Cambridge Autumn Festival
Special Award 2021

The Cambridge Autumn Festival are delighted to announce an inaugural ‘Special Award’ to a festival participant for their outstanding achievement.

The winner is Tessa Marshall, a 14 year old from Christchurch. Tessa is receiving the special award for being the youngest writer to be shortlisted in the ten year history of the Cambridge Autumn Festival Short Story Competition. The competition is a key event of the festival and is sponsored by Cooney Insurance in association with Maurice Trapp Group. This year the competition theme was ‘Lockdown’ and, from the 211 entries, Tessa’s story ‘Property of Billy Jones’ was selected by the judges to the shortlist.

The judges commented, ‘Tessa’s story shows she has a clear sense of structure and attention to detail, plus some humour. The narrator in this work is 11-year-old Billy Jones, who is surviving the domestic dramas of Covid lockdown with his parents and annoying siblings. The writer finds the perfect pitch for Billy’s voice, and she doesn’t miss a beat. It is thoroughly engaging, and Billy is a delight.’

Tessa said she entered the competition because she thought the lockdown theme was interesting. ‘Many of the events in the piece were based on my family and friend’s lockdown experiences! The most challenging part of writing the diary was choosing words and language that I thought a real young boy would use. I wanted to fully immerse the reader into my story. I feel really privileged to have won the Special Award. I hope you enjoy reading my story as much as I enjoyed writing it.’

Enjoy reading Tessa Marshall’s story…



My name is Billy Jones and I am eleven years and 67 days old.
I don’t want to write this diary. I think it’s dumb. I’ve never heard of an eleven year old boy who writes a diary before. But my teacher, Ms Smith, says everyone in my class needs to write a diary so we can remember lockdown when we’re adults. She said we’re all going into lockdown tomorrow ‘cos of an infectious disease. So I have to stay stuck in my annoyingly small, three bedroom house so I don’t get sick. When I got home from school this afternoon, I asked Mum if I could still go over to Jack’s house on Friday. She said no honey. She told me I should play with my brothers and sisters instead. When I said that Mary, Ian, Polly and Steve were like hyperactive rabid monkeys, Mum looked like her eyeballs were going to pop out. She just doesn’t understand. 



Today is the first day of lockdown. This is real annoying, but at least I have my Online Learning Corner. It has a small table, my favourite brown chair, and the old family Chromebook. The only problem is that my Online Learning Corner is in the lounge, and it always sounds like a zoo in there. This morning, I could see Mum and Dad working at the big table, Mary baking cookies in the kitchen and Polly fighting with Ian over a piece of Lego. At 9:00 I yanked open the Chromebook and signed onto the video classroom, like it said to in the email from school. For the first half hour, Ms Smith taught us writing and I worked hard like I was meant to. But at 9:30, Polly started screaming, Steve cried, Ian kicked Dad, and Mary burnt her cookies. That was when Ms Smith asked me, in front of the whole class, if I could put my computer onto mute. My cheeks went on fire. It was SO EMBARRASING! I quickly flicked off my computer’s camera, as well as the microphone. Tiny tears somehow managed to form in my eyes. I put Ms Smith and the rest of my class onto my favourite brown chair, and ran off to play on my Xbox until I felt better.



Today Mum went to the shops and came back with our minivan full of toilet paper. I said, why do we need so much toilet paper? And Mum said Its just in case, honey. I wanted to ask In case of what? Does this disease make you need the loo a whole heap? But she was already back at the big table doing her work. I knew disturbing her would get me yelled at so I went to play on my Xbox. But Ian was already there! I told him to scram, ‘cos I’m older than him and so the Xbox is mine, but he didn’t move. So I chucked the family Chromebook at him. Luckily the old thing is so thick, it didn’t get damaged. But it turns out Ian’s head isn’t so thick, which is surprising ‘cos I thought it was. Now he’s sitting on the couch with an ice pack.



