Two women - one from Texas and one from Yorkshire - have edged out hundreds of writers from around the world including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, Africa and the US to win our latest ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ (WAWA) on the theme of beauty.
Whitney Whitener, a teacher of English as a foreign language for more than ten years and now a writer/editor for Animation World Network, an animation news publishing group, won our flash fiction competition with a futuristic story entitled ‘Love At First Sight.’
Born in Alaska and raised in California, Whitney, 38, spent seven years in Chile teaching English as a foreign language at a university in Concepción, before moving to College Station in eastern Texas.
Whitney’s story is based on a futuristic sci-fi concept involving special cerebral and ocular implants that enable people to see others for whom they truly are in terms of personality.
Explaining her exotic choice of story plot, Whitney, who learned about our writing competition in the Reedsy page of writing contests said, “The phrase ‘Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder’ came to mind. Then, probably because of all the Twilight Zone and Outer Limit episodes I watched with my dad as a kid, I thought, what if ‘in the eye of the beholder’ was literal, and we could put some sort of technology in the eye that changed our perception of beauty.”
Her story underwent three major revisions.
“In the first draft, I wrote a story about a sweet girl excited and nervous about getting the implant, but I was bored by her before I had finished the story so I scrapped that and went on to write about a girl who didn’t want to get the implant but who was forced to by circumstance, which I found much more interesting. Once it was written, I let it sit for a month before I edited it again.”
Whitney, who holds a Bachelors' degree in economics and a Master’s in linguistics, said she initially entitled her story, ‘Eye of the Beholder’ which she felt “had a nice poetic ring to it.” But added, “Once I started writing and named the ocular implant company ‘Love At First Sight’ I felt that title was a better fit for the style of the story, which isn’t poetic at all, and gives no clues as to what the story is about.”
Reacting to her win, Whitney said, “I gasped, then I cried, then I texted all my family members with a screenshot of the congratulatory email and the text ‘Holy **** I won!’ I just sat there staring at the email in disbelief. This is my first time having a story published or winning any sort of award or recognition for writing, and it is exactly the affirmation I needed to keep me going as I work on my novel and continue to send out my short stories for publication.”
Love At First Sight
by Whitney Whitener
Love at First Sight
“You know, I love seeing pretty girls like you come in for the procedure,” said the unattractive nurse. “It shows you value what’s on the inside.”
Kelly averted her eyes.
“It’s easy for us ugly girls to say it’s what’s on the inside that counts, but someone like you,” her eyes roamed over Kelly’s silky blonde hair, big blue eyes and porcelain skin, “someone like you who’s probably always been fawned over for her good looks, well. I think it takes a great bit of character to give that all up and go for it,” she said making more notes on the computer as she read Kelly’s transmitting vitals.
“I mean, if we can’t be seen for who we are, how can we ever find love, right?” she said, repeating the company’s tagline as she patted Kelly on the shoulder.
The nurse, upon seeing Kelly’s panic-stricken face, misinterpreted the source of her dread and continued chorusing from the company’s brochure.
“Our office has been transitioning patients for almost a year now. With the Love at First Sight cerebral and ocular implants, you will see others, others who also have the implants that is, for who they truly are inside, and they you. The implants will allow you to find the things you find appealing, be it ambition, or humour, or a love of pot-bellied pigs, through the implants as if they were physical attractiveness in others. So, you will be physically attracted to the kind of person you want to be with, and they with you. Finally, our appearance will no longer hinder us from being loved, but we will be seen and loved for who we truly are.”
The nurse paused, and then added, “You want to be loved for you, right?”
And there was the problem.
“But… What if I’m ugly?” She hadn’t realized she had voiced her deepest fear aloud until she saw the nurse’s comforting smile.
“Kelly, those are just nerves. You’ve done all the paperwork, you’re prepped and ready to go, let’s get on with it, shall we?”
It was true. Kelly had signed the paperwork. The solicitor had urged Kelly and her parents to take the odd terms of the settlement so as not to appear before the judge, who would surely have given her a much harsher sentence. Her school had a zero-tolerance policy for bullying after all. And what she’d posted about Jessica, repeatedly, online, making sure everyone took notice of her repulsive deformity, had gone viral through the school, and according to school policy, that was bullying.
These were the terms of the settlement set by Jessica’s family: Kelly’s parents not only had to pay for Jessica to get the Love at First Sight implant, but Kelly had to get one too.
An hour later and Kelly was handed a mirror.
“All done now. You want to see what you, the real you, looks like?”
Kelly nervously raised the mirror.
