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Presenting Some Of Our ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ Finalists

A Scottish woman studying theology in Geneva, a man living deep in the English countryside, a software retiree from Canada and a former flight attendant from Connecticut were among finalists in our Wild Atlantic Writing Awards (WAWA) on the theme of ‘Hope.’

Stay tuned, the winners and finalists for our latest WAWA competition on the theme of ‘Change’ will be announced in February. 

Christine Colliar

Scotland-born, Christine Colliar, who has lived for more than 30 years in countries such as the US, France and Switzerland, was a finalist in our creative nonfiction category with her story entitled ‘On The Step.’

Christine also has the impressive distinction of being a finalist in two of our previous WAWA competitions, with her flash fiction story, ‘Time Runs Out’ in our ‘three-word headline’ edition and another flash fiction story, ‘The Most Valuable Resource,’ in our edition on the theme of ‘Time.’ 

Q: Tell us about your life. 

A: Years ago I worked in systems analysis at the United Nations and then taught English as a foreign language to adults in Swiss banks and perfume manufacturers. I stopped work when I had my children and later home-schooled my son for six years so he could pursue his musical studies. 

When he left for university, I looked for a course I could enrol in to fulfil my life-long desire to study literature. I had joined a writing group when in New York and wanted to pick up writing again so opted for an MA in creative writing. I enjoyed being a student again and am now studying for a theology degree.

Q: What influenced you in writing your story for WAWA?

A: Much of my writing is influenced by Biblical stories or ethical questions and this was the case with ‘On The Step.’ I took part in a 40-day writing challenge during Lent and one of the prompts was: Done in Secret: An action taken — by you or someone you know — but not talked about. With the theme of the WAWA competition being ‘hope,’ I knew this story would be ideal. Hope is so important to what makes us human. I know many real-life stories where hope is a reciprocal gift. Receiving hope changes our life. Offering hope to someone also changes us.

Q: What was the most difficult challenge in writing your story?

A: Keeping the narrative voice close to the protagonist while also showing the results of the protagonist’s actions from a distance. The original story was written very quickly. I then edited it over a couple of days for WAWA. As the whole story revolves around a mistake made ‘on the step’ and that phrase appears five times, that was a clear choice for the title.

Q: What were your feelings in being named a finalist?

A: I was so happy! I was on a flight about to take off and spotted the email come in. I was then on cloud nine in more ways than one. It’s an honour to be chosen again as a finalist, this time in creative non-fiction. I have gained so much confidence knowing that my stories touch readers. Thank you for supporting developing writers.

On The Step

by Christine Colliar

She leaves it on the step every morning on her way to work.

The first time was by chance, she had stopped to tie her shoelace, put down her lunch bag to free her hands, then left it. She walked on to the office and hadn’t even noticed until the others started taking sandwiches, fruit, salads, out of backpacks and desk drawers, and the mood slackened, and people ate at their desks. She remembered then, the step, the green door at the step, the paint flaking, the rusty letter box. She had put it there, on the step. It was just an old shopping bag, but the sandwich was made with left-overs, the best kind of sandwich, farm-shop bread, strips of lemon chicken, roasted yellow pepper, some cherry tomatoes, lettuce leaves from Mister Young’s greenhouse, tzatziki drizzled over everything. This was no ordinary sandwich. What a loss! She plodded downstairs to the vending machine and bought a bagel, industrial-made, vacuum packed, plastic cheese, freeze-dried onion...

On her way home, there, on the step, her old bag! Empty, no, not quite. A note stuffed inside, paper ripped from a diary, blue crayon, ‘thank you,’ and a lopsided heart.

That was the first time. The next morning, new shopping bag, inside was a fresh-made picnic lunch. That day she had home-made soda bread rolls, pulled pork from the previous evening’s meal, sun dried tomatoes she made last summer, and a little grated parmesan, instead of salt. She had two. She put one in her old bag and left it on the step. And on her way home, the old bag had a note in blue crayon, ‘was hungry, thank you.’ 

Every day, now, two sandwiches - farm-shop or home made, rye, sourdough, baguette or pitta, salad, cheese, tuna, chicken, turkey, humous, falafel... whatever she has in the fridge. One in her new bag, one in the old. She breaks bread with someone she has never met. 

