Judge’s Comments – WINNER

I like the different approach to this one, and the text has a very lyrical style. I also appreciated the way the author equated entering the workhouse with entering the Underworld. There’s also some really lovely and evocative imagery, especially the descriptions of the ‘charcoal clouds’. This piece is atmospheric and descriptive, with a welcome hint of the hope implied by the title. Very clever!


By Izzy Doyle

A grandad laments the woes of his youth to his curious grandchildren.

“Marching into the workhouse felt like being damned to a hell worse than the one 6ft under; With the desperate possibility that we might one day walk back the way we came, into the light of the sun and the warmth of its embrace, we had hope, the only thing we could’ve had. The thing keeping us breathing was the same thing making us crave for its finish.

We knew most who went didn’t come back, grew old imprisoned or were unlucky enough to be born there.

I remember that day like I remember the name I was granted, I recoiled at it every night in the fear that I might forget what was yonder those walls.”

“It was the time of year when not even the daytime dared to stay for long; guarding the gate was Cerberus. A fierce pack of dogs, howling with gnarled teeth, every step I took, closer and closer to their starving jaws, their slobber battered the cobbles.

Deeper into the belly of the beast, the creek of the iron-bars was haunting for they held the screams of all those ghosts confined within.

Charcoal clouds and smog patrolled the sky, snarling at the workers down below. As my group shuffled in, I kept my head low. In the vast courtyard was a wasteland, the people worked like the dead. Monotonous, repetitive, every day the same as its successor. The only thing keeping them sane was the knowledge that one day enough of them would keel over and die that the place would be forced to close. It was a graveyard in its prime.

I didn’t breathe until I reached the dorms. I didn’t dare let them know I still had a soul to wear down.

The hallways were dismal, illuminating an aura of depressive agony. Rotting, with ominous black mould lurking in the cracks of the brick. By now my legs were buckling, from something I’m too proud to call fear, though I’d say I was lucky to be standing on my two legs at all.

When all you got is yourself, you better be glad you got it.

Didn’t even get the chance to sleep before I was put to work, hammer in my ruddy hands, shattering stones tediously. One after the other, after the other.”

“Thinking about that first day, it wasn’t the lonesome walk through a crowd, it wasn’t the decaying odour that lingered throughout and it wasn’t the dogs growling at the gate. They could bare their teeth, tear our skin, beat us with their sticks but that was the worst of them. The real thing I had to be wary of was the voice inside my head. Fighting for my sanity. And thank God I didn’t lose it. Thank God we made it this far.”

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