Fairy tales and folk stories – that was the theme of this year’s Richard Harrington Literature and Art Challenge 2015, one that inspired the artists and writers of Watford in their droves. And the winners of the writing side of the competition are in.

Watford Live!, Watford Area Arts Forum and Watford Writers invited creative types to express their interpretation of the theme in words or pictures, and entries for the writing challenge could have been a blog, factual piece or a fictional story. Works could have put a modern twist on an old story or placed characters from a well-known tale in an unusual setting.

In first place, winning a £50 cash prize and the coveted Richard Harrington Trophy, is the aptly named Carolyn Storey for her short story, The Seeker (below).

Carolyn’s story and the nine other top entries are currently displayed on bus shelters around Watford and in the Town Hall subway, where they will be throughout June.

The art challenge entries – oils, watercolours, pen and ink, collages and photographs – are on display in Watford Museum until Saturday, June 27 for visitors to vote for their favourite, so make sure you go along and have your say.

The presentations to the winners of both competitions in the challenge will be held at Watford Museum, Lower High Street, Watford, on Saturday, June 27. Details: watfordwriters.co.uk, watfordareaartsforum.com, watfordmuseum.org.uk

The top ten stories will be available to read online on the Watford Observer website all this week. Here are the 1st, 2nd and joint 3rd winners. Come back every day to read the rest. 


1st Place - The Seeker By Carolyn Storey

“Many people wish to see Faeries. All you need to do is BELIEVE, and they will appear.”

That was the opening line in Jake’s new book: The Faerie Seekers’ Guidebook. Jake’s Grandad knew he loved reading books about Magical beings. But this one – he told him - was the best yet: it could teach you how to see Faeries!

“He’s eleven,” Jake’s Dad grumbled. “He’s starting secondary school soon, he should be doing away with that rubbish.”

“He’s still young,” said his Grandad, winking at Jake. “The faeries are drawn to those who are young-at-heart.”

Now of course Jake, like everyone, knew that faeries can’t be real.

But he couldn’t help wondering. What if they were?

What if this book really could help him see the creatures he had always read about?

There was only one thing for it – he was going to put his book to the test!

The next day, he put on his wellingtons and went traipsing straight over to the park! In the park was a rolling meadow with a hidden stream, which was surrounded by towering trees that reached over, making a leafy canopy roof. And the brambles had completely overgrown all along the banks. It made Jake feel like he was cocooned in an enchanted gully. So Jake sat at the edge of the riverbank and drew in a deep breath.

“Be silent, be still – BELIEVE.”

As the minutes ticked by Jake was begging for something to appear.

Like a Water Sprite suddenly jumping out of the murky river, or the beautiful Dryads –tree faeries – stepping out from tree trunks? Or maybe, The Pan himself would pop out from the nettles?

But two hours had passed, and nothing. Jake was getting impatient, hungry and he was feeling very chilly. He stared idly at the peaty water. There was no magic here, just an overgrown, unloved river.

“Stupid.” He muttered. Who was he kidding? How could he be so pathetic at his age to believe a book could help people see faeries?

But then– A flicker! A flash! Jake’s heart jumped. He could see it, hovering, dancing in the air behind the mess of brambles! A glimmering, shimmering blue! – And... Orange too!

And then it stopped, sitting on a branch, deep in the shadows. Jake was stunned to the spot. He tried desperately to make out the thing between the branches, but it was just too far away, and it was too dark now!

Jake reached for his phone to take a photo – Oh no! He’d switched it off!

Jake couldn’t wait. Every second counted. He had to get a better look – And then, it was gone.

That evening, as he trudged home across the meadows, Jake was utterly mystified. He couldn’t stop asking himself: Was that really what he thought he saw?

“It had to be. I just had to.” Because there was one thing Jake definitely was sure of: There’s NO such thing as “flashy- blue-glimmering-orange-birds” living by rivers in Britain.

– Right?


2nd Place - The Alley by Louise Broadbent

There was once a girl who loved to walk through an alley on her way home from school. It didn't matter to her that the route was more of a longcut than a shortcut, for the path was verged with grass and flowers, trees reached their branches overhead and the only other souls she ever saw were squirrels and butterflies and birds.

The girl loved the alley for she had no worries there. There were no other girls to laugh at her and call her names and she didn't have to try to fit in. The girl couldn't seem to get the hang of fitting in – she tried and tried but everything about her was wrong. And she didn't understand what or how or why. It was as though they were all playing a secret game for which everyone knew the rules – everyone except her. The only rule she knew was that she couldn't ask about it.

One evening, when her mother asked about her day, she told her about a pretty flower she'd seen on her way.

'Where was this?' her mother asked.

'In the alley,' the girl replied.

'Alley? What alley?'

'It's the way I walk home from school. Off Uxbridge Road. It comes out next to the tennis court.'

Her mother frowned. 'You walk down there?'

The girl didn't understand. Why did her mother say it like it was a bad thing. 'Yes. It's not quicker, but it is -.'

'Don't you know what could happen down there? Anything could happen. And no-one would be around...'

'That's why I like it.'

'Anna, there might be men.'

'I've never seen anyone.'

'They might hurt you.'

'What are you -?'

'It's dangerous, Anna, you're not to go down there again.'

'But I-.'

'Don't you understand? They could do anything to you. It's secluded, they could watch you, see you go down there, then follow you and...' Her eyes stared into the girl's. 'No-one would be around to hear...to help.' She grabbed the girl's shoulders. 'Promise me you won't walk that way, anymore. Promise me, Anna.'

'You're frightening me.'

'Promise me.'

She promised.

