Jackie Brewster - Women's Short Story Competition 2014 winner

Jackie Brewster, ‘The fox cub’

I’ve been floating on a little cloud ever since I received the phone call to tell me that ‘The fox cub’ had won the 2014 Mslexia Short Story Competition. To be honest, for days afterwards I half expected another call to say there had been the most embarrassing mix up. I’m generally not organised enough to enter writing competitions, but, as I’m a big fan of Mslexia, I wrote the story specifically for this competition. I thought it was good enough to enter, but I never dreamed it was good enough to win.

What did the judge say?

‘The fox cub’ by Jackie Brewster, the overall winner, is a rite-of-passage story. Young teenager Rachel gets a glimpse into a seedy, dangerous, sexual world where children are not protected. The writing is beautifully economical, and reflects Rachel’s matter-of-fact, innocent but intelligent point of view. Marie has ‘chubby breasts’ (child-woman) and wears pink lipstick which ‘didn’t make her look prettier, because Marie was not pretty to start with’. The lane to Marie’s house, where sex, death and violence lurk, was not a road Rachel or her friends had been down before, because it ‘led to places they didn’t need to go’.

The writer reveals feelings through actions; as Marie talks about sex, Rachel ‘tried to thread another daisy, but the stalk had become limp between her fingers’. We learn that her fingers are hot and clammy with embarrassment, but that ‘limp stalk’ also works as an image of sexual dysfunction, a part of the murky adult world Rachel is not ready for. Setting is effectively evoked with selective details, like the nettles the girls walk through to reach the cub. And the cub is heartbreaking – not a cute furry pet but a stinking moribund creature. Rachel’s self-protective innocence saves the story from bleakness

Jane Rogers has published eight novels, written original television and radio drama, and adapted her own and others’ work for radio and TV. Her novels include Mr Wroe’s Virgins, Island, The Voyage Home and The Testament of Jesse Lamb, which won the 2012 Arthur C Clarke Award and was longlisted for the 2011 ManBooker prize. She also writes short stories and was shortlisted in the BBC National Short Story Competition 2009. Writing awards include the Somerset Maugham Award, Writers’ Guild Best Fiction Book, BAFTA nomination best drama serial. She has taught writing to a wide range of students, and is Professor of Writing on the MA course at Sheffield Hallam University, and a mentor for Gold Dust.

Congratulations to the other finalists

  • Ruth Hayhurst, ‘The date mate’
  • Christine Cochrane, ‘Shifting sands’
  • Kate Coffey, ‘Homesickness’
  • Joanna Campbell, ‘When Saturday stopped’
  • Alisa Thom, ‘Midwinter dreaming’
Thank you Mslexia for Little Ms - what a lovely lunchtime read. And I feel more informed about all things writing too!
‏@Cat_Lumb