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WAWA Finalist Born Under A Windmill

An 86-year-old former soldier born under a windmill near London was among the finalists in our recent Wild Atlantic Writing Awards (WAWA) competition on the theme of ‘Change.’

Nicholas Watts, one of the oldest finalists ever in any of our competitions, was joined by a 72-year-old writer from Manchester, a 56-year-old lawyer from Toronto and a 52-year-old yoga teacher from Lincolnshire.


Nicholas Watts


“At last! Someone has 'recognised' me! After all these years - a lifetime, in fact. I’ve won something! For the very first time.” 


These were the excited words uttered by Nicholas upon hearing he was selected as a finalist in our creative non-fiction category with his story ‘The Lost Village.’


“The only other time I've come close was in an essay competition at school,” he said. “To be selected has given me indescribable satisfaction.”


Nicholas’s story emerged from his experiences in the military, some sad and poignant such as seeing an elderly Chinese lady in former Malaya forced from her home, collapsing and dying of a heart attack right in front of his eyes.


“That experience has never left me especially when I learned later what great difficulties Chinese settlers like her had to overcome to establish the little 'kampongs' where they lived and how they were driven from them, their hopes and dreams smashed,” he said.


Nicholas, who was born in a cottage under a windmill where Gatwick Airport now stands, said he chose his story title because, “I was writing about loss. When you reach my age, it seems that’s what life is mostly about. 'The Lost Village' seemed to me the perfect metaphor.”


Now living happily with his wife in the mid-Devon market town of Cullompton, Nicolas said his life could be described as “a jumbled-up mess.”


“That includes working on building sites, driving lorries, teaching English in France and Algeria, editing English-language newspapers in India, Ceylon and Malaysia and writing for technical magazines in the fields of construction and local government,” he said.


Indicating how life changes, Nicholas talked about being on holiday in Thailand and meeting some of the Chinese communists he had fought against many years before. “They were running a profitable tourist-cafe at the mouth of the warren of tunnels down which they'd evaded the British forces for years,” he said. “The lady serving us proudly showed a photo of her younger self leaning on an AK automatic. Then she gave me the noodle dish with a beaming smile. No ill will.”


The Lost Village

by Nicholas Watts

Grandfather took a puff on his long, clay-pipe, finishing his story. 

Us children - squatting around - were spellbound. This scene, repeated pretty well every evening of my childhood, had about it a sense of reassuring eternity. I hold it in my mind, a wasp in amber.

Grandfather, like every living being, was born into a world of turmoil. We are, after all, dwellers on a spinning planet, hurtling with the stars through the dark mysteries of space.   

His allotted spot and span were blown apart in 1912 with the abrupt dismissal of the last Emperor of China and the explosion of 2000 years of Imperial rule into a war-zone of factional strife.   

Now marked for early death in the place where he’d been born, Grandfather concluded that if he was to live longer, he would have to shift elsewhere.

He re-invented himself, founding a little ‘kingdom’ in the Malay State of Perak - at that time a land of jungle, passable only by river or elephant track. With unimaginable skill, he somehow got permission to farm a patch of land deep in the middle of a British-run rubber estate. 

There he built a house, ceremonially opened as the roof was completed, with sacred Chinese prayers and eternal calligraphy.

Chinese were, at this time, flocking to Perak to pan for tin while Indians were brought in by the British to work the rubber plantations on land bought or rented from native Malays who subsequently stayed aloof.    

Grandfather ploughed his own furrow. He chose to sow flowers.

Consequently, I grew up in a world of jasmine, marigold and mango, a world of wise sayings and forbidden fruit. Chinese culture was breathed into me alongside the aroma of my grandfather’s evening pipe.

We sat enthralled. At the feet of outpouring, never-ending wisdom.

The soldiers came, early morning. Shouting, commanding. Waving rifles. To us children it was something incredible. Nothing in our young lives had prepared us. But for Grandpa it must have brought nightmarish memories. 

Grandma, perplexed, stumbling towards the tree where she had buried her jade, tripped, and never came to. Her heart gave out.

Aimless, in our ‘new’ village-compound where the Chinese were fenced in under military curfew, Grandfather, in his turn, quietly gave way to flu.

I went back last year.

There were no flowers, no trees, no fish-pond, no river. No house.

