Past Winners

Fall 2022

1st: Lisandra N. Hernandez, “The love I did not see” | Runners-up: Elizabeth Murphy, “Dear Thieves”; Rosalie Osmond, “Frugality” | Honourable mention: Kevin MacDonell | Finalists: Leslie Hennen, Melanie Hobbs, Beth Ann Knowles, Dana C Mount, Magi Nams, Michelle Samson
  • Citation from judge AnnMarie MacKinnon: “’The love I did not see’ takes us on such a journey: the reader begins with one understanding and ends up at quite another! Emotional without being sentimental, this one will break your heart.”

The love
I did
not see

Lisandra N. Hernandez

My mother always looked sad to me. I never understood how someone so loved could look so sad. My father was devoted to bringing her joy. He would often come home with her favourite flowers and a hopeful look on his face. She would admire them fondly and smile. But the smile never reached her eyes.

I used to think my mother cared for my father, but that she did not love him. And that my father knew this and it broke his heart.

Oftentimes I saw him touch his forehead to hers and rest there; both of their eyes closing as if taking respite in each other from the unbearableness of the world.

The service was beautiful and everyone wore their best black. A picture of my father on his wedding day at 31 sat on the mantle above the fireplace. A blinding smile on his face.

“Sebastian was on a life-long quest for authenticity, for love, for peace. He wanted to be good, do good…”, my mother had said in the eulogy.

The anguish on her face saddened and angered me. I could not stay.

When I found her the next day, I faintly remembered the scars that had marred her wrists when I was a child, and how I had not thought twice about the tattoos that later covered them.

The pain came after, in waves of regret.

Dear Thieves

Elizabeth Murphy

Nov. 3

Dear thieves,

Besides the TV, I own nothing of any value. Feel free to steal it. Since GOT ended, I hardly turn it on, anyway.
     The pearls on my bureau are fake. A jeweller assessed them. Not the loot you’re sniffing for but be my guest. My sister, Agnes, gave them to me for my fortieth. That’s Agnes for you. Anything to pretend she’s better than she really is. Want to rob her house? I’ll tell you where she stashes her knitting. Joking.
     Sorry. You’re in a hurry. I get it.
     The only items in my safe are my will and computer backups on a jump drive. Avoid tampering with the safe, please.
     By all means, take the credit card in the desk drawer, on the right. The bank reimburses fraudulent transactions. Also, I’d appreciate the points.
     Steal the computer. It’s old. Insurance will replace it, minus the deductible. I can always pretend I paid more for it than I actually did. How would they know the difference? I bet you’re old hands at those kinds of tricks.
     Housekeeping notes:

  • Help yourself to the Pinot Grigio in the fridge. It’s Dry November for me soon as I’m home.
  • Careful—the stairs can be slippery. Wouldn’t want you falling, then suing me. Ha!
  • Kindly shut whatever door or window you opened to break in here.

     Back on the tenth. See you then. NOT!

     Cheers,
     Shirley

     PS: Don’t forget the TV remote.

Frugality

Rosalie Osmond

Lazy summer: I have arrived with my family from England for a vacation in my father’s house by the sea. It is ten o’clock in the morning; my father is working in his retirement shop in the basement. I am sitting at the dinette table drinking a cup of coffee and reading the local newspaper when I hear his heavy tread coming up the stairs from the basement to the kitchen. He opens the door and looks straight across two rooms to me sitting at the table. “You’ll never amount to anything,” he pronounces.

What should I do? Should I laugh? Should I kill him? Should I say, “Father, I am forty-five years old and what you see sitting here, possessed of a useless doctorate and three children, is probably what I’ve amounted to”? What can I have done to deserve this sudden condemnation?

At length there is a reveal. Late the previous evening, after he had gone to bed, I went down to the basement and moved my children’s clothes from the washer to the dryer and came back upstairs leaving the basement light burning all night long.

Years later, after he has died, my husband and I come back to arrange the funeral. As we drive away from his house on our way to the funeral home, I notice through the small low window that we have left the basement light burning. “Well now the whole town will know he must be dead,” my husband says.

