Hello February, My Old Friend

I don’t think I’m alone in saying this… but January seemed to last forever (certainly longer than its five calendar weeks, anyway). 

I guess it’s because the run-up to Christmas is such a busy time and the general feeling of festivity that’s in the air is nice and comforting, so by the time you get to January it’s a pretty dull month in comparison.

Even with the ‘New Year, New Me’ mantra that was to be found everywhere, there didn’t necessarily feel like there was much to do – and even if there was – money tended to be an entirely other issue as six weeks had passed since the last wage slip. Long story short, January wouldn’t be my favourite month.

February, though. February is a nice month (and it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that my birthday is in a couple of weeks, I swear!). Randomly, I like it because it’s different to all the other months – I like that fact that it is shorter but it has always been a month where significant milestones or events in my life have taken place, both good and bad. Even now, in 2020, this past week has been one of unbelievable highs and absolute lows.

Don’t worry, this post isn’t going to turn into my personal diary, but I wanted to try and write something today, so I thought I’d share my latest good news “officially” on my blog…


I’m still buzzing about the news if I’m being completely honest, but I’m also waiting for the judging panel to call and say, ‘I’m really sorry, but we announced you as the winner by mistake…’

To provide some background to this story, last year I stumbled across a writing competition as part of the Waterways Storymaking Festival. To this day, I can’t remember how – or where – I originally saw the flyer but it was asking for local writers to send in their poems and short stories about Ireland’s waterways.

The theme for this year’s competition was ‘Altogether Now’ and aimed to inspire people to reminisce and record their memories of a waterway that is special to them – in order to help create new stories and visual memories of the waterways. Having lived very close to a river all my life and my grandparents’ home virtually backing onto the river, I spent a lot of time walking, running and playing along the waterways as a kid, so the idea of paying tribute to these memories and my grandparents, immediately appealed to me – but then I noticed the closing date for entries and balked. If I seriously wanted to enter the competition, I had very little time to throw around ideas and bring something together. I love deadlines, but the thought of having to rush a poem or story for an actual, bona fide writing competition sent me into a panic, so I decided not to participate.

A couple of days later though it was still on my mind, so I re-read the criteria and aside from hurling myself way out of my comfort zone, I’d nothing to lose so I went for it. (If it was a terrible piece of work, at least someone might get a laugh out of it at the end of the process, I told myself.)

So, I got to work and before long I had the first draft of my poem complete. I didn’t show it to anyone; I didn’t even tell anyone that I was entering a competition. I made a few revisions, read it again; made a couple of final revisions, read it one last time and then pressed ‘submit’. Months and months went by and I never heard another thing – until the first week in January. The email was from the festival, saying their judging committee was preparing to read the entries and then pick the winners for each respective category. There was also an invitation to the festival’s award ceremony to be held on 1st February when some of the submissions would also be on display before going on a touring exhibition around Northern Ireland. I quickly RSVP’d and made a note in my diary.

Saturday, 1st February arrived and my mum and I headed to the ceremony. I was really looking forward to seeing the work other people had submitted to the competition and the ideas that inspired them to write. Not once did I expect my work to be on show, so when I walked into the room and headed towards the exhibition I saw my poem displayed on one of the boards. I grabbed onto my mum’s arm and became teary-eyed as I whispered, ‘Oh, that’s my poem?’

Some of the tapestry work on display as part of the touring exhibition

When I managed to compose myself, I made my way through the other entries and then took my seat for the ceremony. The schedule of events was going smoothly and soon it was the time for my selected category (adult, poem) to take the spotlight. Only I wasn’t really paying much attention. I wasn’t expecting my name to be called out – one, because I still didn’t think my poem was that good; and two, my work was part of the display so they wouldn’t put any of the winning work on show yet. I was simply enjoying the afternoon… only to suddenly hear the name of my poem being announced from the stage with a confirmation that I had placed first.

Shock quickly set in. I think that’s how I managed the long walk onto the stage to accept my prize – only to be told that I had to read my winning piece of work in front of 200-plus people. It passed in a blur, although I do remember having to push the awards’ host off the podium so I had something to hold onto, in order to make it through the reading. If my shaking hands, quavering voice, and barely held-back tears were anything to go by, I maybe didn’t make it through as well as I hoped, mind you.

Just ignore the double-chin and look of pure fear…

While the Waterways Storymaking Festival might not be the Hugo AwardsBooker Prize or even the Costa Book Awards, it is an award (and a big deal locally here in Northern Ireland). And for someone like me, who has only just started to share their work under their own name since September, it’s been a real encouragement. Not that my friends and family haven’t been an encouragement – they have, and more than I’ll ever be able to thank them for – but this awards panel was independent. I still don’t know who some of the committee members were, so to receive this recognition from people who don’t know me… well, it’s been really nice and another nudge to say, ‘Yeah, keep writing, you’re on the right path’. It also made me cry (in a good way).

It has also opened up a lot of doors with regards to my writing and entering more competitions (for example, some awards will only let you qualify to enter if you’ve won an award in the past). I am now super excited for what potentially lies ahead; I just need to keep working hard, writing away, and have a little more belief in myself…

One Reply to “Hello February, My Old Friend”

  1. Just loved reading this Jacs,I found it very interesting and I don’t think it will be long before we read another of your stories you have the talent to go far

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