A year ago our collective world underwent a change never seen before with everyone tapping into their reserves of creativity not only to stay sane but to find hope for a brighter tomorrow.
We, at Ireland Writing Retreat, felt we could help. Through the written word.
Thus, unable to host our popular week-long writing retreats in northwestern Ireland and having no prior experience organising writing competitions, we - rather nervously - launched our first-ever ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ (WAWA).
One year on and hundreds of writers worldwide have sent in their stories to our various competitions, providing us not only with immense satisfaction but immense reading enjoyment.
For that we say (nay, shout) THANK YOU.
And it’s not too late for you to join us. Just two weeks remain before deadline (Sunday, May 2) in our next competition, focusing on the theme of Love: WAWA LOVE
In the meantime, please enjoy below two stories by finalists in our previous WAWA competitions.
Washing Away the Grief - How the Sea Saved Me
by Katie Lally
I can feel the December chill in the air as your gentle hand shakes me awake.
It’s still dark. My whole body feels heavy as I face another day without Dad in this world.
I never quite understood until now what was meant by the term ‘the weight of grief.’ But that’s what it is. A weight. Like a heavy cloud that floats along with me, permeating every crevice of my life and being.
I’m in autopilot. Existing, more than living, right now. You hand me coffee when I get downstairs and gently lead me to the door. We get into the car in comfortable silence. That first sip sometimes gives me a sense that maybe today might be better.
You don’t force conversation on me, allowing me to sit with my thoughts. The sun is rising and I feel a sense of calm descending as we near the beach. In my darkest days this is where you brought me and now it has become a ritual of sorts.
We park in our usual parking space, the familiarity of my surroundings like a warm security blanket. My feet sink into the soft sand as I take my first few steps onto the beach. The sound of the waves, the ebb and flow of the water, music to my ears. This is my therapy. I inhale deeply, taking in the salty air. I undress quickly, the winter air making my teeth chatter. You laugh as you always do when I’m getting ready for a sea swim. One half of you is amused, the other half wondering if I’m crazy. To be honest, sometimes I don’t even know.
I run towards the water, glad my winter swimsuit has sleeves that at least shield my arms from the biting wind. The water splashes my legs as I enter. I’ve been coming here long enough to know that entering the sea can be painless once it’s done quickly.
I wade until it’s at waist level. I gasp, the cold water taking my breath away. One more deep breath and I bend down until I am submerged. The saltwater washes over me, so cold it feels like my whole body hurts. I start to swim. Great strides, coming up for air every third stroke. I pause only to turn and begin another length. I lose count of how many lengths I do. My body is no longer cold. A calm has come over me. It’s like an awakening, an epiphany of sorts.
I begin to wade towards the shore and jog to where you’re standing with a towel. You wrap it and your arms around me and I know in that moment I’ll be okay. The cloud of grief is a little lighter.
I take one more deep breath of salty air and smile for the first time in a while.
Katie Lally emerged among the Top Ten in our creative nonfiction category, with her story entitled, ‘Washing Away the Grief – How the Sea Saved Me.’
Speaking about her writing journey, Katie said, “I started writing properly after my Dad passed away six years ago, just for myself really. His loss was like nothing I had ever experienced before and this ended up being the inspiration for my short story. My wonderful partner has always supported me and believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself. He has pushed me to keep writing, to enter competitions and, most importantly, to never give up. Being a finalist in the ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ has given me the confidence boost I need to keep going and continue my writing this year. Thanks to everyone involved in this wonderful competition.”
And To Dust I Shall Return
by Grace Moran
John always said he’d go down in a blaze of glory.
Beth walked in his woods, yearning to see what he saw, before he left a week ago. For the last fortnight God granted an Indian summer which held winter’s icy embrace at arm’s length. Gold and ochre leaves swirled in a gentle breeze, falling like dying embers.
“I didn’t have a choice about coming into this world, but as sure as hell I’ll decide when I go out,” he spat.
Beth didn’t feel angry with him or blame him, she was just lonely. She understood that his prognosis was death by inches. He resented the inevitability of being cared for like an infant until his demise.
She continued to retrace his last steps. The river came into view. Swollen and fast-moving, it flowed with purpose. How beautiful that the four elements engulfed him at this point. He loved nature, he died in its embrace.
Beth reached the bench he’d sat on. People told her he had waved as they walked past him. No one suspected a thing. Well, they wouldn’t, would they? He appeared peaceful, arm flung across the armrest.
They say once someone decides ‘to do it’ peace falls upon them.
She was angry that the river didn’t cough him up until five days later. But he was a person you couldn’t let go of too easily, the river spirit had appreciated him too.
He’d left a sparse note. Some do, some don’t. Beth read it again while sitting on ‘his’ bench.
‘I enjoyed every moment… love you always.’
Wiping her tears Beth headed towards the Monterey pine grove, his favourite place within the woods. “Something sacred and energetic about this spot” he used to say. He was so right.
The regal conifers had started to drop their cargo, huge pine cones falling to their gnarled roots. John knew this is where the red squirrels gathered, feasting on the pine nuts. Elusive creatures seldom seen, scampering up a tree trunk, flashes of rust camouflaged within the autumn hues.
Beth picked up a massive pine cone, remembering the way one had popped open on their Christmas mantelpiece last year. It was on Christmas Eve he had popped the question. He knelt before her, fumbling to open the little velvet box. She thought he was nervous but his muscles twitched while lying beside him at night. The tremor in his left hand was noticeable on holding his cup of coffee in the mornings.
His neurologist broke the news just before Easter, when Nature was springing to life. “Degenerative, untreatable” was all he heard.
He said goodbye to her as she spread herself sleepily to occupy his side of the bed. “Just going for a ramble in the woods.”
Beth opened the urn and scattered the dust around the grove. Light ash floated on the soft breeze towards the top of the pines. Gazing upward she saw three squirrels looking at her.
His chief mourners.
Grainne Armstrong who writes under the pseudonym, Grace Moran, was among the Top Ten finalists in our flash fiction category with her story entitled, ‘And To Dust I Shall Return.’
Grainne describes herself as “a therapist by day and a scribbler by night” and says she is the proud mother of “two fabulous daughters and three grandchildren.” A passionate animal lover, not only does Grainne care for two rescue dogs and a cat, she is also secretary of the Party for Animal Welfare (PAW), a registered political party in Ireland with a focus on animal welfare.
With great modesty, Grainne said she had “a tiny love story” printed in The New York Times Sunday edition. Some of her poetry has also been published online.
Enjoying writing about Nature and Irish history, Grainne said she was “thrilled to be one of the ten finalists" in the Wild Atlantic Writing Awards adding, "it is never too late to start writing."