Friday, February 25, 2011

"The Peacock Buckle Mystery"

Golden Sponge Stick 2010
Short Story Competition Results
Bryony from The Red Maid's School won third prize in the over 11-13 category for this
brilliant bath-house murder mystery set in the past and the future

An excerpt from "The Peacock Buckle Mystery"

...And Claudia, after the reassurance, slid into the pool and leant against the warm pool sides. The steam was gradually clogging up the room, the rays of golden sunlight blindingly bright against the misty air. Amica was appreciating the room, it's near silence, only the lapping of water and light splashing of Claudia's body gliding around.

Then there was a loud slapping sound that echoed about the steam pool. A footstep. A shadow formed in the steam, but it was so faint Amica couldn't even see if it was male or female. Claudia climbed out of the pool and slung a wet arm across her shoulder, lifting her dripping lips to Arnica's ear.

"The peacock belt."

Then the figure lunged out of the mist.

Screams were heard across the baths and Romans rushed about, following the sound of sheer pain. In the steam rooms, a crowd gathered. Lying on the floor was a young, naked woman and an even younger slave girl - who was ignored. They were lying in a pool of blood. Everybody knew the woman, she was Flavius' wife. Flavius was the friendly merchant but now his dear wife was lying, dead, on the floor.

The crowd was dumb-struck for a moment until another piercing scream filled the air. They turned as one to see the slave-girl lying on the floor, a stab wound in her arm. It was bleeding furiously, oozing out, delighted to be free of the containment of her small body.

Plantanius, one of Flavius'close friends, ran over to help her, "What's your name?" he asked.

"I... I am Amica," the small girl squealed, her breath ragged and uneven.

"What happened?" the man pressed, shaking her shoulders urgently, "Tell us what you saw, girl!"

"I saw..." images flashed past her eyes, too fast to make sense, but she needed to help her mistress before she died. Only one image lingered, "The... the peacock belt."

by Bryony Salter (12)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"The Waking"

Golden Sponge Stick 2010
Short Story Competition Results
Lataetia from Oxford High School won third prize in the over 14 category for this
evocative story about tragedy in Roman Britain

An excerpt from "The Waking"

My feet began to slap the ground, as I shook the thoughts from my head. Searching. Searching for my wife, my son. My child, my love. My heart, and my soul, through the fire.

Huts were ablaze around me. Men, women, children, slumped on the ground, sometimes their faces cupped in the light of the fire, as it splashed the world orange, yellow, red.

There were shouts for help, everywhere.

I passed screams, I passed sobs.

I passed a woman clinging to a dead child, wailing, "Quintus est mortuus! Quintus, Quintus, Quintus." His name she crooned, as she held his body. 

My thoughts pulsed through my blood:

Julius, Julius, Julius...

I passed a bloody girl, sobbing in fright.

And I passed a child, clinging to a dead man, pretending to sleep too.

I was lost. Alone.

Julius, Julius, Julius...

Drowning in the hungry flames. I fell to the floor, remembering the gardens. Now all I could picture was a fountain, blood bubbling from its lips.

Julius, Julius, Julius...

I fell to the floor.

by Lataetia Mcevilly-Duncan

Monday, February 21, 2011


Golden Sponge Stick 2010
Short Story Competition Results
Anastasia from Sancton Wood School won second prize in the 11 - 13 category for this
untitled story about a visit to the underworld with a blood-curdling twist at the end

An excerpt from "Untitled"

The horse reared high on its hind legs then crashed to the ground, with me under it. My vision was clouding, my mind slipping into a dark abyss and my last thought was that I knew I was falling into an eternal slumber. As I lay there listening to the muffled voices, a feeling of utter still washed over me and I heard my heart drumming in my ears. The beat was getting feeble. I was dying.

