Seeing your work in print is a great buzz for any writer, but it’s all the more special when the story is personal, heartfelt and concerns the life of a loved one who has since departed.
Earlier this year, I was thrilled to receive the news that my short story, The Shells at Miramare Market, had won the Fresher Publishing Writing Prize for Creative Non-Fiction 2017.
After submitting to the independent publisher, Fresher, late last year, I did what many writers often do – logged that I’d submitted the piece, filed it away and completely forgot all about it, expecting to hear nothing at all or perhaps a ‘thanks but no thanks’ email. Much to my surprise, I didn’t just receive a standard email – I was ecstatic to learn that I’d actually won! Not only had I bagged myself a nice title and a prize of a consultation with a publisher, the story would also be published in the print anthology alongside all the category finalists and winners for the year.
After several months of eager anticipation, Fresher Writing Volume 3 arrived at my doorstep – an advance copy! Though I often read books on my iPad, there’s nothing quite like holding and smelling a real book. It takes me back to my childhood – devouring the pages of my dad’s old Penguin Classics with the orange spines and that distinctive smell of age.
Turning the pages of the beautifully bound paperback anthology, it is a joy to see the story in print. It’s been a little while since my last short story appeared in print or was recorded for radio, but this story is extra special. Inspired by the true story of my dad’s mother’s secret life as a partisan in her native Italy during World War 2, The Shells at Miramare Market is a blend of Sofia’s stories as they were retold to us over the years, mixed with a little invention to plug factual gaps.
Sofia sadly passed away in 2015, followed shortly after by her husband of six decades, Ronnie, but I was extremely fortunate to have a private recording, made just a few months before her passing, of her talking about her life to guide me through the writing process. Hearing her voice helped me develop the character of the piece, but I also interviewed my dad to get more detail – descriptions of Miramare, Trieste and his memories of his mum, her attitudes and her parents, but also her brother Mario, a fellow partisan who suddenly went missing one day during the war. The family never knew what happened to him and suspect he ended up a victim of war, possibly in the Karst Foiba. This loss was often commented on by Sofia and was something that she carried with her through her life.
Though the piece is termed creative non-fiction for good reason, I felt a great responsibility to tell her story as sensitively and accurately as I could. But I also wanted to tell her story in a compelling way – structuring the narrative and invented dialogue in my scenic writing to hook in the reader, create tension and even laugh at the juxtaposition of the little frail old lady with a surprising, dark and heroic past that you’d never have known just by looking at her. Though her passing was recent at the time of writing the piece, and therefore raw and quite difficult for myself and my dad, it’s such a personal piece and one that I was completely invested in – more so than much of my other work – and I hope this shows in the quality of the writing, the narrative, dialogue and characterisation. I’m proud of this story and feel it’s a love letter to Sofia and to her life. And who knows, maybe there is more to this story and it could become something more long-form…
Fresher Writing Volume 3 will shortly be available to purchase via Amazon. Stay tuned for a link!