The next day, when the girl reached the alley she stopped and peered down it. She couldn't see anyone. It didn't look any different to normal. She took a step. Then another. But her heart was beating fast and her breathing was too shallow. What if there was a man? What if her mother was right? She could see him, just around the corner, waiting for her. Waiting to...

She turned and ran, not stopping 'til she reached the safety of the road.

The alley hadn't looked different, but it was different. She could feel it.

So Anna didn't walk that way anymore.


Joint 3rd Place - Return of the Tooth Fairies by John Ward

I wake to the sound of whispering. Someone is in my bedroom. I lay still, listening. I hear them again, the whispers.

Two voices, tinkling, light as a feather.

“Where shall we put them?”

“I don’t know.”

“What did they tell us?"

“I thought you were listening.”

“I thought you were.”

I strain to see through the darkness. There are two small lights, twinkling, no more than pinpoints.. Am I dreaming? Hallucinating?

“Who’s there?”

“Oh, I’ve dropped one,” comes a tiny voice.

I switch on the light. “Who are you?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. We didn’t mean to wake you.”

I sit up. There’s a tiny figure, standing on my bed near my feet, and there’s a beam of light, like a little miner’s lamp.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Sylvie, your tooth fairy. I’m sorry we woke you.”

“We? Who’s we?”

“My friend, Plunge. He’s there on the floor.”

I look over the side of my bed. There’s another point of light.

“I don’t believe in ….”

“DON’T SAY IT! “ they shout together. “If you say that one of us will die.”

“Sorry.“ Why am I saying sorry? It’s my room. “Why are you here?”

“To return your teeth.”

“What teeth?” I run my tongue over my front teeth to check if they are still there.

“When you were young your baby teeth came out and you put them under your pillow.”

“Yes. My parents left me sixpences.”

“No, it was us, your tooth fairies..”

“That’s what my parents said but I never believed them.”

The second figure appears on the bed. I don’t know how he got there. He just appeared.

‘Sylvie’s right. It was us and now we’re returning them.”

“What for?” I can’t quite get to grips with the fact I’m having a discussion with two fairies.

“Shall I tell him?” says Plunge.

“No, I’ll tell him.”

“Please, one of you tell me.”

Sylvie says, “There are two reasons. First, no child is satisfied with sixpence any more. There are no sixpences and it became too expensive to leave more.”

“Accountants are in charge now,” added Plunge.

Sylvie glares at Plunge. “I was going to tell him.”

“Go on then,” says Plunge.

“All right, I am.”

“I don’t care, as long as some one does,” say I.

“No need to be tetchy,” says Plunge.

Before I can answer, Sylvie carries on.

“We are just overloaded with teeth, all carefully filed away. Think how much fairy power is wasted doing that and imagine how large our filing systems are.”

“I can’t imagine.”

“Well they are,” says Plunge. “So the decision was taken at the highest level to give them back”

“ We are downsizing. We have fewer fairies now because the young don’t believe …… Well, you know.”

And they disappeared.

When I woke next morning, I thought I’d dreamt it but there, under my pillow was a little bag full of baby teeth.


Joint 3rd place - A Cereal Offender by Paul White

Once upon a time in a police station somewhere near you...

‘Okay Sarge, this is Goldilocks, she’s been detained on suspicion of theft and criminal damage to a property belonging to a Mr and Mrs Bear of Whippendell Woods. Apparently she just waltzed in, helped herself to their breakfast cereal and then started breaking up the place. They found her passed out on their son’s bed when they came home. Unfortunately the Bears don’t want to press charges, they reckon she does this sort of thing all the time, but I think we could be talking ursine hate crime here.’

Sergeant Trott glanced down at the small girl who stood, smiling broadly, the other side of the desk, her cherubic face framed by a mop of golden curls.

‘And,’ the young constable continued, ‘I’ve got her bang to rights – eyewitnesses, porridge stains, everything.’

There followed a long pause as Sergeant Trott studied the constable’s eager fresh face for just the merest hint of a smile.

‘Porridge stains?’ he repeated finally. ‘You have porridge stains?’

There was an enthusiastic nod in reply.

‘And tell me, Constable, while you were collecting these porridge stains, did nothing strike you in the slightest bit odd about the whole thing? Maybe that the victims are three bears who live in the woods or that your chief suspect just happens to be a young girl called Goldilocks? Didn’t ring any bells at all? Didn’t make you think, hello, this sounds familiar?’

A confused look swept across the young constable’s face.

‘Er... no, not really Sarge,’ he stuttered. ‘She’s not wanted already is she? I mean it wouldn’t surprise me, she‘s got that criminal look about her. I did try to radio in her details but she’s being deliberately obstructive, reckons she’s only got one name.’

Sergeant Trott slumped back into his chair with a long audible sigh.

‘Where I come from in Fairytale Land,’ a small voice piped up from just below the desktop, ‘lots of people only have one name. There’s Cinderella, Rapunzel, and poor Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t even have one proper name let alone two.’

A loud snigger came from the direction of the constable and Sergeant Trott glared across at him.

‘Constable,’ he said sharply, ‘do you remember a conversation we had last month when you tried to detain the Big Bad Wolf under the Dangerous Dogs Act? Or the month before that when you arrested Snow White’s stepmother for being in possession of a deadly apple, do you remember what I said to you at the time?

‘Um... yes, Sergeant, you said that when you’ve been in the job as long as you have you can grow very cynical.’

‘Yeah, and after that bit, when I said that as a policeman you’re going to get told fairy stories every day of the week? The difference being that a good copper accepts that sometimes, just sometimes, one of them does actually turn out to be true.’