I awoke on a dirty riverbank. I was face down in the mud, and it was smeared on my face. I picked myself up and wiped most of the mud off with the back of my hand. The air around me was a thick mist, and I struggled to peer through the gloom. I stumbled forward, hands stretched out so not to walk into anything, when my toes just touched what felt like cold water. I fell to my knees and stared at the water, at my shimmering reflection. As I bent forward, my shoulder length blond hair skimmed the surface and as I watched the ripples dance before me a smell hit me like a fist to the face. I leapt back, crawling on my elbows away from the water. The smell terrified me; for it was the foreboding smell of death...

Anastasia Maseychik (12)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"The Signifer"

Golden Sponge Stick 2010
Short Story Competition Results
Lucie from Sancton Wood School won second prize in the over 14 category
with a superb story in the tradition of Rosemary Sutcliffe's Eagle of the Ninth

An excerpt from "The Signifer"

Rain fell like tears from a blackened sky, as the troops marched out onto the field, awaiting the centurions' commands. The Signifer strode out in front of his expectant men, leading the line, with his standard flying high in the wind.

"It would be an honour," his mother had said when the recruiting cohorts came, "an honour to fight in the legions, for the Eagle and the Emperor." The young boy had studied her face as she made the comment, looking for the lie. Some how he didn't notice the tears in her eyes, or the silent pleas that she'd made to the legionary, as she handed over her14 year-old son, her beloved boy. He was given no choice, they had to go. The families of the new recruits waved them off, proud shouts and cheers ringed the air, giving both the families and the boys' false hope of returning, of coming home to their village one day.

The Signifer's hands stiffened as he heard the Cavalry line up on the west wing, the horses' chinking bridles invisible in the pelting rain and early morning mist. The horses grew restless within minutes, stamping their hooves and snorting. The unforgiving weather grew in velocity, hammering down on the Eagle's army. The unease was reflected in the faces of the men, the brave Legio II Augusta, Signifer's legion. The Signifer could just make out the features of the Legate, sat on his immaculate horse to the left of the large standard, dancing in the grey sky; tall, muscular and battle hardened, the Legate's face was set in a grimace as he peered through the unremitting rain. The Legate of Legio II Augusta was called Titus Flavius Vespasianus, known to the legion as Vespasian, one of the cruelest men, Signifer had encountered.

Lucie Meggitt (15)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Amora & the Jewelry Mystery"

Golden Sponge Stick 2010
Short Story Competition Results
Emmanuelle from North London Collegiate won second prize in the under 9 category
I've chosen to post an excerpt from the end which includes a sponge-stick!

An excerpt from "Amora & the Jewelry Mystery"

Ivorus was a wonderful quick horse. He understood humans when they spoke. He was pure snow white with black patterns on him. He had a silky, black groomed mane that hardly ever got tangled. Everyone thought he was extraordinary...

They all clung to steady Ivorus. Ivorus got nearer to the sound. It got louder and louder. Everyone looked in front of them. There was the most hilarious sight. They had found the person they had been arguing with. There was no time to joke, they said to each other. Amora looked in the person's bag. There was the ring and necklace, as well as a slimy brown sponge stick. Then the person realized that they knew he was the thief and he apologized.

There was a celebration and everyone was happy. Amora was so proud of her beloved Ivorus. As for the sponge stick, a dog came and licked it clean. How disgusting! Then it was not used again. Thank goodness!

Emmanuelle Gelain-Sohn (8)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"The Spectator"

Golden Sponge Stick 2010
Short Story Competition Results
Theodora from Berkhamsted School won second prize in the age 9 - 11 category
with this brutal twist-at-the-end story about murder & divine retribution

An excerpt from "The Spectator"

Although I cannot move or talk, I can do many, many things without those uses. People do not notice me while they talk, but I'm not invisible, whether it's everyday chit chat or top secret conversations, that could change Pompeii as we know it. Still don't know who I am? Well, keep guessing. I'm as big as the sky is wide, but stay in Pompeii averagely sized, a bit bigger than a human, but I'm not one. I have eternal life, and am very well known throughout Italy and Pompeii. This is the story of many little mistakes, causing one big one.

