THE SILK PRIZE

We are delighted to announce Samuel Whitlock has won The Silk Prize 2020 for outstanding achievement by a student during the Creative and Professional Writing BA at the University of the West of England.

Senior Lecturer Kim Sherwood nominated finalists with the winning novel judged by Bath Novel Award founder Caroline Ambrose. The top four finalists received individual manuscript and synopsis feedback. Sam also received £100 in book vouchers.

Sam Whitlock, winner of the The Silk Prize 2020 for New Origins

Sam said: “I am so thankful to both Caroline Ambrose and Kim Sherwood. After wrestling with some serious self-doubt for a long time, I feel fresh courage to keep moving towards the dream of a published novel. And – after receiving some very insightful feedback – I feel I have a strategy to get there.”

Caroline Ambrose said: “The quality of the finalists’ submissions was impressive. Sam was my winner for his extract from NEW ORIGINS, a betrayal plot with a populist political backdrop set in a vividly evoked Ancient Rome. In aspiring laundry owner Gnaeus, Sam has created an intriguing and edgy lead who begins a dirty intelligence racket with his angry and until recently long lost younger brother. The world feels authentic with a cast of intriguing minor characters and dialogue rich with subtext.”

Kim Sherwood, who won The Bath Novel Award in 2016 with Testament commented: “I am so proud of all our students this year. Special congratulations to Samuel Whitlock, a writer with exceptional breadth and depth. Samuel has a way with language that will make you want to linger over his sentences, and a true storyteller’s power to immerse you in his world. Sharp, memorable and thought-provoking, Samuel is the real deal, and I look forward to watching his career as a writer bloom.”

Extract from New Origins by Samuel Whitlock

He could have been chiselled out of bronze. Arms raised as if wrestling the sky from Atlas’s grasp. And perhaps he was capable. There was always the chance the divine was hiding in a person, no matter how covered in shit they were. Like the cattle herder who once came to these hills, indistinguishable from any other man of the dirt, save for the lion’s pelt on his shoulders

But the Tribune who spoke from the steps of the Temple of Jupiter was clean. And he did not wear the fur of any monster. One might mistake the man for a mere politician, except no senator could so enchant an audience. His voice shaped the air, forming ideas from the sky’s breath.

‘Is it the responsibility of the People to listen to the Senate?’ the Tribune said. ‘Or the responsibility of the Senate to listen to the People?’

A cheer rose like a fist from the crowd.

Among the rabble, slumped on his staff, Gnaeus almost smiled. Beside him a boy without sandals hopped from foot to foot to keep his skin from cooking on the stones. People would stand in the Styx to hear this man speak, though not necessarily to lend support. Many were only here to see if anything kicked off. Gladiators fought on these flagstones only last night. Perhaps the Forum would hold another spectacle for them today.

Gnaeus was prepared for such an eventuality. The familiar grain of his self-whittled staff took more than a little weight from his shoulders. Dolons are hardly the weapons of heroes, but they could strike a man down better than a sword. The sight of a scabbard puts people on guard, but only those who tread within the shadows after sundown would expect iron to be drawn from a walking stick.

Not that Gnaeus is a robber. Not strictly speaking. Laundry is his trade. And information is perhaps his most profitable enterprise. At his laundry’s gate, when enough people spoke in passing, snatches of rumour could be spun together to make a weave worthy of Odysseus’ wife. Recently the loom had revealed this: The Tribune of the People, so praetorian in stature and speech, has taken to concealing a dolon within the folds of his toga.

Gnaeus pushed himself onto the balls of his feet and squinted. Unless the man has a phallus where one should not be, Gnaeus was not the only one prepared for a fight.

‘Across our city,’ the Tribune said, ‘inscribed upon our temples and monuments and coins are the letters S-P-Q-R. But for as long as we have lived, our great city has been governed merely by the first letter.’

Tiberius. Grandson of the great Scipio, the youngest Tribune in remembered history. Already acting for an unprecedented second term, about to be elected for a third. Today, he was wrestling lions in the Senate and dividing land among the poor. Tomorrow, he could be sailing for Atlantis and negotiating with Neptune for better fishing nets.

Gnaeus wasn’t fooled by any of it.

‘Are we the Senate and People of Rome?’ said Tiberius, ‘Or the Senate only?’

