Poignant homeless tale wins Caterpillar Story for Children Prize

Read the winning entry, ‘The Man in the Hole’, by Yorkshire GP Chris Preece

Chris Preece, a doctor from Yorkshire, has won the Caterpillar Story for Children Prize 2016 with his story The Man in The Hole. The judge, children's book author Mark Lowery, called the winning story "a powerful and timely piece of writing that forces us to consider how we react to those 'others' who turn up in our countries uninvited and unannounced".

The prize, which is for an unpublished story of 1,500 words or less, is produced by the international art and literature magazine for children The Caterpillar. “In my view, it’s stunning,” said Will Govan, co-editor of The Caterpillar. “Not only does it stand out as an exceptional piece of entertaining writing for children, and indeed adults, but it is also movingly reflective of our troubled times.”

Lowery described The Man In the Hole as "a quirky, warm story about a residential street's unusual new resident, flecked with comic touches and told through a wonderfully matter-of-fact narrative voice. The responses of the adults and the children to their new neighbour – which range from the touchingly kind to the downright nasty – force us to consider how we react towards those 'others' who turn up in our countries uninvited and unannounced."

London-based Rebecca Langton won second prize with her story The Circus, which Lowery called a "truly exceptional piece of storytelling. Cleverly developed across a series of letters between a runaway princess and her parents, The Circus is imaginative, well-paced and very funny. The author's exquisite lightness of touch allows for a fresh, intriguing take on the idea that the grass isn't always greener, and enables a depth of narrative that is fiendishly difficult to execute in such a short story." Langton is an editor at Pottermore, JK Rowling's digital publishing company, and a student of writing for young people at Bath Spa University.


Third prize went to Tom Kelly from Co Cavan with his story Mombie Zombie. "An utterly hilarious, bonkers story about an ordinary, family-run cafe and its extraordinary manager. I loved the craziness, the gross-out humour and the wonderful twist at the end," said Lowery. Kelly works for AIB Bank and, remarkably, this is the first story he has written.

The winner will be spending two weeks at a new retreat in rural Ireland set up by The Moth (the publishers of The Caterpillar) and will also receive €500. Langton and Kelly will receive €300 and €200 respectively. All three stories feature in the winter issue of The Caterpillar, available to purchase in select bookstores and at thecaterpillarmagazine.com. Details of the Caterpillar Poetry Prize 2017, which has just launched, are also available on their website.

The Man in the Hole
By Chris Preece

There is a man living in a hole at the end of our street. The hole has been there for ages, but the man is fairly new. It’s been about two months now, I think. He just sort of sits there, looking sad.

When he first appeared Dad said, ‘Something should be done,’ but he seemed to be waiting for someone else to do it. He would just stare out of the window, studying the man and tutting to himself.

Mum said she felt sorry for the man. When I said we should ask him if he wanted to live in our house, she said, ‘No, that wouldn’t work’. She takes him sandwiches sometimes though. It seems to make her feel better. I’m not sure the man’s all that bothered. Maybe he doesn’t like cheese.

When it rains the man’s hole fills up with water. He just sits there, the same way he always does. Knees bent up to his chest, arms wrapped tight around himself. Jacob McKinley says he once saw the water get so high that the man disappeared completely, but Jacob McKinley tells lies.

I gave the man my umbrella last time it rained. He smiled at me, and now sits there with my funny pink brolly open above his head, whether it’s raining or not.

Dad said the umbrella makes the whole thing look worse, and besides, the man’s still going to be sitting in a puddle. Which is true, but sometimes it’s nice to know that you won’t have the rain on your face. After all, I never take a bath with the shower on.

Sometimes Mr Jones, our neighbour, shouts at the man and tells him to go away. He says he’s bad for the ‘house prices’ and ‘what if more come’. Mum pointed out that there was barely enough space in the hole for the man we have, let alone any more.

Dad told Mr Jones that there was no point shouting at him, because the man probably doesn’t understand it anyway.

He does though. I can tell by the look on his face.

Sometimes I tell the man things. He always listens politely. He doesn’t have a phone or a computer or a telly – just the hole – so there’s nothing distracting him. It’s nice. I said that to Mum once, and she just looked sort of guilty and then reminded me that I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.

But he’s not a stranger; he’s the man in the hole.

Two weeks ago a lady from the council came. She had a long conversation with Mr Jones, my Dad and a few other people on the street. They kept looking at the man in the hole, but no one actually spoke to him. Mr Jones started shouting again.

Apparently the lady from the council said she would do ‘everything in her power’. Dad liked that.

Two days later some men came and erected a bright yellow fence around the hole, complete with flashing orange lights and a sign that says ‘DANGER: OPEN HOLE’ on it. Dad didn’t like that nearly so much.

The sign is funny. It has a picture of a hole on it, with a little stick man about to fall in. I guess they didn’t have a sign showing a hole with a man in it already.

Last week the TV people came. They all stood around filming the man in the hole, but he didn’t seem very interested in them so they filmed all of us instead.

Mr Jones shouted into the camera. Dad made tutting noises. Mum showed them the sandwiches.

I said I liked having a man in a hole at the end of the street, which made the lady with the microphone smile, and my Dad cross.

Everyone dressed up for the TV people; well, everyone except for the man. He wore the same things he always wears – a sort of brownish shirt and torn blue jeans. I can’t remember if he has shoes or not. It’s hard to tell, what with the hole and everything. At least he has my umbrella now, so there’s a bit of colour.

‘Surely now something will happen,’ said Dad when the TV people went away. But it didn’t.

Apparently they discussed it in parliament. Mum showed me on the internet. A lot of them shouted, which reminded me of Mr Jones. They all agreed that something needed to be done, but they couldn’t agree on what that was. Which reminded me of Dad.

In the end they just argued about whose fault it was, which mainly reminded me of the boys at school.

In any case the man is still there, in his hole.

People seem to have got a bit bored of it now. For a while, everyone kept asking me about him at school. Mary Hardcastle wanted to know where he went to the toilet if he never left the hole, and after that everyone kept saying, ‘How’s the wee-wee man?’ But they don’t do that any more. Not since James Rogers got a new backpack.

Everyone just sort of acts like the man was always there, sat in his hole. Even Mr Jones has stopped shouting so much. I don’t know if they’ve really forgotten about him, or whether they just don’t want to think about it any more. Maybe it’s the same thing.

Still. I think they’ll remember him again soon.

You see, this afternoon Jacob McKinley told me that a woman’s appeared in the old pond at the end of his garden. It’s been empty for years; now it has a lady in it.

I said maybe it was a mermaid, but he said no, it’s just a lady. He sent me a picture, so I know he’s telling the truth this time.

She looks sad too.

I asked Jacob, and he said he’d give her an umbrella.