…and the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Here are the round 3 winners of the MLS micro-fiction writing competition. Congratulations to all who were shortlisted. In case you haven’t seen the shortlist yet, here they are in alphabetical order:
- Beginnings – By Nancy Leinweber (AUS)
- Bye Bye, Big Boy – By Alina Kawker (POL)
- Double Mother – By Alyson Hilbourne (UK)
- For Auld Lang Syne – By Natalie Reilly-Johnson (UK)
- Open Door Policy – By Connie Boland (CAN)
- Second Guessing – By RS Nevil (USA)
- The One – Connie Fogle (USA)
- There’s No Place Like Home – By Laura Besley (UK)
- Trilogy – By Michele Seagrove (UK)
- Why We Do It – By Michelle Christophorou (UK)
Special thank you to all who entered, we appreciate you continuing to participate despite the introduction of a very small entry fee and want you to know that your contribution helps support this blog so that it can continue to run and we can continue to bring you awesome content and fabulous writing competitions (embellishments may have been applied). Once again it was a difficult choice but we are very happy with our 3 chosen winners. We did something a little different this time though. We had 4 stories we really liked and struggled to narrow it down to 3, so we have decided to give our 4th favourite a special mention and publication on the blog.
So congratulations to our 3 winners (and special mention) of Round 3 of the Mum Life Stories, Micro Fiction Writing Competition, themed ‘Single Mother’.
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All three winners receive a cash prize and publication on the blog as well as in a printed anthology, to be published at the end of 2020.
‘For Auld Lang Syne’ by Natalie Reilly-Johnson of the United Kingdom
What we liked: A story of retribution over the generations. The similarities of the two life stories connects one to the other but the contrasting outcomes speak to us of how the passing of time in a changing world, can bring greater opportunity and justice.
Bio: Natalie is a Clinical Psychologist in the National Health Service, and an aspiring writer. She currently works in a specialist national Eating Disorder service for children and young people in Wales, UK.
Natalie has found writing and psychology to be extremely complementary fields, each strengthened and inspired by the other. She regularly uses stories therapeutically in her clinical practice, as well as drawing on psychological frameworks and clinical expertise to shape the characters and their experiences in her writing.
Natalie grew up in Brighton, trained in London, and now lives in South Wales with her husband, two children, and a dog.
Authors Statement: “For Auld Lang Syne” was inspired by my own family history. My Dad discovered at the age of thirty-nine that he was adopted at birth. We will never know the true story since when he traced his Irish birth mother, she would not divulge any details about the father or the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy. It has always been a secret that has fascinated me, and I have over the years invented numerous stories about what might have happened. This tale is one of them.
What is clear is that a single mother in 1940s Ireland would not have had the choices available to her that women have today. In the era of the #metoo movement, I felt that this was an important story to tell. The men in this story both attempt to exploit their positions of power, but the second one, due to the cultural and political climate of the time, has to face the consequences.
Why do I write? I have always found writing to be an unrivaled creative outlet for processing emotions, and one that provides a real sense of achievement. Last year, my daughter was a finalist in the BBC Radio 2 “500 Words” children’s writing competition, and that inspired me to take the plunge and start entering competitions myself. It has been an absolute honor to win this competition. Thank you, “Mum Life Stories,” for the opportunity.
Father O’Brien was already waiting in the confessional. Mary could see his shoes tapping expectantly through the gap under the curtain. But she wasn’t here for the usual forbidden tryst.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…”
“Come into the Vestry, Mary,” Father O’Brien interrupted, breathlessly.
“Father, listen. I’m with child. Yours, of course.” She dissolved into tears.
Father O’Brien muttered a prayer. “Wait there,” he said, finally.
His footsteps echoed and faded as he clattered out of the church.
Twenty minutes later, he opened the curtain. Lit from behind, his face formed a forbidding silhouette standing over Mary. He pressed some cash and a hastily scribbled London address into her hand.