At work, they notice a change in her. She smiles more, people go to her, they want a word, encouragement, and her office is active, fun, productive. She is selected, an asset, promoted. They move her to a bigger office, more staff, everyone wants to work for her. Everyone goes home with a little more joy in their life.

When you drop a stone in a glass-like pond, the ripples push outwards, push and push to the outmost edges of the water. Only the land stops them rippling on forever.

She still walks to work. Leaves her old bag on the step every morning on her way. Leaves a little piece of hope for a stranger in the house with the tired door and rusty letter box. And they give some right back.

David Longstaff

Living in southern England, David, now in his early 60s, was a finalist in the flash fiction category with his story ‘Unlocking The Darkness.’

Q: Tell us about your life. 

A: I live deep in the Sussex countryside and prefer to write early in the morning standing up, laptop balanced on a pile of books in our kitchen. Cows and sheep graze outside the window and ancient oaks line the horizon.

It’s almost a full-time job keeping the building standing and most days I can be seen either up a ladder fixing crumbling roof tiles or tapping the grumbling boiler with a spanner.

For my 60th birthday, my wife enrolled me in an adult education creative writing course. Two hours once a week I join nine others. We all sit wedged behind desks in a Victorian classroom and read aloud our homework. For someone who left school with a single ‘O’ level - in art - it’s a little daunting, but having a group of people encouraging each other is essential when writing. Lovely as the cows are here, their feedback is useless. It was a person from my class who suggested entering your competition.

Q: Describe your writing approach and what influenced you in your story for WAWA.

A: Ideas for stories bombard me and I have to swat away at them like flies. I write slowly, rewriting each paragraph before moving on to the next. My excitement builds as the story takes shape and my fingers shake as I finish the last line. 

Three days later I will return to the story and be amazed at the mistakes and repeated words. I will second draft and later that day print it off and read it aloud. The difference between screen and A4 paper is astonishing and a third draft will be needed. I suspect my entire life could be swallowed up editing the same story but a buzz will enter my head and another idea will draw me away. I write one or two 500-ish word stories every week and maybe a 4,000 - 5,000 word story every six weeks. I picture everything as a movie and write as if looking through a lens. The title is always the last thought and often the most agonising decision.

When I think back to the stories I have written I imagine the characters older, as they would be now. In ‘Unlocking The Darkness’ I can picture both characters settled in, living their lives on the farm. Would I drive up and visit them? Maybe, but I would be a little apprehensive as to what I might find.

It’s important to remember that everyone can give someone a helping hand. It doesn’t have to be huge, a small gesture can change a person’s life for the better. It was this thought that inspired my story.

Q: How did you feel hearing you were a finalist in our competition?

A: The last thing I expected to see as I opened the email containing the list of finalists for the ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ was my name! I blinked, expecting the letters to rearrange themselves or disappear. Like many budding writers, self-doubt creeps in, beds itself down and gnaws away at your bones. Having someone say ‘We read it and liked it’ is such a boost. The confidence it gives you is immeasurable. Another certificate to add to my collection: ‘O’ level Art and now WAWA ‘Award of Excellence.’ I‘ll need a special cabinet soon. Thank you for your support and for arranging a brilliant competition.

Unlocking The Darkness

by David Longstaff

“I’ll give you the key,” he says, muck falling from his boots as we cross slate slabs sunk deep into the kitchen floor.

A table strewn with invoices and receipts sits square in the middle of the room. I stumble between bits of machinery and car batteries. He rattles the latch to a door and we both step back as he pulls it towards us. A dark space, mesh at the window, its soft shadow long on the cold floor, a breeze tickling my face.  

“Used to be the larder,” he says, “still is I suppose.”

She wasn’t sure he’d be there, no visits, just a letter two weeks before her release, handwritten, straight to the point. Then, tall as a tree and broad as a field, stepping out of his muddy Land Rover. How can you hide a man like this? Her husband had. She walked towards him studying his ploughed face for resemblance, never once looking back. He pulls the light cord illuminating two pheasants hanging from a hook, shelves covered with screwdrivers and pliers, balls of twine, old tins and shotgun cartridges, all lined up in cardboard boxes with labels showing birds flying free in the sky. Shotgun cartridges. It was heavier than expected, holding the stock tight under her arm, her back arched. With one hand her fingers pushed the silver lever to the right, the other cupped the long barrels as they dropped, two cartridges, one in each hole, brass facing up.

