Thank you to everyone who entered. We loved reading your poems and stories and hope that you will enter our latest writing competition, on the theme of Be Careful What You Wish For, which is now open for entrants.
Over five hundred young writers entered The Canterbury Tales Writing Competition 2017/18. We were incredibly impressed by the quality of the writing and it was very tough to pick the shortlists.
Fortunately, we had the help of three wonderful judges Patience Agbabi, Gail Ashton and Stephen Fry. Thanks to their hard work and diligence we have a fantastic selection of winners whose writing really spoke to us and captured some of the magic of the Canterbury Tales.
So here are the winning poems…
The Well-being Coach
Her hair was glossy, Butterscotch (No.3).
Her eyes sparkled, unnaturally green
Her complexion was smooth, beautifully clear
Aided in part by washing with beer.
Her only wish was to relieve others’ stress
Whether through yoga, or tidying mess,
Or relaxing one’s feet in Egyptian sand
Her job was being the helping hand.
She wished that everyone else would know
That the way she got her healthy glow
Was simply yoga, once an hour
And, of course, only cold showers.
And when she found that her advice
Could make her money, wasn’t that nice!
She began to eat the chia seed
Which she claimed fulfilled her every need
Today, she cycles to work (she owns no car)
And there she eats a breakfast bar
Before welcoming a favourite client
Who comes every month, to fix her diet
And really, she is such a charmer
Because she’s mindful of her karma.
Another client comes to align
Her weekly events with her star sign
Our coach checks on the Celestial App;
It isn’t working, she gives it a tap.
An hour later she is taking a break
Ponderously staring into the lake.
The problem is: if she does her job well
For her clients, life will seem swell
Whereas, she will be redundant!
Now, she thinks, where’s the fun in that?
Breathe, she thinks, deep breath, calm down
There will be more stress in this here town.
Back to her office she purposefully strides
She throws the windows open wide
But they just let in the pollution:
Incense and filth is a terrible fusion.
She begins to print out Feng Shui sheets
And the latest recipes
Quinoa, turmeric, seaweed
Almonds, goji berry, sardines!
She will simply have to beat the rest
And fight her way to be the best.
Our coach begins to read, and learn
All the things that will help her turn
Into the best Well-being Coach
In London. What a good approach!
She learns how to have peace in your home:
It’s easy; first, remove your phone
If that’s too hard, you can instead,
Avoid sharp edges and move your bed.
She now knows that craft
Can help hard times to pass
Crochet is great, so is knitting
They’ll help you learn to refrain from hitting,
Whether from having your hands engaged,
Or from self-control, she cannot gauge.
Her elegant hands are in a flurry,
As she types, in a dreadful hurry,
About meditation, relaxation and spinach
And yoga classes taking place in Greenwich.
There is so much lifestyle advice to steal
And use in her business, to help and heal.
She smiles, her gleaming teeth flash
(As a child she always remembered to brush)
She has been struck by inspiration
What better way to reach the nation
Than a healthy lifestyle blog?
Or, even better, a well-being vlog.
With new-found knowledge she’ll entice the world
To come and have their fortunes told
By her, the lovely Gaia McNess
Who helped the world relieve its stress.
by Iris, aged 11
Joining the journey was a DENTIST, skilled,
Countless rotten cavities had he filled.
So gentle was his manner as he drilled,
That no one queried the amount he billed.
His dexterous hands, his patients did please,
As he tuned their teeth like piano keys.
The same nimble digits could unwrap with ease,
A whole box of assorted confectioneries.
Nervous patients, legs trembling like jelly,
Were kindly distracted with the overhead telly.
He removed all their plaque, however smelly,
Flecks sometimes landing on his ample belly.
Good flossing and brushing, he would always beseech,
“Never eat sweets” to the children he’d teach.
The aspiring celebs, he’d whiten with bleach,
Whilst his own breath reeked like a maggoty peach.
Diligent and thorough, yet his manner was mild,
He’d coax open the jaws of the most stubborn child.
It was sometimes observed that he never once smiled
For his own decayed teeth were so shamefully filed!
by Edward, aged 11
My feet ache. My mouth is dry. My entire body radiates pain in vast waves. I take a moment to stare at the majestic African scenery. You get a marvellous view from the mountain that our lonely village is on. The endless grasslands of the plain are littered with wildlife. Mammoth elephants wander the land aimlessly in herds. A giraffe peers over a large tree, chewing a mouthful of leaves. In the distance, I think I see a pride of lions lazing around under the cover of shade, their faces peering out of the abundant grass.
1 mile gone, 9 to go. I continue along the road.
