Stormy night inspires creativity

Edward Bulwer Lytton - his words inspired the pupils

Edward Bulwer Lytton - his words inspired the pupils - Credit: Archant

The first Hertfordshire Schools Story Writing Competition, set up by Knebworth House and supported by Hertfordshire Life, has been a huge success. And we have a winner and three runners-up. Read their stories here

Inspired by the classic opening line ‘It was a dark and stormy night’, penned by Victorian novelist and former Knebworth House owner Edward Bulwer Lytton, 65 schools submitted their best short stories to the inaugural Hertfordshire schools story writing competition.

Harry Dewberry from Ladbrooke Junior School, Potters Bar, came top of the pile of more than 200 entries in the contest organised by Knebworth House Estate.

Education officer for the stately home Hannah Brownlow said, ‘Harry’s story was considered by the judges to be unique. Giving Bulwer Lytton’s line such a clever and original twist made his story immediately engaging – drawing readers into the plot and making them wonder what was happening to the narrator. The writing was descriptive and poetic, making clever use of all the senses.’

The 11-year-old won a trip to Knebworth Park Adventure Playground for himself and his class.

Lytton Enterprises managing director Martha Lytton Cobbold said she was overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of work submitted. ‘There is such a lot of creative talent in our county’s schools,’ she added.

Runners-up were Alexandra Sweeny of Our Lady Catholic Primary School in Hitchin, Thomas O’Reilly of Bridgewater Primary School in Berkhamsted and James Pallister from Knebworth Primary School. Read their stories on our website with this piece.

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It was a dark and stormy night inside my head. I feel disorientated and confused. I’m vaguely aware of my body, but I know that I cannot move. I can hear bustling around me, though I can’t focus on exactly what it is. Voices are numerous, muffled and unclear, like I’m listening from within deep water. I can sense urgency around me; people are rushing as if shopping on Christmas Eve. I’m not; I’m calm and still, locked inside myself.

Strangely I can smell a sweet, cloying scent, stale, mixed with a disinfectant smell. Together with the fog inside my head the smell is starting to make me feel nauseous.

A rhythmic beeping is piercing through my clouded mind, it’s quite irritating, like someone constantly interrupting me, trying to bring me to a place I don’t want to be.

Perhaps I am underwater? Barely seconds away from drowning into an abyss. My mind itself is swimming through water in cloud filled thoughts of murkiness. I am unable to focus on any single thought, so I instead try to tune in to anything that is happening around me, but my ears seem to be clogged with water too. I can’t focus on anything at all.

Something is moving around me. I wonder if sharks are coming to hunt me, I’m confused, if I was under water for this length of time I would surely be dead? Perhaps I am dead? Maybe this is what it is like to be dead, still present yet unable to do anything. I feel as if I am moving sideways; something is definitely gripping me very firmly and moving swiftly. What is happening? Is this some strange sort of dream? It would make the most sense. In dreams you’re present but not quite there, which is what I’m feeling now.

Trying to make sense of it all is exhausting me. I’m going to let the fog engulf me and cushion me for a while until I can once again try to focus.

I can now drift away to the comfort of wonderful memories, feelings of contentment; I feel safe and comfortable here, no trying, no confusion, just warmth and ease.

A sharp pain rips me from my cushion of fog. There are definitely people around me, touching me, moving me. The pain is intensifying and spreading through me. I want them to leave me alone, let me go back to my fog; there was no pain there. The beeping is still pulsating; perhaps if I focus on that and maybe count the beeps I can take myself away from the pain.

There is a new sensation, a cold feeling seeping through my veins followed by a warmer, calming feeling. Whatever has just travelled through my body has eaten the pain. I am aware of someone very close to me, they have a familiar smell, and I can hear them breathe. I can hear the words, they are fuzzy, and I strain to listen harder…

“John, John, its mum, you’ve been in an accident”.






It was a dark and stormy night. Daytime had drawn to a close and twilight had rapidly taken its place, the bitter rain was banging on my window aggressively.

The atmosphere was eerie the ever darkening evening was not to my liking.

Tomorrow was going to be a busy day. My homework had been completed, all I needed now was a good night sleep, no mean feat, with the cacophony that was occurring outside. I climbed into my bed wondering if I would ever get to sleep. Suddenly there was a reprieve from the constant knocking of the inclement weather on my battered window. My eyelids quickly felt heavy and the gloom was replaced by what appeared to be a spirit.

The Spirit came and took me to my past and showed me the terrible things that I had done and why I sat all along all the time. “Because” the ghost told me I was not nice to people; not even my brothers and sister, occasionally good to my mum and dad. If I had a birthday present and didn’t like it I would tell the person to get me a new one. I especially hated it when it was a book! I HATED BOOKS. I used to say never did, never will if someone asked me if I had read a book. I had a lot to answer then.

Another ghost came in and warned me about my future. It didn’t look like a typical ghost but it definitely had an ethereal glow. This spirit was like a flame; a bright orange flame. He was telling me about bad things that was going to happen or had happened to me already. I didn’t believe a word of it! I couldn’t bear it at all when it said all these ‘bad’ things were going to happen to me.

I begged and begged the ghost not to let these things happen to me. The spirit started to shake me. He shook me really hard then it started to fade away, turned into my Mum. I grabbed her and hugged her as tight as I could and said, “I love you and I will never be naughty again!”