Spring 2022

1st: Anthony Purdy, “Mariupol” | Runners-up: Charlene Boyce, “Glimpsing Mom”; Christina McRae, “Nightfall” | Finalists: Susan Drain, Katie Feltmate, Melanie Hobbs, Beth Ann Knowles, Anne Lévesque, Allison MacDonald, Shepherd Moorhead

  • Citation from judge Matt Robinson: “‘Mariupol’ is a beautifully short and simple—yet really engaging—poem. Two short stanzas; twelve tightly broken lines. Its language is concise, and absolutely everyday in tone, but there are still subtle echoes and rhymes that whisper across the entire piece. The stark, juxtaposed statements of each stanza/fragment (and their darkly weary, after-the-fact nostalgia) unravel in heartbreaking fashion. This is a poem, a kind of bleak postcard, from a place to which we all hope never to travel. It’s really well done.”

Mariupol

Anthony Purdy

Last year
we sighed when it rained
and the bus ran late
and the nurses caught Covid
and we had to wait
for bloodwork.

Now there are
no buses, no nurses
and we wait for the rain
in the theatre of war
to cleanse the stains
left by bloodwork.

Glimpsing Mom

Charlene Boyce

Nightstand: a Bible,

A cherished hand-written card,

A spare lighter to inhale
the first smoke, make ready to
face the slop-eyed sweaty man, slurring, stumbling.

Tucked behind the Bible,
The Happy Hooker. Dog eared.

Inside, a girl smirks at her GI in black and white, one breast bared.

Nightfall

Christina McRae

The gate on another day clicks shut
and all the small animals of my despair

turn in the circle of themselves
and try to get some rest.

We sleep with the doors unlocked—
all the monsters are inside,

and then inside again.
Who knew they could hide so well?

Fall 2021

1st: Elizabeth Collis, “How to Separate an Egg” | Runners-up: Nayani Jensen, “Neetha”; Gina O’Leary, “Alongside” | Finalists: Carmen Dunn, Monica Ebsary, Jamie Farquhar, Geraldine Glodek, Monica Graham, Jill Martin, Ian Sifton

  • Citation from judge Jessica Scott Kerrin: “All three top entries read to me like paintings, with their textured settings, fully rendered characters and tension brought to the surface with bold brushstrokes. As to [Elizabeth Collis’s “How to Separate an Egg”], I might never crack an egg again without thinking of that steady mom delivering heartbreaking news to her child in the kitchen.”

How to Separate
an Egg

Elizabeth Collis

Mom taught me when I was seven. We were making a Victoria sponge cake. She cupped an egg in her hand and poised it at the rim of the mixing bowl.

“Watch.”

I heard the crack before I saw the jagged fault line across the eggshell. Then, in a fluid motion, like an illusionist, she brought both thumbs to the crack and revealed the grey-white clinging to the yolk. She prised them apart, alternating each half of the shell under the egg contents until the glistening orb settled in one and the viscous white wobbled in the other.

When I glanced at her face, she was staring at the egg with such intense concentration it frightened me.

“That’s how you do it.” Mom said. “It takes practice, but you can separate the egg and none of the white will be left. We only need the yolks for the cake.”

Mom let me try. I ruined a few eggs. She said not to worry. Then as we beat the cake batter, she told me she and Dad were separating—like the egg. Each half complete and still my parents, but not together. A fissure zigzagged across my heart.

I thought my mom was magic, that she could re-form the egg with a sleight of hand. I asked her to do it through my sobs, pointing to my failed separation attempts.

“Oh Sweetheart,” she said, reaching to hug me, “we’d just have scrambled eggs then.”

Neetha

Nayani Jensen

“You see that field?” my mother said, on the walk to school. She pointed to a patch of gold among the rice paddies. “Never go there. The grass is taller than you are. It’ll be a nest of snakes.”

“Yes, Amma,” we chorused.

That was the first day of school. The girl sharing my desk was skinny and ferocious. When I moved her books off my side of the desk, she brought her fist onto my thigh like a pestle into a mortar. Her name was Neetha.

When we were ten, Neetha’s mother died. She came to school as hot and angry as ever.

“She was reincarnated as a snake,” Neetha told me. “I see a snake around the house sometimes.”

I said nothing. I was still afraid of her.

It was the first thing I thought of, later, when I found the chair next to mine empty.

That day, I walked out to the gold field. The tips of the grasses were level with my eyes, and I watched the sky as it deepened and filled with bats. It was beautiful, the way forbidden things always are. I did not see any snakes.

