Competition Winners 2022
Flash Fiction and Overall Winner
Pierre Perera: I discovered Write By The Sea through a writers Facebook group. I had been writing for several years and at the time had only sent out a couple of pieces with little success, so you can imagine the pleasant surprise I experienced when I received the email saying I had been chosen as the Flash Fiction category winner!
I feel that flash gives an opportunity to create brief windows into new places, and I’m thankful to the WBTS Festival for including this form in their competition. It’s not every day someone supports you for writing about a news interview at the end of the world.
The piece I entered was one that came to me quite out of the blue, the title first and then the story, which is the complete opposite of how it normally turns out, with me sweating and straining to find a couple of words which sum up the thing I’ve just written. I could say a lot about concerns about the global situation and anxieties about climates both political and environmental, but I think what inspired me most was people reaching out. That’s something we can all understand.
Reading at the festival was a strange experience for me; I’ve never had to give a reading to such a big audience, let alone via Zoom! Whilst I was sad not to be there in person, it was amazing to hear the other winners’ pieces, their different styles and stories, the way they crafted words and worlds I couldn’t begin to imagine. And it was equally as amazing when, a few weeks later, I received a hand-carved trophy in the post – the one I hadn’t been able to see on the day due to a webcam malfunction!
The Write By The Sea 2022 competition was the first writing contest I ever placed in, let alone won, and the trophy will always have pride of place on my desk. So don’t be afraid to enter, you never know where your writing may take you!
Excuse Me, What are your Opinions about the End of the World?
The old woman scrunches up her face.
‘Well-’ her voice is a long drawl, molasses falling out of a spoon. ‘-I guess I’m fixing to spend it with my family. Or least, I would be, if they hadn’t all gone off to Wichita to try and get into that last shelter. News said it was open till midnight but I don’t believe it. It’s like those gas stations that say they’re open twenty four hours but the one time you’re outta gas on a long ride home there’s never anyone there.’
Her fingers tremble slightly as she pulls up the zipper of her cardigan, nose sniffing at the sky with its faint scattering of ash.
‘So I guess it’s just me. Me and Zeke, though he’s not got long in him. Doctor said his liver’s gone. Wouldn’t give him more than a week, even with all the pills he handed me for free.’ She shakes the pockets of her coat and they rattle like they are full of bones. ‘Guess I can give him as many as he needs, and I’ve got all the TV dinners I could ask for. Even if the boys come home, we ain’t gonna run out.’
Under her feet are shards of glass, blown from broken windows at the end of the street. A car, her car, she had said, is parked crookedly against a lamppost.
‘But I don’t know. Hopefully they found a way in. They ought to be looking after the young,
A growing wind picks up cinders which she blinks out of her eyes. The glass cracks beneath her shoe.
‘Not that we ever did, anyhow.’
Her gaze drops to the end of the microphone.
‘Why is it you’re asking? Haven’t you got somewhere else to be? Watching that spaceship launch or finding a bunker or something?’
She cocks her head as she listens to the answer, a strand of hair twisting loose in the breeze.
‘My set packed up two weeks ago,’ she says, after clicking her tongue against her teeth. ‘Been getting all my news from Rod Selbert up the road. Been there over fifty years, told us he was never leaving. Went up there last night to find the place empty.’
Her hat is speckled with grey, the white bobble on the end flopping down to graze the top of her ear. Behind her, the mountains seem ready to burst into flame.
‘Just goes to show. Nothing but death and taxes.’ She laughs, and it is like the wind whistling
through a screen door. ‘Now we ain’t even gotta worry about taxes.’
The whistle dies to a faint crackle, just a dry patch of leaves in her throat
On Saturday the 18th of March, Poet Deborah Finding will lead our first Zoom Room to Write session of 2023 with a workshop entitled Modern Love Poems. It’s a theme close to her heart as Deborah won first place in the poetry category of our 2022 Writing Competitions with her stunning love poem ‘keys to the city’. In this article Deborah reflects on her win and the impact that it has had on her writing.
“I heard about the Write By The Sea competition the way I hear about most poetry opportunities – on Twitter. There are a couple of websites that collate upcoming submission deadlines and competitions, and WBTS was included on one of those. I submitted three poems, and was delighted when I found out that one of them, ‘keys to the city’ had been shortlisted. When the results were announced and I found out that my poem had won, I was thrilled – not least because it meant I got to attend the festival in beautiful Kilmore Quay.
