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Four Stories From Wild Atlantic Writing Awards ‘Time’ Competition

We are proud to present the writers and stories of four of the finalists in our ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ (WAWA) competition on the theme of ‘Time.’

Charmaine Smith was a finalist in the flash fiction category with her story entitled The Second Thief.


Charmaine, in her early 50s, from the southeastern United States, has combined her background in physics and mathematics with a love of literature.


I have written poetry all my life but only late last year began submitting my work for publication,” she said. “Though regretting my tiny bank account won't be swelling with the winner’s prize, I'm gratified and thrilled my story was chosen as a finalist. It gives me the chance to improve my voice and craft. If I hadn't come across this contest, I might never have written this particular story.”


Where did your story idea originate?

As a former physics enthusiast and inquirer into human consciousness, I've always been intrigued with the notion of time and how we perceive it,” she said. “I'd recently written flash fiction involving an unusual type of thievery. I enjoyed that so much I thought I could come up with an even more imaginative type of thievery, involving time and a character who, having suffered losses, might discover an ability to seize bits of time and keep them captive to regain some control and stave off uncertainty. Those stolen seconds might become his best friends, a substitute for those he's lost and a mental bulwark. I really enjoyed exploring that kind of character and seeing what might result from his habit.


Describe the editing process involved in your story.

“It all flowed naturally from that initial concept. As with most of my writing, I didn't know how it would end until it came out of my fingers onto the keyboard. I wrote the first draft very late one night, then some hours of editing and fine-tuning next morning before submitting it.

The biggest challenge was conveying the atmosphere and character while staying inside the word count. The first draft stayed very much the same aside from going over every word, phrase and sentence to see whether it was effective, evocative, and moved the story forward. It's a lot like writing formal poetry with length, meter, and rhyme constraints.

The title, which came to me immediately, did most of the work. I wrote the story to that title so it stayed the same through the editing process."


Charmaine, who has lived in many regions of the US and now writes from the central coast of California, has had previous work published including her first flash fiction story, Powers of Observation, which was short-listed for the Quantum Shorts 2021/2022 competition co-ordinated by the Centre for Quantum Technologies, and her sonnet, Penelope on Broad Street, which received honorable mention in the Better Than Starbucks 2021 Sonnet Contest.


The Second Thief

by Charmaine Smith

The first one he stole was the moment between Clara’s last breath and her departure. Nobody noticed, clustered as they were around her frilly bathrobe, the brothers and aunts. He tucked it into a green glass jar and sidled away.

Then another, between glass puncture and skidding blowout. That one went into an old pill bottle as he stroked his mustache at the curb. Soon it became an obsession, whisking away seconds before they were missed.

He kept them on a three-tiered lazy Susan in his cellar in jars, bottles, tins, and little boxes tied up with string, all labeled in neat script. No one ever came looking or complained. He liked to twirl them slowly while he scratched the cat, Grimalkin, between the ears and a fire glowed in the potbelly stove. Sometimes he almost fell asleep admiring his stolen moments and fancied he heard them murmuring to each other, gossiping or trading recipes. Or plotting an escape. But they seemed happy enough. To be safe, he brought books downstairs and read to them before bed: Chekhov, Arundhati Roy, Agatha Christie, The Thousand and One Nights. They wouldn’t want to leave, he reasoned, and miss what happened next.

Soon he brought a cot downstairs and only went up to the kitchen or bathroom for need. Munching a watercress sandwich and sipping tea, he tapped his foot and worried his sweater hem with a gaunt hand. There was still enough pension money in his jar under the floorboards; he had time yet before he’d have to stock books or soup tins again.

One Thursday he’d nodded off in an armchair near the potbelly, dreaming about clocks and crackers with brie, and jumped awake at the doorbell. Squinting through curtains, he saw a fellow with Dad’s stubble and pouchy neck, in a plaid coat with sleeves too short and collar too long for this century. If Dad hadn’t been buried six years... He opened the door and stuck his face in the gap with a foot wedged behind, ready to shove it to. But it was only a subscription salesman. He watched the man slouch away toward the next house, almost wishing that paunch had shaken with Dad’s guttural sawing laugh.

