Cornish Writing Challenge: Meet runner-up Aidan McNally

The first Cornish Writing Challenge ran from April-June, and drew in a variety of excellent short stories. Read on to find out more about runner-up Aidan McNally, and read his submission, Safe Harbour.

Born Dublin Ireland, very much the countryside region of the wonderful capital city. The 70’s and 80’s has proven to be the most awesome time to grow up.

I never set out to write it all out, it just happened in my life and there have been events that even I cannot believe ever happened. The highs and lows remain unimaginable.

With some time spent travelling and living abroad, many things and much of life has been observed and lived. It has all been put down to share in the first time book TWO Sons TOO Many.

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What inspired you to start writing?

I have experienced some terrible tragedies to which I could not in hindsight believe or figure them out, then I reflected on all occurrences in my short life and began to find it all so, not only unbelievable, but unimaginable. I wrote it all down to see could I convince myself. The notes became manuscript, and ms. became book.

What do you wish you’d known about the publishing process?

The publishing process, to be quite honest the entire editing process, I have had two versions of less edited work uploaded and sold numerous copies to where the reviews were kind as they felt the story, but to see criticism for the editing was a shock. I was assured the correct files were the available ones. They were not. So check it, check it, and check it again.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Any aspiring writer, such as myself, hmmm. Write and write some more, never give up really. Keep going and keep doing it. When it makes the least sense, perhaps you have nailed it. Perhaps.

Tell us more about Safe Harbour. Where did the inspiration come from?

I have spent a great number of years at sea as a commercial fisherman, and the sea and it harshness represents life in an oh so true way. I believe many people just never see it from out on the ocean and cannot imagine how real and raw it really is.

What is your connection to Cornwall?

Only a respect for the men (editor’s note: and women!) who sail the seas. Of course I have always had a great feeling for anyone from there. Warm friendly people. I too have grown up in Ireland in a village by the sea.

What’s next for you?

Keep on spreading the word on my memoir TWO Sons TOO Many. Working on new, more younger audience book. Title unknown. Have ideas but will wait till theth coming together of all the scribbles.

What are you currently reading?

Currently I am focused on writing and other daily chores type stuff. Time has been limited, with long evenings. Reading is on the shelf. Reliving some of my old paths for my current writing project.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love peace and quiet, and focussing on – or more like trying to practise the art of, or whatever it is called – of finding a now moment here and there. Meditation in micro seconds I guess. Looking for the moments in every day, week or month.

Lastly, and most importantly, jam or cream first?

Great question. “Devon knows, how they make it so tasty.”

You can find TWO Sons TOO Many on Amazon in Kindle or paperback. Aidan also writes on his Goodreads blog, and can be found on Twitter: @TWOsonsTOOmany

Read on for Aidan’s brilliant submission, Safe Harbour.

There is nothing like that lick of the lips when your face just gets battered again by the sea. We are to-ing and for-ing hard now. The planks in our little fishing trawler just might not hold up to this storm.

I stand out on the side deck peering to see through the heavy ocean spray and let the captain know if anything should appear in the distant night, Rob watches portside me to starboard. Is it rain on spray from the heavy swells? Either way that sea salt tastes as strong as it smells each time I take a face full.

Only to imagine six hours ago we were fishing away in the calmer waters of the Celtic sea, hauling the nets and the abundance of fish had me and Rob planning our week ashore next week. How we would spend our money and who we might see out for a few drinks.

The daydreaming flows when working away on the deck of a boat, the chasing the girls and the hardy drinking, all goes hand in hand in a fisherman’s life.

Now tonight in this storm dreams have faded fast as we stare down this ferocious storm. All the rigging is howling and with each wave the fears, are we gone this time?

Captain Rock is hard on helm with his adjusting our speed each time we rise high on the crest of every crucial wave, these are like slabs of concrete rushing towards us 40 to 50 feet tall.

Rock has been at SEA all his life like myself and I put in him the confidence of the gods to man the wheel, although Rob keeps watch behind me over on the port side, he holds the stern mast with both hands, I can’t help but continue my own act of we will be ashore soon. I saw it in captains face earlier when our forward mast cracked from a rogue wave just ahead of this storm, fear. We will battle this storm as we continue up the face of each swell now, Rock steers us along.

No time for daydream now though. I am holding firm also the aft cabin door as I lean out squinting to see anything at all. Not a sight just a dark black night with howling winds, must be storm force ten now and each wave breaking across our bow. Dreams have now turned to will I ever see her again.