It was a shopping mall. Bustling. Everyone about their business. How had it happened?

As Chou en Lai was reported to have said, about the French Revolution: “Perhaps it’s just too early to say.”


Gill James


Originally from the West Midlands of England and now living in Greater Manchester, 72-year-old Gill was a finalist in our flash fiction category with her story ‘The Old Boots.’


Gill, who writes science fiction novels for young adults and historical fiction for women, said her story emerged after someone’s untimely death.


“One of my friends died suddenly not long after he had an accident on a serious ramble,” she said. “His widow is also a good friend and I found myself wondering what she was going through.”   

 

Gill said her story underwent five revisions over a week before submission. “To make sure the structure worked, a copy edit to make sure it made sense and that there were no clichés or purple prose, a ‘read out loud’ edit, then I converted it from Scrivener to Word and checked the presentation before a final proof check.”


As for the title, she said, “I had several including ‘A Time of Change,’ ‘Facing Change,’ ‘It’s Going to be Different Now’ and ‘Moving On.’  I finally settled on ‘The Old Boots’ because they are what holds the story together. My protagonist moves on in the end because of, or maybe in spite of, the old boots.”        


The Old Boots


That was the last of it. Miriam watched as the van from the local hospice moved off. They had taken virtually everything: all of his clothes, his books and his vast music collection. 

But they had left his old boots. She couldn't quite yet bear to part with them. 

They'd taken him everywhere. Up mountains, along river valleys and off-piste as well. She'd been with him on some of their walks. In fact that's how they'd met. On a walking holiday. 

They smelt of him, didn't they? 

She sighed and moved them into the conservatory.

Yesterday she'd thrown out the flowers that had been on top of the coffin. Everyone had said how wonderful they were. "Autumn colours. How lovely." Autumn was a time of decay, wasn't it, and they'd faded now, but also a time of new beginnings.

She had had over a hundred cards. Not to mention the emails. She hadn't known Mark was so popular. But it was time to take these down as well. So, she removed them from the mantelpiece and the windowsills but took care to read all of them. She didn't know half of the people who'd sent them.

Someone was going to fetch his car tomorrow. She hoped they would agree to getting it out of the garage. It was a tight fit and she didn't trust herself. It would be quite nice when it was gone. Her little old Fiesta would fit comfortably. It would be good to shelter it from the elements. Some of her friends had suggested she kept the bigger car. But why would she want to do that? Maybe she would replace the Fiesta with something newer. In time.  

They'd almost made it to their golden anniversary. Forty-eight years they'd had.  

It had been good, hadn't it? They'd both had good jobs. They'd led a satisfying life. The house was spacious and comfortable. There'd been lovely holidays abroad. They'd lived in a pretty part of the country.

It hadn't been perfect, though. 

He'd always walked too fast for her - his legs were much longer than hers. He'd always treated her like the little woman.  

It hadn't been meant unkindly but sometimes she'd thought he found her ideas and her work inferior to his. She'd loved him to bits ...but she'd never been sure that he'd loved her as much back. 

She looked at the old boots again. What had she been thinking? They really were no use to anyone. She sniffed them once more. They didn't even smell of him, really. Just of brackish peat and sweaty feet. 

There were things she could do now. She could go on the ‘Literature of the Sea’ cruise. She would be able to go out to lunch with the other ladies after her U3A meetings instead of running back to be with Mark. And she would no longer have to cook a three-course dinner every evening. 

She threw the old boots into the general waste bin.   


Jean Buie


Jean, 56, is a lawyer living in Toronto with her family and dog, Grimm, and was also a finalist in the flash fiction category with her story ‘The Bench.’ 


Her story emerged from an earlier 48-hour writing challenge she had entered before she re-edited the story, including changing it from third person to first person. 


“Staying within a tight word count was tough, though I also find such constraints force one to choose words carefully and create tight sentences,” she said. “I’m thrilled and excited that you liked my work.” 


Jean, who conducts avid research on her genealogy, or as she describes it ‘uncovering family secrets,’ has had her writing appear in various publications including Fiery Scribe Review, Five Minute Lit, Friday Flash Fiction and in eSpec Books 2016 In A Flash. Her essay, ‘Why I went back to school as a single mother,’ was published in Chatelaine’s online magazine in 2017.


The Bench 

by Jean Buie

We met each Sunday morning, on the bench outside the children’s zoo, sitting at opposite ends. 