Not long after, the unthinkable happened. Back from the grocer, he was putting away the biscuits and cream when he heard a crash and tinkling sounds. He ran downstairs to find Grimalkin licking his front paw nonchalantly in the corner. And glass shards and bits of shredded cardboard all over the rug. The room shrank around him as the seconds flew upstairs, flowed through gaps in the moulding and into the damp sky, seeking lost context. He sank to the floor, vision gone gray. The words of the last chapter he’d read to them buzzed in his ears. And the sickening slap of Grimalkin’s tongue, licking over and over the bloody paw.

 
See below scenes from our writing retreat in France. Next Spring Writing Retreat will be in March 27 - April 2. Only three places left.

 

Frances Pamley was a finalist in the flash fiction category with her story, Less Than A Second.


From Bristol, England and mother of five children, Frances, 60, earns her living in the software field, developing business-to-business phone apps in her family’s business.

She has also written software for the British National Health Service, worked with ‘at risk’ children, been a singer/songwriter and music teacher, and specialised in children’s books at Waterstones bookstore.


I heard I was a finalist the night before travelling to my Open University graduation ceremony for a Creative Writing MA,” she said. “Needless to say, it was a great confidence booster to see all that theory work out in practice. It puts all my unsuccessful submissions in the past into a more positive light and gives me courage for the future. Thank you.”


Where did your story idea originate?

This year I have been inspired to write about climate change, particularly bringing it into everyday conversations,” she said. “In ‘Less Than A Second,’ I wanted to contrast the passage of time for a piece of plastic with the lifespan of a human, focussing on a second, a minute, an hour, and then panning out, like a camera, to cover longer periods – a week, a season, a year.


Describe the editing process involved in your story.

My writing process always involves a lot of editing in first draft and I use strategies such as recording myself reading out loud and editing on difference devices to get perspective for second and third drafts,” she said. “I am also fortunate to be able to exchange work with some of my fellow alumni (including WAWA co-finalist, Christine Colliar) and made use of comments from a forum set up during lockdown to deepen my descriptions and consider my use of similes. My biggest challenge was to be realistic without getting bogged down in research. ‘Less Than A Second’ was my first title. I tried a few different ones before coming back to it as it linked the subject of time to how such a small act could have such a lasting impact.


Less Than A Second

by Frances Pamley

It took less than a second to drop the wrapper, although the sweet, sucked and then crunched, stayed in my mouth for five minutes more.

After about fifteen seconds the wind scooped it up, tossing it hand-to-hand like a bowler considering how best to approach the crease. I lost sight after that, never giving it another thought as I embarked on my years as an emerging adult, exams and interviews, friendships and early sexual encounters.

This wrapper, though, this little twist of metallised plastic film didn’t need my attention. It zigzagged into the sky and was snapped up by a magpie who carried it in their beak for about five minutes before dropping it into their nest. Two hours later the no-longer-shiny trinket was discarded to lie on the naked brown earth, corralled between the roots of a hedge.

A week later, as winter warmed into spring, an earthworm tried to wriggle across the wrinkles but gave up and burrowed beneath instead. Three hours later a baby slug, sensing the possibility of food, climbed into the deep bowl of crinkled plastic and, unable to get back out, died. Through the summer, sweet wrapper and dead slug were parched, rained on, sniffed at, nibbled and buffeted around like a ball bouncing lazily off the bumpers in a pinball machine. By the time September arrived the slug had gone and, by October, the wrapper was covered with soggy yellow and brown leaves that bound themselves together, creating a patchwork quilt for a sleepy hedgehog. Drowsy and preparing to fast until spring, it found the scent of slug and sweet irresistible. After an exploratory lick, the hedgehog drew the delicious morsel into its mouth.

And there it stayed while I sang carols at school and Auld Lang Syne with my family. It was not frozen by February frosts because it was still lodged in the hedgehog’s diminishing gullet but, by March, the maggots and decay had finished their feast and, freed, the wrapper was whipped away by the wind.

A year later I left home. My flatmates and I demanded a better world – a habitable one with a future. The sweet wrapper spent that year on sun-kissed beaches, travelling between bays, coves and islands while leaving a little of itself behind in the stomach of a fish or the crevasse of a rock or trapped in a rarely submerged rockpool.

