Women in Comedy: Short Story Competition Winner
The Women in Comedy Festival Writing Competition invites entries in two categories: a short sketch or monologue, and a short story. The Skinny North is pleased to publish the winning short story for 2016, with an introduction from our Comedy editor, who sat on the judging panel.
There are several worries that go through one’s mind when asked to look at someone’s mind. First off, there’s the suspiciously humble ‘why me?’ garbage that you feel guilt about how serious you’re being, followed by the worry that the writing will be terrible and you’ll have to dash the submitter’s dreams. Add in to the mix that comedy is extremely subjective, and you’re in a mess of neuroses and anxiety.
Thankfully, the entrants to the writing competition of the 2016 Women in Comedy Festival were all excellent, due in no small part to the sheer volume of applicants they had (from as far afield as Italy and New Zealand) – showing once more that this festival is a real boon both to comedy and the city of Manchester. The writing was original, interesting and, best of all, funny. Very, very funny.
Below we publish the winner of the short story competition, The Mystery of the Second Olga by Olga Wojtas. It's a hilarious and bizarre tale that carried the whimsical nature of a Wes Anderson movie and the sensibilities of a tightly written British sitcom from days gone by. It was a pleasure to receive as part of the competition and is a delight to publish here. – John Stansfield
The Mystery of the Second Olga
by Olga Wojtas
The fourth Olga was making soup. The 17th Olga was balancing the accounts, totting them up on her fingers. She had taken off her shoes and socks in order to use her toes if necessary. Her right foot was size 6 and her left foot was size 5½. The 29th Olga was skimming the pages of the local newspaper, proofreading as she went, and tutting at the errors. The 55th Olga who, like the others, was possessed of a preternatural beauty, was making soup.
The 36th Olga had spotted a group of youths approaching, kicking a ball from one to the other. They were followed by a tangle-haired mongrel with only three legs.
“Be off with you!” she shouted. “This is private property! And take that awful thing with you!”
One of the youths bent to pick up the animal.
“Not the dog, the football!” yelled the 36th Olga. “The dog can stay and have some soup.”
The 48th Olga was making soup.
The third Olga was trying to remember how long it had been since the first Olga had founded their community. It was the first Olga who had realised that all Olgas shared the same characteristics. They were all preternaturally beautiful. They were all excellent soup-makers. Their right feet were size 6 and their left feet were size 5½. They knew the correct use of the apostrophe and the Oxford comma. And they hated anything to do with football.
It was a joy to live among like-minded people, thought the third Olga. They were all so happy together. There had never been a problem, apart from that time they had been infiltrated by a Helga. She had been rumbled the moment she expressed an interest in watching Match of the Day. And the third Olga hadn’t reckoned much to her preternatural beauty.
Occasionally, the third Olga attempted to calculate how many Olgas there were altogether. But even though she took off her shoes and socks so that she could use her toes, she kept losing count and left it at “a lot”.
One evening, they were sitting round the fire listening to a talk from the 12th Olga on the future perfect continuous and the conditional progressive, when the 30th Olga said: “Where’s the second Olga?”
They all looked about them. “Remind me,” said the 54th Olga. “What does she look like?”
“She’s preternaturally beautiful, and her right foot is size 6, while her left foot is size 5½,” said the 38th Olga.
“Oh, her?” said the 54th Olga. “Lovely girl. No, I can’t say I’ve seen her recently.”
Nobody could remember having seen her. It was agreed that the situation was so serious that it merited waking up the first Olga, who was dozing in the corner, something she felt entitled to do because of her great age.
Once she had got her bearings, and things had been explained to her several times, she insisted that search parties be sent out immediately. Two Olgas should go north, two should go south, two should go east and two should go west. It took a while to calculate how many Olgas this made in total, but most of them worked it out reasonably satisfactorily without having to take their shoes and socks off.
The two Olgas heading north went round a corner and saw a group of people wearing striped scarves.
“I think these might be football supporters,” whispered the leading Olga.
“I don’t like the sound of that,” said the other Olga. “Let’s go home.”
The two Olgas heading south went round a corner and smelled a delicious aroma.
“Someone’s making soup,” said the leading Olga.
“Let’s ask them for the recipe and take it home,” said the other Olga.
The two Olgas heading east went round a corner and found a notice which read: “Hard Hat’s Required Beyond This Point”.
The leading Olga began to hyperventilate.
“Don’t worry,” soothed the other Olga. “I’ll take you home.”
The two Olgas heading west never reached a corner.
“What is it we’re supposed to be doing?” asked the leading Olga.
“No idea, I thought you knew,” said the other Olga.
“We’d better go home,” they agreed.
The third Olga was making soup. What a joy it was to live among like-minded people. She thought back to the day she met the first Olga, which was the very day on which the first Olga had decided to found the community of Olgas. The third Olga, who was preternaturally beautiful, had a right foot which was size 6 and a left foot which was size 5½. She impressed the first Olga with her soup-making skills and her knowledge of the apostrophe and Oxford comma.
“Great,” said the first Olga. “You can join. So I’m one and you’re two.” She counted on her fingers. “One and two are three, so you’re the third Olga.”
Smiling at the memory, the third Olga put more coriander in the soup. From the kitchen window, she saw some Olgas who seemed to have been out somewhere.
“Just in time,” she called. “Come and have some soup.”
One of the incoming Olgas turned out to be hyperventilating, so the third Olga ladled soup into a plastic bag and set up an intravenous drip for her. Other Olgas finished washing up from the previous meal, and queued up at the cooking-pot to take brimming bowls to the rest of the community. Everyone sat contentedly round the fire, eating soup and listening to the calming sound of the first Olga snoring.
Suddenly, the 37th Olga said: “Where’s the second Olga?”
They all looked about them. “Remind me,” said the 41st Olga. “What does she look like?”
The Women in Comedy Festival 2016 Writing Competition winners in full:
Category 1: 3-minute sketch or monologue
First: Rachel Johnston with her monologue ‘Pushing the Envelope’
Second: Sally Hepplewhite with her sketch ‘Essential Oils’
Third: Jane Beaufore with her monologue ‘The Bride’s Grandmother Would Like to Give a Quick Toast’
Category 2: short story of under 1000 words
First: Olga Wojtas with her story ‘The Mystery of the Second Olga’
Second: Jane Ayres with her story ‘Brief Encounter’
Third: Jane Postlethwaite with her story ‘Ducking Hell’