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The Metaworker Podcast | 018 Pushcart Prize Nominees, Part 1

Episode Description:

In this two-part series, we celebrate our Pushcart Prize nominees. This episode features Amita Basu, Daniel Brennan, and Marie-Louise McGuinness. We asked each author to read an excerpt from their poetry or prose and to share some insights about their piece and themselves as writers. Elena, Mel, and Cerid also discuss what we loved about each piece and why we chose to nominate it.

Featured Authors:

Amita Basu‘s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in over sixty magazines and anthologies including The Penn ReviewBamboo RidgeAnother Chicago MagazineThe Dalhousie Review, and Funicular. She’s a reader at The Metaworker, sustainability columnist and interviews editor at Mean Pepper Vine, and submissions editor at Fairfield Scribes Microfiction. She lives in Bangalore, uses her cognitive science PhD to work on sustainable behaviour, and blogs at

Nominated fiction: Retreat by Amita Basu on The Metaworker website

Daniel Brennan (he/him) is a queer writer and resident of New York City, but spent much of his youth in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Pennsylvania (an early ecological inspiration for his work). As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, Brennan hopes to capture and juxtapose the vastness we experience within our rapidly changing natural world with the often daunting intimacies the queer body presents. His poems have been published or are forthcoming in Passengers Journal, The Garfield Lake Review, ONE ART, and Feral: a Journal of Poetry & Art, among others. Instagram/Twitter @dannyjbrennan

Nominated poetry: The Beach by Daniel Brennan on The Metaworker website

Marie-Louise McGuinness comes from a wonderfully neurodiverse household in rural Northern Ireland. She has work published or forthcoming in Roi Faineant Press, Bending Genres, Intrepidus Ink, Flash Fiction Magazine and The Airgonaut amongst others. She enjoys writing from a sensory perspective.

Nominated creative non-fiction: Lives of Dust and Ashes by Marie-Louise McGuinness on The Metaworker website

Episode Transcript:

Cerid Jones (00:02):

Welcome to our newest podcast series, where we celebrate our Pushcart nominees. Each of these authors forged ahead with pieces that left lasting impressions on us as editors and on you, our listeners and readers. We’ve published so many incredible stories in 2023, and it was a very tough choice for us, but these six pieces surprised us with bold and unique qualities that really left a mark

Melissa Reynolds (00:30):

In this series, we asked each of our six nominees to read an excerpt and share with us some insights about their piece and themselves as writers. Each episode will feature three of our nominees, as well as some musings from The Metaworker editors. We hope you enjoy this feature series as much as we enjoy presenting it.

Elena L. Perez (00:53):

Hello everyone. Welcome to The Metaworker podcast. I’m Elena Perez, the editor-in-chief.

Melissa Reynolds (00:59):

And I’m Mel Reynolds, also an editor at The Metaworker.

Cerid Jones (01:03):

And I’m Cerid Jones, the international editor here at The Metaworker.

Elena L. Perez (01:09):

And today we’re doing a two-part podcast to introduce our 2023 Pushcart Prize nominees. This is the very first year we have nominated authors for the Pushcart Prize, so we’re very excited to be able to give our authors formal recognition for their beautiful writing. In this first episode, we’ll talk about pieces from three of our nominees: Amita Basu, author of the short fiction piece, “Retreat”; Daniel Brennan, author of the poem, “The Beach”; and Marie Louise McGuinnes, author of the nonfiction piece, “Lives of Dust and Ashes”. You’ll hear excerpts from the authors, and we editors will discuss what we loved about each story that made us decide to nominate it for a Pushcart. So, first, we’ll hear from Amita reading an excerpt from her fiction story, “Retreat”. Amita Basu’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in over sixty magazines and anthologies, including The Penn Review, Bamboo Ridge, Another Chicago Magazine, The Dalhousie Review, and Funicular. She’s a first reader at The Metaworker, a sustainability columnist and interviews editor at MeanPepperVine, and a submissions editor at Fairfield Scribes Microfiction. She lives in Bangalore, uses her cognitive science PhD to work on sustainable behavior, and blogs at

