The best young writers in Dundee have been honoured at a special ceremony, with the top award going to Emily Baxter of Dundee High School.
The city’s annual Burgess Short Story Competition aims to identify talented teenage short story authors.
Launched in 2013, the contest is open to third year pupils from Dundee high schools.
Judges awarded Emily Baxter, of Dundee High School, the coveted trophy for her short story which combines murder mystery with the Tay Bridge disaster.
Read the winning stories below
Talented Emily, 14, said: “I wanted to do a disaster story and the one which immediately came to me was the Bridge Disaster.
“I always like a bit of drama in my stories. I don’t actually read all that much, but I like drama and crime stories.”
Her win, she said, “is all a bit surreal.”
Depute Lord Provost Christina Roberts, who attended the event, said: “The standards were absolutely brilliant, they’re so high this year.
“I was here last year for the same competition and the standards are absolutely amazing.
“We’ve got some fantastic kids here in Dundee, and allowing for the fact they’re only in S3, their stories are very, very professional.
“Writing a story and having it in your head is one thing, but actually telling the story is totally different. We’ve got a wealth of talented children in Dundee.”
Callie Hay, from St Paul’s Academy, and Jessica Mannion, from St John’s RC High School, were runners up.
Lena Macaulay, of St John’s, Melissa McCafferty, from Grove Academy, and Carmen Thomson, of Grove Academy, were highly commended contributors.
The City of Dundee Burgess Charity was established in 2011.
Former Dundee Lord Provost John Letford and representatives from a number of Dundee community organisations helped launch the literature contest.
This year’s competition saw dozens of teachers, judges and committee members meet in Dundee City Chambers.
The overall winner, two runners up and three highly commended pupils were all selected by judges.
The winner: Bridge Beyond the Grave,
by Emily Baxter (Dundee High School)
The icy, biting wind, rattled the aged, wooden window frames of ‘Bouch Bridge Designers’ Offices, as the violent storm continued. The office over looked the Howff Graveyard and, in the far distance, gave a panoramic view of the Tay Rail Bridge. A flash of strong white lightening dashed the pitch black sky. A roar of thunder and shriek of the bitter wind which was enough to slice to the bone, any flesh bared to it.
In the office, a fresh faced, school girl, Alice Bouch, was working late. She was tidying away old files and throwing out unwanted documents, dreaming of her chance to own the office herself one day and become the very first female engineer in Scotland.
The office was ornately furnished in oak with leather. Alice rose from her desk-chair, she paced over to a tall, filing cabinet, and lifted out some yellow tinted files. “Nothing in here needs kept” she said, gently flicking the pages between her fingers.
Just then, the window behind her rattled harder than ever and Alice got a cold shiver running through her body. The file blew open, pages dispersing into the air like confetti at a wedding. She noticed a single piece of crumpled up parchment had fallen out. Picking it up, she read,
“Sir, we wish to alert you to failing in the castings of the last batch of steel we supplied….” It was from the foundry in Falkirk. “We have had numerous complaints about the maintenance and the quality of the castings.”
“Was this the steel used in my father’s bridge construction?” she mused.
The letter was stroked and scored with red ink, as if it had been read but the contents not intended to be made public.
Puzzled, Alice slotted the paper back into the file, trusting her father’s judgement.
Realising the time, Alice tidied away the the remaining files and blew out the only source of light in the room, a wax candle.
Making her way back home, bustling streets had turned eerily silent. Only rustling of branches and the clicking of the tram, broke the silence. She spied the typesetters in the DC Thomson offices, “What will the headlines be tomorrow?” she pondered.
As a shortcut, Alice cut through the Howff. Most people were terrified by the graveyard, but for some reason, Alice never was. Maybe the thought of her mother, who lay here following her untimely, mysterious death, comforted her.
Two lonely gas lamps, gently started to flicker on, off, on, off. The wind picked up, stronger, faster, louder… Alice felt as if someone was watching her, or was standing beside her. But no one was there. Thinking she was going mad, Alice walked on.
Suddenly the wind whistled lustily in her ear, as if to say something to her. She heard a gentle voice “Alice…. Alice… The bridge… The bridge”.
“Mother?” she turned in confusion to see a row of grave stones emitting a soft glow of light. She began to slowly walk towards them, crouched down to a kneel and brushed away the dirt, uncovering the name. It read ‘John Campbell, aged 36, died 28 December 1879’. “But that’s today…” Alice murmured.
