Category Archives: competition winner

The Winning Story: Exile by Phil Young

waverly3‘This is to be your bed, Charlie.’ Nurse Gillane led him to the narrow bed with its iron frame. One of about ten in a long room. The room was painted a shiny green. It was very cold.

‘You can put your things into the locker,’  she  said, ‘and leave your boots beneath the bed.’

Charlie’s things consisted of his pyjamas, some clothes and a photograph of his mother and a man who was his father. Well, Mama said he was his father. Charlie didn’t remember him. He was wearing a soldier’s uniform, and looked  just like so many of the men in Charlie’s town. Mama said that he was killed in the war. He was a hero.

‘You can be a hero too Charlie! You be a brave boy now,  and when the war is over we’ll be together.  Just the two of us. There, how grown up you look in your new boots.’

She had just bought him new winter boots. Heavy black leather, laced beyond his ankles, and with studs on the soles, which he  could make spark when he struck them off the pavement. They were too big for him, but she said he would grow into them.

‘By the time you come back home, they’ll be just right size for you. But mind you don’t scuff the toes now. You have to look after them, so that they’ll last until you come home.’

She had kissed him then, and he had got on to the train with the other children. They were the most important thing, his boots. While he kept his boots safe, he was linked with his mother and his home.

Charlie remembered little of his journey. Noise, confusion, darkness. The whistle of the train, the rocking motion which soon put him to sleep. The long boat journey during which he was sick. The panic as he tried to clean the vomit from the front of his boots. And then being brought to this long grey building, with lots of other children and  lots of nurses with red crosses on their fronts.

Over the next few weeks, Charlie did as he was told, said as little as possible, and tried not to be homesick for his mother. He did all the jobs he was told  to do, he paid attention in the classes which were set up in one of the rooms of the building, and he ate the food which was put in front of him. Each  morning, as soon as the bell to wake the boys rang out, Charlie jumped out of bed to check if his boots were still there. As soon as he put on the boots, the cold, raw feeling which had been with him all night seeped away, and he felt a measure of security. While his boots were safe, he knew his mother would come for him.

The months went by, and gradually the number of children in the building grew less. ‘We’re finding foster homes for them,’ Nurse Gillane explained. Charlie hoped they would not find one for him. What if Mama came searching for him and found him gone? And then, one morning, Charlie was called to the superintendent’s office. The superintendent had a letter in front of him.

‘Well Charlie. How have you been getting on here?’

‘Fine sir.’

‘And you’ve been happy enough?’

‘Yes sir.’

‘Good, good.’ The man looked awkward and ill at ease. Charlie knew there was more to come.

‘You see this letter?’

Charlie glanced quickly at the letter. Black typing. Heavy paper. Official looking.

‘The thing is, Charlie. You have to be  brave. Very brave ….’

Charlie knew then. He knew it from the flutter in his stomach. From the trembling that shook his knees.

‘You see, she knew,  Charlie. She knew that she had only months to live. That’s why she wanted you to be here … in safe hands. She knew we’d take good care of you Charlie. And  we will. We will.’

scratch boot  Charlie looked down at his boots. She had made him a promise. The boots were still shiny and barely scuffed. He took such care of them. He would not let anyone touch them. He never let them out of his sight. But now, she was not coming for him. He would never be going back. Who else was there to go back to? There had only been him and Mama. And she had promised. The shaking that had started in his knees now took over his body, his hands, his teeth. He couldn’t stop shaking. The superintendent rose, and coming around to his side of the desk, put his arm across Charlie’s shoulder.

‘There, there,  boy. Don’t cry now. Be brave. We must all be brave at times like this. Nurse Gillane will look after you for the moment. You like Nurse Gillane, don’t you?’

Charlie nodded.

‘Yes. Well, she’ll take care of you. Until we decide what’s to happen. I’ll call her now Charlie. You wait there. There’s a brave lad. She’ll know what to do.’

  *  *  *

 The train journey seemed to go on for ever, but Charlie didn’t want it to end. He sat on a lumpy seat by the window, a window so caked in dirt that it was like looking at everything through a fog. Across the carriage from him was a brightly coloured picture, beneath which it said ‘The Lakes of Killarney’. A man and a woman sat  in the seat opposite him. The man smoked a pipe which sent out waves of strong smelling smoke. The woman was knitting, and every now and then she would put the knitting on her lap, lean over towards Charlie and ask  ‘Are you alright son? You’re not feeling sick?’ Then, without waiting for an answer, she would continue her knitting. Charlie hunched into his seat and closed his eyes. He wondered where he was going to, but didn’t really care. Fostered. That was what happened to the other boys who had disappeared. Some were excited, most were crying. But none of them had ever returned to the grey building.

‘A lovely couple in the West.’ Nurse Gillane had cleared out his locker, and helped him to pack his things back into his little brown suitcase.

‘They’ve no children of their own, and want a little boy to help them on the farm. You’re so lucky Charlie! Do you understand how lucky you are Charlie?’ She gave his boots a little wipe with his handkerchief, and slicked down his blond hair.

