The First Page Challenge 2023—1st place
Congrats to Hannah Croft for the top prize in the First Page Challenge 2023! Here's what our judge (Michelle Barker) had to say:
"The Bobici House captured me with both its strong voice and evocative imagery. The historical details gave the setting a feeling of authenticity, and the author deftly wove in intriguing details of other characters while keeping the tension of the moment high."
The Bobici House
Torente, Istria, 1919
Caterina is pretty sure she can outrun the Fioretti boys, but she isn’t sure if she can outrun their father. She pushes onto tiptoes and peers over the stone wall into their orchard again. All she can make out is three silhouettes, father and two sons, over by the storehouse. It isn’t quite dawn, and the rows of fruit trees are still tucked up in the indigo mist of the night before. The Bora wind is up, though, shaking the orchard awake by the leaves and leaning its icy weight against Caterina’s hemp shirt and trousers, the June morning suddenly January. She pulls her flat cap down over her ears, but it bobs back up, the brown curls underneath having ideas of their own.
Caterina studies the figs, drooping low off the branches. It’s too shadowy to see, but she can picture their purple skins starting to tear, the sweet syrup readying to ooze through the cracks; she can taste it on her tongue, sense the gritty crunch of seeds between her teeth. Her mother says that if you imagine things hard enough, they become as real as the real things.
Caterina’s empty stomach rumbles in disagreement.
The only thing standing in her way is the Fiorettis. Caterina is twelve now—well into double figures—and she’s nippy and she knows it; especially dressed in her brother’s clothes, with no petticoats to slow her down. But the Fioretti boys look tall. Dark tendrils of hair hang from their heads like dirty mops, as they bend over their cart, trying to fix something, it seems.
Caterina usually avoids the orchard when she goes out foraging. Since the war, the other village children have started calling Papa Fioretti “La Bestia, The Beast.” They say he lost his mind on the Isonzo Front; that if he catches you stealing, he’ll yank off his boots and beat you with the hobnails until the flesh falls off your backside and all you have left to sit on is bone—it happened, it happened to someone’s brother’s friend, it really did.
Sounds like a tall tale to Caterina, as so many village rumours do. But “every tall tale has a pinch of truth,” as her mother used to say with a twinkle in her eye, back when her mother’s eyes used to twinkle. She wonders what the gossiping voices say about Mama. Oh, Mama. Caterina will take two figs: one for her mama as well. And the first? Well, the first is for Mora, of course.
Hannah Croft is a British writer, currently based in Italy. She studied modern languages at Oxford University, before training as an actor and becoming a writer/performer, as half of comedy duo Croft & Pearce. The Bobici House is her first novel, inspired by conversations with her Italian husband’s family, who fled their village in what is now Croatia as part of the little-known Istrian–Dalmatian Exodus. She has won the BPA Pitch Prize and made it onto the shortlist for the Page Turner Awards mentorship programme and the Stockholm Writers Festival's First 5 Pages Prize. Hannah spends most of her free time fending off two young children and battling to perfect a simple spaghetti carbonara.