Flower Wild, a short story by Shane Tivenan, was this evening announced as the winner of the RTÉ Short Story Competition in honour of Francis MacManus, one of Ireland’s most significant literary prizes. The announcement was made live on Arena on RTÉ Radio 1 as part of a special programme dedicated to the awards.
Flower Wild, described by the judges as “spellbinding” and “an outstanding piece for radio”, takes the form of an imagined interior monologue of Violet Gibson, the Irishwoman who attempted to assassinate Mussolini. Explaining the origins of the story, Shane, from Athlone but currently based in Madrid where he teaches English, said: “I came across Violet Gibson when listening to Lisa O’Neill’s song about her. I looked into Violet’s life more over the following months and found many unknowns. What stories did she need to tell herself before she upped and shot an Italian dictator? Was it possible for her to stay sane in that asylum for three decades? Was she able to make peace with the complete abandonment, with herself, at the end of a life? These questions haunted me into writing Flower Wild.”
This is Shane’s first published – and broadcast – short story since he took up writing in 2018.
Second place was awarded to Kissing Booth by Alan Walsh from Wicklow town, while The Shape on the Strand by Katherine Duffy, from Dundalk but living in Churchtown, Dublin, was awarded third place. (See details below and in Editors Notes)
As the overall winner, Shane Tivenan will receive €3,000, while €2,000 and €1,000 will be awarded to Alan Walsh and Katherine Duffy respectively. Each of the seven runners-up will receive €250.
All 10 shortlisted stories will be broadcast in a season of new writing on RTÉ Radio 1, starting tonight on Late Date with Cathal Murray at 11.20pm with the winning story, which will be read by Ingrid Craigie.
Second–placed, Kissing Booth, is a skewed, brilliant take on this year’s global pandemic. Talking about the short story, author Alan Walsh said: “Kissing Booth is about inverting a familiar narrative and how that might unexpectedly lead to a utopian conclusion. I’ve grown very keen on the idea of writing towards a utopia, with the wide range of meanings that word might hold, and how to construct interesting and unexpected ways to get there.”
Third–placed, The Shape on the Strand is a clever and playful ghost story set on an unnamed Spanish island, involving a translator’s transgression and a feathered hat. Author, Katherine Duffy says: “The idea of a writer haunting his translator occurred to me when I was abroad, and losing sleep over a difficult literary translation project, just like the main character in the story. But there the link with reality ends and the literary ghost story begins…”
This year’s judges are: editor, lecturer and journalist, Madeleine Keane; award-winning short story writer and previous prize-winner of the RTÉ Short Story Competition, Danielle McLaughlin; and writer and broadcaster, Vincent Woods.
What the judges said about Flower Wild by Shane Tivenan
“An outstanding piece for radio; the narrative voice utterly assured and compelling, the story dramatic and poignant, the structure unerring” – Vincent Woods
“Flower Wild distils a whole life into this demanding art form. Much is handled – history, politics, religion – and yet it is so well controlled. As a portrait of madness, it utterly compelling and credible” – Madeleine Keane
“A spellbinding piece of historical fiction, Flower Wild presents the story of a particular moment in history, while also encompassing the broader sweep of one Irishwoman’s life” – Danielle McLaughlin
See Editors Notes to see what the judges said about the second and third-placed stories.
Sarah Binchy, producer of the RTÉ Short Story Competition series, said: “Our congratulations to the prizewinners and all on the shortlist. These talented writers are literary names to watch. We look forward to bringing their richly imagined stories to a wide audience on the radio and by podcast over the next two weeks.”
Broadcast schedule (11.20pm on RTÉ Radio 1 weeknights, as part of Late Date):
- Monday 28th September: Flower Wild by Shane Tivenan (Madrid, Spain) read by Jane Brennan
- Tuesday 29th September: Kissing Booth by Alan Walsh (Wicklow Town), read by Bláithín Mac Gabhann
- Wednesday 30th September: The Shape on the Strand, by Katherine Duffy (Dublin 14), read by Jane Brennan
- Thursday 1st October: Hands; A Downpour, by Aengus Murray (Valencia, Spain), read by Liam Carney
- Friday 2nd October: Neadú by Ceri Garfield, (Mullach Inis, Co. an Chláir), read by Bríd Ní Neachtain
- Monday 5th October: The Brow of the Hill, by Edel Moloney (Shankill, Co. Dublin), read by Derbhle Crotty
- Tuesday 6th October: Everything Will Be Recorded, by Seán Mackel (Muff, Co. Donegal) read by Lalor Roddy
- Wednesday 7th October: Beneath the Trees, Where Nobody Sees, by Julie Cruickshank (Dublin 8), read by Cathy Belton
- Thursday 8th October: Tactics, by Andrew Maguire (Omagh, Co. Tyrone), read by Ignacy Rybarczyk
- Friday 9th October: Guinness & Coke, by Lochlainn McKenna, Cork,read by Éanna Hardwicke
You can read all 10 shortlisted stories at www.rte.ie/Culture. They will also be available for listen-back and podcast at rte.ie/writing and wherever you get your podcasts.
RTÉ received a record number of entries for this year’s competition, with over 4000 short stories being submitted from throughout Ireland, and beyond, before the May deadline. Stay up to date on all things #RTEshortstory with RTÉ on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.
About the winning author, Shane Tivenan
Shane Tivenan is an Irish writer based in Madrid where he teaches English. He has a BA in Anthropology from NUI Maynooth. He began writing fiction in 2018 and was shortlisted for the Desperate Literature Prize in Spain in 2019. As well as short stories, he is currently working on a novel.
