Winning the Writing.ie Short Story of the Year Award by Orla McAlinden
I’ve always had wide feet. From my father I inherited a love of reading and history, my thin, weak hair and my very broad feet. So, when Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin of www.writing.ie, sponsor of the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards Writing.ie Short Story of the Year Award, called out my name as winner for The Visit, I immediately ducked under the dining table. People were clapping and trying to pat me on the back, but I was under the generous, white floor-length tablecloth, trying to cram my feet back into the ridiculous, narrow instruments of torture that I had kicked off hours earlier. My words of advice to this year’s lucky finalists: when you’re sitting at that table in the Doubletree Hotel, sipping wine, wondering how the hell you’ve ended up on the shortlist, among all the other infinitely more famous writers, don’t for heaven’s sake take your shoes off. It could be you!
Winning the Writing.ie Short Story of the Year Award was a surreal experience. My debut collection of short stories The Accidental Wife had been published by a tiny American publisher based in Philadelphia and had promptly disappeared without trace. People who read it, seemed to enjoy it, said lovely things about the work, and some readers and bloggers even took the time to write glowing online reviews, (special thanks to the Examiner newspaper and to Sue Leonard who included it in her Beginner’s Pluck series.) But, in general, it seemed destined to languish in obscurity. I am confident that winning the Short Story of the Year Award, for the fourth story in the collection, The Visit, helped to change that narrative.
Within months of winning the prize, The Accidental Wife had been chosen for the first ever mass public reading initiative by Libraries Northern Ireland. The Armagh Big Read took place during March 2017, with the book being borrowed and read almost a thousand times that month. Four library events allowed me to reach out directly to the readership of Armagh’s library service and read my work in public (remind me to tell you about the time my mum stood up and interrupted me in a packed library and announced that I use too many bad words in my book, and that I didn’t learn them at home.)
In July of the same year, the BBC Radio Ulster Nolan Show chose The Accidental Wife for their monthly book club. Not too shabby for an unknown short story writer with a debut collection. To me this was the stuff of dreams.
And then life continued to tick over. As the months after the award ceremony passed by, the excitement receded into the distance. I sent out dozens of short stories to journals and magazines, and every week seemed to bring at least one rejection email. I did not succeed in having a single word published between my winning the award in 2016, and the success of Christine Dwyer-Hickey in the 2017 contest. It had all been a flash in the pan, apparently, but I had enjoyed every minute of it.
Fast forward to January 2018. Out of the ether, unknown, unsolicited, unhoped-for. A phone call from Danny McCarthy at Mentor Press, Dublin. ‘I’m reading your story here, on the writing.ie website; the prize-winning story, The Visit. Have you anything else ready? I love this story. I suppose I’m too late? I suppose you have an agent, with bigger plans, or a contract already signed?’ I had neither.
‘What have you got that I can publish? Have you anything?’
‘I have a novel and a companion volume of short stories – similar to The Visit – finished. But I’d better warn you, they’ve been rejected a dozen times each…’
‘I’ll take them both.’
‘Wouldn’t you like to read them first?’
I persuaded him that perhaps he ought to read them first!
I can only hope and wish that the 2018 winner of the Writing.ie Short Story of the Year 2018, under its new sponsor, An Post, will have a fraction of the luck that the 2016 prize has brought to me.
My novel, The Flight of the Wren, set on the Curragh of Kildare, and on a penal transportation ship, at the end of the Great Famine, will be launched on Tuesday 18th September in Hodges Figgis, Dublin and on Wednesday 19th September in Woodbine Books, Kilcullen, Co Kildare, as the first event of Kildare Culture Night. The new story collection, Full of Grace, will launch in January 2019. Many thanks to the Writing.ie Short Story of the Year Award for introducing me to my wonderful publishers, Red Stag Mentor Press.
Get your entries in now for the 2018 award. Go n-éirí libh go léir.
(c) Orla McAlinden
Orla McAlinden is the author of The Accidental Wife (winner of The Eludia award and the writing.ie short story of the year 2016). From Armagh, she lives in Kildare, with a busy family and too many ponies, and writes historical fiction and short stories set against the background of Northern Ireland’s complicated political landscape. Her forthcoming novel The Flight of the Wren won the CD Lewis emerging writer bursary 2016, and was one of the winners at the Greenbean Novel Fair 2016. It will be published in September 2018 by Red Stag/Mentor Press. She will appear at the Bray Literary Festival (September), The Kildare Readers Festival (October) and the John O’Connor Literary Festival in Armagh (November). www.orlamcalinden.com https://www.facebook.com/orlamcalindenauthor/
About The Accidental Wife:
Set against the tense background of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, The Accidental Wife follows the twists and turns of the McCann family over seven decades. How many generations will these secrets destroy? Marion Smith has a secret. So does Colette McCann. Why did Matthew Jordan slip his passport into his pocket before he kissed his wife goodbye and drove to work? In a land riddled with suspicion and fear, secrets are not easy to keep. How long can Marion Smith hide what happened in Derry at the height of the Second World War? How many generations will her secret destroy? Lies, half-truths and omissions litter the stories of the McCann family, spanning seventy years of Northern Ireland’s turbulent history. Who will come through unscathed and who will pay for the sins of the fathers?
Order your copy online here.