As it has never happened before in our ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ competitions, we simply had to highlight it - a single writer becoming a finalist in two separate categories (of the same WAWA edition), flash fiction and creative nonfiction.
Credit for this impressive achievement goes to Emma M. Murray, a 35-year-old primary school teacher, born and bred in Gweedore, Donegal, who is “mother to two little people.’
After graduating from college in Dublin with a degree in education Emma told Ireland Writing Retreat she went travelling. “I spent most of my twenties with a rucksack slung across my back, extensively exploring every corner of the globe I could reach before returning to my native Donegal three years ago to raise my children.”
Emma made a New Year’s resolution in the midst of last winter’s lockdown in Ireland to begin writing again and “share some of my work with the world,” though as she explained, “Life is busy and I normally only find time to write in the wee hours when sleep escapes me.”
Her decision to rekindle her interest in creative writing turned out to be a wise one, for aside from being a double finalist in WAWA, Emma has had a few short stories published in online literary journals.
Ireland Writing Retreat is honoured that our ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ is the first competition Emma ever entered. “I'm over the moon to be named one of the finalists,” she said upon hearing the news. “It is very exciting. Thank you most kindly WAWA for this wonderful honour.”
Emma said the theme in our last competition - Love - appealed to her immediately. “Love, in all its forms, visible and invisible, can be an all consuming force,” she said. “It opened up a lot of thoughts and memories.”
She continued, “The idea for my creative non-fiction story, ‘One More Song,’ came from the normalcy of family life that many of us go through on a daily basis without ever stopping to breathe it in. I admit to often 'going through the motions’ without stopping to be fully present in each moment.”
Emma said the biggest challenge facing her was keeping within the 500-word limit. “The first draft was close to 700 so I spent a few evenings cutting it down,” she said. “Words often dance around my head all day, and when they eventually land, they sometimes look like a tangled mess. But other times, and with a bit of luck, they merge into a story like this one.”
Referring to the title, she said, “I felt it suited the story from the beginning, so never changed it when it was complete.”
In terms of her flash fiction story, ‘Heavy Truths,’ she said, “Love made me think of many different situations, relationships and events and my story concentrates on the unconditional love a mother has for her child. When I thought of how much a mother loves her child, no matter what, the harrowing thought of attempted suicide came to mind. Thankfully, I have never been close to such an experience but this was something I felt compelled to write about.”
Emma said her story “materialised very quickly one evening and I spent another evening cutting the word count to under 500, the most challenging aspect. I wrote the story without a title. When I read it for the first time, the words 'Heavy Truths' stood out for me as appropriate.”
After being told she was a finalist in the nonfiction category as well as the flash fiction one, she said, “I was absolutely delighted. It felt like a real affirmation that maybe this is something I should, and could, continue in the future and I'm very grateful to everyone at WAWA for that. To be named in the top ten amongst hundreds of highly-talented international writers has been a very humbling experience. Thank you.”
One More Song
by Emma M. Murray
His delicate little fingers are clinging to the last of their puppy fat as he gently strokes my face.
He still twirls strands of my hair between his fingertips, but not as often.
His hazel green eyes stare deeply into mine as we lie side by side, in his spaceship-covered bed.
“I’m gonna be a builder and an astronaut when I grow up,” he assures me.
Absorbing his father’s day-job, while reaching for the stars.
Our nightly ritual soothes my soul.
We talk about our day, and our tomorrow.
We thank God for all we have, and then I sing.
An old Irish melody, born from my own distant childhood. Followed by a plethora of hugs, kisses and squeezes.
Promises of magical dreams.
“Can I have another song Mama?” he asks innocently.
“No son, we only ever do one. Time for sleep.”
Living a life of restrictions, he doesn’t understand.
Chained to our home by more than the howling wind, and the beating rain.
Day after day.
And today I did all I could.
We painted, swirls of lonely colours.
We played hide and seek, within our poky confinements.
It had been another long day.
He sensed something different in me.
He didn’t ask again, didn’t argue.
He turned his back on me, clutching his loyal teddy, the only one who’ll never let him down.
I needed a cup of tea, on my own.
I needed to use the toilet, without an audience.
I needed to wash the dinner pots, piled high in the sink.
Except I didn’t need to do any of this.
He needed one more song, and I didn’t sing.
I sit staring at the mountain of dirty dishes.
The heap of erratic laundry.
Wishing I could run back upstairs, sing him one more song, but the moment has gone.
Praying he’ll ask me tomorrow, but knowing if he doesn’t, it’ll have been all my fault.
The potential for our beautiful, four-year-old routine to be lost forever.
The most precious of moments.
The ones I’ll long for in years to come.
Holding my son in my arms, feeling his warm breath on my skin, being his whole world.
The importance we place on the most unimportant things.
The dishes lie untouched.
He smells divine after his nightly bath, soapy and new.
I tuck him into bed, laying my head beside him.
He twirls my hair.
There’s a knot in my stomach.
I smile at him, trying to gauge his mood.
We thank God for our day, our lives.
“Can I sing you your song darling?” an anxious tone to my voice, uncertain.
He eyes me quizzically,
“OK Mama…but just one.”
by Emma M. Murray
She’s completely fixated on me as I wake from my medically induced slumber. Despair and worry clouding her eyes. The unrelenting disappointment I feel, consumes me.
It didn’t work.
Another thing to add to my list of failures. And now I have to contend with this painful guilt as I watch my mother weep before me.
God damn it.
My meticulous planning and secrecy, all gone to waste. Slowly becoming fully aware of my surroundings. The faint smell of antiseptic in the air. Intravenous lines protruding from my veins.
My mother cries.
Not loud sobbing cries.
Deep, real, silent tears.
Haunting my existence.
I turn away.
The elephant in the room stomping loudly between us, in silence.
For the first time in my pitiful life I open the gates. I’m beyond anything else at this stage. Pushed too far. Words which had been unspeakable for so long, now roll viciously from my tongue. Rallying towards the finish line. Unbelievable to hear them finally formulate.
How could she never have seen it?
The woman who gave me life!
I can’t look at her.
I only stop when all has been laid bare.
The overbearing feelings, urges.
The guilt, the shame.
That liberating night of ecstasy with Claire…and the cruel deniability she played afterwards.
The derogatory schoolyard taunts.
Humiliating rumours, laced with heavy truths.
The silence is deafening.
Reverberating around the room.
The air tastes new.
I’m lighter now.
I still can’t look at her.
She softly says my name. The way she did when I was a child. That soothing tone mothers use to shoo away monsters hiding under the bed.
The delicate sound of my name on her lips, the name she gave me, unleashes a river of unstoppable tears.
She runs to me.
Holding me desperately, as if for the last time, as if for the first time.
Her seventeen year old baby girl.
And it feels like home.
We are again as one, as we were in the beginning.
How could I have considered my ending?
My heart aches with the weight of it all.
“You… my darling girl… are you. And I am more proud of you right now, in this very moment, than I have ever been in my entire life.”
She might never let me go.
I hope I don’t either.
She has nurtured me, brought me back to life, my mother.
She never questioned me any further.
She is there, fully present.
And that is enough.
We walk the beach everyday.
The sea breeze soothes my soul, and heals my scars.
“How ya getting on Maria?” a neighbour, intrusive, yet kind.
A smile passes between us, me and my mother,
“I’m getting there.”