Life, death and zoom calls, culture clashes and suburban turf wars, success, failure, and love through the ages are among the themes which feature at the centre of ten exciting new stories shortlisted for the RTÉ Short Story Competition in honour of Francis MacManus 2021, from almost 2800 entries, RTÉ announces today.
The stories “paint a picture of an anxious, unsettled country, but do so with wit and compassion, imaginative storytelling and nuanced characterisation”, according to judge Declan Hughes.
The stories, selected by judges, writers Lucy Caldwell, Declan Hughes and Lisa McInerney, are (in alphabetical order):
- A Hurt Like That, by Paul Boyle
- Mamó, by Sara Keating
- Muddlers, by Gráinne O’Hare
- People Over There, by Doaa Baker
- The Johns, by Rachel Walshe
- The Night Call, by Helen O’Neill
- The Pines, by Paul Lenehan
- The Third Day, by Kevin Donnellan
- We Must All Be Kind, by Hugo Kelly
- Windsea, by Dónal Minihane
All 10 stories will be broadcast and podcast in a season of new writing as part of Late Date on RTÉ Radio 1, weeknights at 11.20pm, from Monday 27 September to Friday 8 October inclusive, starting with the winning story.
That winning story will be announced earlier the same evening along with the two other prizewinning stories selected by this year’s judges on an Arena special programme at 7pm on RTÉ Radio 1. The winning author will receive €3,000.
As part of this Arena special programme, presenter Seán Rocks and the judges, Lisa McInerney, Lucy Caldwell and Declan Hughes will discuss all the stories on the shortlist, with audio clips and interviews with some of the writers before the judges announce their top prizes.
Leading up to the Arena special and the broadcast series, from Wednesday 22 September the shortlisted stories will all be made available to read on www.rte.ie/culture.
Judge Lisa McInerney says: “It’s definitely been a highlight of lockdown life for me — reading exciting new work, then hearing stories we’d already connected with brought into even more vivid colour by the actors’ performances, and then discussing them, sharing our different perspectives on them, and together finding our way to our very worthy winners. Judging this competition has been a privilege and a pleasure.”
Fellow judge, Declan Hughes says: “Perhaps not surprisingly, given the times we’ve been living in, the stories for the most part paint a picture of an anxious, unsettled country, haunted by its past and fearful for its future. They do this with wit and compassion through imaginative storytelling, nuanced characterisation, persuasive dialogue and finely weighted sentences.”
Producer of the series, Sarah Binchy said: “We’re very much looking forward to sharing this fine season of new writing with a wide audience, as voiced by some of Ireland’s leading actors. You can tune in to Arena on Monday 27th September to get a flavour of the shortlist and hear the judges choose their overall winners; read the stories in advance on rte.ie/culture, and then listen live – or podcast at leisure – weeknights from Monday 27th September on.”
Set up in 1986 to honour writer and broadcaster Francis MacManus, the RTÉ Short Story Competition has been a critically important launch pad for new and emerging writers in Ireland. Past winners and shortlisted writers include Claire Keegan, Danielle McLaughlin, Anthony Glavin, Chris Binchy, Nuala O’Connor, Liz Nugent, Colin Walsh, Stephen Walsh and Sarah Gilmartin.
For more on the RTÉ Short Story Competition, see www.rte.ie/writing.
ABOUT THE SHORTLISTED STORIES AND THEIR AUTHORS
‘A Hurt Like That’ by Paul Boyle
About the author: Paul Boyle is from Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, and teaches English in CBS Kilkenny. His work has appeared in The Hennessy New Irish Writing series and in online literary publications. He is a past winner of The Sean Dunne Young Writers Award, was a selected writer at The International Literature Festival Date With an Agent Competition 2017 and 2018 and has recently completed his first novel.
About the story: A woman who has fallen off a ladder contemplates life, death and marriage and the delicious feeling of being on the brink between existence and non-existence.
Paul says: “A Hurt Like That was inspired by a line from Sylvia Plath’s poem Poppies in July. It explores the expectation of identity in a world which routinely defines, packages and sells ideas of identity to us, while simultaneously challenging and invalidating them.”
‘A Hurt Like That’ will be read on air by Derbhle Crotty.
‘Mamó‘ by Sara Keating
About the author: Sara Keating is a writer and cultural journalist. She was DLR Writer in Residence 2020-2021, where she completed work on her first novel, Fall and Recover, about the dancer Lucia Joyce, and, on a rainy day after she completed the final draft, this story. Bloomsday, 1935, an excerpt from Fall and Recover, is published this month in Banshee: A Literary Journal.
About the story: The interior monologue of an incapacitated woman enduring a visit from her daughter and grandchildren.
Sara says: “‘I cannot stand them:’ Mamó was inspired by a throwaway conversation with my own mother about sentiments expressed by a casual acquaintance of hers who had recently been to stay with her grandchildren. I was struck by the power of those words, but also by the vulnerability they exposed, and how such views are rarely given voice in public. What is it like to dislike those who you are supposed to love? What is it like to see your child make choices so different from your own?”
‘Mamó‘ will be read on air by Ingrid Craigie.
‘Muddlers’, by Gráinne O’Hare
About the author: Gráinne O’Hare is originally from Belfast. She works an office job by day and moonlights as a PhD candidate in 18th century women’s writing at Newcastle University. Her fiction has been published by Another North, Severine, and Púca Magazine, and her short story Motherland was shortlisted for the 2020 Bridport Prize.