There are pickling jars, brown bottles and what look like cheeses, wrapped in muslin, round as cobblestones. Closing the gun, her thumb pulling back each of the hammers till they clicked and held.   

“I’ll put you on the insurance for the Landy."

He reaches up to a row of hooks, there must be a dozen keys, all hanging like the dead moles strung from the fences around the farm. He turns and I take a quick step back. “It’s not much mind, kitchen and bedroom, I’ve put a shower in, when the stove’s lit there’s hot water, you can’t miss it, through the yard on the left, green door.” He hands me the key, black misshapen teeth at one end and a delicate loop at the other.

I haven’t held one for ten years. I misread the worn leather tag attached, “Hope Cottage,” I say.

“It’s Rope Cottage, at least it was years ago, it’s yours now." My eyes fill with tears. He looks down at the shopping bag gripped in my hand, it's taken him eight hours to collect and bring me here, we stopped once for petrol and a sandwich. “There’s a fridge too, for your stuff.”

“I killed your brother,” I say.

He takes a deep breath, I imagine the crops outside for miles around all bending, being sucked towards him, “He wasn’t a good man, never had been, I’m sorry you met him,” he pushes the cupboard door shut, “there’s fresh eggs too, I’ll leave them outside your door.”    

Trenton Pomeroy

Trenton, a software retiree in his late 60s living in Rothesay, New Brunswick on the east coast of Canada, was a finalist in the flash fiction category of WAWA with his story ‘The Faithfulness of Dogs.’ He was also winner of our first-ever competition five years ago, with a story entitled, ‘The Writer.’

Q: How did the idea for ‘The Faithfulness of Dogs’ emerge?

A: The theme of hope started me thinking about animals, especially dogs, who seem to have a capacity for persistent hope that humans don't share. You'll often hear stories of dogs that wait by their master's graveside for years. Initially, I had the idea for a story about a dog waiting for a boy after the terrible earthquake in Turkey but that seemed too complex for the brevity of flash fiction. Once I had the concept, I wrote the story in a few hours, let it sit for a few days and then did a final revision. I wanted to write the story from a mother's standpoint, which was challenging. I hope I pulled it off.

Q: What were your feelings about being selected as a finalist?

A: Having won this contest in 2019, I feel in some ways like I've won the lottery twice. I've seen the quality of writing that this contest attracts so it's such an honour to be chosen as a finalist. My congratulations to all the other finalists and winners.

The Faithfulness of Dogs

by Trent Pomeroy

It’s 2:30, and Loretta barks and runs to the door. The school bus has just gone by. She hovers in the entranceway, tail hammering the floor, trembling in anticipation. I sit down beside her, curl my arm around her small body. “Sorry girl,” I tell her. She licks my neck and whines.

They say that the first 48 hours are critical, and every day after that the chances of survival go down. It’s been four years since Tommy disappeared. He would be ten now. If he got off that bus today and walked up the drive, would I even know him?

In the early days, I was like Loretta. He’ll be OK. The police will find him and bring him home. The phone will ring and it will be him.

One night a stranger calls. His voice is harsh as a rusty gate. “A hundred thousand if you want to see your kid again.”

“I’ll pay it, I’ll pay it. Let me talk to him,” I whisper. 

“He can’t talk now. He’s asleep.”

My baby. Sleeping on a dirty mat, in a cellar, in a shed, on a concrete floor. “When can I talk to him?”

“I’ll call you tomorrow. Have the money ready. Don’t tell the cops, or I’ll kill him.” 

The police are listening, of course. They trace the call to a payphone in a psych unit, and in a day they find the guy. It’s some nutcase who has heard about Tommy on the evening news. 

The weeks drift into months. Eventually the police stop looking. Eventually even Tommy’s father gives up, on his son and I guess on me.  One day he leaves on a business trip and never comes back. He sends me an email. “I’m sorry. I can’t do this any more.” He has rented an apartment across town. I hardly notice he’s gone.

Now when the phone rings I am afraid to answer it. Someday a detective will call, and tell me they’ve found his bones. I’m sure he’s dead. A mother knows these things. 

But at 2:30 every day Loretta sits in the chair by the picture window,  waiting for the school bus. Every day when it comes she barks, and runs to quiver at the door.

Oh, to be a dog. To know so little. To have such faith. To be filled with this hope that never ends.

