As many of you may be working hard to perfect your stories for our latest writing competition, the seventh edition of WAWA on the theme of 'Hope', we are delighted to highlight four more finalists and their stories in our ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ (WAWA) competition on the theme of ‘Time.’
Having lived in far-flung places - the UK, South Africa and Australia - Jessica Sinclair, 53, now working in IT and Office Management, was a finalist in the creative non-fiction category.
“Having lived on three continents and travelled vastly, I find my writing is mostly non-fiction, based around my own experiences or those of my family, and based on real events,” she said.
No surprise then that Jessica’s story, ‘Pursuit of the Black Line,’ focuses on a shared family experience - swimming.
“My children, Joe and Holly, were highly competitive swimmers and for ten years a stringent routine dominated our lives, binding us to time, as a parent and a swimmer. Writing my story stirred up many emotions of experiencing my children’s successes and disappointments, as well as reliving my own emotions as an invested spectator in the stands.”
Her biggest challenge? “Cutting it down to 500 words while keeping it engaging… the words literally spilled out of me.”
Sharing her stories with her daughter during Covid lockdown, Jessica was delighted to be a finalist, “I feel extremely grateful to have my story recognised by WAWA judges, it means so much to share my family experience through a small insight into the world of a swimmer and the dedication required in the pursuit of success, measured by fractions of time. It felt very rewarding to have my writing acknowledged and to finally have my name appear in print on the internet.”
Pursuit of the Black Line
by Jessica Sinclair
brrring… rudely jolted awake by the shrill sound of my alarm.
Fumbling in the dark to grasp my watch that had fallen down the crack by my bed… oh, for God’s sake, where’s that stupid button?
At last, silence, the stillness of night engulfing me once again. As my heavy lids threaten to succumb, I become aware of the clock on the wall… tick… tock. I throw back the covers, one leg hanging off the side of my snug lair, the cold air circling my toes, tingling my senses.
3.50 am; my body goes through the motions of getting dressed, brain barely engaged. Clothes cleverly laid out the night before to minimise the thought process of my regular routine.
Staring blankly at the kitchen wall, I spoon tasteless muesli past my lips. Needing the fuel, I encourage myself to finish the bowl as I take a swig of hot tea to wash it down.
Half an hour passes and I’m ready to embark on my well-rehearsed route, now mentally awake and capable of dodging late-night revellers passing me on their way home in the early hours.
5.00 am, my warm shroud is again removed. Half-naked, with a shiver, I take a deep breath, piercing the cool, familiar blue water with precision and purpose. My body slides gracefully through the pool on autopilot.
My coach hollers, “Going Red Top….” The big red hand on the pool clock glides effortlessly around. I am bound to it. Keeping pace, it owns me. My purpose lies in the pursuit of the black line, in a race against the clock. My success is measured by my time, how fast I can be.
‘Work your turns… streamline,’ I hear my coach’s words echoing in my head as I tumble and push off the wall. It was a harsh reality, black and white. I had missed a gold medal by 100th of a second. There were no second chances. It had to be perfect.
My heart was thumping, adrenalin surging through me, a tight knot in my stomach. My name resounded over the loudspeaker, Lane 5. ‘Come on Jack, you can do this,’ I thought to myself mounting the block confidently, glancing fleetingly at my main competitor in Lane 4. Muscles taut, head down, feet steady. I felt prepared.
Under starters orders…. bang. Clock ticking. Time was everything. Streamline, first turn, head neutral, eyes focused down on the black line.
Time stood still. Oblivious to the supporters cheering and whistling over the loud music, head barely leaving the water, my world was silent. Shoulders burning as my body strived to maximise every muscle, unconscious of the actual time, concentrating only on that final touch.
As my head surfaced, came the deafening sound of the crowd. I strained my eyes towards the timing board…. a feeling of nausea overwhelming me as I searched for the official time against my name.
I had done it. Smashed my personal best by two seconds. I had won. Tomorrow I would go faster.
Dublin-born Donal Flynn who only started writing two years ago after taking a six-week online course was also a finalist in the creative non-fiction category.
The idea for his story, ‘Flicker,’ he said, emerged after a sudden blackout in his home and harkened back to a time when technology was not so widespread and how life has been deeply affected by its overwhelming expansion.
“I chose the title because it felt like a brief flickering glimpse at the past from a present day perspective and it played on the theme of the flame of candlelight,” he said.
It was Donal’s first attempt at writing to a word limit. “Five hundred words seems like a lot but when you get going the space fills up fast, every single word starts to count.”
