Gigg Writes October
Ben Harris

In October, the English Department re-launched Gigg Writes, the monthly creative writing competition.

The prompt was the sentence: ‘We find the owl at the very edge of our woods the morning after the storm.’ Entrants were asked to write up to 200 words to continue the story.

The sentence is taken from the fantastic novel, ‘October, October’ by Katya Balen. Katya is a children's author whose first book, ‘The Space We’re In’ was highly commended for the Branford Boase and longlisted for the Carnegie Medal. ‘October, October’ was a Book of the Year in both the Times and the Spectator.

We are delighted to announce that Katya herself acted as our judge.

Having read a shortlist of entries, she said: ‘It was very difficult to choose - there are so many talented writers at your school! Everyone used such beautiful language and had such original and fresh ideas. Please keep writing stories!’

The winning entries were:

Years 7 & 8 – Mollie Mackey (Y8)

We find the owl at the very edge of our woods the morning after the storm. Upon the forest floor lie fallen trees, too weak to survive a storm. The season has been harsh, stripping away the bark and outer layers, yet rendering them more beautiful. They have the appearance of driftwood, twisting in patterns that remind me of seaside waves; even the colour of the moss is kelp-like. From the rich brown earthen hues of the forest ground to the sweetness of the now blue-white sky, the forest is a three-dimensional wonderland for the eyes who are willing to absorb the light.  

The moss feels soft, damp, yet my fingers come away dry. I tilt my head upwards, feeling my hair tumble further down my back; the pines are several houses tall, reaching toward the golden rays of spring. But the owl is not scared. It has seen much worse. Birdsong comes in lulls and bursts, the silence and the singing working together as well as any improvised melody. A new smile paints itself upon our faces, rose-pink lips semi-illuminated by the dappled light. Before I know it, my feet have begun to walk, body and mind both on autopilot - it's morning-time and no one expects us home before tea. 

“Wonderful! The use of the sea metaphor and imagery to describe the bark and the woods was inspired. I also absolutely loved the use of colour - everything felt so lush and vivid. The author has a fantastic control of language, weaving together birdsong and woodland.” 

Years 9 & 10 – Lizzie Allmand-Smith (Y9)

We found the owl at the very edge of our woods the morning after the storm. 

An adventure had emerged. The summer wind and humidity summoned me from my room, and out to the wild. 

A bitter harshness in the air pierced my face and lashed at me. The darkness devouring the moon, a brittle sour taste settled on my tongue. 

 We then first encountered the creature. 

There was not much to see but long outstretched wings, and an abnormal hunchback that made me shiver. The creature hid with the darkness, camouflaged as a bat, and the screech of its voice echoing out across the wood.

I thought it was just as my nightmares coming to haunt me, but the feeling was too real, too abnormal, and supernatural that I don’t think my mind could fathom it. I decided to unveil the creature in the light of day, so I set off the next morning. 

I was frightened, more than ever, my hands shaking, and my heart skipping beats. There was a storm only the night before. Unusual for Summer. But there was more to it, it was strange and abnormal. Just as the creature.

We saw a thing there in the woods. There the thing was.

“What a wild tale! Packed full of tension, but in the most delicate and careful way. I thought this was so special - touches of SKELLIG but also entirely its own. Some of the beautifully-carved phrases took my breath away with their originality.”

Years 11-13 – Roland Hodgson (Y11)

We find the owl at the very edge of our woods the morning after the storm blowing to and fro like a scrawny tumble weed. Flashbacks from the previous night flash through our heads, reminiscent of the lightning staining the ground with charred remains mapping its territory. Haunting cries from above snap us back to our surroundings as black shadows swirl menacingly. Our forest offers little cover now, a mere shadow of its former glory illuminated by the sorry flicker of flames the aftermath of the destruction comes to an end with the last of the oak falling. A fox appears from its den, the sleek orange fur the antithesis of the battlefield that lay before it. Mere seconds above ground and it slinks back into its bunker. Now is not the time. Sodden ashes blow steadily in the breeze reflecting the proud oaks situated beforehand, defending the forest from the likes of humankind. Pools gather at our feet with every step trying to claim our boots as its own, rooted to the spot exposing us to the harsh brutality of the life around us. A rainbow hovers over the horizon in the distance, a lie trying to take away this moment from us, a raw moment of anguish and destruction.

“This writing was so raw and brutal and haunting. I thought the author was so clever to be able to contrast destruction and nature in such a deft way. Denying the humans the hope of a rainbow was such a devastating way to end a short piece that packed in so much.” 

Staff – Karen Peacock (English)

We find the owl at the very edge of our woods the morning after the storm. It looks like a splash of white paint at the foot of the big oak. I am surprised by how small it is against the gnarled, blackened roots.

The wind, left over from last night’s storm, gusts in the branches overhead, lurching drunkenly. A shudder runs through the remaining leaves which have clung on, nipped and clipped by the buffeting breeze.

The air hums with a lingering tension.

Underfoot, the leaf mulch is sodden. Fronds of ferns, furled, loaded with spores, tug at my coat. Dark ribbons of peaty water ooze out from the treads of my wellingtons.

The owl lies, cushioned by pillows of moss, soft and green, which rest against the fallen skeletons of twigs and branches. Its wing flops, the feathers bent and twisted like the spokes of a broken umbrella. I picture it in the darkness, tempest-tossed, flung ragdoll-like against the trees, beak open in a silent scream.

Dark eyes peer solemnly from the white heart of its face.

We stare at each other.

I hold its gaze until its eyes blink, falter and finally close.

The wood has darkened and the wind has stilled. The pine carpet has absorbed all sound, all life.

Shifting, I uproot myself and go.

I see the splash of white long after I leave the woods.

“This piece was absolutely beautiful. I loved the use of punctuation to create a sense of rushing breathlessness, and paragraphs and single lines to help us take a breath. The imagery was so deep, and there were so many brilliant turns of phrase.”