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Giant Furry Hamster And Catastrophic Earthquake, Contrasting Themes Of WAWA Winners

Two women in southern England - Emma Frances Simpson and Annie Percik - emerged as winners of the latest ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ (WAWA) on the theme of ‘Hope,’ one a former air traffic controller and the other an editor hosting a teddy bear blog.

Emma’s winning story, ‘Rubble,’ in WAWA’s creative nonfiction category emerged after her husband became involved in international search and rescue work after the catastrophic earthquake in Turkey earlier this year that killed around 60,000 people.

Now living in Surrey, Emma gave up her 20-year career in aviation to become a life coach and described her winning story as “an extraordinary juxtaposition of the day-to-day of managing two daughters at home while in Turkey they were pulling survivors out of the rubble.”

She added, “The craziness of daily modern life ‘stresses’ of bills, parenting, work etc contrasted with people whose entire lives had been obliterated. Though proud of the work my husband was doing, I feared for his safety but also held a desperate wish that the rescues would continue. The horror, sadness, helplessness, exhilaration, and most of all hope of their situation, inspired me to put pen to paper. The fact that the WAWA theme was ‘Hope’ was exactly the right fit with my husband doing humanitarian work for which hope is an essential part.”

Emma, aged 51, whose parents are from Offaly in Ireland, took up creative writing as part of her own healing process after becoming unwell following the tragic death of her brother. “My writing is also important for me to help others know they are never alone in their moments of darkness, that they will again experience light and laughter, however unlikely that may seem,” she said. “I am fascinated by people – by what we experience and the capacity of our emotions; our strength, resilience, curiosity and sense of adventure, as well as how we thrive and where we struggle and what and whom we turn to for survival and hope.”

Emma is also an avid sea swimmer and has just completed her first book, ‘Breaking Waves,’ part memoir, part collection of oral histories connecting women from around the world and focusing on the primal powers of femininity and water. “My book intertwines my story with those of women I’ve interviewed from Fiji to Finland, with tales originating in the Arctic Ocean, tropical islands and, of course, the Wild Atlantic.”

Her second book focuses on journeys from Ireland to India “exploring tales of my heritage as told to me by my mother, reflecting on the symbolism and ritual of tea in shared storytelling.”

Describing the writing process involved in completing ‘Rubble,’ Emma said, “The challenge was conveying in less than five hundred words what felt like a dichotomy - the peculiarity of fear for the family left at home and the enormity of the humanitarian issue.”

Emma originally chose ‘Hope’ as the title of her story but said, “Having re-read it, ‘Rubble’ felt like the representation of a whole heap of emotions and broken lives but also the blocks to start building again.”

As for being named a WAWA winner, “I literally jumped around the garden in excitement, I could not believe it. I was overjoyed,” she said.


by Emma Frances Simpson

I ponder where we might go for my birthday lunch, anticipating the possibility of a cup of tea in bed. I wonder if it’s in my favourite cup as he comes up the stairs.

“I’m going to Turkey,” he says, empty-handed, “There’s been an earthquake.”

“Oh,” I muster. I haven’t seen the news. An hour later he’s gone.

I cancel his 11am dentist’s appointment.

I follow his location on our family app as direct communication dwindles. Two days after he leaves, I find myself in bed scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. Six hours pass and I haven’t moved. Then a text message: ‘feeling good,’ alongside the grumpiest pic ever. ‘Tell your face, babe.’ He sends pictures of rubble and rescues. I send screenshots of the rugby results. I make myself go out for a run and find a café. I order a fish-finger sandwich. Simple, hot, fresh. It burns my mouth. I wonder when he will next eat something hot, whether they have tea. My Desert Island Discs luxury item would be tea. One of my friends said theirs would be my husband. Genius.

By day six, the fatigue at home, the suppressed worry and single parenting (which I cannot voice as it pales into insignificance alongside what’s happening out there) takes hold. Crisp sandwiches for dinner. This turns into a highly entertaining Facebook discussion as to the optimum crisp sandwich composition. (Overwhelmingly salt & vinegar, real butter and white bread). I feel less lonely and afraid.

We finally get to speak – I want to know everything, all of it. We don’t talk about the bodies, the ‘almosts.’ When I feel I’m losing him to the despairing sounds of silence, thoughts of cadaver dogs busy and frenzied whilst the rescue dogs find nothing, I bring him back to camp – ‘tell me about camp.’ There’s a first-aid tent for dogs - Colin the Collie receives treatment after injuring his paw on some rubble. Every rescue team is exactly like his own, just from somewhere else. The professionalism, integrity and camaraderie bring the most life affirming moments, amidst the horror. The Finnish team have a sauna, the Italians a pasta-maker, and won’t start the day until after coffee and a cigarette. The team from China have a cooking station with woks constantly on the go. I’ve entered a 70s British sitcom script. The Brits have ration packs and a hot tent shower. They swap food to break up the monotony – today he received a coffee waffle and frankfurter bun from the Dutch in exchange for ‘Biscuit Browns.’ I can’t help but feel the Dutch have been short-changed.