As I turned to go, a great ibis rose out above the grass—long-necked, dark, shimmering. Its eyes were fierce, and I felt the wingbeats on my cheek as it passed low overhead.

My mother was waiting when I got home.

“There was an accident,” she said. “A cobra.”

But I already knew.

Alongside

Gina O’Leary

I came alongside the day he was born. I hadn’t yet seen the sparkle in his eyes, but I glimpsed his chubby cheeks, that crown of dark hair. His heart unbalanced, without an anchor, a harbinger of danger.

I saw the hopeful, worried, warm faces of his parents; together but alone. Their boat adrift in rough seas tossing them to and fro, so far from home. So I stayed alongside to help chart the course.

They held fast to our lifeline. The seas calmed. We watched as he grew stronger. Smiling and wise, his eyes sparkling with mischief. Each precious milestone cherished like a rare pearl.

Eventually I came alongside less often. Each meeting a time to hold our breath and wait to see what the next wave might bring. Our boats bobbed along like this for weeks, then months. We parted ways and reunited countless times, always happy to fly our familiar flags.

And then the storm came. The waves overturned their tiny boat. They held on to the wreckage, but so focused on their own survival, it was I who held their boy and watched as the sparkle left his eyes.

After the storm, I watched with sadness as they sailed away in search of a safe harbor.

A message in a bottle came two years later. They were blessed with another son who had the same sparkle in his eyes, but this time, a healthy heart ready for their long voyage together.

Spring 2021

1st: Robert de la Chevotiere, “Prayer” | Runners-up: Christina McRae, “Barren Beach”; Matt Robinson, “Median’s up-bunched, glut-hunchy tumult”; David A. Wimsett, “Undeniable” | Finalists: Jill Martin, Lisa McCabe, donalee Moulton, Sandra Phinney, Anthony Purdy, Catherine Walker

  • Citation from judge Michelle Elrick: “I was impressed by how [Robert de la Chevotiere] combined the complex yearning of a cultural moment with playful syntax and musical rhythms. I loved the taste and touch senses they brought in, and the reduction of the original yearning to ‘patience / And matches’ in the final phrase. This poem does much in a few words.”

Prayer

Robert de la Chevotiere

My spirit is wanting
To light candles for you
So we can pray
For love
For health
For Earth days
For more songs
More recipes
More laughs
More saltine crackers
Melting on our tongues
For more soul quenching conversations
But for now
Just a prayer
For patience
And matches

Barren Beach

Christina McRae

I want to lie under a sun of forgetting.
Close my eyes to face the sky
and keep turning til every bone
is bleached and hollow and I am light
and thoughtless of all but the smell
of summer on my skin.

Median’s up-bunched, glut-hunchy tumult

Matt Robinson

             of just-ruined sod—in dusk’s dun sleight of bland, fading light—
is a drive-by mistake eyes make on behalf of mind’s baffled racing.
Kentucky Blue’s corkscrewed ruse-rumple? Porcupine’s quill-hackles
wheelwell-centrifugaled—tread-catapulted—to frizz-stolid huddling
embossed across late day’s fall-ruddy hellstrip, its haywired circadians
and fading endviews.

Undeniable

David A. Wimsett

Looking through old folders in forgotten drawers;
A note from you,
Not long ago;

“Don’t work tonight”,
“Come play”;

Signed with a silly name as we often gave each other;

A lingering weight fell from my eyes to my chest,
As something known became realized.

Fall 2020

1st: donalee Moulton, “The woman sitting beside me” | Runners-up: Leanne Schneider, “Roots and Ropes”; Charles “Gus” Doiron, “The Wolfman” | Finalists: Rhian Irene Calcott, Fiona Chin-Yee, Barbara Darby, Joanne Gallant, Rose Poirier, Jennifer Reichow, Syr Ruus | Judges:  Alison DeLory and Jessica Scott Kerrin

The woman sitting beside me

donalee Moulton

The woman sitting beside me in the theatre — seventh row, sixth seat — leans in, smiles conspiratorially as if we have shared a singular connection. “Is it almost over?” she asks, her body frail, sered, slightly antiseptic. She is bored or making polite intermission conversation. She glimpses my husband, nods mannerly, one stranger to another. “It’s only act one,” I whisper.