It was 79 AD, May 2nd to be precise and I was outside the forum (as always) just watching the Pompeiani go abut their daily lives. Caecilius was setting up his stall, farmers selling their produce and venalicius showing off his slaves to rich-looking citizens. Caecilius was a good man, a very articulate, kind and humble man. He always had his banking stall just by me every weekday. And, although he was a rich, busy man, he always had time to be a good pater to his son. It seemed like a fairly average day, just looking out for suspicious actions. I saw a sly shopkeeper called Cato spitting in a customer's drink. He got a bit of a shock when he fell down a well, being humiliated in front of every person in the forum. 'Curse the gods', he mumbled. At least he knew who had punished him. But, that was just the kind of thing that happened everyday. I hadn't really guessed what was coming next...

by Theodora Manson (12)

Monday, February 07, 2011

Scandal in Frisco! (1884)

from The San Franciscan March 1, 1885:

A woman passed along Kearny street, one afternoon this week, who attracted a good deal of attention.

People did not turn and look after her because she was very beautiful, famous for her genius, notorious for her misdeeds, or because she was doing anything unusual. She was just walking along on the proper side of the pavement, like the rest of the people. Her face was far from handsome, and not by any means bright. She was past the age when men compete for the favor of her attention. Yet this unknown, middle-aged, commonplace woman drew as much notice as if she had been a great actress or criminal.

She wore trowsers.

(Joseph T. Goodman, from The Sagebrush Anthology: Literature from the Silver Age of the Old West)

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Golden Sponge-Stick Winners '10

I just got this exciting report from Jeremy Pine at Burgess Hill School for Girls and am posting it verbatim. I have put a selection of excerpts from the winning entries at the bottom of this post. Well done to one and all! Caroline x

Burgess Hill School for Girls Golden Sponge stick Competition 2010 report.

February 2011:

The 2010 Burgess Hill School for Girls Golden Sponge stick competition has  travelled truly internationally attracting a record 324 entries, including some from USA and Australia. The youngest entrant of four years old has also entered the fray this year!

A very pleasing fifty colleges and schools from a great diversity of backgrounds and geographical locations participated with some very entertaining and varied writing. Many thanks to those schools who continue to support this project so enthusiastically and also of course to all new entrants!

This time, stories were originally crafted with a wide range of themes. As well as the typically popular tales of gladiators, slaves and love affairs there were some intriguing new twists and turns. Fishbourne Roman Palace inspired a wonderful set of stories from Oxford High School, while peacocks and bears dominated the animal front this year, figuring ingenuously in the murder mysteries. The Roman Fates, the Underworld, Roman Imperialism and Peace all brought a fascinating dimension to the competition with evidence of impressive, meticulous research.

It is hoped that some of the fruits of these labours can be published for everyone‘s delectation, subject to receiving sufficient financial support. Watch this space!

Here are the winners and placings:

Under age 9 category:
1. Matilda Sidel, North London Collegiate School
2. Emmanuelle Gelain-Sohn,  North London Collegiate School
3. Madeleine Webster, St. Bede Church of England Primary, Winchester

Age 9-11:
1.  Sarah Camilleri, Ipswich Senior School
2.  Theodora Manson, Berkhamsted School
3.  Charley Broomfield, George Abbot School

Age 11 - 13:
1.  Mia Forbes, Nonsuch High School for Girls
2.  Anastasia Maseychik, Sancton Wood School, Cambridge
3.  Bryony Salter,  The Red Maids’ School, Bristol

Age 14 and above:
1. Charlotte Robson , Sherborne Girls’ School
2. Lucie Meggitt,  Sancton Wood School, Cambridge
3. Lataetia Mcevilly- Duncan, Oxford High School

