Kevin Doyle Blog

Writing and activism

News about “The Worms That Saved The World”

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Where To Buy The Worms That Saved The World

charter of rights (2)

To buy online go here

In CorkVibes and Scribes (21 Lavitt’s Quay) and Liam Ruiséal (Oliver Plunkett St.). Also from Rebel County Books (Selected Cork markets). In KinsaleBookstór (8 Main St.). In Carrigaline: Carrigaline Book Shop (Main Street).

In DublinThe Winding Stair Bookshop (Lr. Ormond Quay). In Kildare: Woodbine Books (Kilcullen). In Galway: Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop.

Now distributed in the UK/ Europe by AK Press!

Further announcements to be made.

What People Have Said About …

“An inspirational story for children … entertaining and beautifully illustrated …”

Pet O’Connell, review in Evening Echo, Cork

“Everyone should get one of these books for children close to them. It is beautiful, refreshingly different with a very important message. I love it! You won’t have come across a book for kids like this….ever. A new trend hopefully.”

Niamh Leonard, artist, Cork

“I got my books in the post today. I love it!!! Will recommend it to all my friends and family.”

Maeve Caraher, Louth

“An inspiring tale that celebrates all that is good about community and solidarity.  Beautifully illustrated with colourful characters that will delight and charm and written in a style that will appeal to children and adults alike, this is a book that should be in every classroom and school library in the country.  Its message that when we support each other we can tackle anything is delivered in a way that will appeal to children, and to the child in all of us.”

Gregor Kerr, primary school teacher, Dublin.

“The mighty, the arrogant and the swaggering brought low by the humble worm — what’s not to like in this charming tale of working together for what’s right and good? Up the worms!”

Theo Dorgan, poet.

News articles about The Worms That Saved The WorldSpark Deeley and Kevin Doyle (2)

Teaching children to stand up for what is right [review by Pet O’Connell, Evening Echo, May 12th]
Educating young bookworms… with a Cork twist [Evening Echo, Cork]
Row Over Old Head Inspires A Children’s Book [Irish Times]
Worms’ tale shows kids how to fight for rights [Liberty, May 2017, SIPTU]

Background Articles

Free Old Head of Kinsale – A Brief History (includes more links)
About “The Worms That Saved The World”
Interview in Look Left

Connect with The Worms That Saved The World

Facebook and Twitter for The Worms That Saved The World
Kevin Doyle
Spark Deeley

About “The Worms That Saved The World”

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Introducing a children’s book with a difference!

“Their lives are turned upside down when a luxury golf course invades their headland. The worms try to negotiate but their efforts are met with insecticide. Our long, wriggly friends have had enough! They decide to take action … A story for children and (ssssssh) adults too.”

Background

The Worms That Saved The World is an illustrated children’s book about a rebellious group of earthworms who fight to save their home from a luxury golf course that takes over their headland. The story was inspired by a famous campaign that took place at the Old Head of Kinsale in Cork, Ireland at the turn of the millennium.

The Old Head has been described as one of the ‘one of the most spectacular beauty spots on [Ireland’s] Wild Atlantic Way’. However in 1989 the promontory was purchased by a property developer whose dream was to build a luxury golf course on the headland. Part of his plan involved restricting public access to the walks along and around the Old Head. A public campaign got underway to opposed the annexation and this took the form of ‘picnics’ that were often followed by ‘mass trespasses’ on the headland. The developer appealed to the Irish courts to uphold his right to control movement on the headland and eventually he won. Today access to the Old Head is very limited – unless you have lots of money and you like to play golf.

Author Kevin Doyle explains how the The Worms That Saved The World took shape:

I took part in many of the protests. We were right to protest about what was happening. Here was a beautiful part of our country, part of our heritage, and it was being robbed from under our noses by a developer who just wanted to turn it into a playground for very rich golfers. It was all wrong. The campaign that opposed the development was one of most spirited that I ever took part in. There was lots of solidarity but in the end force prevailed. For many of us the fight is not over. The Old Head will be ours again one day.