I am hungry. My stomach pleads for food. I think of the famine that ruthlessly rules Kenya. Death is common around here. Despite the death, cheerfulness is eternal. I cannot bring myself to see why people are miserable. The people of my village are endlessly smiling. The singing, the dancing, the joy it gives me and my tribe. Without it we are lost. Bringing us together in one voice. I smile.
3 miles gone, 7 to go. I continue along the road.
It is early morning. I see the sun peek over the horizon. I need to hurry if I don’t want to be caught in the sun’s scorching rays. I see the heat waves rising from the ground. I used to think these were monsters coming from the depths below. Serpents winding through the air. I used to throw stones at them to scare them away. I was afraid they would bite my ankles but when I approached them, I couldn’t see them and I had clearly won the battle. I was a hero in my eyes.
5 miles gone, 5 to go. I continue along the road.
I am tired. I’m really tired. The heavy load weighs me down. But it’s so precious. It is life itself. It keeps our entire tribe alive. My tribe believe it is a gift from Enkai, our God. The cargo is straining on my back. My body screams for rest but as my father always says, to rest is a sign of weakness, so I carry on walking. 7 miles gone, 3 to go. I continue on the road. I think of my family and the love they give to me. It propels me forward.
9 miles gone, 1 to go. I continue on the road.
I see their faces and abandon my shroud of despondency. I hand the treasure to my father. He takes the precious cargo. We all kneel in honor of our gift.
It is my job to bring the water to my family from the clean water well five miles from the village. My mother blesses it, then takes a bowl, fills it with the water and puts it over the fire to make soup. After my soup, I pick up my books and the little stationery that I have and head to school.
Goodbye road. See you tomorrow.
by Noah, aged 11
We’re going on a journey, what shall I see? I see a squirrel climbing up a tree.
What else shall I see?
We’re going in a tunnel, what shall I see? I see my own reflection smiling at me.
We’re going to France, under the sea, what shall I see? A fish chasing me! What else shall I
see? I can see a sting ray smiling at me.
I can see a great big blue whale swimming with me under the sea.
I can see a sword fish as well. I can see a broken ship and it is called a ship wreck.
I can see a treasure chest. I wonder what’s inside?
Time to get off the train and there’s a special sight!
I see a fairy welcoming me, welcoming me, welcoming me!
by Lucy, aged 5
The Wife of Cheshire’s Prologue
With apologies to Geoffrey Chaucer
(* means original Chaucer line)
A Cheshire wife and proud that’s me,
A Northern girl and fancy-free.
Blunt and loud that’s what we’re like,
You Southerners can take a hike.
Husbands at the church door I’ve had five*
And it’s their cash that makes me thrive.
Prada, Chanel and Jimmy Choo,
I’m cooler than the London crew.
Why marry two when you could have eight?*
Those divorce settlements are always great.
With Slater and Gordon I never lose,
My exes always pay their dues.
I’d welcome the sixth wherever he may appear,*
Is this Gucci top a bit too sheer?
Forty-something I may be,
But Botox really works for me.
I have the power during all my life*
To look so fit, with the surgeon’s knife.
I will persevere; I am not fussy,*
Though some round here say I’m a hussy.
Envious cows with boring men,
I’ve got loads more money than all of them.
Cartier, Rolex, Patek Philippe,
I never choose a man that’s cheap.
The simple trick with men you see,
Is make life one long shopping spree.
They like to think it makes them strong,
But I’m the one who wears the thong.
I like to dress up and party hard,
So much, at some clubs I’ve been barred.
Champagne and Jager Bombs, what a roar;
At the end of the night I’m on the floor.
I swear and lie like a woman can,*
With my best friend; her name is Jan.
They say we’re bossy and all fake tan,
Trust me, that’s how to get your man.
These heels are Louboutin, a grand a pair,
The soles are red and people stare.
I measure my life by racks of clothes,
My wardrobe doors are never closed.
Husbands get older, diamonds get bigger,
I’m livin’ the life of a proper gold digger.
I mustn’t eat. I must stay slim,
Those other fat birds are really dim.
Go to the gym to stay a size eight,
That’s the way you accumulate.
Social media means a lot to me,
Posting gossip is my cuppa tea.
On Insta, Facebook and Twitter,
But Jesus, people are so bitter.
They say it’s hard to love up north,
But not for me, I’ve got my Porsche.
And thanks to husband number five,
I’ve also got a 4×4 to drive.
Alderley Edge I’ve made my home,
Six double beds, I live alone.
I kicked my husband out last week,
He really was a total freak.
But minted up with lots of cash,
So now I can be really flash.
