon’s Daddy flapping circles over the tree. I wish Dragon could live outside my window forever.

In the very early morning, before the sun is up, I’m woken up by a wooshing sound. Daddy Dragon has landed by the tree, but Baby Dragon hides high up in the branches. I know what I must do.

With my very best gently hands I silently open the bedroom door. With my very best careful walking I sneak down the stairs. With my best ever tiptoes I stalk out of the garden to where the dragons are.

I’m only a little bit afraid when Baby Dragon swoops from the tree to greet me. His eyes are big and bright. I’m sad to do this but I know I must be brave. ‘It’s time to go, friend,’ I tell him, and I kiss him on the nose. ‘You can visit me any time you like,’ I tell him.

Baby Dragon and Dragon’s Daddy soar into the sky. Baby Dragon turns and breathes me a goodbye in fire, and then is gone.

Bye bye Baby Dragon.

But I must hurry back and tell Mummy and Joe what happened!

When I get to the house, there’s a crowd in the living room. Joe and Mummy, Grandpops, plus a nurse... and in the middle, a baby.

‘Daisy!’ says Mummy cuddling me, ‘Meet your baby brother.’ I snuggle into Mummy and peek at the little face nestling where bump once was.

My brother’s skin is wrinkly and his little eyes are bright. I kiss him on the nose. ‘I’m going to teach him everything about the world,’ I say, and Mummy puts a big warm kiss on my head and says, ‘That’s exactly what I was hoping, Daisy.’

Everything feels good again: I have my friends and I have my toys and of course I have Mummy and Joe... but best of all I have a new baby brother.

Because I’m the big sister I give my baby brother his very first present – my gold star picture of Baby Dragon and his family.

Something about my little brother reminds me of Baby Dragon, but I think I’ll wait till he’s older to tell him my secret.

Judges Comments

It’s important, in writing for children perhaps even more than in most other areas of fiction, to get the tone right. All too often, writers fail to fully identify the audience they are writing for: many write with a rose-tinted nostalgia for the stories they loved as youngsters, or unwittingly use characters and activities that are totally alien to those born this millennium; some show a tendency, with all the best intentions, to preach or hammer home a moral. Helen Liston successfully avoids both of these issues in Daisy and the Dragon’s Egg, telling the story in first-person through the mouth of her lead character, Daisy. That approach has its own set of problems and benefits.

An element that could have thoroughly undermined the story, is Daisy’s voice. Helen perfectly captures the cadence and phrasing of children’s storytelling, as if Daisy is excitedly telling us what happened herself, or perhaps writing it for an exercise at school. This brings us instantly right into Daisy’s world, willing to believe in magic and dragons once more, and, as a bonus, means the story is pitched at exactly the right level. There is nothing in Daisy and the Dragon’s Egg, either linguistically or conceptually, that would challenge an early reader. Viewing certain elements through her eyes, for example the arrival of Joe and Bump, brings the real world into an appropriate frame of reference, and serves to illustrate Daisy’s character. There are some lovely stylistic touches that combine the way children speak with the rhythms of the best children’s literature, such as “With my very best gently hands… With my very best careful walking… With my best ever tiptoes…”

Young readers love to put themselves into the story, and in this real world setting with its single fantastic element, what child wouldn’t see themselves in Daisy’s shoes. A little bit of magic that would appeal to young and old alike.

 

Runner-up in the Writing for Children competition was Andrew Ashcroft, Varberg, Sweden.

Also shortlisted were: Jessamy Corob Cook, London NW1; Jayne Fallows, Stockport, Greater Manchester; Sharon Haston, Falkirk; Eleanor Margetson, Shackleford, Surrey; Maria T McCann, Belfast, Northern Ireland; Naomi St John, St Pierre, France; Martin Strike, Newbury, Berkshire; Lisa Wilshire, Truro, Cornwall.

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