Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Write Across Ontario: Grade Eleven Winning Story by Tamara Southward

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Every Monday in March, the Open Book Magazine will feature one of the four winning stories in Open Book: Ontario and IFOA Ontario's Write Across Ontario contest. Ontario high school students were asked to compose a story of 500 words or less in response to one of three "story-starters" written by award-winning authors Ian Rankin, Johanna Skibsrud and Miriam Toews.

Geoffrey E. Taylor, Director of the IFOA, was thrilled by the number of submissions they received. “The imagination and creativity of Ontario students is fantastic," he says. "Who knows, we might even have our hands on a future Festival participant.”

Erin Knight, Open Book: Ontario’s Contributing Editor, praises the winning stories for providing “the best of what short fiction has to offer, including complex characters, believable dialogue and the occasional surprising twist. Most of all, these stories have lives off the page: they suggest a compelling back-story and a narrative trajectory that carries us forward, even when the story as it's been written is complete.”

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Congratulations to St. John's-Kilmarnock School student Tamara Southward! She is a student in Mr. Adrian Hoad-Reddick’s Writer's Craft class, and her enchanting short story will leave you wanting to know what happens next. Tamara was named the winner in the grade eleven category of the Write Across Ontario contest.

Tamara has been writing stories for longer than she remember. “My first book,” she told Open Book, “was written before I had learned to hold a pen, which had me reciting my story to my mother as she typed it out.”

When asked why she chose Johanna Skibsrud’s story starter, she said, “The Key was a great story starter — full of suspense, yet open to almost any possible continuation. I loved the way it was written and how an object as simple as a key was brought to life, given an untold story. I really enjoyed playing with ideas and deciding how to bring it to an end.”

Tamara’s influences are numerous. She’s inspired by writers, such as J.K. Rowling, Ann Brashares and S.E. Hinton, but the people who have the greatest influence on her are people she knows. “Relationships I have with certain people give me ideas, as well as opinions and views of others that I would never dream of myself. I have often thought about people who are shaped by their surroundings; this is especially the case for my writing.”

With a full draft of a novel under her belt, Tamara is in the editing stage and looking into finding a publisher. She states, “I often find the urge to start something new, but I am trying to stay dedicated to this current work and possibly go somewhere with it.”

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The Key

I don’t know which one of us saw it first. Suddenly — just — there it was. Glinting a little in the sunlight, half-hidden in the tall grass. A key. The old-fashioned kind. Parts of it rusted so badly it looked as though, if we picked it up, it might crumble away in our hands. How long had it sat out there, like that, I wondered. Rusting in the overgrown grasses at the edge of Mrs. Ellis’s front-yard. Ten years? A hundred? How many times had we just walked on by? More to the point, though — what was different about this time? Why had we both, all of a sudden, paused — our eyes drawn to the same, almost invisible fleck of light, just barely glinting on the lawn? At first, when Ben knelt to pick it up, I wanted to put out my hand to stop him. But then I didn’t. And he picked it up. And held it. It looked surprisingly heavy in his hands. He turned it in slow circles, so we could get a look at it from all sides, and when he did so all but the most rusted bits — even in the diminishing sunlight — seemed to glow. I am not sure how, but in that moment I knew: nothing, after that, was going to be the same.

‘‘Think it’s Mrs. Ellis’s?’’ I asked, my voice hushed.

Ben shook his head. ‘‘She isn’t that old.’’ He scrutinized the key. ‘‘Bet it’s at least a hundred years old. We should bring it in for show and tell.’’

‘‘But it’s not ours,’’ I pointed out.

‘‘So? No one’s missing it, considering the time it’s been lying here. Hey, we could show it to the museum.’’

He squinted while examining the coppery edges. To Ben, it was another object to show the class.

‘‘We walk by here every day,’’ I said, ‘‘and we’ve never seen this before. Someone must have dropped it.’’

‘‘Honestly,’’ he said. ‘‘Who owns keys like this? I can tell you, the only door this’ll unlock is one of a castle. And so what, we walk by here? We’ve never seen that ladybug, have we?’’

I crossed my arms. ‘‘Ben, that’s a moving animal. This is a key! Let’s at least knock on Mrs. Ellis’s door and ask if it’s hers.’’

Clutching it tight, he shook his head vigorously. ‘‘No! I’m showing it to everyone. Jeez, it’s just a key!’’

Suddenly, I felt the need to grasp it. ‘‘Let me see.”

He pulled back. ‘‘No!’’

Without realizing what I was doing, I grabbed it. Ben and my fingers entwined around its rusty body. ‘‘Give it to me!’’ we shouted, our eyes locking.

At that moment, everything blurred as we were carried into the air and spun through tunnels of nameless colors. Finally, everything stopped. I opened my eyes. Ben stood next to me, the small object still trapped between our sweaty palms.

‘‘Where are we?’’ he whispered.

Looking up, I was face-to-face with the door and its keyhole.

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Read the Write Across Ontario winning short stories here.

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