The idea for the story sprung from the injustice of seeing the beautiful headland being privatised. But in the early part of the millennium I also had young children to mind. My partner and I read a lot to our two girls. There are great books around for children – no shortage in one respect – but there are few enough books that talk about issues to do with standing up for your rights. Also it’s often not safe to stand up against injustice on your own. You have to win others to your side and act collectively. The Worms That Saved The World talks about these issues as part of the fun story that it is. There are no princes and princesses in this story!

seals small (2)I remember seeing a book in Solidarity Books in Cork called Into The Serpent’s Jaws. I asked about it.  The author and illustrator was Spark Deeley. I met Spark a while later and asked her if she would be interested in working on The Worms story. The book took off from there. Spark is a great artist but she also really liked the story and its politics. It took a lot of work and much to-ing and fro-ing to get the book into its final shape. The illustrations in their own right are beautiful with a lot of detail in each one.

Neither Spark nor I are celebrities so we haven’t been able to get a mainline publisher to back us. Okay that a bit of an exaggeration but these days it does seems as if content does play second fiddle to ‘star’ branding. In any case we decided that this story was too important to be allowed languish so we’ve gone ahead and published it ourselves. 

We think this is a story worth telling. It is a story for our time, we feel. Social solidarity is under attack in many countries and, lets face it, decisive action to stop global warning just hasn’t happened. Maybe it really is up to us?

Where can I get a copy of The Worms That Saved The World?

The Worms That Saved The World will be launched in Cork on May 5th, 2017. To order a copy please go here or you contact us directly on Facebook or Twitter. In Cork, the book is available from Vibes and Scribes, 21 Lavitt’s Quay, Cork.

More details to follow.

 About the author

Kevin Doyle is an award-winning short-story writer. His work has been widely published. He won the Michael McLaverty Short Story Award 2016 and a CAP Indie Award for his collection Do You Like Oranges? At the turn of the millennium he was active in the campaign to defend the public’s right of access to the traditional walkways on the Old Head of Kinsale. That campaign and his daughter Saoirse’s interest in garden worms inspired this story. He is also the author of many articles on anarchism and the anarchist tradition, and teaches creative writing in Cork.

About the illustrator

Spark Deeley is an artist, illustrator and writer. Born in Birmingham, she now lives in Cork, where she divides her time between professional art practice and community art projects. Her first book, Into the Serpent’s Jaws, an illustrated fable, was published in 2007. This was followed by Do You Remember Me?, an illustrated CD created with musician Catherine Cunningham. She has also facilitated the production of two volumes of art and writing by community groups in Cork: Knitting for Squids and The Light of the Lantern. The Worms that Saved the World explores a theme that she believes to be central to a healthy society: our universal right to a safe home.

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Written by kfdoyle

April 5, 2017 at 4:53 pm

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Direct Action For Kids!

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We Did It Together!Introducing a children’s book with a difference!

Their lives are turned upside down when a luxury golf course invades their headland. The worms try to negotiate but their efforts are met with insecticide. Our long, wriggly friends have had enough! They decide to take action… 

A story for children and (ssssssh) adults too.”

What The ‘Rich’ Dream Of …

 

old-head-of-kinsale-cork-ireland-wild-atlantic-way

The Old Head of Kinsale – Privatised!

In 1979, a millionaire property developer purchased the Old Head of Kinsale in Cork, Ireland for the measly sum of just €300,000. His dream was to build a luxury golf course on the headland and in 1997 that dream came true. Soon after, access to the traditional walks and wild coastline at the Old Head was restricted to ‘club members’ only. A popular campaign – Free The Old Head – fought back but the developer had the courts and the gardaí on his side. In effect, the headland was annexed for the exclusive use of a small group of wealthy golfers. Today it costs €30,000 per year for membership at the Old Head Golf Links. Alternatively you can pay Green Fees of around €1000 for the dayThink that wrong? So do we! 

Rebellion!

charter of rights (2)

We live here too!

 

The Worms That Saved The World was inspired by the campaign to keep access to the Old Head free and open to all. The story is about a community of rebellious earthworms who fight to save their home when a luxury golf course takes over their headland. The worms are in for a tough fight but it turns out that they are made of tough stuff. Worms haven’t been around on this planet for as long as they have with knowing a thing or two!

Solidarity, Direct Action!

A plan 2

Mutual Aid, Solidarity – It’s Our Best Chance!

