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Lake Disappointment wins The Michael McLaverty Award.

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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

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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.

 

About “Do You Like Oranges?”

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Do You Like Oranges?is a collection of three short stories, each of which is concerned with State repression.  The setting for the stories is the Ireland of the late 70s/ early 80s.

At the time, repression and ‘counter-terrorism’ were widely used in Northern Ireland by the RUC in conjunction with the British Army.  It is less well known that in the Republic (26 counties) the State used similar methods with clear disregard for human rights.  The intention was identical: to instill a climate of fear among political activists.  These stories then are of that time.

In the shortest story, But Your Mother, the central character is made aware of what the consequences might be for him if he continues with what he is doing.  The choice that he will have to make is not resolved in the story but it is significant and cannot be ignored.  The story is told in a first person narrative voice with the dilemma posed remaining interior to the character’s persona, underlining the personal and private nature of such choices.

In the title story, Do You Like Oranges? the main character has been the victim of a serious beating at the hand of Garda Special Branch.  The key events take place in and around the Hungers Strikes in the Maze Prison, although the location for the story is Cork – a city geographically removed from the conflict that was ongoing in Northern Ireland at that time.  In the aftermath of the assault the victim was threatened in such a way that he believed he was going to die.

We first meet the main character on his return to Ireland from exile in Australia.  Events and circumstances which are only broadly alluded to in the story have propelled him to come back and confront  the man who tortured him.

In this story the main character is about to take the matter of justice into his own hands.  This, to an extent, is what makes the story tick – the determination to seek some re-dress.  While the relevance of the story has receded in terms of the conflict in Ireland, the central concern in the story – the ability of torturers to evade justice and judgement – remains a pressing issue in particular with the resurgence in the use of torture in the post 9/11 period, particularly in the USA and the UK.

For example what should we do when the State de facto avoids its responsibilities in respect to the need and demand for justice.  Or what should we do when the State itself organises the business of torture and is resistant to any attempts to hold it or any of its agents to account?  Not an unusual occurrence in fact.

The third and final story, Down The Tunnels takes a different approach and is written from the point of view of a police officer who was involved in beating a confession from a number of innocent men.  The story resonates with the events of the infamous Sallins Train Robbery case (here in Ireland) when Nicky Kelly and a number of other men were falsely accused and convicted of a robbery that they had no part in.  The story focuses in an entirely imaginative and fictional way on what the motivation  might be for a police officer who knowingly seeks the conviction of an innocent man.

The three stories that make up the short collection have all been previously published. The title story was an Ian St James International Short Story Award winner and appeared in Pulse Fiction (London, 1998) and Snapshots (London, 1999).  Down The Tunnels was first published in The Cúirt Journal 7 (Galway, 1999) and But Your Mother in Stinging Fly (Dublin, 1999) and Southwords (Cork, 2000).

This collection is now available in all the main digital formats at Smashwords or Amazon.

Silence Now Pervades (The Pensive Quill)

Excerpt from Do You Like Oranges? (The Pensive Quill)

But Your Mother – Audio Reading

 

The Hand of God – A Short Story (Video reading)

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The most popular [theory] I recall was from a quiet boy whose name I now forget.  He advanced the idea that Brother Bannister enjoyed hitting us.  When this boy first stated his view, it was followed, it should be said, by a deathly silence.  Then everyone laughed.

Background: This story arose from a chance meeting with an old school friend in Cork.  Inevitably we talked about that time and this led onto a conversation about one Christian Brother who had a particularly violent temper; a lot of them had just ordinary tempers.  Later on however it struck me how this Brother had lived on in our minds for the wrong reasons.

This got me to wondering about what we must have thought at the time – when we were boys.  You try to rationalise everything as a child even things that make no sense.  But what did we make of this Brother’s violent ways and how did it match with the idea of God that was being preached to us?

Maybe the story is a metaphor for the violence of religion.  God is far from loving in this story; in fact the main theory put forward by the boys suggests that God is willfully assisting in the reign of terror.

The sadism of the Brother is another feature of the story.  The boys of course do not understand what sadism is but they are beginning to see that in this Brother’s case, he is enjoying his violence and power.