The first time was serendipity. I had argued with my husband, again, and had left him with the children at church. I wandered and found myself at the bench. He was there, legs crossed, reading The Times. I sat at the other end, crying. He passed me his handkerchief and a section of the paper. Books. We read in silence. I kept his handkerchief. 

Each Sunday after, my family attended church and I went to the bench. Each Sunday, he passed me a section of the paper, learning which I preferred. He once slid Sports across to me and, eyebrow raised, I slid it back. He slid Opinion my way, chuckling. My heart skipped. I imagined how his laugh would sound unleashed. 

We never spoke. Except once. I arrived with a swollen eye and cut on my face, blood mixing with tears. He stood close, holding his handkerchief to my cheek. “Please,” he’d said.  I sat and, after a minute, he joined me, sliding Travel down the bench. 

I left my husband soon after.

This morning the bench holds only a copy of The Times, opened to Obituaries, a photo and his name. I touch the scar on my cheek and say his name for the first and only time. John MacKenzie.

I don’t read on. The details are not for me. They’re for whomever left the paper for me to find. 


Emma Ward


A former journalist and government communications specialist from Boston in Lincolnshire, Emma now teaches Iyengar yoga in Nottingham and was a finalist in the creative non-fiction category with her story ‘Supernovae.’


Explaining how her story developed, she said, “The competition’s theme of ‘change’ got me thinking about my children leaving home. And the most difficult challenge was writing about something which is personally painful and being honest and showing vulnerability whilst also trying to write well.”


Emma said her story went through five revisions over five weeks. “The original version was much longer. The cutting process was a distillation of the writing to its essence. My revisions sparked new ideas which coalesced around cosmic imagery.”


Though ‘Children Leaving Home’ was her working title, Emma said ‘Supernovae’ came to her as a result of an image she used in her story. “It expresses the light and brilliance that children bring to parents’ lives but how quickly their time with us passes,” she said.


As to her response upon hearing she was selected as a finalist, “I was shocked and excited in equal measure. I’ve only entered one other competition before and wasn’t expecting this. Success in this competition has given me more self-belief as a writer and motivates me to carve out more writing time. I’m now editing my first novel.” 


Supernovae

by Emma Ward

A footstep on the stairs. The slam of a door. Which one is it? Then my stomach plummets. My husband is beside me so it can only be my daughter. My son has gone. Left home, like his brother before him. Only she remains. Her last days with us are shimmering shards of light on the surface of the sea before the sun sets.

One has children for a brief pulse of time: they are supernovae lighting up the sky, then slowly they fade away. 

The urge to have children was strong, defying all my prior determination not to reproduce. I had a busy job. There was no obvious way children could fit into my life. My own unhappy childhood made me doubt I’d be a good mother. Worse, I feared I’d inflict damage. Feminism fed into it too. Motherhood would be a trap, making it hard to work and pursue my own dreams. But there came a time when the gravitational pull to have kids caused the collapse of all my objections.

And so the children arrived in a starburst of disruption and noise, tiny tyrants who held sway over us and for whom I’d do anything. They brought joy with their excitement and love for life. Their childish voices still haunt the house, their little feet patter up and down the stairs, their fat arms still hang around my neck, their soft cheeks against my lips. I have flashbacks to their games, the absoluteness with which they inhabited imaginary worlds. The boys conducted battles, my daughter joining in whilst protecting her doll babies too; they went on elaborate adventures; they became animals or magical beings; they rehearsed and performed on-the-spot shows.

They evolved, grew taller, became adolescents. They needed us less, needed their friends more. I miss their long limbs moving through the house, the beat of their music, the doorbell ringing as friends arrived, the sound of their laughter, their sudden demands.

‘Two down, one to go,” jokes my husband. But he feels the loss nearly as keenly as me. We no longer know who we are,  what we’re for. We’ve neglected our love, in giving to them. When it was new, it rang clear and shone as bright as crystal glass. Now its sound is muted, its brightness dulled with the years. Can we polish it to make it shine again, or will it break when we try? 

We are left with only the gaps the children leave behind: the empty seats at the table; the unused, unusually tidy bedrooms; the too quiet house; the space between us on the sofa. Somehow we have to navigate our way back to each other, without the map of our children to guide us. 

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