Amita Basu (02:35):

Uh, hi everyone. My name is Amita Basu and I am from Bangalore, India. Today I’ll be reading an excerpt from my short story, “Retreat”, which was published in The Metaworker in July of last year. This is “Retreat”: I survey my painting of the snow-covered peak of Kanchenjunga. I’ll finish it this week. Gritting my teeth, I hustle into my blazer. Female faculty, but not male, must wear blazers. I fill my mind with thoughts of snow and grasp for grace to get through my day. “Bye,” I call, rushing across the drawing-room. “It looks like rain. Have you got your raincoat, Pragya?” Pa’s voice is muffled behind his PM-95 mask. He’s been searching for a book. His bookshelf is slightly dusty and his nose highly rhinitis-prone. “Cross the roads very carefully,” Ma calls from the kitchen, pausing her breathing exercises. “Traffic is so crazy, these days anyone could just hit you and drive away.” “Alright,” I mutter, shutting the front door. My shoes half-on, I hasten down the second-floor corridor. Sometimes my parents remember more dangers to warn me against, and call them out the door. I stand at the corner hailing autorickshaws. Many are ferrying schoolchildren, plastic sacks full of produce, five-litre gas cylinders, or the drivers’ wives holding stacked egg-trays bound for grocers’. Ola and Uber now dominate the market, with prices so low that I wonder how they pay for fuel, never mind service. To make ends meet, autorickshaw drivers who’re not online moonlight as tiny delivery-vans. But some drivers still can’t be bothered: three empty autos pass me by, refusing to go so short a distance. They’re still living in the pre-globalised Bangalore of extortionist autorickshaw prices. Under my blazer, sweat prickles my neck. I’ve got my raincoat alright, but the rain’s been holding off and it’s phenomenally muggy. There was a powercut, and neither the flat-complex’s generator nor our private inverter powers the AC: I’ve barely slept. My temper rises with my temperature. ‘Cross carefully’ – as if I were a child! I thought it’d be nice to move back home, far from the midcity bustle, but my parents are too much. It’s alright for them to coddle themselves: with late breakfasts of whole wheat toast with smidgens of jam or butter, socks and mufflers if the temperature dips below 25°C, and a dust-mask habit far predating Covid. But I need to get away from this bourgeois mollycoddling. I need a little risk and new scenes to paint. At university it’s business-as-usual. When I began my teaching career in December, my colleagues advised me to enforce strict discipline: phones facedown on the desk, laptops shut, pin-drop silence. But fresh from my PhD, and no fan of sitting still and listening myself, I gave my students leeway. I dreamed of demonstrating the effectiveness of democratic classrooms. Six months in, the whole back half of this class of ninety 18-year-olds spends all hour chattering. The students at the front, straining to hear, glance reproachfully over their shoulders at their football-hooligan classmates. I whine a plea for silence, leavened with a smile. The noise ebbs briefly before deafening me afresh. I stumble through the hour anyhow: I figure it’s my job to teach and theirs to listen. I pity these young people, away for the first time from cloistering parents and martinet teachers, overburdened with academics and extracurriculars. And sometimes, a tiny bit, I want to murder them. I’ve got to find another job. After classes, unable to work, waiting for signout time, I try to nap in my cabin. I’m exuding heat from every pore. The heat churns my lunch in my stomach. These days even a cart-pushing vegetable-vendor accepts Google Pay, even for tiny sums, but the autorickshaw driver I approach to drive me home is elderly, so I ask whether he accepts online payment. He shakes his head. “Then d’you have change for Rs.100?” He nods. He wants Rs.70; I tell him I pay Rs.60 every day, up from Rs.50 since the Ukraine war began. He nods at the backseat; we set off. Elderly drivers drive slower. Maybe it’s because they can’t see the road too well; maybe it’s because they’ve seen too much. I study him in the rearview. His skin is grayish under his grizzled beard and his gray eyes are restless. He looks like he lives on tea and cigarettes. His khaki uniform is mottled gray-brown. He scratches his chin with his inch-long index fingernail. I’ve watched television: I know what one long fingernail means. I wonder what he wanted to be when he was a child. I look away. It’s the peak of monsoon but the lake shows not a sliver of water: it’s covered with water hyacinth. I wonder if the people who built these little, odd-shaped, too-bright houses knew that in ten years the lake would be dry, ringed by towering condo complexes, stinking with rubbish, covered with weeds, and patrolled by Nike-clad joggers as numerous and uniform as ants. I look away. On my phone I scroll through Google Images photos of Kanchenjunga. I’m basing my painting on my own photos from midwinter, but it helps to have different views. Kanchenjunga still looks as though human beings never existed. “If you don’t have change, sir,” I say as we pass the streetful of shops, “We can get it here.” I call everyone ‘sir’ – it’s nice to be polite. They don’t always call you ‘madam,’ but that’s ignorance rather than rudeness. The younger drivers, who know smidgens of English, are more polite: but they drive down the narrow high-traffic streets like motorsport racers in a walled-off arena. I’ll take grouchy over daredevil. “I have change,” the autorickshaw driver mutters. I stop him at the private street leading to the flat-complex’s gate. I never make drivers go all the way. I produce my Rs.100. He produces Rs.20. I wait for him to produce Rs.20 more. He pats his breast-pocket perfunctorily, then shrugs. “Sir, you said you had change.” .

