Results of the Mary Stewart-Worthy 1st Paragraph Contest

Our esteemed judge, Sophie Masson

Jan here: First, I want to say a big thank you to all who participated. I’ve never run a contest like this before, and it was important to me to do Ms. Stewart proud. You, your entries, and your supportive comments made it happen. Muchas gracias.

Thanks also to our estimable judge, Sophie Masson. She has published more than 50 books, is a regular contributor at Writer Unboxed, and has won multiple writing awards in her own right — most recently the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature for My Australian Story: The Hunt for Ned Kelly. In addition to her time and comments, Sophie generously offered the a prize to the second-place winner. Details are below.

The rest of this post belongs to her.

And the results:


1. WINNER: Sheila Perry for the following paragraph:

I stopped on the bridge to get my breath back, listened to my heart pounding, and asked myself for the first time where I was going. The road had crossed the railway line a hundred yards back, and now there were only a few cottages here and there. I would reach the edge of town in minutes. I looked over the wall. A round expanse of green-grey water with a canal lock at the far side. A man – perhaps the lock-keeper – stood on the walkway above the lock, arms folded, waiting. A boat swayed gently at its mooring as the gates lock gates started to open. Beyond the lock, I saw a cool green tunnel of silver birches and willows, where the Canal du Midi headed off into the distance. I closed my eyes against the relentless glare of the sun, and wished for sanctuary: a moment later my feet took me down the steps to the stone wall that ran round the lock, and I found myself staring into the cockpit of the boat. The man who was steering had his back to me, so my first impressions consisted only of a dark head, a faded denim shirt with damp sweat marks at intervals down the back, and long bronzed hands working on the wheel to keep the boat steady as water churned around the bows. His cat, on the other hand, stared straight back at me. It was a short-haired tabby with a white bib, unremarkable except for its knowing yellow-green eyes. I imagined I heard running footsteps and raised voices from the road above us. I only had seconds to make up my mind.

One of the 14 novels composing today's prize

2. Liz

3. Holden Robinson

Honourable mentions go to:

  • Pamela Toler
  • Sue — a lovely beginning but too long (more than one para) so couldn’t put it in the place-getters.
  • Sally Shires
  • Becke Martin/Davis
  • MJ
  • Jessica
  • Sara J. Henry (esp. her first contribution)

Comments (general):

Dear everyone,

You made it so hard!! So much talent here, it was a real struggle to try and determine the place-getters. But though I did have to make a decision I wanted to also mention, in ‘honourable mentions’ other writers whose contributions were also really good and worth highlighting. Really, I was just so impressed by the amazing quality of skill and imagination on display — and also the love for Mary Stewart’s wonderful books from so many people! She would be thrilled to know that her work continues to provide such inspiration.

Comments on winning paragraphs:

Like I said it was very very difficult to make a choice, but in the end after much thought I went for Sheila Perry’s atmospheric para set at the Canal du Midi as this really is a great example of what makes Stewart books tick: a spirited young woman in danger, a mysterious man met unexpectedly, a glamorous setting, a light touch (love the cat!) an intriguing hook, that sense of a hovering threat, and a fresh, engaging voice.

Congratulations to you, Sheila — it was just perfect.

Liz’ first para was also fantastic — succinct, mysterious, engaging, warm and with a wonderful hook. Bravo — an extraordinary opening that really whets your appetite for more.

And Holden Robinson’s was totally gripping — immediately the hand around the heart — the hair rising on the back of the neck. Moving and creepy all at once. Well done!

I just want these paras to turn into books, I’d love to read them!

Thank you all and big congratulations to Sheila, and the other place-getters. And a round of applause for the honourable mentions too, and to everyone who contributed. It’s been a real buzz reading you all!

All the very best

Sophie Masson

Now the Prizes

Jan here again: Sheila, if you’ll e-mail me your address, I’ll get your information to Hodder & Stoughton so you can receive all 14 books. Congratulations!