“I love you too” Mum echoed. “I came up to give you this book to read and you were talking in your sleep. I leant over to settle you, then you woke up” she added.

“Oh Mummy, I was having a bad dream, but I’m fine now”, I replied. We both said good smallaemeousley. Mum left the room. Feeling alert, I turend over the book. It was old and called ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens.




It was a dark and stormy night. So dark, you could not locate your hand if it was a centimetre in front of your face. So stormy, the rain thrashed against the window as if attempting to shatter them into tiny fragments. At the heart of all this chaos were two creatures: Thunder and Lightening.

Lightning was a phoenix. Her illuminous body spilled light into the bleak sky as she darted towards earth, striking it powerfully. Few people are struck by lightning as she is so nimble. However, she is occasionally put off by Thunder’s deep, deafening cries. Thunder was a dragon. He was a dull black and his scales made it look like his body was bombarded with seashells. Lightning flashes would blind him and he would grumble. He would grumble loudly. As he did so, Thunder and Lightning’s servants would drift underneath them. Protecting them and shrouding the horizon in darkness.

You may think that personified objects are just pointless contraptions that thrive in fairytales. No. Thunder and Lightning are real, living animals. Although, soon, only one will be living, they do not know it, however.

The florescent yellow phoenix was darting through the clouds. The air was so limp it felt as if you could part it with an abrupt hand gesture. The air was so limp, even, it pinned Lightning’s eyelids down and her vision cascaded down into blackness; and then she collided with Thunder before his jet-black eyes could sense Lightning’s vivid yellow wings that were outstretched and ready. But now they were fiercely ripped and streaked with mud.

“You!” snarled Lightning. “You should have been aware of my presence. You foul, clumsy brute”.

“I could not catch a glimpse of your puny frame. Your overpowering speed tore at my eyesight.” Thunder muttered to himself indignantly. Then he bellowed it aloud. From below, this would have most likely to have been portrayed to you as a harsh flash and a deafening rumble.

“It was your fault. Your huge black frame is not obvious to my eyesight!” Lightning tore at Thunder’s remark like an angry dog. Although she kept getting slashed with counter arguments from Thunder.

“Well it is your fault…. Your eyesight is clearly poor, and surely your ears would have detected a rumbling emerging from the grey clouds?”

Then, driven made by losing a verbally bloody battle to a grey, mindless dragon, Lightning darted down to earth colliding painfully with the rough terrain below. Thunder was instantly on the pursuit. The turbulence switching from strong winds on to his body caused a low, spine-chilling growl. Lightning was now crawling with electricity and writhing wildly about in the air, desperately trying to come into contact with Thunder’s body. However, she never did. Thunder sent out a gathering of grey clouds, abandoning Lightning, leaving her, slowly perishing in the open air, the rain attacking her body. And when another great storm occurs, she will still hear Thunder’s deafening cries.

Until the end….




It was a dark and stormy night. Annie could not sleep. In the gothic pile that was Knebworth House, the wind had been rattling the windows of her bedroom like a hundred ghostly fingers trying to get inside out of the cold. Rain lashed the windows like a cat o nine tails whipping a screaming sailor.

Annie shuddered and rolled over in bed as she sensed a presence nearby – she thought she could hear a faint voice down the hall outside the oak bedroom door. “Come Annie come!” the voice whispered in a high pitched childish way.

With her heart pounding Annie climbed out of bed and set off down the corridor clutching her teddy bear. There was barely any light but she managed to glide silently along the carpeted passage towards the main staircase which was faintly illuminated when the racing clouds revealed the speckled white moon. She tiptoed quietly down the grand stairs to the ground floor.

“Come!” The voice seemed more urgent now. Annie quickened her pace. She felt scared and tense in her stomach. Hurrying to the heavy front door she grabbed at it and pulled – it was extremely stiff.

“COME Annie COME!!” The voice seemed to be screaming at her. Annie heaved with all her strength and suddenly a huge whoomph the door flew open. She hurried out onto the driveway looking up at the wind shaken night sky. The garden lay before her like a forest of shadowy creatures with bushes rustling and the trees crying aloud in the storm. Annie darted around the side of the towering house, still following the ghostly voice. Menacing stone gargoyles were positioned along the parapets of the house, their monstrous faces glaring down at her.

Suddenly the voice commanded “Finally you’re here. Look to your left…”

Annie turned her head slowly and gasped in horror. There was a ghostly girl wearing a transparent silk dress embroidered with beautiful patterns and colourful gems sewn into it which sparkled when the moon’s reflection caught the jewels in its ghostly light. She gazed in horror as the ghostly girl walked past a white wall and, as if in slow motion, a gargoyle toppled forwards plummeting towards the spirit.

The voice whispered “Beware of the gargoyles. Now go”.

Annie woke up. The sun was shining through her bedroom window giving it a golden glow. Could this really be the morning after such a bleak night? Was that a dream she thought as she climbed out of her soft warm bed, or had she really gone outside in the storm? She swore she could hear a voice saying “Or was it real?” Many thoughts flooded through her mind as she walked down the stairs to breakfast. Through the half open door she saw her parents in deep conversation. She caught a few of the words being said,

“Gargoyle…. west wall… loose!”

“Oh no” thought Annie. “It was real, who’s died?”

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