‘Write the story that is knocking most insistently around the edges of your consciousness’

“Foreign Object,” by Deborah Elderhorst, was selected by Helen Humphreys as the 2019 winner of the CNFC/Humber Literary Review Creative Nonfiction Contest.

Deborah is an Australian-Canadian writer whose work has appeared in literary journals and anthologies in Australia, New Zealand, and the US. Find her online at www.deborahelderhorst.com.

Below she offers insight into the value of the CNF genre and encouragement for those hoping to submit this year.

Interested in participating in the 2020 contest? Find out more here (February 1 deadline!).

CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR WINNING PIECE AND WHAT YOU THINK MADE IT STAND OUT?

“Foreign Object” deals with the fragmented yet oddly specific nature of traumatic memories, how such memories are apt to reside in the body and resurface unexpectedly during the course of a life, and how what we make of them — the manner in which we carry them and the weight and meanings we assign to them — is subject to change. The piece speaks to the integration of past events and present self and the grace to be found in that strange and painful process.

Helen Humphreys, who chose the winning piece, described “Foreign Object” as a “polished little gem.” While I was writing it I did think of its four distinct segments as facets of a whole which, together, tell a story that does not have a traditional beginning, middle, or end but that does feel self-contained and complete.

WHAT MAKES A CREATIVE NONFICTION PIECE REMARKABLE?

Emotional truth resonates with readers whether or not they have actually lived the experiences described in a given CNF piece. I believe the skill of the wordsmith in conveying such truth is what makes a piece remarkable.

ARE THERE DIFFERENT CONSIDERATIONS WHEN SUBMITTING TO A CNF CONTEST VERSUS THOSE CENTRED AROUND OTHER GENRES?

Without the assumption of remove afforded fiction writers, sharing a CNF piece in public can make one feel rather naked and vulnerable. Practice reading in the mirror at home if you’re an introvert like me.

HOW HAS THE WIN CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR LITERARY CAREER?

Having author Helen Humphreys choose my piece and describe it as a polished little gem made me feel seen and deepened my confidence in my own judgment and the choices I make as a writer. “Foreign Object” was rejected for publication thirteen times before winning the CNFC contest. When it won, I was on the fence about whether to write a book-length memoir in hybrid form. This was just huge encouragement to put my head down and keep on writing in the direction my work was leading me. I’ve since participated in a five-month advanced memoir workshop with Chelene Knight and expect to complete my first full-length manuscript this year.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE ONLINE WRITING CRAFT WEBSITE / RESOURCE?

I don’t have a favourite online resource, but I do keep an eye out for craft pieces by CNF writers whose work I know and admire.

WHAT PIECE OF ADVICE CAN YOU OFFER NEW AND EMERGING WRITERS WANTING TO ENTER THIS YEAR’S CONTEST?

Write the story that is knocking most insistently around the edges of your consciousness and hit Submit!

Deborah Elderhorst wins the 2019 CNFC/Humber Literary Review Creative Nonfiction Contest

Congratulations to Deborah Elderhorst, whose piece “Foreign Object” was selected by Helen Humphreys as the 2019 winner of the CNFC/Humber Literary Review Creative Nonfiction Contest.

Deborah Elderhorst is an Australian-Canadian writer whose work has appeared in literary journals and anthology in Australia, New Zealand, and the US. Find her online at www.deborahelderhorst.com.

An excerpt of the winning piece is included below. “Foreign Object” will be published in full in an upcoming issue of the Humber Literary Review.

*

I find my two-year-old daughter in the bathroom, dark bruises of plum and charcoal on her face, mouth a red gash, the floor tiles around her streaked and sullied. She squats in the shower stall, the smashed, smeared contents of my makeup kit around her. Sparkle-dirty fingers clench when I bend to clear a path through the ravaged cosmetics; she resents my intrusion on her private explorations, shouts, “Mummy go ‘way.” It is an instruction, not a plea.

Hours later, when her father lifts her in his arms at the grocery store, I glance up and notice a small white foreign object plugging one of her nostrils: a wadded piece of cotton ball, it turns out, tightly lodged. At home, with her father holding her still, I will perform a delicate extraction, the tweezer-tips almost too large for the opening in her toddler’s nose.

*

I phone my mother and share this latest grandchild story. She says, “She’s just like you,” reminds me of the time I shoved a piece of broken china up my nose. I have heard her tell the story before. We do not touch on how it is I came to be alone, in close proximity to the shards of a broken teacup—she does not like reminders of my father, whom we escaped years ago.

Congratulations to all of this year’s finalists and thanks to everyone who submitted.