I’ve been on a sabbatical over the past few months, due to the mentorship bursary I was awarded by the Munster Literature Centre. Though now completed, December totally got away from me, largely taken up with the buying, wrapping and handing over of presents. But I couldn’t let the year finish without a fond look back at some of the highlights of a surprisingly eventful literary year.
Fantastic Fiction at the Friary
In January, I attended the very first Fiction at the Friary. The brainchild of writers Danielle McLaughlin and Madeleine D’Arcy, the idea was to provide a free monthly gathering place for Cork scribblers, lured in out of the cold by a wide range of guest authors, an open mic session and a seemingly unlimited supply of jelly beans and Hula Hoops.
Almost a year on, the venture is going from strength to strength, with an ambitious 20-writer event crowning the Cork International Short Story Festival in September and a shiny Arts Council grant to support the venture. The guests have all been entertaining and informative, with more coups promised for 2018. Spill Simmer Falter Wither author Sara Baume kicks things off in January.
I also have to credit FatF with helping me to overcome a major public speaking phobia. Encouraged by Danielle and Madeleine, I braved the open mic, unaware that I would soon need to put my new daring to use (see below). If you are a fledgling Cork writer in search of a literary community, this is the club house for you.
Colm Tóibín International Short Story Competition
In May, I was invited to the award ceremony for the Colm Tóibín International Short Story Award 2017 after my story ‘A Simple Loss of Balance’ was one of 10 shortlisted. It was my second year in a row making the shortlist, and another chance to visit Enniscorthy in Wexford, hometown of the man himself. I didn’t win, as you can glean from my lack of jumping up and down, but I did come away with a very nice framed Highly Commended cert. For anyone considering entering in 2018, do. This is a particularly friendly competition, with the festival committee – including authors Carmel Harrington, Caroline Buscher and Adele O’Neill – more than happy to chat and offer advice to the finalists at the awards ceremony, laid on in Enniscorthy’s lovingly restored Athenaeum.
From the Well competition
The biggest surprise for me this year was winning my first short story competition. My seafaring story ‘Smoke in the Rain’ took first place in the From the Well Short Story Competition, run by Cork County Library and Arts Services, and was the title story in the subsequent anthology.
This was a brilliant competition. As well as the thrill of being published in an anthology for the first time, I was invited to read my story at the official launch at Cork County Library, as well as at both the Cork International Short Story Festival and the West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry. Thank heavens for my practice runs at Fiction at the Friary, where I got to work through the worst of my nerves!
The prize also included a free place at a workshop of my choice in Bantry, plus €250 towards accommodation. And what a wonderful week that turned out to be…
West Cork Literary Festival vs Cakefest 2017
From the number of comments I get on the subject, the most memorable thing about my blog this year has not been anything I’ve said or done, but my husband and daughter’s exhaustive search for the perfect cake during the West Cork Literary Festival.
They accompanied me to Bantry and spent the week entertaining themselves around the town while I took part in an excellent five-day novel workshp with US novelist Dean Bakopoulos, and went along to many of the talks (thanks for the free pass generously given by the festival organisers). Roger and Emily, meanwhile, launched Cakefest, something they hope will become a regular fixture on the festival circuit (funding is currently being sought to help develop their idea – those cakes don’t come cheap). All of us had a magical week at this friendly festival, courtesy of Cork County Library and Arts Services. (You can read my daily blog reports, first day here, though inevitably hijacked by Cakefest 2017 and alien jellyfish.)
Mentorship bursary with Marie-Helene Bertino
Last but by no means least, there were the two months I spent this autumn being mentored one-to-one by 2017 Frank O’Connor Fellow Marie-Helene Bertino. I’ve not yet had time to order my thoughts about this and set them out in a blog post, but suffice it to say they are all positive and I feel extremely fortunate to have benefited from such an opportunity.
Marie was a thoughtful, inspiring teacher, mindful of encouraging my writing while not prescribing how I should be writing. I had asked for help with a novel that I’m still at an early stage with, despite tinkering with it for aeons. As I was handing in 20 pages a week for feedback, I soon ran out of material and found myself wildly writing pages that I was then having to submit in a pretty raw form. It’s a sobering experience, though it did force me to concentrate on plot as opposed to refining pretty sentences. This was no bad thing as I wasn’t really sure where my story was going to go. It forced me to be decisive, and in some cases ruthless with things that weren’t working.
I will be unpacking this experience for a long time, and plan to return to the novel in January with fresh eyes. Thank you, Marie, you are a fabulous teacher and an absolute joy to spend time with. And my thanks also to the Munster Literature Centre, who set up both the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Fellowship and the mentorship scheme (details about 2018 here).
End of year report
It’s funny how a personal blog starts to look like a diary, if regularly – and honestly – updated. Looking back, I realised that it’s been a busy year. I’ve met so many terrific people through the readings, workshops and festivals I’ve attended, and (I feel) I’ve progressed as a writer. Hopefully that will continue in 2018. For you too, dear reader. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, thank you so much for your support and interest. If you’re a new reader, I hope you’ll return. Do drop by again tomorrow when I’ll have some suggestions for short story competitions to get your teeth into.
At the start of 2017, my 10 New Year’s resolutions started and ended with ‘Be kind’. I think this will be an even more crucial rule to live by in 2018. Happy New Year, everyone.