The Pen to Print Awards 2021.
The 2021 Pen to Print Competition Winners Announced
The 2021 Pen to Print writing competition winners were announced on Thursday 29 July at our online awards ceremony. All of the winners receive a trophy and a tablet PC. The winner of the Audio Play competition will also get their play fully produced & recorded by our partner Alternative Stories.
Click the titles to read the full pieces.
And the winners are ...
I have to leave early to catch her on time
My footsteps more hesitant
Fission all around me
A flock of starlings take flight
A whistle pierces through the blanket sky
She rounds the bend; a thunderous roar
Tsunami of senses assaults me
Her open-mouthed funnel belching out steam
Iron lungs encased in her steal corset bellowing
The clanging of her brass bell
Wheels churning below her iron skirt caked in oil and grime
Kinetic wheels grinding on steel tracks spitting out bullets of bright sparks
The stoker; red shiny faced
Shovelling the coal into her fiery cavernous belly feeding her ferocious appetite
I feast upon this apparition of power and might
Lift my hand to salute her
Then just as quickly she is gone
Leaving behind a plumage of smoke and childhood memories in her trail
©Gloria Maloney, 2021
The Selkie Hunt by Nuala Clarke
Ronan stands at the water’s edge and breathes in the salt air. Waves foam up and slam themselves down onto the sand, surrendering into a hushed relief. He takes a pebble from the sand, smooth against his chipped skin, and throws it as far as he can. It disappears in an instant. He pictures it sinking to the seabed, a cloud of sand rising from where it will lay.
He is young. Still a lad to the other fisherman, who have roamed the seas for years. Their faces are lashed from the relentless cold winds. Ronan keeps his beard trim, still young enough to want the attention of the village girls. He saw Emer Reid looking last market day. She glanced to the floor when his eyes met hers, two grey fish scales flashing in the sun.
Ronan looks out to the vague horizon. Clouds are low, blocking the rising sun. It’s hard to find where the sea ends and the sky begins within the countless grey hues. The boats won’t be setting out today. Many have been dragged up onto the shore. Deep groves marking their trail fill with water. Most are upturned in case of rain. Their undersides bask in the open air. A dog barks and investigates some of the boats. Fur disappears into the shadow of their hulls. Ronan whistles and the dog comes running to his feet. He greets him, tussling his ears fondly. He knows his master must be close.
Two strong hands clasp Ronan’s waist and force him to the ground. He is quick to react and turns to fall on his side. The sand is soft, cushioning his fall. Above him a mischievous grin floats in the air.
“Brandon.” Ronan exhales. “Do you need to do that every time?”
Brandon, claiming his smile and setting it into a freckled, round face, replies, “I’ll do it until you manage to dodge me.”
They clamber up. Brandon helps Ronan to his feet, their hands clasp familiarly. Brandon’s dog is circling them yapping in excitement. Grains of sand fall from their clothes like glistening pyrite.
“Will you swim today?” Brandon asks, eagerly.
“Yes.” Ronan states it solemnly.
“I’m not. Pa says I’m not to.” Brandon kicks at the sand. “He’s scared I’m not strong enough for the currents… Hush, Thorn.”
His dog quietens. Ronan scratches his soft head.
“You can go another year, Bran. There’s no rush.” He looks out at the crashing waves. Brandon’s Pa is right to be cautious. Ronan is confident though. He has swum the shoreline and back, to the caves and the slippery rocks that guard them. He has confidence in his body, which he has trained to be powerful.
The sun finally reaches the top of the block of cloud that is bordering the sea. Light fills the day. It casts stretching shadows from the grounded boats back towards the grassy dunes. They walk back to the village together.
They arrive to a delight of coloured fabrics, hung from windows, across the roads. The women are preparing dishes in kitchen windows and on chairs set up on the cobbles. The air is fragrant with a blend of herbs. The carpenter John has brought out his scraps of wood and assembled a large pyre. He is lighting it now, nurturing the flame as carefully as he would a fledgling sparrow. Smoke turrets up into the sky and the orange of a new flame appears, hungry for air.
They sit together for hours, as the village assembles around them. They watch the first sow loaded onto the pyre to be roasted, fat crackling in the heat. They hear elders tell myths of the sea to eager children who have snuck away from chores to be with the men. Some men’s tankards never empty, as they toss back and refill the nectar which makes some docile and others truculent. Ronan is careful. He drinks enough to keep the cold at bay, yet not enough that his senses are dulled. He’s seen men lost to the dark waves at no fault of the sea.
By late evening, the music and dancing has started. Ronan stomps and claps along. He does not ask Emer Reid to dance, though she sits nearby and eyes him. Instead, he watches Brandon dance with the village girls until the music stops, and the ground is cleared to make room for the procession to the beach.