No kids for me but I don’t care,
‘Cos my Chihuahua’s always there.
A perfect size for my designer bags,
The loyal partner that never nags.
I like a holiday far away
In the sun I lounge all day.
Marbella, Majorca or Dubai
That’s where I’ll find another guy.
As long as he’s loaded I don’t care
But please, let him have a bit of hair.
So to all you wives I give this advice*
Do as you please for the rest of your life.*
by Mini, aged 12
Tabby and Collie
A derelict barn sat hunched amongst a feeble amount of corn, the temporary illumination of sunrise manipulating their features to glow with a superficial splendour. The beam passed over several animals as they cleared their eyes of dust and uttered drowsy good mornings to their fellow creatures. The warmth lingered on a Tabby Cat who was reclining on a worn dog bed, faded with the hands of time. Languidly stretching The Cat was greeted with the snarling countenance of a Collie Dog.
“What are you doing in a dog’s bed?” The Collie muttered, a fang buried in her words. Unaccustomed to a cat behaving so differently from the image The Collie had constructed of cats, this insolent Tabby confused her. An alien world where a cat was entitled to a dog’s bed was one The Dog was unused to.
The Cat, blissfully ignorant as most cats are, looked up and gave a gentle smile, very unlike the sort of cat The Collie was used to.
“It is where I rest after work, you may call it your bed but I’ve had it for many years. It is not a dog bed or a cat bed but simply a bed. You may share it if you wish.”
The Collie was bewildered, what a bizarre cat! Frustration clawed at The Collie’s throat, irritating it enough to emit a bark that rang sharp through the flat air. Animals raised their heads wary and alert, all knew what that sound meant.
The assorted array of beasts, looming and diminutive crowded around the increasingly frantic collie. Hackles rising and falling in waves The Collie fled, tail trailing behind her like a flag of surrender. All eyes turned to The Cat who sat sedately, toying with a string that protruded from the all-important bed.
“Why so tense friends? She is simply confused and confusion too often turns to frustration and then rage” proclaimed The Tabby. The animals slowly dispersed, resuming their duties allowing the entire argument to slip from the grasp of their minds. But The Collie was adamant, cats should not own dog’s beds, that’s just how it was. Yet this insolent Tabby defied all that The Collie had known. She craved revenge with such a ravenous appetite that nothing could satiate it.
Many months swirled by as the animals prepared for the winter, the collie was now wasted away, turned to a hollow shell by her own desire. With desperation The Collie had attacked The Tabby, stolen the dog bed, eaten The Tabby’s food and lapped up the felines water. Yet satisfaction would not free the tormented hound.
Paws padded up to the cowering, creature who turned around rapidly, ears pinned back and mouth sculpted into a half hearted snarl. The Tabby sat next to The Collie. The bed lay between them, a reminder.
“What is your name?” The Tabby inquired. “Schrodinger” said The Collie briskly and simply “And you?”
“Mine’s Wolfgang” And just like that it was over.
by Mabel, aged 13
Mama gave the nasty fox a look as he walked past the gate. He stared coolly back. I was scared; mama’s feathers rustled as I buried my head in them. Her cluck-clucking vibrated against my soft yellow tufts, and I looked up at her. “He won’t eat me, will he, mama?” I asked.
“Course not. I’d never let anyone eat you!” She still looked worried though.
“Certain.” Satisfied, I curled back into mama’s mottled brown feathers to go back to sleep.
It is strange: it was not even the fox who took me. But I am starting a story from the middle, and aunty Henny, who is a teacher at the farm school, would be annoyed at me for that. So I will go back to the moon, and the lair.
The night was cold, and there was no moon, and mama had gone to get some more hay to line our beds with. She did not like to leave me alone with a fox around, but she was only going to be five minutes. She does fuss so. A distant howl echoed through the night, and I shivered.
Looking out of our henhouse window, I saw the pure, deep blackness of the night, and, like a curtain being drawn on a stage, the clouds parted to show me the moon. It was bright silver, and full. Tiny diamonds glinted in its craters.
That was the the last thing I remember.
I thought I must have just fallen asleep. But when I woke up, it was not in my bed, or mama’s. It was nowhere that I knew. The ground was hard and gravelly; bones of past victims were littered on the floor…The fox had taken me! He was going to eat me! I began to flap around the room in a panic. What should I do? Footsteps were slowly making their way up the stairs. A shadow stretched out across the carpet, looming ominously over me. What would mama do? I knew what mama would do: she would give the naughty fox a telling off and a box on the nose. The thought nearly made me laugh… But not quite.