The Forum in which they stood was the best-looking thing in the city. In the last decade, senators had taken the silver of the sacked city of Corinth and tried to make Rome look like the city they set aflame. Pillars began growing like vines and builders used marble in place of brick. Thus, they had turned this small square of Rome into a kind of miniature Athens, or an aspiring Alexandria.

Unfortunately, Romans had insisted on walking on it. Dirt, dust and far worse flaking off their sandals, until the white flagstones were smeared with the rest of Rome.

But beneath the brick and marble of the Forum, something in the soil allowed trickery to take root. For long ago, when that ancient cattle herder laid his head down on this earth, he had been hoodwinked just as easily as a mortal man. His herd led to a cave by their tails, their tracks leading away and not toward their hiding place.

Misdirection was in the mud. And on that foundation, two brothers constructed a city.

People here knew that life wasn’t about how much you could take before you die. It was about whether you could shrug off mortality, fool the boatman and cross the Styx with a pocketful of life. For if there’s one thing that the old stories showed, it was that even giants and gods could be manipulated. Even if Tiberius was divine, it would do little to help him in this city. A slave could become a master, a god could be brought low. One roll of the dice could change the mind of Fortune. Gnaeus knew a gambler when he saw one – and Tiberius was playing with the fate of everyone.

 ‘Are we only half of our history?’ he said. ‘Have we not learnt from our ancestors? Praetorians ruled Plebeians, half ruling half, a century ago, casting our city into ruin. Must we be cast again?’

Gnaeus admired Tiberius’ ability to make the voice of nothing sound like the voice of the people. There was another man for whom words had worked as well as swords: Cato, who had once ended all speeches with ‘Carthago delenda est.Carthage must be destroyed.’ And Gnaeus wondered if you spoke a phrase enough, it would become true whether it was prophecy or not.

Here Tiberius’ words were being drunk by old soldiers, by a young poet scribbling onto parchment; by a smattering of praetorians and a crowd of dockworkers who were blessed with citizenship but little else. Gnaeus suspected they were as ready for a fight as an armed century.

But then Gnaeus noticed someone who should not be there, standing a little apart from Tiberius, though evidently aligned with him, clad in centurion’s armour that did not bear the mark of any legion. Old burn marks clawed at the man’s face and neck, as if Vulcan had branded his seal of ownership there.

The man’s eyes were trained upon Gnaeus with an archer’s focus. And even at this distance, the arrows in his stare were drawing blood.

It was the stare of a man who had not died.

***


The Silk Prize 2019

We are delighted to announce Shona Mallalieu has won the inaugural Silk Prize for outstanding achievement by a student during the Creative and Professional Writing BA at the University of the West of England.

Senior Lecturer Kim Sherwood nominated four finalists with the winning novel judged by Bath Novel Award founder Caroline Ambrose. All finalists received individual manuscript and synopsis feedback. Shona also received a stack of Bath Novel Award listed novels.

Shona said: “I am so overwhelmed and honoured by all the amazing feedback I have had, and I’m going to use all of that moving forward.”

Silk Prize 2019 winner Shona Mallalieu

Caroline Ambrose said: “What a delight to read the finalists’ manuscripts. Shona Mallalieu was my winner for THE BONES BENEATH HER, a beautiful, vulnerable and powerful novel about Remy, an ex addict who is eight months’ clean and near to relapse when she finds a life changing sum of money at a murder scene. While the premise is dark, Remy’s voice shines out and I found myself rooting for Remy from page one. It was as though her hand reached out of the manuscript and pulled me right into her world, the pages turned themselves. Shona’s writing is arresting, vivid and moving; an author with the gift to pack a powerful punch while writing with the lightest touch.”

Kim Sherwood, who won The Bath Novel Award with Testament in 2016 commented: “It’s been a joy and a privilege to teach these wonderful writers at every stage of their degree. With such a talented group, it was very hard to choose just four students for the shortlist. Shona Mallalieu, Cara Squires, Sophie Pearn and Sophie Cole all rose to the challenge, producing original work that lingers in the mind – powerful, moving, funny, unexpected, deeply felt, and finely wrought. What stands out most perhaps in all of these extracts is voice – all of these writers have something to say, and a new and exciting voice in which to say it.”

