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Bucksburn movie buff revealed as Granite Noir short story writing competition winner

We reveal this year's winner of the new Granite Noir short story writing competition and the inspiration behind her winning psychological tale.
Lottie Hood
Left to right: APA's director of programming and events Ben Torrie, Sharon Burgess chief executive of APA, Emma McRuvie competition winner and David Dalziel P&J head of supplements.
Left to right: APA's director of programming and events, Ben Torrie, Sharon Burgess, chief executive of APA, Emma McRuvie, competition winner, and P&J head of supplements, David Dalziel, who presented the award. Supplied by Aberdeen Performing Arts

When Emma McRuvie started writing five years ago, she only wanted to use it to help process her thoughts.

However, after exploring fiction writing a few months ago, she decided to give Granite Noir’s newest writing competition a go.

And the results have left her speechless.

At a reception at the Music Hall, Emma was “absolutely shocked” when she heard her name announced as the competition winner out of more than 100 entries.

“I don’t think I can put it into words,” the school support assistant added. “It’s the first time anything like that has happened to me.”

Emma McRuvie
Emma McRuvie at Aberdeen beach front.

While art and English were her favourite subjects during her time at Banchory Academy, the 31-year-old was more drawn to the outdoors as a child.

From her family’s farm in Countesswells to SRUC to study wildlife and conservation management, connecting with nature has always been a big passion and comfort.

Particularly when her father and “best friend”, John McRuvie, died after a long battle with cancer when Emma was 23 years old.

In wrestling with her grief, Emma turned to writing.

“I’ve gone through a lot of trauma in my life, losing people close to me, my dad especially eight years ago,” she said.

“And I found it a way to release feelings and take those things and claim back what has happened to me and see the light side of it.”

Emma McRuvie and her dog.
Emma McRuvie has always loved the outdoors.

Winning tale inspired by personal experiences and love of horror films

After a few years of writing down her thoughts, Emma began to explore fiction writing.

When the Granite Noir competition was announced, the Bucksburn resident entered a short story called Fenna, a thrilling tale set in an empty house centred around a grief-stricken character.

A bit of a movie buff, Emma admitted the story was partly inspired by her love of films and physiological horror.

She added: “One of my big horror influences is Mike Flanagan who writes the TV series The Haunting of Hill House.

“The way he incorporates grief and trauma into the stories and builds tension is incredible.

“Fenna is kind of tied in with mental health and the character’s trauma in grief and how she ignored that and the implications that has.

“It came from personal experience with grief but also mixed with the genre of writing and films that I enjoy.”

Emma McRuvie with her dog.
Emma McRuvie with her dog Norah.

Win has given Emma a ‘boost’

When asked what is next, Emma admitted she had already been working on a second story.

Winning the competition combined with being offered a new “dream” role as a countryside ranger with Aberdeen City Council in the same week has left her feeling more confident.

She said: “The last 10 years haven’t been the best in terms of losing people so it’s always kind of felt I don’t know where I’m going… But I kept on going and trying different things…

“It’s given me that boost that there are better things on the horizon.”

Keep scrolling to read Emma McRuvie’s winning short story Fenna below.

Winning short story: Fenna – By Emma McRuvie

On the cusp of her hometown, a meandering single-track road seemingly to nowhere hid a small cottage. Nestled in amongst a mature pine forest, the stone building stood quietly proud. The tranquil setting was where Fenna found solace after losing her parents.

Being an only child, Fenna grew up extremely close to her mother and father, spending almost every day together right until the end. Her parents were all that she had. Their passing was a catalyst for her to lead a more independent life.

At 25 she had never lived alone. She chose to pour her grief into renovating the cottage. It was her parents’ first home before she was born. They didn’t stay there for long, she never really knew why. They never went there. They never attempted to sell. It just lay empty for 25 years.

There were family stories of strange goings on. Warnings of the shadows in the garden. Embellished tales of their experience told to pacify the imagination of a curious child.