A grey shape peered round the doorway. “You’re not a fox!” I said, amazed. It was a wolf! The wolf stared at me in disdain, the walked out of my prison. He had gone to get his knife and fork – I was doomed! Then another, friendlier face appeared in the entrance to the cavern. The fox! Was he in this too? Maybe they would eat me together!
“Excuse me,” I said. “But are you going to eat me?” My teeth were chattering so hard. He just laughed, and told me he was vegan. I just nodded. He wasn’t eating me: I wasn’t going to argue with him.
He carried me home in his big, soft mittens. I still can’t believe I was so wrong about him. He is really the nicest fox in the world.
by Isobel, aged 12
Santiago de Compostela
Fishing wire prophecy hooked itself under her gums-
Pulled up- and through and twisted itself off-
A cat’s cradle strung between her teeth,
Mother’s multicoloured embroidery thread
And her mouth caked in rapier rust- still-
She was gagged with Reverie in the morning- then,
Tea with the cousin’s- always-
In her knitted shawl-
And His puckered crochet- work of yellow light.
She steeped herself in the other girl’s perfume for three long afternoons, after
Friday, Saturday and Sunday afterschool
Her molars clinked like ceramic-
There were cavities in her wedding china,
Puddles of Fallacy where
Auntie’s gold voodoo ring
Still chimes- against the enamel-
And the little blue glaze flowers from a churchgoing childhood.
The cloves she crushed between her back teeth
Saliva and Dissolving gelatine capsules.
They traded that numbness on the tip of their tongues
Peony finger pads-
And the Winking Eye of Grecian archaeology
That had trowels tinkering between her mossy thighs.
There was a flowerbed on her rump,
Soft rosemary buds to pinch off
And faerie wings to pluck
And a pair of white, anointed feet to stamp the
Pagan out of her.
A Clementine was unfurled in the other girl’s lap
And pomegranate seeds in her bellybutton
And in the midst of the peel they found a stranger’s fingertips
And the ridge of an old keloid scar in the rind.
The other girl talked of God-
And with the white peal she crafted a pantomime road for the angles
And she took the others hair,
Made a slipknot for her pinkie
And pulled it tight-
The summer before her pilgrimage.
by Giulia, age 18
The Old Fool’s Tale
Whan older were thoos wintry days,
And foul coolness flemed wrecche in tweye;
By oon assent a physic and his wyf,
Traversed to this rebbeke’s hoom. With myght,
Nat worth an oyster, natheless right,
This physic did eek harness harlotrye
And diffamacioun, for avowtrye
And much fornicacioun that had the soote
Wyf, he suspected, swyved using the toute.
Thus fearing for his sovereyn prys, thugh
Twyce concerned for how diffame myght grow,
Quite rudeliche reneyed the spousaille of hem.
Then in privetee – er speech, swallowing phlegm
I will nat spare the tale- that mann’s assent
Sworn, he eek reneyed all rebbeks’ love:
For thir inherent synnes sevene, shoved.
But the atwynéd scoler, was suffiseth
Nat with tormentries. Thereto, he was leth
Of a thikke knarre and thugh testif, bereft
Of lookes and quite unwemmed, wearing lippe cleft,
Did countrefete, rehercen, the sapience of God,
But nat the lord’s misericord –goode sods,
By him were selden the wunne treated sect.
Thugh, if this wyf was biset disrespect,
Nat everideel small, nat everideel hoote
For swich governaunce to avayle ill-repute
Or turn this wimmin an daggle-tail:
His hende catel turned swich poraille.
This physic wolde complayne, till nones, this caas.
Ne, his assoillyng myght giveth Bacus
Pleyynge. His wits bisette, and stryvyng
Ycorven, bleynte with calculinge comynge
That wolde preyneth the wyf, putten bisyde
Misgovernance for goode. His plot was this:
Whilom, as wolde the wight tellen parfit,
His wyf was daughter to a yeoman cherl;
This type who, weylaway, heryen his gyrle
Less than heryen a swyne with camus nose,
Thugh it too became one leman of his rose,
(Beforen he had been cokewolded). Ywis,
He hente, if he than spedde yaf this swyne his
Foote, his muchel waymentinge koude sterven,
And travaillynge improve with haunteden.
Thugh, in mede, this swyne oft ful seemyly
And oft swithe, hadde his hevede privee
Learn some wit, befallen foote and blood’s reed.
It was, in ears, blessed all heaven’s myrie sautrie
Songs; and swich reed hertely wexed, ay ech
Tyme this swyne hadde mo it koude. Tercelet
-Beaked, it grew the sharpness of a clerk heeld
With oother, thugh unhethensse, haunts. And dwelled
In wit, swich this swyne bobanced speech; haunt swelled.