About the second-placed author, Alan Walsh
Alan Walsh is from Wicklow and works full time as a designer. He had a novel, Sour, published a few years ago and has just finished a new novel written during lockdown. He has had his short stories published in a wide variety of magazines.
What the judges said about his short story, Kissing Booth
“A daring, contemporary story on the fringes of Black Mirror territory, plunging us into a fictional world that holds an unnerving shadow of what hovers at the edges of this technological age” – Vincent Woods
“I greatly admired Kissing Booth – a dark, clever, funny dystopian tale for our times” – Madeline Keane
“A playful and subversive treatment of a very contemporary predicament. The story takes the idea of contagion and turns it on its head. This writer has clearly found rich pickings amid the strangeness of what we’ve come to call ‘the new normal” – Danielle McLaughlin
About the third-placed author, Katherine Duffy
Katherine Duffy was born in Dundalk, but has lived in Dublin for many years. She worked in Dublin Public Libraries and later in the Translation Section of the Houses of the Oireachtas, before taking early retirement in 2019 to concentrate on writing. She has published poetry collections with the Dedalus Press and Templar Poetry. Previous short stories of hers have won Oireachtas awards and the Hennessy Award.
What the judges said about her short story, The Shape on the Strand
“A beautiful, playful story with a rare mix of playful humour and deadly seriousness – the business of literary translation has seldom held such high stakes! Delightful” – Vincent Woods
“The enigmatic, doomed narrator of The Shape on the Strand drew me in completely” – Madeleine Keane
“A clever and thoughtful exploration of language and translation, set against the finely woven intrigue of a ghost story” – Danielle McLaughlin
What the judges said about this year’s competition
Danielle McLaughlin, who is also a previous prize-winner, says: “This country produces such a kaleidoscope of writing talent and this has been abundantly evident right across the record entries we have received this year. I’d really like to congratulate all the writers on the shortlist, whose stories are right up there with the best of my reading during this whole pandemic. Through this competition, they now all have a great opportunity to bring their stories to a wide audience.”
Writer, broadcaster and current judge, Vincent Woods said: “The standard of entry this year was very high. There was a palpable sense of unease running through many of the stories that came to us – a reflection of pandemic times, perhaps? The diversity of voices and themes is reflected in the shortlist of ten stories to be broadcast, a mix of the challenging, entertaining, reflective and surreal.“
Journalist and editor, Madeleine Keane commented: “Judging the RTE Short Story Award was a complete joy in the midst of all the strangeness and upset of this year. It was so uplifting to read the richness and range, the diversity and imagination of these short fictions.”
As a measure of the particularly high standard of this year’s entries, the judges also gave special mention to a further five stories over and above the 10 short-listed short stories:
The following 5 stories are in the Highly Commended category:
- The Atlantic’s Cold Edge, by Kieran Marsh, Dublin 5
- Fata Morgana, by Paul Duffy, Co. Wicklow
- Cast Offs, by Lem Kinlon, Co. Kildare
- Eggs Bed, Bed Eggs, by Rory Duffy, Co Westmeath
- Dead Water, by James Martyn Joyce, Co Galway
About the RTÉ Short Story Competition
A competition for original short stories for radio was first established in 1986 in memory of Francis MacManus (1909-1965), the Kilkenny-born novelist, biographer and former Head of Talks and Features at Radio Éireann. Since its establishment, the competition has been championing new talent for decades with the winning and shortlisted short stories being produced for radio broadcast and voiced by some of Ireland’s most talented actors of the stage and screen. In recent years these have included Peter Hanly, Ali White, Emmet Kirwan, Cathy Belton, Ingrid Craigie, Denis Conway, Andrew Bennett, Caitríona Ní Mhurchú, Kathy-Rose O’Brien, and many more.
Free to enter and produced by Sarah Binchy, the RTÉ Short Story Competition is open to anyone over 18 living on the island of Ireland, or living abroad who holds an Irish passport. Next year’s competition will open for entries in spring 2021.
About the judges
Danielle McLaughlin’s short story collection, Dinosaurs on Other Planets, was published in 2015 by the Stinging Fly Press. Her stories have appeared in the Stinging Fly, The Irish Times, Southword, and The New Yorker and have been broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 and BBC Radio 4. In 2019, she was a Windham-Campbell Prize recipient, and won the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award. Her first novel, Retrospective, will be published in 2021.
Vincent Woods is a writer and broadcaster whose plays include At the Black Pig’s Dyke, Song of the Yellow Bittern and A Cry from Heaven; and for radio, The Leitrim Hotel, The Gospels of Aughamore and Broken Moon. Poetry collections are The Colour of Language and Lives and Miracles. Recent publications include Leaves of Hungry Grass: Poetry and Ireland’s Great Hunger (Quinnipiac University Press) and Borderlines (with Henry Glassie). Awards include the Stewart Parker Award for Drama and The Ted McNulty Award for Poetry. He has scripted and presented many arts programmes and documentaries on RTÉ Radio 1. He directs the Iron Mountain Literature Festival in Leitrim. Vincent lives in Dublin and is a member of Aosdána.
Madeleine Keane is an editor, lecturer and journalist. She was educated at UCD and Trinity. She joined the Sunday Independent in 1988 and has been its Literary Editor for the last 18 years. She regularly writes about books, arts and travel. She has broadcast on tv and radio about books and publishing and presents at literary festivals and events. She lectures on writing at UCD and the Irish Writers’ Centre.