Donal revised his story many times over a month but his experience as an artist helped him in the editing process, “I like to let a story sit and stew for a while and found coming back with new eyes helped me see what needed improving and what needed removing.”
As to his response after hearing he was a finalist, “Total surprise, that initial rush of unbelieving before you see your name is wonderful. This has given me much needed confidence and motivation to keep writing.”
by Donal Flynn
Toxos took aim at the ancient crypt wall as the other tribals anxiously waited with their recurve bows at the ready. The wall crumbled as the horrors within awoke from their eternal slumber and … my computer screen went blank. Darkness enshrouded my bedroom and the energy waves riding the cable, providing my entertainment, ceased. Left in pitch blackness my vision relied on only the dim illumination of the celestial bodies above which glinted faintly through my bedroom window. The blackout was widespread.
Confusion set in from the absence of light while I searched my desk, clumsily knocking unseen objects, before the darkness harnessed my other senses. Rather than panic, feelings of enjoyment and curiosity wrapped around me in the search of my phone. Apparitions moulded shadows from objects into monsters as the tunnel of light from my phone manifested itself in the surrounding darkness.
I made my way carefully downstairs to where my parents were clumsily lighting candles in the dining room. The recent Christmas celebrations had left a myriad of ornamental candles strewn upon every available surface and my father cursed their quality, candles never meant to provide any meaningful light. My mother returned with suitable candles and I lit one from another.
The lack of technology was strange, almost alien, and I pondered what to do. What had people, with only candles and time, done in the past? When my sister arrived to gather at the light, I jested to her that we should tell ghost stories, half joking, but half wondering if that would be entertaining or, more importantly, if I could even tell one.
The richness of dancing, singing, poetry, and storytelling, all but forgotten arts in the household. Customs of past generations lost in time for the progress of technology. While we huddled around the light, a feeling of morose reached out from the darkness to me, that light, or lack thereof, had brought us all together from our isolating rooms only to yield no sense of wonder. We each took a candle and I lamented our parting into darkened isolation once again.
The pitter-patter of rain and nervous flickering of the candles’ flame were all that I heard from my bedroom as I wrote by candlelight. Stories formed in my mind like shadows dancing in the light while I sat and awaited the powers return. I thought of generations past and envied them for their sociability, their family connection, and their ability to entertain themselves and others. Though not for their lack of indoor plumbing and heating, I must admit.
Have banter and light been replaced with something unintelligent and dead… phones, computer screens, television? Objects that tell us stories rather than us telling our own, that demand attention infinitely. I can only imagine what past generations enjoyed, my time by candlelight was but a glimpse. The power soon retuned and the candle-light suffocated under fluorescent bulbs, screens lit up like horrors awakening from slumber, and I was returned to darkness once more.
Retailer, bar tender, salesperson, farm-hand, postman…Daire O’Mahony, 30, a finalist in the creative non-fiction category is a classic jack of all trades.
From Cork in Ireland, Daire and his wife moved during Covid to what he terms the “spacious country life” of Tipperary, initially for a few weeks, but has now been there more than two years.
His story, ‘Never Mind,’ is a witty reflection on the notion of free time.
“The inspiration came from those moments of freedom between the busy jobs of the day, a feeling we’ve all had at some point,” he explained. “One job ends and another isn’t due to begin for an hour and you can guilt-free indulge in a hobby. The only problem is you have too many options and usually end up frozen in indecision, wasting time away on your phone. A strange moment in time.”
Daire said his varied professional background helps him write. “I’ve spent much of my life learning about people, their day-to-day troubles and motivations,” he said. “Though I’ve always been creative - and have many an unfinished hobby to prove it - I’ve always had a special place in my heart for writing and I think my history of working with the public has fuelled this.”
As to his story’s title: “I had originally thought something like ‘Cuppa Time’ or ‘Time Slipping’ but I feel ‘Never Mind’ is the exact thing one might say as the hour drifts away and your jobs start again.”
As for being named a finalist: “I was flabbergasted, ecstatic, but mostly I’m delighted to write something readers enjoy.”
by Daire O’Mahony
I stand here in my kitchen. The counters are clean and shining. The dishwasher hums away to itself and the floor is swept and mopped. It’s mid-morning, the stars have aligned, and I’ve an hour free to myself.
What am I going to do?
It’s thoroughly strange really. I’ve been itching for free time, yearning to get to work on any one of my hobbies and yet, here I stand, kids away in school, wife away in work, cleaning done and not a notion of what to do.