The festival itself was wonderful – gorgeous surroundings, amazing food and, of course, an inspiring schedule of events. All three winners in the writing categories were invited to read their winning entries on the opening night of the festival, and although I felt nervous at first, we were treated to the warmest reception, which continued all weekend. The festival is incredibly well-organised, welcoming and friendly, and I couldn’t recommend it more highly. I met people in Kilmore Quay that I’ve remained in touch with, and I’m also running the first Zoom Room to Write, 2023 poetry workshop for Write By The Sea on the 18th of March this year, so our relationship continues as well!
I’m so grateful to the organisers, the judges, the prize sponsor (Rosslare Municipal District), the volunteers, the writers and the attendees, who all made this a truly special weekend. I would recommend the festival to anyone interested in writing, whether entering the competition or not, but attending as a competition winner made it really unforgettable for me. Winning the poetry competition was a huge confidence boost to me as a writer, and definitely encouraged me to submit my work more widely, which led to more successes, including having my first poetry pamphlet accepted for publication in June 2023 (with Nine Pens).”
keys to the city
when you bring me to your hometown
let’s skip the museum of modern art
unless it’s to show me the painting
that made you realise you were queer
point out the spot on the hairpin road
where you fell hard from your bike
leaving the scar on your lip that I kissed
and asked about during our first time
lead me to the painted-over alley wall
where the graffiti fuck the patriarchy
made you google ‘what is patriarchy’
and led you to your first protest march
we can drink coffee in the bookshop
where you discovered Angela Davis
and a cute barista who kept you alert
with caffeine and an uncertain flirtation
kiss me in the rose-scented city park
where you had your first with your first
and again on the street where she left you
alone with a green-inked note of apology
buy me a beer in the ramshackle dive bar
where you came out to your best friends
blind drunk, they stopped you falling then
and you knew after that they always would
I will love you more on every corner
of these autobiographical streets, so open up
my hand and give me the keys to the city
that built you, one beautiful brick at a time
Short Story Winner
It has been an exciting year for fiction writer Sheena Wilkinson whose first novel for adults, Mrs Hart’s Marriage Bureau, a feelgood feminist romance set in 1934, was published by HarperCollins Ireland in March 2023. We feel a particular glow of pride for Sheena as she is also the winner of the Write By The Sea 2022 Fiction Short Story prize and we had the pleasure of hosting her on stage at our September 2022 festival when she read her winning story.
We caught up with Sheena recently and she shared with us how her 2022 Write By The Sea success proved to be an important turning point in her writing fortunes. Sheena has strong words of encouragement for anyone who thinks they might like to enter our Writing Competition.
Sheena: “After a spell of some success in short story competitions, and then some barren years, I’d lost heart – nothing I wrote seemed to be getting even longlisted anymore. I was confident these stories were as good as the ones that had been winning prizes a decade ago – better, surely, as I knew I’d developed as a writer in those years? I’d had novels published, and won awards with them, but I seemed to have lost my way as a short story writer.
When I saw the Write by the Sea competition, however, I decided to dust off one of those stories and give it a go. I had always believed in my story ‘The Beachcomber and the Mermaid’, a bittersweet wartime romance, and I wondered if this might be its chance – it sounds silly, but I thought the seaside location of both the festival and the story might be serendipitous. I knew, of course, that Write by the Sea had a wonderful reputation as a friendly and beautifully curated festival in a breath-taking location.
The emails saying I was shortlisted, and eventually that I had won, were bright spots in summer 2022 for me. I was ecstatic and there was no question but that I would make the long trip to Kilmore Quay for the prize giving. As I had expected from the whole way the competition had been run, everything about the event was delightful. Of course the location is out of those world, and the sun sparkled on the sea all weekend, but what made it special was the atmosphere. I’ve been to many festivals but this one made me feel like a star! Having the opportunity to read my story to a very engaged audience was amazing – it’s rare to be given the chance to read more than a few paragraphs. This festival, and its competitions really are gems. The prize was generous, thanks to the sponsorship of Rosslare and Municipal District Council, and even better than the money, there was the most beautiful hand-crafted trophy. And of course the publicity associated with winning a prestigious prize is always very welcome.