Including thirty-five beautiful illustrations by artist Spark Deeley, The Worms That Saved The World celebrates solidarity, direct action and standing up for your rights. It’s a joyous book featuring ‘mutual aid’, collective struggle and guess what? In the end, the worms win! Here is a story for all the young people in your life and it can even be enjoyed by adults too!r

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Get A Copy!

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We did it together!

Now distributed in England, Scotland, Wales and across Europe by AK Press!

In Ireland a list of shops stocking The Worms That Saved The World here.

Normally retailing at €10/£10 

If you need more information, send up an email

Written by kfdoyle

May 24, 2017 at 3:46 pm

Press Release: “Rebellious Worms Aim To Reclaim The Old Head of Kinsale”

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A colourful new children’s book, entitled The Worms That Saved The World, is set to focus renewed attention on the controversy surrounding the Old Head of Kinsale in Co Cork. Written by Kevin Doyle and beautifully illustrated by artist, Spark Deeley, The Worms That Saved The World will be launched at Cork’s City Hall on May 5th by writer and dramatist Conal Creedon.

Access to the scenic Old Head of Kinsale – a landmark site on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way – has been restricted since 2003 when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Old Head Golf Links who had applied for exclusive rights to control who could walk on the headland. In The Worms That Saved The World a group of earthworms living on an imaginary headland begin to suffer when a golf course takes up residence around their home. The worms attempt to tell the new owners about their concerns but they are dismissed. In response they organise and join with the other birds and animals on the headland. Eventually they reclaim the headland for everyone.

“The book was inspired by the Free The Old Head campaign,’ said Kevin Doyle, ‘but it is about a lot more than just that. It is also about the environment and the need to stand up for your rights while celebrating community and solidarity in our lives. It’s a feel-good book that kids and parents together can enjoy and learn from.”

He continued,

‘The illustrations are works of art in their own right. Children will love these rebellious worms. Let’s face it, earthworms get a lot of bad press but these worms have something to tell us about the need to share the planet and respect the environment.”

The illustrations in the book have already garnered praise.

“There are thirty-five original illustrations,” said Spark Deeley. “First, I sketched the images onto watercolour paper. The drawings were then inked in using a fine liner drawing pen. Finally, I coloured the drawings by hand using watercolour paint. The larger images took between 4 – 5 days each from start to finish.”

Spark Deeley and Kevin Doyle (2)She added, “The expressions on the faces of the worms change throughout the book. Their faces convey the emotions that they experience as the story unfolds. We see concern, confusion, surprise, fear, outrage, concentration, questioning, determination, compassion and pure joy. That is what this story is all about.”

The Worms That Saved The World is published by Chispa Publishing, Cork and will retail at €10. Copies can be ordered online via Facebook or Twitter. The book will be available in Cork at Vibes and Scribes (Lavitt’s Quay) and Liam Ruiséal (Oliver Plunkett Street).

Further Information:

Kevin Doyle and Spark Deeley

For background history about the Old Head dispute see Free Old Head of Kinsale – A Brief History (includes more links.)

For more about the storybook and its development see About “The Worms That Saved The World”

 

Free The Old Head of Kinsale – A Brief History

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Free The Old Head Poster 2The Old Head of Kinsale is located about twenty miles from Cork city, on Ireland’s Atlantic coastline. Jutting into the ocean, the promontory of land is a scenic highlight and has been a destination of choice for walkers going back over a hundred years. The waters around the Old Head are dangerous and there are records of a lighted beacon on the tip of the headland as far back as pre-Christian times. The first official lighthouse was established in the 17th century by Robert Reading. Today, a fully automated lighthouse still operates on the tip of the Old Head.

In Bartholomew’s (1) Walk Cork and Kerry the hike down to the Old Head lighthouse is described as follows:  The Old Head is a quiet place. Little remains of the Celtic settlement or of the many ships that have come to grief on its rocky eastern shore. Today it is the haunt of fishermen, bird watchers and rock climbers. The bird sanctuary is a protected area. The numerous coastal tracks here are well-defined.  

