Character-driven Short Story Competition - Winner

Patricia Marson

A Bedtime Story
Character-driven Short Story Competition


Having a break from her hobby of art quilting, but not bridge, about which she remains obsessed, Pat took up short story writing a while ago and aims to emulate the humour and writing of her son James and the empathy of her son Alan. She lives with her husband of nearly fifty years, who is her kindest critic.

A Bedtime Story By Patricia Marson

I’ve just weed the bed and apparently I should know better at ten years old. I don’t know how to know better and nobody will tell me. However, it’s the first night so it doesn’t matter. They’re always nice to you to begin with­ – when they still think they’re the ones to change your life. They only start to get narky when they get fed up stripping the bed night after night. They think they’ve done everything they can to help you (and most of them have) but you still let them down. They don’t realise they can’t ever give you what you want so they are wasting their time. I used to try not to wet the bed. I would go to the toilet two or three times and squeeze out every drop I could before they ‘tucked me in’ but it doesn’t work, so I’ve stopped bothering. I can’t remember the number of times – probably about three million – I’ve tried to stay awake all night so I would know when I needed to wee. But that doesn’t work either. You doze off for two seconds and, hey presto, there’s a trickle down your leg and a big wet patch under your bum.
I never get ‘tucked in’ at home. In our house there are only two ways to go to bed. My Mam either orders me upstairs and tells me to be quick about it or (and this is the best) she forgets about me. Then I just go up when I‘m tired and I snuggle down in my bed and it feels all nice and cosy, and smells like my bed, and I usually go to sleep right away. I hate the smell of the sheets this woman has put on the bed tonight. When I put my head down I get a sickly, washing-powder smell. It makes me want to puke. But, at least these sheets aren’t new. In my last placement the sheets were straight from the shop – probably bought with the money they get from the Social. They were hard and prickly and even crackled every time you tried to turn over. Still she washed them most nights (had to) so it didn’t take long to soften them up a bit. I say she had to, but I’ve been in a few places where they pretended to wash them but just turned them round or dried off the wee and put them back on. I’m not stupid but I can’t really say anything can I?
This is my seventh placement. It’s my fault I know, but really I’ve given up trying. I honestly did try at first. ‘Yes Mrs Brown,’ and, ‘No Mrs Brown’, ‘Three bags full Mrs Bloody (call me Pat, love, we don’t stand on ceremony here) Brown,’ but the trouble is they don’t tell you the rules. To be honest sometimes I got into trouble and I never knew what I had done wrong. My Mam would shout at me and often give me a slap across the head if I stepped out of line but if I said ‘What was that for?’ she would soon tell me. These people don’t hit me they just tell me not to be so cheeky, so how am I supposed to know?
Don’t get me wrong, Mam also gave me lots of cuddles. I miss her hugs and the smell of her scent. I bought her that scent for Christmas. She said it was one of the best presents anyone had ever given her. It was in a proper box, wrapped in cellophane, and the man in the market said it was the perfume (perfume is posh for scent) all the fashion models use and he was only selling it so cheap because he had a mate in the trade who gets them at a special rate. I knew he was right about the models because I’d seen it advertised in my Mam’s magazine but I think the magazine had spelt it wrong. I’m good at spelling. Anyway Mam loves it and uses it whenever she is dressed up and has friends round. She’s very popular is my Mam and has lots and lots of friends. More than anyone else I know in fact. I tried a bit of her scent once when my Mam was out but the minute she came through the door she knew. It must be something to do with her sixth scents.
‘Have you been using my scent, young lady!’
I said I hadn’t but got a clip over the ear anyway. Later, when we were having our tea I told her I was sorry. She said she would let me use a bit on special occasions but I mustn’t ever tell lies. At least, not to her. I was allowed to tell lies to other people if I needed to but never ever to her. I promised I wouldn’t ever again, and I only lie to her very occasionally when I really need to. I tell lies all the time to other people. I’m not the only one. Some of the other kids in the placements are worse than me and that’s not just the kids who are fostered. There was one little horror, Louis, in my second, or was it my third place, I can’t remember. Anyway this little kid used to gorge on chocolate and sweets and biscuits, in fact anything he could stuff in his mouth, and then say something like, ‘Mummy, I saw Julie eating your biscuits. I told her it was wrong but she did it anyway.’
He was as fat as a pig so it was obvious it was him, but ‘Mummy’ used to punish me instead and he would smirk all over his little fat face. I just wanted to punch him. Perhaps I’ll meet him again when I’m grown up and he’d better watch out then. When his little sister, who was actually very nice, would try to defend me ‘Mummy’ wouldn’t listen. I would have liked to stay friends with the sister but when I had to move out I didn’t see her again. I’m glad I don’t have a brother but a sister like her would be smashing.
Some of my foster carers have tried really hard, but, in every case, I’m too much for them. Stubborn. ‘Takes after her Mother,’ says my social worker. I‘m glad I’m like my Mam.
The real problem with me is because I won’t wear nappies.
‘I’ve left you a few pairs of night pants, Julie, to help with your little problem. You can pop them on before you put your pyjamas on. If you let me have them in the morning no one else needs to know. This is just between you and me – our little secret.’
I don’t care what they call them, I’m not wearing a nappy and that’s final, and all the false smiles and pretend (or even real) friendliness won’t change that. I’m not a baby. And NO, I don’t forget to put them on. I’m just not going to wear them.
Anyway, I was telling you about going to bed at my house. When Mam wants me out of the way I have to go to bed early – sometimes very early and very quickly. Mam won’t let me out of my room when she has friends in.
‘And keep this out, young lady,’ she’ll say to me, tapping her finger on the end of her nose just to make sure I get the idea.
When I was littler I used to try and peep and see what was going on but now I don’t bother. It’s just boring. I’ve seen it (and heard it) all before. I never wet the bed at home, although sometimes when I need to I’ll nip to the toilet and, so long as I don’t flush it, no-one knows. I remember nearly getting caught once though. Things seemed really busy downstairs and I waited for ages. I was bursting for a wee so I opened my door and listened. I could hear glasses clinking and Mam and one of her man friends laughing. The telly was on loud in the background. I tiptoed along the landing and crept into the bathroom. I never turn the light on because it’s on a pull cord and it makes a loud click sound as you pull it. I was feeling my way to the toilet when I heard a gruff man’s voice.
‘Top o’ the landing did you say.’
‘Yes, but be quiet. Our Julie’s asleep up there.’
I knew he would see me if I tried to get out so I jumped in the bath. Luckily we have a shower over the bath and I pulled the shower curtain across and lay down hidden. The shower won’t turn off properly and I could feel the water on the back of my neck, drip, drip, drip. I prayed he wouldn’t look behind the curtain. Luckily he didn’t. He never knew I was there but just hearing him was gross. Thank goodness I couldn’t see him. UGH. It wasn’t an experience I want to repeat – ever.
That’s not true. Do you know what, I’m telling the biggest lie I’ve ever told ever!
I’d go through it every night if it meant I could be back with my Mam.

