We've heard so many of our favourite writers say they fell in love with writing and reading from their earliest days. So we're excited to present what just might be the next crop of great Canadian writers - the winners of IFOA Ontario's Write Across Ontario student writing competition.
The contest invites young writers across the province to use story starters from acclaimed authors and make those jumping off points their own. The results show us what CanLit has to look forward to. We at Open Book had the difficult task of choosing the final winners, and we're excited to present those four first place texts exclusively for you here. For the first time, we even have two winners from the very same school. The winning writer in each age category receives $500.
The 2017 winners of IFOA Ontario's Write Across Ontario student writing competition:
- Grades 5/6 winner: Rory Campbell
- Grade 7/8 winner: Whitney Yin
- Grade 9-10 winner: Ibrahim Iftikhar
- Grade 11/12 winner: Hannah Draper
This year's starters were provided by Drew Hayden Taylor (grades 5–6), Heather O'Neill (grades 7–8), Gwen Benaway (grades 9–10), and Pasha Malla (grades 11–12). Story-starters can be seen below in italics.
Check out this original, winning short stories from some of the most creative kids in the province here on Open Book. Funny, tense, brainy, big-hearted, surprising - these stories each have different strengths, but they all make us excited for the future of CanLit.
Winner, Grades 5 & 6: Rory Campbell
Age 10, Grade 5 at Sandowne Public School, Waterloo
Story starter by Drew Hayden Taylor
Kneeling down to tie her shoe, Jillian noticed something many would find unusual. Her shoelaces were missing. In fact, it seems her whole shoe was no longer there. Worse, there seemed to be no sign of her entire foot. This was not good. Not only would this make walking home difficult, it would no doubt lead to many awkward explanations. In particular, Jillian doubted her father would be the least bit sympathetic.
Already, she could hear the man’s gravelly voice in his head. “You don’t know where you left your left foot?!”
Jillian’s father had many good qualities, but things like this tended to bother the man. Like most people who lived in Jillian’s town, rational Euclidean thought tended to be the political party or church everybody found salvation in. Random acts of illogic… dare Jillian say, inconvenient mystery, was frequently viewed as bad taste. Downright rude. Regardless, here Jillian stood, or more accurately leaned, without a left foot. And it had been there only a few minutes earlier. The girl was sure of that.
Provided nothing else decided to disappear, Jillian was confident she could handle the situation. She was sure another foot, real or otherwise, could somehow be obtained. But there was still the issue of getting home. Hopping seemed an ineffective method of transportation. A walker by nature, her bus pass currently sat on the dresser in her room, next to her now obsolete collection of running shoes.
Jillian tried to hop but instead she tipped over into a bush full of flowers that reeked of soap. She tried to jump up but slipped on a crinkled, brown leaf before a boy almost saw her fall back into the muddy dirt. The fellow strolling by was the teacher’s pet, Robert S. Miller. He would have drilled a hole right through his own skull rather than help her. Robert liked everything to be clean as a soap sud. Robert had black hair that looked like it had a gallon of different products in it. He liked to keep his hairstyle in mint condition. Robert’s parents thought they were the rulers of the world. Jillian racked her brain for ideas to get home, but was getting tired from all the hopping. All she could do was ask Robert for help. So she jumped over to the boy, and asked him a simple question.
“Will you help me get home?” Jillian said. Nobody talked to the teacher’s pet. Not even the nicest people that attended Silver Oak Middle.
“Of course!” Robert responded. Jillian was taken by surprise. Even if you talked to Robert politely, he would never answer you back.
“Good lord, what happened to you?” asked Robert.
“Um, I might have lost my foot?” Jillian explained very poorly.
“Very unusual and extra-terrestrial, but not something I can’t assist you with.”
“Could you speak proper English, please?”
“What? Oh, I am truly shamed. Will you accept my apology?” requested Robert.
“What? Oh, yeah, sure,” Jillian responded. “Now, what is your plan?”
“I think we just should ignore it! Just cover your leg up with a blanket or something, and hope that nobody sees.”
“That would be great if it was the middle of the summer and I had a blanket!” said Jillian a bit to harshly.
“Bah, I’m a boy scout! Don’t you come prepared for anything?” Robert asked, disgusted.
