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Short Story Competition Winners March/April/May

by Northern Life

Read the winners and runners-up of this issue's short story competition...

A big congratulations to Aly Rhodes, whose work titled ‘Finding Grandma’ has been chosen as the winner of Northern Life’s Short Story competition.

We were captivated by the evocative narrative, the vibrant voice, and, of course, the northern backdrop. Fantastic job, Aly! If this story sparks your creativity, consider submitting your own piece. Our upcoming theme is Mysteries. Submit your entries by April 1st, and your story could be featured in our next edition.

Finding Grandma

by Aly Rhodes

The mill town of Saltaire heaved with tourists – bargaining at street bazaars, eating chilli tacos in the bunting-laden streets, sinking pints outside Titus Salts’ bar and posing by the stone lions. A kite snagged in a tree, a child cried and, inside the antiques shop, Lou discovered a fragment of her family buried in a box.

The street fair, the cheery music and the wafting food smells, tempted Lou into the warm May sunshine. The neighbour’s cat, a black and white with a trompe l’oeil eye patch, wove around her ankles, purring. Lou had been renting in Saltaire for a handful of months, but had still barely unpacked. She’d felt lost after splitting up from her ex, so she’d followed her heart back to Yorkshire, to the family’s roots.

Saltaire streets

Lou bought a latte-to-go, then wandered down to the River Aire, towards the flower-painted barge which sold ‘the best ice cream on the water’. A pair of swans stalked the tourists. Lou preferred the waddling, quacking ducks. On the return walk, she lingered outside the antiques shop, Kat’s Curios. At the door, a life-size, cerise-lipped, Betty Boop welcomed customers, with a wink.

Lou nodded ‘Hi’ to the lady on the till and browsed along the shelves, burrowing into boxes. Myriad sepia images of Bradford, several moors and mills, the Bronte’s Haworth – riffled past her fingers, flurries of dust motes flew upwards, and clusters of monochrome faces peered at her.

Men in flat caps wearing luxuriant moustaches, in tweed jackets, standing outside pubs; women in aprons on bicycles, amidst yards heaped with laundry, in the mills. There were ladies corseted into Edwardian gowns, posing arm-in-arm under hats as large as trays. There were amateur dramatic groups posing on stages, theatrical backdrops . . . Lou paused, double-checked the face, gawping in surprise as she mouthed the name printed on the postcard – Edith Van Morris, Actress, 1941.

Men in flat caps wearing luxuriant moustaches, in tweed jackets, standing outside pubs; women in aprons on bicycles, amidst yards heaped with laundry, in the mills.

A dark-eyed woman stared at her, perched on a chair, long brunette hair twisted up and decorated with flowers, lips wide and lush. She was dressed in short velvet pantaloons and a daringly low-cut white chemise, obviously costumed for a role in some long-forgotten production. She radiated confidence and glamour. Edith had autographed the card, ‘To Oliver, my darling, with love xxx’.

Lou handed over three one-pound coins at the till and, in a daze, wandered home. The eye-patch pirate cat greeted her vociferously.

Inside, Lou dragged out a battered box labelled ‘Family Albums’, dug down deep and pulled out one of cream, foxed linen.

Yes, this one. Mum’s family.

Lou remembered scraps of gossip drip-fed by her mother; wisps of a scandal, a rich, titled gentleman, rumours of a baby born out-of-wedlock, an adoption, an abandoned career, a hasty, loveless marriage blighted by alcoholism. It had been a tale echoing from another era, ancient family history and nothing to do with Lou…or her fierce ambition to work as an actress.

This ambition had led to a hard-won drama degree, driven her through the highs and lows of touring, studded with fallow ‘resting’ periods, when waitressing paid the bills. Only in this last year, under pressure from her then-partner, had she gotten ‘a proper job’. They’d split up anyway.

Lou sat, running her fingers over the faded postcard. “Grandma? Wow! Is that really you?” Edith, with her defiant gaze, didn’t look as though she’d ever give in or give up. Family lore however told another story.

“Was this ‘Oliver’ your true love?”

Lou leafed through the creamy pages, the years whisking past. There! Found you. At a post-war family picnic in Halifax, the still-lovely face shaded by a hat – was her grandmother, now Mrs Edith Lomax. The face had the same high cheekbones, those wide lips, but she was looking away from the man beside her.