Amita Basu (09:57):

So, that was my excerpt from the story. To tell you guys a little bit about the piece, the inspiration for this story was basically that this particular incident, a misunderstanding with an autorickshaw driver about a payment happened with me. It was pretty much out of the blue since I’ve been traveling this road for a while and nothing had happened. And I’m someone who has struggled my whole life with a very bad temper. Normally I’m very soft-spoken and civil and polite, but once I snap, I really snap. So, this story was basically about that and then trying to put that in the context of the relationship between emotions and art, and the idea that, you know, when you actually feel something, it’s often uncomfortable. Emotions are often…uh, you know, they’re a lot to handle, but they can also energize your art. And in that sense, drama, which is bad for life, can often be good for art because it gives you that jolt of energy. It wakes you up. You know, when you’re…It wakes you up and it basically lets you make better art. So, that was the inspiration for the piece. What does being a writer to me mean? I think it means being present in the world, engaging with the world, being observant. The two words that I try to prioritize, or the two goals I try to go for in my writing are truthfulness and compassion. So, I basically aim to depict the characters in my story with accuracy as well as with compassion. And that goes when I put myself in my stories as well, which happens not infrequently. For me, being nominated for “Retreat” for the Pushcart award is…it was just totally unexpected. I’m just deeply honored and I don’t know what else to say because it was just a huge honor. Currently, I’m working on more short stories. I finished my first book of literary short stories last year. That was my first book. I’m trying to find an agent for it, and now I’m just writing more short stories. I should be working on a novel as well, since it’s easier to sell a novel than a short story collection. I’ve got ideas for a couple of novels, but right now I just feel more interested in writing more short stories. That’s it from me. Thank you guys so much.

Elena L. Perez (12:40):

Thank you Amita, for sharing that beautiful reading. I loved hearing you read your piece. I love that this story is about an exploration of emotions. They definitely can be tough to handle sometimes, so seeing how her characters handle their temper is very insightful and interesting.

Melissa Reynolds (13:00):

Absolutely. And I have to mirror your statement. I also enjoyed listening to her read the piece because it brought a different depth to the reading or to my interpretation. Personally, I liked the glimpse into a different world. At least for me. You know, I’ve never traveled outside of the United States, so anytime I can be transported somewhere else, I automatically fall in love with that piece a little bit. So, added in with that, hearing Amita read it just made it even more alive for me. It was so much fun. [laughs]

Cerid Jones (13:42):

I can relate to that from a slightly different point. So, for me, when reading the story, I’ve actually been to Bangalore or Bengaluru, and it put me straight back in the smells and the tastes, and the environment, and the atmosphere. It was just so vividly beautiful. So, I think that’s a really high skill to craftsmanship when, like, Mel, you’ve never been there, but you feel like you’ve been there, you know? [laughs].

