Every year Frinton Literary Festival hosts its ‘Tendring Tales’ 1,000-words short story writing competition. In 2023, this was renamed the Frinton Literary Festival Robert Bucke Short Story Prize, in honour of our great friend and committee member.
Whatever the annual theme – these have included ghost stories and romance - we are looking for stories with a strong flavour of Tendring. We are blessed with a wonderful coastline, countryside and towns, as well as a rich history, interesting characters and coastal and rural industries.
The judges are writing industry professionals with connections to the area, and prizes are presented in partnership with Caxton Books.
Congratulations to Nadine Wiltshire. Her short story The Visitor was crowned the winner of the inaugural Frinton Literary Festival Robert Bucke Short Story Prize. You can read her winning story below.
Anka Troitsky's Secrets No More and Jonathan Palmer's Father of Three were the runners up for this year's competition, and the trio were able to meet global bestseller Adele Parks MBE at our Afternoon Tea event to receive their certificates.
The judging panel would like thank all of the amazing authors who submitted stories for this year’s Short Story Prize, which was based on the theme SECRETS. The standard was incredibly high, which made judging difficult - from creating a longlist, through shortlisting, and finally judging the shortlist to find the winning stories. All judging was anonymous.
The Visitor by Nadine Wiltshire
“Nanna’s here,” she sang, toddling into the garden. Lily was now 20 months old, always cheerful and what I’d call an ‘old soul’, someone who’s been here before somehow.
“Nanny won’t be here for another few hours,” rushing through the house checking the front door in case she’d arrived early.
Her little steps behind me trying to catch up, “No no Nanna’s here, Nann - a”.
I turned and knelt down level to her angelic face, her blue eyes gazing into mine and held her tiny hands.
“Nanna’s here, she’s come to do some cleaning, she said you were too busy, busy,” flapping her arms about.
She was my Nanna who had passed away 18 months before Lily was born. I missed her mischievous ways, ushering me into her cosy kitchen for a gossip and some homemade shortbread, then slipping a 10 pence piece into my hand and guiding me out the back door to go buy some penny sweets from the corner shop. I smiled with the memory I held of her, always joyful and full of love. I’d always felt her presence since Lily was born, a touch on the shoulder or a warm breeze drift past.
One night when Lily was a baby and wouldn’t settle I watched the baby gym swinging of its own accord and no explanation as to why. The kettle would turn on when I was out of the room when I about to prepare her feeds. One day I’d picked up some photographs that had been developed, back when that was a thing, still sealed I’d placed them on the dining table, later to find them splayed out across the floor ready for appraisal.
“What was Nanna wearing today?” I ask Lily after being informed of her presence.
“She had a pretty green dress with flowers on it, she smelled like biscuits and her hair was very curly-whirly today,” twirling her fingers in her hair and getting in a knot. Freeing her little fingers I put my finger to my lips and hushed, “Shhh she only visits you and me so this will be our little secret, but always tell me when she’s here, shhh,” attempting to make it sound like our secret game.
Giggling she whispered in my ear, “Okay, shhh”.
We had frequent visits from Nanna, mostly cleaning apparently, working full-time and being a single parent housework wasn’t my top priority. One time I remember vividly it was a chilly Saturday evening in February, I was in the kitchen clearing away after dinner, getting ready to relax before bath and story time, cuddle and bed. Lily was nearly three and still unaware of her gift and I was concern that if she spoke about it at nursery she may get teased, but thankfully she never did and it remained between ourselves.
Lily appeared in the doorway and I heard the now familiar, “Nanna’s here”.
I gave my usual reply, “What’s she doing?” expecting the usual.
“She’s come to get your grandad,” and turned and wandered off with her favourite dolly in hand. I froze and felt goose-bumps spread across my body and a cold rush envelop me. I switched off the light and walked through to the lounge where she sat on the floor attempting to brush her dolly’s hair while dangling her upside down by her feet.
I curled up on the sofa resting my eyes for a few moments until the sound of the phone startled me. I stared at the receiver knowing what was about to come. Mum’s voice shaking and croaky, “I’m sorry, grandad has passed away, he died 20 minutes ago, I’m just ringing to let you know”. We spoke for a few moments before she delivered the news to the rest of the family. I had my own little messenger right here.
Bath was quick, story time brief, but our cuddle was a little longer tonight, I closed my eyes and said a little prayer as I kissed my little one goodnight.
“I love you to the moon and back,” I breathed, watching her sleepy blue eyes gradually close.
As Lily grew older we shared stories but it was kept between the two of us as she began to realise maybe not everyone possessed this gift. Now in her mid-20s, she called me one day, confused, telling me, “Nanna has been visiting and saying that all will be okay and she’s always here when I need her and to be strong, I don’t really understand what she means”.
“She’s just letting you know she’s always around, watching over you and looking out for you,” I reassured her the best I could.
As I put the phone down another headache loomed. I’d been getting them frequently, work had been hectic and stressful lately. I was tired and planned a restful weekend to recharge but the plan took another turn.
Lily called the next day to say she’d made some shortbread and would pop round in the afternoon. Her shortbread was divine just like Nanna’s, melt in the mouth, buttery and delicious. I warned her of my persistent headache but to let herself in and wake me if I’m asleep.
“Mum,” she called cheerfully as she entered the lounge where she found me laying on the floor. Rushing to my side, dialling 999, “Mum”. Hazy fog, drifting in and out of consciousness. Paramedics arrived, panic ensued.
In the background I could make out Lily’s strained, muffled voice, “No Nanna, no, you can’t, not now”. Her face I could make out, tears running from her big blue eyes, “Mum,” she choked back, “Nanna’s here, she said she’s come to take you with her”.
“It’s okay I can see her too, it’s my time to go now, be strong, I love you to the moon and back,” I uttered.
“Visit me like Nanna,” she sobbed.
I looked into her eyes and nodded as Nanna took my hand and I whispered my last word, “Shhh”.
Listen to 'The Soul Carrier', the winning story from Frinton Literary Festival 2022.