‘What I wouldn’t give to get out of the city and have all that fresh air!’

Charlie knew nothing of the country or fresh air. He and his mother. Up three flights of stairs to their home. One room that overlooked a city grey with industry. Tall chimneys belching smoke. Cars, buses, trams…noise that was comforting in its ever presence. People everywhere, hurrying, busy, purposeful.

He opened his eyes now. He didn’t want to think of his mother. Of their life before all this happened. It was raining over the countryside. Mountains loomed out of their misty shrouds. Sometimes a burst of sunshine filtered through, to light up the vivid greenness of the fields. A rainbow hung like a child’s drawing, touching down behind a cluster of tiny houses.

‘Are you being met son?’ The knitting woman and her husband got up, gathering together their many bags and boxes.

‘Yes, thank you. I’m going to the west. To be fostered.’ Charlie heard his voice, as if it came from someone else.

‘You poor mite.’ The woman shook her head, and mouthed something at her husband, who nodded, and said to Charlie, ‘Isn’t that fine for you. That’ll put a bit of brawn on you.’

The woman pressed a coin into Charlie hand.

‘That’s for luck son,’  she whispered. Then they got out at a one building station, and once more the train hissed on its journey.

There was nobody in the carriage now, and Charlie stretched out, putting his feet on  the seat opposite.   He closed his eyes.

*    *      *

‘Here you are lad! Out you get.  There’ll be someone to meet you here.’  The guard shook Charlie by the shoulder. Guiltily, Charlie removed his feet from the seat.

‘Are we in the West?’

‘As west as you can go,  boy…unless you want to jump in the Atlantic.’

The guard handed him down his case, and Charlie stood on what seemed to be a deserted platform, wondering what would happen next.  A cold, grey, drizzle seeped from a leaden sky and found its way down the collar of his coat and into the top of his boots. This west was the emptiest looking place he had ever seen. Maybe nobody would meet him. Maybe he was just being abandoned here. But he had been told to wait, and Charlie had always done what he was told, so he waited.

* * *

 ‘I hope we’re doing the right thing.’ Pat shook his head .

‘There’s no going back now.’ Nora turned away from him. It was  what he had always wanted,  wasn’t it? All those years. All that hoping and longing. But the years went on, and nothing  had happened. And the hope had turned to sourness. He never said…Pat wasn’t like that. He was a quiet man. But she had failed him. How can a man work a farm without a son? And what was the point of it? Well, now he would have someone. It would take the burden off her. It would not take away the ache, but  it would be someone for Pat.

Pat clicked on the reins, urging the pony to move on. His mouth was dry and his stomach felt tight. Weren’t they alright as they were? He had long ago come to terms with the fact that there would be no children. That was the way it was, and what was the use of wishing your life away? Of course it was different for women. He knew that. He knew how she had lived from month to month, in those early years. But hadn’t they been happy enough together? And now this! Fostering a strange, foreign boy. Was there ever such a daft notion in all the world? Pat let the pony slow down to his customary shuffling gait.

Charlie watched the man approach. As there was nobody else on the platform, this had to be the man who was to meet him, and Charlie looked at him in a detached way. He saw a small man, not much taller than himself, wearing a long grey overcoat, wellington boots, and a cap.

‘You’re Charlie? The man’s blue eyes slid away from Charlie shyly. He took Charlie’s case, and motioned him to follow him out to where the pony was tethered. Charlie  climbed on to the wooden cart, and sat on a bundle of sacks behind the man. The sacks were wet, rain glistened on the pony’s rump, and the ride was bumpy and uncomfortable. The man spoke in bursts, shooting out long rambling monologues which made no sense to Charlie. He wondered was this Gaelic? Or some other foreign language? It certainly didn’t sound like the English he had listened to in the  grey building outside Dublin,  much less the English he had been taught in school. He listened hard at first, then switched off. He clung to the edge of the cart and stared straight ahead. Eventually the man stopped talking. Darkness was creeping across the grey  landscape by the time the pony trotted into the yard in front of the farmhouse. The pony shook himself in relief, and Charlie got down , every bone in his body aching. A woman stood at the farmhouse door.

‘You found him alright?’ she said to her husband. She nodded at Charlie.

‘You can call me Nora, and himself Pat, and you’d better come inside, for you look half dead.’

Charlie felt half dead, what with cold and tiredness. At least he could understand this Nora better than the man, and he followed her into the kitchen, where the heat from the fire soon sent clouds of steam rising from his clothes. Nora took his case and his coat, but when she made to remove his boots, he shook his head.

‘You want to do them yourself? Suit yourself. Now sit up there by the fire and have a bite to eat, and then you can go way to bed. Things will look better in the morning.’

In spite of herself, Nora felt sorry for the lad. He was much smaller and younger looking than she had been expecting. And so white and scared. He wouldn’t be much help to Pat anyway. Scrawny little thing, sure he’d never be up to farm work. Still, a couple of weeks they were told, and then they could decide whether or not they wanted to keep him.