Melissa Reynolds (14:11):

Yeah, absolutely.

Cerid Jones (14:13):

So, we have that wonderful telling. It really puts you in that…I mean, let alone the beauty of the depth of these characters, just that setting and place is remarkable in this piece.

Melissa Reynolds (14:24):

I also thought the scene in the classroom was very relatable. [Laughs] With the, uh…she’s the teacher and she kind of still feels like her…I don’t know if it’s not that she’s being respected, but it’s definitely a struggle there. As someone who has taught some college classes myself, I could relate to that so much. So, it felt like that led to the buildup of tension in this character, and I think that part was very well done.

Elena L. Perez (15:05):

Yeah, I agree. That’s one thing I really loved about this story was that slow buildup, because it starts out very contemplative and, you know, exploring, like I said, her emotions. Then it moves into her temper and dealing with that. And we see that, you know, building up over the course of the day. Like you said, in the classroom with the students, and then with this very frustrating driver [laughs]. And then I also like the resolution, because she does have a blowup, but it’s not your typical blowup, I guess. You know, like angry and smashing things. It’s different and she comes to a resolution within herself as well as with the driver. So, it’s kind of satisfying in that way, both for the reader and for her, but it also leaves room for her character to grow. We see that this isn’t gonna be just one definitive thing that she, you know, learned from and then will change forevermore. No, it’s still gonna be this ongoing challenge that she’ll have to work on. I liked that it was…because that’s how people are, you know? It’s exploring that whole process.

Cerid Jones (16:19):

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s embracing those contrasts, and I think that’s one of the other really beautiful things about this story is that we are presented with so many different layers of contrast. Not just the contrast in what she sees in her surroundings, but who she is as a person, who her family is, who the people she interacts with are. All these contrasts, these pros and cons, the kind of yin and yang of it all is kind of brought to the surface. Which gives you such rich contextual setting and character development, which is why it’s so relatable, right? Because nothing is black and white in this world.

Elena L. Perez (16:59):

Our next nominated author is Daniel Brennan, the author of the poem, “The Beach”. Daniel is a queer writer and resident of New York City, but spent much of his youth in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Pennsylvania, an early ecological inspiration for his work. As a member of the LGBTQIA-plus community, Brennan hopes to capture and juxtapose the vastness we experience within our rapidly changing natural world with the often daunting intimacies the queer body presents. His poems have been published or are forthcoming in Passengers Journal, the Garfield Lake Review, ONE ART, and FERAL: a Journal of Poetry and Art, among others. Find him on Instagram and Twitter @dannyjbrennan. So, we don’t have a reading from Daniel, but we will talk about what we loved about his poem and why we chose to nominate it.

Melissa Reynolds (17:54):

Well, what I really love about this piece is the imagery. I think that it is just so striking, the way that Daniel takes the beach and makes it a living being or character in this poem that reacts to the speaker. I thought that that was super clever and visceral in a way that, um…there’s no way you can read this poem without feeling something. I just thought it was fantastic.

Elena L. Perez (18:28):

Yeah, I really love that, too. And I also love that it’s, um, it’s about, it feels like maybe a first love or just an intense emotional experience with someone you care about. I love the comparison to the ocean, you know? Like the waves are always coming into the beach and pulling the sand away, so it’s always, little by little, eroding these intense feelings that may be so overwhelming that you just have to give into them and you enjoy them. But reflecting back, seeing that this was temporary, and so feeling a little sad that it inevitably had to end, but wishing that it didn’t, wishing things could be different, and kind of feeling that nostalgia for, you know, times past, but knowing that it’s like the beach. It’s the natural order of things.