I’d encourage any writer to have a go, even if you’ve lost a bit of confidence. Literary competitions are so subjective, but if you write the best story you can, sooner or later, as mine did, it will find its audience – and you never know, that might well be the Write by the Sea judging panel!”
The Beachcomber and the Mermaid
‘One of us should go next door. But I’m afraid I’d find it much too upsetting.’ Mother’s knitting-needles clack and squeak. Light from the window streaks her khaki sock with yellow.
Rose admires her huge diamond ring, sparkling in the same shaft of light. ‘I don’t think Malcolm would quite like it. And of course I’m so busy, being engaged.’
I sigh and turn my own knitting over. ‘I’ll go,’ I say, as they have always known I would. Good old Prudence. Not too sensitive. Not too busy. Plenty of time for Good Works.
‘Well, you and the Sheldons were tremendous pals, weren’t you?’ Mother says.
‘Years ago.’ The boys on the beach. Bertie teasing, catching you out with a whip of wet seaweed, Peter serious, given to beachcombing. Rose still a toddler, waddling on the shingle, crying when we ran away from her.
‘And now poor Bertie… the Somme… and Mr and Mrs Sheldon too. I’ve always said motorcars were dangerous.’ Mother shakes her head and her sock dances.
‘Why didn’t Peter come before?’ I ask. ‘The funeral was weeks ago.’
‘He had to wait for leave.’
‘Horrid way to spend his leave. Sorting out the estate. Poor Peter.’
‘Sorting out the debts.’ Mother lowers her voice, though it’s only the three of us. ‘Rocklands is to be sold. Of course Mr Sheldon was never the same after Bertie…’ She mimics a drinking action.
‘Maybe I could help out a bit with the practical side of things. Packing and so forth.’ I unravel a row to pick up a dropped stitch.
‘Good old Prudence,’ Mother says. ‘That’s the spirit.’
‘It’s rather romantic, isn’t it?’ Rose says. ‘Dashing young officer, tragically orphaned. Heartbroken—’
My stomach shudders to think of Peter transformed by war and death into a tragic stranger. ‘It’s not remotely romantic,’ I say. ‘Just sad.’
Rose twists her ring. ‘Oh, you’ve no romance in your soul. Just wait until you fall in love. The whole world shifts.’ But she says it smugly, because we both know that I’m not the falling-in-love type. Still less the being-fallen-in-love-with type.
Rocklands breathes out dead air and dust-motes; and white-sheeted furniture hunches in dim rooms. Peter and I shift boxes and stack pictures against walls, and fill tea-chests. We don’t talk of dead people or the war. We remember the days of beachcombing and teasing. Nothing sad, except that everything’s sad now. He’s not exactly the boy on the beach, but he’s still Peter.
I find a jar of coloured glass, blues and greens and ambers, fleecy with dust.
‘Don’t,’ I say, as Peter sets it on the rubbish pile. ‘It must have taken you years to gather them. They look like jewels.’
‘I can’t be sentimental about some bits of old washed-up beer bottle.’
‘Then I can.’ I take the jar, and he smiles.
There are very few actual jewels – his mother was a hearty woman, devoted to King Charles spaniels. Everything – a worn gold wedding band and a ring with a small green-blue stone, very pretty and simple; a string of pearls, a couple of brooches – fits into one small lacquered box. I set it on the mantelpiece and Peter says he will look at it later.
Every night I brush clouds of dust out of my hair and Mother says it can’t be good for my chest though it’s splendid that I’m doing my bit for an old neighbour.
On his last day in England, Peter changes out of the old jersey he’s been wearing all week, and is unfamiliar in khaki. ‘I’ll walk you home,’ he says. We cut through the Rocklands garden to the beach. I trail a skein of dried-up wrack and for a time its gentle scrape along the shingle is the only sound.
‘Thank you,’ Peter says.
‘This week. I couldn’t have done it alone.’
‘It was only putting things in boxes.’
‘You know it wasn’t.’
‘I was glad of a change. You can’t think how dull it is at home.’
