There was much excitement at Word Herding Towers this weekend as I was invited to the Wexford Literary Festival for the results of the inaugural Colm Toíbín International Short Story Award.
It was wonderful to have made the shortlist, along with a member of my writing group, Lourdes Mackey. Another member, Sinead Slattery, was longlisted, and we were delighted with our little gang’s hit rate. All the Danish pastries and scones we put away during our weekly literary wranglings had clearly paid off, and I would highly recommend this brain food diet to any aspiring writer*.
So off we went, my husband and I, on a sunny Sunday morning. The two-and-a-half-hour drive from Cork to Enniscorthy took us through a gorgeous part of the country that I’ve never ventured to before. There wasn’t much chance to appreciate it, however, as the glorious weather had drawn out every lunatic in the south-east not in possession of a driver’s license, indicator or speedometer. We also encountered a bizarre amount of vintage cars, all of which did their best to put a halt to the raleigh drivers’ collective gallops by tootling along on the yellow lines. All in all, it was more stressful than we would have liked our jolly to be and certainly tested my super-helpful passenger seat driving skills to the limit.
Enniscorthy was looking its best under clear blue skies. The town had a real holiday vibe as there was some kind of street festival taking place (not laid on for us writers, oddly enough). The prize-giving – and closing ceremony of the literary festival – was being held in The Athenaeum, a recently restored old building in the town centre, right next to Enniscorthy Castle. In my excitement at being there, I forgot to take any photos, so you’ll just have to take my word that it was a lovely setting.
The ceremony itself was extremely friendly. I wasn’t able to attend any of the other events that took place over the festival weekend, but by all accounts its cosy size made it a warm and informal affair with great interaction between audience and authors. This warmth also came through in the speeches given by committee representatives Carmel Harrington and Caroline Buscher.
The winner of the 1916 Poem for Enniscorthy competition (Maria Clifford) was announced first and all four finalists were invited to read their entries. It was clear that the judges must have had their work cut out for them in making their final decision.
And then on to the Colm Toibin Award, the results of which were announced by judge Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin. Fellow judge Lisa Coen from Tramp Press was also present.
My groupmate (new word alert) Lourdes won third place with her wonderful story ‘Dad’s Lost Soul’. Second place went to ‘Winter 1963’ by Judith Wilson, who had come over from the UK for the ceremony. The winner was ‘Skunk and Beastie’ by Holly Atkinson (UK), who unfortunately wasn’t able to be there to accept her prize. Though it’s great that the internet has made it easier to enter competitions internationally, it is quite a commitment to make the journey on the 16-1 chance of winning. And the results of this competition were definitely a closely kept secret, so much so that there was last-minute conferring between the judges – who had the names of the winning stories – and the committee, who had the names of the finalists. It certainly added to the tension, which was almost too much to bear – I don’t know how those poor Hollywood A-listers cope at the Academy Awards without spontaneously combusting.
Afterwards, there was a brief opportunity to speak to some of the other writers on the shortlist, and it was obvious that the list was an extremely varied and international one. It’s a wonderful competition that has attracted loads of attention on its very first outing, and I hope it will go from strength to strength.
What the road home lacked in maniacs and jalopies, it more than made up for with extreme weather, and we bravely battled our way through a thunderstorm and blinding rain. Home at last to pyjamas, a hasty dinner of BLTs and the pretty meh opening episode of Top Gear. A writer’s life, it’s all glamour. And I love it.
*Please consult your GP before embarking on any of the dietary advice in this esteemed blog. Equally your trainer/stylist/personal shopper, as waistline measurements may vary