Cerid Jones (19:28):

Well, it’s like an extended metaphor, isn’t it? You know, like with the waves coming in and out, how the ocean sort of works, rolling with the tides. And this poem encapsulates that waving in and out that we experience in ourselves and our attachment to our emotions and the people around us, and with memory and with evolving. It’s that tug, push and pull, and like you say, Elena, that eroding away, but also bringing back in, too. It has such a wonderful flow back-and-forth, both in the words itself and the contextual meaning that goes inside them. And the way it pulls on the emotions. Our emotions ebb and flow throughout this piece, too.

Melissa Reynolds (20:16):

And what’s amazing is if you go to our website and look at the way this poem is structured, you can see that the lines themselves almost form what look like waves.

All (20:28):


Melissa Reynolds (20:28):

Just by the length, it’s really cool the way Daniel has made it both, uh, in the images, in the subject, but also the visual look of the poem. That, to me, is such a hard thing to do and I’m always super impressed when someone can do that.

Cerid Jones (20:51):

There is a lot to be said about, especially in modern poetry that has some of the traditional romantic-era sort of touches like this piece does, really exploring the formatting, how the work of art looks on the page, and what experience that gives to the reader. It really helps encapsulate all those extra emotional responses for us, you know? All the senses become awoken when we’re engaging in this kind of format.

Elena L. Perez (21:21):

Yeah. It’s very intentional. Yeah, you’re right, the repetition is intentional, the wording is intentional. It definitely mirrors that back-and-forth wave feel of being at the ocean and being pulled into the waves, maybe being sucked down by the undertow. I can really feel that rawness of both the natural beauty of the beach, but also of being a human in love and exploring what that means since human beings are also part of nature. It’s just so beautiful.

Melissa Reynolds (21:57):

Yeah. And when you said that, it made me think, too, about how the beach is a space that is between the ocean and land. So, it’s this in-between place, and it kind of almost feels like the speaker themselves is in this weird, in-between place. Like, there’s mention of forgetting the name, but then also becoming memories. So, it’s this really interesting dynamic that…uh…I think the setting couldn’t be more perfect for what the poem is talking about.

Cerid Jones (22:34):


Elena L. Perez (22:34):


Cerid Jones (22:34):

And it’s not just in between land and water, but there’s also sky, too, right? Like, when you’re looking out at the ocean, you can see that horizon line, so there’s sort of this impending infiniteness that sort of exists. I kind of feel like there’s touches of that sort of feeling in between the line breaks in this poem. You get the sense of the infiniteness of our expansion as emotive and cognitive beings, you know? I really like that feeling. There’s a particular line that references swallowing whole constellations, you know, so breaking down this physical and this emotional, the setting and this internal, the introvert and the extrovert elements, you know, that give and take that goes through. There’s something quite magical about that. I think that’s why the emotive is just so strong, because it’s pushing all of those things, you know, and pulling them in.

Elena L. Perez (23:37):

Yeah. It really reflects that wildness and excitement of being young or being in a new relationship. Like you’re saying, it’s that in-between of not only the earth and sky and water, but also the in-between of age and, you know, life. Being young, you have all of this potential to explore and all of this energy to go and try anything because you just know it’s possible and you wanna try it. It’s really reflected in the way that this poem is worded and formatted, like we’ve discussed.

Cerid Jones (24:15):

Mm-Hm. Yeah, that being young. Of needing to explore to find out who you are, you know?

Elena L. Perez (24:22):


Cerid Jones (24:22):

And then, as we age, we kind of have these regressions back, of going, ‘oh, hang on, are we actually entirely what we thought we were?’, you know?

Elena L. Perez (24:30):


Cerid Jones (24:30):

So, bringing back into that, too. Like, is it all physical or is it all emotional? And what we choose to obtain memories of, and what we choose to forget. And it’s all us. Just like…I mean all those grains of sand on the beach were all rocks or mountain cliffs, you know? They’ve been weathered away and brought down, but it’s all still part of the experience, you know? Of our existence with ourselves and how we share ourselves with the world around that, whether it’s with a lover or, you know, engaging in something as romantic as a beach. [laughs]

Elena L. Perez (25:07):

Yeah. [laughs] Yeah. Yeah. They say water remembers. So, I mean, you know, we’re a big part water as humans.

