Winning the flash fiction competition of our ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ (WAW) with her story, ‘Share the Vision,’ came as a great surprise to Vanessa Horn, a junior school teacher from Hampshire in the United Kingdom.
“I certainly didn’t expect to even be short-listed, let alone win,” she said. “I am absolutely thrilled.”
Vanessa said she first became interested in writing eight years ago when she took a sabbatical year off from work.
“Since then, I have written several hundred stories, many of which have been published in magazines and others having won prizes in short story and flash fiction competitions. In 2015, my first book ‘Eclectic Moments’ - a collection of short stories – was published.
Vanessa also writes for children and since venturing into this segment two years ago, her picture book – ‘Waaaaa’ – was released in January last year. Later, in May, her collection of flash fiction for adults – ‘Theme and Variations’ – was published, a compilation of stories based on or around the theme of music.
“As far as I can remember, I first learned about the ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ on social media and was intrigued by the task of writing a story with a title of precisely three words,” she said.
As for the story idea itself, she added, “That came to me as I was daydreaming one day, thinking about what a person might sacrifice for someone else and exactly how far they’d go with this. Later, I had a conversation at a friend’s house as to which sense – if any – you’d give up if you had to. I then decided to combine these two elements together for my story, in which a woman gives her twin the gift of sight.”
Vanessa said she revised her story “many times before I was satisfied with it,” adding, “but, after the first draft I was mostly just changing a word here or there, sometimes even going back to the original word after deliberating over it for a while.”
Deciding on a title was the easiest part of her writing task. “I was happy that ‘Share the Vision’ imparted enough information without ‘giving the game away’ as to what actually happens in the story.”
As for the 500 euro in prize money, Vanessa has already decided what she will do with that. “Lots of books and stationery - two of my favourite things.”
Share the Vision
by Vanessa Horn
“Ready?” the doctor’s voice is calm. Confident?
I nod, a small but decisive action. I am ready: I know exactly what to expect. I’ve had the initial consultations, the long-winded therapy, the warnings, even. All of it. It didn’t change anything; nothing would dissuade me from having the operation. Not even Adam, with his feverish, last-minute doubts. Though, in fairness, his worries were purely for me. Twins looking out for each other, as we always did. Sharing our worries. Our concerns.
“Right. You’ll feel the pressure lifting as I remove the bandages, but don’t open your eyes until I tell you to. You’ll need time to become accustomed to your surroundings.”
I exhale slowly. What unearthly difference will it matter when I open my eyes? But as the bandages are slowly unwound from my head, I follow his advice anyway. Maybe it’s superstition – I don’t know. I used to have this thing when I was a kid, where I never stood on the pavement cracks. I steered Adam away from doing it too. I just knew something awful would happen if we trod on the gaps. Common childhood quirk I suppose.
The last bandage is off now, and I wait. Notwithstanding the doctor’s advice, there’s something I want to know before I open my eyes. Something which could – will - make this all worthwhile if I get the answer I desperately hope for.
I clear my throat, my mouth dry. “Is, is Adam out yet? Was the graft successf…?” I hear my words peter out as I’m suddenly overwhelmed by a mixture of emotions. Unease. Anxiety. Trepidation.
I both feel and hear the doctor’s smile. “Well, I know he wants to come and tell you himself but, yes, all went well. It’s early days, obviously, but I’m confident the operation was a complete success.”
I exhale. It worked. A concept which seemed so outlandish when I first came across, then researched it, has finally come into being. I did the right thing.
“Right, you can open your eyes now. In your own time.”
His voice is steady. Reassuring. Slowly, very slowly, I begin to open my eyes, feeling my lashes come stickily apart. I lift my head, blinking, blinking. “Ohh.” I’ve never experienced such blackness before, not on the darkest night or in the deepest cave. I’d thought I was prepared, but I didn’t expect this, this nothingness.
I try to gather my thoughts into clarity when I feel a touch on my shoulder. The doctor speaks again. “It must be difficult, I’m sorry. But we’ll give you all the support you need.”
I take a breath. I have to be strong. “It’s okay. I-I’ll get used to it. I’ll cope.” And, as I speak, I know I will. I made the decision, chose the action and this is the aftermath. The conclusion. The darkness has been Adam’s norm for the past thirty years and now it’ll be mine. Shared experiences, after all.
Jacquie Palmer, a former school counsellor and winner of the creative non-fiction category of our ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ (WAWA), has lived in the suburbs of London, apart from a period studying in Bath, Somerset where she met her husband.
“After finishing our degrees we married and moved to Kent, where we have lived ever since and where we brought our son and daughter into the world,” she said. “Living in Kent gives me easy access to London with all its vibrant possibilities for a writer and is a city I’m proud of, visiting it regularly.”
