Newnham Daggerettes: winners of the College’s short story competition 2022

A scan of a black and white photograph. A woman in Edwardian clothes stands, one finger to her lips, her hand outstretched behind her. A dark-haired person in a tweed jacket and trousers and a fake moustache is on one knee behind her, kissing her hand. Both are looking at the camera. They appear to be standing on a lead roof, with a brick wall behind them.For many years, Newnham has celebrated its love of crime fiction with a short story competition.  For 2022, College members were invited to write a short detective story, set at Newnham, and inspired by a photo from the archives (left).  

The entries showed Newnham’s creativity with genres ranging from blank verse to a choose-your-own-adventure. Mysteries ranged from murder to blackmail, illicit parties to bad book-shelving. A curator, a librarian, a students and a bursar each featured as a detective – suggesting that all of us at Newnham feel we would joyfully tackle any mystery that came our way.   

The award was judged by Royal Literary Fund Fellow Zoe Howe, who said, ‘It was a genuine pleasure to judge the Daggerettes short story entries. All of the submissions, whether traditional or unconventional in style, were intriguing, bold and engaging, using a range of approaches and displaying real creativity and sensitivity. Newnham itself certainly proved to be the perfect backdrop to a good mystery!” 

There was an unexpected overlap in literary inspiration between two of the winners – read on to discover it for yourself.

 This year’s winners were  

1st Prize: Murder In Pentameter – Harriet Truscott

First prize was awarded to poet (and Communications Director) Harriet Truscott, for her Newnham take on Robert Browning’s poem ‘My Last Duchess’ : 

Here’s our first Mistress painted on the wall
looking as if she were alive. And there,
there in her hand – d’you see it? – there, quite small,
her death. Ah, now you look! Now all of you
surge forwards, lifting high your mobile phones
to take a snap. You know the story then –
how Newnham’s esteemed Mistress took a sip
at the Midwinter Feast from our great cup
inlaid with rubies, how she choked and paled,
how her hands spasmed tight as poison spread
throughout her veins … Read the full piece

2nd Prize: The Painter, The Rice Man & The Boater Hat – Estera Ulrich-Oltean  

Estera Ulrich Oltean took second prize with a time-travelling mystery set in Edwardian Newnham. 

Read Estera’s mystery

3rd: The Body In The Library – Amelia Platt

Third prize went to JCR member Amelia Platt, with ‘The Body in the Library’, in which a 1950s murder has a literary clue.

Highly Commended: The Peile Dining Club – Wendy Evans

The Domestic Bursar, Wendy Evans, set her short story in 1972 and 2022, when a Newnham treasure goes missing after an illicit roof-top party.

Read Wendy’s story.

The photo shows students Janaki Agnes Bonnerjee (NC 1904) and Dorothea Ball (NC 1905) in a production of the comic play Ici On Parle Francais. (Janaki was the younger sister of the suffragette and doctor Susila Bonnerjee, and a bench commemorating her can still be found in the College gardens). The two were photographed by Frances Dickinson (NC 1905), and the photo was preserved in an album that probably belonged to Elinor Lupton (NC 1905).

At some point, each work was required to include the line, “Please do not take offence if this note does not apply to you but I am trying to contact the one person it does< concern,” a quotation taken from the Second Newnham Anthology.