What remained then with the boys afterwards and how did it affect  them in their lives – if it even did?

 

Reading at Over The Edge, Galway

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Written by Kevin Doyle

May 14, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Q & A on the Worms That Saved The World…

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Mutual Aid

A: For as long as anyone can remember there’s been a walk out along the headland to the Old Head of Kinsale lighthouse in Cork.  It’s actually a very well known walk and remarked upon in many tourist guides to the area – there’s fantastic scenery right along the entire route.  But in the late 90s some developers purchased the headland itself and announced plans to put a luxury golf course on the area that they owned.   They blocked off access to the walk and declared that a walking path and their plans for a golf links were not compatible. To be blunt about it, they wanted it all for themselves and their clients.

A: A campaign got underway to defend the public’s right of way and the public’s right to access.  It was called the Free The Old Head Of Kinsale Campaign.  It organised some large public trespass demonstrations.  These were tremendous and inspiring and I was on a number of them.  But the developers had the Gardaí [G: Guards] on their side.  And, as it turned out, the courts too.  For a while it seemed like we might be able to regain access to the walk but in the end a High Court ruling broke the resolve of the campaign and access was lost. For the present, anyway.

A: While this was going on I had two young daughters to mind.  I was aware that there were few enough children’s picture books around that were any bit different.  There are lots of good books that look at the natural world in a respectful and sympathetic way, but there is lots of material around too about kings and queens, and princes and princesses and all that stuff.  The big problem is the imbalance in books available to a parent or a reader.  A lot of material out there simply reinforces quite traditional values – there is no question about that.

A: I am not sure how exactly the idea of the worms story came to me.  But it could’ve been the fact that one of my daughters had a real grá [G: love] for making these elaborate homes for worms out in the garden.  She would gather lots of worms and put them in lunch boxes with earth and leaves and all sorts of things.  Probably rough enough for the worms but I did noticed that they never really hung around for long!  When she returned to check on them, the worms were always long gone.  I also read at one stage about the problems on some golf course with the chemicals they use to keep weeds down.  And then I had this picture in my mind too of seeing a water feature on a golf course in the States once – the water was a strange ultra blue colour!   Looked bizarre, to me.  All these things set me thinking.  So I got a rough idea for a story.  But that was all it was for a long time: this community of worms having to suddenly contend with a golf course and all that involves.

A: Although I knew Spark Deeley, it wasn’t until I saw her book, Into the Serpent’s Jaw, on sale at Solidarity Books in Cork that I thought to approach her about working on the idea.  Into the Serpent’s Jaws is a beautiful book with really engaging illustrations in it.  So Spark agreed to take a look and went off with the bones of the story.  When we met up again, she had these wonderful illustrations done.  They were really brilliant and I knew from that point on that this was going in the right track.  We began working on more illustrations and then on finalising the story line.

Connie arrives at worm school

A: That’s where we are at now.  Spark has completed about eight or so illustrations for the book.  They have transformed how the story looks and feels.  In the meantime I have worked on finalising the story line.  There’s a good bit to do still, but we have started to approach publishers with samples.  Truthfully, we need a sympathetic publisher because the ideas at the centre of this story are different and, you know in their own way. they are subversive too.

A: Publishing is unbelievably conservative  – what I’ve seen of it anyway.   Whereas this story is outside the box.  Why, you ask?  Well the story really is about solidarity and community – that’s a big part of it.  It’s also about why sometimes we have to stand up for ourselves, and why sometimes when we do, it is best if we do it collectively.   I think  the ideas in Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid have also managed to get to the story, which is wonderful.  Oops, now I’ve really give the game away!

Before the struggle - rivals

[Note:the above are photos of illustrations by Spark Deeley.]

Written by Kevin Doyle

April 8, 2011 at 8:49 am

Hey, Listen To This

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Last year I had the pleasure of working with Transition Year students as part of  a City Library initiative to record fiction for a CD of new stories by Cork teenagers.  We finally launched the CD just before Xmas.  There are five stories and it was great to have the opportunity to work with these young writers.  The CD is available throughout the library service in the Republic.  So check it out and well done to the young writers!

Written by Kevin Doyle

January 22, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Posted in Cork, Creative Writing

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