Upon hearing of her success in our forth writing competition with ‘Fading Midsummer Embers,’ a poignant story about the death of her son, Jacquie said, “I am absolutely thrilled, and hugely flattered to have been chosen from so many talented writers. After I submitted my piece I forgot all about it, so when I read my name in the newsletter listed as a finalist I was really surprised, and very pleased. However, when I saw I had actually won the creative non-fiction section I couldn’t quite believe it, having to check my name several times.”
She added, “This is the first writing competition I have ever won, and to have done so is a huge honour, as well as a testament to my son and his thirteen years of life. Thank you to the judges and to everyone who chose to select my writing.”
Jacquie’s writing journey began with a personal journal in which her love of travel played a leading role.
“I have written a journal for as long as I can remember and since retiring from managing a school counselling service a few years ago I have had time to discover the true joys of non-fiction creative writing, it’s become my passion,” she said. “My other passion, when Covid allows, is travelling the world, having been privileged to visit many exciting places, including Sudan, Ethiopia, India and Bhutan. The experiences have not only broadened my horizons, but have also helped in my understanding of beliefs and cultures so different from my own. They have also provided rich material for my writing.”
Jacquie learned about WAWA since its inception two years ago and has engaged in every one of our competition’s ever since.
“During the first Covid lockdown, I was fortunate to come across ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ on the Internet, entering its first writing competition,” she said. “I have kept in contact ever since and really enjoy the friendly, fun connections it offers as well as the opportunity to improve my writing skills.”
Speaking about her poignant winning story, she said, “My children are the inspiration for most of my writing and ‘Fading Midsummer Embers,’ originally written approximately a year ago, is a piece taken from my current project entitled ‘Nick’s Story’. This is a memoir about my son’s life, and intended as an archival record of our family living through his horrific spinal cancer. I hope it will help to keep his memory alive.”
Jacquie described the emotions she underwent while engaged in such a heartfelt story. “Although it was an emotional challenge to write about the death of my son the experience was surprisingly cathartic, and the competition not restricting me by subject matter made my choice of material easy, the title coming to mind almost immediately.”
Keeping within a 500-word count proved to be the greatest challenge for Jacquie. “I had to tweak the piece many times so as not to leave anything important out. However it was an excellent learning experience, in preparation for when I need to start editing my book.”
Fading Midsummer Embers
by Jacquie Palmer
Needing a distraction, but craving familiar family routine, the four of us sat round the television as the midsummer brightness slowly dwindled away. We didn’t switch on the lamps, allowing the shadows to envelop us in a cocoon, providing privacy from a world to which we felt we no longer belonged.
A volcano erupted on the screen before us, and despite my lack of focus, I watched the nature programme throw up captivating images, intense, fiery colours, with huge steaming torrents of black treacley lava creeping down the mountainside, and a lizard attempting to escape its inevitable doom by crawling to safety in a tree lined forest on the surrounding bank.
I put my arm around Jo. Earlier she had insisted on looking through our family photograph album, but now sat quietly bedside me sucking her finger. You were lying in your reclining chair on my other side; your breathing becoming increasingly more and more labored, with longer and longer gaps between the gasps. Every one was a monumental effort, and I rested my hand over yours. I wanted you to feel our presence, not being sure how much you were aware of now. You let it be for a few minutes, and then gently pulled away, putting yours on top. Your touch was like a feather. All strength had gone. I wondered if I had been holding you back from where you knew you soon must go. Were you comforting me? I’ll never know for sure.
As the evening drew on, and the darkness intensified we climbed into our makeshift beds, which were scattered around the room like nests entwined within the safety of a tree; Dad on the sofa opposite you, Jo on the camp bed by the French windows overlooking the starlit night, and me on a Lillo by the silent piano, close to your chair. We left you where you were, just covering you gently with a soft blanket.
I kissed the top of your head.
“Night night Sweetheart, see you later.”
Your next exhalation appeared to be an even greater effort, as if you were trying to answer me.
“Goodnight Mum. Yes, See you later.”
I fell into fitful dozing, arousing again just after midnight. I went and sat by your chair, stroking your strawberry blonde hair whilst you continued to struggle, but becoming gradually aware of an overpowering need to sleep, one I felt utterly unable to fight, and I kissed you again.
“Night night Sweetheart, See you later.”
Climbing back onto my Lillo I immediately dropped into a deep, dreamless slumber, waking just as dawn was breaking and the birds were singing their first joyful chorus of the new day. The clock in the hall was no longer ticking. Immediately I knew. Despite the cheerful sounds outside, the room was quiet, unearthly quiet. I went to your chair, you were still warm, but your struggle was over. (From ‘Nick’s Story’ 2021)