Yesterday I learned that a very new Chalk student, Juliet Sellars, had won top prize in the Du Maurier Literary Festival for her very first short story.  I can recall Juliet’s rather cross expression back in February when I returned part three of her story with some suggested rewrites. ‘But you already looked at the first three pages and made me change them,’ she said a mite fractiously, ‘And now you want them rewritten again!’  I could see Juliet was at that difficult crossroads for the aspiring writer where the signs point to ‘Much Rewriting’, ‘Hard work’ and ‘Little Comeseasy.’ I explained soothingly that as a piece of work grows, as the middle section develops and the ending looms, inevitably the opening needs to change too.  Every word we alter has a knock-on effect somewhere else in the story.
Fortunately, Juliet resisted any temptation to tell me to stick my writing classes where the literary luminaries don’t shine, rip up her work and retire to the bar.  Even more fortunately, she was dedicated enough to do the rewrite and the next one and edit down the story from three thousand to two thousand words and then she was bold and brave enough to send it off to the competition with only a few mutterings about being a hopeless, absolute beginner.
I admit I had a good feeling about Juliet’s story with its fresh descriptive writing, the intriguing, yet understated, love triangle, the moody cliff-top setting, reminiscent of the treacherous Cornish coast where Du Maurier set her most famous story Rebecca. However, I was still almost as amazed as Juliet when I heard that the story had actually won first prize and she’d been invited down to Du Maurier’s home town of Fowey next week to collect her cheque and hobnob with other festival literati like Andrew Motion, Patrick Gale, Jane Dunn, Julian Clary and that other creative Balham-ite, Arthur Smith. Of course, it may not be as glamorous as it sounds and Jules may be in for a five hour drive to sip warm Soave in the corner of damp marquee in an even damper Cornish field but it’s nonetheless a brilliant start and the sort of thing which makes an excellent opening paragraph for letters to agents.
As for me, while my own entry, moulders in the reject pile, I am basking in Juliet’s generous thanks and channelling Miss Jean Brodie, as any self-respecting teacher in her prime would, – ‘My gals are the crème de la crème…’
Ardella Jones
 You can read Juliet Sellar’s winning story The Ice Cream Van  on our testimonials page