Cannot and must not let Rock catch me worried and for sure there will be no good come of it if our new crewman Rob sees worry on my face.

The deck is awash every time one slab of a wave crashes down across our bow, I can feel captain Rock breathe a sigh each time as if his throttle hand is doing his breathing now. Drives her fast up the face of each wave and slows her right back as we dive across the crest.

As I hold tight it does come to mind how all those folks at home in their beds right now, listening to the heavy rains pound or their Windows, they have no clue we are out here in this, their fish supper from the chip shop at the weekend. Will they miss us or just order a burger instead. A fisherman’s life indeed, risking our life every time we throw the ropes off and head out to sea.

“Focus man!” Captain Rock caught me out and as he is hanging off the wheel, we exchange a look, he and I both know this might be our last one.

Some lightning starts cracking across the sky only to show us the real daunting size of the seas right now, taller and more green are the seas now, white water breaking in all directions, we battle on hoping not to roll over on any of these swells.

When our mast broke earlier it had taken out all the antennas we use for radio signalling and radar equipment which is how we would normally deal with driving the boat back home or even send out a distress call to emergency services, without those antennas we are just three men on a boat in the middle of ferocious oceans all secretly praying deep inside.

I see it, I see it, Rob yells out. I hold tightly to the hand rail as I shuffle across the deck to him, Captain Rock is screaming aft to us where? “God Damm it where?” Up we go another big wave and down with water white all around us, I roar back to Rock let me find out as I pass the aft cabin door. Though Rob is only standing 12 to 16 feet away it is probably easier to stand up in a roller coaster ride than shuffle across this deck tonight.

Back there, back there Rob is starring behind us as I reach him with a lunge to grab hold of the mast. One hand around the mast and the other linked to Rob’s arm. My hair soaked flat across my eyes and the salt water running hard across my face I catch a glimpse of that beacon light. Warm smiles tickle my insides though 30years at SEA experience tells me “we’re not home yet” I say to Rob.

Port side, west northwest of us I roar out to Rock.

Having clambered back into the wheelhouse I point to the light and Rock tells me with just a look, how are we gonna turn down this swell to run back there?

“We might not make it if we steer across this swell” he says I know but we can go a little further east and try take a chance to put it on our stern and surf our way home? That’s my suggestion.

“Rob get in here!” Roars Rock as he works the throttle speed.

“Go check on him and get him in here safe he tells me”.

Every time a swell from the sea hits us now is like an earth quake, a thud first then spray and water everywhere, all blocks and tackle and rigging chomping like church bells, out of tune.

Rob makes it back inside and I meet him in the galley, he is soaked to the skin as am I. I laugh at his eager expression, “don’t worry laddie, all in a day’s fishing” I can tell he has nerves of steel but he just doesn’t know it yet as the calibre and magnitude of this storm is probably one of the worst of the two or three I have ever seen. My nervous laugh is to calm me more than Rob as he is full of the innocence, as long and Rock and myself stay calm well it must be just normal, so obvious how he feels.

In the wheelhouse now we are three, watching for the flash of the lighthouse beacon.
It is time says Rock and with a full burst of throttle and rolling the helm from hand to hand we go up like an airplane, the floor beneath us feels like it is just gonna keep rising vertical, Rob falls from his standing and rolls to port side across the floor. I have my feet wedged to a cupboard and Rock screams loud “hang on fellas”

A wave crashes against our side putting water crashing through the wheelhouse window. “Get up ya bitch” Roars Rock and round she comes, our little trawler made the turn. Down we come crashing into the water below us. With our now broken window we can hear the spray of the water so loud. The wind is screaming through the wheelhouse window as we surf ahead of the storm.

All the same worries still exists as to will the next swell sink us if it breaks across our stern but with this storm behind us now we can run a lot faster and our rolling motion has changed from being picked up and slammed down to more of a pushed along with might, picked up a little less and only the broken window lets us know of all the rigging banging and clattering up above.

The beacon is getting closer now and Rock knows his way well from here, he lets a big cheer “we made it lads” as we round the beacon lighthouse to head for the harbour proper.
The calmer waters of the harbour not only settle the boat underneath us but all of our private fears. We made it once again coming in safe and sound, the dark hours of early morning and all the houses on the hillside just the odd light can be seen. Most folks sleeping can only dream of the adventure we just had. Will they know what it took or even what it takes to get the fresh cod for their supper this weekend?

Cornwall ya beauty as we throw the ropes to the dock wall.

the end

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