“They’ll take care of everything. The baby will go to a good Catholic family.”
“I’m doing this alone?” Mary’s voice trembled.
“I can’t, Mary…”
“You can’t tarnish your reputation? You’ll forsake me for your precious church!”
The saints and apostles looked down in condemnation as she spat in his face and fled.
Mary walked the streets of Dublin until midnight struck, ringing in 1948. She weaved in and out of drunken revelers, who stumbled and clamored as they sang:
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?”
At home, Mary lit a candle and grieved for the child that she would never see grow up. Then she made a resolution to lock away her maternal love. As she blew out the candle, she extinguished her emotions and the light went out in her heart.
Rebecca remained seated until all the other students had left the lecture theatre. Dr. Nick Hargreaves fixed his gaze on her and approached while she packed up. Ordinarily, she would be excited by that look on his face, like a lion stalking its prey. But not today.
“What?” gasped Nick ten minutes later, pacing his office and frantically stroking his hair.
Nick pressed his forehead against the window.
“You’re keeping it? I can’t do this, Rebecca. I’d lose my wife, my job… I’ll support you financially, but never mention my name.”
Rebecca’s face flushed crimson. “No, Nick. You don’t get to carry on uninterrupted while my life is turned upside down!”
By the end of term, Dr. Hargreaves was checking into a hotel, single and unemployed.
Cradling her newborn daughter, Rebecca heard fireworks outside as London welcomed 1998. Her thoughts turned to Mary, the grandmother she had never met, who had given up Rebecca’s father for adoption at birth. Rebecca had always branded her heartless. But now, gazing at her own baby, she understood the grief that Mary must have had to bury. She made a resolution to cherish every moment, grateful that single motherhood was a choice available to her.
“We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne,” sang the crowds outside.
Meanwhile, in Dublin, Mary was taking her final breath.
The candle in Rebecca’s room flickered and burned out. A warm glow filled the room, bathing Rebecca and her baby in light and love.
‘Double Mother’ by Alyson Hilbourne of the United Kingdom
What we liked: It was an emotionally satisfying tale, bringing a new perspective to the uniqueness of single motherhood with a distinctive POV.
Bio: Alyson is from the UK but has spent the last thirty years living and working overseas mostly in education. She writes short stories and travel pieces and has been published in magazines in the UK and online. She is addicted to writing, reading, exploring and traveling.
Author’s statement: Double Mother is not autobiographical, but as a mother myself of two boys (now grown) I have nothing but admiration for women/men who bring up children single-handed. This story started with the premise the narrator resented being the child of a single parent but, as is often the way with my stories, the narrator dictated the direction it would go and it became a celebration of her mother’s achievements.
I started school at four years old and watched the other kids drawing their families – Mum, Dad and themselves. My pictures had a Dad-sized space so I drew my mother twice.
“Who’s this, Clare?” Mum asked when I took the picture home.
“It’s my Mum and Dad,” I said.
At eight years old I joined a soccer team. On Saturday mornings we dribbled the ball up and down the pitch and shot at goal. When we played a match I watched enviously as other kids’ Dads cheered and chivvied from the sidelines.
“Get it past her. She’s only a girl,” yelled one.
Mum came to watch in her fluffy jacket, clutching a thermos of hot chocolate and a bag of marshmallows. She didn’t cheer or chivvy and after the game, we listened to the other kids being told by their fathers what they did wrong.
“I like coming to the football, Clare,” Mum said, pouring me a hot chocolate. A warm feeling filled my insides and it wasn’t just the chocolate.
When I was thirteen Mum worked double shifts so I could go on a school skiing trip with all my friends. She took me shopping for jacket and pants, gloves and goggles and we sent off an application for my passport.
“I’ll miss you,” she said, as I waited to get on the bus. As the other kids kissed their Mum and then their Dad, I gave Mum a double hug. I didn’t want to leave her.
At seventeen, Mum taught me to drive. She tested me on my theory and took me out to quiet country lanes until I mastered gear changes. When I passed my test she let me borrow her car.
