Some time last summer I read online that that the Michael McLaverty Award (2016) was open for submissions. The prestigious prize, run biennially since 2006, was set up to foster and encourage the tradition of the Irish short story. It is hosted by Belfast’s Linen Hall Library in honour of the life and work of Michael McLaverty (1904 – 1992), one of the foremost exponents of the short story form. Michael McLaverty was born in Co Monaghan and later moved to Belfast where he worked for most of his life as a teacher. In a fitting tribute to one of the leading cultural institutions in Belfast, the Michael McLaverty papers were donated to the Linen Hall Library in 2005 by his literary executors.
I had finished Lake Disappointment in May. It was a story that I had laboured over for a while. The characters and setting – Kenmare in Ireland and the Pilbara in Australia – had been on my mind for a considerable length of time but I struggled in early drafts to find a voice through which the story’s story could be told. I experimented and gave up a few times. However, I always returned to the story. On one occasion I was passing outside Kenmare in Co Kerry – my father was from an area known as Maulnagower, outside Kenmare – and I looked at the landscape, at the bleak and beautiful McGillycuddy Reeks, and I knew I had to finish the story. It would come good, I just needed to persevere.
The theme of the 2016 Michael McLaverty prize was ‘Lost Fields’, a reference to his novel about working-class life in 1930s Belfast. I had Lake Disappointment finished and realised that it suited the theme, so I sent it off. For much of last year I worked on a novel set in Cork and I more or less forgot that I had entered the prize. In early November I heard from Samantha McCombe, the head librarian at Linen Hall Library, that I was on the shortlist. On December 7th, in Belfast, at the Linen Hall Library itself, I was announced as the winner.
At the award ceremony, Patsy Horton (of Blackstaff Press), a judge along with the author David Park, said this about the theme and the prize:
Prizes like the Michael McLaverty Short Story Award are a fantastic opportunity for writers to gain recognition and profile for their writing. I’ve been delighted to be associated with the award this year and to see the very many ways in which writers chose to tackle the theme of ‘Lost Fields’. There were a good number of common threads among the stories, not least of all a focus on the land and inter-generational conflict around inheritance, legacies and tradition. Not surprisingly, emigration, as both loss and redemption, also featured strongly. There is something of this idea in the winning piece, but Kevin Doyle gives it a deeper, richer, more mysterious resonance in a story that takes the reader all the way to Western Australia and the vast unending salt plain of Lake Disappointment.’
Winning was a huge honour. I try to take risks with short stories, not necessarily to be experimental, but rather to look ‘elsewhere’ for subjects to write about. In many ways Lake Disappointment exemplified this. As a story it didn’t come easy. I had to delve deeper inside than I had before to get at the centre of the story. The risk is always there that the story won’t work in the end – that means a lot of time and effort has been lost. For awhile Lake Disappointment looked like it was going to go that way, then it came good. Getting onto the shortlist was, in itself, an endorsement; winning the overall prize was not only a boost but also an invitation to keep going, to write what I want to write about. Lake Disappointment is a love story but it is also about the search for place and peace in a world back-dropped by intolerance.
Finally, the winning stories and those of the other shortlisted writers, Ciarán Folan (A Parting Gift) and Sinéad Slattery (for First Snow) have been published as “Lake Disappointment and Other Stories” by Linen Hall Library and are available to order online. A huge thanks to Linen Hall Library for their effort and committment to the short story form. Michael McLaverty would, I feel, be proud.
The emergence of low-priced electronic publishing has been a big challenge to the book industry. The cost of publishing has dropped, eBook readers are much improved and as a result there is a huge increase in the number of independently published works available to the public. Many people have bemoaned this development but there is no denying that eBooks are here to stay. They will never replace hardcopy books – and that’s a good thing – but they are now a significant part of the book market.
As a creative writing teacher, I’ve always encouraged people to write. A lot of people wonder if they should write. Generally, I say ‘Give it a go’. Lack of confidence can be a barrier but writing as a medium for self-expression is a lot more accessible and natural than some of us are led to believe. To date I’ve never come across anyone who didn’t benefit in some way from writing about something that mattered to them.
The rise in interest in writing has dovetailed nicely with new, less expensive options with the result that there are large numbers of new books entering the marketplace every week. Some of these new writers are aiming to compete in the traditional book market while others are more experimental and not too interested in sales. Others again are just happy to record a memoir or a family saga or a person’s struggle against adversity. The beauty of eBooks is that anyone can join in and it doesn’t cost the earth.
But it’s tough out there, make no mistake. There’s a massive of amount of good reading material available now. Plenty is available online and lots of people, even writers, give away their work for free. Meanwhile all of us are competing against the reality of social media which voraciously soaks up a lot of spare time.