The face had the same high cheekbones, those wide lips, but she was looking away from the man beside her.

The man was Edith’s husband, Dickie Lomax, somewhat portly, one proprietorial arm resting on his wife’s skirt, cigar clamped in mouth. Children of various ages, including Lou’s mother, here just a chubby toddler, sprawled around the couple.

Lou pinned the two photographs of Edith on the cork-board. Only a decade or so apart, yet revealing a chasm of change in her Grandma’s circumstances. Lou flicked on the kettle, picking up a ‘To Do’ jotter. In neon pink pen she scrawled, Reactivate acting ad in ‘Spotlight’.

She wrote some more things down on the whiteboard before she got busy chopping up vegetables and peeling potatoes for supper. She took the trouble to lay the table, placing flowers in a vase.

Supper for one was fine. In fact, it was perfect.

Above her on the board, in block red capitals – WRITE EDITH’S STORY – ONE WOMAN SHOW? TOUR?

Beneath that in smaller letters – Adopt a cat.

Lerwick Bay 

By Corinne Harrison

 It was the kind of early hour on a Saturday morning Emily used to loathe. Waddling over the pebbled sand of the Sletts and cringing at the dank cold under her soles, she pulled at her heavy wetsuit. Her two new friends, two women well accustomed to the wild ways of island life, had insisted on this morning’s venture. They walked ahead of her: Annie, a dentist with a hanger-like smile, and Lillian, a tall woman who taught PE at Lerwick’s high school.

Bay water tittered with ripples. Seagulls trailed across the heavens. Under it, Lerwick Bay looked ethereal, as though glazed over with delicate blue glass. Emily’s friends stopped by the toes of the water and she joined them to face the January waves.

If things don’t go right…

Go Left. 

Emily had been sitting in Joe and the Juice in Wimbledon Village, perched on an uncomfortable wooden stool, listening to the blender rage. She’d been rubbing the third finger on her left hand, on the band of skin that was now smooth and indented, when the sign on the wall caught her eye. People bundled into the shop to queue in front of the sign. She leaned around them. Someone called her order, scanning the heads of the customers.  The words peeled from the canvas and burned in the air.

The sight of her mother waiting for her outside the Dog & Fox made Emily take a large gulp of her shake. Her mother folded her into her arms, gold rings pressing hard on Emily’s back. She smelt of heady Chanel and coconut butter.

“How are you doing darling?” Her mother asked. She had a crooning voice, like the thrum of a purr. Green eyes went to Emily’s hastily scraped up ponytail, and she ran her palm over a flare of hair.

“Please don’t ask me that, mum.” Emily said.

“Well what do you expect me to do? You’ve shut me out for weeks. You haven’t let me help you through this.”

“I just needed some time.”

Her mother pulled Emily’s arm in and started to walk them down the street. It was Sunday, a day Emily habitually set aside for brunch with girlfriends, for the gym, or for afternoons with hers or Daryl’s families. But Emily had kept to herself, alone in her house for weeks. She was now starting to wonder if she should have stayed there.

“Well don’t wallow. You must keep yourself busy – you couldn’t be in a better place for it. London’s got all you need here.”

Emily sucked in her top lip. That had been her mantra too, but now she wasn’t quite sure why. She’d swallowed the busy city life whole – but look where it had left her. She made to carry on across the road, but her mother held her back.  “No, let’s go left here. I want to take you for some real food.”

Go left.

Emily had lived in South London all her life. A place where the hollow call of commercial planes pierced the sky, where close hugging buildings fell like stairs upon each other, where streets bustled and traffic continued underground like caterpillars scuttling under foliage.

But now, Emily sold most of her belongings. Quit her job. Packed a large suitcase.  She went left. And headed for the northernmost point of the UK.

“You’ll enjoy it – eventually. You might even come back next year,” Lillian said. Emily gave a breathy laugh. “I’m only here for a year. Not sure if I’ll be here next January.”

Lillian grinned. “That’s what I said.”

