The Boundary


Welcome to the Hay Festival Compass Blog of 2017!  We would like to invite you to participate in our current writing competition.  The theme is “The Boundary,” and we are welcoming submissions of all formats, of no more than 2,000 words, by 5:00pm on 31st March.  Please see the paragraph below to help spark your ideas for the topic:

The human brain likes to think in boundaries, whether we’re thinking about the ‘beginning’ of the day, the ‘end’ of a story, the ‘limit’ of our property, the ‘border’ of a country, or even the dividing lines on the clock, which slice our time into manageable minutes, hours, and days.  Narratives have boundaries too, beginning with the first turn of the book and ending as the final line becomes the blank space of the page.  For our next competition, we invite aspiring authors to submit a piece of writing which interrogates a boundary of their choice.  It could be about a wall which separates two gardens and the lives of two very different characters and their stories.  It could be about the border of a country drawn on a map, or an area of the town where nobody goes, or even a metaphorical boundary like the ‘end’ of the story.  What if someone played a game of chess where there was no edge to the board, and its size was infinite?  Could you achieve checkmate from either side of the universe?  What about a house where the walls get re-configured every hour?  Why do children draw the sky as a single blue line at the top of the page, which never meets the horizon? We’re looking for pieces of writing which can take something simple, and turn it into something poignant, hilarious, or surprising.

Please send all submissions (of no more than 2,000 words) to by 5:00pm on 31st March 2017.  We will select and publish the best entries.  Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions!


A Sudden Voice

Our first prompt was written by best-selling author Cecelia Ahern:

“She turned around sharply at the sound of the sudden voice. Her eyes scanned the darkness. All this time she thought she’d been alone in the room. Whoever it was, they’d seen what she’d done…”

Cecelia Ahern is an international best-selling author known for Flawed and Where Rainbows End which was made into the film Love, Rosie.  Cecelia is also the co-creator of the US TV show Samantha Who? as well as writer of other works including The Year I Met You, The Marble Collector and The Lyre Bird which will be released in November.
To learn more about Cecelia and her work you can visit her website.

Submission by Lisa Tierney:

She turned around sharply at the sound of the sudden voice. Her eyes scanned the darkness. All this time she thought she’d been alone in the room. Whoever it was, they’d seen what she’d done.  Her first instinct was to make herself smaller. She folded over and lay closer to the ground. Maybe she had imagined it but it wasn’t the time to take a chance. Her hands grasped out for any sign of the jewel but her fingers met the cold damp ground instead. Her heartbeat was surely going to give away her position. She pressed back into the kitchen cupboards, trying to make herself disappear.  The shadow moved in front of her with stealth. She placed her hand over her mouth to quieten her breath. There was no sign of the jewel and she knew her time to find it was running out before the creature would ultimately find her, or worse, the jewel, neither of which would go down well with those waiting on her return.

Her hands carefully found the corner of the kitchen press but realised she would be crawling in front of the glass doors and that would surely give away her hiding place. She knew this kitchen well enough to get out but that meant passing the shadow right under its nose. She thanked her lucky stars that shadow creatures had terrible eyesight but her limited knowledge told her that their sixth sense was strong. Once she kept her magic at bay it would be an easier feat to get outside the room. The moonlight shone through the sliding doors giving her an advantage, as she could see some outlines of objects, but it was unreliable as the passing clouds momentarily dimmed the light. She could feel the creature move around the room trying to detect the jewel, they were following the same prize after all. She moved to her knees and picked her feet off the ground to keep her movements as quiet as possible. Her breathing was the hardest to control, the dust and
damp from the dirt floor agitated her lungs and her gasps were short and shallow as she tried to breathe in as little debris as possible. The creature moved just like a normal shadow, tethered to a spot from which it pivoted about. That was its connection, its escape route. This was another advantage it had over her as her escape route was less obvious. The creature was more peculiar than a normal shadow as it seemed to move slightly away from the wall, almost as if defying the normal rules of a projection. Her steps were small, and with every couple she stopped and reached out her hands in the hope that she would find the jewel before it did. The creature paced left to right in the room and was slowly making its way towards her. She had some time before it would be near her but she was very aware that didn’t mean she would find the jewel.

