Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Frank O'Connor Short Story Award Festival

by Cecily Lynch    © 2015

I got wonderful value from this festival – entertainment, information and the meeting of friends.

The winning story was written by an American girl in her twenties.  She was pleasant and unassuming.  Her story was on the dark side, though.  It began brightly enough with a description of meeting a man on her street who was dressed as a giant white rabbit.  The story continued with her reaction to this innocent fancy dress.  The author described her panic, her fear of being murdered by a serial killer, by her terror of a gun attack, by her fear of a mad rapist or of a frenzied racist attack. The story ended by the white rabbit passing peacefully by.  The style of the writing in this short story was an anguished outpouring of the fears of a woman in an American town. The writing was outstanding in that the story consisted of one long breathless sentence, adding greatly to the tension and fear felt by the narrator.

In the Triskel Christchurch three independent publishers discussed how they choose the manuscripts from the thousands they received.  They judged on the presentation initially.  Then came the search for an authentic voice.   They read the beginning, the middle and the end, and judged from these extracts.  Then they passed the manuscripts over to professional readers who gave their opinions based on their experience of what would sell. Finally they consulted with the authors on the editing process.  I admired their respect for the authors, and their consciousness of the effort creative writing takes.

On the final evening, successful short story writers read from their work.  I was very moved by the tender reading by Claire Keegan of her novella 'Foster'.  You could hear a pin drop in the hall as the story of a sensitive child's experience of being fostered on the farm of a relative and her growing awareness that these kind people were her true parents.

The second reading that night was from Mary Costelloe's book 'Academy Street', read by the author herself.  It was a beautiful experience for me.  A lonely Irish woman's life in New York was portrayed with much sympathy and compassion.  The story told of the girl's reason for emigrating, her vocation of nursing, her interior life of passion and sorrow, her growing awareness that most of love consists of mercy. These developments in her life were delicately described.

Afterwards, I reflected on why people read novels.  Perhaps everyday life cannot touch or communicate the deepest emotions, and daily routine does not do justice to the miracle of life.


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