An hour is one of those wonderful time periods that allows you do anything, but also nothing. It is great for getting a job done. One could head to the shop and get the messages, fix that plug that the wife has been asking me to fix for the last two weeks, do more cleaning that I could just leave till tomorrow or simply take a nap. Plenty of perfectly reasonable adulty things to do, however, not things I even remotely want to do. Except maybe the nap, that’s still on the cards.
No! I’ll spend this time, just under an hour now, on a hobby!
But… which one?
I could go do some gardening? Though the set up and clean up times for that alone would eat away most of the actual doing time and it could end up just seeming like another chore.
How about a spot of reading? Ah, I’ve nothing started and if I start something new, I’d have to stop nearly an hour in and I wouldn’t get the good of it.
Work on my model planes? That sounds good, but there’s the question then of do I start building new ones or do I paint already built ones or do I continue some that I’ve been leaving off? By the time I’d decided that I’d say I’d be out of time.
Writing? Hah, who does that?
I know! I’ll do some baking! Bake a few cookies for the lads, I’d be a hero when they came home. Ok so, I’ll look up some recipes and… we have no eggs. Typical.
Why is it so hard to decide what to do!?
Right! I’ll watch an episode of that show I’ve been meaning to watch, you know, with the people and the things. With your man in it? Ah, anyway, I’ll put that on… although… they’re hour-long episodes and I’ve not even a half hour left now. Where’d that go? If I’d had my head even half way right, I’d have thought of that show now a half hour ago and I’d be sitting happy with a cup and a biscuit.
Ah sure, I guess I’ve learned one thing today anyway. One needs to plan their spontaneous free time well in advance!
Oh well, never mind, I think I have just about enough time for a cup of tea.
A first-time entry in any creative writing competition, Ireland-born Sinead Kelleher, 41, was one of the finalists in the flash fiction category.
From the town of Kilgarvan in Kerry, Sinead now live in Tralee where she is a journalist for ‘The Kerryman’ newspaper. “Though I write every day for a living, fictional writing is completely different,” she said.
Interestingly, Sinead wrote her story. ‘The Test,’ in longhand before typing it, saying “the story changed as it went along.’
She added, “The idea came from everyone talking about Covid tests and dreading the result of such a test, so I built my story around that.”
The most challenging part, she said, “was making the story flow and trying to ensure the reader was enthralled enough to keep reading. I wanted to grip readers to the end so the twist was an important part. I found it quite difficult to come up with a catchy name so I went for something simple.”
As for her reaction in being named a finalist, “ I got such a shock. I never thought my fiction writing would be good enough to be chosen from hundreds of entries. It has given me confidence to enter more competitions and maybe someday write a novel.”
by Sinead Kelleher
She sat on the floor hugging her knees to her chest trying not to think. The test sat on the countertop out of her line of vision.
20 minutes, that is all the time it took, 20 minutes and her life could be changed forever, 20 minutes and she would have to explain it all.
Emer had read the instructions carefully as if reading them carefully would change anything. 20 minutes time and her life could be changed irrevocably.
Paul would be home soon, his life changed too, by the result on the counter, although probably not as much.
She had been careful, very careful, but it looked like it was not enough.
Why had she gone to that party? Dear God, why?
She knew why, she just wanted to have some fun for a while, forget that life was so hard right now, that her and Paul were in trouble.
She loved Paul, she did, just not as much as she used to, all his annoying traits had come to the surface in the last few months, maybe they were always there but, now the shine has been eroded, his faults were all she could see.
Emer knew she shouldn’t have talked to Thomas at the party, but he was there, looking handsome and more importantly, a shoulder to lean on.
Thomas was a friend, a good friend, and the fact he was so good looking made him hard to resist to most women. She thought she was not most women, but when he put his arm around her, she realised she was the same as all the others.
She glanced at the phone on the ground beside her. Only five minutes had passed, it was too soon.
She willed herself to stay sitting on the ground wrapping her arms around her knees even tighter and telling herself it would all be okay.
Why is that time went so slowly when you wanted it to pass, yet so fast when life was so good.
10 minutes to go and she would know one way or the other.
Emer knew she had decisions to make either way, no matter what the result, but the result was important, very important.
It was hard not to look, to take a sneaky peak to see. She knew that Paul would be angry, but she hoped he would understand, that these things happen.
Five minutes, just five minutes and she would know. She took a deep breath. She would tell Paul first, obviously, but her Mom would need to know too.
Now the minutes seemed to be moving faster. She had to stay calm no matter what the result.
No red line, she was negative. She had escaped this time. Paul didn’t need to know.
She was safe for now, they were safe, but for how long, how long before they too got a red line - a positive result.
Covid was everywhere it was impossible to avoid forever.