Judges Comments

Character and voice are inseparable in fiction writing. A Bedtime Story, Patricia Marson's winning entry in our competition for character-driven short stories, is an affecting and entirely believable first-person narrative written in the voice of Julie, a ten-year old in foster care.

It's beautifully done. There is no hint of an authorial voice whatsover - Julie's first-person narrative is the whole story, and we not only see her world entirely through her eyes, but are enabled to see what sort of a person she is and the relationship between her character and her circumstances.

From the opening line, Julie's voice comes through clearly. She is such a believable character, and an endearing one too - raw, direct, funny, loving and loyal. The way Patricia has created her on the page, showing her world through her eyes, enables readers to respond to the difficult circumstances of her life with understanding and empathy - we see Julie as a person with nuanced, understandable responses, rather than as a 'case study' or someone whose life issues are given more narrative space than her character. Patricia's compassionate delivery of Julie means that readers 'see' her first, which means that we understand her life circumstances in the context of empathy.

Patricia has written A Bedtime Story with a delicate touch, weaving acute observations and humour into her harrowing storylines. Because of the way the author has prioritised her character and her voice, the story has a memorable impact, and loving, troubled Julie is a character who fully deserves her place at the top of the winners' pile for this competition.


Runner-up in the character-driven short story competition was Jodie Rose Carpenter, Birmingham, whose story is published on
Also shortlisted were: Liz Andersen, Little Clacton, Essex; Michael Callaghan, Glasgow; Kathy Goddard, Spalding, Lincolnshire; Matthew Hole, Taunton, Somerset; Mary-Jane Houlton, Shillingstone, Dorset; Martin Ross, Hildenborough, Kent; Jane Stuart, Brownhills, West Midlands; Veronica Swinburne, Westhoughton, Lancashire.