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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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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?

 

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