Her shoulders fall — gratitude, acceptance, resolve perhaps. In profile she reminds me of my mother, grateful for a night out but wanting to be home with her tea and her dog, content to know family is only a phone call away.

The curtain is about to rise. Act two will take us in unexpected directions. I glance at the stranger next to me in G6 eyes intent on the stage, upright, a slight fidget. She feels my gaze, rests her hand on mine, fleeting. I spy hearing aids, wonder if they’re working or if this quiet restlessness is simply boredom borne of a desire to be elsewhere or merely acceptance of more of the same. I offer her a mint, unwrinkle it for her. She looks at me, at the mint. “Do you like the play?” she asks. Memories of my mother return. This would be her way of saying the theatre sucks, when can we go home.

The delicate woman beside me returns to her program. I wonder if this woman would have liked my mother. Would have liked the woman she once was.

Roots and Ropes

Leanne Schneider

My roots in this town go as deep as the roots of the tree she hung herself from. The tree in the cemetery, that the full moon shines on and the locals use as a landmark. The tree that is so old it casts the longest shadow at dusk. If we cut it down, I wonder how many rings would be inside.

My roots in this town are as long and strong as the ropes they used to rip his body apart. After they tied his limbs to the chrome bumpers of two trucks and drove in opposite directions. Late at night, at the end of a dirt road the locals use as a point of direction. Found his head in another County.

My roots in this town go as deep as the ocean where the lobster pots are cut from their ropes and left to sink to the bottom. My roots, as taut as the ropes securing fishing boats to the wharves and set on fire because they belong to the wrong nation. The First Nation, whose roots in this land, go deeper than mine. Whose Mi’kmaq words the locals use as names for villages.

My roots and ropes are intertwined, securing me to the ground, keeping me from floating away. They are strangling me, choking me, tangling me, burning me, tying me to a place I love. A place that it hurts to love because of the roots and ropes.

The Wolfman

Charles “Gus” Doiron

The bulbs on his mirror are so bright they are almost audible. He powders and primps, pastes and glues. Proper accents are key for the needed effect. The lighting in here is unforgiving, but it will be easier when he’s performing.
     First one ear, then the other. He can already hear better. The claws hurt more coming off than going on. As his teeth set he notices a drooped eyebrow. It will have to do.
     He can hear people outside. Murmurs or screams, it all sounds the same.
     On the surface he is in chaos, writhing and contorting as the transformation takes place. On the inside he is calm. This room joins the conscious and subconscious. Neither knows it exists.
     A smell, not entirely unpleasant, wafts in. He has soiled himself again.
     All part of the act.

There is a knock on the door and it opens. Mayhem.
     “Showtime,” she whispers before gently closing it back.
     He looks in the mirror one last time and grins. His skin is stretched and peeling but will look fine covered in blood and away from these lights.
     A small part of him is afraid and he has to remind himself he is the reason everyone came. Lon Chaney would be proud.
     He gets up, walks to the door, and takes a deep breath. He looks up in the direction of the moon if he were outside and howls. He fixes his eyebrow before leaving.
     He is The Wolfman.

Scroll to Top

Recommended Experience Levels

The Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia (WFNS) recommends that each workshop’s participants share a level or range of writing / publication experience. This is to ensure each participant gets value from the workshop⁠ and is presented with information, strategies, and skills that suit their current writing priorities.

To this end, the “Recommended experience level” section of each workshop description refers to the following definitions developed by WFNS:

  • New writers: those who have been writing creatively for less than two years and/or have not yet been published in any form.
  • Emerging writers: those who have been writing creatively for less than five years and/or have some short publications (poems, stories, or essays) in literary magazines, journals, or anthologies.
  • Established writers/authors: those with numerous publications in magazines, journals, or anthologies and/or a full-length book publication.
  • Professional authors: those with two or more full-length book publications.

For “intensive” and “masterclass” workshops, which provide more opportunities for peer-to-peer (that is, participant-to-participant) feedback, the recommended experience level should be followed.

For all other workshops, the recommended experience level is just that—a recommendation—and we encourage potential participants to follow their own judgment when registering.

If you’re uncertain of your experience level with regard to any particular workshop, please feel free to contact us at communications@writers.ns.ca