Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Write Across Ontario: Grade Ten Winning Story by Jessica Kim

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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 Martingrove Collegiate Institute student Jessica Kim! Jessica’s mysterious and magical story made her the winner in the grade ten category of the Write Across Ontario contest

Jessica remembers writing “silly princess and animal stories” when she was seven years old, but she didn’t keep writing. She told Open Book, “I abandoned writing as I grew up because I could never start a story in a way that satisfied me. In fact, this was my first attempt in years — I was lucky because a prompt was already provided for me.” Johanna Skibsrud’s story-starter appealed to Jessica because “it had the most potential to be a fantasy story” and because she “noticed how the picking-up of the key was in line with continuing what the author had left off. The prompt seemed to open up to a million possibilities.”

While Jessica may not have been writing much fiction over the years, she has been reading a lot, and as any successful writer will tell you, reading a lot of books is essential if you want to be a writer. She admits that the books she’s read have influenced her style: “I may have noted certain techniques that authors used, and incorporated them into my writing over time. I can’t say specifically who I’ve picked up on because the process was so gradual, but I particularly enjoyed reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, A Fine Balance and Things Fall Apart — not necessarily because of the plots, but more because of how easily I could become absorbed in them and visualize the story.”

Jessica is surprised by her win, but it’s motivated her to continue writing. “I never thought I had even a speck of talent at writing until I entered this contest. I discovered how difficult it was to come up with an idea, stick to it, and find the right words to tell the story with. It took a lot of time and effort, but I realized it was all worth it when I was picked as one of the winners. I was so encouraged that I seriously began to consider writing my own story. I hope to publish a collection of short stories or a short novel in the long run; it may take years, or even decades. In the meantime, I’ll keep entering creative writing contests.”

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Jessica Kim's Story

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.



The cuckoo sprang out ten times from its tiny closet. Lily’s eyes, half-closed with sleep a moment ago, opened wide when she saw me straining to get up from the rocking-chair.

"Nana, don’t go! I’m wide awake!” she cried out in dismay. “I want to hear the rest of the story!”

I rose, feeling stiff, and assured her that I’d continue the next day. Still protesting, Lily yawned.

“Goodnight”, I said. I flicked the lights off and closed the door softly behind me.

The story I’d begun to tell Lily didn’t have a happy ending — it felt like picking at an ugly scab. But she needed to know the truth; after all, it was as much her story as mine. Memories as clear as daylight, as sharp as the edges of broken glass came flooding back. If I closed my eyes, I could almost believe that I was there again.

A chilly wind shook us from our trance. The golden radiance from the key was fading fast with the sun. Then, on an impulse that was almost instinctive, I grabbed the key from Ben. And just before it lost its sparkle, I turned it in empty air — exactly as I would open a lock. I didn’t think about it — it seemed like the only thing to do. I was convinced that the key would lose its magic with the dark. Ben and I were rooted to the ground in anticipation. That fleeting second felt like an eternity, after which, our eyebrows rose in disbelief. The thinnest sliver of light — delicate as a hair — appeared and drew itself in an arch, widening. The key had unlocked a door.

Jessica (Ye Hyung) Kim was born in Seoul, South Korea, and immigrated to Canada when she was nine. Reading has always been a favourite past-time of hers, along with playing piano and singing. She loves going on long road trips and spending time with animals. Jessica doesn’t yet know what she wants to become, but she has a passion for the sciences and math. Most importantly, she wants to go on a spontaneous and exciting adventure that will take her around the world. She is currently a Gr. 10 student at Martingrove Collegiate Institute.

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