After five years I moved into my own home and started a family. The wrapper moved too, widening the reach of its own family whose smaller and smaller particles dispersed themselves, further and further away on the tides, winds, rivers and ocean streams.

I stopped moving sixty years later and was buried, according to my wishes, in a wicker coffin where my flesh decomposed and my bones crumbled. The sweet wrapper, however, still travels the world and will continue tomorrow and the day after and every day after that.

Margaret O’Doherty was a finalist in the creative non-fiction category with her story Father's Time.’


A pharmacist from the Fanad peninsula in Donegal, northwestern Ireland, Margaret was emotional about being selected as a finalist as the news coincided with the 25th anniversary of her father’s death.


I still find it hard to believe that I am a finalist,” she said. “There is such a high standard with so many entries from all over the world that I never expected to be among them. I keep looking at the certificate to make sure there wasn’t some mistake. I have entered the fiction competition several times but this is my first entry in the creative non-fiction so it sometimes pays to try something different.


Where did your story idea originate?

I had written a memory piece about my father some years ago that included something on the theme of time so went back to it for the basis of this story,” she said. “It was a lot longer so I tried cutting parts out but that left it so disjointed that I started afresh, keeping some lines and images from the original.


Describe the editing process involved in your story.

It took three or four revisions over about a month with some feedback from my writing group before I thought it good enough to enter,” she said. “I find it hard to come up with titles for my stories and this was no exception. The original story had no title. At some point during the revision process I called it ‘Father Time’ as a play on our personification of time as masculine and paternal, in contrast to nature which is feminine and maternal in Mother Nature. At the last minute as usual, I thought of adding the apostrophe ‘s to make it ‘Father’s Time’ which I felt was more personal and hopefully more original.”


Margaret, who writes with the Diamond Writers and a Monday Zoom group, has had previous work published in various magazines including Ireland’s Own, Woman’s Way, Little Gems and several anthologies. She also won prizes in the Read DL Creative Writing Competition, the Frances Browne Bicentennial Competition and the Ireland’s Own Writing Competition.


I have been on the ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ email list for a long time and always enjoy reading the winners and finalists and try to learn from how they handle the themes within a tight word count.


Father’s Time

by Margaret O’Doherty

My father had an industrious nature. On his small farm he kept animals, milked cows and grew all our own potatoes and vegetables. He also ran a general grocery store and petrol pumps where the idea of a closing time had never caught on – if there was a light on people called in. He could fix anything - engines, punctures or a doll’s broken arm. In those days everything had to be fixed for replacements were usually beyond reach.

After he had completed his day’s physical work he sat down, not to relax but to exercise his brain. He read the newspaper and did the crossword, leafing through a huge dictionary to find any word he did not know and adding it to his vast store of self-taught knowledge.

Then he would head out to what my mother called his “public life”, taking part in a myriad of community activities. He was on the committee of every local organisation. He was on the parents’ committee that obtained funding for new school facilities. He took part in organising every annual festival from the first right up to his death. He was the treasurer of the local Development Association, a responsible and time-consuming job.

He was one of the people involved in getting a Community Centre built and was a trustee. Every Monday night he was there checking bingo numbers and on Friday he was back to work in the mineral bar at the teenage no-alcohol disco. He was on the Care of the Aged committee even when most of the aged to be cared for were younger than him.

In summary, and the above is only a brief summary, he was the embodiment of the expression, “if you want something done ask a busy man.” Despite this incredible workload there was none of the frazzled rushing about that characterises our own busy lives. He recognised its counter-productiveness with one of his favourite expressions, “More haste, less speed.” He always seemed to have plenty of time. Time to look at a beautiful sunset, an unusual sky or a stormy sea. Time to observe nature. Time for a daily swim in summer, even though it was the busiest time of the year. Time to stop for a prayer when he passed the chapel. Time to go to the mart even if he wasn’t buying or selling. Time for a cup of tea whenever anyone called. If they protested that they “hadn’t time” he would answer, “The Man made Time made plenty of it,” or in his later years, “There will be Time when we are all dead,” and the only possible response was to join him.

How did he have so much time? I’m sure he would smile at my attempts to adopt yet another time-management technique, for he never had a ‘to-do’ list and never wrote down an appointment. Instead of being like him, I rush around for I am trying to make up for lost time.


