Saturday, 6 June 2009


The shortlist for the Davy Byrne's Award is announced today in the Irish Times. I've met/heard of/know/read five of the writers, but Susan Stairs is a new name to me. Eoin McNamee is the solo male on the shortlist.

The winner will be announced later this month. Good luck to all, but especially to my pal, Kathleen. More here and below is the shortlist with Richard Ford - the judge's - thoughts on each story:

Foster by Claire Keegan

A child’s rapt and eloquent vision of life-in-tumult between two families. In lifting a homely rural life to our moral notice, the story exhibits a patient attention to life’s vast consequence and finality, and does so through a lavish, discriminating appetite for language and its profound capacity to return us to life renewed.

Living in Unknown by Mary Leland

An elegant and harrowing story of aging and reconciliation and compassion, and of the edgy separation of one’s self from the moorings of past, parents and youth. This story is intense with experience and with language that’s vividly apt. The reader’s own experience is of an anguish that somehow consoles and preserves.

This Isn’t Heaven by Molly McCloskey

A subtle and perceptive story, set in contemporary Africa, that deftly and affectingly compresses and focuses time and geography. Its signal success is one that it shares with many excellent stories: to locate drama to the side of where we might expect to find it and then to make its subject seem essential. Here, a man loves a woman, but never manages to experience love at all.

The Road Wife by Eoin McNamee

An irresistible story of modern Europe – long-haul truckers, Russian prostitutes, storms at sea, flood-lit embarcaderos past midnight, pale longing – and death. The language here, the authority, the stark atmospherics are incomparable and by themselves are worth this story’s brief, hectic, melancholy journey.

Storm Glass by Kathleen Murray

A stylish, remarkably confident story that makes a pretty virtue out of the flecks of stark memory and language with which we construct a cohesive past and a saving view of ourselves within it. Narratively, it is a rich and moving variation upon an image – storm – the radiant consequences of which last on far beyond its appointed day.

The Rescue by Susan Stairs

A nervy, tightly compressed, and alarmingly brief story of human extremis: children hurtling to the ends of the too-short tethers connecting them to modern existence. Graceful and knowing in its stripped-out and plumbed bleakness, it is a love story – of a kind – but a kind in which love scarcely avails.


Totalfeckineejit said...

Jayney Mac, it's a wonder the judges weren't slitting their wrists after that lot.Are we obsessed with the brutal side of life ,or do we simply mirror what we see.Would it be nice to have just one upbeat perhaps even humorous story , or is light-hearted just lightweight?


The thing is, TFE, I wouldn't send a light or funny story to a comp like that. I would think the pre-readers would discount something funny almost instantly.

ALso, Richard F read less then 4% of the entries (30 of 800), so obviously the pre-readers considered only these serious ones to be of interest to R Ford. He hardly got an overview, reading so few...

Totalfeckineejit said...

You are right WRW ,I wouldn't send one either and my first fiction to(shortly) be published is not exactly a barrel of laughs either, far from it.But I'm new to all this and was jut wondering out loud why this should be the case and is it peculiar to us(in Ireland)Why would the readers of comps discount something funny immediately? What if Woody Allen had written it? Why do stories have to be dark to be good, is this why I write dark stuff,is it because subliminally I'm copy-catting? And I don't just mean comedies but more upbeat uplifting tales like that which won the orange prize in your previous post which apparently was 'a world of hope expectation, misunderstanding, love and kindness.'


Hi T,
I just know from my own POV that I consider my 'light' work too frothy/easy/not literary enough to send to comps or mags. I don't usually think it's worthy or good enough to bother with. THough, of course, other people always like it when they read it. Meanwhile I love my gory/dark/difficult stuff.
It's my melancholic soul, har har!

Black humour, well done, would have a chance though, wouldn't it?
I've heard other judges say this re lack of humour in comp entries, btw. But when it came down to it, would they choose a light story over a dark, literary one? One wonders...

Ossian said...

I think what we're missing is the humour that exists in stories that do not set out to be humorous. A story that sets out to be humorous is doomed from the start. Just think of J. D. Salinger's stories though - there is great humour there, but it is interleaved with the serious and ends serious. You laugh your head off along the way. That is what's in short supply. Unfortunately stories that set out to be funny cannot be ended satisfactorily, it's too late for pathos or any kind of seriousness by the end and inevitably there will be a lame ending. On the other hand, as long as there is something serious from the start, even if it is a funny start, you can end serious and have humour in the middle/along the way. There were some near misses sent in for the Willesden competition, which were humorous but it was the last paragraphs that doomed them. Judge's habitually report that there weren't many laughs - just look at the Bridport competition judges' reports. Then again a very funny story by an Irish writer won the BBC national story award (national? go figure) and I heard him read it to much hilarity at the Small Wonder festival. Equally, the inaugural winning story in that competition An Anxious Man (I think it was called) by James Lasdun, had that quality that I'm trying to describe of humour within something serious. If they really had nothing but unrelieved misery in their short list, well - no comment. I could tell you exactly where to find a winning story with humour but I'll leave you to follow the links if you wish to and spare you the plugs. (Is that humorous?) :-)


Hi Ossian,

Yes, I love the subdued humour in that Lasdun story. I wasn't so taken with Julian Gough's madcap Irishry, I'd have to say. But I may be in a minority with that view. THere were better stories (serious ones!) on that shortlist, I thought.

I think there's a certain type of humour that works in the short story - not the very obvious brand.

I love Salinger too. He's one of the few teen reads of mine that I can still enjoy.
Thanks for stopping by! All hail Willesden,

Ossian said...

Other ones I thought of since I posted that message: Frank O'Connor - the ones we all know "My First Confession" etc. Julian Barnes has a bit of fun and George Saunders, as well, I seem to remember. Old Chekhov himself wrote a lot of comical short sketches, wrote hundreds of stories (about 200? - I'm probably wrong) most of which we never see, mainly because our sides are not likely to be aching with laughter over most of them.


'The Mad Lomasneys' is another v funny O'Connor story - one of my faves. It has that stranger-than-fiction Irish truth about it (if that makes sense at all?!).

Chekhov is one of the few v old writers I really like; his stories seem so modern in their approach. I guess he invented the short story in a way and we all just follow his lead.