Older guides to the Kinsale area are more graphic. Thulliers notes that Holeopen Bay – on either side of the isthmus at the Old Head – is mentioned in Joyce’s Ulysses. (2) The same guide records that there are a number of ‘spectacular sea arches in the rock at the water’s edge that may be seen from a boat‘. ‘Some of these cut right through the 200 foot high cliffs‘ where ‘light from the other side of the headland to be seen.’ The Spanish knew of the Old Head and called it Capo de Vel (Cape of Light). It has been a favoured destination for bird watchers for generations too. The best time to visit the headlands is from mid-April to mid-July when seabird numbers are at their highest. Upto to 5,000 Guillemots regularly nest on the cliffs, laying their single eggs on bare ledges. The headland’s ‘prominent position jutting out into the Atlantic’ makes it a great place ‘to watch the passing migrations of various seabirds in spring and autumn’. Smaller colonies of Razorbills, Kittiwake, Fulmars and Shags also nest in the area. (3)

Millionaire

old-head-of-kinsale-cork-ireland-wild-atlantic-wayIn the early 90s, the wealthy businessman John O’Connor purchased the entire headland for the princely sum of just €300,000. Although he would later describe the decision as a ‘rush of blood to the head’, he had a clear sense of what he wanted to do with this unique part of the Irish coastline (4). His dream did not include walkers, sightseers or the general public. O’Connor’s vision was to construct a golf links at the Old Head aimed at the luxury end of the market. In an interview with the Irish Examiner (4) in 2002, he described his intentions as follows:

‘[The Old Head Golf Links will be] a five-star service. From the moment they arrive our golfers are looked after. Everyone has a caddy and their clubs are cleaned after they come off the course. We give a level of service that doesn’t exist anywhere else in Europe, let alone in Ireland. Our aspiration is to rank among the ten best course and ultimately to become the premier club in the world. We’re aiming at the top end of the market – and I make no bones about that.’

Major construction work began at the Old Head in the mid-90s. However matters didn’t go entirely to plan for the millionaire. When O’Connor’s Ashbourne Holdings Ltd sought planning permission for a clubhouse that would act as the centerpiece for his new luxury enclave, he ran into public resistance and the planning process. Permission to continue with the construction was eventually granted by Cork County Council, however a stipulation was added that the public had to be allowed to have access to the coastline and to the walking paths leading down to the Old Head lighthouse.

2017-03-27 18.05.33 (2)This was not acceptable to O’Connor. He disputed the existence of any public right of way on the headland – despite all the evidence to the contrary. Threatening to abandon his commitment to the development unless he was given full control over the Old Head, he began a series of legal actions against Cork County Council and An Bord Pleanála. As he saw it his ownership and investment in the exclusive golf course conferred on him the right to control access to the Old Head. This, in his view, should include who could use the road leading down to lighthouse and who was permitted to walk the paths along the cliffs:

You can’t have people wandering around a golf course, he said. We wouldn’t get insurance if the public were let in here. (4)

O’Connor also felt he taking on a fight on behalf of all developers:

The implications [of the planning stipulation upholding the public’s right of way] are wide-ranging. Every development company in the country and every landowner is looking at this case very anxiously. [If the decision to prohibit the public access to the Old Head walkways is not upheld] It would mean that there would be no such thing as private property any more.

O’Connor’s Ashbourne Holding Ltd won the first round when the High Court ruled in favour of the new golf facility. Justice Nicholas Kearns described the public’s right of access as ‘manifestly unreasonable’ as walkers and golfers had differing interests and concerns. If joint access was allowed, he argued, it ‘could result in either injury or conflict between members of the public and golfers using the facilities of the course’.

Shortly after, Cork County Council withdrew from the case. However An Bord Pleanála opted to continue the legal battle and appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. As it did a campaign got underway to assert the public right to walk the cliff and coastline at the Old Head.

Picnic Time

On July 1st 2001, the Free The Old Head campaign organised its first ‘People’s Picnic’ on the grassy hill overlooking the deCourcy Castle ruins which stood at the entrance to the new Old Head Golf Links. The event was a great success.

About 150 people turned up outside the scenic main entrance for the protest picnic, and after plenty of eating and singing discussion began on ‘what to do’. Despite the fact that the golf course and the access to the walking area was protected by a high rampart wall and razor wire, protesters overran the security heavies … In all nearly 60 people scaled the fences and marched along the traditional route of the ‘Old Head walk’. Avoiding confrontation and harassment from Golf Course security, the group held a protest meeting at the Old Head Lighthouse and then returned to the picnic area.

