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Midwife, lecturer, charity volunteer and pharmacist - all WAWA finalists

A former midwife living in the Canary Islands paralysed after an accident, a charity volunteer and candidate for local elections from just outside London, a university lecturer in life sciences from Dublin and a pharmacist from Donegal were among the finalists in our recent ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ (WAWA) competition on the theme of ‘change.’

Kate Harmond

Paralysed after an accident, former nurse and midwife, Kate Harmond, wrote about her feelings following the trauma and was named a finalist in the non-fiction category of our recent ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ (WAWA) competition on the theme of ‘Change.’ 

“I wanted to share my experiences about such a dramatic change in circumstances that left me paralysed and dependent on the kindness and care of family, friends and professionals,” said Kate. “Confined to bed, I had the time and opportunity to reflect on what really matters to people when they are labelled as patients.”

Kate, who worked for the National Health Service in England and emigrated with her husband, Jay, to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands five years ago, said her ‘salvation’ was her physiotherapist, Carolina, whom she said, “gave me hope after medical staff had written me off. With her positive attitude and confidence in my ability to take back control of my body, I made a full recovery.”

She revised her story, entitled ‘Patient,’ many times, making changes with the help of several writer friends. “The most important shift for me was moving the scene from the past to the present tense. I also thought it essential to submit my work to critics who weren’t afraid to say what worked well and what could be improved. Your loved ones will tell you that everything you do is brilliant.”

As for the title, Kate said she chose it because ‘patient’ can be a noun or an adjective. “I enjoy ambiguity in reading and writing.”

Kate is now working on a book about her career, using real life stories that helped shape her perspective on what healthcare means and what happens when things go badly wrong. 


by Kate Harmond

Two months after the accident, I was transported home. My memories of flashing lights, cavernous machines and frenzied activity in the emergency department are blurred.

Each dreamy, uneventful day drifts away. No pain, no rage, just numb disbelief. Acceptance may follow. 

My room, designed with love, feels cramped and congested with ugly clutter. A solid blue commode, the clumsy walking frame, a scaffold-like hoist - unwelcome intruders. Plastic disposables are stacked in every corner. The air is refreshed and scented with artificial lemon. Chemically enriched drinks, my go-to diet, are lurid pink or pale chocolate. A sparkling bathroom, recently installed, admits the light at an unfamiliar angle. The bedpan, a dull olive green, squats on the toilet lid, its easy-grip handle jutting towards me. The neglected wardrobe looks reproachful, my vibrant clothes imprisoned behind its robust wooden doors. I too am trapped, motionless, in beige cotton pyjamas. 

At regular intervals, I am turned. Propped up, I can see through the window. The jaunty pot plants wave back in a breeze I cannot feel. Itinerant feral cats acquire nicknames and elaborate family histories they will never know. A bold, greedy sparrow, a regular visitor, becomes my friend.The mosaic pot, keeper of precious rings, now too loose for my fingers, wears a light coat of dust. One night I dream that I am standing there, rooting through a tangle of discarded jewellery. My cheeks are damp with tears.

For weeks I have ducked the physiotherapy option. I am sick of being pushed and prodded, positioned and poked. Sick of being grateful. Sick of being passive. Sick of being A Patient. 

The prospect of negotiating with yet another professional, especially some sporty type with a shaved head and a hearty can-do attitude, drains me. 

I am absolutely fine on my own with Radio Four, thank you very much.


Carolina is tall and young and skinny, with lush Latin hair. Despite the face mask, I know she has a warm smile. I’ve learned to recognise kind eyes. She speaks a little English. 

“Buenas tardes.”

She bends down, her face close to my pillow. Carolina smells of fresh air. I haven’t been outside in ages. 

“We will work together. To help you move.”Carolina holds my hands. I hold my breath. Her firm touch is warm and supportive. I breathe again. I feel safe.

“Now your legs.”She raises my knee.“Push your foot against my hand. Harder!”We repeat these micro-exercises. I contribute little to the session. Holding a tissue box with two hands is tricky. Raising myself on to my elbows is a challenge too far. “¿Qué quieres? What do you want?”

No-one has asked me that before. I have to swallow hard before I can answer. 