This is where the new CAP Awards come in. Launched this year by Carolann Copeland of Carousel Writers’ Centre, the Carousel Aware Prize for Independent Authors (The CAP Awards) is innovative and timely. Focused on the ‘indie’ book market in Ireland, it has five distinct award categories: Best Junior Book, Best Young Adult Book, Best Short Story Anthology, Best Non-Fiction Book and Best Novel. As you can see the categories cover a broad range of interests and in all twenty-five books have been shortlisted for the 2016 CAP Awards.
The CAP Awards are not the last word – far from it – in terms of what is good or great out there in the world of indie book publishing but they are a very welcome effort to identity the fact that there is a lot of talent in this new area and it deserves to be taken seriously. I have been shortlisted in the Short Story Category for my collection Do You Like Oranges?
The judge in the Best Young Adult Book category, Claire Hennessy, in writing about the CAP Awards pointed out there are different and varied reasons why authors choose to go down the indie publishing route. For me it was in part to do with the particular stories in my collection. All the stories in Do You Like Oranges? had been previously published in recognised journals and the title story had won a runners-up prize in a prestigious award in the UK, but from the outset I found I had difficulty selling the stories to an Irish publisher. Some of this was timing: my stories were about a difficult time in Irish political life when the police had engaged in ‘heavy-handed’ tactics against dissent in the country. As the Troubles came to an end publishers were leaning more towards forgetting about that time rather than dwelling on it.
I decided to publish the stories in eBook format in part to move on. Having one’s writing published is often, in a way, a means of parting with that particular work, and so it was for me. From my perspective as a writer, it was a good move to published Do You Like Oranges? The revolution in electronic publishing facilitated that and has made these stories available to a big audience around the world.
My thanks to Carolann Copeland and the CAP Awards committee, the charity AWARE and all the judges for taking the time to get this award up and running. While I can only guess at the amount of work involved, I have no doubt that it must have been considerable. I wish all the other writers shortlisted in the different categories the very best of luck on the night. Whatever happens these inaugural awards will be a big success for indie publishing in Ireland.
Noam Chomsky is widely known for his critique of U.S foreign policy, and for his work as a linguist. Less well known is his ongoing support for libertarian socialist objectives. In a special interview done for Red and Black Revolution [May 1995] Chomsky talks to Kevin Doyle about anarchism, marxism and the hope for the future.
The election of Barack Obama to the White House in 2008 was one of the most celebrated electoral victories of recent times. Not since Nelson Mandela’s win in South Africa, following the collapse of the Apartheid regime, was the supposed power of the ballot box so publicly celebrated and displayed.
Obama’s victory was hailed as a triumph for the ‘democratic process’ and was widely touted as a fine example of how people power and electioneering can trump entrenched bigotry and money.
Full version here. Published in the Irish Anarchist Reivew [Issue 3] May 2011.
Patrick Galvin, the renowned Cork writer and socialist, has died. Born in Margaret Street in Cork in 1927, Paddy was a prodigious and accomplished writer producing many works in poetry and drama, as well as writing the memoir The Raggy Boy Trilogy. He was also a most accomplished balladeer and many of his early works were in this form.
Full version here. First published May 11th, 2011
The French Revolution of 1789 put an end to the idea that some people were born to rule. In only a short number of years one of the oldest and most powerful monarchies in Europe was swept away. In its place came the idea of legal equality and individual rights as set out in the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.’
The basis of these new rights, established on foot of a great social upheaval, was the real hallmark of the French Revolution since it was accepted, from that point on, that laws and how they were made were the expression of the ‘general will’. As such these laws could be made and unmade as that ‘general will’ was discerned. This was the real break with the past.
At the time of the French Revolution the idea of the ‘general will’ was still new in politics. Even so the implications for the future were not difficult to make out. Sixty years earlier, in England, during the Civil War the very same issues had come to the fore. If the monarchy was to be dispensed with, what type of society should replace it? What exactly constituted the ‘general will’? And, as importantly, in whose service was its rule to be applied?
Now two years on from that time, we are finally getting to the bottom of a very deep hole. It has transpired that the debts in the banking sector were significantly larger than expected. The debts at Anglo Irish Bank were astronomical.
The current Government has nonetheless stood by its ‘word’ and as a result the Irish State has been sucked into the banking disaster. And there you have it: now we are being asked to pay for all of that!
Note on photograph: Showing the Irish Gardaí mobilised to protect the Dáil (parliament) following a huge orotest march in Dublin against wage cuts and austerity.