When her parents died she couldn’t afford to keep the family home. The next best thing for her was the cottage. She wanted to bring it back to life as if it would bring a part of them back, the part she never knew.

Her routine was mundane yet served as a comfort. Being self-employed allowed her the opportunity of flexibility that she refused. Structure kept her distracted from getting lost in her own thoughts.

Her days began with breakfast followed by a walk in the forest, before settling down for work. She worked as a counsellor, helping other people through their trauma whilst doing her best to ignore her own.

Her evenings were filled with renovations. Only two rooms were to be finished before she moved in. The bathroom, which was out of necessity, and the living room, which was out of love. The space represented family to her, it’s where they spent most of the time when her parents were alive. And it was where her pride and joy was, the restored wood burner. Her parents’ antique fireplace tools stood elegantly by its side.

Her first night in the cottage, saw her lay back and enjoy the fruits of her labour. As she bathed in the warmth of the fire she couldn’t understand why her parents wouldn’t want to stay there.

A few weeks after moving in, an unsettling feeling began to creep into her life. It began with an overwhelming feeling that unseen eyes were fixated on her every move. She dismissed it as a by product of living alone for the first time, not used to the loudness that comes with silence. She spoke to her own therapist about this feeling, who reassured her that grief presents itself in different ways and maybe this was a product of that. However, the sensation persisted, growing more pronounced with each passing day.

The first time she saw it, she was in the kitchen. The sink sat in front of a large single-glazed window pane. As she washed the dishes, she felt a shiver rush down her spine, and an inexplicable urge to look up. Her view outside was complete darkness. The only light came from the faint glow of her kitchen, casting shadows on the courtyard. Fenna couldn’t shake the feeling that there was someone just beyond her field of vision, convinced she saw the darkness move.

When the nights embraced silence, the shadows outside danced to music only they could hear. Faint creaks and shuffles echoed in Fenna’s ears. The rational part of her mind insisted the shadows were tricks of the eye and the creaks were the character of an old building.

But the fear lingered. Days turned into weeks, and the sensation evolved into her constant companion. She became hyper-aware of her surroundings, beginning to second-guess the safety of her once-familiar space and those around her. She invested in outdoor security cameras which alerted her on the phone if there was any movement detected. A once peaceful haven now felt like a cage closing in.

Fenna was awoken in the early hours with a notification. “Movement Detected Back Door”. Her heart lurched forward as she grabbed her phone. Watching the video back she could see the security light flash in the courtyard but there was nothing there. Another notification. “Motion Detected Front Door”. Her body felt like it was pulsating with anxiety. The video showed her empty illuminated front doorstep; a chill ran down her spine as she noticed a swift movement on the screen. The dark elusive shadow coming from the side of the house darted past the camera’s field of view with an almost ghostly speed.

Her stomach churned. Was she seeing things? She scrutinised the footage again with the same result. Fenna was frozen. The air was thick with tension, every nerve in her body screamed at her to get out. Yet an invisible force seemed to grip her in place. She focussed on sound, listening out for any noise, but she was met with silence.

Burying herself deeper under the duvet, her imagination conjured up all possible scenarios and outcomes until it exhausted itself and unbeknownst to her, reality blurred into a dreamscape.

The next morning, the rays of dawn filtered through the sheer curtains. Fenna’s eyes flickered open, and she found herself tangled in the remnants of a restless night. The image of the unknown shadow lingered in her mind. She checked her phone. No notifications. The room bathed in the morning sun’s soft glow. It felt comforting and surreal.

Taking a deep breath, Fenna reached for the warmth of reality, grounding herself in familiar surroundings and banishing the lingering darkness from the night before.

In the kitchen, she flicked on the kettle. As it hummed to life, her gaze fell upon the worn wooden table. A chill of fear vibrated through her body as she noticed a crumpled note left amidst her dishes from the night before.

She picked up the note. The paper felt like lead in her hands. The message scrawled hastily simply read, “Leave”.