Peter makes a noise that’s sort-of-a-laugh-but-not-really. ‘Wouldn’t mind a bit of dullness.’
‘Sorry – tactless. I hope – when you go back…’ Don’t get killed.
‘Look, Prudence. I’d like you to have this.’ He fumbles in his pocket and takes out the ring with the blue-green stone.
‘I don’t need a keepsake. Anyway, I have the bits of glass.’ Washed, shining like jewels on my bedroom windowsill.
Peter lets out a long breath. ‘Call it a keepsake, if you’d rather. But – well, it was Mother’s engagement ring, and we get on so well…’ He half-turns away, looks down the beach. ‘I’d love to feel there was someone – to sort of – belong to.’
No. I’m not the least in love with Peter, and he’s not in love with me. I’m just good old Prudence, solid in a world where his family is dead, his possessions are in tea-chests, and he’s going back to God-knows-what tomorrow. I open my mouth to say that, to wish him well, to say I’ll always be fond of him—
But I’ve never been in love with anyone. Deep down, I know I never will be. Just you wait, Rose said. The whole world shifts.
He’s going back to the front tomorrow.
And I’ll be back to Mother reading out the casualty lists at breakfast and complaining about the butcher not sending his best cuts and telling me the vicar’s wife wants me to knit bonnets for Belgian refugee children and can she put me on the flower rota? And Rose will marry Malcolm and then it will be just me and Mother, forever.
Someone – to sort of – belong to. He might not come back.
‘Yes,’ I say. Peter’s shoulders slump and he slips the little aquamarine ring onto my finger.
‘It’s the colour of the sea,’ I say.
‘Yes, it’s aquamarine. That’s why I thought you’d like it.’
‘I love it.’
I carry on knitting and helping Mother and winding bandages for the Red Cross, but people admire my ring and say, Fancy that!
Peter writes: scrawled, impersonal letters, mostly anecdotes about his men, or memories of childhood. That pony you had who wouldn’t get his hooves wet… The time Nanny fell asleep and Bertie buried her in sand...
When the telegram comes, and then the letters, Mother says I can go up to London alone. After all, I’m twenty-six, and engaged, and it’s only a day trip.
Dread makes me dawdle along the Chelsea streets to the hospital. I imagine all the people living in the bright red-brick mansion flats, without mothers and knitting and the vicar’s wife calling. I bend my head so far back to try to see in the high windows that my grey woollen tam falls off. As I dust it down and replace it on my head, I think, You should have worn a more elegant hat. He’ll think you haven’t made an effort. And then, Well, he won’t see what you’re wearing. It doesn’t matter. And I force my feet to quicken.
A VAD nurse takes me to Peter’s ward. ‘You’re the first visitor Lieutenant Sheldon’s had,’ she says. ‘He’s awfully excited.’
I can’t see which of the men in the long bed-lined room is Peter – they are all young, all in blue pyjamas, mostly bandaged somewhere. Oh, please, let that not be him, plucking at the coverlet, writhing, moaning. No! There, in the bed by the window. His eyes are shut. I’ve never seen him asleep.
‘Looks like the excitement’s been too much,’ I say, and the nurse smiles. Her blue-green eyes are shadowed with tiredness. She has freckles.
‘Don’t feel hurt. He’s not awfully fit yet.’ She tucks a lock of reddish hair into her cap. ‘I’ll just wake him.’
‘If he needs to sleep…?’
‘You’ve come all this way. He’d be fearfully cross to miss you.’ She touches his arm, confident, intimate – no, that’s silly; she’s just doing her job. He starts awake, eyes snapping open and then shut as if the light hurts. Without being asked, she draws down the blind a little.
‘I’ll leave you alone together,’ she says.
‘Don’t!’ I want to say, but I squash down my foolishness.
I always imagined nurses gliding, but she walks with an easy swing like a hockey player. She stops beside the bed of the writhing man and speaks to him in a soft voice.
‘Prudence?’ Peter reaches a hand towards me. I don’t know how much he can see or how permanent the damage is. I sit down. This is me, Prudence Kane. This damaged soldier is my fiancé. It’s not real. But Peter’s hand feels hot and dry, real enough to nip my skin when it catches against the aquamarine ring.
‘Thank you for coming.’ His voice is hoarse.