“The advantage of an old wreck,” she said, nodding at my friends who hitched a ride because their fathers would not allow them to borrow the BMW.
“Take care,” she whispered. “I love you.”
On my 21st birthday, Oscar asked me to marry him. Planning the wedding I told him I’d ask Mum to give me away.
“You can’t,” he said. “It’s supposed to be your Dad or at least a man.”
“Mum’s been a mother and father to me,” I said firmly. “Mum can do anything.”
I remembered the time in school when I realized there was a gap in my family. I’d never noticed it since. Mum had made sure of that. I didn’t have a single mother. I had a double one.
‘Trilogy‘ by Michele Seagrove of the United Kingdon
What we liked: A relatable story about the complexities of trying to be both mother and father. As mothers and particularly single mothers, we can often feel insecure but as this story aptly demonstrates, it is all worth it in the end.
Bio: Having been a big reader since childhood, Michele started to write seriously during and after graduating with a degree in creative writing. Unfortunately, due to work commitments, she was unable to write for a few years but recently took it up again when her circumstances changed. She has been lucky to have had a number of works published and has been placed, short and long-listed in competitions. She currently lives in a small town in Surrey, England with her two sons.
Authors Statement: My inspiration for this story is my experience of being a single mother of two boys. Both now teenagers, I remember trying to keep up with their endless energy and the wipe-out exhaustion which accompanied being two parents in one. It was these experiences which, I tried to portray in my story, Trilogy. I’m probably a bit unusual in my writing technique – I usually find an idea comes to me at random times, normally when I’m doing something else!
The ball hurtles towards me. I jut my jaw to one side and take a swing.
‘LBW,’ the youngest cries.
‘Wrong!’ his older brother squashes, bowler-in-chief.
Tears spring unchecked.
‘It doesn’t matter. Bowl again.’
I curl the bat around my neck – it’s not regulation stance – and grit my teeth. I must hit it. To my surprise willow meets leather and the ball arches away towards the trees. I’m open-mouthed.
I force reluctant muscles into action, pounding between the two makeshift stumps. The bowler sprints hard and eventually catches an ever-decreasing bouncing ball. I’m amazed how far he can throw. It swoops over my head and the youngest totters below it, looking skywards, hands outstretched.
‘Useless!’ his brother yells.
I pat an indignant head and quickly suggest an icecream. We pack up and peace is restored with a cone.
‘If only Dad was here.’ It’s a frequent recrimination; placations exhausted.
We lie on the fuscous grass and I tip my hat over closed eyes. Exhaustion sweeps me away like a tsunami; I’m drowning in responsibility. I have to be both mother and father, slowly learning the complexities of small boys but still unable to stop them weeing on the bathroom floor. They think it’s hilarious when I stand in it in bare feet.
The park’s rammed – it’s a hot day – full of families. Two parents. They sit in groups. We sit in our little group. Do they notice our diminutive number?
I’m worrying their fair skin will burn, despite the receding afternoon. I’m always worrying. I wish I could relax.
I suddenly feel hot breath on my cheek and open one eye a crack. A daisy chain is placed over my face.
‘I love you Mummy,’ he breathes.
The eldest is sitting apart, aloof. Suddenly he rolls over and puts his head on my stomach.
‘Thank you for playing cricket with us,’ he says demurely.
Emotions overwhelm me. I swallow, hugging hot bodies tightly.
‘Come on, race you to the car!’
They scramble up, affecting a giggling run; short legs trying to keep up with longer ones. I shade the descending sun from my eyes and watch their outlines, lit by an iridescent glow.
I smile. I wouldn’t change a thing.
There were four stories this time that we really liked and wrestled to make a decision on, so we decided to give our fourth choice a special mention and publication on the blog.