“To be honest, no,” answered Jillian.
“Go get someone else to help you, or just do your own dirty work yourself!” yelled Robert.
“Oh my god, you’re going to shatter glass if you don’t shut. Up. Right. Now!
Robert speed-walked away, not looking back.
“Fine, I’ll listen to you, only if you shut up and stop yelling!”
“Deal.” They shook hands and the two started to think up ideas to get Jillian home with nobody seeing her. Robert and Jillian thought of some pretty weird and insane plans, but they settled on something that reminded Jillian of Daedalus and Icarus from Greek Mythology.
. . .
Jillian woke to the smell of waffles drizzled with syrup, and when she looked down there was a foot, good as new and felt an odd memory of the Greek myths and homemade copper wings stirring in her head.
“Breakfast!” Jillian’s dad boomed.
When Jillian was sitting at the table and reached down to her little puppy, she realized she had nothing to pet the puppy with - her hand was gone.
Winner, Grades 7 & 8: Whitney Yin
Age 13, grade 8 at Hillfield Strathallan College, Hamilton
Story starter by Heather O'Neill
A girl named Lucy lived in the house. She had three brothers, so she never had any privacy as they were always going through her things. Lucy hid her journal in the hole inside the tree. In it she wrote all the wondrous and strange observations that occurred to her during the day. She was unable to make friends at her new school and she felt a great sense of sadness because of it. So she poured herself on into her journal, having no one to share her thoughts with. Then one night, while Lucy was asleep, a girl crept out of the hole. She had come from another world. She had heard dangerous tales of what went on on the other side of the hole in the vicious dimension called earth. But she had been reading Lucy’s diary and knew they were kindred spirits and that they had to meet.
The girl put aside the diary reluctantly, and made her way to the dark house. She didn’t have long until the sun rose once more from the horizon. As the foreigner picked the lock of the house, she noticed a dim light that turned on, in the floor above. She shrugged, unsure if that was normal, and gently pushed open the door. Inside, there were many framed photos of a dark-haired girl, sometimes with two boys and sometimes with an older couple. She supposed they were portraits of Lucy and her family. She made her way across a room with a small TV on the wall, and many unpacked boxes. So this is the living room Lucy wrote of, she thought to herself, hopping over a stray balloon. As she tried to maneuver over a small table, she heard a soft creak, and looked around frantically for the source of sound. There, atop the grand staircase that led to something above ground, stood a girl of a similar age, clutching a fluffy white bear. Her mouth was frozen mid-scream, as her eyes threatened to pop out of their sockets.
“I-I-I’m Amelia,” the foreigner stuttered, taking a step towards the frightened girl, “I’m not going to hurt you, I just came to investigate the diary.” She said, holding up the tattered cover for proof.
“I’ve never seen anyone like you,” Lucy said, in awe. It was true, as Amelia had pale, translucent wings that sprouted from her shoulder blades, and long, blonde hair that reached the ground.
“I’m not from this dimension,” Amelia said softly, edging yet closer.
Lucy opened her mouth and started to call for her mother, but Amelia quickly covered her mouth. “Your mother must not know of my existence,” she whispered, “for that would endanger me, and all the others that live in my realm.”
“I’m Lucy,” the girl breathed.
“Right. My diary.”
“Is there a better place for us to talk? I’m afraid your brothers may wake up,” Amelia urged.
“There’s the forest,” Lucy suggested, leading the strange girl back through their mess of a living room, and out of the house without a word. Once they were a safe distance away, she spoke. “You know everything about me, since you read my diary?”
“Yes,” Amelia answered sheepishly, looking at her toes.
“Then can you tell me of your world?”
And so, the two girls conversed, until the sun reached the horizon. They spoke of everything, from the creatures from Amelia’s dimension (elves, dwarves, and faeries) to the best Italian restaurants in Lucy’s small neighbourhood. But when the horizon turned a lovely shade of orange, Amelia stood up.
“I must go,” she said sadly, “I am not a creature of light. I burn in presence of the sun.”
“But you’ll visit again?” Lucy asked, following her back to the strange hole.
“If you’d like,” Amelia smiled, and crept back through, disappearing into the dark.