‘Of course I came! We’ve been so worried.’
‘I hoped they’d send me to Chichester. Easier for you. But – ours not to reason why. At least I’m in England.’ His eyelids flicker and he frowns.
‘Do your eyes hurt?’ I don’t think they look different, but then I’ve never gone round gazing into them.
‘Not much now. They’re just rather useless – as eyes. I can see that you’re there, but not really that you’re you.’ He yawns. ‘Oh, Prudence, I’m so sorry.’
I squeeze his hand. ‘Go back to sleep.’ At least we won’t have to think of conversation.
‘You won’t go away?’
‘Of course not.’
Rose would think it romantic. The faithful young fiancée holding the blinded officer’s hand. Peter twitches and starts in sleep. His skin is blotchy, dry in patches round his mouth. His breath wheezes. I imagine the gas still inside him, poisoning him slowly, seeping out on every breath, creeping through every pore.
Someone is snoring. Someone is muttering. Something rattles – some kind of trolley. Too hot but I can’t take my jacket off without disengaging my hand. I nod and start.
‘Miss Kane?’ It’s the VAD nurse again. ‘I’ve brought you some tea.’
White china. Warm in my hands. ‘Thank you.’
She bends over Peter. Cool, strong-looking hand on his forehead. No ring. She wouldn’t be allowed one on duty, I don’t suppose.
‘Will he – be all right? He seems so…’
‘He won’t die. His sight won’t improve any more, and there’ll always be a weakness in his lungs. You’ll have to take very good care of him.’
Perhaps she hears the uncertainty in my voice because she says, ‘You’ll be all right.’ She smiles. ‘He’s been lucky.’
‘I suppose it’s all relative.’
‘Yes. Of course we don’t see any very acute cases here.’
‘Do you like nursing?’
Her lips twitch. ‘There’s a lot of scrubbing. It’s not as romantic as people seem to think.’
Nothing ever is. I think of saying it aloud, but Peter’s eyes flicker and he clutches my hand tighter and instead I say, ‘I’m here, Peter. I haven’t gone away.’
Her name is Felicity. It’s easier when she’s there. Peter mostly sleeps. I learn his breathing noises, the weight of his hand, the texture of his skin. I get used to this new Peter, who isn’t the boy on the beach anymore.
One Sunday I find him hunched over, racked by coughs. Felicity holds an enamel dish in front of him. I step backwards. My hands fly up to cover my eyes but nothing can muffle the spluttering, heaving rattle. My stomach squirms. Felicity pats his back and says, ‘That’s right, best get rid of it.’
When he’s done Felicity slips a white cloth over the bowl, and Peter sags against the pillows, sweaty, purple-faced, gasping, strings of phlegm pasted to his white lips.
‘Better now.’ An order rather than a question. ‘Let’s get you cleaned up for Miss Kane.’ She bathes his face and hands. ‘Don’t try to talk,’ she warns him.
Before she goes she touches my arm. ‘Please don’t worry.’
Both of us ignore her instructions. Peter frowns. ‘I suppose you saw that.’
‘Yes. Poor old you.’
‘I wish you hadn’t.’
I wish I hadn’t. ‘It doesn’t matter.’ I reach for his hand. It’s still damp.
‘It happens a lot. You’ve been lucky until now. I’m much less disgusting when I’m asleep.’
‘Don’t be silly.’
He shakes off my hand. ‘Prudence – this is how it’s going to be. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to work. What I got for Rocklands will buy us a cottage if we’re lucky. No help. No comforts.’
‘I don’t need comforts.’
‘You think it will be romantic? Love in a cottage?’
‘You should know me better than that.’
But we don’t know each other very well, do we?
‘I …’ He takes a rough breath. ‘I don’t expect you to marry me now. You didn’t sign up for this.’ He waves a hand. ‘Blind, useless—’
‘Stop it.’ I lean over and kiss his forehead. It is damp and tastes of salt.
‘Don’t marry me out of pity.’
‘Don’t be a chump.’ I close my eyes. Tea-chests in the dusty hall. His mother’s ring. The jar of beachcombed glass. Someone – to sort of – belong to. ‘I won’t hear of breaking it off. So unless you can’t bear the thought of marrying me, you’ll just have to put up with me.’