“Alice, the bridge…”, the voice had gotten stronger. Then, all of a sudden, it dawned on her…
Bong! Bong! The Steeple Church bell struck seven o’clock. Alice, without waiting, ran to the water’s edge.
Any moment now the train from Wormit would cross the bridge, with many innocent passengers on board. In the distance she heard the relentless chattering of train on tracks. The constant snowfall made the lights unfocused but gradually the circles grew larger and larger.
Alice had to move, but found herself restrained by a strong, broad hand. She turned to see her father standing before her.
“How did you know?!” How did you find out?!” He yelled
“Find out what?”
“What would be happening here tonight..”
“I heard voices..”
“Yes, in the graveyard.”
“Ahh! That explains a great deal. Did you have visions too?”
“Yes, on the grave stones..” Alice paused ” And the letters of complaints.. Father there’s no time, the train is coming, we must help!”
“No. If we try and save them, they’ll realise I knew about the bridge. It will ruin me Alice, I cannot let you do this.”
“I trusted you!” Alice insisted, pushing past her father. Grabbing a lantern, she ran towards the track. But in her haste she lost her balance and it just took the slightest of pushes, from behind, to send her over.
“You always were like your mother. Now you can join her…”
The last whistle of the train and creek of the falling bridge blocked out Alice’s last scream…
70 passengers on board died that night, and one gifted school girl…
Runner-up: Not All Heroes Wear Capes
By Callie Hay (St Paul’s Academy)
When I was a little girl I was obsessed with superheroes. My bedroom was Wonder Woman themed – Wonder Woman bedsheets, Wonder Woman comics, a Wonder Woman cape that I wore everywhere, everything like that. I was adamant that when I was older I would become a superhero. When I look at myself now I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a ‘super’ hero, however many people have told me I’m their hero. I’m a surgeon, you see, and have a responsibility to save the lives of my patients. Sure, I can’t fly or have super strength or read people’s minds but I know that heroes don’t necessarily need to have superpowers to help people.
When I was younger I also had a babysitter who would look after me most of the time as my mum and dad were always working. Her name was Mary and she was the old woman from next door. I’d never had such an old and “boring”, as my 7-year-old self would think, babysitter before and when she first began to take care of me I always completely ignored her. She tried her best to communicate with me but I didn’t say a single word to her. I didn’t want her attention, I wanted my parents’ attention.
One day, I was playing SuperHero when she asked me if she could join in.
I spun around, my red cape flapping wildly around.
“What?” I stumbled. I covered with mouth with both hands, I hadn’t meant to speak but the words just came out.
She smiled kindly and asked again. “Can I please play SuperHero with you?”
I was shocked. How could an old person play SuperHero? I thought they knitted all day or talked to their ten cats.
I nodded, too stunned to say anything else and when she came over the next day I begged her to play SuperHero with me again.
Mary and I became extremely close. As my parents didn’t have the time to teach me I learnt all the important lessons from Mary. If I’m being honest, I was a bit of a spoilt brat before her. She taught me to think before I spoke, to remember my manners, all the things a little girl should learn. If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be a surgeon right now. I finally had someone who listened to me and watched over me. I loved her, and I think she really loved me too.
We were the best of friends and every day was a good day, but it started to go downhill. Mary couldn’t look after me as often because she was having some serious heart problems. As she was an older woman, her heart began to fail her. She spent weeks in hospital and I visited her all the time. Well, as much as I could with primary school and all.
She was eventually released from hospital for a few days and I remember it was Halloween so she told me we would be making some Halloween biscuits.
I checked to make sure Mary was busy with the oven before I dipped my finger in the bowl of icing.
“Lily Louise Scott, I better have not just seen you eat some of the icing!”
I squealed and dashed behind the kitchen table. She chased me through the kitchen into the living room but I didn’t run too fast because I didn’t want her to hurt herself.
“You won’t escape me this time Wonder Woman!” She yelled.
I giggled loudly but was cut off by a loud thump. I turned around to see Mary lying on the floor with a pained expression on her face and one hand clamped to her chest. I froze. Her breaths were coming out quick and short. I didn’t know what to do, I felt powerless and no longer like a superhero. I didn’t want her to die. I focused on that, what could I do to make sure she didn’t die? I grabbed the phone off a table and pressed 9-9-9.
An ambulance came quickly and rushed Mary and I off to the hospital. I was forced to sit in the waiting room for what I thought was hours and all I could do was cry.
