Writing about the death of a friend and the emptiness it leaves is never easy but Canada-born Alli Mckenzie found it a cathartic experience and her efforts won her first prize in creative nonfiction in our ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ on the theme of time.
“My story was written in the weeks following the loss of someone very dear to me and came about as a way of processing my feelings surrounding that loss,” said Alli, who entitled her story simply, ‘Time.’
“One of the things I enjoy about creative non-fiction is the way in which it allows the author to tackle significant events and emotions in an indirect fashion.”
Banker, landscape designer, teacher - Alli has enjoyed a diverse career thus far. But her enthusiastic reaction to winning WAWA shows how important creative writing has always been in her life.
‘Hey, look … the winner has the same name as me! Wait! I wonder if it is me? Holy smokes! It IS me!’
“So went my thoughts the morning I discovered I was lucky enough to have won the WAWA creative non-fiction award,” she said. “I’d like to say it was my sleepiness that caused the delay in realising I had won (it was 6:00 a.m. after all), but I suspect it’s a pretty common reaction when anyone receives such wonderful news.”
Celebrating her success, Alli acknowledges a debt to a close friend.
“It was only recently that an Irish writing partner of mine, whom I met in an online course, convinced me to start submitting some of my work and told me about the WAWA awards. I definitely owe her a big vote of thanks for her support and encouragement.”
Ali said self-editing was an important part of the process in finalising her story, “I made a series of small revisions off and on over the course of several months, trying very hard to stay true to the original feelings of the piece while simultaneously honing the writing.”
As for choosing a title, “I’ve always found the process of selecting a title challenging and even a little mysterious, so I was very glad that the first I came up with seemed to work. I’m not sure I could have come up with a second one.”
by Alli Mckenzie
Time stopped last week.
For me it stopped Tuesday morning. For you it had stopped the evening before.
There was no sudden fanfare, no blast of bugles to announce the pause, just the ringing of a phone.
Hours, then a day, then two, lumbered by. I thought that time had started again, but I was wrong. It was a mistake easily made, an illusion of movement created by visiting friends, their arms full of flowers or food, by phone calls, by texts, by caring gestures.
In reality, though, time was still at a standstill, its feet mired in the mud of grief and loss. Faint echoes of life circled around it, seen from a distance, and only vaguely heard.
Step by weary step, planning was done, food ordered, music chosen and words written. Who knows what time was doing then. Aching hearts neither notice nor care. They simply exist.
After the music was all played and the words all spoken, time disappeared. Where it had once stood there was now only a vacuum of silence, a silence of the soul fractured at intervals by the agony of loss.
Invisible though it was, I understand now that time still lurked in the background. Unseen and unfelt, it was biding its time until it could, once again, begin its forward march.
I sensed them this morning, those faint vibrations, and heard the distant sounds falling lightly on my ears. They were familiar. I knew them, and I knew their meaning. Time, friend and foe in equal measures, was on the move.
It is a slow motion, to be sure. Each hour-long moment is still blanketed in stillness and painted by grief, but an opening, so narrow that it can barely be seen, has been made, and through it seep droplets of life.
In the weeks and months ahead, I know that the drumbeat of time will gradually return to its original measure. As it does, life, that irresistible tide, will rush back in, filling every moment with its energy. Sorrow will fade away, replaced over months and years by mere photographs in a book and memories in my heart.
That is time’s gift. That is its curse.
Yorkshire, London, Italy, Bristol, Rotterdam - just some of the places Paul Bassett Davies, winner of our ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Award’ flash fiction category on the theme of ‘Time’ has enjoyed living in.
And his work has been equally interesting - he attended theatre school, co-founded a multimedia performance company (the day after he was chucked out of school), set-up a punk band and was a taxi driver.
He has also written for radio and television, mostly comedy, made some corporate films, written four novels, several short stories, some short films, and a couple of screenplays, one produced, one languishing in what he terms “development limbo.”
Asked how the idea for his winning WAWA story, entitled ‘Please Stay On The Line,’ emerged, he said, “I was thinking about how much our lives now depend on our devices and how awful it is to have them stolen. Then I imagined outwitting a criminal whose arrogance makes them think they’ve got away with it. It’s a story about storytelling and the Scheherazade effect: keeping the listener – or reader – on the hook.”
Paul said his story developed over time, “I wrote a version a couple of years ago, but it wasn’t quite working. Then I was stimulated to revive it by the theme of the competition. I wrote four or five more drafts before I was satisfied.”
And the main challenge? “Telling the entire story in dialogue and getting the voices of the characters right.”
Paul found out about WAWA from the WGGB bulletin and said he liked the idea of a 500-word limit. “Many flash fiction competitions have a lower word limit but this allowed me to tell a full story rather than just create a mood or a snapshot. I like writing flash fiction in general because I find parameters, limits and conditions very creative.”
As for selecting a title, “It was there from the beginning. I like the way the phrase changes its meaning,” he said.
His reaction upon winning, “I read the message twice, to make sure, then I allowed myself to feel delighted.”
Please Stay on the Line
- Hello, is that the person who stole my phone?
- I found this phone, mate.
- Ok. But when you found it, did you also find a laptop?
- Why do you want to know?
- Because I'll pay to get the laptop back.
- Yeah? How much?
- More than its value. A lot more.
- Really? What's on it, kiddy porn or something?
- No, it's a story, actually.
- Are you having a laugh?
- Not right now, no. But it is a funny story, as it happens.
- A funny story on the laptop?
- Yes, that’s right.
- What's funny about it?
- It concerns someone who’s a total idiot. It's hilarious.
- Why, what happens?
- Well, for one thing, the person who owns the phone always forgets to turn on the app for tracking it.
- Yeah, I can see that, mate. So you can’t find me, can you? Right, now let’s get this sorted. Let’s talk about money.
- No, wait. There’s something else you need to know.
- Look, either we talk about money or you can piss off. I’m hanging up.
- But you haven’t heard the really funny part yet! Don’t you want to hear a bit more of the story? The funny part?
- All right, what’s the funny part?
- Ok, the person who owns the phone is very forgetful, almost like a nutty professor type, which is why he didn’t switch on the tracking app. But the funny thing is, he’s actually an IT expert! What a job for someone so absent-minded to have, am I right?
- Yeah, totally stupid.
- Not necessarily. You see, he’s such an expert that he often works for the security services.
- What, like a spy? Like the gadget dude in James Bond?
- Kind of. But don’t you think that’s funny? That his phone has been stolen?
- Not really. It just makes him even more of a dick. Right, I’ve had enough of this. Tell me how much you’re willing to pay, and we’ll sort out how to do this.
- Wait, I haven't told you the twist yet.
- What’s the twist?
- He's also a liar.
- What do you mean?
- He's not the idiot. It's the guy who stole the phone who's the idiot.
- Because the professor type doesn't use the normal apps. He's an IT expert, right?
- Wait a minute...
- With friends in security! All he has to do is keep the idiot on the line with a stupid story.
- What do you mean?
- It’s all about time. He just has to keep the idiot talking for long enough to find him.
- Is this a wind-up?
- No. You're in Ladbroke Grove, aren't you?
- How the fuck–
- In a pub. The Lamb.
- Now look, mate, I don’t know how–
- And just about now, three men should be coming in. They probably look rather serious, and competent. But discreet. They should be approaching you. Can you see them?
- Oh, shit.
- Thank you for staying on the line. Goodbye.