Night comes quickly, eagerly coaxed closer by the village folk in their anticipation. Flames float atop torches, ignited from the pyre. They are carried by the elders who had won previous swims, and by Ma Ó Murchadha, said to be a selkie herself, stolen years ago from the sea by Lorcan Ó Murchadha, who had never returned her skin to her before he had died. She has a large scar down her face, from eye to chin. The pink skin shines in the firelight like a crescent moon. They say it was caused by a fishhook. Ronan’s mother had told him she had got it when she was a seal, others say Lorcan punished her when he caught her looking for her skin. She does not smile, Ma Ó Murchadha. People avoid her hard stare. As she walks past the crowds, Ronan meets her penetrating gaze and feels accused. He looks to the floor and she walks on. When the elders have passed, they all follow the flames down to the beach.
A passage of light shines on the sea surface and up to the resting moon, whole and omniscient in the black sky. Stars shine like pinpricks in a curtain, whispering stories through their formations. The men who will swim walk to the water’s edge. There are no grand speeches. These people know their place in the world. The sand under Ronan’s feet is wet, sinking under his weight. The man on his right, he can’t see who it is, sways. He knows there are ten of them swimming tonight. No one wants to be first. They walk together, slowly, until they feel the sea consume their bare feet. They walk further. The sea grips their calves. It tugs them, beckoning them in.
Ronan is alone now. He cannot see the other men. He only sees the black. There is no sky, no land, only the ocean and its treasures, hidden deep in its depths. The sea has been warmed all summer ready for him. The air is colder than the water, so he submerges himself beneath the surface and begins to swim. He feels strong. He pictures himself as a fish, moving with the currents, ever going forward, sensing his destination. There is no time now. His humanity is being washed away with every stroke. He tries not to think of the selkies, the seal-skinned women who live in the sea. He’s sure that if he thinks of them, they will feel him searching. Instead, he thinks only of the ocean, so close to his body that blood and water flow in sync.
Soon he is at the cliffs. The sea is calm today, for which he is glad. Tumultuous waves have crushed men against these very rocks, beating their limbs and scratching away their paper skin. Ronan climbs up onto one of the rocks, carefully feeling for footholds. He doesn’t slip. Now, crouching, he surveys the rocks. This is where she would be. It’s where the seals come in summer evenings to beach. They are off limits to the fishermen despite the price their flesh would fetch in neighbouring towns. Everyone knows the curse you’ll suffer if you kill a selkie.
He moves across the rocks, quietly. The moon lights his path. Water drips from his hair into rock pools. There! A shadow upon that flat rock. It looks like Thorn when he curls up to sleep by the fireside. Ronan leaps to the next rock and sprints down to the bundle. He can hardly believe it as he snatches up the skin and holds it out. Though he knew, deep down, that the sea favoured him. The coat of a seal hangs in front of him, soft to touch, heavy though dry. He doesn’t know what to do next. Is he meant to hide it? Or sit and wait with it in his grasp? His breathing is steady despite his heart thumping faster than the waves are breaking on the rocks.
He waits. He does not know for how long. Until he sees her emerge from the sea, white as a shell. She is scared when she sees him. She knows what he has in his hands, the power he now wields over her. Everyone knows that if you catch a selkie’s skin, she must follow you to land to be your wife. As she nears, he cannot believe how beautiful she is. Her hair is silver, falling to her waist. Her eyes are like storms, the same blue as Ma Ó Murchadha, the same accusation. Her face is wet.
Ronan does not know what to do. He wants her. He wants a selkie wife. He even wants the adoration of the village folk. No one has returned with a selkie wife in his lifetime. Winners have only been judged by their time spent at sea, not from the rewards of the hunt. He pictures Brandon’s face, shocked, ecstatic, venerate. He imagines this woman in his bed, the daughter of the sea bound to him, her face cupped in his hands, her glimmering hair on their pillow. Isn’t this what the ocean wanted?
The selkie stands watching him. She is close enough that he can see glassy water droplets running slowly down her legs leaving a salt trail. He wants to taste the salt on her. They stand watching each other. He can’t help but think of Ma Ó Murchadha. He sees her sometimes walking on the shore as he sets off in his boat in the early mornings. She haunts the beach, wandering lost across the sand, following her own footprints home when the sun breaches the horizon.
Ronan doesn’t expect to feel hesitant. The selkie is so alive. Her eyes bright and fierce. He won’t have her turned to an echo, like Ma Ó Murchadha.
Ronan places the seal skin carefully on the glistening rock between them. The selkie’s eyes soften as she steps forwardly and picks it up. He hopes that she might choose to stay with him. He watches her wrap her skin around her shoulders and dive from their rock into the ocean. A tail flicks water from the surface of the sea and disappears. She is gone.
Ronan dives into the same spot, certain now of the water’s depth. He swims round to the cove and soon feels the stony bed under his feet. He walks from the sea just as a new dawn breaks. The sky blushes pink. He sits on the shore and watches the waves caress the beach. In the sand, his fingers find a small shell, twisted like an exotic palace.
Many years from now, when he is married to Emer Reid, he will often walk to the cove when the seals are beached and search them for a glimmer of recognition. He’ll never swim in the late summer selkie hunts, but he’ll walk in the procession alongside Ma Ó Murchadha and watch when Brandon and some of his other friends go out to swim. When the other men will boast of the selkies they’ve seen bathing in rock pools, he won’t say a word of the selkie he saw in the moonlight, as he clasped her skin close to him. He will have a thick beard, and from his neck will hang a white shell, which will sing the songs of the sea to his daughter when she holds it to her ear.