The cupboards ended, leaving her with no option but to move to the centre of the floor. Whilst watching the creature, she edged towards the circular table and sat underneath it. If they found her she would lose everything. I can’t believe I risked this all for a jewel, she thought to herself, but she knew it was worth it, whatever the outcome. If the shadow creature finds her the consequences would be vast, too vast to think about, but to save the jewel meant to save her magic. With that thought she moved further left, away from the table and cupboards to the outer wall. The radiator grumbled and knocked faintly blocking the sound of her pulsing heart.

The creature was getting closer – as she stared at it she could tell it was concentrating on finding the prize. Every time it got to the right side of the room it glimmered just before it turned back, scanning the floor like sonar. It was metres in front of her when it stopped. The cursed sliding doors, she thought as she dropped to the ground and lay as flat as she could. The creature stayed there in its place waiting for movement. She held her breath and tried to stop her blood from pulsing so loudly for fear it would give her away. Her left ear was pushed to the dirt ground and she could hear the shadow’s tether, which was pulsating, keeping it tied to the anchor. It wavered in place, its energy dancing in front of her. She lifted her head and looked straight up at the shadow creature when something glistened in the moonlight. Just between the creature and her was the jewel, the moonlight bounced off its pure red prism. Once the creature was sure of no movement, it started to pace again and she crawled towards the jewel with her belly on the ground. Once the creature reached the right wall and glimmered it turned back and that’s when she stopped, laying perfectly still. The next time the creature turned back to the right wall she was going to leap for it. As the creature turned she jumped from the ground and pounced on the jewel. Once it was grasped in her fingers she started the incantation to bring her to safety, but the movement was more than enough for the creature and it turned back to face her immediately. She said the last word and the present stood still. She experienced the whooshing of time as she stood there clutching the jewel.

With a smile on her face she waited for her home house to show in the projected images, but when she looked to her right black mist began to fill her vision. She tried to break the incantation but the shadow was quicker. The black mist overtook the scenes of safe houses and filled it with static. She was standing still but could tell time was still moving albeit slower than it normally would. The last portion of the scenes was filling with static when she spotted her home. She thrust her arm through the image and was instantly pulled out. She fell to the ground and checked for the jewel clutched safely in her hand.  It was still there.

The night had fallen hours ago so she picked herself up and jogged to the front door. She climbed the stairs to her room and got into bed with the lamp casting some light on the jewel. She inspected it making sure it wasn’t damaged. Confident the plan went well, she turned over when she realised she forgot the lamp. She stretched out her hand to turn it off when it started to dim. Inhaling deeply she turned slowly to see the window disappear in mist. With her left hand clutching the jewel, she knew she wasn’t alone.


Hay Festival Compass is part of the world famous Hay Festival. The Hay Festival Compass programme runs in time with the #HAYYA programme as well as Hay Festival’s excellent Hay Levels and internship programmes. For more information about Hay Festival visit 

We are looking for contributions from young writers. We accept submissions in essay, prose, report or poetic form. We will select the best, most provocative and most beautiful posts to feature on the blog.

We will publish prompts which can be anything from a Shakespeare quote to a picture of a toothbrush. This is a fabulous excuse to challenge and stretch your imagination.

The Hay Festival Compass blog is a fantastic way to get your writing out there on an international platform. You will be fully credited for your work and contributions to the blog.

Our Criteria: 
You must 
-Be willing to have your work publicly shared on Hay Festival Compass Blog as well as the associated Hay Festival social media sites such as the Hay Festival, HAYDAYS and #HAYYA twitter accounts as well as the Hay Festival Facebook page.

Your work must 
– Be your own original piece.
– Be related to the prompt (if you have any other ideas please get in touch we’d love to hear about them)

We also accept photo submissions for prompts!
If you are a budding photographer we would love to receive your submissions for photo prompts. Again these photos have to be taken by you, and you have to be happy to have them shared by the Hay Festival on all social media platforms.

Please send all submissions, ideas and queries to