Later on, when the boy had eaten and gone up to the attic, where he was to sleep, Nora asked Pat what he thought.

‘He’s a strange class of a lad, to be sure. Never opened his mouth all the way home, and looked like he was going to cry every time I spoke to him.’ Pat shook his head. ‘I don’t know why we’re doing this at all, Nora. We’re too old for this business. And I’d say that boy was born and bred in a city. He knows nothing about farming.’

‘Can’t you be teaching him? He can surely take some of the load off you, can’t he?’

‘We’ll see, we’ll see. ‘

The months passed. Winter yielded to spring, and the greyness of the west peeled back to show its undercoat of greens and purples and blues. Charlie fell into the routine of the farm, rising early to help Pat with the work. Cleaning out stalls, shifting dung, milking cows, harnessing the pony to take the churns to the creamery. All the daylight hours were spent working, so that when darkness came he could go to his attic bedroom and sleep. The two weeks’  trial period had passed. Pat and Nora were happy with him, and he was to start attending the village school after Easter. Charlie fell in with whatever they wanted him to do, and obeyed without question.

‘I never saw the likes of him!’ Nora whispered to Pat as they drank tea by the fire one evening. ‘It’s not natural for a child to be so good.’

‘Maybe when he goes to school he’ll unwind a bit.’ Pat answered.

‘I don’t know … I don’t know. But then, hasn’t he been through the mill? Away from his own country, no family, no home, nothing. Isn’t that enough to touch any young fellow, when you think about it?’

‘Hasn’t he got us now?’

Nora warmed to the statement. She could see that Pat had really taken to Charlie. He didn’t think that she noticed, but she had seen how he watched the boy. How he protected him from the heavier work, how  patient he was when Charlie made mistakes, how he encouraged him to eat  and to rest more. And in turn, she herself now took more pleasure in cooking meals for her ‘men’. If Nora could win a rare smile from Charlie she felt that  all the extra trouble was well worthwhile.

‘Have you seen how he’s filled out? He’s bursting through that jacket of his, and his coat will barely tie on him now.’

‘I know … it’s your grand food Nora. And all the fresh air. Sure what fresh air would they have in them foreign cities? By the end of the summer we won’t know him!’

‘If we still have him at the end of the summer.’ The thought of losing Charlie was suddenly a bleak one.

‘Have you noticed those black boots of his?’ Nora asked.

‘Why wouldn’t I. Isn’t he forever cleaning and scraping the mud off them?’

‘Well, I’m of a mind that they’re squeezing his toes – he’s grown that much. They’ll give him blisters if they’re too small for him. I thought maybe I’d bring him in to Connolly’s shoe shop on Saturday and buy him a new pair. What do you think?’

‘You do that Nora. He’s earned it, God knows’.

Nora sat back pleased, and sighed in anticipation. She and her foster son, shopping in the town together. Charlie’s eyes lighting up. Tommy Connelly bringing out his best, his most expensive leather boots. That’s a fine young fellow you have there Mrs. Ryan. He’s a credit to the both of you!

*  *  *

   ‘No thank you.’ His voice was polite, but quite firm.

‘But they must be pinching you, Charlie.’

‘They’re not pinching me. They’re fine.’

‘Now, don’t be silly. You know you need a new pair. And don’t be worrying about the cost…we want to give you a present.  Take those off, and we’ll see the size. Sure they must be falling to bits at this stage.’

Nora reached out towards Charlie’s feet. His reaction was instant.

‘No! No! Leave them alone. There’s nothing wrong with my boots! They’re fine. Just leave me alone!’ He sprang up and dashed out of the kitchen, taking the attic stairs two at a time, and banging his bedroom door. He didn’t come down for dinner that evening, and when Nora went to the top of the stairs to call him, she could hear his sobs. She quietly entered the room. He was lying face down on his bed. He continued to cry as she touched his face and stroked his head and murmured  endearments to him. ‘Hush, hush. There, there. It’s alright , lad, it’s alright’. He continued to cry on and off throughout the night. Nora stayed with him until he cried himself out and fell into a deep sleep.   She pulled the blankets up on him, and tucked them in beneath his blotched  face. It was as she was closing his door on her way downstairs that she noticed the strange animal like shape of the boots beneath the covers. She did not remove them.