A further report added,

The day was the hottest of the year … The local Evening Echo had given some advance publicity and the Kinsale Residents Association had announced their support … All around the open ground people were setting out picnics with friends and family. A few musicians were playing and everyone was very relaxed. After awhile a few small groups of people spontaneously infiltrated through the wire topped walls and were escorted out. The security were a bit tetchy. Talk then began of a need to stage a mass entrance onto the course. This was canvassed among the picnicking groups and it was made clear that each person could make up their own minds [about] what role they wanted. Some would climb the wall, others proceeded to the gate and others just picnicked and observed. At 4 pm we rushed the walls, around 100 people flowed unimpeded onto the course apart from two or three over enthusiastic plain clothes gardaí resistance was non-existent and they gave up when the realised the sheer numbers they were dealing with.

People's Picnic At Old Head, c 2003The determination of the protesters surprised the irritable O’Connor. He decried the public controversy surrounding his plans for the Old Head.

An impression has been created, he said, that the Old Head is a Phoenix Park [- a reference to the main public park in Dublin, Ireland’s capital city]. That it’s a kind of public park for Cork and we came and stole it and built a golf course on it … It has created a sense of outrage among a segment of people that … individuals could come and steal a national park.

He was right. People from Kinsale, Cork and further afield were aggrieved. As a result the standoff continued. The second People’s Picnic (in late July of the same year) was billed and organised as another family friendly event. However the response from the authorities was noticeable different. It would be an exaggeration to describe the garda presence at the second picnic as oppressive, but there was no disputing that it was intentionally intrusive. Cars transporting picnickers and protesters to the area outside the golf course entrance were repeatedly challenged by the gardaí. Vehicles were checked and car registrations recorded; many drivers were instructed to produce their documents at local garda stations around Cork county within a fortnight. Gardaí also had cameras and proceeded to make a record of those who insisted on their right to access the walk to the Old Head lighthouse.

No Compromise

Over the summer of 2001, three People’s Picnics in total were held. Each picnic was followed by a decision by those present to walk down to the Old Head lighthouse – in a peaceful declaration of the public right of way.  In 2002, the protests got underway early in the year in March. By now O’Connor had erected razor wire along the walls of the old deCourcy castle, which marked the boundary with the golf course. Large numbers of private security were also in attendance along with a large detachment of gardaí and Special Branch. However, the protesters, numbering over 150, were prepared and using old carpet they neutralised the barbed wire barriers and proceeded to have an orderly walk down to the lighthouse.

O’Connor was furious. He claimed that the protesters were ‘hardcore militant activists’ and added that ‘some of them are thugs and wear balaclavas. There is no compromise’. In the same interview he pointed out how much money he had spent on the course. The matter to him was simple, black and white.  ‘Golfers and ramblers don’t mix,’ he said. Either he was granted complete control or he would leave.

The protests continued. However in late 2002, the Supreme Court ruled on An Bord Pleanála’s appeal. It found unanimously in favour of O’Connor’s Ashbourne Holdings and dismissed the appeal ‘in its entirety’ affirming that no public right of access existed on the promontory. Moreover, the Supreme Court awarded costs to O’Connor who remained in an unforgiving mood.  He berated Cork County Council and An Bord Pleanála for having the temerity to oppose him. He suggested that they had been cavalier in their approach and had wasted public funds. They needed to have their ‘knuckles rapped’, he said.

The Free The Old Head campaign pledged to continue the fight. Significantly though, at first protest of 2003, the People’s Picnic failed to gain access to the road leading down to the lighthouse. A combination of bad weather, a large garda presence and the determination of the authorities to prevent ‘any trespassing on private property’ saw the protesters outnumbered and outmaneuvered. At subsequent protests even more gardaí were bused in, creating a difficult atmosphere for the protests.  The fortifications along the boundary wall had also been strengthened – with more razor wire and security cameras – making it even more difficult for the walkers to gain access to the walking areas.