Cerid Jones (25:16):

80%. 80% water. Yup.

Elena L. Perez (25:22):

[laughs] It’s all connected. Our next nominated author that we are highlighting is Marie-Louise McGuinness. Marie-Louise comes from a wonderfully neurodiverse household in rural Northern Ireland. She has work published or forthcoming in Roa Faineant Press, Bending Genres, Intrepidus Ink, Flash Fiction Magazine, and the Airgonaut, amongst others. She enjoys writing from a sensory perspective.

Marie-Louise McGuinness (25:55):

My name is Marie-Louise McGuinness, and I come from Omagh in Northern Ireland. My essay is called “Lives of Dust and Ashes. The dust never settled for years. It probably still sits in the fine cracks of aged roof tiles and within the chipping layers of magnolia masonry paint. Although the shops have been rebuilt and repaired, the dark filter will always be there, always armed for use by scarred eyes and distorted minds. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, the black, the blank and the numb realised at age seventeen, lingers still at forty. Omagh, our field cosseted Market town, is built on the meeting of two rivers and cast in the shadow of majestic church spires. A rural hinterland between the hotspots Belfast and Derry, Omagh was pleasant and safe, it was home. It was dry and bright on that Saturday, a feat for August here, when usually the slate-coloured sky would split just enough to allow a constant trickle of anaemic rain to seep and slither into unsuitable summer clothing. The town was full of people, milling like bees in industry, bartering over blazers and kickers shoes in preparation for the relief of school return. I enjoyed my Saturday job in the bakery, not least because it afforded me a night out in the town, a few ciders to lubricate my faux ironic dancing on a crossword painted dance floor and a split taxi home. I was on my lunch break when a police officer directed me back towards the bakery. A bomb scare at the courthouse, they said, so everyone had to move away. Hundreds of us mingled, inching only slowly, to the chagrin of irate police officers. In Omagh, many of us believed that bomb scares were just that, scares. Although they were regularly found, bombs didn’t explode here. And if the courthouse were to collapse like the White House in Independence Day, we all wanted a front row seat. I was just back at work a piercing blue light heralded a silent vacuum where, reminiscent of life on a space station, people and things drifted into the air, weightless without gravity. Plates and cups flew over my head, and I focused on the sausage rolls that flew like birds straight through glass and into the darkness outside. The bang came afterwards, as if the earth had just regained consciousness and gravity returned with violent force. We were rushed into a garden at the back where we shook as the air swirled with odorous dirt. Then, panic, as we were once again ushered in another direction, into the street where detritus too horrific to name lay beneath our wobbling legs. We had to run, for there may be another bomb, we had no destination in mind, just far from there. I had nowhere to go and no way home as the roads were blocked with cars, ambulances, and policemen, so I stayed with a workmate who lived near me. Her brother was missing, we had to go to the hospital to search for him. I broke from her there, as she was enveloped by her family, and on my own I stumbled through a hospital without order. It was flooded with people; with faces. Faces everywhere, marble facades no longer human, alabaster pale, alien faces or subterranean faces that did not blink. Eyes glazed and frozen, colour indistinguishable from pupils, murky and shining like glass lakes. Also, the giggling, lots of giggling, a macabre comedy of shock and horror, faces in strained grimace, not seeming to be aware of the gruesome remnants at their feet. Glass and blood and soot, and people. People on the floor, on stretchers, in makeshift operating theatres in open-doored wards. Nurses crying, expelling vomit into once pristine corners and doctors shouting, shouting at me to get out. I didn’t need to be there, I really didn’t. Eventually I found my workmate and was informed that her brother was home, so we could leave. On arrival home my mum clutched me tight, her relief palpable as she had thought I was dead, until a rambling phone call about sausage rolls from a stranger’s mobile phone. The days afterwards dragged slowly in grief. I sat; eyes glued to the TV where the horror of our town’s experience spilled relentlessly on every channel of our TV. Even the British news rolled scene after scene of places and people I knew. Names of the dead accompanied by passport sized photos filled every page of the newspapers. Eyes again, following, watching my every move. Compared to the suffering around me, my experience was lessened, for I was lucky. I was alive, I had my limbs and my eyes still saw. I was home, not in hospital, like my friends. While people were quick to tell their horrific stories, mine paled significantly, so I became silent. I never spoke of the technicolour dreams that woke me sodden from my sleep, or of the fact that I no longer knew what was real and what was my imagination. Of the reverberating energy that made me feel that I existed in a bee hive, the incessant buzzing deafening my ears to the voices that spoke to me. I got up from my bed each morning and traveled to school, where my A level subjects could no longer engage me, and I would walk out; the mere act of sitting still was too much for my body to handle. I would feel my breath caught in a tight knot somewhere inside and my head would swim, not with thoughts but with emptiness. Bubbles of empty numbness popping in my skull. Sundays also caused torment as the smell of roast beef would worm its way into my stomach and make it lurch painfully, a sensory memory too difficult to bear. My rush to the bathroom to divest my gut of torment caused only consternation to my parents. They didn’t understand, they couldn’t, for their experience was different to mine. They hadn’t been there. It was November before I found that I couldn’t walk, my body became riddled with pain and the act of moving forward became mountainous. My friend summoned school nurse who asked what was wrong. In truth, I didn’t know. It was she, eyes full of recognition, who asked me where I was on August 15th, and when I told her, she welcomed me into the sanctuary of the sick room where many empty eyed girls sat day after day when they couldn’t face the hustle of the corridors or classrooms. To our parents we weren’t sick so we couldn’t stay home. Not that the school were understanding. I was brought to the vice principals office where I was berated for wasting my academic potential. It was moot, I couldn’t see a future, I saw only death. It was everywhere, people dying, pets dying, dead birds splayed scarlet on the roads, tiny organs strewn inches from their marbled hosts. I wanted to join them. I stepped shakily into busy roads, eyes clenched shut, head spinning drunkenly with hope that a car would smash into me, releasing me from the body that no longer seemed to fit. They never did, they swerved and honked and shouted and each time, I felt a failure. My friends would say that we had spoken and I would not remember; I would be asked why I would ignore them when, in truth, I never actually saw them. For I was blank. And numb. I didn’t care that my phone rarely rang, or that I was no longer invited out to drink and dance, I blocked it all, became a statue, lifeless in metal or cement or mud.