©Nuala Clarke, 2021
Covid Story part 2
Covid Story part2
- Waiting 2. Vaccination 3. Hair Cut 4. Brave New World
The Covid story is a personal view of a worldwide event that affected everyone in one way or another.
I live with my mother – shielding and self-isolation were the new orders of the time.
The first lockdown was a whole new world for everyone and took a lot of getting used too. It seemed to last forever.
I tried to depict this waiting with a still life, of eggshells with markings showing the count down.
Hope at last – as people get the first vaccination. Taken at Parsloes Surgery from my car in late January 2021. We hope we can all start planning a brighter future.
Life continues and people are allowed in homes for much needed haircuts, provided masks are worn. This picture of my mum was taken in April 2021.
The new normal – is people wearing masks everywhere. This picture of a man on one wheeled scooter was taken in Docklands which I call Brave New World.
Attempting to take on board the sadness of all that is happening but at the same time thrive on survival, hope, love and the future that we have all worked so hard for.
©Colin Page, 2021
Fifth Runner Up
by H.B. O’Neill
The child had ardently wondered what it would be like to be allowed to eat a whole tin of Cadbury Roses. On Christmas Eve, after mince pies and sherry, her parents had fallen a-slumber on the sofa beside the tree. When the restless child came downstairs in search of a glass of milk she was instead presented with opportunity. She had heard talk of a white Christmas but this one would be forever remembered as green.
Fourth Runner Up
Green Light of the World
by Alice Fowler
The creature lay, legs splayed, on the foreshore. Had a fisherman – perhaps her father – flung it from his net? Or had it blown in with the men and women who arrived each night now, clinging to their sinking boats?
A baby sea turtle, though not like any she had seen: swathed in seaweed, a bright, emerald light shining from the stubbled pockets of its shell.
Star beheld the animal that, on Christmas Eve, had swum not to the city’s gleaming towers, but to her own, forgotten shore. What message did this small stranger bring?
Third Runner Up
by Bob Thompson
She scampers along the riverbank peering into each porthole in turn. Ever since she could walk the lights had been amber reflecting her mother’s caution, scared to let her chosen one out into a threatening world without her protection.
She is carefree, scarcely noticing the razor wire or the danger signs as she makes her way along the rotting hulk towards the final light. She peers in and her eyes fill with wonder.
She sees her face reflected in the glass with the stars and everything beyond framing her. She is looking into the future – and the light is green.
Second Runner Up
by Julie Hartley
She gazed down at the little glowing green thing, intently wondering what it was. At first all she could see was the glow. Then she saw two friendly eyes staring out at her and a little green hat appeared above them. She thought it looked like a pixie. Instead she said, ‘Are you an alien?’
‘No, certainly not! You were right the first time.’
‘But, I didn’t say anything else,’
‘We pixies can read minds, it’s in our nature.’
The girl smiled hesitantly. And the pixie said ‘Yes, you can put me in your pocket and take me home.’
First Runner Up
Magic Travels in Wellies
by Angela Wilson
Emily splashed through small pools at the shores edge, her yellow wellies were magic golden boots that hovered over water, taking her to the fairy kingdom on the other side of the world. The tall smoking nostrils of the fire dragons guarded the entrance, she would have to sneak past them, this was possible as she was wearing her coat of stars, which, at dusk made her invisible. Suddenly, a bright neon light caught her attention, bending, she stared into the glowing water, only to see a green-faced princess staring back at her, Emily smiled, this was the way in.
Handful of Dust
by Angela Wilson
Close to the ebbing sea, Emilia stood mesmerised, her golden curls waved across her small, glowing face. ‘A fairy’, she whispered and bent down to take a closer look into the shimmering pool. Her eyes widened with admiration, such beauty, she hadn’t realised fairies were green and wondered if they all were this colour. Although a little anxious, Emilia could not prevent her small fingers from entering the icy water, she carefully encased the creature and raising her dripping hand up to her face, uncurled her fingers, to reveal – nothing, but simply the words, ‘thank you’ written in fairy dust.
If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.
One should begin any work of fiction with the longest, most convoluted sentence imaginable, then try to beat that record.
Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the readers.
You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it.
Writing is a great comfort to people like me, who are unsure of themselves and have trouble expressing themselves properly.
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.
It is better to ask some of the questions than to know all the answers.
Creativity is contagious, pass it on.
To write successfully, one requires only a sharp pencil, a piece of paper and a hot cup of tea.
Poetry is when an emotion has found it’s thought, and the thought has found words.
Writing lets you break boundaries because you can go anywhere you wish.
The voice in my stories is sometimes authentic, sometimes it is foreign.
Sometimes it is old. Sometimes it is new. Sometimes my writing is Muslim, other times it is Sikh and many times, it is no one’s religion because as long as I am telling the story,
I am in control.
I am whoever I want to be.