“I want to walk again.”

“No hay problema.”

The farm donkey lets out a prolonged bray. Its echo sets the hunting dogs barking. 

Carolina and I laugh together.

The oppressive atmosphere shifts a fraction. 

A tiny shaft of optimism has penetrated the thick white walls. 

Fiona Dignan

“Absolutely delighted, do-a-little-dance-round-the-kitchen delighted” was how Fiona Dignan, 41, described her feelings upon learning she was a finalist in the flash fiction category.

From Wokingham, just outside London, Fiona or Fi as she is known, said she started writing during Covid lockdown “to cope with the chaos of home-schooling four children.”

Since then, she’s met with a lot of success, including last year winning The London Society poetry prize, the Plaza Prize for Sudden Fiction and being a finalist in the London Independent Story Prize. This year, one of her stories won the WestWord Photo Prompt competition. She’s also begun experimenting in the spoken word and won the Dreading Slam Poetry competition last year and was featured on the radio talent show, BBC Upload. She also has a regular slot on BBC Radio Berkshire’s Coffee Club and received a Pushcart Prize nomination. Her flash and micro-fiction have also been placed in several competitions including Reflex, Retreat West and Propelling Pencil.

Fi, who ran as a candidate in the UK’s local elections earlier this year, is also a volunteer with the charity, The Reader, where she leads a shared reading group. “We read aloud from poems, short stories and novel extracts,” she said. “It’s all about human connection through sharing great literature.” Fi is also a volunteer dog walker.

Her WAWA finalist story, ‘Two boys, one book, in Jim Crow’s Jackson’ started as a micro-fiction based around the theme of ‘different.’ 

“I thought about all the ways humans are different and a phrase from my history GCSE kept coming back to me, ‘separate but equal,’ “ she explained. “Researching racial segregation in America, I stumbled across an interview with a man who lived through the Jim Crow laws. He vividly remembered being given second-hand textbooks from the ‘whites only’ school down the road. He used the word ‘raggedy’ to describe the books. I wanted to explore how two young boys shared a textbook and the difference in their experiences based on their skin colour. I wanted it to be a story of gratitude that so much has changed in our world but also a reminder of recent history and how far we still have to go in many areas of life.”

As for her editing process, Fi went from 500 words down to 100 before finally arriving at 250. “It took around six months to research and write several different versions from different angles. I wanted to really dig into the hypocrisy of words used in the American South in that era and the effects of prejudice.”

She described one challenge as ‘cultural appropriation.’

“I am a white British woman writing about a young Black boy in America. I wanted to ensure Emmet had a strong voice and to do justice to all the children who had to fight against such discrimination. Emmet is a fictional character but I named him after Emmet Till, a Black boy lynched in 1955.”

Two boys, one book, in Jim Crow’s Jackson

by Fiona Dignan

Emmet knows the math books are raggedy, but Mrs Brooks dishes them out to the class like they’re soul food on a Sunday. Emmet’s fingers trace the name inside the cover of his old-new book. Randall.  Emmet pictures a gold-curled boy with milk fresh skin claiming the book when it’s crisp new. The different scenes of the two boys being given the same book reminds Emmet of a polaroid negative.

Mrs Brooks notices Emmet’s downcast face as he leaves through the pages of the textbook. She stands besides him, puts her hand on his shoulder,

“It’s no matter, the math will be the same,” she says. 

But Emmet sees Randall has already written the answers in the book. He notices that most of Randall’s casually scribbled answers are wrong. How could this gold-curled boy believe nine sevens are 73? Emmet knows math should come at you true as a Mississippi morning. 

Emmet has learnt it’s words that lie. It’s words that are like polaroid negatives. The word lynching can mean justice. The word separate can mean equal.

That night Emmet takes the math book home, sits at the dinner table as his Ma cooks candied yams. He pictures Randall up town playing little league, uncaring about rights and wrongs.  Things always being crisp, new and white in his world. 

Long into the night, Emmet crosses through Randall’s wrong answers, writing the corrections beneath. His slim black fingers learning to make things right. 