“Beginnings” by Nancy Leinweber of Australia
What we liked: We liked how the story builds, letting us know there is a secret. We think we know what it is but we have to keep reading to find out. The ominous ending–the sense of lies building up to something unpredictable and we feel a real sense of empathy for the character’s situation.
Bio: Nancy was born and grew up in Canada and moved “temporarily” to Australia in 1997. A few years later, ‘temporary’ became permanent and she became a very proud dual citizen of these two amazing countries. At the moment her writing is mainly focused on short fiction, children’s stories, the odd guest blog article, and completing a novella. She holds an Advanced Diploma of Arts in Professional Writing from the Adelaide College of the Arts. Currently, she and her family live in the picturesque Adelaide Hills with their two rescue cats.
Author’s statement: The inspiration for Beginnings was drawn from Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s national apology to victims of the forced adoption practices that were in place in Australia from the late 1950s to the 1970s. I still remember listening to Ms. Gillard’s words and seeing the effect they had on those present in the audience. The depths of emotion felt by those affected by the forced adoption policy, both mothers and children, was palpable. I hope it’s something we never forget and never reenact.
If I had to sum up what motivates me to write I’d have to say, it’s the curiosity to explore our humanity.
‘It’ll be much better for you,’ my mother said as she barged into my bedroom. I think she meant it would be better for her. I liked my old school and while it wasn’t exactly comfortable, I knew what to expect. I knew the rules. Don’t misunderstand me; I wasn’t against changing schools and challenges keep things interesting, but this was something else. This was meant to hide my sin and aid in my salvation.
‘There’ll be no more snide remarks,’ Mum continued. Well, maybe. But, no one ever said anything to her face. Actually, no one said anything to mine either, but there were whispers—an undercurrent, or maybe that was something I imagined because of the barrage I endured at home.
My new Year 11 home-group was in the Secretarial block. A tall, reedy woman stood by the door. Her name tag read: Sister Jordan. ‘Quickly, girls,’ she said in a nasal voice.
Have I mentioned this was an all-girls Catholic school? ‘Boys are a distraction,’ said my mother. ‘This keeps up proper appearances.’ Important notions in 1958.
Sister Jordan’s face was pulled taut by her filet and wimple, and blue thread crisscrossed the tear in her veil. She brandished a long pointer like a lance. ‘Come now! Consult the seating chart and take your places.’
We were arranged in alphabetical order. From my shielded back-corner position I observed my new classmates and noted our carbon-copy appearance: a single plait down the back of our white shirts, tartan skirts with complimenting dark green hair ribbons and socks, leather portmanteaus tucked beneath our chairs. No one spoke.
Sister Jordan announced, ‘We have some new faces this year.’ She leveled her gaze at me. ‘After prayers, we’ll make introductions. In turn, each of you may stand and in a clear voice tell us your name. And for fun, mention your summer holiday activities. Keep it brief. Time is against us.’
I hadn’t seen this coming. We did this years ago … in primary school. I mouthed my adulations while thinking of something to say. I couldn’t tell them what really happened—the reason I changed schools. To avoid the necessity of remembering a string of lies, I settled for semi-truth.
When it was my turn, the other girls turned to focus on me. I dug my fingernails into the wooden desktop and resisted the urge to reposition my skirt. Its tight waistband had crept up my thickened torso and threatened to expose my knees. I began, ‘Hello. I’m Kate … Kate Yarrow … like the plant.’ I had hoped for laughter. Instead, there were a few grimaces. ‘My holiday wasn’t that interesting. I was unwell and spent most of the time recuperating.’ The girls looked concerned. I wanted to blurt out, ‘My choices were limited! I happily handed my baby over to his new family.’ Instead, I added, ‘I’m okay now. Really.’
And the lies—three and counting—mounted one atop the other.
If you missed out on placing in this round, never fear, there is another round beginning on the 14th of April. The theme this time will be ‘Step-Mother’. I’m sure there are lots of fascinating stories just waiting to be told about this topic so I am anticipating lots of entries and no need for extending deadlines…here’s hoping!
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