Marie-Louise McGuinness (30:11):

So, this piece is a true account of my experience of the Omagh bombing in August, 1998, when I was 17 years old. I’d been advised to write about my experience by psychotherapists, but it took over 20 years for me to feel ready to do it. I submitted it to The Metaworker as I wanted it published in a quality literary journal, but one not too close to home. Being a writer to me means everything, as I felt unable to write creatively for many, many years. But now I am at a place where I can write freely and it feels amazing. I am incredibly lucky to have been published widely over these past few years, mainly with my flash fiction. For me, being nominated for a Pushcart prize for this essay is incredibly validating. This is not fiction. It is my story. Currently, I am working on an idea for a novel, and I am always writing flash fiction in my spare moments. If I could pick anything to write with, it would be a gorgeously ornate quill and a notebook with thick, smooth pages and a musty smell like old library books.

Elena L. Perez (35:12):

What a beautiful reading. Thank you, Marie-Louise. Your reading makes your words sound even more poetic, and also your voice is so soothing. I love it. I’m amazed and honored that you chose to send your work to us here at The Metaworker, because not only is it beautiful writing, but the subject is something so personal, and I’m so glad that you felt our magazine could be a home for your writing. What I really loved about this piece is the way Marie-Louise wove together the present and the past. I could really feel how the newer events brought up memories of the past events and how that really builds on the trauma. So, that was really well done in this piece.

