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A Box of Chocolates: 50 Short Stories

by Various Authors. Foreword by Fay Weldon.

A Box of Chocolates: 50 Short StoriesThe fifty stories in this book were all entries in Shaftesbury Arts Centre’s first short story competition, held in the autumn of 2008. The competition was meant for adults, and most of the thirty-six adult entries are in this book, but sixteen children also entered, the youngest just six years old. Their stories are also here. Unsurprisingly, most of the entries came from the Shaftesbury area but not exclusively. Illustrating how wide Shaftesbury Arts Centre in Dorset flings its net, there are entries from Salisbury in Wiltshire and as far as Gloucestershire and London. The source of all the children’s entries bar one was St Andrew’s Church of England Primary School in Fontmell Magna, a small village south of Shaftesbury, the initiative of an inspired teacher there called Michael Salisbury. Competition judge Fay Weldon selected nine stories for special mention - all of which are in this book - and from these chose Jo Wilkinson's 'A chocolate Story' as the top prize winner. She praised the skill, variety and imaginations of many of the authors, suggesting they could and should go on to greater things. It is possible this book could be the first of a series of similar books encouraging, producing and promoting the creative writing talent of the local area.

Review

‘It was a wintry night. The curtains were not thick enough to keep out the cold. Edie reached for the box of chocolates…’. Now write your story!

This was celebrated author Fay Weldon’s instruction to entrants in Shaftesbury Arts Centre’s first short story-writing competition. The brainchild of centre stalwart Rosie King, co-chair of the centre’s fundraising committee, the competition formed the highlight of SAC’s first Chocolate Festival in the autumn of 2008.

Fay kindly volunteered not only to set the chocolate theme but also to judge the result – no small commitment from someone who has chaired professional judging panels of national literary competitions such as the Booker and Whitbread awards.

The competition was meant for adults, and a surprisingly large number of 33 adults entered, some from as far away as London and Gloucestershire. But 16 children also entered, the youngest just six years old. Fay shortlisted nine stories for special mention from which she selected Marnhull author Jo Wilkinson as the final winner.

So impressed was Fay by the overall standard that it didn’t take the organisers long to agree to publish all the stories, including those by the children – most of whom were from St Andrew’s primary school in Fontmell Magna – in this volume, proceeds from which are intended to bolster SAC’s fundraising effort.

Not every author wanted to be included but this book contains all the shortlisted stories, including Jo Wilkinson’s winning effort, and represents an impressive array of local talent. While the chocolate theme underlies all the stories, there is an extraordinary variety of subjects here, from the comic to the macabre to the tragic.

‘An amazing range of stories was submitted for the competition and to tell some of them in under a thousand words just shows what can be done,’ Fay told the local press, adding: ‘I hope Shaftesbury Arts Centre will carry on this good work.’

It is to be hoped it will. Meanwhile this is a book to be enjoyed for all sorts of reasons beyond most people’s addiction to chocolate. Apart from anything else it shows just how much talent is lurking almost everywhere under the surface in and around this remarkable town of Shaftesbury – and what creative talent it attracts.

If you like good writing you’ll love this book. But if you like chocolate as well you’ll positively drool over it! And at under £8 it’s a steal.

Shaftesbury Contact magazine, Feb 2009

Price

£7.99 + £1.01 p&p

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