Heather F Reid’s ecologically sound story wins The Caterpillar Story Prize 2019
Former winner Jo Withers of South Australia is runner-up
Heather F Reid
“I’d love to read something that opens my mind in some way,” said Kelly McCaughrain, Seamus Heaney Children’s Writing Fellow, of judging this year’s Caterpillar Story Prize run by The Caterpillar magazine. Heather F Reid’s €1,000-winning story, David McQueen’s Green Machine, certainly does that, slyly addressing environmental concerns about over-consumption and pollution through its invention of a marvellous green machine that sucks up all our waste and reintroduces extinct animals.
“I loved this charming piece,” McCaughrain said. “It works as a story and a poem and is a pleasure to read aloud. A cascade of delightful images, language and rhythm, as well as narrative and a relatable character, mean there’s something here for readers of every age.”
Reid said, “Oh my word, I can hardly believe it! It has been an ambition of mine to win either the poetry or short story prize in The Caterpillar.”
Reid lives near Perth in Scotland with her rescue dog Flo and two crazy cats. Her poems for children have been commended in The Caterpillar Poetry Prize on three occasions, and also in The Manchester Writing for Children Prize and the Yorkmix Poetry Competition 2019. In 2009 her poem Chinese Whispers won the Plough Prize for Children. Her writing for adults has featured in a number of anthologies and has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. She has swum with sharks and been chased by an elephant, but mostly stays at home making up poems and stories.
Jo Withers’ Inbox, which centres around a funny email correspondence between a dog and its owner, takes the second prize of a week-long stay at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. “Funny, snappy and clever, this one was pure reading enjoyment,” said McCaughrain.
Withers is from South Australia. She writes stories and poetry for children and adults and has had work published in print and websites around the world. She is also the author of the middle-grade science fiction adventure 5 Simple Steps to Saving Planet Earth. She won The Caterpillar Story Prize back in 2017.
“I am completely gobsmacked and utterly thrilled to hear that Inbox reached second place,” said Withers. “I’m so grateful to your wonderful judge Kelly McCaughrain for choosing my story, and to Rebecca and Will at The Caterpillar. You do so much to champion children’s literature and I’m honoured to be involved again.”
McCaughrain also commended stories by Dianne Cook (Australia), Jessamy Corob Cook (UK), Judy-Meg Kennedy (Ireland), Sophie Lewis (UK) and Ciara O’Connor (Ireland).
The two winning stories feature in the winter issue of The Caterpillar, which is available to purchase at thecaterpillarmagazine.com. It is also sold at Eason and independent bookshops nationwide.
David McQueen’s Green Machine
By Heather F Reid
David Henry James McQueen found modern living too extreme. He wasn’t like those other boys who liked rough games and making noise and charging around from place to place, he liked life at a slower pace. He liked deep woods and streams and parks and helping hedgehogs in the dark to find their way across the roads, he rescued frogs and newts and toads when ponds ran dry, and helped the bees and butterflies by planting seeds.
But other people wanted more: more homes, more roads, more four by fours, more plastic bags, more plastic toys, more shops, more junk, more lights, more noise! And so, the woods and fields were cleared, the moles evicted, rabbits scared, the birds moved on and trees cut down to make space for a bigger town.
Poor David Henry James McQueen decided that he wasn’t keen on life without the plants and trees and so he asked the ants and bees to bring him things that he could use to soothe his too-much-concrete blues. So they collected sunflower petals, willow leaves and precious metals, a horn donated by a goat, the whistle from a blackbird’s throat, some rabbit fur, a new lamb’s wool, the nose ring from a friendly bull. And as those insects spread the word, more creatures from around the world sent something to make David smile: a toenail from a crocodile, a tiger’s roar caught in a bottle, the wobble of a turkey’s wattle. The front teeth from a killer whale and feathers from a peacock’s tail. A group of hedgehogs sent some spines wrapped in leaves and tied with vines and firmly glued with slime of snail.
Then David Henry James McQueen designed a marvellous Green Machine. It ran on air, and through its hose it sucked up loads and loads and loads of plastic bottles, plastic cups, all sorts of nasty thrown-out junk that littered streets and clogged up streams. It cleaned up rivers, planted trees and even freshened up the breeze that floated like a yellow snake across the cities, parks and lakes from car exhausts and factories.
David Henry James McQueen was thrilled to find the Green Machine could bring back long lost beasts as well: the dodo, quagga, red gazelle. And animals once rarely seen – the tiger, panda, thylacine – were once again a common sight. The howl of wolves coloured the night, all thanks to David’s Green Machine.
But other people weren’t too keen to find their world was turning green, and so they came to have a word with David Henry James McQueen. Your Green Machine is great, they said, but we’d like our old lives back instead.
Poor David Henry James McQueen felt sad to think his Green Machine was seen by almost everyone as something which restricted fun; they wanted what they’d had before – fast food, fast cars, huge discount stores – they missed them now that they were gone.
So David Henry James McQueen said sorry for his Green Machine, he didn’t cry or shout or curse, just put the lever in reverse. And back inside went all the trees, the lakes, the unpolluted breeze, the rivers which were safe to drink from, the animals saved from extinction, the butterflies, the mice, the bees and David Henry James McQueen. And as he turned the dial to suck he shouted out “Goodbye! Good luck!” But, just in case folk changed their minds, he left the Green Machine behind.
