FROM inspiring the babies of tomorrow to exploring transgender issues, this year’s Clare Champion Short Story Competition winners were diverse and progressive. While some looked to the past for inspiration, particularly with the 1916 commemorations, others were firmly rooted in the present.
This year’s senior winner was Faye Curran from Coláiste Muire, Ennis, who is no stranger to the competition. Faye’s story 16 Years/16 Lessons was about passing on words of wisdom to the next generation.
“It’s basically a letter to every baby that will be born this year about 16 things I’ve learned,” she said. Inspired by a Róisín Ingle novel, Faye thought it would be a good idea to explore it further.
The story aims to steer them away from embarrassing themselves, like she has in the past, while she also talks about issues her friends are dealing with and how they can stay positive.
Transgender issues was the theme of the next two winners in the senior category. Shauna McMahon of Rice College, Ennis took second prize for her story The Third Monday in May.
“It’s about someone coming out as transgender. They decided to announce it to their school friends the last week before they did their Leaving Cert,” she explained.
This is Shauna’s first time participating in the competition and said she was delighted to take a prize first time out.
Third place went to Amy Worland of St Caimin’s Community School, Shannon, who also looked to this topic for inspiration.
“It’s about a trans boy going to his debs with this fear that he’s not going to be accepted by his girlfriends. His friends actually accept him and say ‘it’s ok, don’t worry about it, we’re fine’ and he ends up having a great time,” she said.
Appropriately, the winner of this year’s junior section was a 1916-themed story. Ailisha Leneghan, a student at Mary Immaculate Secondary School in Lisdoonvara, wrote The Rising. She explained that it offered a fictional account of a youngster caught up in the bloody events.
“It’s about a young boy; he wasn’t a soldier but a messenger. The British attacked Boland’s Mill and he went off with a message to get more men. On the way, a building fell on top of him and he woke up in hospital. In the end, he was happy he took part in the Rising,” she said.
Unsurprisingly, she has an interest in Irish history and while she also likes writing, she says it’s not her “favourite thing”.
Ailisha wasn’t really sure how long it took to pen the winning entry. “I don’t really know, a few weeks I suppose because it had to be rewritten a bit.”
Second place went to John Murphy of Ennistymon CBS for his entry A Day In The Life Of A West Clare Farmer.
In reality, the story is more about a visitor’s views on some time spent with a farmer and the fish-out-of-water tale will surely raise a few chuckles among those who read it.
“It’s about a lad from Dublin who comes down to visit his uncle, who has a farm in West Clare. His uncle is showing him around the place,” says John.
From a farming family himself, he says English is one of his better subjects. He wrote the story in a couple of hours. Asked about what he might like to do when he’s older, John said, “I’m not too sure, maybe carpentry. Hopefully, a bit of farming.”
Nina Walsh of Kilrush Community School wrote Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder about a wandering cat, which took third place.
“It’s about a cat who runs away from home because he’s sick of his family. When he’s away, he discovers that he loves them and he goes back to them.”
The owner of two cats herself, she resisted the temptation to call the hero of the story after one of her own pets.
“Because I have two, I was torn between the two names and I called the cat Felix instead.”
While she likes English, metalwork is actually her favourite subject. Nevertheless, Nina says she spends “every spare minute” reading, with her favourite authors being Darren Shan and Garth Nix.
Now in its 10th year, the competition continues to draw large numbers of entrants, editor Austin Hobbs told the young writers and their families at the prize-giving event at the de Valera Library in Ennis last Thursday night.
“The event is something all of us in The Clare Champion look forward to each year, as do the teachers and schools that support us. The level of support can be measured by the fact that nine different schools feature on this year’s shortlist,” he said.
“For the 12 shortlisted young writers, it’s a great personal achievement and one that will sit well on your CV. Your stories speak of your knowledge and imagination, something employers are anxious to hear about. In interviews, they want to learn about the real you and could not but be impressed to hear that you have a story published.
Clare Champion Managing Director John Galvin said the entries to the competition are carefully assessed.
“We very much appreciate the effort that’s put into the writing each year and I’d like to assure you that we take equal care with the judging. Every entry is read in full by an anonymous team of judges and there’s a lot of debate before even a shortlist is finalised.”
Reflecting on a decade of the competition, he said, “We’ve finally made it to double figures. We started the competition in 2007 with just 120 entries that year but we knew the idea was a winner. Over the last decade, we’ve seen several thousand entries pass through our hands and the standard has been universally high.”
By Carol Byrne and Owen Ryan