Ben Smith Noble is the second young writer I have reviewed here, the first being Leah A with her 10 silly poems by a ten year old (my review) which came to my attention via Son Gums. Ben Smith Noble’s short story “The sands of time”, on the other hand, came to me from Mother Gums via Brother Gums who lives in Tasmania and knows the young writer. Indeed, I believe I’ve met him too, but that was nearly ten years ago, when he was probably around 6!
Many moons have passed since then and it appears that Ben Smith Noble is becoming quite the writer. “The sands of time”, which unfortunately is not available on-line, won the Junior Section (Years 7-9) of the 2015 Young Tasmanian Writers Prize – and what a delightful story it is. It’s a time-travel story about a man who dies suddenly and mysteriously finds himself in a coffin that had been used in England in 1122, during the time of the Crusades. What happens next, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, is that he finds himself in the Holy Land in 1098 “standing between two armies that had a very certain view on who was right”:
The hot sands swirled around Mr Smith as the two armies gave a roar and started moving towards each other at a speed that suggested the sides shared an intense hatred for each other, and further suggested to the out-of-place Tasmanian the idea of being impaled on a lance or scimitar.
He dearly wished he was somewhere else. Heaven for example.
In the next paragraph, things are getting dangerous: “An arrow drifted by in what seemed slow motion, and hit a nice young man who would probably have got along well with his killer had his killer not been holding a bow”.
Mr Smith is not impressed, and starts to run:
He wasn’t sure where he was going, but he was sure anywhere would be better than here.
However, he soon finds an English knight and a Saracen warrior approaching him on horseback from different directions, so he does the only sensible thing he can think of. He calls, “Stop!” The denouement, from this point, is beautifully and succinctly told, and conveys a message about war – something that “happens when people with small brains get big ideas” – that is pure and sensible. It’s an entertaining read.
What is impressive about the story is Noble’s grasp of language, of rhythm and pace, of voice, and of structuring a plot. We are told in the first paragraph that Mr Smith had “a guilty love of Doctor Who” which sets up the time-travel idea, but we are also told in the same paragraph that he likes “staying in the here and now”, and hadn’t, in fact, been anywhere further than Burnie. In other words, he’s a simple, ordinary man, and Noble sets this up effectively in the first paragraph. He also establishes his light tone in this paragraph, and sustains it through to the end. The story made me laugh – at the right times – and yet it has a serious message that’s relevant today. I don’t have a benchmark for what young writers are capable of these days, but this story would not embarrass its creator in adult company.
A search of the Tasmania 40° South revealed that Ben Smith Noble won the Senior Section (Years 10-12) prize last year, with a story titled “Napoleon, or, the musings of Mr Pink”. Clearly someone to watch. You heard it here first, folks!
Ben Smith Noble
“The sands of time”
in Tasmania 40° South, Issue 78?, pp. 85-86