“THE BONES BENEATH HER stands out for its stunning descriptive language, understanding of character, and masterful pace. It was a joy to help choose the winning novel with Caroline. I have been lucky enough to read this manuscript over the past year. Shona Mallalieu is a natural born talent with the commitment to back it up, and that is borne out in this extraordinary extract. Her fiction offers distinctive and unforgettable imagery, unflinching and arresting descriptions of life as an addict, a thrilling plot, and spot on observations of ourselves as people, and the society we live in.”

“This a novel that manages to articulate our deepest truths, a novel that will make you think, feel, laugh out loud, and cry. Shona’s manuscript has it all – from character to plot to language – and I think it will speak to a lot of people, just as it has spoken to me on so many levels. I believe her book heralds an important voice in contemporary fiction. What a joy to read such an exciting novel as it finds its way into the world.”

Extract: THE BONES BENEATH HER by Shona Mallalieu

When I was six, I found the decomposing body of a mouse in the garden. An offering from the neighbourhood tabby, no doubt. I used to hop along the path of concrete slabs that cut through the centre barefoot, imagining the grass was molten lava. The tiny body was presented neatly on the cold surface of the first slab. I put it in a box and kept it in my room. Every day I checked on it, to watch how it changed, how it was slowly eaten away – never disappearing completely – until all that remained was the thin white frame of its skeleton. I held it in my chubby palm, this memento of a life. I’d spend hours examining it, nursing it. A secret I knew I had to keep.

On the day my mother caught me, she slapped it out of my hands. Three red stripes bloomed.


That’s dirty Remy! What are you doing with that thing?!


I said nothing. I’d felt it slip from my grasp, watched it fall to the floor and shatter, the top of its spine separating like chalk from its skull. I didn’t cry.


Mama. You killed her.


My whispered words hung strangely in the air. I remember feeling as though the room was filling with water. Don’t be ridiculous, you can’t kill something that’s already dead!


The roses on her skirt – like bloody thumbprints – swished and disappeared behind the door, leaving me crouched with my chin in my knees, alone with a twice dead thing.


You can’t kill something that is already dead.


This is one of my earliest memories. I don’t like to think about the past. Fortunately, there are whole periods that are completely dark, years I don’t recall. As for the things I do remember, my life has been one long, drawn out attempt to forget, with varying degrees of success.


But some memories are persistent. Some are impossible to erase, and impossible to escape. In the locked room of my mind they play themselves, rewind and play again, and all I can do is watch, trying to find the answer, the truth, the lie, the way it all clicks into place, the way the puzzle fits. I would learn later on just how wrong my mother was. Some inexplicable part of me recognised it the moment I found those bones. A recognition as immediate and vital as the palm of my hand that day, hot and stinging. Things can die over and over, again and again.

* * *

Silk Prize 2019 finalist Cara Squires

Finalist Cara Squires was published in “Project Boast”, an all-female poetry anthology and is currently working on her first crime novel about the corruptive power of wealth. Cara is about to begin a Creative Writing MA at Bath Spa University.

Kim Sherwood said: “Cara Squires’ novel Firewood stands out for its dry humour, sassy voice, strong character dynamics, and ability to ramp up the suspense.”

Extract: FIREWOOD by Cara Squires

The inferno was bursting out from within, turning the redbrick manor black. The rose garden was ash. Even from the middle of the lake, Amanda felt the heat. Would they see the fire in Newtown? Could a fire engine even make it through the snow if the drifts were as tall as Talia had described?


Amanda trod water. In the pitch black of the early morning, in the shadow of a burning sky and a spreading fire, fat tears rolled down Amanda’s face and dripped off her chin. They were welcome drops of warmth in a pool of cold. Tears of relief, of grief, of horror. Never
usually one to herald fate and destiny, she felt in this moment that everything in her life had led her to Eleanor Fellows.


Amanda had no way of knowing what would happen now. Whether help would come or whether she would be able to make it to help. Whether anyone would ever be prosecuted for what Eleanor endured. But in this moment, it was enough for her that she knew exactly what had happened. That, even if nobody but Amanda ever knew, Eleanor was no longer bearing the weight of her trauma alone.


A burning, nagging pain rose to the surface of Amanda’s thoughts. She looked down at her shoulder. The bleeding seemed to have slowed, but it was difficult to tell exactly what was going on by the light of the distant flames. The corpse floated ever closer, growing heavier, retaining water. Amanda swam across the lake. Her right ankle throbbed with every kick, but eventually she reached the dock and heaved herself up. Normally, Tony would have made some kind of joke by now. Instead, there was silence, disturbed only by the fire’s hungry consumption. The forest beyond the fire was still. It seemed to know that years and years of pain were burning up at its centre.

