A Short Story Competition

advert for the Parracombe prize

For forty years I lived in a small village on Exmoor in Devon with a population of about 250 people. Three years ago I moved six miles to Lynton, a huge seaside village of 1500 people.

There was always a strong literary community in Parracombe and, with the advent of a Community Trust to sustain the infrastructure, was born the independent framework through which we could run a short story competition. Thus the Parracombe Prize was conceived as an annual event open to all.

Over the years I have entered a number of short story competitions and watched with eager anticipation as the short list and eventual winners were announced. However, this competition is not one I can enter as I’m part of the organisation, but seeing and reading the variety of entries is delightful. The competition closes at the end of January 2021 and the short list will be announced as soon after as is possible.

Shortlisted entries will be published in a book, professionally designed, and available online and through the Parracombe Prize website.

A Lost Poster from the Belle Epoche

A poster from France c1900

I have a bound collection of L’Art Decorative magazines published between 1899 and 1900. Amongst many beautiful illustrations and photographs is a monochrome reproduction of a poster by the Belgium post-impressionist Georges Lemmen.

I have never been able to find a colour version of this poster and the only copies I have found are probably from the same magazine reproduction. The cafe this was produced for has long since disappeared. At 82 Rue des Petit-Champs there is now a bank. From where the cafe was you can see a Starbucks and a Pret a Manger – not quite the same.

As I understand, Georges Lemmen only spent a brief period producing posters before returning to fine art. Like any commercial artist he was not shy about using references he had already drawn. The reproduction I found is shown here with two of Lemmen’s paintings. They clearly show the inspiration for the two figures in the poster.

Lemmen’s paintings often used rich, deep colour schemes, whereas his posters (those that I have found) use a more subdued palette. I have no idea what the original colours may have been in this work, so this is by no means an academic interpretation. My version was done mainly for my amusement and because I wanted to bring this beautifully balanced composition back to life (because it is not his original work, I have not included his monogram in my version).

Works by Georges Lemmen

A print of this is available in my Etsy shop, bruceaikenart.

London docks remembered

I grew up so close to the Thames that it was part of my life. As a teenager I rowed in the tidal reaches in a coxed four and spent one memorable summer working on a tug boat based out of the pool of London. As a student I often ate my lunch on its banks and partied on boats. I never really thought of London as north and south, but simply straddling the Thames. For me, London was the Thames. The docks were a fascination from when I was at primary school and still are. This graphic image I’ve made is how I remember them in the early 1950s. Many are no longer there and their names died with them. Part of Lavender Pond is now a nature reserve but Lady Dock is lost I believe.

A print of this is available in my Etsy shop, bruceaikenart.

Will and Ned’s Adventure in Space

double page spread of picture book

A few years ago I wrote and illustrated a picture book for my grandchildren. Picking it up again in an idle moment I realised that it could be re-written and re-illustrated for a wider audience. So I did that, packaged up the new version and sent it to a couple agents. The response was quiet.

So I did what any good professional should do and took a good hard look at the illustrations, text and storyline – and I found faults. Some words were too advanced for the potential readers and there wasn’t really a central plot. Thus prompting a complete re-write and many adjustments to the illustrations.

The story now has a plot and because of that I think it’s more engaging. Although the plot centres on two boys, an older sister enables their adventure and a younger sister, who accompanies them, is more astute and fired by an imagination equal to, if not greater than, the boys. Although identities have been changed, the names remain those of my grandchildren.

I’ll send this to a few more agents, but without great expectations. However I have faith in this project and have already started writing and illustrating the next adventure, Will and Ned’s Adventure Under the Ocean. I even have outline plans for books three (a balloon flight over the jungle) and four (a trip to the arctic circle). Without an agent or publisher I’ll revert to self-publishing on Amazon, but I have a few ideas for marketing too (an animated Youtube version is in it’s early stages), so maybe they will be modestly successful as well as fun to write and illustrate.

Is money real?

gold bullion

I wrote Hope Island in 2019 – already one of the three predicted events has almost happened. I began to question, not for the first time, the value of money.

In the world today we don’t have real money, we operate almost entirely on promises. You may imagine that the statement you get from a bank guarantees your cash – it doesn’t. There isn’t a pile of cash or gold anywhere that is large enough to supply those promises.

If you gathered all the hard currency in the world, notes and coins, it wouldn’t be enough to pay off the US national debt and your bank statement would mean nothing. In other words, when faith in those bank statements dissipates, the whole imaginary money system would collapse.

Gold itself doesn’t have any great practical uses, it’s main use is jewellery, but it is rare. All the gold in the world would fit in three Olympic swimming pools. That is a lot of gold, but not nearly enough. The value today of all that gold is about 7 trillion US dollars, but the US national debt alone is over 20 trillion dollars.

In financial terms we have built castles made of promises. They will crumble one day.

Gold bullion coins

In the world Hope Island inhabits the only valuable coins are gold. The island has a small, self-sustained population and operates as a collective. Some technology has been retained, like wind generated electricity and plumbing. Much has been lost or is in short supply. Some luxuries can be bought from the mainland which is gradually regenerating 19th and 20th century technology. Conflict is never far from any society and in a novel, as in an oyster, it’s the grit that generates the pearl.

gold bullion coins

The only valuable coin is gold bullion – buy yours now is my advice.