Liz, ditto for your prize once you have settled upon one of these two books, both written by Sophie:

An excerpt from what the judges of the NSW Premier’s Award had to say about The Hunt for Ned Kelly

WINNER. Through the eyes of young orphan Jamie Ross and his sister Ellen, an early professional photographer with designs on getting that ‘one big shot’ using her father’s camera — a surprising narrative device which leads to a neat confluence of history and fiction – this story manages to strongly and clearly depict northern Victoria in the late 1800s, in particular the gossip and speculation that followed celebrities then much as it does now. Rather than being ‘just (yet) another Ned Kelly book’, this novel provides a window into a part of our history that is commonly defined by legend, myth and caricature, but is in fact so much more…

(The book) works both as a piece of historical fiction, and also as an enjoyable page-turner, with dangerous characters, mystery, pathos, villains (but not always those whom you’d expect), heroes, and a gripping climax in which Masson has, once again, resisted the urge to bow to cliché and predictability. Like all good children’s books, My Australian Story: The Hunt for Ned Kelly possesses several layers, and will have much to recommend it in the eyes of the adult reader as well as the child.

This is an excerpt from YA Book Review: The Secret Army – Operation Loki

Nicky Flamel, a motorbike racing ace.

Andromeda Frost, a beautiful English socialite.

Otis Falcon, a young American ex-boxer.

Three teenagers from very diverse backgrounds find they have one thing in common — psychic abilities which have been triggered by recent accidents. Now they are on Archangel Island, where a secret institute has been set up to train such psychics to battle the Nazis in Germany and abroad. But Andromeda is not happy on the island and when she escapes she finds herself caught up in a lot of trouble — trouble which Nicky and Otis must help her out of.

The Secret Army is a graphic novel from the combined talents of renowned children’s author Sophie Masson and artist and animator Anthony Davis. Set in the time of Hitler’s Germany the book is set against the background of real events, with the fantasy element of the main plot making the history interesting and accessible to young readers.

Holden, this will be small compensation, but assuming you can handle gallows humor, here’s a small gift just for you.

Thank you, all, for being here!

12 thoughts on “Results of the Mary Stewart-Worthy 1st Paragraph Contest

  1. Congrats, Sheila and Holden! I loved both your paragraphs, as well as many others, especially Sue’s. Thanks, Jan and Sophie, for a great contest! (And Jan, Holden’s prize is awesome!)

  2. Congratulations to the winners! It was great fun and thanks for the lovely comment, Sophie. That redeemed an utterly sucky Monday.

    Thanks, Missus Tart, for putting on such a great contest. 🙂

  3. Thanks so much, Jan, for running the contest, and to Sophie for the judging – I almost fell off my chair when I read the result. As a very long-term fan of Mary Stewart, I am thrilled and honoured – and very tempted indeed to keep on writing and see what happens next!
    best wishes,
    Sheila P.

  4. Congrats to the winners! Be sure to tell Jan when you publish these stories – can’t wait to read them.

    Thanks to this contest, I started reading Mary Stewart. Late last night I finished The Ivy Tree, and today I’ll head to the library for more. Thanks, Jan!

  5. Hi, everyone. I was off getting prettified and don’t care to hunt and peck through my phone for replies.

    I’m so glad you enjoyed itl, down to the 3rd place certificate. 🙂 Really, I was impressed with the quality of entries, and I hope you guys will continue to write these. Thank you for making this exercise a success.

    MJ, glad to hear you’re hooked! You aren’t the first to tell me that. 🙂

    Sheila, don’t forget to email me your address. We’ll want to get your prize sent off ASAP. 😀

  6. Thanks for the contest! I’ve long been a Mary Stewart fan, and her influence can clearly be seen in my first novel. (Being lazy, er, on deadline, my first entry was from that novel, Learning to Swim, and the second from its sequel, due out in 2012.)

    My favorite Mary Stewart is Nine Coaches Waiting, but several vie for second place.

Leave a Reply