Finally, a kind-looking doctor came to take me to see Mary. As soon as I saw her smiling at me from her bed I threw my arms around her and sobbed.
“I’m so sorry Mary.”
She lifted my face so I was looking at her. “What are you sorry for? You saved my life.”
I tilted my head, confused. “I did?”
Her smile grew. “If you hadn’t phoned 9-9-9 there is a very high chance I wouldn’t be here right now.” She untied my cape from around my neck and set it on her other side. “You’re my hero, Lily.”
I stretched for the cape but it was too far out of reach. “How can I be a superhero without my cape?”
“Not all heroes wear capes.”
It’s twenty years later and those five words still haven’t left me.
Runner-up: A Burning Passion
By Jessica Mannion (St John’s RC High School)
Flickering flames engulfed the structure like a ferocious beast devouring its prey. Despite its intensity, the harsh burning fire stoked so many women’s souls; the heat of rebellion.
There are many images from that night trapped inside my mind: terrified children, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, chilling screams ripping from their throats, calling out for their mothers, fathers…safety. They didn’t understand, but I did. That public meeting changed my life…
Soot as black as a winter’s eve billowed across the cobbles, leaving me blinded and disorientated. It filled my lungs and blocked my airways, I was completely intoxicated. It was as if these women had superhuman strength such was the power of their beliefs. They had been scorned, spurned and ridiculed and yet when they banded together they became an invincible force. I was only sixteen, but I knew then that I was one of them. I was there because of my longing for change. It was 1904, the beginning of a new millennium.
“Votes for wo-men! Votes for wo-men!”
The deafening chants felt like music to my ears as I was swept into the crowd like a rag doll, lulled by their cries demanding justice and equality. Pride flooded through me as I looked out into the sea of passionate faces filled with conviction. Voices reverberated through the darkening skies, intermingling with the pillar of smoke that rose from the smoldering embers of the bandstand. As I watched the flecks of wood burn and glow, I became aware of the extent of the damage inflicted on Magdalen Green. To others, perhaps this was just another demonstration, but to me it was so much more. This was a symbol of solidarity, a jubilant battle cry. The members of the Women’s Social and Political Union looked like superheroes up on that podium, far more astounding than that ‘Spring-Heeled Jack’ my brothers were so fascinated by. My heart danced with the thought of new possibilities.
This scene felt like a world away from my squalid tenement block off the Blackness Road. Seven of us lived there, crammed into a few damp, dismal rooms. Despite this, I dreamed of a bright future. I thought that I could be whatever I wanted to be… but life is never that simple. Work was painful, the shifts long, tiring and harrowing. That’s why I was here. I wanted more. I hated feeling such resentment, but I couldn’t help it. I may have only been young, but I knew that the best thing about the mill was the women I worked alongside. They had courage and backbone. When they told me about the meeting, I knew I had to be there despite my fears.
My mouth dropped as I saw the woman I had longed to lay my eyes on: Agnes Husband, relentless women’s suffrage campaigner and champion of the poor. She stood upon the podium, a shimmering angel in the pale moonlight. Like a beacon of hope in a dark chasm, she instantly became my idol. Her radiance stood in stark contrast to the raging, hellish flames that licked the wooden structure and sparked with a powerful inferno. With one heroic hand pounding her breast, she expressed her views with a conviction that ensnared me.
“…Ah’m nae militant. E’m here thi dey tae speak tae ye ah as a wumman wa cares deeply aboot equal rits. We wumman may be fell slow to awaken, considerin’ oor haird lives, but whin wuh dae, whin wuh unite, wir fell pouerfu. Thon brutes in Parliament haud better watch oot whin the wumman in Dundee get thigither. Save is their fake benevolence. We ah want tae work, but no fir heipnies, an we ah need the vote so we can hae wir sae… ”
Her strong features gave way to dark, brooding eyes beneath a mess of auburn curls that bounced as her hand caressed the evening air with such immeasurable grace. Her passionate words became arrows that pierced me. She was just like me, a Dundee lass, and yet she had made a change.
I still remember that night like it was yesterday, even though it was almost a quarter of a century ago. Although it ended with the spray of water canons, angry police and a long walk home, it will always seem somewhat magical. My heart swells with pride at the thought of how far we have come in such a short amount of time. Those women changed my perspective on everything I had ever known. Picking up my polling card, I beam with pride.
We’d done it. We’d made them listen to us. We had the vote!
Flame was not the only thing those women sparked that night. They ignited a fire in my heart that continued to blaze. They were, and always will be, my heroes.