At Lucy’s feet, was a small, engraved black box.
Winner, grades 9 & 10: Ibrahim Iftikhar
Age 15, grade 10 at Hillfield Strathallan College, Hamilton
Story starter by Gwen Benaway
Makwa is sick of school. Sick of waking up early, getting dressed, waiting for his mom to drive him to school, and shuffling up the steps into the grey concrete building. Everyone at his school is boring. They talk about television, listen to dumb music, and spend their time in class on Snapchat. He spends his time reading books about telepathic unicorns. It’s not a good combination.
The worst part of school is spending 8 hours of his life away from his dog. Neechie is a res dog, a mutt that his dad brought home one day from their community. Makwa is not sure of his dog’s breed. Neechie looks like a German Shepard mixed with a Golden Lab but somehow smaller than both breeds. Neechie is an Ojibway word for friend, but Makwa’s dog is not very friendly. He’s great with Makwa, but when Makwa takes him on walks around the neighborhood, Neechie tries to eat all of the other dogs. He even tries to eat the bigger dogs. Makwa’s dad says that Neechie is crazy, but Makwa likes how fearless his dog is.
Makwa wishes he was as fearless. Mawka means “bear” in Ojibway, but he doesn’t feel like a bear. His dad said they named him after the bear because bears are so strong. Makwa is 5’8 and weighs 120 pounds. He skipped gym class until they just passed him with a 50%. He is more interested in books than being brave or fighting. Some times at school, the other guys hassle him and push him around. He ignores them, keeps on walking with a book in front of his face. You can fight like Neechie or you can just disappear, Makwa thinks, disappear into a world entirely your own.
That night, Makwa sat by the bonfire outside pondering this predicament to himself. He had spent the night looking to the sky for answers. Surely, he thought, amongst the trillions of stars out there, the answers he was looking for would finally reveal themselves to him. Alas, as Makwa called out to the stars, the only response he received was silence from the night sky. Once again Makwa was alone; the only company he had was the presence of his best and only friend, Neechie. As Makwa continued to peer into the black veil of the night sky, he began stroking Neechie’s thick hair. Neechie curled up into a ball next to Makwa and began snoring noisily. If there was one thing Makwa couldn’t stand from Neechie was his obnoxiously loud snore. Regardless, Makwa made an exception, today had been a long day for both of them. As Makwa listened to the crackle of the fire, he was slowly swept with a wave of nausea and suddenly he was in a state of hypnosis. Makwa began to slowly drift off into the world around him turned dark.
“Makwa, hey Makwa wake up...MAKWA!” Makwa woke up with a jump. The first thing that entered Makwa’s field of view was Neechie standing in front of him staring. The second thing he noticed was that he was no longer at home, in fact, he had no idea where he was. The surrounding landscape looked like an endless vale of darkness from all ends. “I must be dreaming,” Makwa said under his breath as he rubbed his head, had he fallen asleep? “Hey, down here buddy!” A voice said from behind him, “I want to show you something.” Makwa turned around and stood face to face with Neechie, suddenly he realized who was talking to him. “It’s me, Neechie, we need to talk Makwa, look down for me, what do you see?” Makwa looked under his feet and found himself peering over his school, below he could see all of his classmates in class talking amongst themselves and in the corner of the class he could make out a small figure sitting apart from the rest, it was Makwa! Makwa didn’t know what was more confusing, the fact that his dog could now talk, or that he was looking down upon himself from the sky. “Why are you showing me this?” Makwa inquired, “I already know that I’m a loser, you don’t have to remind me.
“I want to teach you something Makwa, you’re always telling me how lonely you are at school.”
“Yeah, your point is?”
“Look, friend, I know it’s hard fitting in at school, but you have to understand that I can’t always be there for you.”
“But you’re my only friend Neechie! I don’t need anyone else!”
“That’s what you don’t see Makwa, you’ve been so caught up with your books and sorrow that you’ve forgotten about the world around you.”
The scene below the two shifted and Makwa could now see himself walking down the halls with his favourite fantasy novel shoved into his face. “I get it Makwa,” Neechie offered, “In life, there are times where you have to stand up for yourself and fight, and I know it’s tough, but remember, you don’t always have to be alone.” The scene below the duo shifted once more revealing a girl sitting in the corner of the locker bay, her attention was completely occupied by the novel she was reading. “I don’t recognize that girl,” Mawka commented, “Is she new?”