Silk prize 2019 finalist Sophie Pearn

Sophie Pearn is a socially conscious writer who is inspired to create stories about empowering characters who experience transformation in unlikely circumstances. In her novel Ada must escape a deadly cult in France after being enticed into a life of alternative living in a Parisian squat.

Having grown in confidence during the UWE course, she hopes to take a Masters in fiction writing.

Kim Sherwood said: “Sophie Pearn’s novel Caged in Bohemia stands out for its strong sense of place, and its sensual and rich language juxtaposed with strong and building tension.

Extract: CAGED IN BOHEMIA by Sophie Pearn

Lucien explains the building used to be a clothing factory that went out of business in the mid-1970s. Old fashioned sewing machines are still fixed to the ground floor. Mostly artists and musicians live here, but there are wanderers passing through. The ingenuity people possess here is impressive. Makeshift bedrooms are formed using anything from dust sheets to table tops. Each space stamped with personality depending on the person it houses. Some areas are just dirty rags draped over pillows. Others have posters and candles with incense burning. There are elements of the building that can’t be disguised but with imagination they are transformed for practical purposes. Washing lines are strung to overhead pipework and rainwater is collected in barrels underneath holes in the roof.

In a matter of hours, I’ve almost forgotten why I’ve come to Paris. Walls as big as my house spray painted with unfinished murals distract me. I try to fill in the blanks surrounding people here, but its as if no one conforms to an identity, each and everyone living in the moment, their ties to the outside world severed. Lucien tells me to make myself at home. I sit crossed leg on a mattress daydreaming, while I wait for his return.

Silk Prize 2019 finalist Sophie Cole

Sophie Cole is a junior copywriter at a leading written communications agency in Bristol who hopes to use her love of words to shake up the way that businesses communicate.

Her novel explores intergenerational secrets and “the pressure to be unflappable in an increasingly stressful world.”

Sophie said: “The creative and professional writing course at UWE has helped me see that it’s possible to genuinely do something you love every single day, despite facing opposition along my journey from people in my working-class community who didn’t see writing as a ‘real career’. You can take a risk and have it pay off if you’re willing to never give up on your dream, or yourself.”

Kim Sherwood said: “Sophie Cole’s novel Don’t Crack stands out for its emotional insight, wry humour and gripping narrative voice.”

Extract: DON’T CRACK by Sophie Cole

I knew she was dead as soon as I heard those cries. The memory haunts me every time I’m alone. It’s there in every moment of silence, every lull in conversation, every time I stop to catch my breath. Of course, I’ve never shared it with anyone. But I know something was connecting us at that moment, some kind of folie a deux that meant only I could feel her pain. She was crying out for my help.

My grandma didn’t want to die. But I let her go.

The day had started as they always seemed to. Slept through the alarm. Woke up in a panic. Tried to brush my hair and my teeth at the same time, only to smear toothpaste in my already matted hair and whack myself on the head with the brush. Sat down on the toilet. Felt those familiar waves of panic crash over me. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Stood up as soon as my head stopped spinning. Pulled on an outfit that vaguely co-ordinated in the gloom of my bedroom. Left the house. Realised my outfit was far too creased to be acceptable. Said fuck it. Ran to the bus stop. Squeezed in between the unwashed bodies.

Eau de BO filled the packed, sweaty bus as it trundled through the congested streets of the city centre. I grabbed a mirror from my bag and inspected my face. I pulled out my mascara but abandoned it quickly, resolving that the ripe armpit looming dangerously close to the wand was a recipe for an eye infection. I’d have to find 5 minutes for some mascara and concealer before my first meeting, so my client didn’t run away in fear. I sighed. Prioritising sleep over beauty wasn’t wise when my bare face made me look like a mole rat on crack.

I shuffled off the bus and into the crisp morning air. It stung my cheeks and I pulled my ugly puffer jacket tighter around me, sinking down deeper into the hideous checked material. I’d found it at a charity shop three years ago and as soon as I put it on, I felt as though I’d met my soul mate in coat form. I mean, not really, but it was incredibly warm, cheerfully colourful and less than £20. And as soon as I saw how much it pissed my mum off, who called it ‘vulgar’ and ‘disgusting’, I resolved to wear it until it literally fell apart.