We're delighted to reveal that Freshly Fallen Snow by Tony Black, and Artistes Wanted by Noreen Jeffers have been selected as the winning entries of our Find Your Voice writing competition.
The competition, which invited writers born (or who reside) in Northern Ireland to submit 1,000 words of original fiction, creative non-fiction, or 10-15 lines of poetry, was judged by author Paul McVeigh and arranged in partnership with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.
Both winners are recipients of a free place on Finding Your Voice, a new W&A online writing course, beginning in January 2022, led by authors and creative writing experts Natalie Young and Alex Hammond.
A recommended reading list for the course, which is suitable for writers of fiction and creative non-fiction and has been designed to offer a collaborative space in which to develop individual writing styles and book ideas, has just been published, and if you're interested in attending then please click here for further details and booking information.
Of Freshly Fallen Snow, Paul McVeigh said: "This stood out for me because it's hard to write a complete story in just 1,000 words and this author was able to do it with a surprise ending as well! I was impressed by the mix of politics and social realism with a command of the story form.”
And of Artistes Wanted, he said: "I chose Artistes Wanted because the author managed to sum up the everyday worries and stresses of working class life, where even going to meet friends for a drink can be a huge deal. They showed a great eye for detail and conjured up characters in just a few lines which is very impressive."
Both winning entries can be read in full below, with each preceded by a few words of context from the author.
Very well done to both winners, and thanks to everyone else who entered. Do keep your eye on the site for more free writing competitions... and don't forget that entries are still being accepted for our annual Writers' & Artists' Yearbook short story competition, with our winner the lucky recipient of a place on an Arvon writing retreat.
The W&A Team
About Paul McVeigh
Paul recently edited The 32: An Anthology of Irish Working-Class Voices, a collection that brought together 16 published writers and 16 new voices to write about their experience of being working class in Ireland.
Paul's debut novel, The Good Son, won The Polari First Novel Prize and he is twice winner of The McCrea Literary Award. He wrote plays and comedy, with his shows touring the UK and Ireland including the Edinburgh Festival and London's West End. His short stories have appeared in The Irish Times, Faber's Being Various and Kit de Waal's Common People anthologies, on BBC Radio 3, 4 & 5 and Sky Arts. Paul was fiction editor at the Southword Journal, co-edited the Belfast Stories anthology and co-founded the London Short Story Festival
About the Arts Council of Northern Ireland
Both assisted places made available by the Find Your Voice competition have been arranged in partnership with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.
The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is the lead funding and development agency for the Arts providing support to arts projects throughout the region, through its Treasury and National Lottery funds. Arts Council funding enables artists and arts organisations to increase access to the arts across society and deliver great art that is within everyone’s reach.
Read the winning entries
Tony Black on Freshly Fallen Snow: "This is a story written as a companion piece to a song of the same name by Belfast singer-songwriter Eamonn McNamee. It’s part of a joint project, Cover Notes, an album of twelve of Eamonn’s songs and book of twelve of my stories which we have carefully paired to accompany and complement one another.”
Freshly Fallen Snow by Tony Black
“Freshly fallen snow keeps the tarmac cold,” Micky mutters as the young couple spill from the back seat of his taxi and totter up the snow-dusted drive. The opening line of a song he reckons, or maybe part of a poem or story he read somewhere. Since he drives around listening to the radio fourteen hours a day, and reads no hours a day, he knows which is more likely.
They’re at the front door now and she’s laughing – maybe a little too hard – as she gives him her key and he pretends to be too drunk to get it into the lock. Micky doesn’t need to be a literature scholar to appreciate a metaphor when he sees one. Three hours ago neither of those two even knew the other existed: now, no one else in the world matters. So it goes.
He needs another fare before home. He’s bone tired but he’ll grab a coffee somewhere, have a wee toot of whizz, and do another hour. Linda wasn’t happy about him going out again tonight. Two drivers have been shot dead by passengers in the last ten days, just because of their presumed religion. Based on the taxi company they worked for. One was right and the other wrong, in a grotesque asymmetry. So there aren’t many drivers working at the minute. Micky’s glad of the extra hours, with twins due in a month, even if Linda worries.
