Phyllis Gailey Literary Competition 2020 – 1st Place

Posted April 2, 2020 by WI Staff in Event Reports

This year’s Phyllis Gailey Literary Competition was entitled ‘As I Walked Out One Morning…’ and entrants were tasked with composing an original story, between 800 and 1000 words, relating to the theme.  The title was deliberately left quite open to interpretation, with writers encouraged to let their imagination take flight, and a variety of very different intriguing tales were submitted.  The judge thoroughly enjoyed reading each story and had a difficult task in selecting the winners, however, after much deliberation, they were placed as follows: 

1st Place (Winner of the Phyllis Gailey Literary Trophy)Pearl Hutchinson, Kilrea WI

2nd Place – Alma Suthers, Ahoghill WI

3rd Place – Jennifer Gardiner, Kilrea WI

Massive congratulations to the winners!  Also, well done and thank you to all the ladies who took the time to compile an entry!  The entries that placed 1st, 2nd and 3rd have been published here on our website for everyone to read.  The 1st place winning entry written by Pearl Hutchinson of Kilrea WI can be read below.  Pearl will be awarded the prestigious Phyllis Gailey Literary Trophy .


As I Walked Out One Morning…

As I walked out one morning in May through the front door, I thought that I would never be back.  I paused for a moment to take in the scene.  The old hearth fire was at the centre of our home.  There in the corner was the dresser with the willow-patterned plates, the pride and joy of my mother.  The sound of the grandfather clock striking in the hall was music to my ears.

We had to go to start a new life.  The neighbours had been kind to us but there were times when I felt a finger pointing at us.  Nobody had said a thing, but we felt it all the same.  It was two years since the night young Thomas died but it seemed liked yesterday.  He hadn’t learned to walk and had crawled into the shed where the whiskey barrels were stored.  I was too busy behind the bar to pay attention and Kathleen was attending to her mother in bed.  The thought of it still brings tears to my eyes. How did he manage to turn on the tap?

Kathleen was overcome with grief.  He was our only son.  She visited the grave up in the churchyard every day.  She sat there for hours talking to him.  The doctor has advised that we go away and start anew.

I packed the trunk with our belongings.  Kathleen showed no interest in anything.  I offered to get her new clothes for the journey.  She always liked a bit of fashion.  She stared at me in disbelief and shook her head.

‘My black clothes are all I need.’

The car was ordered for 10 o’clock.  It would get us in good time for the boat. I was able to secure a cabin for our four girls and us. It would give us the privacy we needed.

Parting was the worst part.  The family lined up on the street with sober faces.  Mothers and fathers, aunts, uncles and cousin were there.  Neighbours stood in groups to wish us well.  Goodbyes were said and promises were made to write often.

I couldn’t look back as we drove down the lane and on to the main road that took us to the port.

We had to pass the graveyard where Thomas was buried.  Kathleen let out a scream.

‘I cannot go and leave him behind.’

I tried to calm her down but to no avail. The children started to cry.

‘Please stop the car.’

I ordered the driver to keep on going.

We rounded the bend and saw the sea.

‘Daddy can we go for a swim?’, the children pleaded.

‘Not today, we have important things to do. We are going on a big boat to America.’

‘America!’ they shouted in glee.  What an adventure.

Kathleen never spoke.  Day after day at sea she lay in the cabin.  She refused to eat meals and sipped only water.  She grew so weak that she could barely stand.  The ship’s doctor prescribed fresh air and I carried her to the deck once a day. The children sat around her in a little circle.

We were a pathetic sight and drew the attention of other passengers.  They showed great kindness to us.

Three sisters in particular who were going to their brother in Boston were most helpful.  They took the children for walks and played with them for hours.  Jennie, the shy one, tended to Kathleen, coaxing her to eat and seeing to her daily needs.  I couldn’t have coped without them.  When a fierce storm broke out after six days they were a great help.  The swell in the sea was frightening and lasted for a week.  I had never experienced seasickness like it.

The Scanlon sisters were seasoned travellers.  They had crossed the Atlantic on many occasions and were well used to the sea.  Their brother had been in Boston for twenty years and had done well for himself.  He sent them the money every year so that they could visit. They lived on the family farm at home that would eventually be his.  He was grateful to them for keeping the place in order.  Each of the sisters had their own job.

Cassie kept the house, Maggie was the farmer and Jennie was a seamstress.  Jennie was a dreamer and spent many hours reading in her cabin.  She also read to the children and to Kathleen.  She had a voice that calmed any situation.  Maggie was a tougher character used to handling animals.  Her hands were rough with all the hard work on the farm.  Cassie loved a laugh and danced the night away on board the ship.

They were great company.

Kathleen showed no sign of improvement.  The doctor’s prognosis was a broken heart.  I sat hour after hour holding her hand.  Her voice was barely a whisper.  I tried to talk about happy times when we were young.  The fun we had dancing with not a care in the world.  I told her of how I fancied her long before she noticed me.  Nothing worked.

In her sleep she would call out ‘Thomas, Thomas, where are you?’

At last land was sighted.  The children were racing on deck from one side to the other.  Jennie pointed out landmarks to them.  Ellis Island was in sight.

I gathered our belongings together and put them back in the trunk.

The doctor took me to the side.

‘I believe Kathleen is suffering from consumption.’   It was like a bolt out of the blue.

‘What would I do?’

Kathleen would be refused entry to the United States of America.

The Scanlon sisters came up with a plan.

They would take the children to Boston with them and give them a holiday.

I would take Kathleen home.  It was what she wanted.

Written by Pearl Hutchinson, Kilrea WI.


 Judge’s critique:

This was an emotionally moving piece of writing – a poignant portrayal of the loss of a child.  Parents who have lost a child can often feel that a part of them has died and you showed this through the character of Kathleen.  This piece was written in such a unique way, the theme, the characters and the wording grabbed my attention immediately.  As the reader I felt I was on the journey with them, sharing the loss, grief and pain.  Although a bittersweet ending, it made sense for Kathleen to return home instead of setting up a new life in America, as the separation between the life she left behind and the new one was too much for her and there are suggestions in your story which point to how it was almost killing her.   Although there was a heart-wrenching theme, it was beautifully written and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece.  It was a very creative approach to the phrase you were provided with – ‘As I Walked Out One Morning…’ – and you did indeed let your imagination soar.  Well done!”

 (Miss Deirdre McCausland BA Hons, PGCE)



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