Young Creative Writers Impress Author and Historian…
A tale of soldiers returning from WWI has won the prestigious Bevis Hillier Creative Writing Shield for the best piece of creative writing. 16 year old Clara Grinyer’s piece was selected from over 140 entries and a short list of twenty finalists to win the prize. The stand-out creative writing was chosen for its originality and moving story line.
The annual competition is judged by renowned English art historian, author, journalist and Old Reigatian, Bevis Hillier. Entries spanned a wide range of subjects including stories from terrifying murder to sophisticated philosophical twists. In selecting the finalists and ultimate winner, Mr Hillier spent a generous amount of time providing full annotation and feedback on the submitted pieces. Following his education at Reigate Grammar School and Magdalen College Oxford, Bevis Hillier became a well-known published writer and a columnist for The Times, the LA Times and lead reviewer for The Spectator magazine. He established his reputation as a biographer with a three volume exploration of the life of Sir John Betjeman.
Clara’s winning piece:
The Fifth Form Bevis Hiller Creative Writing Competition 2015
When I boarded the train for London, the last person I expected to find sitting opposite me was Malcolm, my brother’s best friend.
At the time, I was travelling back from Mayfield Lodge, Sussex, where I had been serving in the occupation of governess for a few months. The work had been tiring, the children precocious and spoilt, and I had been on my feet a great deal; so when I finally stepped into the first class carriage, experienced once again the musky scent of the faded leather seats and the safety of a secluded room, an immense feeling of comfort and peace washed over me. After closing my eyes for a short while, I picked up the crumpled newspaper discarded on the seat beside me and scanned the headlines, with one in particular catching my eye: ‘British casualties rise at Passchendaele’. A menacing chill coursed through me. My brother Freddy’s regiment was stationed in Ypres, near Passchendaele. I breathed a deep sigh of relief as I reminded my anxious mind that Freddy was due home on leave tomorrow. In just a few hours I would see him again in our house in London, where mother had been making lavish arrangements for his 21st birthday celebration.
I relaxed into a contented state of mind: the promise of seeing my darling brother and the rest of my family again was pleasing, and the gradual transition of the window of countryside from rural to urban was reassuring. It was when the smoke, that had managed to seethe through the slightly ajar window, had become a little oppressive, causing me to glance up from my newspaper to move and shut the window that I noticed him: Malcolm, Freddy’s best friend. My first reaction was shock and a small squeal escaped my throat. I had not noticed Malcolm enter the compartment, which seemed odd since the heavy, oak door creaked. After a few moments of uneasy silence, for Malcolm seemed upset that I had reacted in such a way to seeing him, I pulled myself together – this was no way to greet someone I had last seen standing alongside Freddy as we waved the boys off on the train that was taking them on the first stage of their long journey to the Front. I stilled my breathing and convinced myself that I must have been so absorbed in my newspaper that I had not been stirred by his entrance.
I expressed my joy to see him and having glanced briefly over his pristine uniform, which appeared to be hiding a sturdy, injury free body, declared how pleased I was to see him and how fortuitous it was that he had been granted leave at the same time as my brother. To my surprise, Malcolm said nothing in return.
Taken aback at first, for surely he felt some fondness for his best friend’s sister, that he at least be able to spare a greeting, I instead attempted to make small talk, remarking on how fine the weather was and asking what he planned to do during his leave. Still no words left his lips, which looked extremely bright compared to the translucent pallor of his face. I did not remember Malcolm ever being quite so pale.
I forced a smile, in an attempt to get him to relax. However, his eyes did not meet mine with that easy, likeable smile I was used to seeing, nor was I gifted with his rich laugh. Instead, my eyes were met with a vacant, empty look. It was only when I enquired after Freddy that I received a response. A garbled response that alarmed me, ‘I must get to Freddy’, ‘I must get to Freddy,’ ‘I must get to Freddy’. He repeated it over and over again. The realisation suddenly hit me. Oh, how my heart lurched for the poor man. Although in one piece physically, he was obviously not mentally intact. It seemed he was suffering from shell shock.
I tried to calm Malcolm by explaining that Freddy was on his way home to London. I then informed him that I was going to get a cup of tea for us both and that I would be right back; the disorientated soldier looked like he needed one and I, myself, certainly needed a cup of tea after the disturbance of his outburst. He said nothing in reply and I vowed not to be gone for long.
I returned to the carriage with plans to persuade Malcolm to join me and my family to celebrate Freddy’s birthday; surely a happy occasion would take his mind off the distresses of war? However, to my great astonishment on entering the hollow abyss of the compartment, I found Malcolm’s seat to be empty. I glanced quickly up and down the carriage but he was nowhere to be seen.
At that moment, a shrill whistle pierced the air, marking our arrival at London Victoria and ridding me of any chance to search the train to find Malcolm. I felt upset for it seemed I had offended him, however it was nothing that a brief message to Malcolm’s home address, securing an invite to Freddy’s birthday party tomorrow, could not fix.
I waited impatiently for one of my family to answer the brick-red door to our white, polished house. It had been months since I had seen my mother and father and I longed to be in their arms again.
Finally, I saw my mother’s feet padding up the hallway through the glass and waited for the opening of the door, with a smile planted on my face. However, my high spirits did not last long, for the look on my mother’s face when she opened the door was a look I had only seen once before in my life; a look that uprooted the smile from my face. With trembling lips, she pronounced the words that had haunted my dreams since the beginning of the war:
‘A telegram arrived from Passchendaele this morning. Freddy is dead. He was shot whilst on duty by a sniper. Malcolm tried to rescue him but was killed in the act.’