Patricia Harrison was a finalist in the creative non-fiction category with her story Whispers in the Undergrowth.


A musician who studied at The Royal Academy of Music in England and was an organist, recitalist, church organist and teacher, Patricia from Croydon, South London, says proudly she is, “69 going on 6.”


Having lived for ten years in France and Switzerland, she is now retired and enjoying gardening on her allotment, reading, writing and going to operas, films, concerts and plays.


After learning about WAWA from previous winner and writing group colleague, Jacquie Palmer, she said, “I was attracted to the subject of ‘time’ and as I have spent the last seven years writing my memoirs, the ‘non-fiction’ aspect was important. I am thrilled and overjoyed to be a finalist. And so happy to present a story near to my heart and have it appreciated. It has given me a big boost of confidence and courage to try again.


Where did your story idea originate?

I first wrote it ten years ago as part of a creative writing class, based on a true story,” she said. “It was one of those stories that fell out of the sky and landed in my head already written. Over two years, the piece became longer, over a thousand words, so for this competition I used a shorter version.


Describe the editing process involved in your story.

The challenge was to reduce my original story to five hundred words, which really concentrates the mind to the essentials,” Patricia said. “I cut, cut, cut for a week and was more pleased with the final version as it was tighter, concise and had a better flow. The most difficult challenge was the title which was originally ‘Jean.’ I knew I had to do better. It took me weeks and sleepless nights. I was thinking of the ‘watch’ and ‘ticking’ and ‘time.’ Then the word ‘undergrowth’ emerged and I popped that into the text when Jean found the watch. As the story is all about secrets, the word ‘whispers’ emerged too.


Whispers in the undergrowth

by Patricia Harrison

Jean. I remember Jean. She always said ‘shoppin’. Jean said ‘shoppin’ because she came from Lewisham. That’s what Dad said. Nobody in our family said ‘shoppin’ because we lived in a very big house in Surrey. We only said ‘shoppin’ when copying Jean.

Every time Dad went out to buy something he would say, “I’m going out now to do some shoppin’.” And he would laugh.

“Do you know who says that, Tish?”

I would giggle, “Jean.”

“Well done. You’re right. It’s Jean.”

There were lots of jokes about Jean, not nasty jokes but funny jokes that Dad would repeat with a twinkle in his eye. ‘Do you know about the time when Jean was trying to remove burnt food off a saucepan?”

“No. What happened?” I would ask.

“Well, I told her she must use more elbow grease. She went to the ironmongers’ and asked for a tin of elbow grease!” He would laugh that funny laugh of squeezing air out of his nose through the sinuses. It sounded like the creaking and squeaking of an un-oiled door.

We could always touch and smell Jean’s warmth through language and laughter.

Jean worked for my father who ran a mail order advertising company, called British International Addressing. In those days, in the 50s, you addressed lots of envelopes. Jean addressed envelopes in that big international office in Cannon Street.

Jean was always in our house. For eight years she was in our house. She was part of our lives blending in like flour in a roux sauce, no lumps, seamless, smooth. She shared our holidays abroad.

One day we were walking through a forest. Jean suddenly stooped down towards the undergrowth: “I’ve found a gold watch,” she shouted in amazement. “I shall keep that watch for the rest of my life and every time I look at it, I shall think of you and treasure it,” Jean said that to all of us.

Jean lived in Lewisham, she addressed envelopes and she found gold watches. Jean was amazing.

One morning a few years later, Mother came out of her bedroom. She had funny eye lids: all puffy like tiny little red bubbles. Rubbery. The eye lids remained like that all day but nobody talked about it. Then I noticed that Jean stopped coming to the house. She stopped addressing envelopes and had a baby and got married instead or was it the other way round? I can’t remember.

I watched Jean suckling her baby Susan, I’d never seen a bare breast before because my parents were always clothed. Everything in our house was clothed: everything that was said or happened was clothed.

Our family visited them every year on Christmas Eve: that was Susan’s birthday. Mum didn’t come as she had to cook the dinner or so Dad always said.

Whispers in the undergrowth, long ago. Back in the time when we had ironmongers and people addressed lots of envelopes and wives often had funny red rubbery eye lids.

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