Phil Cummins

Reading a newspaper article about human corpses being good compost material inspired Dublin-born Phil Cummins to pen his story, ‘Regeneration,’ a finalist in WAWA’s flash fiction category.

“The article focused on human composting as an environmentally friendly alternative to burial or cremation,” the 55-year-old life sciences lecturer recalled. “This immediately gave birth to a scene in my head in which the slithery salesman-like character of Clyburn, a funeral director, attempts to sell this new-fangled idea to a bereaved customer as some wondrous form of regeneration of the dearly departed. The rest of the story grew around that.”

Originally from north Dublin, Phil who has lived in Kildare for 25 years, said his interest in writing started with keeping personal journals. “Rarely a day goes by when I don’t record something in them – an overheard conversation, a funny anecdote, a personal experience, a feeling, an opinion,” he said. “They’ve become a huge repository of memories and ideas, great fuel for creative impulses. To this end, I took up short form creative fiction and non-fiction about five years ago and never looked back. With successes in competitions and literary publications, I’m never without an essay or short story on the go.”

Being busy with lectures and research, however, leaves little time for writing. “Until I retire writing is the stuff that happens at nights, weekends and during the occasional undisturbed lunch break,” he said.

Asked about his editing process, Phil said, “I firmly believe all writing is rewriting. I drafted my story over a few evenings, then combed through it to get details and dialogue just right. On one level, my story is about changing something bad (a deceased horrid older sister) into something good (compost for the garden). In parallel, however, something good is changed into something bad.”

As for his feelings upon learning he was a WAWA finalist, “The writing life is so often punctuated with rejection, making those emails that arrive announcing success so much sweeter. My immediate feelings were elation, pride, and a deeply pleasing sense that I must be doing something right. After about three minutes, my brain instructed my lungs to start breathing again to lower my heart rate. Being proudly Irish, it also means the world to me to receive a writerly stamp of approval from an Irish literary forum.”


by Phil Cummins

Roseanne Harkin was a perpetually foul-tempered spinster of late middle-age not given to random acts of kindness or generous opinion towards others. A domineering woman, long bed-ridden due to ill health, she was cared for by her devoted sister, Katelyn.

‘Such a charitable soul, that Katelyn,’ the neighbours would say. ‘The patience of an angel. A pity she could never stand up to that aul hoor, even when they were girls. Life is passing her by.’

The following April, however, six weeks after Roseanne finally shuttled off to her reward, Katelyn could be found kneeling before her herbaceous border, humming cheerfully as she diligently weeded and pruned. Applying compost around the base of a beautiful climbing rose she suddenly registered a painful sting against her cheek. Looking around for any sign of a bee, her eye caught the slyly serpentine motion of a rosebud coiling tentacle-like around its trellis, a blood-spotted thorn just visible along its stem. Frowning, she went inside to treat her bloodied scratch.


Six weeks earlier...

The undertaker was an expensively suited American named Clyburn. ‘We believe our patented procedure is easily the most environmentally friendly of alternative deathcare options,’ he exhorted in slithery salesman-like tones, his smile simultaneously sympathetic and rapacious. ‘We call it Natural Organic Reduction.’

‘And what’s that?’ asked Katelyn, sensing he was itching to explain.

‘Well, I’m delighted you asked,’ said Clyburn. ‘We place the deceased inside a steel container along with wood chips, straw and alfalfa. Then by carefully controlling the temperature, humidity and gas composition inside the vessel, we can stimulate the rapid growth of heat-loving bacteria, what we in the business call thermophiles. Now those little guys can really accelerate decomposition! The entire transformation is complete inside four-to-six weeks.’

‘Will my sister’s pacemaker be a problem?’

‘Absolutely not,’ Clyburn replied. ‘As part of our flexible deathcare plan we pre-screen for medical devices, dentures, artificial hip joints and so forth, allowing them to be recycled. We’re all about being kind to the environment here. Virtually nothing remains, not even bones or teeth, just beautiful nourishing compost that encapsulates the vital essence of the dearly departed. And we guarantee that it’s perfectly safe to scatter said compost as you would ashes, or even use it in your garden as fertilizer. Bereaved family members have often informed us how helpful that latter option was to them during the grieving process.’

