The Writers Bureau Short Story Competition 2019
Home enter rules courses How to write for competitions

The Winner of the Short Story Competition 2019

J D Hellsinger

1st Prize – J D Hellsinger:

Love Atoll

When I open my eyes the skinny Christianson kid is back. He walks out this way most days, angling for something. This needs fixing or that needs doing, he’ll say. Do I want anything from town? Every time I say no but he keeps coming.

'How long you been standing there?'

'He shrugs. One side of his mug is all swollen and his left eye near shut.'

'Someone give you a smack?'

'Somethin bit me in my sleep.'

'Bit you my backside!'

The kid steps back and points up at the corrugated iron roof on the shack: ‘You missing a sheet, blew away in the storm last night eh? I can fix it for you.'

‘I don’t need your help, boy.’

‘You isn’t getting up on that roof.’

‘Well that makes two of us.’

‘I’m not askin for much.’

‘Oh, so you expecting to get paid - and here I thought you offered out of the goodness of your heart! Anyway, one of my cousins can help if help is what I need. You best bugger off boy. Go to school - get yourself an education stead of hanging round here.’

‘I’m done with that. I told you last week when you said the same thing. As for your cousins, they’re even older than you.’

‘How you gonna make a living then?’

He steps back to look at the roof again, shielding his eyes – his eye, cause the other one is no use. Whoever socked him caught him good. ‘You neglectin your property,’ he says. This from a Christianson who lives in a shanty out near the dump at the back of the airfield with the rats and the gulls. ‘The rains haven’t even started yet,’ he goes on.

‘I know it.’

‘I know why you don’t bother fixing anythin, you’re holding out for a better price from them TV people. They don’t give a shit the state of this shack, cause they’ll be flattening everythin anyway. You just sitting around waiting for the price to go up. Your neighbour, ole Samson’s gone – it’s just you and the Lomus that are left and they’re ready to pack up.’

In fact, the Lomus went two days ago. Young Lomu came to see if I wanted their dog. The new housing in town doesn’t allow dogs, he explained. The dog was snuck in behind the Lomu boy knowing he wasn’t much to look at. I shook my head. I didn’t want no dog. In that case, he said, and led the dog off into the trees.

‘You got any spare sheets of iron?’ the kid says.

‘I told you, I don’t need your help.’

The kid turns away. ‘I know where to get some, you just sit tight old man.’

I expect I’ll be getting another visitor if today is Wednesday. Ricky says it’s make my mind up time as the television people want to get started. What they’re offering me is already more than old man Samson or the Faletaus got for their properties. They all moved into town and good luck to them but none of them had one of their own buried in the ground out here as far as I know, or lived here as long.

Last time Ricky came on his jet-ski he was wearing a lifejacket with the name Love Atoll across the back of it – that’s the name of the project they want to build out here. He gives me the spiel again about how the project will bring jobs to the island. It isn’t like it was for your generation when the sea was full of fish, he says, making it sound as if we had it easy. A cocksure kid the preacher’s son, sounding just like his old man, talking with the same kind of evangelical zeal, except in his case it’s in service to a different calling. He brought a bottle of rum with him and a carton of Winston and tried to sell me on the merits of the old missionary complex they’ve converted into a home. Seabreeze Centre, it’s called. For old folks like me. There’s a warden on site keeping an eye out for the residents and they put on entertainment in the main lounge in the afternoon: bingo, music, tea dances, yoga. Plus they have film nights, show all the old movies - the Humphrey Bogart ones you like, says Ricky (it’s Lauren Bacall who floats my boat but I didn’t enlighten him).

How long is it since Dolores passed, he wants to know. Five years this May, I say. Five years, okay, and all your kids are gone too, right? He’s not wrong. Four sons and two daughters, all born here, and all of them gone apart from Joy, who died when she was three days old. The boys are all in Auckland where two of the younger ones got mixed up with gangs for a while, the other two work in a slaughterhouse and both play footie. Vika is in Pago Pago working at a resort. I don’t hear from any of them from one year to the next but I believe I’m a grandad three or four times over. With the money I could afford to go and see them all, says Ricky. What’s keeping you here, he wants to know. It’s not really a question.

We built this place, me and my cousins. The roof has never been its strongest feature but the house itself has survived every storm season as well as the tsunami in 2009. Now they want to wipe out every trace of people having lived here and build some made up paradise. Ricky’s shown me the sketches. There’s a big thatched hut with smaller ones dotted around but no bars or clubs, no swimming pool. It doesn’t look much. At first I take it to be a kind of eco resort but no, the concept, explains Ricky, is that a group of selected individuals will live here and go around all day with nothing on but not because they want to – maybe not to begin with anyway – but because they have to. Seeing the look on my face, he goes on. It’s all about how they cope with being stripped of everything and how they interact with each other, except they’ll be doing it in front of the cameras. Sounds to me they’re planning on making a porno film, I say. Ricky shakes his head. This is a social experiment, he says, to see how a group of people get on living together on an island 24/7.

Oh that’s never been tried before, I say, at which point Ricky says there’s no need to be sarcastic. These people aren’t like you and…me. These are urbanites, young and beautiful, from London, L.A. places like that where they live by different rules. Here those rules won’t apply – there won’t be any rules to start with.

Everything will be back to basics.

So no seafood platters or suckling pigs, no booze?