About the story: Two young Belfast women’s friendship is forged by, among other things, a mutual obsession with Henry Joy McCracken, Wolfe Tone, and more figures from Irish history.
Gráinne says: “This story was inspired when I was taking walks around Belfast during the first lockdown and started looking into the history of some of my favourite places. I wanted to take the camaraderie and loyalty of the Muddlers Club and blend it with the friendship between two women growing up together in the 21st century.”
‘Muddlers’ will be read on air by Ali White.
‘People Over There’, by Doaa Baker
About the author: Doaa is a fiction writer and blogger born to Iraqi immigrant parents. She credits her late father for an Iraqi-flavoured upbringing so convincing that Doaa and her three sisters could have sworn they’d grown up in downtown Baghdad, and not the Dublin of the late 1980s and 1990s. She is a graduate of UCD’s MA in Creative Writing.
About the story: Sura, a young Iraqi woman who grew up in Ireland, experiences culture clash as she visits her cousins in Baghdad for the first time.
Doaa says: “People Over There describes a young woman’s first visit to her parental homeland, Iraq, and the tension that her privileged outsider status creates.”
‘People Over There’ will be read on air by Rachel O’Byrne.
‘The Johns’, by Rachel Walshe
About the author: Rachel Walshe is an actor, writer and voiceover artist from Ratoath, Co. Meath. She studied Law and Arts in Maynooth University and began an acting career in 2017, followed by a writing career in 2020. The Johns is her first narrative short story, but her short film Measuring Stick will appear on the Irish festival circuit, and she has also written a radio play, Jumping For Joy, forthcoming with Near FM.
About the story: Jenny, a young woman on the brink of romance with her colleague Emma, sees graffiti about ‘John and Cleo’ which leads her to meditate on grand displays of love and commitment.
Rachel says: “The Johns was inspired by a real life John and Cleo, whose love can really be seen marked in cement on Upper Baggot Street. A massive thank you to you both!”
‘The Johns’ will be read on air by Kathy Rose O’Brien.
‘The Pines’, by Paul Lenehan
About the author: Paul Lenehan, originally from Dublin, now lives in Arklow. He’s had short stories published in many journals and magazines over the past 20 years. His story December Swimmers was shortlisted for Short Story of the Year at The Irish Book Awards in 2015. He is currently writing a collection of 100 short stories, each 100 words long, called There Is A Light That Never Comes On.
About the story: A suburban couple wage covert war on their neighbour who persists in occupying his (false) balcony looking down on their garden.
Paul says: “Unspoken in the background of The Pines is a line from the poet Robert Frost: ‘Good fences make good neighbours.’ The Pines investigates whether the opposite, ‘Bad fences make bad neighbours,’ is also true.”
‘The Pines’ will be read on air by Norma Sheahan.
‘The Night Call’, by Helen O’Neill
About the author: Helen O Neill worked as a GP for nearly 30 years. She has just completed a Creative Writing course in Maynooth University and this is her first time to enter a writing competition.
About the story: A doctor and her driver run over and badly injure a dog late on New Year’s Eve and seek help in finding a way to dispatch him mercifully.
Helen says: “Night Call explores some of the stark realities of the work of a tired GP and some of the ethical dilemmas encountered. It draws on my own life experiences, and writing it called to mind so many of the images and feelings from my professional life.”
‘The Night Call’ will be read on air by Jane Brennan.
‘The Third Day’, by Kevin Donnellan
About the author: Kevin is an Irish writer and journalist based in England. He was recently shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize and his byline has appeared in Reuters, VICE and The Times. He has two young children and enjoy running around the Hampshire countryside.
About the story: A young GAA player whose team have just won the senior final seeks to prolong the celebrations, long after his teammates have called it a day.
Kevin says: “I wanted to write something about loneliness and anxiety and how participation in sport can help to ease it — and, sometimes, serve merely to mask it.”
‘The Third Day’ will be read on air by Éanna Hardwicke.
‘We Must All be Kind’, by Hugo Kelly
About the author: Hugo lives in Galway where he works as a librarian in NUIG. He has won a number of prizes for his stories including the Cúirt Writing Award and has twice been shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Awards. His work has been published in the Stinging Fly and broadcast on RTE Radio 1 and BBC Radio 4.
About the story: An isolated man, still grieving the loss of his parents, ruffles feathers on his work Zoom calls by dressing outlandishly.
Hugo says: “At heart, my story is about the shock of isolation as experienced through the pandemic and a kind of self-examination that can be part of that.”
‘We Must All Be Kind’ will be read on air by Ronan Leahy.
‘Windsea‘, by Dónal Minihane
About the author: Dónal is a hotelier in Doolin, Co. Clare. He was a past winner of the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair and is a PHD student of writing at the University of Limerick.
About the story: Monologue of a misjudged teenager as he holds his landlord, who has shot his dog, at gunpoint
Dónal says: “I’d the lad and his mum in my head for a few years. I got the story down one morning. It came out in one go. If you are lucky this happens sometimes when you’ve been wondering about people for a while. You have the voice because you’ve lived with them and know them and love them. The story is part of a series of linked stories.”
‘Windsea‘ will be read on air by Aaron Monaghan