I was absolutely overjoyed to win my first short story competition recently. Yesterday saw the launch of the From the Well competition anthology, which takes its name from my entry Smoke in the Rain.
Finally getting to hold a copy of the book was overwhelming, particularly as it was officially presented by the Cork County Deputy Mayor, Cllr Ian Doyle, in front of a packed room at Cork County Library. Before I had the chance to properly examine it and maybe give it a kiss or two, I had to read my story, which people assured me afterwards I did do (for all I knew I might have just stood there doing guppy fish impressions for 15 minutes, so thrown was I).
The launch was a joyful event which saw 18 of the 20 shortlisted writers present to receive their copies. As I didn’t have the opportunity to thank people I would really, really like to have thanked, I’m going to do my Oscar speech here, where security knows me too well to throw me out.
Thanks firstly to Cork County Library and Arts Services, who are wonderful to run such a competition. It was free to enter, is open internationally and has a generous, multi-faceted first prize that’s a dream for any writer. And everyone I spoke to officially connected with the competition was incredibly enthusiastic about the written word, which is so encouraging for us scribblers.
Thanks also to the judges Claire Kilroy, Eimear Ryan and particularly Billy O’Callaghan, who seems to put a huge amount of work into this competition every year. His positive feedback means a huge amount.
My story would never have been finished and polished enough to even consider submitting without the feedback of my ever-reliable writing group, Laura, Lourdes, Sinead, Brenda and Eileen (the latter two of whom are also in this anthology). We’re like the Musketeers, but, y’know, there are six of us. And none of us owns a sword. Actually, I’m not sure about Brenda – she might well do.
I’d like to thank my agent…. [okay, no, that last bit is just me going full Gwyneth Paltrow].
Smoke in the Rain started life as an exercise for the writing class I joined a couple of years ago. The facilitator – Laura McKenna, as fine a writer and human as you could hope to meet – asked us to write a short piece drawing inspiration from a film that was showing in the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork, where the class started and our group still meets. Called Leviathan, it was about deep sea fishing and contained no narration, just images and sounds that gave a visceral idea of what it’s like to work in such an extreme environment. Knowing exactly nothing about that world, the only way I could approach it was to send out to sea a protagonist who would be as clueless as me. The title of the story was a note I scribbled down while watching the film in the dark. Here’s a taster:
I’ll be reading Smoke in the Rain at the West Cork Literary Festival on July 20 (1pm in Bantry Library), and again – unbelievably – at the Cork International Short Story Festival on September 13 (4pm in Cork City Library). If you manage to catch either, do come and say hi. Anti-seasickness medication may be required.