An inexplicable foreboding gripped her, the mundane act of making tea overshadowed by five letters. She took her phone from her dressing gown pocket, the weight of fear and uncertainty pressed on her shoulders. She hesitated, contemplating the decision to break the suffocating isolation by calling the police. What could she say? She’s seeing shadows? This note ended up on the table but the camera didn’t pick up on anything and there were no signs of a break-in. They would think she was mad. Maybe she was.

Caught in her own thoughts, she wavered back and forth, questioning her sanity but fuelled by the idea that someone was trying to breach the sanctity of her own home, she went to purchase extra locks for her doors and windows. The cottage now bore the physical scars of Fenna’s paranoia.

Fenna struggled to focus on life’s daily demands. Every night she was met with security notifications in the early hours. The videos always showed nothing more than what was already familiar to her. The creaks and shuffles stalked her every movement and she began to hear whispers. The relentless struggle between lines of reality were blurring, she hadn’t slept in days.

One evening, as Fenna was anxiously balled up on the sofa, distracting herself with the mindless sound of television, a barely audible, out-of-place murmur danced on the edges of her consciousness. Her gaze departed from the television and to the kitchen sitting in darkness. The murmur got louder and louder as her eyes adjusted to the blackness.

Suddenly, it was as if someone was shouting directly into her ear. “LEAVE”. As soon as the noise rang around her head, she saw a shadow in the kitchen dart and a thunderous clattering. As if to mirror its movement, she leapt off of the sofa and slammed the kitchen door shut, dragging the nearby chest of drawers in front of the door, as if it were an impenetrable fortress. The shadows outside have come inside.

Time slowed to a crawl, and her breath caught in her throat. There was a quiet stillness, but the menacing silhouette was burned into her mind. She was paralysed by an overwhelming sense of dread.

A frantic pounding on the door between the kitchen and living room shattered the eerie silence. The door reverberated. Fenna let out a piercingly sharp scream. Her eyes darted as she desperately scanned the room in a panic, trying to locate her phone which had fallen down the side of the sofa.

The bangs continued, the rattling of the door handle became more frantic. She gets her phone and dials 999 with one hand and with the other reaches for the fire poker. She clambered up on to the sofa and desperately pleaded with the person on the other end of the phone for immediate help.

The noises got louder. A familiar voice laden with a spectacular rasp, as though it weathered centuries of existence screamed “LEAVE”. She dropped the fire poker.

“Did you hear that? They’re here. They’re in the house and they want to get to me,” Fenna screamed.

“We will have officers with you as soon as possible. But please calm down and stay on the line for me.”

Fenna sobbed as she clutched the phone to her ear. The noise was insufferable. Danger was imminent. “They are getting through, please help me,” the words punctuated by heart-wrenching sobs.

Her tear-filled eyes widened and re-focussed on the door. She could see it visibly shaking. The chest of drawers was being thrust forward. It was almost here.

She stood up and dropped her phone. Her eyes were fixed on the door as her hands desperately felt for the fire poker. Got it. Standing square with the door, her knuckles turned white as she gripped the fire poker. She raised it up to her waist and pointed it toward her tormentor.

Any second now they are going to burst through the door. A loud bang shattered the fragile illusion. She felt the shockwaves of the door exploding open. She charged forward with all her strength and determination towards the shadow.

A sudden stop. Like hitting a brick wall. And unbeknownst to Fenna, the sharp end of the fire poker, forgotten in the midst of chaos. The room fell silent.

She looked down and saw the fire poker piercing her abdomen. Blood flowed, staining the fabric of her clothes, puddling on to the floor beneath her feet.

She stumbled back in disbelief, falling back on to the floor. As her eyes began to glaze over, she struggled to keep them open. She looked toward the kitchen. The door was closed. The chest stood undisturbed in front of it. There was no shadow.

As the realisation dawned on her, the flickering reflections of blue lights filled the ceiling above her. She closed her eyes and imagined her parents. A wave of peace submerged her, it felt like home.