Today Polly fed my pet goldfish to Steve. Steve didn’t notice my goldfish was being pushed into his mouth, ‘cos he’s is only one year old. Mum didn’t notice, ‘cos she was working. Dad didn’t notice either, ‘cos he was trying to stop Ian kicking Mary. It was around 9:24 when I noticed Steve was swelling up like a balloon and turning a weird shade purple. I yelled for Mum. Mum took one look at Steve and yelled to Dad, What’s wrong with him, Michael? He looks like a beetroot! Dad made all seven of us pile into our minivan and we raced to the hospital. On the way there, Polly spilled the beans about feeding Steve the goldfish. There was more yelling. When we arrived, we all had to sanitise using sticky gel and sign a sheet and wear itchy face masks that rubbed. It turns out that Steve has a bad fish allergy. My whole family was silent travelling home. No one even mentioned my poor dead goldfish.



Today we found out that the shops have run out of flour! I think this is a good thing, ‘cos now Mary can’t make any more burnt cookies. But Mum and Dad don’t think it’s a good thing. They stood out in the hall for ages, yelling things like I told you so! and What if more things run out? It’s not fair, ‘cos they get to argue, but when me and Mary fight we get told off. To take my mind off it I went to my Online Learning Corner and logged onto the video classroom. While my class was supposed to watch Ms Smith yak on about maths, I found this super cool button that turned me into a potato. Then Jack saw the potato, and turned himself into one too. That made me laugh so hard! Soon the whole class had turned themselves into potatoes, and Ms Smith didn’t even see. I was having so much fun, my tummy did a weird sinky thing when Mum had to stop her argument with Dad to tell me that it was Ian’s turn for the Chromebook. I wish we had more Chromebooks. And now I almost wish there was more flour in the shops too so Mum and Dad didn’t have to argue.



Today Mary announced at breakfast that all us kids were turning into ‘lumps’. She made us do a fitness thing on the telly. A big shouty man told everyone to do star jumps. It was actually kinda fun, ‘specially when Ian’s face looked like a tomato and Polly kept falling over. Afterwards we were all real hot and sweaty, and my shirt was stuck to my back. Mary put on the sprinkler. We all danced around on our tiny patch of lawn watching the rainbows sparkle in the sun.



I was in my Online Learning Corner, feeling grumpy, when I heard a giant bang coming from Mum and Dad’s room and then Ian crying. I got up to have a peep and saw our rusty old vacuum cleaner, a cloud of fluffy dust and a whole lot of weird-smelling smoke. Mum screamed, Quick get the fire extinguisher Michael! But I don’t think Dad knew where it was ‘cos he just stood there, staring. It turned out that Ian had been trying to help by vacuuming. Mary knew where the fire thingy was, so she grabbed it and squirted everything with its white powder. Where would we be if it wasn’t for Mary, Mum said and she sniffled a bit. She even gave Ian a hug too, saying How nice of you to try and help out the family. By then I had forgotten about being grumpy. I was even feeling a bit happy by the time Mary had made everyone a hot drink and handed ‘round a plate of cookies made with the old flour she found in the cupboard. Even if they were a bit burnt.



After yesterday’s vacuum explosion, Mum and Dad seemed a bit happier, and even took a few breaks off work to play board games with us kids. I asked Mum if she was happy ‘cos she’d bought a new vacuum cleaner online, but instead she said, no Billy, lots of bad things happen, and I’m happy because yesterday we stuck together as a family. We need to do that more. I didn’t get it. So I went to play on my Xbox. About 10 minutes later, Ian came into our room and asked to play Minecraft. I didn’t want to stop playing, but I gave him a turn for a bit ‘cos he seemed to really wanted to. And then I even gave him some tips on how to play better. We both felt kinda happy.



Today Polly came up to me while I was on a video classroom with Ms Smith. Luckily I was already on mute! She gave me a card with a crayoned fish on the front. Inside she had written sorree abot yo godfis. Even though that card doesn’t make it all okay, I still felt warm inside.



Today all seven of us ate lunch together on our tiny patch of lawn. We’d never done that before. I liked it. But then while we were eating sandwiches Mum said we might be out of this lockdown sooner than we think! For some reason, my tummy did the sinky thing when I heard that. I think I might be enjoying my Online Learning Corner, the board games, the Xbox, Mary’s burnt cookies, and the keep fit telly. I think that maybe lockdown isn’t so bad after all.