Whilom, our physic was bifel a preve
To this swyne’s unapertened wit, his heed
And lyf, verily would tobreketh. Alone,
He byve herkeneth the swyne’s words; and worlds expowned,
All holy thynges in an array, he spedde
Withouten clothes, into his mede, from bedde
And bathened, in his woodnesse, on wlatsom
Mudde at nyght, whennes wesshed Beggestere suns.
Withalle, whileer expowned fram me, let it be
Wist (nat everideel’s dotage!) a wight’s leeve
Wit and his ill-jalousye does nat holde
Virtue whilhom it hath stole-up his cloth
And he is scalded his eelde’s, brode, brood wroth.
Modern English Translation (For Reference)
When older were those winter days,
And foul coolness banished in two;
Unanimously, a physic and his wife
Traversed to the woman’s home. With might,
Not worth an oyster, nonetheless right,
The physic did also harness wickedness
And slander, for adultery
And much fornication that the sweet
Wife, he suspected, had done using the behind.
Thus fearing for his outstanding reputation, though
Twice concerned for how defame might grow,
Quite rudely renounced their marriage.
Then in private – before speech, swallowing phlegm
I will not spare the tale -that man’s demands
Sworn, he also renounced all woman’s love:
For their inherent seven sins, shoved.
But the divided scholar, was not sufficed
With just tormenting her. Thereto, he had half
Looked like a stout fellow and though head-strong, was without looks
And he was quite ugly, with a cleft-lip,
Though had, and rehearsed, the mind of God
But did not take the lord’s sympathy –good sods,
By him, were seldom the best treated sect.
Though if his wife was given disrespect,
Not all that small, not all that passionate,
Still, such behaviour would make a bad impression;
Or have his wife look like a beggar-woman:
His pleasant cattle made into a poor person.
This physic intended to lament, until the fifth canonical hour, this case.
No, his absolution might give Bacchus amusement. His brains used up
And conscientiousness slit, turned pale as astrological calculations came to him
That he knew would make the wife neat and put aside her bad behaviour for good.
His plot was this:
Once, as the man intended to tell perfectly,
His wife was the daughter of a yeoman peasant;
This type who, distressingly, commend his girl
Less than he commended a pig with a snub-nose,
Though it still became one of the sweethearts of his rose
(Before he had been cuckolded). So,
He thought, if he then sped to give this pig his foot, his much sorrow would know strength
And his work would improve because of that skill.
Though, in the meadow, the pig in an often very seemly manner,
And often very quickly, his head would privately
Become more intelligent, given the physic’s foot and the red of blood.
It was, in ears, blessed all of heaven’s merry sautrie music;
And as such red grew larger, at each time, this pig had more that it knew. Like a male-eagle’s
beak, it became as sharp as a scholar healed
With other, though unheathen, skills. And it dwelled
In intelligence, such that this pig could practice speech; and its skills swelled.
Once, our physic was given proof
To this pig’s massive wit, his head
And life, variably were to shatter. Alone,
He listened well to the pig’s words; and worlds told of,
All holy things confused, he sped
Without his clothes, into his meadow, from his bed
And bathed, in his madness, on the loathsome
Mud at night, when beggar-suns washed over the sky.
Withal, just now explained by me, let it be
Known (not everything’s feeble-minded senility!) a man’s
Dear wit and his ill-jealousy does not hold virtue when it has stole-up his cloth
And he is scolded with his old age’s plainly, broad, wrath.
by Edward, aged 17
The Boy On The Bus
My lips part,
but no sound escapes,
as we sit in silence
I trace my finger
along the map in my mind
past the road
where my best friend lived,
past the house I grew up in
-where I learned to read, and write,
and paint and ride a bike-
past the station-
-where we used to go to
London from to stay in
the Marriott, by the London Eye-
past the stop
where I used to catch the bus-
as my legs trembled
in my knee-high socks-
past the shops
-where I applied for my first job,
eager and young,
but never heard back-
past the post office
-where I’d walk with my nan,
and we’d leave her dog outside
as she bought me a lottery ticket
and a chocolate-
past the road
of my first house in this town-
where our next-door neighbour
had a black cat
and I got it a present
on its birthday, as it sat
at the top of the stairs,
past the post box
-where mother always
intends to post letters,
but always forgets-
and to the stop.
We press the button
at almost the same time,
causing a staggered,
you get off and walk ahead,
as I wonder-
what do the streets mean to you?
So many questions.
No sound escapes.
by Poppy, aged 16