750 Words Competition - Winner

Deborah Smith

750 Words Competition


Deborah has been a specialist teacher for 18 years and continues to be inspired by the unique voices, experiences and brilliance of neurodiverse people. She is passionate about the power of a shared narrative that connects individuals to each other, a community and the natural world.

Kieran By Deborah Smith

The seagulls keen through the biting wind. The sound – half anguish, half outrage - makes him turn his head. The sea is a grey marble swirling, the sky flatter grey, heavy, creases of fainter white at the horizon.
Kieran walks, something slightly unusual about his gait. He doesn’t feel the cold much, but he hunches forward, his hands buried in the pouch of his black hoodie. This, or he pulls the straps of his full pack forward to increase the sense of pressure on his back. It’s calming. The hoodie is too big for him and hasn’t been washed for quite some time. But he doesn’t like the smell of the soap. It makes him feel sick, gives him a headache for days. And the hoodie hides things well: his body in the tight vests he likes, his hands when he gets the urge to pick or flap, his face that he doesn’t know how to arrange right when people talk to him. He wants to like people – but sometimes they turn the words he knows into a different language. Sometimes they say things but mean the opposite. Sometimes they say things that mean something else. Sometimes they don’t even say any words but, somehow, they’re still talking. It’s very confusing. Maybe he’s just stupid.
The sea front is quiet, empty; the tables and chairs stacked, tarpaulined against the winter. An ice cream sign swivels manically on its stand. Kieran goes up to it, holds it still a moment. Still. Shush. Quiet. The wind whips his hood back, so he feels a blast of iced salt water on his cheeks. He opens his mouth. He doesn’t come down to this part of the sea front in summer. It just smells of fat. The fish and chips, the doughnuts, the all-day English breakfasts; the sun creams, the perfumes, the make-up. It’s all the same grease.
Of the hundreds of movements that catch his eye, one stands out. It’s a juvenile herring gull. Its plumage still dappled brown with the fluff that ripples now in the rhythmic blast of the sea wind. Kieran looks at it. It’s easy to make eye contact with a bird or an animal. They’re honest. And seagulls have eyes that he can recognise. They’re intense, wild, holding back a secret intelligence that they know you won’t understand or accept. Creatures that thrive best in their own realm even when forced to adopt the habitats and habits of others. Like Husky dogs. Kieran sighs.
But here’s his chance. Kieran lets go of the ice cream sign, the sound of it drowned in the bubbling of excitement that surges through him. It’s taken weeks of careful planning. Time before and after all his therapy sessions. Sometimes, he admits with a thrill, he was thinking about this during his therapy sessions. The secret locked behind his seagull eyes. The best day, the best time, the best wind conditions. He’d watched for hours, taking notes carefully in his own code.
The bakery didn’t official open until 7:00am but the bakers were already inside. They always worked overnight Kieran already knocked on the glass fronted door, already picked up the full bag. Thanks, have a good day. He knew to say that, try to smile, wave gently. It was friendly but it didn’t mean the person was your friend.
Striding now, noises of joy escaping his mouth, his hands already twitching. This is the place. The best place. Kieran walks to the edge of the small jetty. He leans against the life buoy ring.
The bag. He swings the pack off his back and unzips it. Loaves of bread, cobbles of rolls, a mishmash of cake. He tears at it. All of it. Grabs handfuls. He throws them into the air shrieking with glee as the wind takes it. Less than a second. The first seagulls come. Soon there are dozens, then hundreds. Their noise fills his head, and he answers back. The wings beat around him and his heartbeat answers back. They whirl. He whirls, euphoria soaks him in its waves. White, grey, pink, eyes alive and locked on target. Here is life. Kieran lifts the bag, spins it around so the food flies out in great clumps. He spins, shouting with the release, the joy, the need. Until he falls, lies on his back, his chest heaving, his heart beating. He smiles up at the lightening sky. Today, he shall code in his diary, today is a great day.

Judges Comments

'Kieran', by Deborah Smith - the winner in WM's 750 Words Short Fiction Competition - is a perfect example of what a story of that length can deliver. There's a driving focus and intensity to this piece, written in close third person, where every word and image contributes to the message its writer wants to deliver about freedom, identity and self-expression.

The choice of close third person, rather than first, works wonderfully in this narrative. It retains the observer's position but allows the reader to see the unfolding situation through the perspective of the writer's chosen character, making it a deliberate choice to acknowledge Kieran's way of seeing the world as different, but crucially, not less.

In this wonderful, defiant piece of writing, the seagull motifs are used not just as emblems of freedom, but to symbolise different ways of processing the world. With perceptive insight, Deborah makes her viewpoint character Kieran connect the neurodiverse experience with the intelligence of birds: seagulls have eyes that he can recognise. They’re intense, wild, holding back a secret intelligence that they know you won’t understand or accept. Creatures that thrive best in their own realm even when forced to adopt the habitats and habits of others.

The whole piece builds to a stunning, exhilarating climax, with the relase of tension in the wonderful freedom and wild beauty, and inchoate sense of release, at the story's end. With the stunning image of Kieran's deliberate unleashing of the mass of gulls. Deborah Smith's writing doesn't just celebrate difference, but gives it wings and makes it fly.


Also shortlisted in WM’s 750-word Short Story Competition were:
Dianne Bown-Wilson, Exeter; Anna Caddy, Chard, Somerset; Katie Carr, Stratford upon Avon;  Suzanne Ellis, Totnes; Anna Evans, Taunton; Esme Ford, Ruardean, Gloucestershire; Phil Gilvin, Swindon; Denny Jace, Telford, Shropshire; Jeanette Lowe; Damien McKeating, Newcastle-under-Lyme; Sheffield; Louise Morriss; Hertford; Glennis Virgo, Saffron Walden, Essex; Jackie Winter, Blandford, Dorset