It was the week before Easter. In two weeks’ time he would be starting in the local school. Charlie sat by the river, his head full of plans. Nora  had got him all the books he needed, and Pat had bought him a bicycle, so that he could get into town each morning. He loved cycling. The freedom of whizzing along empty roads, of feeling the wind whistle past his ears. At home he had rarely cycled. ‘It is much too dangerous,’ his mother had said. ‘Maybe when you are older…but the city is not a good place for children on bicycles.’ She had worried about him all the time. She would hold his hand tightly when they went out on the streets together. He remembered her white face, and the coldness of her hands on that day when she had brought him to join those other refugees on their way to Ireland. She knew then that she was going to die. Maybe she knew that he would never be coming back. Charlie closed his eyes, and let himself think about his mother. All those images which he had stifled for so long. He let them in, and examined them.   Her long black hair, which she braided into a plait each morning. The way she chewed the end of her pencil as she worked out her budget – always trying to make her money stretch. The smell of her when she kissed him good night. Soap and lavender water. Mama would like it here. She would love the openness, and the colour of the mountains, and the softness of the boggy grass. She would laugh at the curious way the cows stared over the wall, and at the pony’s antics when he was let out of the harness. She would be like a child gathering armfuls of wild flowers from the small wood behind the farm, and pressing them to her face saying ‘Oh, Charlie, smell them! Feel their silkiness!’

Charlie sat up. The sun was hot now,  much too hot for the week before Easter. He unlaced his boots, and released his feet, red and sore from their tightness. He spread his toes, and watched as slivers of grass sprang up between them. He felt the tickle of a small insect venturing up the  mound of his arch, and down the other side. Faintly, in the distance, he could hear Nora calling to Pat that dinner was ready. He knew he should be getting back to the farm. Nora got cross when they did not eat her food while it was hot.  Anyway, it was bacon and cabbage today. He loved bacon and cabbage.

Phil 2Charlie jumped up. Grabbing his boots by the laces, he swung them over his head, round and round, and flung  them into the fast flowing river. He listened for the splash as they hit the water and sank. Then he ran home, barefoot.

Phil Young is a native of Dunmanway in West Cork, and now lives in Dublin. She is the winner of the inauguarl Doolin Short Story Competition. She graduated from Trinity College, Dublin with an MPhil in Anglo-Irish literature, and has had a number of short stories and articles published in various magazines. She has also been featured several times on the RTÉ Radio programme Sunday Miscellany and is the author of the first ever biography of children’s writer, Patricia Lynch. This biography was launched in Cork as part of the Cork European City of Culture celebrations in 2005. Her first novel entitled IN A PLACE APART was published in  September 2009, and she is currently working on her second novel.

 

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Cinnamon toast on the move

cinnamonFor the next three weeks Novel Fair winner Janet Cameron is taking her newly-published (and fab) book home on tour around Canada. The story is set there, so Janet is a little more nervous than usual and we just can’t seem to convince her they’ll love the story as much as we did! So…we’ve decided to publish some of her blog-thoughts during this three week stunt in blightey. The book is a fantastic read, the characters are well-rounded and believeable, the story is about a multitude of funny and serious things, from house parties to pick-up trucks, cherry-vanilla ice-cream, sexuality and unrequited love. A la blurb: ’Welcome to the spring of 1987 and the world of Stephen Shulevitz who, with three months of high school to go in the small town of Riverside, Nova Scotia, has just realised he’s fallen in love – with exactly the wrong person. Welcome to the end of the world. As Stephen navigates his last few months before college dealing with his overly dependent mother, his distant, pot-smoking father, and his dysfunctional best friends Lana and Mark, he must decide between love and childhood friendship; between the person he is and the person he can be. But sometimes leaving the past behind is harder than it seems…Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World is a bittersweet story of growing up and of one young man finding happiness on his own terms.’

It’s a coming-of-age, coming-out, come-tither-and-look-closely-at-my-world-if-you-dare story that isn’t afraid to tackle hard topics such homophobia, bullying and parental abuse.

We are *big* fans of Janet’s at the Centre, and not just because she got drunk with us after the inaugural Fair (!), but because she’s sparky, bright, fun, positive and simply good to be around. She also happens to be a very good writer. The book is published by Hachette Ireland in March 2013, and is available in Canada now! We wish her all the luck in the world with her book. Here’s a snippet from Blog Post One. Expect more over the coming weeks (and yes, we have asked her permission!).

I raced through it, found it hard to put it down when I had to and wanted more when I was finished….Her prose gets more elegant the further you get in and, the further and further Stephen gets into what he sees as the end of his own personal world, the more you genuinely care for him and the screwed up kids and adults that populate his world….It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if someone were to option this for a film….page-turning, top drawer stuff in the genre it lives in….More please. – broadcaster Rick O’Shea, for the Bord Gais Energy Book Club, April 8, 2013

May 7, Dublin, Ireland, 8:00 a.m.

Okay, today’s the big day. Of horrible travelling. Dublin to London, London to Toronto, Toronto to Emonton, with two hours in Heathrow and five in Pearson. But it’s all worth it, dammit!

Boredom may drive me to report on the wonders of international airports on two continents. Will boredom drive anyone to read it? If your name is Nettie Morine, perhaps. Hi, Mom!

*****

May 8, Edmonton, Alberta, 11:00 a.m.