No, none of that, and no activities or shit laid on for them, no scuba diving or kite-surfing. It’s just them without any togs on in the garden of Eden.

What you reckon your papa would’ve made of it?

The smile goes from Ricky’s face. ‘They are trying to make it easy for you old man,’ he says. ‘Bottom line? They can put in for a compulsory purchase and that way you get a token amount which, by the way, is a lot less than they’re offering.’

What would the kid say if he knew how much they was offering me for the shack and my piece of land? What would my own kids say? Bet I’d hear from them then alright.


I hear the buzz before I see Ricky throttling back to swing into the bay. I watch him nudge the jet-ski onto the beach and then stand there, hands on hips, taking it all in. He starts up the path towards the shack but before he does, he reaches into the jet-ski and fetches out a plastic bag with duty-free written on the side of it. He’s wearing a pair of shades and comes high-stepping up the beach, an explorer laying claim to new lands.
It’s a special whisky, says Ricky (by which I suppose he means expensive) from a Scottish island in the far north, a long way from here and from an island that is nothing like any of ours but is rugged and rocky and whipped by cold winds. Between the island and the mainland there’s a treacherous strait where many a ship has been lost.

A whisky for a special occasion.

I wait till he’s gone and until the angry sound of the jet-ski fades away before cracking the seal on the bottle. Then I pour myself a big one. Oh boy. I savour it sip by sip while watching the sea breaking over the reef, a long way out, the sound just carrying on the wind. Inside the reef, shadows of cotton ball clouds skate across the shallows, dark ghosts of the big rays we used to get here.

The kid is a speck at the far end of the beach. Gulls circle above as if they’re sizing him up, deciding whether or not to swoop down and cart him off, as well they might. He’s carrying a sheet of corrugated iron balanced on his head and when he puts it down I see one side is all covered with chicken shit.

‘Tell me that’s not from someone’s coop.’

‘Got a ladder?’ he says by way of an answer.

I look at him.

‘It don’t matter, I can shimmy up there.’ He squints at me through his one good eye. He takes in the bottle. ‘I heard the jet-ski, heard him coming and going.’ When I make no comment, he says: ‘You just sit there and drink your rum old man, I’ll have this roof fixed in no time.’

‘This here’s whisky, the real stuff - all the way from Scotland. A gift.’

‘So you decided to take the money?’

‘Try it.’


I add some more whisky to my glass and offer it to him. A look of doubt crosses his face.

‘I’m 12 years-old,’ he says.

‘I believe you.’

The kid swallows the whisky in one gulp, grimaces, and sets the glass down. ‘Is it true they all going to be running around naked out here? They say there’s going to be guards keeping people away. Maybe they’ll give me something to do, what you reckon? I could handle a jet-ski, run errands for them. I could bring stuff in for the people here, stuff they might be missing, cigarettes, beer…you know what they say in town, right? There’ll be no Love Atoll for locals but I’ll keep coming out here anyway.’

‘You planning to stand there talking all day?’ I say. I pour myself a little more in the glass, just a touch.

‘Because I can get someone else to fix the roof if you too busy.’

The kid frowns, then a grin starts to spread across his face. ‘Nah, I got it,’ he says.

He drags the sheet round the back. I hear him grunting and swearing as he heaves himself onto the roof. I reckon he can take the carton of Winstons, my smoking days are long gone. I might even give him another sip of this smooth old corruptor when he’s done. Add another sin to my bill. I put my head back and close my eyes. Despite it being without doubt the most soul-warming spirit to have passed my lips, I shiver when I think of the frigid seas around the whisky island and the old stone heads on the graves of their dead. Meanwhile the kid goes on working. It’s hot up there on the roof under the blazing sun but he hammers away on the iron, giving it his all.

About the Author

J D Hellsinger worked as a journalist and editor both in the UK and overseas for many years before deciding to devote more time to writing fiction. He has since managed to win several short story competitions - including this one! - and been short listed for numerous others. He lives in the north-east of Scotland and is working on a novel.

Comments from Competition Adjudicator,
Diana Nadin

Love Atoll is one of those short stories that you read and think ‘That’s great’ and then you read it again and think ‘No, that’s brilliant’.

It’s so relevant to what’s going on in the media at present: celebrities thrown together in houses or luxury islands to see how they react; ‘ordinary’ people put in isolated surroundings to investigate how they will interact and survive; people stripped naked supposedly to improve their self-esteem. Viewers don’t seem to be able to get enough of this voyeurism, so it’s big business. And this story pokes a sly, wry dig at all this nonsense.

But there’s far more to it than that. It takes what could be a sad story of loneliness and alienation and injects true feeling and considerable humour into the situation. The main character’s internal monologue is utterly convincing and the dialogue is so natural. We often get asked how you can convey a regional accent or show that your story is set in a foreign country without making it difficult for your reader. This is the way to do it!

The writer effortlessly makes us have empathy with the two main characters, and we’re left feeling that we’ve read a story that can never have a happy ending, but it certainly has an upbeat one. It just goes to show that when crafting a short story the two don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Read, enjoy and learn from it!


The Writers Bureau
8-10 Dutton Street, Manchester, M3 1LE
0161 819 9922

Copyright © 2000 - 2020 The Writers Bureau. All Rights Reserved. 8-10 Dutton Street, Manchester, M3 1LE, England

Cookie Policy Privacy Policy Data Collection, Usage and Storage Policy


Home enter rules courses