Antony wins Cliffy

by Cherie Moselen
12th April 2016

AT the end of last year the Diary launched a short story competition in honour of the paper’s founding father, Cliff Green.

Stories had to be 1000 words or less and about 30 entries were received, several of them fabulous tales by school-age writers.

Judges narrowed the field to three finalists who were recently announced at Warrandyte’s Grand Read: Robin Fitzherbert, Laura Wellington and Antony Pollock.

Before the big reveal, the Diary disclosed the winner of the competition’s encouragement award: 8-year old Keira Edmonds, for her story The Show.

(Keira will receive a $40 book voucher, plus free entry to an up- coming Eltham Bookshop writer’s event featuring Melbourne-based author of more than 90 books for kids and teens, George Ivanoff.)

The Diary is pleased to inform readers that the winner of the 2015/2016 Cliff Green Short Story Competition was Antony Pollock. He received a $200 book voucher and was also given the opportunity to read his entry The Hermit, about an old man who finds himself in a moral dilemma following his battle with a giant fish.

The Diary learned Antony had written the core of the story, which was somewhat poetic in style and rhythm, when he was 12.

“I’ve been at work on something with words my entire life,” said The Cliffy winner. “I initially trained and worked as a journalist on the Daily Mercury in Queensland, so got good experience there in writing stories.”

Adding, he’d had a “romantic view” of being a full time author for many years:

cliffy award“You know, the room above the bread shop in the old quarter, drinking coffee at an ancient sidewalk cafe while I produce the great novel,” said Antony. “But doing a PhD thesis in Classics at ANU shattered that myth for me. It took me seven years to do and was the hardest thing I have ever written. I now know writing full time is really hard and discipline is required.”

Antony said he is trying to use his thesis experience to produce fiction in a substantial way, but confessed he was still feeling his way as a writer.

“Writing is like a physical muscle: I am learning to write and am not very fit, so shorter stories are good for my level of endurance. Having said that, the story I am currently working on is five chapters and counting.”

The successful entrant described his win as “surprising”.

“It is the first writing competition I have ever entered, let alone won. Warrandyte is such a creative place, so to win here is something I think,” he said. “I was very humbled and honoured, to be honest.”

A relative newcomer to Warrandyte, Antony (who works in a Commonwealth department in Melbourne) said he moved here almost 12 months ago from Canberra with wife Jacinta and their two-year-old son.

“So we are Warrandytians now and I just love the alternative feel to the place, the small village like atmosphere, the friendly neighbours … the even friendlier possums!”

And we just love that Warrandyte has another would-be author in its mix of talented writers. See his award-winning short story below …

THE HERMIT by Antony Pollock

In the forest lived a hermit. He had lived in the forest for as long as he could remember and there was never a time when he did not seem part of the meadows and streams. He was an old man with skin as wrinkled as a prune and hair as white as the clouds which drifted across the sky. But his eyes remained young and were as blue as the sparkling sea. He wore a long robe which was as old as he was and he leaned on an old crooked staff when he was tired.

He lived in a small wooden hut beside a gurgling stream and drew his water from an old well nearby. But sometimes the water in the well froze over during winter and the old man knew then that times were indeed hard. He fed the deer and other forest creatures which left the woods to drink in the long summer twilights. In winter the deer gathered close to his hut looking for food and he fed them too. But some days, food was scarce and then both deer and the old man went hungry.

One day, the old man travelled high into the hills. A cold wind whipped through the trees and snatched at the old man as he gathered his cloak around him. Winter was coming and a chill ran through him. He walked for a day and a half, further than he had ever walked before. He spent the night wrapped in his cloak in the leaf litter beside a small fire and set off again in the misty dawn, leaning heavily on his old staff.

Presently he came to a small pond pooled like a glistening jewel in the hills. He had walked for a long time and was tired, so decided to camp by the pond. As he knelt to wash his face the old man saw a huge fish lying motionless just below the surface in the centre of the pond. It was an old fish with many marks and scars on its faded body and fins notched and torn. But his gills still pulsated powerfully and his flank rippled with muscle. Because he had travelled far and because he was hungry the old man decided to catch the fish.

So he drew from his pouch a line and his finest lure and cast it upon the water. There was a wet plop as it landed and the old man jiggled and teased it along the surface. No fish ever known to him could resist that. But resist it the old fish did and try as he might, the old man could not catch him. He tried every trick he knew. He cast the line long and drew in fast. He cast the line short and drew in slowly. He weighted the lure and let it sink before pulling it back to shore. He changed his lure then changed it back again. He fished and fished until the shadows lengthened and the late afternoon chill passed through his thin clothing and entered the marrow of his bones. He fished until he was spent and in his frustration and hunger waded into the water to shout at the fish. But nothing worked.

Soon the old man stood exhausted and empty by the pond, his lure and twine hanging limply from his hand. Twilight was fast approaching and the old man, dejected and defeated, looked at the fish. It was then that he noticed something he had not noticed before. The eyes of the fish were milky and stared into nothing and suddenly, like a flash of summer lightning, the old man knew. “He’s blind! He’s blind!” he shouted at the trees. And so it was with shadows lengthening and evening drawing close that the old man discovered the secret of the fish. In its old age it had gone blind. He could not see the fine lure case before him let alone see to bite it.

In the end, it was simple. The old man replaced his lure with a fat grub he dug from the soil and let it sink slowly in front of the old fish. The fish smelt the grub, bit and was caught. In his agony he thrashed on the end of the line. He dived to the bottom of the pond and leapt high into the air trying to dislodge the awful hook. But try as he might he could not release himself and soon lay gasping on the ground, his long life finally ebbing away in the twilight.

At first the old man whooped with savage joy. But then as he watched the old fish dying on the ground, his flanks heaving and quivering, he was overcome by deep sadness. For years this creature had lived peacefully in the pond growing blind in his old age. He had seen many winters and each passing of the season wrote another chapter on his body full of scars and crevices. And he was killing him.

Suddenly the old man could not stand it and he reached down and twisted free the hook from the great head. He lifted the fish and plunged it into the pond, moving him gently through the water. At first nothing happened and the man was afraid he had killed him. Then a fin twitched, then another. As evening fell the fish slowly revived and as he watched him swim away the old man felt a deep release and sighed with pleasure.

That night he slept peacefully wrapped in his cloak under a thousand twinkling stars. In the moonlight in the centre of the pond the old fish hung motionless in the water as he had for countless nights before. In the morning the old man made his way back up the trail and by the time the sunlight hit the surface of the shining pond, he was far away. Not once did he look back.