Melissa Reynolds (35:55):

Yeah, I remember having an in-depth conversation about this piece in one of our meetings and talking about how the trauma isn’t, um…or I should say the reaction to the trauma isn’t overdone because the voice in this piece doesn’t feel frantic. It’s almost as though she is distanced to the events and is almost mechanically reciting what had happened almost as though the speaker is in shock. And we thought that element was very well done because it feels very true and, um, authentic.

Cerid Jones (36:40):

Mm-hm. Yeah. I think for a creative nonfiction piece, because you are writing, you know, from your own lived experiences, it can be really, really hard to find that balance where you are able to translate what is a catastrophic, traumatic, and deeply historical, in a sense, too, event without making it too thick for a reader to be comfortable sort of swallowing. That’s what’s really impressive with this piece. And especially hearing her read, you really get that emotional intensity sort of come forward just a little bit more. I really found it quite emotional listening to her recounting the story.

Elena L. Perez (37:31):


Cerid Jones (37:31):

I felt emotional reading it, but the fact that it isn’t honed in and focused on that. What it’s focused on is the relationship between the individual experience and the community experience, and how that fits into a bigger map of life, you know, for people in this community, Using her own story and sort of journey of coming to peace with that as something that’s sort of empowering, you know? I feel like there is a very empowering sort of message in and around this piece, in dealing with the confronting, awful situation of the bombing. You know, seeing how that’s affected and looking back on it, like you said, Elena, from different perspectives and in the author’s timeline. Despite dealing with such a traumatic event, there is a takeaway message from this for readers that is instilled with hope for the future, that is instilled with, um, coming to peace with all the different elements that kind of go on within oneself and what that might enable the author to be able to do. Now she’s had that internal resolve and moving forward, you know, once the dust has sort of settled both physically [and] obviously in history as well, but also in that internal emotional sort of relationship. I think that’s really powerful.

Melissa Reynolds (39:07):

Yeah. And I think, to add to that author’s own words about how we now recognize the importance of mental health and trauma and for that, I am glad. I feel like that kind of sums up the entire point, you know? That there’s this freedom to talk about the experience, as the author mentions, and how that can be healing. I really hope that this story does that and so much more.

Elena L. Perez (39:39):

Mm-hm. Yeah, it’s important to talk about it because it’s…what I also liked about this piece is that even though the author herself wasn’t harmed, it still brings to light the repercussions of having to deal with that threat. So, even if the scars are not physical, they’re still scars, and, like both of you have been saying, they take time to heal. And so being able to process that through this writing and kind of examining the details as closely as is needed is really helpful both, I imagine, for the writer, but also for the reader who may have also gone through something like this or similar. So, it helped just knowing that you’re not the only one going through this. Kind of like what you were saying, too, Cerid, that it’s something that you have to go through as a community to kind of help each other through. I appreciated that this piece took the time to delve into that. Yeah. And did it so beautifully.

Elena L. Perez (41:02):

So, that’s a wrap on episode one. Thank you to Amita, Marie-Louise, and Daniel for submitting your beautiful pieces to our magazine. We hope you, our listeners, enjoyed this episode.

Melissa Reynolds (41:18):

Want to know more about our featured authors? Check out the links and description and read their full publication on our website. We hope you’ll join us for part two, featuring Chris Cooper, Linda Lacy, and Frank Njugi.

Cerid Jones (41:34):

Do you think you have a piece worthy of a Pushcart? With our new team of exceptional first readers, our submissions are open to even more talented assessors. Head over to Duosuma to submit your next great piece of craftsmanship. We can’t wait to read it.

Melissa Reynolds (41:51):

Thank you to all of our nominees for the Pushcart award. We found your work to be wonderful, and we look forward to seeing more work from you. Good luck to you this May when the winners are announced. We, of course, are cheering for you.

Elena L. Perez (42:07):


Melissa Reynolds (42:07):

Thank you for all of our readers, and please keep sending us your wonderful work.

Cerid Jones (42:15):

From all of us at The Metaworker, happy writing and happy reading.

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