In Competition No. 2387 you were invited to provide a sketch of a villainous character on their first appearance in an imaginary novel. I turned at once to Dickens, whose introductory descriptions of characters are usually so vivid, and was surprised that when Fagin enters we are told nothing about him except that he had red hair and was repellent-looking. The best male villain, for my money, is Count Fosco, that obese charmer with disconcertingly nimble movements; the best female one (and there aren’t many — Becky Sharp is a bitch, not a villain) is surely Charlotte in Somerville and Ross’s The Real Charlotte, a really nasty bit of work — I mean the character, not the wonderful novel.
The prizewinners, printed below, get £25 each, and Anne Du Croz takes £30 for her quietly sinister scene.
Elizabeth was relieved to be met by the nursing home’s owner, Sister Hammond, a pale-skinned Irish woman of 45 or 50, who seemed as confident and charming in person as she had been on the phone. Tall and elegant in her rather old-fashioned uniform, she bent low to the wheelchair to include Edie in the conversation. Edie marvelled at the fresh flowers around the hall. Sister put a hand on her shoulder, explaining, with a light-hearted laugh, that the end of life was as important as its beginning. Nothing was too good for Woodlands residents. Edie could choose a sea view. She could bring all her most precious personal possessions. ‘This way,’ she said, ‘first tea, and then the forms.’ She wafted down a spotless corridor ahead of them. At the time it didn’t strike Elizabeth as odd that so many of the rooms on either side were obviously unoccupied.Anne Du Croz
The voice preceded him: a guttural foreign language unfamiliar to the waiting group. Next, a string of curses in accented English, some equally unfamiliar to the more naive of the hearers. There followed conciliatory sounds, which triggered thumps and loud threats. The doors opened. Two massive black-clad men entered backwards, almost, but not quite, bowing the visitor into the boardroom. No monster with wild beard and outlandish appearance, but a tiny figure in a beautifully cut grey suit, immaculately styled silver hair, evenly tanned complexion. He gestured with upraised hands and the directors immediately rose as one, eyes mesmerised by the small fingers, all, including the thumbs, weighted with huge gold rings, some bearing great glittering black stones. Flanked by his now forward-facing minders, he advanced to the top of the table, nodded to the Chairman who, in bewilderment, vacated his place for the newcomer.Alanna Blake
The club, once a private bank, was a masterpiece of Edwardian baroque; columns of polished Pyrenean marble made a dizzying perspective overhead. Neville signed in and made for the bar, where Digby, with an eye on the clock, was already mixing his Manhattan. An alien scent blemished the air. Neville cocked an eye. ‘Turkish tobacco?’
Digby’s glance silently indicated the source of the unwonted smoke. In one of the armchairs, filling it like a giant sack of potatoes, sat the monstrous figure of a man wearing a mildewed tropical suit. His face was the surface of a dying planet raddled by crop failure and thermonuclear eruptions under a thick sheen of atmospheric sweat. Instinctively turning away from the apparition, Neville was surprised to hear himself personally addressed. ‘Allow me to introduce myself,’ the man lisped. ‘Wilhelm von Grunwhol. Shall we go somewhere more private?’Basil Ransome-Davies
I heard Professor Martober before I saw him, his stentorian wheeze audible well beyond the door of his study. Upon entering, I found him seated at his desk, defacing an antiquarian volume with a thick black crayon. A corpulent man, he possessed none of the jollity customarily ascribed to the type, giving rather the impression of a protean force straining at an unjust confinement. His glaringly white shirt, crimson cravat and wide pinstriped jacket failed to divert my eyes from his face, a birthmark-empurpled chaos comprising an almost globular nose, a lipless gash of a mouth and unexpectedly limpid grey eyes. For a time there was silence between us as he set aside his literary vandalism and rubbed his large hands together in the manner of a famished man anticipating a feast. When he spoke, his guttural Balkan accent sullying every word, it was not to wish me well.Adrian Fry
I met the new coastguard sooner than I’d anticipated. On my return I found him sitting, entirely at his ease, in my garden, smoking a cherry-wood and leafing through my calf-bound copy of the tide-charts. I had time to observe him before he acknowledged me. He was a large, handsome fellow with widely spaced blue eyes. His beard and moustache, like his favoured tobacco (as I later learnt to my cost), were navy cut. His enormous hands were manicured, his uniform immaculate. He was, I guessed, about my own age. He sprang to his feet as I opened the gate. ‘Greetings, Mr Arrow,’ he said. ‘I thought it well to make your acquaintance.’ I was surprised by the perfect clip of his Etonian accent. Those unblinking eyes bothered me, though. Still, he was my only neighbour. ‘Welcome, Mr Strabensee,’ I said. He smiled. I caught the flash of a gold tooth.Gerard Benson
Lord Goyter’s warted proboscis rounded the door into the library. No one behind it; nobody lurking to scimitar his remaining ear. He shuffled forward, the thud of his booted left foot preceding the barely audible whirr of the steel caster implanted into his right. The eye scanned the lower shelves. Could he at least locate, confront the one volume which had for so long terrified him? He extended his withered right arm, impatiently prodding the items. No sign. He upraised his barnacled skull: there it was! Fragmented cackling revealed chrome vanadium teeth. With his Penang-lawyer cane he prised the book from its place on the third shelf, catching it deftly on the phosphor-bronze paddle which did duty for a left hand. He slumped into a bloodstained armchair, coughed ancient dust from the time-worn tome. Hench, his unleashed puma, was dragging something from behind the shredded curtains.Mike Morrison
No. 2390: PlaytimeYou are invited to produce a poem (maximum 16 lines) which incorporates the titles of at least eight current West End theatrical productions (please underline them). Entries to ‘Competition No. 2390’ by 28 April.