Well, over a full day later, I can report that two hours really isn’t that long of a time to spend in an airport, especially one with such thorough, and…um…disturbingly intimate security procedures as Heathrow. Getting onto that connecting flight was a bit of a stressful rush, but nothing terrible happened and no one was injured, by me anyway. On the long and uneventful journey to Toronto, the teeny speakers fell out of my in-flight headphones and I couldn’t be arsed asking for a replacement – however, I did have fun reading the capsule descriptions of the films involved, and now think that “As Bella awakens transformed into mother and vampire” is probably one of the most delightful dependent clauses I’ve ever encountered. I read Brian Finnegan’s new book Knowing Me, Knowing You, about a group of Abba fans reuniting after 30 years, and found it to be an excellent travelling companion and a very engaging and emotional read.

toastIn Toronto’s Pearson airport the sun set behind us in a deep haze of orange as I watched a fellow passenger loudly berating the employees of an A&W outlet for not providing enough ketchup to suit his needs. Parachute Club was on the sound system, Tim Hortons was very much in evidence, and I was surprised to see that our currency is now threaded with transparent plastic and that the latest incarnation of Elizabeth II bears a faint resemblance to Chico Marx. Also the internet access in Pearson is kind of poo. Otherwise it was a Jim-dandy five hours, and another four flying off to my destination. I started Mary Grehan’s Love is the Easy Bit – very impressed so far.

I arrived in Edmonton at around 6 a.m. Irish time, roughly twenty-one hours after I set off from the apartment waving goodbye to husband and cat. Dazed, drooling, and barely coherent, I awakened the next morning transformed into mother and vampire. No, actually. I just awakened, ate some strawberries, got reaquainted with my 16-month-old niece and wrote this update. Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World is in stores in Canada now, which is still difficult for me to get my head around. If you see the book, please tell it I said hello.

*************************************************************************************

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Susan Lanigan at the 2013 Novel Fair: all my heart and love

NovelIdeaIn 2009 I made the first rough notes for the novel I would spend the next three years writing. All I knew was the theme: the white feather: I had the barest of character outlines, no plot and had no idea I was going to be writing a novel. I thought it was a short story. I was trying, and failing, to write a novel about something else. Sometime in October 2010 I made a stark, bare outline – so stark I wrote it in Notepad, no word processing software for me! – and then got going. I joined an online group and the feedback they gave me, so early in the process, encouraged me to keep going as I pasted wodges of first-drafty material on the site and probably sorely tried their patience.
As the story began to flesh out and characters come to life (some quite rudely walking in and demanding to be noticed) the Irish Writers Centre were also coming up with the idea of their Novel Fair, which inaugurated in 2011. I had managed an unspeakable first draft and was part of the way through the second, so I sent in what I thought would be a good beginning, an in medias res effort. I remember just finishing printing it, glancing over the pages and my inner Reader remarking, a propos of nothing, “Don’t like it.”
“What do you mean, you don’t like it! The writing is good; it’s not dull or staying in the same place too long.”
“Dunno.” The Reader can be laconic beyond the point of frustration. “I just don’t like it, that’s all.”
I sent it in and sure enough it got nowhere. Then again given that the staff of the Irish Writers’ Centre were presented with several sacks and a total of 600 manuscripts – well, unemployment was high, what to do? – anything that was not coruscatingly good was not going to cut the mustard. And looking back on it, I was better off beginning at the beginning and not being a smart you-know-what about it. So I licked my wounds and kept on writing. And writing. And then next year came around.
I had a new character join the assembly, Lucia, an opera singer from Jamaica who had travelled over to England during the war. On her shoulders rested the prologue, and therefore the rest of the book. A night or two before the novel fair, I realised the prologue had to be rewritten. It was down to her. She pulled a blinder. And so I got the phone call and learned I – we – had made it through.
novel fairSo on Saturday 16 Feb, from 10.30 to 4, I went to the Irish Writers’ Centre with nine other novelists and pitched my novel almost non-stop to 14 publishers and agents in the industry. It was wonderful, exciting, overwhelming. When I got home that evening I went straight to bed and slept for several hours. (The three glasses of Prosecco I had afterwards courtesy of the IWC probably helped in that regard!)
It was an amazing privilege to speak about a dream that in Yeats’s words, “had all my heart and love” to luminaries in the Irish and English publishing industry. Each one of us novelists sat at a table and waited for the next publisher or agent to come around and when they did I would hand them my bio and, if they wanted to hear it, do the elevator pitch. If it happened that my particular elevator travelled five floors rather than one, I don’t think they held it against me they were all really nice  And also it was good to hear from the publishers about their own plans and what they wished to envision, as well as what interested the agents.
The people who spoke to us that day publishers: Penguin Ireland (Patricia Deevy); New Island (Eoin Purcell); O’Brien Press (Michael O’Brien); Hachette Ireland (Ciara Doorley); Liberties Press (Clara Phelan); Lilliput Press (Sarah Goff); Transworld Ireland (Eoin McHugh/Brian Langan); Picador (Paul Baggaley) agents: Ger Nichol from The Book Bureau; Faith O’Grady from Lisa Richards; Marianne Gunn O’Connor; Jonathan Williams; Sheila Crowley from Curtis Brown.
The previous Saturday, we had a talk in the IWC about what to expect. This was facilitated by Anthony Glavin, crime novelist Arlene Hunt and Niamh Boyce, who secured a publishing deal as a result of taking part in last year’s Fair. Anthony, one of last year’s judges, told us what worked in a novel and what he would have been looking for. Niamh explained what it entailed, advising full printing of partials for all and she was absolutely spot-on in her advice as partials went flying out. (In my bio a separate page with picture and writing CV I also added a public dropbox link in case people preferred the electronic option) Arlene was wonderful she made us all pitch on the spot and provided invaluable advice on how to structure the pitches. I took everything she said on board.
The Irish Writers Centre, ably staffed by June Caldwell and Clodagh Moynan as well as Gareth, covered the day very ably and efficiently. The all-important bell when the fifteen-minutes for each session was up made it very structured and well-organised. Food was on hand when needed, and at the end of the day, drink too!
I had an interesting conundrum in that two of the people I was due to meet had initially rejected my partial when I started tentatively subbing late last year. I decided I would tell them straightaway and offer them the option of having coffee and cake rather than hear me pitch. In a way these sessions were the best because I did not feel going in that I had to pitch and telling them they’d turned me down already broke the ice. As it happened, in both cases, they were happy to have another look so I pitched anyway!
By the end of it my head was in ribbons, but I also realised what a unique opportunity this is. I don’t know of anything like this anywhere else. And I realise how incredibly lucky I am to have been able to take part on a day like this and meet people you would normally as a writer never meet face to face. I would recommend 100 per cent that anyone seriously working on a novel enter this competition and I’m very grateful to the Irish Writers’ Centre and the publishers and agents for making it possible. No matter what happens, it was so beneficial to be there; the experience itself was an enormous boost to my self-confidence even if I was wracked with nerves beforehand!
But the fourth draft in full must still be honed. There is work still to be done. As a friend of mine said to me on the phone yesterday was a victory,Susan today is a day of rest. And tomorrow back to work on the MS!
Susan graduated from a Masters in Writing in NUI Galway with first class honours in 2003. Since then, she’s had short stories published nationwide in a variety of good quality magazines and publications, such as The Stinging Fly, Southword, The Sunday Tribune, the Irish Independent, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Mayo News. She’s been twice shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award, and won highly commended awards for short stories and poetry elsewhere. Currently (as well as being a Novel Fair winner) she has one story published and another forthcoming in Nature Magazine’s Science Fiction section and is also featured in a special sci-fi/fantasy anthology Music For Another World. Her work has also featured in the fundraising anthology 50 Stories For Pakistan. Susan was shortlisted 30 out of 1,900 entrants to the Fish Short Story Competition 2011, where I have been longlisted in previous years. She’s  also a professional programmer/developer.

