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Last Updated: Friday, 17 September, 2004, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
1974 - the best of your short stories
Last week we threw down the literary gauntlet and asked you to write a very short story - 70 words or fewer, all with the title 1974. And you didn't do badly.

The theme was 1974, and the stories attracted nostalgic references to bygone events, most notably the Watergate scandal and, closer to home, the three-day week.

The title was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of our sister publication, Ceefax, which was born in the same year and is celebrating its birthday next week.

If they were produced by a class of my students I would be very pleased
Dr Scott Thurston
Casting a critical eye over a selection of 10 of the best from the hundreds of mini masterpieces submitted was Dr Scott Thurston, who runs the English and Creative Writing Programme at the University of Salford.

The verdict from the professional? Not bad at all.

Dr Thurston says: "People have really worked quite hard on these. If they were produced by a class of my students I would be very pleased."

Although short stories can be restrictive for the writer, it can open up the creative forces to make them work harder, says Dr Thurston.

"Short stories combine the brevity of what you can get across in a poem with prose," he says.

Here are the winning entries - the first three are singled out for special attention by our expert judge.

1974 by Christopher Bazalgette, Knebworth, Herts, UK

    "I've been dreading this, Mum."
    "Thirty's great. Wait till you're 49."
    "You and Dad were young when you had me, weren't you?
    "Yes. I remember those days - a bit grim."
    "Miners' strikes, power cuts, all that."
    "I like power cuts."
    "Well, yes, it was nice sometimes, just together in the candlelight. But you couldn't find things."
    "What sort of things?"
    "Oh... I don't know. Happy Birthday, love."

Expert's verdict:"I thought this was clever. It has excellent dialogue and there is tension between the two characters which is very subtly evoked."

1974 by Tok Thompson, Dublin (originally from Kenai, Alaska)

    During the winter (too dark and cold for much work) folks in my village talked about something strange to their tongues -new opportunities.
    Oil companies were going to build a refinery along the ragged coastal trail!
    In spring all the everything arrived - the ragged trail became a paved road bringing in well-dressed people, electricity, jobs, televisions.
    By the next winter, we knew for the first time that we were poor.

Expert verdict: "This sets up this environment and situation and turns it on its head at the end. It is poignant."

1974 by Marlys Pearson, Indianapolis, Indiana, US

    "Happy birthday, darling." The box was Tiffany blue.
    Trembling, she opened it. Three carats, utterly flawless. Perfect, like him.
    "More wine?"
    The Lafitte had seemed off to her earlier. As he poured now, the label showed why. She stared, then looked again at the ring. Doubtlessly fake, like him. Such a stupid mistake - and a lucky escape for her.
    "Nice laser printing," she said, "But 1974 was a non-vintage year."

Expert verdict: "This does some very interesting things with language. The style of narration is probably the most sophisticated of all of the stories. It is a very unusual situation and it has a lot of detail."

1974 by Adi Stride, Bendinat, Mallorca, Spain

    "Why do you want to know now? Over" "Because it's important that's why. Over" "You could have asked before we took off! Over" "Please. I will tell you why in a minute! Over" "OK but it will take a few seconds! Over" "Cheers. Over" "Taking all data in to account you have 1974 seconds. So why ask. Over" "Because I forgot the parachute. OVER"

Expert verdict: "I thought the dialogue here was a bit unrealistic. It was a bit set up to deliver the last line."

1974 by Tim Browse, London, UK

    The solicitor stood up.
    "So you won't pay the outstanding council tax?"
    "No," said the old man, standing calmly in the dock.
    "Why not? You think you're special?"
    "No. But I don't see why I should have to pay for my wife too."
    The solicitor smiled, and leaned forward.
    "That's the way it works. Why shouldn't you pay like everyone else?"
    The old man paused.
    "Because she died in 1974."

Expert verdict: "I thought this was excellent and the dialogue here seemed quite realistic and leads to a particular conclusion."

1974 by Jeff Argent, Norwich

    The doorbell rang.
    "Look after the dinner; I'll see who that is. Don't drink all the champagne!"
    Opening the door there was silence; two minds locked together spiralling to the same conclusion.
    "Who is it darling?" Dryness from fear and an exploding pulse in each ear. "Who is it darling?"
    "It is his wife."
    "How ridiculous this is our silver wedding anniversary."
    "Well he married me in 1974."

Expert verdict: "This is quite interesting and 1974 is used in a way that is unobtrusive, but I think it would have been better if it had just been dialogue."

1974 by Michael Cable, London

    The faded man opens his door for the last time, and then steps out into the sun. Before his eyes adjust, inkblot figures bob back and forth by his gate. He falters to adjust his tie, and walks down the long path. As he gets to the gate, flashes crack like the 4th of July. Someone says, "How does it feel to leave the White House, Mr. Nixon?"

Expert verdict: "I thought this was one of the best pieces of writing. It is technically confident and does a very good turn at the end."

1974 by Katie Taylor, Surbiton, England

    Jack waited for a 26 every day but none ever came quick enough. Then he used to walk down and another bus would come. It wasn't the bus he wanted but it took him far enough. Today, he wished he'd waited longer. The top deck was where the attack happened. No-one intervened. As he ran from the bus and dumped the girl's bag, he couldn't believe he'd recognised her face.

Expert verdict:"I thought this was terrific. It is tremendously unnerving. Here, ambiguity is being used very deliberately or very effectively and there is a marvellous turn at the end."

1974 by Catherine Jones, Cardiff

    The adrenaline was flowing. Tension and excitement filled the air. Lots of voices. A few final pushes were all that was needed. After an apparently eternal wait they were moments away from producing their new baby. Hearts were racing. She was perspiring and exhausted but exhilarated. His fingers tapped nervously and furiously.
    At last! There came a cry;
    "Well done Editors...The first paragraphs are now on air." Ceefax was born.

Expert verdict says: "The punchline is quite bizarre, but I'm not sure the tease is worthwhile."

1974 by Rosie Fiore, London, UK

    "One thousand, nine hundred and sixty-five . . . "
    "Are you still counting? Get them in the van."
    "They're slippery. Have you ever tried picking up a gold bar?"
    "No time to argue. Load them up. I think I hear sirens."
    "1973, wait, here's the last one . . . "
    "Wait, that's not a gold bar... It's black, and gun-shaped."
    "Right in one. I don't like to share."

Expert verdict: "This is quite promising and I find this situation quite engaging. But I think it needs to be sharper than this if it is just going to be dialogue."

So many thanks to everyone who took part, and sorry we couldn't print more.

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