Rosemary McGuire Berry

Married with two daughters, Rosemary McGuire Berry, in her early 50s, was named a finalist in the flash fiction category with her story ‘Glistening Lights.’

Q: Tell us about your life.

A: I’m from Connecticut, descended from Irish immigrants who settled in the area, and now live in Colorado. I've been writing since I was twelve years old and have been a newspaper journalist, a flight attendant, a library assistant and a bookstore liaison with authors. Now I homeschool my daughters and write part-time for wifesavers. I am currently seeking a publisher for my mystery novel, ‘High Expectations,’ and my inspirational nonfiction, ‘Piety and Petulance: Lessons from the Saints and Their Temperaments’ will be published in the winter of this year.

Q: How did the idea for ‘Glistening Lights’ emerge?

A: Your contest theme really spoke to me and I was excited to share the message of hope. In today's crazy world, we often feel our hope slipping away. I looked at the website several times before deciding to enter but the theme kept returning to my mind. I sat down with my laptop to see what happened and the words just flowed.

My friend is writing a series of books on miscarriage and infertility grief and it made me think of my own journey to motherhood and the travails of so many women I know. As I thought of the progression from pain to hope to joy, Mary and Joey's fictional story emerged. 

Q: What were the main challenges you faced writing your story?

A: Completing a full story arc in such a brief space. I also had to be careful not to use the words hope, hopeful, or hopeless. I wanted the reader to connect with my protagonist and to make every word count. I had originally planned to use the word ‘hope’ in the title but in the end the Christmas lights were clearly a symbol of hope throughout the story so I used the lights in the title instead.

I revised my story about five times over the course of a week or so and shared it with a friend, using her feedback to enhance it.

Q: How do you feel about being named a finalist? 

A: I am so excited and honored and feel a connection to my literary brothers and sisters in my beloved ancestral homeland of Ireland.

Glistening Lights 

by Rosemary McGuire Berry

She clutched at the front of her shirt where the pain throbbed, trying to ease the tightness and heartache that filled her chest cavity. She had exposed her heart again, and for what? Despairing tears flowed.

Ever since she was two years old playing with her doll 'Rosie-Anna,' she had wanted to be a mommy. At 37, after fifteen years of infertility, she and her husband had turned to the potential of parenthood through adoption. But time and again, they had applied to agencies, filled out football fields of paperwork, and spent thousands, only to be told that the adoptions had failed.

“Why? Why?” she wailed, falling to her knees beside the bed. “Why this unbearable longing, this ache in my heart for a child I’ve never seen, I’ve never known? Why did God give me this desire only to deny it?”

Her mobile rang. She snatched it, thinking to throw it across the room, but saw her sister’s name on the screen. She slid her finger across it to answer.

“It’s hopeless,” she sobbed. “It will never happen.”

Her sister made comforting clucks. There were words mixed in, but she didn’t hear them. After a while, she murmured in closure, and disconnected. Then she flung the phone against the wall.

Christmas lights were blinking and sparkling on the homes along her street, and as the room grew darker, the lights outside grew brighter and beckoned.

She dreaded Christmas. It meant a Baby. It meant the joy of a Baby’s coming. A joy she would never feel. A light that for her was fading, perhaps to be quenched forever.

Crawling over to the window, she dropped the blinds with a bang so she wouldn’t have to see the lights. They meant joy and expectation for everyone else.

Soon her husband would be home from work, and he would find her lying on the floor, again. How many times was this? 15? 20? 30? How many more times could she put her heart and soul into the application and birth mother letter, only to be rejected, often by a pregnant teenager? If she got much older, she’d have no chance at all. Who would choose a middle-aged mother?

Her mobile rang again. Moaning, she groped along the baseboard, following the phone’s dull glowing light. Her husband was calling. She couldn’t bear to tell him, but he’d have to know.

“Joey!” she sobbed incoherently into the speaker. “It will never happen!”

“Listen to me,” he said urgently. “You know Salvador here at work? He just pulled me aside and told me his sister-in-law is pregnant. She wants to place the baby for adoption. She wants us, Mary. Can you hear me? Mary, are you there?”

She dragged herself up to her knees, and lifted the window blinds, just a tiny bit. Sparkling lights reflected on the teardrops rolling down her cheeks, and shone.

“Yes. I’m here,” she said.


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