Her brother’s a butcher and he’s given Micky one of his knives, for security. “Stash it under your seat just in case you need it,” he said. “And don’t twat about with it. You need a licence for those things. It’ll take your finger clean off and you won’t even fuckin know it.” Micky kicks his foot back now and feels the handle of the knife against his heel.
Another job comes through his radio as he swishes the car round on the thin wet snow. City Hall to Black Mountain. Decent run.
“Driver 302 here Control”, Micky says into the mouthpiece. “I’ll take that.”
“Roger, 302. Cheers Micky.”
He arrives at City Hall after a brief pit stop and the passenger bundles into the back seat. He’s dressed in an old charity shop greatcoat and black combat trousers and clutches a shapeless dark backpack.
“Black Mountain please mate.”
The accent’s off. He’s from here, but it’s like he’s trying to disguise it or something. Micky watches him in the rear-view mirror as he settles, nursing the backpack carefully on his lap.
“Whereabouts on the Black Mountain, mucker?”
“If you get as far as Hannahstown I’ll know it from there.”
Micky’s jaw tightens. As he drives, he checks his mirror constantly. The passenger’s looking all around him, all the time, even sliding across the back seat to peer out of one window and then the other. Fucker’s up to something. When Micky asks for directions, it seems as if the passenger selects them at random – “straight on, mate...uuhhh…up to the left here”. The streetlights disappear and the houses thin out.
Micky hears the swish of vinyl from the back seat. The passenger’s opening his backpack, Micky can see him in the mirror, can hear it being unzipped. There’s a shallow passing bay on the near side of the road so Micky pumps the brakes and swings into it. With a fluidity of movement that belies his terror he leans forward and pulls the knife from under his seat. Breathless, he swivels and points it straight at his passenger’s face.
“You move another fuckin inch and I swear to God I’ll slit you right open, right here, right in this car.”
The passenger’s frozen. Speechless. Motionless. Micky has no idea what to do next. He reaches up and switches on the little light above them. The passenger gasps as he sees the massive knife in all its glory. Micky sees a piece of paper in the passenger’s trembling hand, ripped from a jotter, scrawled on.
“The fuck’s that?” he asks.
“A map,” the passenger whispers.
“My Auntie Ann’s.”
Micky’s confused, initially about why the passenger would want to kill their Auntie Ann, then generally.
“I haven’t been home in years,” the passenger explains. “I thought I’d know where it was when I got here but everything’s changed. My cousin drew me a map.”
He offers Micky the piece of paper. The two men look at each other. Micky lowers the knife and all the tension drains from the car.
“Sorry, mate,” Micky says, although he can’t really explain. “I thought...there’s been...”
"No worries man, no worries, I know where I am now,” the passenger garbles with a slightly hysterical laugh. “My auntie’s is just up there, I’ll walk sure –” and the door’s slamming shut behind him. Leaving Micky in his car, in a lay-by, up a dark mountain, without his fare and holding a massive knife in his hand. He feels ridiculous and predictably cuts his finger as he stuffs it hastily back under his seat, cheeks flushed with adrenaline and embarrassment and shame.
Driving back into the city a call comes through. Pick up at the house he’d dropped the couple to just an hour before. Last one, definitely.
The young man laughs when he climbs in the back and sees him.
“You didn’t stay long then?” Micky asks, even though he’s not sure he’s interested.
“Ach, you know yourself. No point wasting a year coming to a conclusion you can both see right now, is there?”
“No. No, I suppose not.”
“Here, do you know there’s blood all over your gearstick mate?”
Noreen Jeffers on Artistes Wanted: "I am a new writer, currently working on a collection of short stories based in Northern Ireland. The story I have given an extract of is one of several I’ve written over two years. My aim is to represent different voices from across the country, mainly of the working class, and the day-to-day struggles we face. Coming from this background myself, I feel that fiction sometimes casts us as side characters. I want to give them a voice."
Artistes Wanted by Noreen Jeffers
I open the front door and whistle at the sheets of rain spilling from the sky. I dig my hands into the pockets of my going-out jeans and take out my last twenty quid. The Queen’s face looks back judgementally. Your mission, Your Majesty, is to keep me dry and save me face. If you can.