Best International Entry :
Angela Choi, Pymble College, Australia

List of participating schools and colleges:
Beaconsfield High School, Berkhamsted School, Brentwood School, Burntwood School, Cambridge International School, Chelmsford County High School for Girls, Easton High School, Easton, USA, Ellesmere College, Emanuel School, Battersea, Fakenham College, George Abbot School, Hall Grove School, Hammond School, Henrietta Barnett School, Ipswich School, King Edward’s School, Witley, King Henry VIII, Coventry, Magdalen College School, Oxford, Monkton Combe Senior School, Moreton Hall Preparatory School, Mount Saint Mary Academy, West Watching, USA, Newcastle Royal Grammar School, Nonsuch High School for Girls, Northampton High School, North London Collegiate School, Norwich High School, Oxford High School, Pymble College, Australia, Queen’s Gate School, Roedean School, Rokeby School, Kingston, Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, Sancton Wood School, Cambridge, Sherborne School for Girls, St Albans School for Girls, St Bede Church of England Primary, Winchester, St Edmund’s School, Canterbury, St James Senior Girls’ School, St Mary’s Senior School, Cambridge, St Paul’s Girls’ School, St Philip Howard RC School, Barnham, The King’s School, Gloucester, The Lady Eleanor Holles School, The Mall School, The Red Maids’ School Bristol, Wellington Senior School, Woodford County High School.

Special thanks:
To my family, Association for Latin Teaching, Barbara Johns, Burgess Hill School for Girls, Caroline Lawrence, Cambridge Latin Course project , Classical Association (for sponsoring the prizes), Friends of Classics, Joint Association of Classical Teachers, Lorna Robinson and the iris project, Mary Beard, Oxford University Classics Outreach, The Classics Library.          

Here is to the 2011 competition!

Jerry Pine
Classics Department
Burgess Hill School for Girls

Caroline chose these excerpts from the first place winners in all four categories:

Golden Sponge Stick 2010
first place under 9s
Matilda from North London Collegiate won first prize in the under 9 category
with this atmospheric conspiracy story involving twins and a plot against Titus

An excerpt from "The Numerus Twins"

Alca hurried back to Cassia, looking very distressed.

"The senators are going to do something dreadful," she cried.

"What is it?" chorused the twins anxiously.

"I - I don't know," she spluttered. "But whatever it is, it is to do with Emperor Titus," she gasped before collapsing into a seat. They were back in Laurentum, in the Villa Delphina.

"Were the Numerous Twins there?" asked Cassius, pestering the exhausted girl with questions.

"Cassius, she's too tired. Leave her to rest and then she'll tell you all about it," advised Myrtilla, the cook, a pleasant, plump woman who always knew best.

Alca sighed in relief and gave Myrtilla a grateful nod, which the cook responded to with a silent gesture as if to say, "Don't mention it."

Alca woke up with the midday sun blazing forcefully into her eyes. She yawned drowsily and started to get up. Now she would tell Cassia and Cassius everything.

As Alca entered the room, Cassius explained to her, "We know what happened, Alca. You were talking about it in your sleep. Cassia and I both agree with you that something must be done." Alca shrank back, ashamed to have been talking in her sleep. Seeing this, Cassia placed a comforting arm around her shoulders.

"We need to inform the Emperor Titus. He knows us and trusts us," she suggested.

"We should have more information before we tell anyone," Cassius protested.

"No. Let's warn the Emperor first, to prepare him. Otherwise it might be too late," concluded Alca.

"True," said Cassia. "I like the sound of that."

Cassius thought for a while before nodding in agreement.

Then, as if on cue, they cried out in unison, "Let's do it!"

Cassia continued, ''Pater is going to visit the Emperor soon! I could try to persuade him to let us come with him, and then we could carry out our plan! Perfect!" she finished, her eyes lit up with excitement.

"Now this is the hard bit," Cassia thought to herself grimly. "Persuading pater..." 

She walked into the room of the paterfamilias trying to swallow her dread, even though her lip was trembling.

Matilda Sidel (8)

Golden Sponge Stick 2010
first place 9 -11
Sarah from Ipswich Senior School won first prize in the age 9 - 11 category
with a powerful story about fate, loss & death:

An excerpt from "Love's Strong Pull"

It was the Summer Solstice, and every good Roman citizen knew what that meant. Every Summer Solstice the Fates decide to gamble on a certain human being and decide his or her destiny. That is what the Fates are for I suppose - they decide your luck once and for all. That Summer Solstice they picked a certain Octa Octavius.