Yesterday they rescued a young lad after 128 hours. He survived as he was trapped alongside a stocked fridge. They get a call - there’s a possibility of rescuing seven more live casualties from the remains of a sports hall. It has been over 170 hours, the odds are against them, but whilst the calls come in, there is still…hope.

Novelist, editor, blogger and podcaster living in London, Annie, 45, won the WAWA flash fiction category with her story, ‘‘The Outer Shell,’ a touching tale set at a theme park.

Her projects as a freelance editor and proofreader range from children’s fantasy novels to business manuals "and everything in between." She also hosts a media review podcast with her husband and reviews entertainment. In addition, she also posts photo stories about a teddy bear called Aloysius.

When not working or writing, Annie likes to read, knit and do a lot of walking. She is also keen on baking, sugar free cookies being one of her specialties.

Describing the origins of her WAWA story, she said, “I know a lot of people are struggling with a great many issues in their lives at the moment, so I liked the idea of showing that even someone in despair could offer joy to a stranger and, in doing so, renew hope for themselves.”

Annie, whose novels include ‘The Defiant Spark’ and ‘A Spectrum of Heroes,’ completed her flash fiction story quickly. “It came out pretty much in one go, with only a few tweaks required once I had the concept. From initially deciding to enter the competition to having a completed story was probably less than a week.”

After reading about WAWA in ‘Writing Magazine,’ Annie said she “loved the fact that it had such a simple and yet incredibly rich theme which could be interpreted in countless ways, though the biggest challenge was finding a way to incorporate the theme with just the one mention and make it not feel contrived.” (competition rules meant the word ‘hope’ could only be used once).

As for the story’s title, “I always come up with the title last and I don't remember having any different ideas for this one than the one it ended up with,” she said.

Her feelings upon learning she was the competition winner? “It’s a really fantastic feeling to know my words struck a chord.”

The Outer Shell

by Annie Percik

Jeremy slumped on the bench. The sun was strong and there was no shade to be found. All he wanted was to find a bar and enjoy a cold beer. Or five. He squinted up at the ornate clock face on the tower of the fake Tudor building opposite. Four more hours until he could get out of this awful heat.

A colourful bus pulled up in front of him. Its open upper level was full of laughing people, pointing things out to each other and snapping pictures. Jeremy sighed. Had he ever looked at this place with such enthusiasm? He couldn’t remember. Now all it represented was a depressing dead end to the painful journey of his life to date.

A woman and a little girl climbed down the spiral staircase at the back of the bus. The woman stepped down and turned to swing the girl down to join her. The little girl squealed in delight, her face glowing with happiness. They wore matching t-shirts with the park logo in sparkling white on an offensively pink background. The little girl’s eyes landed on Jeremy and widened.

“Mummy! Look! It’s Harold Hamster!” She bounded forwards, pulling on the woman’s arm. “Can we go and say hello?”

The woman looked Jeremy up and down. Her eyebrows drew downwards and she held the girl back. “I’m not sure Harold wants to be disturbed right now. Why don’t we go get ice cream and maybe we can find one of the other characters to say hello to.”

The little girl was still trying to pull the woman in Jeremy’s direction. “But Mummy! Harold’s my favourite!” Her excited smile started to fade as the woman stood her ground.

The bus pulled away behind them, bringing the fake Tudor building back into view. It had a giant mirror in the place of one of its large windows.

Jeremy saw a giant, furry hamster sitting on a bench. The creature’s eyes were huge and its cheeks were puffed out either side of a wide grin. Its posture on the bench, however, was in stark contrast to its friendly, welcoming expression. It was half-reclining, legs splayed apart and arms akimbo in a way that suggested boredom at best, dissolution at worst. If Jeremy had a kid, he wouldn’t want them going anywhere near that hamster, either.

He looked back over to the little girl. She hung her head and started to turn away, her whole body exuding disappointment. A pang of guilt and sadness shot through Jeremy. What was he doing?

Gathering all his remaining energy, he bounced up from the bench and waved enthusiastically in the little girl’s direction. She caught the movement out of the corner of her eye and the light returned to her eyes.

As she pulled free from her mother and ran to hug him, Jeremy’s face broke into a wide smile, matching the one on his costume’s face. Perhaps the theme park wasn’t such a bad place after all.


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