St Albans Literary Festival short story competition winners announced - read the top two entries here

Head Justone Elbourne-Cload, winner Annabella Morrell McGarvie 9, competition organisor Debbie Heath

Head Justone Elbourne-Cload, winner Annabella Morrell McGarvie 9, competition organisor Debbie Heath - Credit: Archant

A young writer who wants to become an author when she leaves school is the winner of the St Albans Literary Festival’s junior short story competition.

Annabella Morrell McGarvie of Cunningham Hill Junior School said she was “jumping up and down like a jack in the box” when she heard that her piece The Locked Gate, a poignant ghost story set in St Michael’s village, had secured first place in the contest.

Annabella, who is the daughter of an English teacher, has ambitions to become an author, “I like to write creepy, sad stories,” she said.

Competition organiser Deborah Heath said: “Annabella is a real wordsmith as she demonstrates wonderful descriptive language in her story. The haunting tale even made the judges cry! Annabella will be awarded with an exciting pack of books for herself and her school library, thanks to our lovely friends at Walkers Books.”

The judges was overwhelmed with the quality of the entries, which were based on the general theme of “St Albans” and restricted to just 500 words. There was a real mix of genres including ghost, comedy and historical stories.

After intensive reading and evaluation, the eight strongest entries were passed over final judging by local children’s authors, Kate Griffin and Camilla Chester and English teacher and assistant head of Sir John Lawes Academy in Harpenden, Ben Garcia.

The high standard of entries made choosing the winners particularly difficult, and all shortlisted entries were awarded with a copy of The Jade Boy by Cate Cain (aka Kate Griffin). The top five stories have been recorded by volunteers at St Albans and District Talking Newspaper (SADTN) and will be broadcast on Radio Verulam’s lunchtime programme Local Life at approx 12.20pm on Thursday June 30.

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The Story of Alban by runner-up, Jessica Brewer of Skyswood Primary, was a funny and truly original re-imagining of the story of St Alban with a touch of the macabre. Jessica will also receive a book pack for herself and her school.

She said: “I was so surprised and excited to come second. I don’t know where I got my idea. I just started writing and it came.”

Deborah added: “A huge well done to everyone who submitted a story to the competition and a thank you particularly to Samuel Ryder Academy, Fleetville Junior and Bernards Heath Junior School for encouraging their talented pupils to enter. It is exciting to know that we have so many budding writers in our city.”

The Locked Gate

By Annabella Morrell McGarvie

In the dead of night, a thin, pale-faced girl opened Lady’s Gate and entered the miserable graveyard. The trees looked as if they had ugly, twisted faces. A cold, bitter wind made Amelia shudder. Her long, black wavy hair covered her sad face. Four weeks ago her dear mother passed away. She had been coming to St Michael’s churchyard every day ever since. She must have been there for hours because ‘clank’, the gates were locked! Using all her might, she could not lift the rusty old latch. She sat down and sobbed and sobbed, falling asleep finally. When she awoke, she saw a white glowing light!

Amelia rubbed her red, sore eyes and stared. It looked like her mother. Slowly, it hovered closer. Amelia was so overjoyed that she started to cry. Her beautiful, beloved mother had come down from heaven to see her little daughter. The ghost floated to Amelia and kissed her forehead. Her mother’s ghost explained that she needed to come with her. Puff and they both disappeared, leaving the dark, lonely churchyard behind them.

Amelia heard the sound of children laughing and having fun. It was St Michael’s School. In the small playground girls were playing hopscotch and boys were chasing a ball. A sad, lonely girl was standing next to the gate as her mother reassured her. The big children were teasing her and pulling her pigtails spitefully. Ding-a-ling-a-ling, the hand bell rang out. The voices started to die away and Amelia saw children in single file disappearing through the heavy wooden door. She quickly turned for one last glimpse but puff, they had gone.

Next, Amelia found herself in a busy, noisy market place, “A bowl of apples for one pound”. Amongst the crowd, she could see that little girl and her mother again. They were buying apples at the stall. The sun was beaming and Amelia could feel its warmth beneath the yellow and blue striped blind, rustling in the breeze. She skipped off holding her mother’s hand. Amelia watched them until they were out of sight. Her mother’s ghost explained in a distant voice, “There’s one more place left to visit.” Puff!

Amelia recognised immediately where they were. It was home, Fishpool Street. Empty milk bottles were waiting to be collected on high pavements, outside the brick and whitewashed cottages. Before her eyes was a white wooden door with a silver lion-faced knocker. She looked through the windows and stared. Her heart was beating heavily. As she peered into the small room, she could see her mother’s bed, her white lace blanket and cushion. A dim bedside light shone. Amelia saw a woman who looked so frail lying there. The little girl was crying by her side. Grasping her hand tightly, her mother whispered, “I have to go now. I will always love you and be with you darling, forever.”

Wiping away her tears, Amelia found herself once again alone in St Michael’s churchyard. The gate was still locked.

The Story of Alban

By Jessica Brewer

Once upon a time there was a rich merchant who lived in Spain, his name was Alban.

One sunny day Alban went for a stroll when he suddenly came across a crying child. He picked up the child and went on his way to the market place where he bought a middle sized iron cage. When he got home he placed the cage outside, with the child inside it, and left it there! Sadly a week later the child died of pneumonia, which was caused by Alban leaving him outside too long. Now the rest of the town wanted to kill Alban as revenge, so they locked him up until they could arrange his execution. Whilst in prison Alban came up with a plan: the night before his execution he would ask his wife to visit him with her friends and bring some women’s clothes. When they were inside the prison Alban would change into the clothes then sneak out as one of their friends, then afterwards they would run away to start a new life in England.

All of a sudden the plan took place and Alban and his wife, Anna, where in England. They set up camp in a field and then Alban set off to find somewhere to live. He had been looking for half an hour when he suddenly came across a hut with “For Sale” on a notice board outside it. Alban went and knocked on the door, a friendly old man opened the door and agreed at once that Alban could have the hut and 100 acres of land around it. At once Alban ran back to tell Anna, they moved into the hut the next day then immediately began to make plans to build a town on the land.

The next month work began on building 1,000 houses. The month after that Alban finally chose a name, he named it St Albans. Then he made up a story about himself, bought a history company and filled loads of books with his fake story and then the people started to move in. Then when people started to move into St Albans, Alban stabbed himself in the heart as his fake story said he was long dead!