Octa Octavius had jet black hair, a dark olive complexion and eyes the shade of chocolate. The day she died was a somewhat unusual day. She and her mother walked down to the forum to get some food such as stale bread and olives. Then suddenly Octa Octavius dropped down on the floor and stopped breathing for no apparent reason but her mother knew perfectly well what had happened - for she was a Fate...

Sarah Camilleri (11)

Golden Sponge Stick 2010
first place 11 - 13
Mia from Nonsuch High School for girls won first prize in the age 11-13 category for a
well-researched story about conspiracy & love in the court of Titus that could be expanded to a novel:

An excerpt from "Slave-girl"

Slave - the word I've been called all my life, my title, my name. The are many like me, all of us waking up just to go back to sleep. Although I pray to the Gods every night, Fortuna does not smile on me, she taunts me. Every day I must endure watching my mistress in her elegance; she does nothing except enjoy the luxurious parties her husband throws. At these events my mistress and her husband must always stand out, being the empress and emperor, and that is where I come in. If I were to make all her wildest dreams come true, I doubt I would be praised and yet if I do the slightest thing not to her impeccably high standard I should be beaten, and even sold if my mistress was in one of her rages. Marcia Furnilla and her husband, Emperor Titus, were my owners, they controlled me, at one word from them my life could end or in one moment of kindness I could be free forever. What it would be like to be free! Never having to run to Marcia when she needed her sapphire necklace! Never having to change her meals because she was allergic to peacock. Although it seems Fortuna hates me, Venus shields me with her protection for I am truly in love. Mariano, a slave like me, a coquus, is the one thing that stops me from screaming out loud during Marcia's boasts of all the wonderful social events she attended recently. Although, he doesn't know the thought of him fills me up with an emotion hard to explain, he considers me a friend. He believes he's in love with Marcia, but I know that is just an illusion, I know he cannot love her. Not her.

Mia Forbes (13)

Golden Sponge Stick 2010
first place 14+
Charlotte from Sherborne Girls' won first prize in the age 14+  category for
a moving, atmospheric & compelling story that reveals its truth bit by bit

An excerpt from "Pax Romana"

We remember that morning. We remember the dawn pulling back the night's black shroud and turning the sky to gold as myriad voices rose to greet the coming of the new day. Drums beat their throaty rhythms and the high call of the flutes danced on the wind, as light as a feather, and yet as strong and powerful as the earth of which it spoke. Faces, indistinct in the gloom, slowly began to emerge from the shadows. A ridge of a nose here, the gleam of an eye there, strands of hair streaming out and twisting together in the breeze; raven black to blazing red and a thousand shades in between. Faces and arms were daubed with intricate spirals and markings, each as individual as the faces of those to whom they belonged. The eyes of the singers were weary, for it had been a long night of song, dance and thanksgiving. Hands that had blazed trails of fire through the night sky now hung limply beside ash-smeared flanks, and many of the elderly rested their heads against the shoulders of their younger companions. However, the song never wavered and as the dawn drew closer the melodies rose ever higher into the bright air. That morning was a morning of song.

Reverent hands reached out and stroked our sides, laying offerings of sweet herbs mixed with the salty tang of lamb's blood at our feet. We heard the whisper of the grass, saw the dew gleaming on the feet of the swift-footed dancers and the marks in the earth where the torches had burned away at the soil. Soft voices whispered to us; prayers, thanks and honours reserved for us alone. They looked up to us, their link between their world and that of the immortals, and they prayed that we would forever watch over them. And watch over them we did, for these were our people; our singers, our dancers, our brethren and our children. We had stood over them since before the birth of even the most ancient among them, we had watched their three-times great grandsires grow from mewling infants into wizened elders. We were as old as the very plain on which we stood. Those who raised us up had long since passed away, their bodies returned to the earth and their spirits flown on to the Otherworld, but we remained. We remained there as we had always done, unchanged by the hand of man and time. But today, change was upon us at last.

Charlotte Robson (15)

There is still plenty of time to enter the 2011 Golden Sponge Stick Competition.