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Deadline Approaching for the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair

The Irish Writers’ Centre has begun counting down the days to the deadline of its esteemed Novel Fair. The deadline for the competition this year is on October 17th and the Novel Fair itself will take place on February 16th, 2013.

With just a few weeks left to enter, the terrific news of book acquisitions from last year’s winners is flooding in. Finalists from 2011, Niamh Boyce, Janet Cameron and Kevin Curran are three of our success stories.

Earlier in the year, Niamh Boyce sold her novel The  Herbalist to Penguin Ireland and more recently Janet Cameron‘s book, Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World, was snatched up by Hachette. As well as this, Liberties Press have laid claim to Kevin Curran‘s novel, Beatsploitation. With nine of the authors signed up with literary agents and many in talks with publishers, we eagerly anticipate more book deals before the end of the year.

The Novel Fair was introduced last year with the aim of introducing, in person, up-and-coming writers to top publishers and literary agents who, in turn, have the chance to liaise with an eclectic bunch of talented, new authors. It gives promising, first-time novelists the opportunity to bypass the slush pile, pitch their ideas, bring characters to life and place their synopsis directly into the hands of the people they want to see it most.

Some changes have been made to last year’s set up, which include reducing the number of finalists to ten so that the novelists will benefit from more quality time with the publishers. To fully prepare them for the day the finalists also win a place on the seminar ‘How To Pitch Your Novel.’ 

This year, a brand new judging panel will be asked to select a shortlist of ten successful entries, presented to them anonymously. There is no limitation on style, genre, or target market and with a new set of eyes umpiring, writers who’ve submitted before shouldn’t hesitate in submitting again. The only requirement is that the authors mustn’t have published a novel before.

Publishers who have already confirmed attendance at this year’s Fair include Liberties Press, Penguin Ireland, Picador, New Island, Transworld Ireland, The Feldstein Agency, The Book Bureau, Marianne Gunn O’Connor Literary Agency, Jonathan Williams Literary Agency, The Lisa Richards Agency, and Lilliput Press. Each writer in attendance will have a stand at the Fair with copies of the synopsis, the finished novel itself and biographical material.