Elizabeth Stanforth-Sharpe, a former social worker now in her early 60s who lives in the East Riding area of Yorkshire, won the ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ creative non-fiction category with her story entitled ‘Sweet Sylvia.’
Her uplifting story focused on her deep admiration for a young girl who had suffered such severe burns she had to wear a face mask, and whom Elizabeth describes having ‘glittering green eyes and hair the colour of Golden Syrup I swirled on my morning porridge.’
Elizabeth’s story was inspired by her memory as an eight-year-old child of a young woman who worked in a shop where she chose sweets every Saturday whilst her mother went to the butcher's next door. “She was always caring and helpful, and I don't think it ever once occurred to me as a young child that she never spoke, or that her 'smile' came from her eyes only,” she said. ”Children don't analyse differences, or make the same appearance judgements that adults do, but respond to kindness and patience.”
After her initial social work career, Elizabeth describes herself as “a homemaker and home-educator, but I've always had a creative or academic study going on alongside, so, my amazing children all now flown to their own extraordinary lives, it's lovely to explore other interests more fully.”
She said she made “lots” of revisions to her story.
“I felt a responsibility to represent those who live with facial disfigurements well and to convey the message that 'beauty' is something far more than physical appearance,” she said. “Someone can outwardly be the most attractive person in the world, but if it isn't matched by a loving, kind soul then it counts for nothing.”
The most challenging aspect of writing her story, she said, was “trying not to convey the adults in the piece as being too judgemental,” adding, “This was the 1960s in a very insular rural community. Perceptions and understandings of 'differences' were bound in language and concepts that were blisteringly removed from modern openness and acceptance. I would like to think that support and validation would be very different for beautiful Sylvia today.”
Choosing a title for her story was also a challenge.
“I sometimes think finding the right title for a piece is far harder than writing it," she said. "I didn't want it to give away what the story was about before the reader had even begun to read. I also didn't want to 'sensationalise' the subject matter like a tabloid headline. Nor did I want to be too oblique. In the end, I chose 'Sweet Sylvia' because that is how I always thought of her - she was the 'sweet lady' of my childhood, in every sense of the phrase.”
by Elizabeth Stanforth-Sharpe
I thought the girl in the sweetshop was the most beautiful person in the entire world. Admittedly, my experience of the entire world extended no further than the confines of our small market town, but I could not imagine that I would discover a more delightful soul.
Sylvia had exquisite green eyes that shone when she smiled, and hair that was the colour of the Golden Syrup I swirled on my morning porridge. Her quiet, gentle manner was endlessly kind as she watched me make my purchases.
Saturday mornings spent choosing ‘goodies’ in Mr Harris’s tiny little shop on the bridge were the highlight of my eight-year-old days. Two three-penny bits clutched so hard in the palm of my hand that the shaped edges hurt, I would pore over the open boxes of delights, carefully working out which combinations yielded most value for my money. I wasn’t keen on flying saucers, foam shrimps or bananas, and my mam wouldn’t let me have the bubble-gum sweets, so they were all ignored. Black Jacks and Fruit Salads were not only my favourite, but four for a penny, so two of each was a given; it was the rest of the choice that took time and careful consideration. Spanish Catherine wheels and watches, sweet cigarettes with pictures of Yogi Bear characters to collect, Coltsfoot Rock, aniseed balls, Jap Desserts, Jazzles, Penny Arrows and tubes of Kali. The options seemed never ending as I idled luxuriously, enjoying the patchwork of colours and shapes laid out before me.
Sylvia looked on patiently.
My final dithering decisions made, Sylvia would pull a triangular white bag from the string that hung from the shop counter, deftly flick it open and skilfully stack each sweet, leaving enough room to swing the bag over twice, leaving two neat ears protruding from the sides. The transaction would be complete just in time for mam to appear at the door.
The absolute best bit of a poke of sweets was when all that remained was the sugary scraps caught in the point of the bag. It was, on one occasion, as I tipped the bag to savour that final jumble of fragranced flavours that I caught the conversation between mam and our next-door neighbour.
“It’s a shame about that Sylvia. She was such a bonny lass until the fire. They say she’ll have to wear that burns’ mask for the rest of her life, and she’ll never speak or hear again. It’s a good job they can give her a little job in the shop…”
Sweet crumbs turned to grit twixt paper and tongue as I stumbled out of childhood.
I had never seen Sylvia as someone with a mask. She was the most authentic person I knew, and to me, she was the kindest, clearest communicator that had touched my young life.
I saw glittering green eyes and hair the colour of Golden Syrup, and to me, she was the most beautiful girl in the entire world.