I’ll make excuses to leave early tonight. My mates have subbed me enough the last while. We’re at that stage when it’s awkward if another round is due. Once, I wouldn’t have missed these monthly catchups for the world, to hear the mad-cap schemes they had; share something that happened at the theatre where I worked, or with a girl I was seeing. Now we talk about car insurance, or the housing market, or dry January. At first it was grand, I’d that stuff going on too; then the market took a downturn. Actors never were in demand, especially an amateur like me. The place I’d been working closed, so now I’m back at ma’s and signing on the brew fortnightly. It’s like I’ve gone back in time. Not in a good way, with DeLorean’s and crazy haired scientists, more - never having the tv remote, being constantly told to make tea, and tidy my room. I’m thirty, but I’m thirty-teen.
I fold the last of my dole money carefully, then put it in back in my pocket with a reassuring pat. The last thing I want is to start the night by asking the lads to pay my taxi. I step quietly back into the hall; push the front door closed gently; hold the brass knob of the lock in the open position, until I know it’s nestled within the doorframe; then gradually let the latch go. Not a sound – result. I keep my voice low and order a taxi. Ma changed the Wi-Fi password so I can’t ‘lie about looking at God knows what’ on my phone. I hope it comes before Ma twigs that I’m heading out. I linger by the door, peering out through the clear edges around the frosted glass. It’s like I’m breaking out of jail. All is going well; then my phone beeps. I’d forgotten to silence it.
‘Kieran? Is that you?’
A hiss escapes through my teeth. ‘Aye ma.’
‘Don’t shout at me from another room!’ she shouts, from another room. ‘C’mere.’
I raise my eyes to the ceiling, yellowed from years of her smoking indoors. I run a hand through my hair, forgetting I’d put ma’s mousse in, for volume like. Now my hand’s sticky. Fantastic.
I juke my head round the living room door but keep the rest of my body in the hall. I squint at her through the blue and white light cast into the room by the tv. She’s sitting there, like always, in half darkness. She doesn’t even glance up.
‘Are you going out again?’ she asks, her voice shrill.
‘I am, aye,’ I say. ‘And what do you mean again? It’s six weeks since I’ve gone anywhere, save the brew.’
‘If you’ve the money to be going out, you’ve the money to give me housekeeping,’ she replies with a tilt of her chin.
I watch her adjust position and grit my teeth. She looks like a hen on a clutch of eggs.
‘I’m working on it, ma’.
‘If that’s true it’s the only thing you’re working on.’ She snorts at her own jag.
‘That’s not nice, Ma.’ I sigh, then open the door before I can stop myself, already ambling towards the standing lamp. ‘You shouldn’t be knitting in the dark. It’s bad for your eyes… and the poor sod that jumpers for,’ I murmur, blinking away the image of a bright bulb imprinted on my retinas.
I perch on the arm of the settee. It feels like hours since I rang for that taxi.
‘Ach, Kieran, look! It’s Big Daddy Bozo!’ Ma exclaims, waggling a knitting needle at the tv.
The round face of an equally round man stares out of the screen. His hair comes to the point of a severe V in the centre of his forehead. He has a sudden effect on Ma, who sits bolt upright, a huge grin on her face, the knitting forgotten. She turns the volume up until my chest vibrates with the noise.
‘Do you have a message for the viewers at home, Mr Duffy?’ a disembodied woman’s voice asks, as the camera zooms in on him. He smiles, white teeth glinting.
‘I suppose it’s this,’ he booms in a broad Irish accent, ’if you’re funny, and fancy something a bit different, a job where you’ll see the country and get paid to bring happiness to others, visit our website. You’ll never look back.’
‘There’s a clown crisis in Northern Ireland, folks,’ the newsreader in the studio adds, ‘and now for the weather forecast…’
‘There you go, love,’ ma, shouts over the tv, ‘Never worry about getting your big break, you can act the lig as a clown!’ Her raspy laugh still rang in my ears as I got into my taxi a few minutes later.
I’m the first one to make it to the pub. Not a great start. It means nursing a half pint until Rory and Neill land up. They usually come straight from work, bleary eyed after a long day. Still, it’s good of them to make an effort after all these years, even if my continued unemployment is the butt of all their jokes. I stand at the bar, feeling self-conscious, fixing my eyes on the tv above the optics. The same piece of news about Duffy’s is on, but this one shows the circus at work. I stare at the sequined displays and wonder how they deal with the pressure. A cut scene of laughing kids and open-mouthed adults follows. I smile.