To enter send two copies of the opening chapters of your novel (max 10,000 words) along with three copies of a synopsis and a completed entry form, which can be downloaded from our website or collected from the C entre.  The Novel Fair Competition costs €40 to enter (€35 for members of the Irish Writers’ Centre). To find out more about the Novel Fair Competition, check out www.writerscentre.ie/novelfair, or email novelfair@writerscentre.ie. If you already know everything you need to know and would like to enter, click here.

 

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The Lonely Voice: Short Story Introductions, Winners Announced!

 

We are delighted to announce our October winners of The Lonely Voice: Short Story Introductions, our ongoing monthly short story event for emerging fiction writers. They are (in no particular order): Mary Rose McCarthy, Carol Brick, Sheela Armstrong, and Maebh Ni Chathalain. Congratulations all! 

Come along to the Irish Writers’ Centre at 7pm on Wednesday, October 26th where you can enjoy a glass of wine in our reading room and hear these writers reading their prize-winning stories. This is a free event and everyone is welcome! It promises to be a great evening.

Our judge this month was John McKenna, author of ‘The Fallen and other stories’ (1992), which won the Irish Times First Fiction Award, ‘A Year of Our Lives, (London Picador, 1995), ‘The Last Fine Summer (London, Picador, 1998), ‘Things You Should Know’ (New Island, 2006), ‘The River Field’ (New Island 2007) and ‘The Space Between Us’ (New Island 2009). A big thank you to John for reading the entries and providing critical feedback for the winners.

John had the following to say about the winning entires:

We Came Home by Mary Rose Mc Carthy – I thought this story worked really, really well and what I liked most about it was the nuanced way the writer managed to strike moments of great softness and then moments of harshness. This isn’t always easy to do well but it was done beautifully in this story. The narrative voice is also strong and definite – yet full of subtlety-  and all without being overbearing.

The Outsider by Carol Brick – A wonderful piece of writing about love and loss and memory and returning. The narrative voice caught me from the first paragraph and one of the successes of this writer’s work is his/her ability to take you under the skin and behind the eyes of the narrator and let you see and, more importantly, feel the remembered joys and the ongoing loss in her life.

Weeds by Sheela Armstrong – Again, the narrative voice is strong, clear, effective and beautifully realised. There’s an air of bitter-sweetness in this story. A wonderful clash of the individual and society but also the discomfort of a child caught between a strong and determined parent and the perception society has of that parent. Landscape plays an equally important part in the story and its inclusion is captured with subtlety and skill.

Forgotten Bodies  Maebh Ni Chathalain / Maebh Culhane – A brave, challenging, beautiful and brutal exploration of the relationship between a body and its owner/ dweller. Written with strength and grace and honesty – and a refusal to bow to the lure of the sentimental or the maudlin. This story makes for uneasy reading in absolutely the best sense of that idea – it dares us to stay with it and to see things through to the end.

John also had this piece of general advice to offer:

“Good wishes to all of the writers – I thoroughly enjoyed reading all of the stories, those chosen and those shortlisted - and I wish them every success with their work.

One word I’d like to offer to the writers - DISCIPLINE. Every day – for whatever time you have – twenty minutes or three hours – write. Treat your writing seriously, it’s not a hobby, it’s a vocation and a job. Be disciplined.”

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An Interview with Jean O’Brien: Arvon International Poetry Prize Winner 2010

A few weeks back, Jean O’Brien virtually burst into the Irish Writers’ Centre on a barely-controlled wave of euphoria. She’d been carrying a secret around for weeks and, on the verge of exploding, she’d finally been given the nod from the UK; she could tell everyone that she’d been shortlisted for the single biggest poetry prize in the English language, the Arvon International Poetry Prize.

This was followed quickly by the news of her win, her poem Merman having been selected by, amongst others, the UK’s Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, over the thousands of entries from more than 43 countries. The win is a big one and we are as delighted for her as can be. As one of our core Creative Writing tutors, Jean has taught beginners their first important steps into the writing world for over ten years and now her Arvon International Poetry Prize win confirms the strength of experience and talent in the teaching staff at the Writers’ Centre, as well as that of Ireland’s contemporary poetry scene.

I pulled Jean back down off the ceiling and asked her to tell us what this win means for her and to find out a little more about how she’s got here, in a little blog-only 6-question interview:

1. Jean,  what was your first published poem about and where/when was it published?

I think one of the first poems I ever had published was in a broadsheet and was probably so esoteric that only I understood it. I do remember getting my first poem published in Poetry Ireland Review, by Thomas McCarthy who was editor at the time and thinking I had made it. Little did I realise that the hard slog had only just  begun!

 2. What kind of poet would you describe yourself as?

John F. Deane says it’s best not to describe yourself as a poet at all, let others do that if they feel it to be so.  But if I was pushed I would describe myself as a magpie; I get ideas from anywhere at all, something just catches the imagination. I probably originally started writing poetry for the same reasons that Ann Sexton did, as a sort of therapy.