Good old Prudence. That’s the spirit.
Tears slide out of his eyes. ‘Gladly,’ he says.
I stroke the damp hair off his forehead. ‘It will be all right,’ I promise.
The bell rings at last. I know I should kiss him, but I can’t forget the phlegm. I touch my fingers to his lips instead.
In the hallway I pass Felicity pulling on her coat.
‘All right?’ she asks, buttoning with deft fingers. ‘Try not to worry. You’ll get used to it.’
Tears push up my throat. ‘It’s so – horrible.’ I scrub at my face. If I let the tears slide out, would she comfort me? ‘Sorry – that sounds… I didn’t mean…’ I blink, find my handkerchief, have a good blow.
Under her navy outdoor cap Felicity’s eyes are the colour of the sea on a bright day. Aquamarine. Like my ring. ‘Come back for tea. My rooms are in the next street. You can pull yourself together before your train. Do you have time?’
‘I don’t want to be a bore.’ My rooms – she mustn’t live at home.
‘I never do anything that bores me.’ She laughs. ‘Actually, that’s a lie. Emptying bedpans, washing out sputum jars… But having tea with you won’t be anything like that.’
‘I hope not.’
Her rooms – airy, untidy, modern, all open doors and discarded cups and trailing stockings – are high up in one of the mansion blocks I’ve woven fancies around. While Felicity makes tea I look out the window at rooves and brick and sky, and the street far below. There are photos on the mantelpiece of a second lieutenant with a dark moustache. Sweetheart? Brother? Husband?
‘Do you live here alone?’ I ask.
‘Lord, no,’ Felicity calls from the kitchenette. ‘I share with a pal. She’s a tram conductor.’ She makes it sound great fun. ‘We both work shifts and our char has abandoned us. Hence the mess.’
‘It’s not a mess; it’s heaven.’ I move some stockings aside and sink into an armchair. I no longer feel like crying.
Felicity sets an orange teapot on the little table in front of the fire. ‘I’ll light the gas,’ she says. ‘It’s fearfully cold for July.’
The gas pops and the fire glows. I’d like to stay here forever.
Felicity pulls at the waist of her VAD dress. ‘Phoo,’ she says. ‘I feel all piggy. Would you excuse me – I must change into something fresher.’
She goes into what must be a bedroom. She doesn’t close the door: I can’t help seeing a slice of blue dress, white corset and slip, creamy skin. She bends to rummage in a chest of drawers, a question-mark of suppleness. There are red rubbed marks above her corset. She leans back and pulls the pins from her hair and it falls, russet and silky, to her waist.
She reappears in a loose greenish frock, her hair still loose. ‘You don’t mind, do you?’ she says. ‘It’s such a relief to get the pins out.’
‘Of course not.’ You look like a mermaid.
She pours the tea, her hair falling forward over her face. My fingers long to reach out towards it, to push it back, to feel its weight.
I set my teacup on the arm of the armchair. I won’t be able to drink it. My throat has closed over.
The whole world has shifted.
Felicity tucks her feet under her and sips her tea. ‘I’m sorry there aren’t any buns,’ she says. ‘I’m a shocking housekeeper. Now, are you feeling better about Lieutenant Sheldon? You will get used to it, you know. The trick is – try not let him know you find it so distressing. And then, after a while, you won’t. Honestly. I was fearfully squeamish when I started. Fainted the first time I had to do a dressing.’ She laughs.
I imagine her fainting, scooping her up, feeling the fall of her hair, her weight in my arms. But we aren’t in a hospital ward; there is no wounded soldier with his suppurating wound, no VAD uniform. We are on the beach, the waves frothing to the shore, and we are alone, and her hair sweeps across her breasts. She opens her aquamarine eyes and murmurs something.
‘And I can see you’re the sensible type, aren’t you?’ Felicity says. ‘Not one of these silly romantic girls. That’s bound to help too.’
‘Yes,’ I agree. ‘I’m sure it will.’ I can’t believe that my voice comes out so ordinary.
I pick up my cup and set it down again. ‘I ought to go, really. Mother will worry if I’m not on the 5.35. Thanks for the tea. And tell Peter I’ll be back on Tuesday, at the usual time.’