“I’m not sure,” Neechie jested, “You have to figure that out on your own. My work here is done Makwa, the rest is up to you now.” Before Makwa could protest, the ground beneath him disappeared and he began hurtling back down to the ground. SMACK!
Makwa woke up once more with a startle. He had returned to the firepit where he was a few moments earlier, only now what remained of the fire was just a few glowing embers. Makwa looked over and saw Neechie snoring like he was earlier and pinched himself to check if he was still dreaming, not this time.
The next day Makwa went to school with a newfound excitement, like it was the first day of school again. He peered into the locker bay and just as he suspected the same girl in his dream was sitting there in the corner, indulged by her novel. Makwa brushed himself off and approached her,
“Hi, I’m Makwa, what’re you reading…..”
Winner, Grades 11 & 12: Hannah Draper
Age 16, grade 11 at Sir Robert Borden High School, Nepean
Story starter by Pasha Malla
Lord of the Dance
How or when or where or why the conga line starts I have no idea, but one minute I am standing poolside, debating whether or not to take another swim, and the next I am swept up from behind, two hands on my waist, and find myself rocked back and forth to some saucy beat I’d been ignoring, but now can’t possibly. I look back to see the grinning face of a man behind me, a bearded man, and before I know it someone new has taken my hands and placed them on her hips, a woman in a dress with a zigzag pattern, an endless cascade of green chevrons slotting one to the next from neck to knee. The rhythm of the conga is two beats to one side, two beats to the other, everyone in perfect synchronicity as we shuffle along; some people are adding little kicks as well. The line is a dozen people strong, now fifteen, now twenty, twisting and slithering away from the pool and up through the resort, gaining more people as we go. It feels less like someone’s leading than we’re being taken somewhere. Where? Nobody knows. Two nods one way, two nods the other, even with the music fading behind us as we leave the gates of the resort, and into the streets, still shimmering wet from last night’s rain.
There is something about cobblestone streets after a rain which feels almost magical, fitting with the Dia de Los Muertos celebration. The coruscating asphalt seems to take on supernatural qualities, no longer representing the urban jungle but rather the puddles are lapping waves we could drown in. The island is a flurry of dance and movement, the dawn providing a glow to our parade. If we had been able to tear our gazes from the dancing body in front of ours, we would’ve noticed that with each shuffle, the resort faded behind us and we were lead away by a tall, thin man in a black coat.
Two beats to one side, two more beats to the other, we find ourselves collecting all different sorts of people as we wind through the streets. A little girl a few places in front of me laughed gaily, obscuring my vision of the man leading us farther and farther away from the resort. We seem to go unnoticed by the people sitting at tables outside, but our parade continues regardless. Women in blouses and pencil skirts are placing their hands on the hips of burly bikers as we hauntingly march to a beat that is only carried on in our memories. The brazen conga I previously thought of as obnoxious began to sound much more like an anthem or a melody of a thousand idiosyncratic entities coming together. Despite the name, “The Day of The Dead” was as alive as the bold beat that took us away from the resort and towards the edge of the mainland.
Two beats to one side, two more beats to the other, the edges of the escarpment are approaching, and becoming closer with every saucy step. The rising sun seems to be pulling us towards him with a smoldering look and an enticing embrace. Despite the fast-approaching cliff, no one seems inclined to stop. The dark man leading us approaches the edge without even slowing, before stepping off the edge and continuing to march across empty skies. Finally, I have a clear view of him and can see a skeletal grin where the sun hits his face.
The sun fully breaches the hold Earth had on him and the ground disappears underneath our feet. The woman in the green chevron dress is dissolving into smoke under my hands. As I look down, I notice that my own body is fading more and more as the sun grows. I can’t see him, but I know that the same is happening to the bearded man behind me, and all of the other family and friends who had joined us on our annual trip to visit the other side. The warmth of the sun bathes us in a comforting embrace, as he lays us down to rest until we can return next year.
Find out more about Write Across Ontario by visiting IFOA Ontario's website.