3. How does a poem happen for you- do you scribble ideas down all the time or sit down to work at particular times?

I used to sit down a lot and stare blankly at a blank page and at the end of an alloted time little, or little of worth would be written. Now I scribble words, sentences, ideas, just about anywhere, fly leafs of books, envelopes, parking tickets and then I find the subconscious goes to work on it and when I do decide to concentrate, I have at least the bones of a poem.

4. Apart from yourself (!) who is your favourite poet and why?

I have different favorite poets at different times. I went through a strong Ann Sexton/Sylvia Plath phase, I do still go back and back to Plath, she wrote with such sparkle, such energy, unfortunately for her destructive energy. I love Paul Muldoon’s work, the play on words, the high jinks of them, the leaps of imagination. I like Simon Armitage again for that word play. Recently I have taken to Katherine Pierpoint and Pascal Petit two British poets, the first because she often writes of childhood things that interest me, Petit because she wrote a poem about a Salmon, that I would love to have written.  I have an enduring fondness for the work of Eavan Boland and Paula Meehan, Siobhan Campbell, Kati Donovan, I could go on…

5. What advice would you give someone who wants to write a poem or story that could be published?

The main advice I always give my own students is read, read, read- you cannot play in the orchestra until you have heard the orchestra play.  After that, edit, edit, edit. And don’t let the truth get in the way of a good poem or story.

6. How will your poetry/life be different now you’ve won the prestigious Arvon International Poetry Prize?

Winning the Arvon was really wonderful, it is such a prestigious and well respected award.  I felt that my voice had been heard and confirmed in some way by my peers. Writing is such a lonely business that it is good to have these moments of celebration and confirmation that you might in some small way be on the right track. The down side of course is that it puts you under more pressure to write more poems of the same calibre, something a poet always tries to do anyway, but now this poem, Merman will become, for me, some kind of yardstick to measure other poems by.

About Jean: Jean will be teaching Beginners’ Creative Writing at the Irish Writers’ Centre in January 2011. She has published fiction and occasional freelance journalism and her latest poetry collection Lovely Legs was published by Salmon in 2009.

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Irish Wheelchair Association Competition Winners

IWC is delighted to announce the winners of the Irish Wheelchair Association Writing Competition.

In first place we have Kevin B. Clancy with his poem, ‘Otley’s Island’, and in joint second place we have, Corina Duyn with her autobiographical piece, ‘Edvard Munch meets Louis Armstrong’ and Jerry O’Shea with his short story, ‘Sheila’.

Michael J Farrell was judge, and he suitably impressed with the talent shown.

The Irish Writers’ Centre wishes to congratulate these three on their fantastic achievements!

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What’s the use of a creative writing course?

People write. If they’re good enough, they get published. Then they write more and get more things published. Then they earn lots of money. All this happens smoothly and words flow in a constant stream of inspiration.

Pah! If only the business of writing were that simple!

Human beings are a complicated lot and writers themselves are a scruffy, jumbled bag. They write very different things and in very different ways. One thing holds true though, whether you wop words out on the page quicker than a laser-jet printer, or mull over your masterpiece for decades; it’s a long, tough road and you will probably write alone. You may get lonely and self-doubt could well tag along for the ride.

Creative writing courses are a great way to shake off pesky cling-ons of uncertainty and isolation that can be so severe as to make some writers give up completely. The chance to sit in amongst like-minded people who love to shuffle words around and tell stories, coming with their own ideas and angles, can be an invigorating experience not just for a complete beginner, but just as much for a writer who’s been battling along alone for a good while. And a writer at absolutely any stage can meet an inspirational writer or teacher who highlights something about their writing that they could not themselves see.

Want some hard proof of the brilliant revitalising power a writing course can have? No problem…

Poet Jane Clarke took part in a poetry course at the IWC back in 2007 led by Catherine Phil MacCarthy. She sowed the seeds of a poem there, The Lighthouse Keeper, drawing on Catherine’s encouragement to explore persona and to absorb herself completely in someone else’s life

Jane finished the course and abandoned the poem, thinking it was not really working and that she would return to it later. It didn’t happen. That is until, three years later, Jane found herself in another poetry course at the Centre, this time led by Paula Meehan, whose focus was very different; breath, rhythm and line. Inspired once more, Jane rustled through her papers at home, pulled out that poem and reworked it from a new angle. She then submitted it to an international poetry competition, the iYeats Poetry Contest, and won first prize.

Jane, a member of the Airfield Writers’ Group, has been writing for a long time and has had many poems published, but she has no doubt that putting yourself into different, creative experiences can take you in exciting writing directions. So as well as a chance to learn new things, a creative writing course could be just as useful in giving you an external stimulus; to put it another way, a blooming good kick up the typewriter!

Congratulations to Jane on her win and we look forward to seeing more of her work published in the future.

Donna Sorensen

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