‘Fertilizer!’ exclaimed Katelyn.

‘Yes. We like to think of it as a form of... regeneration,’ replied Clyburn, giving her a fey wink.


Returning to her garden, Katelyn knelt back down on the memory foam pillow she’d recently repurposed to protect her knees, its foam by now unlikely to retain any residual memory of her sister’s final breathless struggles. Taking up her secateurs, she calmly snipped off the offending rosebud as it wriggled angrily in her grip. Troweling some extra compost into the soil, she resumed her humming, marvelling at spring’s promise of new life.

Margaret O’Doherty

Margaret, 60, from Raphoe in northwestern Ireland, has a double celebration to enjoy - being a finalist for the second time in the ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ competition.

“I was fortunate enough to be a finalist in 2022 but if anything being a finalist again is even more exciting,” she said. “It proves the first success wasn’t a fluke and will encourage me to keep writing both fiction and non-fiction.”

Her story, ‘A Tram Journey’ in the creative non-fiction category focuses on a single incident and the thoughts about growing older that it generated. 

“Having turned sixty last year, I can no longer pretend to be middle-aged, after all nobody lives to a hundred and twenty, so I must be old, no matter how I feel,” she said. “My three wonderful grandchildren are a further proof of my inevitable aging. As such, my story was inspired by my first experience some years ago of being offered a seat on public transport. It has happened several times since, so I’m not quite so shocked anymore and appreciate how considerate most young people are.”

Margaret, who is a member of The Diamond Writers in Raphoe, said her story underwent several rewrites to get it under the word count. “I found this a difficult task but each was an improvement as waffle and repetition got cut. I found it hard to come up with an ending that made the story complete but once it came to me I wrote it on a piece of paper, added it to the story as soon as I came home and that was the final edit.”

Her initial story title was ‘On The Luas,’ the name of Dublin’s tramline, but, she said, “Knowing it was for an international audience, I changed it to the more easily understood ‘On The Tram.’ I still wasn’t happy and changed it again to ‘A Tram Journey’ to reflect that I was making a journey of realisation as well as a physical journey.”

A Tram Journey

by Margaret O’Doherty

I joined the throng of evening commuters pushing their way onto a crowded Luas. A scruffy looking young lad in ripped jeans, maybe sixteen or seventeen, was sitting engrossed in his phone. Earphones blocked out any noise but he must have become aware of the increasing number of passengers for he looked around then stood up.

“What a polite young man,” I thought to myself. “Giving up his seat for some old person.” Then I realised he was looking straight at me. I glanced around. I was by far the oldest person in the carriage. I was about to say that I was grand and well able to stand but he had made a thoughtful gesture and it would be ill mannered to refuse. I sat down and rested my heavy bag on my knees. 

“Thank you. You are very kind,” I said. He nodded to acknowledge my appreciation although he couldn’t have heard it with the earphones still intact.

I looked at our reflections in the window. An observer seeing us together might have taken us for mother and son. It was possible…if he was an unexpected late addition to the family or conceived by IVF. A more likely assumption was that I was his grandmother. Lots of people my age have teenage grandchildren. 

It doesn’t seem so long ago that I was the one springing to my feet to give my seat to an old person, some really old person with grey hair and a stooped body. Looking back, most of them were probably no older than I am now. My hair would be grey if I didn’t make regular trips to the hairdresser. If I had endured the difficult grind of physical labour that was a part of daily life for the generation before mine no doubt my body would also be stooped by now.

The tram moved off with a jolt and the young man, still looking at his phone, moved his feet further apart to help keep his balance. He was too cool to hold onto the safety rail. I would have been gripping it with both hands. I may be reasonably fit, for my age, but bones weaken as you get older. A stumble or fall could result in a fracture and at my age they take longer to heal. I remembered a startling statistic I had read somewhere that said some horrifying percentage of elderly women are dead within a year of a hip fracture. It’s strange that I can remember that but never know where I left my glasses or my keys.

I worry now about things that I never thought about before – weak bones, failing memory, general decline. I didn’t appreciate youth and vigour when I had them but what young person does? I can appreciate what I have now –, a loving family, good health, loyal friends… and a seat on the tram.


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