Earlier this year, Kiera was keen to take part in a writing contest for the Chaeli Campaign. Problem was that it was open to high school students and adults. But, her enthusiasm was second to none – most likely motivated by the R1000 first prize! So, I figured, motivation is half the "battle" in creating a great story, why not ask the organisers if she can take part anyway? Well, the Chaeli Campaign people are all about inclusivity and Kiera was given the go-ahead.
Talk about enthusiasm bubbling over! Despite mom’s heavy doses of reality checks (remember that you’re competing against adults; remember that this is the first complete first story you’ve written; don’t get your hopes up …) Kiera’s enthusiasm did not waver one bit. She was determined to write a story worthy of entry.
And she did.
I was blown away at her skill. Writing a short story with a specific word limitation is not easy for even an adult. Introducing characters, creating a significant plot and wrapping up the story from beginning to end so that the package is presented whole and well requires skill – and to some measure, talent.
She bounced some ideas off me. The topic was Hope and the "ability" in "disability" – roughly 1200 words that focus on the triumphs of those who live with disabilities. Kiera’s ideas revolved around her most favourite subject – horses.
She had some great ideas and we had fun chatting through some potential plot lines one evening. But soon it was bedtime and I figured we’d have another session of ideas before she went ahead.
Instead, the next thing I knew she had written up the entire story. Reading her story that first day brought tears to my eyes. This was a great story. Oh, it was obvious that some of her favourite "fluff" novels influenced her style. It wasn’t going to win prizes for depth and pathos – after all, she is just 9 with a typical 9-year old’s lack of harrowing life experience. But, with some fine-tuning of her grammar and punctuation, she could enter her story with no reserve.
And so began the editing process. Again, Kiera blew me away. She took the process so seriously, happily answering my editorial questions (Can you spot where you may need a comma here? How could you say this sentence in such a way that it better explains how your main character is feeling? Does it make sense to move from this sentence to the next one? What could you say to make the transition more fluid?) and diligently going through the 5 or so critiques without complaining. We kept copies of each critique and re-edit – it’s a great picture of how a beautiful raw product can be slightly and gradually polished to reveal a final product that glows.
Finally, the day came to submit her entry. And then the long wait. By this stage she was pretty sure that she wouldn’t win anything, knowing that she was competing against much older children and adults, but there was still that "what if" that kept her hopeful and eager to hear the results.
Eventually, two months later the winners were announced. Kiera was not one of them. But, despite what must have been at least a smidgen of disappointment, Kiera was not downhearted. She’s been talking about writing more short stories for a collection she hopes to publish one day. She plans to write an adventure story about survivors next.
Whether she does or not, I can’t predict. But I can say that her first foray into the writing world has revealed that this 9-year old has a gift that is worth nurturing.
All Hope is Never Lost
By Kiera-Lee Hayes, 9 years old
Nikita stared tearfully out of the big square window in her small room. “Everything is so unfair!” she exclaimed, tears beginning to stream down her cheeks. “I can’t ride horses or play like a normal kid. I can’t even stand, because I’m paralysed!’’
Her sobs became louder and louder, until a small voice said, “Nikita, supper is ready….” Her younger brother stopped when he saw her face. “Nikita, w-why are you crying?” asked Dylan, his green eyes wide and questioning.
Nikita answered, “Dylan, do you understand that I used to have riding lessons at Shady Grounds Stables?”
“Yes,” her brother answered. “And you loved doing it,” he added thoughtfully.
“Well,” Nikita said, tears filling her eyes, “I-I c-can’t r-r-ride any m-more!” She burst into more floods of tears.
Dylan asked, “Why not Nikita? Why can’t you ride?” Then it struck him: she can’t ride because she’s paralysed! Silently, he tiptoed out of the room. Nikita didn’t notice: she just cried and cried.
At supper that evening, Mrs Granger said, “Nikita, I have good news for you.”
Nikita stopped playing with her food. “What good news?” she asked curiously.
“I have found a riding school for the disabled,” her mother replied triumphantly.
“WHAT?!” Nikita looked at her mother and in disbelief asked, “Really?”
Her mother smiled. "Yes, it’s called Garder Riding School for the Disabled.”
Nikita couldn’t believe her ears. “Can I go?” she asked with a catch in her breath.
Her mother smiled again, “I spoke to the owner. You may go tomorrow!”
The next morning, Nikita’s mother helped her get dressed into the old jodhs she had worn before her car accident six months ago.
“Mom, how will I get on the horse and ride?” she asked.
“Don’t worry. Clare will teach you everything.” answered her mother. Nikita suddenly felt nervous. What if she could not ride? Then she would have no hope left about being able to ride again. “Mom, I d-don’t want to go,” she said shakily.
