My Daddy is not what you would call "the romantic type''. He's more the solid "down-to-earth'' type. My Mammy says, "Your Daddy has his feet so firmly on the ground, they're actually a little bit below the ground.'' I don't know what she means by that, but I do know he's no Tom Cruise. When I tell him he should buy Mammy a big bunch of red roses for Valentine's Day, he just laughs and says: "Sure, your mother knew what she was getting before she married me. Wouldn't I look a real sissy buying a big bunch of flowers and everybody in Magherafelt laughing at me!" Well, I remember a time when Daddy bought Mammy a big bunch of flowers. About six years ago, Mammy got very sick and she stayed in bed and she did not go to work. Sometimes she cried. One day I came home from school with my brother and sister and Mammy was in hospital.
When we went into the hospital to see her, she was lying in bed with a drip on her arm. She called the drip Fred, and she told me not to worry. I started to cry and asked her if she was going to die. She said she was not. She was going to have a baby.
Mammy was only allowed to come home from the hospital if she promised to stay in bed. So she came home and stayed in bed for months and months and months. Every week the doctor came to see her and he gave her injections which made her even sicker.
Sometimes I heard her whispering to Daddy: "Do you think it will be all right, Seamus?'' And Daddy would say: "Certainly it will, with the help of God."
On the 10th September 1992, Daddy told us that when we came home from school, Granny would give us our dinner and mind us until he came home from the hospital. At 4 o'clock, in Granny's house, the phone rang and Daddy told us that we had a new baby sister called Aisling.
Two days later, Ciaran, Claire and I were all going to the hospital to visit Mammy and Aisling. On the way, Daddy stopped at a florist's shop and he bought the biggest, pinkest bunch of flowers I have ever seen. They were all tied up with an enormous pink bow. When we went into the hospital, Daddy carried this great big bunch of flowers and he did not seem to care who saw him. He was not even a wee bit embarrassed. I don't understand adults, do you?
* Eimear's story is about a family incident which also involves her teacher. Eimear's English teacher is her mother, Shelagh. She says she has a "piercing memory" of the moment in 1992 described in "A Bunch of Flowers" when the five-year-old Eimear asked her: "Are you going to die?" and she replied: "No, I'm going to have a baby." Shelagh remarks: "She was always a very direct child." Aisling was born a day or two later. The baby of the family is now five and pictured with Eimear (right).
Eimear, who has another sister and a brother, has had some previous success as a writer, including winning the BBC Young Journalist of the Year Award in 1995 when she was only nine. Her mother says Eimear was competing against 16-year-olds, so the family was surprised that her piece about a local badger sett in danger won the environment prize, and astonished when she won the overall prize. Then last summer Eimear won a W H Smith award for a story suggested by a news item about a boy in a coma.
Shelagh says she encourages her pupils to write from experience, to revisit their emotions and keep their prose simple. The advice obviously pays off: another of her pupils, Grainne Conlon, was shortlisted in the senior section and also receives a prize today.