Razor Wire ‘Assaulted’

In late 2003 a member of the Free The Old Head campaign was charged with ‘attacking’ the barbed strung across the ramparts during one of the trespass attempts. Despite the fact that large numbers of cameras were now being utilised to monitor the protests, no photographic evidence could be produced in relation to this ‘violent’ assult at the trial. Instead the evidence of two gardaí who ‘witnessed’ the attack was deemed sufficient. The activist in question was convicted and fined.

2017-03-31 12.23.21The campaign had lost momentum. Although the option existed to initiate a new legal challenge over the right of way issue, the costs involved far exceeded the Campaign’s capacity. On the other side of the issue, further protests risked the prospect that even more activists would be singled out on other spurious charges relating to the heavy-handed security presence.

The Free The Old Head campaign still exists today. It continues to hold protests (5) at the entrance to the Old Head Golf Links and has publicly declared its intention to fight on until full public access to the Old Head is restored. In the meantime access for the general public is starkly restrictive – this despite the Old Head area being described as ‘one of the most spectacular beauty spots on [Ireland’s] Wild Atlantic Way’. According to a notice close to the entrance to the traditional walking area, ‘access is strictly by permission of the owners.’

Greed Is Good!

On the other hand, if you have money, you are very welcome. For the tidy sum of just €30,000 per year you can be a member of the Old Head Golf Links. In 2015 this amounted to some 300 members, 80% of whom are from outside Ireland. Alternatively you can pay to play golf for just the day at the club. According to Jim O’Brien, a manager at the Old Head, ‘At the height of season, nobody blinks at the idea of paying €1,000 for a four ball. We never ever get a complaint here on value. Any complaints we might get would be more about a foggy day or a bit of slow play.’ 

A plan 2The ‘permitted’ visitors to the Old Head are welcome for other reasons too. While some fly in from far afield for the ‘experience’, other overnight in Kinsale. O’Brien again: ‘The golfers who go out for dinner in Kinsale might go through 10 bottles of Chateau Lynch-Bages on a night out. And those Bordeaux are €500 a bottle.’ So, in a sense, you could say, O’Connor’s dream did come through. He died in 2013.

Latest News: The Worms That Saved The World is an illustrated story book for children and adults that was directly inspired by the campaign to free the Old Head. It tells the story of a mythical community of worms who live on a headland ‘on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean’. Life changes forever for the worms when a golf course moves onto their headland. At first the worms try to manage but a combination of chemical pollution and intolerance from the new owners force the worms to act. They realise that they cannot win against the powerful golf club on their own so they seek the help of other birds and animals who share the headland with them. They are a determined and inventive community of worms and in the end the win back control of their home. The Worms That Saved The World is due to published in May 2017 and is a collaboration between writer, Kevin Doyle and the artist and illustrator, Spark Deeley. More details about where you can get the book will be made available shortly.

References:

(1) Bartholomew’s Walk Cork and Kerry, 1990

(2) John Thuilliers, A History of Kinsale, 2001

(3) Sherkin Comment, 1990

(4) Irish Examiner p15 22/07/02

(5) See http://www.indymedia.ie/article/83957

Other Links:

Reports compiled by protesters involved in the People’s Picnics. From the WSM’s Environment page.

The Free The Old Head campaign website.

About the Old Head of Kinsale.

More on O’Connor’s views.

The Old Head Golf Links in their own words.

A comprehensive report on the Old Head campaign in Cork’s Irish Examiner was printed on in the paper on page 15 on 22/07/02. This is currently not available online.

A recent feature on the Old Head Golf Links. Includes spectacular photos of the area.

Old Head Golf Links visionary O’Connor dies.

Lake Disappointment wins The Michael McLaverty Award.

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ciaran-folan-sinead-slattery-kevin-doyle-1

The shortlisted writers for the Michael McLaverty Award (2016) – Ciaran Folan, Sinead Slattery and Kevin Doyle

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. mcl2

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.

Links:

Press Release by Linen Hall Library, Belfast

Linen Hall Library Announce …

Culture Northern Ireland on the Michael McLaverty Awards, 2016

Irish Times: Kevin Doyle Wins Michael McLaverty Award

Carousel Aware Prize for Independent Authors (The CAP Awards)

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cap-indieThe 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.

Layout 1I 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.

 

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