Her mother looked at her, surprised, “What do you mean? Of course you do. You’ve been sitting in your room all day moping because you can’t ride. Now come put your shirt on.” Nikita didn’t argue. In her head she worried, but in her heart she had a desperate surge to ride. She wheeled herself to the car, grimacing as her mother helped her in. With a bounce like Bungee his pet rabbit, Dylan hopped in the seat next to her.
“Are you ready?” asked their mother.
“Yes!” said Dylan.
Nikita said nothing.
After dropping Dylan off at his friend’s house, they headed towards the Main Road, turned into Garder Road and then they were there. Anxiety filled her as they drove through the gates. And all the way to the stables, Nikita became more and more nervous and more and more sure that she could not ride.
“Mom…” Nikita broke the uncomfortable silence.
“Yes?” her mother answered.
“I-I don’t want to ride.”
Her mother looked at her with concern . “Oh, Nikeets!” she sighed. “You were so excited at supper last night and everything has been organised. How about you give it a try?”
Nikita was not excited – now. “I don’t want to! I’m paralysed remember? I can’t ride!”
At this point a woman walked up to them. “Hello, you must be Mrs. Granger!” she said.
Nikita’s mother smiled. “Yes, I’m Sarah Granger. And this is Nikita. You must be Clare.”
“Yes,” replied the woman gently. “It’s lovely to meet you, Nikita. We hope you feel welcome here at Garder Riding School. Come and see the pony you’re going to learn on.”
Nikita glanced at her mom. Mrs Granger had a look on her face that said “be polite”. Tears stung the back of her throat. “I can’t ride!” she said and burst into tears.
Clare smiled sympathetically. “Don’t worry, Nikita, you’ll learn how and you don’t have to ride right away.” She wheeled Nikita to the stables, chatting in a friendly manner all the way while showing her the horses. The sweet musty stable smell made Nikita miss riding so much.
“And this is Mischief,” said Clare, coming to the last pony, a beautiful dun with a glossy black mane. “He’ll be the one you will ride.”
Nikita looked indignantly up at Clare and said, “I told you I can’t ride.”
Clare corrected herself, “Oh, I mean he’s the one you can learn on if you change your mind. Let’s go outside and I’ll introduce you to Melissa Kaspean. She’s one of our instructors.”
They went to an arena where a woman was jumping on a chestnut horse, and as Clare called her up, Nikita realized that she only had one leg! “Melissa!” said Clare. “This is Nikita. She is paralysed and she’s a bit nervous about riding.”
“I can understand that. I think I can help, if you’d like, Nikita?” Melissa said. As she spoke, she swung herself out of the saddle and leaned on her horse. Clare passed her a crutch and she took it gratefully. “Thanks, Clare!” She began to lead her horse to the stable.
“Oh! I’ll take Ruby,” said Clare. “ You go with Nikita.”
Melissa handed the reins over to Clare and effortlessly walked with her crutch and one leg to Nikita’s chair. “Let’s go to the stable to talk,” she suggested. Nikita wheeled her wheelchair into the stable and Melissa seated herself on a bale of hay. “Nikita, why don’t you want to ride?”
Nikita answered, “ I can’t! And if I try I’ll fail! Then I-I’ll never be able to ride again. Besides I’m paralysed, so I can’t.”
Melissa looked her in the eye and asked, “Did you see me jumping in the arena?”
Nikita stared at her, wondering why she had asked. “Yes,” she answered.
“And you understand I only have one leg?”
Again Nikita answered yes.
“Well, if I can ride disabled, then you can too.”
This was too much for Nikita. She yelled, “You might have one leg, but I have none, so I can’t ride!” Tears streamed down her cheeks.
Melissa grasped Nikita’s hands, “Nikita, no one can paralyse your heart! No one can take it away! Learning to ride with paralysed legs is the easy part, but pushing on and believing and keeping your courage in front of you is the hard part. And hardest of all is that first move – getting on the horse. If you can do that, your courage can follow. Then you just need to keep your courage in front of you and push on forward.”
Just then Melissa’s cell phone rang and she quickly left the stables.
“I just need to sit on the horse,” Nikita thought, realising that all hope was not lost. She pushed away her worries and decided then and there to believe that she could do it.
“I can do it,” she said, “I can! I can! I can!” Suddenly, a new feeling rushed into her: a feeling that was urging her on, that was pushing her forward. She wheeled herself out of the stable and said to her mother, “Mum, can I do it now?”
Her mother looked at her and smiled. “Of course!” she said.
Nikita said to Clare, “I would like to try now.”
Clare beamed, “I think Mischief is waiting for you!”
Melissa grinned too, “Go girl!”
Epilogue: 2 years later
“Nikita Granger on Mischief!” boomed the loud speaker and the crowd cheered. Nikita rode over to the podium to fetch her rosette. She had come first! And the next day in the paper, the headlines screamed – PARALYSED GIRL SNATCHES FIRST PLACE!