The cold screamed along the tracks of her feet. Then, up her legs as she waded further in. She fought the urge to retreat and splashed forward. She saw Daryl packing his suitcase, saying something about her never being home, that he no longer felt like they were a couple. Her body had forgotten how to breathe. She fought to take in sharp sips of air. He’d left. And she’d festered with the feeling of everything else going with him.

The water was now at her waist. She gritted her teeth and swung another leg forward. Her friends’ heads bobbed far ahead, so she launched herself into an awkward front stroke. The shock was starting to subside, and soon, the water felt marginally warmer. She was several metres in when her limbs stilled. Her eyes fell on the pale thin line of the horizon. There was something about the way Lerwick bay gaped into the North Sea, about how the endless stretch of blue obliterated any sense of existence. She felt – suspended.

“Swim,” Annie shouted back.

A fog of air billowed from Emily in a long, tumbling stream. She felt like she’d been holding it in all her life. She took a breath in.

And plunged under the waves.

The Improbable Meeting of Howard & Tracey

by Scott Davies

The way in which Howard and Tracey met was incredibly improbable. Improbable in the same way that a man eating a taco- only to find it is the bad kind of taco- would find it improbable that he might vomit over a third storey balcony and have said vomit land on, for example, the manager of a Pret A Manger out walking her dog after a long and tiring day of dealing with the general public.

Of course, one thing is for certain, and it is that the big man upstairs, by whatever name he might go by in your house, has a panache for the improbable, especially when it comes to the final resting spot for a mouthful of vomit.

It therefore stands to reason, and becomes far more probable than it does improbable, that if a man is to vomit over a third storey balcony after consuming a taco of the bad variety, he will hit the manager of a local Pret A Manger squarely on the head, but thankfully miss the small terrier she is walking entirely.

And so, this is how they had met.

Howard, a chubby freelance web designer who only shaved twice a month, had ordered a taco to be delivered to his house whilst he sat in his dim living room, ate it over the sink to save on the washing up, and almost instantly regretted it. Some thirty minutes later he found himself with a choice to make; rush through his living room door, up the corridor, through the bathroom door, lift up the toilet lid and hope that nothing escaped from any opening of his body en-route, or swing the patio doors open in his living room leading directly onto his small balcony and heave his guts over that balcony and down to the pavement three floors down.

Well,’ he thought to himself as a solitary bead of sweat trickled down his temple, ‘option two saves on washing up.’

The decision was made and the taco received the old heave-ho over the balcony, landing, as has been covered previously, on the head of the manager of a Pret A Manger.

This manager was not Tracey. His name was Duncan, and for him, this was the final straw. He slopped himself home, showered, put a suit on, popped Derek in the passenger seat of his Seat Ibiza, drove 86 miles to Whitby Bay, tied Derek up outside a fish market, and hurled himself into the sea.

Tracey was a beautiful woman, with long blonde hair and straight white teeth. She was the kind of woman who stopped work on building sites when she walked by them and caused minor motoring incidents while she waited for the bus. As a child, she had been handpicked to model knitwear for a magazine and she had been on the up ever since. As a grown woman, the modelling has fallen by the wayside, instead turning her hand to dental hygiene, a job that pays well and lets her set her own hours. As I say, she has been broadly on the up.

It was therefore improbable that a slightly overweight hermit of a web designer, who rarely wore anything that wasn’t made of flannel, would meet a beautiful dental hygienist who once, by her mere audacity of existing, caused a cyclist to dismount against his will as he slammed into the post of a traffic light. It was even more improbable that they would fall in love, but here we are. This is the scenario we find ourselves in.

But how?

This, you will recall, was the improbable part of the story.

Read the best of our other submissions here.

Northern Life’s Short Story Competition 2024

If you’d love to see your work in print, you’ll be pleased to hear that Northern Life will be running a short story competition over future issues.

See the themes below:

MYSTERIES (deadline April 1st)
BY THE SEASIDE (deadline June 1st)
SUPERNATURAL (deadline August 1st)
CHRISTMAS UP NORTH (deadline October 1st)

Take a look at our Readers’ Submissions for pieces that have been previously published:

The winning short story will be published in Northern Life magazine and on our website. Entry to the short story competition is FREE.

All submissions should be around 800-1,200 words.

If you fancy seeing your writing featured, please send it to or email

NorthernLife March/April/May 24