By Jo Withers
I have been forced to resort to these unusual methods as you don’t seem to respond to me barking at the door before you leave for work.
I am unhappy that I am left out in the yard all day while the cat gets to stay inside. As I am the one who greets you, brings your slippers, licks your worries away and snuggles up to you at night, I do not understand why you seem to favour the cat (who thinks your only purpose is to dispense cat food).
I would appreciate your thoughts on this matter.
Your Faithful Friend Copper
Subject: Re: Unhappy
I’m sorry to hear that you’re unhappy but there are good reasons why I don’t leave you inside. Last time I left you in the house while I went to work you:
1. Bit the postman’s hand through the letterbox
2. Ate every edible substance you could reach (including the sea monkey food and a box of Cocoa Puffs)
3. Chewed a large hole in my address book so I can no longer contact anyone beginning with M, N, O or P
4. Rolled around on the suit that I’d left on the bed to wear that evening, leaving so much hair that I looked like a yeti when I went out to dinner
All the cat does is sleep all day.
Hope this helps,
Subject: Very Unhappy
I do not like your tone.
Everyone makes mistakes.
Your Faithful and Unappreciated Friend Copper
P. S. If you think the cat just sleeps all day you are crazy.
Subject: Re: Very Unhappy
I accept that we all make mistakes, but I would rather you make yours in the yard.
You have food, a bed and plenty of toys out there. What’s the problem?
P. S. What did you mean about the cat?
Subject: My Problem
Whilst I like all the things you mentioned (food, bed and toys) I much prefer to do them all in the comfort of my own home. Would you like to eat your dinner in the driveway?
Your Slightly Less Faithful Friend Copper
P. S. Every morning after you leave for work the cat invites his friends round.
Subject: Re: My Problem
Of course I’m not going to eat my dinner in the driveway. Don’t be ridiculous.
P. S. Please stop trying to make the cat look bad. The cat has stayed inside alone for months without any problem. Cats do not “invite” their friends round. It is probably just a coincidence that they arrive after I have gone. There is no mess when I get home so I’m sure they’re not doing any harm.
Subject: Double Standards
It saddens me that there is one rule for you and another for me. There was a time when we did everything together.
Your Cast Aside Friend Copper
P. S. The cat is definitely up to something. Today, the same gang arrived at ten past nine. They came in by the back cat flap and one of them was carrying a small briefcase.
Subject: Re: Double Standards
You have not been cast aside. I am worried about you. Why don’t we go on a nice long walk together this weekend? Just the two of us.
It is not me you should be worried about. The cat and his friends are acting very suspiciously.
I watched them through the window all day and made notes:
1. They line up and practice sneaking through small spaces
2. They have walkie talkies to contact each other
3. They use code names like Cracker and Brains
4. This afternoon they all sat on the sofa and watched The Italian Job while knitting balaclavas.
I think the cat is planning to rob a bank.
I think you should confront him.
Subject: Re: Frustrated
I asked the cat if he was planning to rob a bank when I returned from work. He looked me straight in the eye then rubbed his head against my leg and stared at the cat food. I’m taking that as a no.
I don’t think it’s healthy that you’re spending the entire day watching the cat and his friends through the window. Have you thought about taking up a hobby?
Subject: You’re Not Listening!
I do not have time to take up a hobby. Something is seriously wrong! After the last one came in this morning, I put my head against the cat flap and heard everything. They were sitting around the dining table looking at the layout of the big bank in the city and used Kitty Nibbles to mark a safe pathway through the alarm system. Then our cat had a long talk with the one they call Cracker about the main safe!
I think our cat is the ringleader. He always sits at the top of the table during meetings and never has to get up and make the tea and coffee. I think he is a master criminal.
IF WE DON’T ACT SOON THEY’RE GOING TO GET AWAY WITH IT!!!!!!!!
Subject: Re: You’re not listening
I am trying to listen but you’re not making sense. Cats do not prepare strategies to bypass alarm systems! Cats do not drink tea and coffee! Cats do not rob banks! What would they do with the money?
Subject: Too Late!!!!!!!
Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
The cat and his “friends” left this morning wearing false moustaches and carrying large bags.
He returned half an hour later, bag overflowing with money and packed all his stuff (favourite blanket, cat treats, that little squeaky mouse you bought when he was a kitten). Then he pranced out of the cat flap grinning from ear to ear and said he’ll message you when he reaches the south of France.
I told you they were up to something!
If you’d just let me into the house during the day, I could have monitored their criminal tendencies.
I hope you’re happy!
Your very disappointed ex-friend Copper
Subject: You Win!
That’s it – I give up! You can stay inside the house all day if you want! It is obviously seriously affecting you being left outside all day on your own. Just please, please stop making up stories about the cat – I can’t take it any more!
Your defeated friend,
I am writing from an internet café in Saint-Tropez. Please don’t try to find me.
Just wanted to drop you a quick note to thank you for your years of service. I particularly enjoyed the early morning back scratches.
Must dash, my yacht is boarding.
So long and thanks for all the Kitty Nibbles,
Tiddles (aka Bone-Cruncher)