Spectator literary competition No. 2834

This week it’s Enid Blyton meets Dashiell Hammett. You are invited to submit an extract from a classic of children literature of your choice rewritten in the style of hard-boiled crime fiction. Entries of up to 150 words should be emailed to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 5 February.

The most recent challenge, to compose what might be a quintessential opening paragraph from the pen of either Graham Greene, Frank Kafka, Jane Austen or Tolkien, attracted an entry of modest size.

It was a tall order to channel such literary genius, but on the whole you did it pretty well. Greene, with his immediately distinctive voice, was by far the most popular choice. As Nicholas Shakespeare wrote, ‘It rarely takes more than three …sentences to situate you in Greeneland, a place whose moral temperature would wring sweat out of a fridge.’

Kafka proved the most difficult nut to crack. None of you quite managed to capture his finely calibrated blend of the nightmarish and the mundane, though Bill Greenwell came closest and Josh Ekroy nailed well his exhaustive sentence structures.

Sylvia Fairley, Carolyn Thomas-Coxhead, Sid Field, Trish Davis, Barry Baldwin and Katie Mallett deserve to be singled out for honourable mentions. The winners, printed below, pocket £30 each and W.J. Webster romps home with the extra fiver.

W.J. Webster

Somewhere close at hand a single muffled bell began to toll: its sound seemed to mock the throng of people busying themselves in the dusty square below. For the first time in hours Mansell raised his eyes from the scene. He leant his forehead against the smeared window pane and let the insistent knell resonate through his head and down into the hollow of his chest. To his surprise he found himself praying for the strength to see the thing through; not to be drained into despair. The price of victory might be disillusion but defeat of the spirit would be unendurable. Silently the girl came up behind him and folded her arms round his waist; he could feel the young breasts warm against his back. ‘Je t’aime, Henri,’ she whispered. ‘Je t’aime.’ And all I have to offer in return, thought Mansell, is pity.

Basil Ransome-Davies

Pryke took his glass to a table and set it on a torn beermat. Outside an arriving taxi had struck a pigeon, which now lay in the gutter, bloodstained and flapping feebly, while the rain that fell like a grey curtain of doubt soaked its feathers. Pryke felt his heart contract with pity. Did an animal have an immortal soul? St Thomas Aquinas had said no, but he erred on other matters. Wasn’t that why Pryke loved him? He swallowed some brandy and scanned the window as if it were a source of revelation. Faces passed like drifting clouds; so far, not Lambert’s. But Marcia had said as they shivered in bed in Ramsgate that Lambert was as sly as a deadly germ. He might send someone else. Pryke felt the gun in his pocket like the weight of an old sin as the pigeon shuddered and died.

Alanna Blake

Noble, from behind a pillar, watched her kneeling in prayer, her childlike neck so vulnerable he longed to reach out and stroke it protectively. One more woman he was powerless to help. Could he approach Father Joseph with this problem, this human failing? He trusted nobody and no longer dared ask God. Nor could he enter the confessional smelling of brandy from his now empty flask. In the back pew a white man scribbled on a pad, turning occasionally as if watching Noble. Was he sketching, drawing a likeness? Was this another potential suspect? Dust motes flickered in shafts of sunlight, blue through a crude stained-glass representation of Our Lady’s robe. Flies swarmed round a sticky mess on the cracked floor. He wiped sweat from his aching forehead. The young man tore a page from his notebook, laid it on a stool beside Noble and limped from the church.

Noel Petty

Within weeks of her widowed father’s death, Charlotte Huntly’s grief had matured into pique at his lack of consideration. The estate would pass to Edward, a distant cousin she had never met, since their respective great-grandfathers had quarrelled — about a horse, she believed — causing Edward’s branch to take the somewhat extreme step of removing itself to Northamptonshire. Perhaps she would be obliged to leave Birchfield. Carstairs, the family lawyer, had said that Charlotte would have six hundred a year in her own right from the Funds, a mysterious source she regarded as a miller might regard a river. Carstairs added that it would enable her to aspire to a country lawyer, but no further. He had smiled ingratiatingly as he said it, while her dropped eyes saw only his thick, wrinkled stockings. She would have to hope that Edward was at least kind, or perhaps a little more.

Adrian Fry

The dragon Gorgamanchider, who in the Elven tongue is called Lilverquist, dwelt in the unmapped regions of the land the dwarvish Kings called Unthra Thabdir but which is for ever Dorgon in the mouths of Men. Here, throughout the Ninth Age of Nimreth, called the Golden Time in Entish, Gorgamanchider sat fast upon the Sundry Treasures of Eldegrin, the greatest of which was the Palimpsest of the Kings of all the Northwesterlands. The Noble Races, seeking to recover these treasures, dashed against the might of the dragon Gorgamanchider their bravest champions and wisest wizards, only to grieve at their swift incineration. So perished Lord Caith of the Severed Hordes, the Orcbleeder of the Untopped Mountain and the Runemaster of Old Gorth. Of such heroes the Lays of Erfirith were sung until the Lesser Age, when bumbling Halfling Billiam Buttle, of healthy appetite and capacious trouser, fell down a very fortuitous hole.

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