Now into their second year of raising funds for the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC), the organisers of Morning Coffee hope to inspire and encourage new submissions with a writing competition committed to highlighting the small joys in life.
For many, this year has been a tough one. If pandemic life has forced us to acknowledge anything, it is the small everyday joys that life brings. Whether that be hearing songbirds in the garden, perfectly poaching an egg, or putting on warm clothes straight out of the tumble dryer, it is these little moments of happiness that inspired the creation of Morning Coffee. “Even if the world is pretty dark at times, there are still nice bright things to get us through the day,” says Morning Coffee’s Public Relations Officer Ella McGill.
Morning Coffee was created in last year’s first lockdown by Carol McGill, a Trinity English and History graduate, as a means to raise money for the DRCC. Impressed by other less traditional fundraisers, Carol drew on her skillset and connections as a published writer and collaborated with Sonder Magazine to create the competition. Speaking to the University Times about the necessity of the DRCC last year, McGill pointed out how “… almost every woman has received harassment on some level, so it’s not as though I’ll ever not need to use them.” The DRCC works “to prevent the harm and heal the trauma of sexual violence” and, like many other charitable organisations, it financially suffered during the pandemic when it became borderline impossible to organise fundraisers. Unfortunately, the need for a rape crisis centre became more prevalent than ever last year, as victims of sexual abuse were denied outlets like the support of friends and family.
“Glancing at last year’s winning stories, you can see the enormous range of content and style of Morning Coffee’s submissions.”
Glancing at last year’s winning stories, you can see the enormous range of content and style of Morning Coffee’s submissions. Third place went to Anthony Bradley’s short story The Morning After. Following a young couple buying the morning after pill from a chemist, Bradley’s story uses the viewpoints of both sides of the pair to chronicle the anxiety and paranoia of what can unfortunately often be an unpleasant, awkward process. In particular, the final paragraph shows the couple buying ice-cream using the change they received in the chemist, as a somewhat inappropriate celebration. This highlights Bradley’s commitment to capturing the scene in a grim, naturalistic fashion. “She was reminded of going to the dentist when she was young and getting a McDonald’s or some other treat afterwards as compensation for the necessary pain she had endured. It added to the humiliation of it all, this self-infantilization, compounding the embarrassment of the interrogation she had endured in the chemists.” The story’s plain, unflinching, and sometimes clinical language vividly expresses the discomfort of the pair. Bradley foregrounds the impersonal aspects of the visit — the fear of the rumour mill — rather than the couple’s intimacy. He is unsparing in representing the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings, rendering the story rather forceful.
Second place went to Davena O’Neill’s highly unusual Tigers Have Striped Skin. The story uses a list of facts to relay a child’s perspective of the domestic abuse occurring in her home. O’Neill chose the titular fact not only because she was surprised by the discovery, but because of how effectively it summarises the narrator’s point of view: “She believes people’s actions on the outside really reflects who they are on the inside, [not only] in relation to her parents but also towards herself.”
Tigers Have Striped Skin is most impressive in its sensitive treatment of a difficult topic. In the submission guidelines, Morning Coffee advises against “gratuitous violence”. Speaking to the University Times, Carol McGill explained that this guideline was put in place because the competition was created as a fundraiser for the DRCC, and the organisers wanted to ensure submissions didn’t overly focus on sexual violence and that sensitive topics were handled with necessary care. The piece uses facts to illustrate the child’s perspective, to encourage the reader to bridge the gap between the child’s experience and the abusive situation.
Last year’s winning story was Lea Mc Carthy’s Glorious, which is a compassionate look at “what kind of life you lead when you’re coming to the end of it.”
Last year’s winning story was Lea Mc Carthy’s Glorious, which is a compassionate look at “what kind of life you lead when you’re coming to the end of it.” She was inspired to write the story after reading an article about the 1941 Belfast Zoo putting down all their tigers and bears, for fears they would wreak havoc on the city if the zoo was bombed and they escaped. This event coincided with the employment of the zoo’s first female zookeepers, and so Mc Carthy began to think about what kind lives these women led.
While “[she] loved all of our winners”, Carol McGill was particularly struck by Glorious because it was, “nice to have a story set in a nursing home that is very hopeful … and so uplifting with so much light to it.” The end of life can be bleak, but offer moments of respite: Gloria is stolen away to go and see the bears, and this first action sets the atmosphere of kindness and dignity that forms the heart of this story. Mc Carthy cloaks the ending with an atmosphere of finality without taking away from its joy. She described it as “a coming-of-age tale but a final age, a final road trip”, it fails to dampen the story, it rather makes the interactions between Gloria and her companions all the more poignant.
After a brilliant first run with over a hundred entries, Morning Coffee “are THRILLED to be back this year.” Continuing with the same structure of last year’s competition, the organisers ask contributors to produce a story between 500-1000 words, as well as a submission fee of €6.50 that will be directly donated to the DRCC. This year’s guest judge is Kevin Power, a familiar figure in the Trinity arts block and a prominent writer and academic who has been awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. While the competition lacks a specific theme, the organisers discourage the inclusion of “gratuitous violence”, which is understandable given the sensitivity of the cause that Morning Coffee holds in mind.
“Morning Coffee is a competition that radiates positivity, which becomes apparent after a quick scroll of their Twitter, which is a combination of cute dog photos, sunshine yellow graphics and relatable quotes.”
Morning Coffee is a competition that radiates positivity, which becomes apparent after a quick scroll of their Twitter, which is a combination of cute dog photos, sunshine yellow graphics and relatable quotes. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that they have fostered a small community since the initial creation of the competition. McGill noted how quickly this community banded together, as people enthusiastically responded to Morning Coffee’s posts and stories; clearly their philosophy has resonated with others looking to celebrate small joys in the face of a terrible world.
The deadline for the competition is Thursday, 15th of July, and more details can be found on the Sonder Magazine’s website.