To cut a long story short -- our writers excel in this
Joyce Russell, English-born but settled in Bantry, Co Cork, has won the 2010 Francis McManus Short Story Competition -- no mean achievement, given that this RTE radio competition, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, attracted almost 900 entries this year.
At Monday night's broadcast ceremony in RTE, John McKenna, who was one of the judges, gave her story, Fishing for Dreams, the highest of praise -- he wished, he said, that he had written it himself.
The competition itself, under the benevolent guidance of producer Seamus Hosey, has long been one of RTE's modest but genuine achievements and is a testament to the power that the short story form continues to exert on writers -- whether aspirational or established -- in this country.
Why this should be so is open to debate, though Sean O Faolain and Frank O'Connor -- both of them masters of the form -- set down their own views clearly in two classic books on the subject. However, there's no doubting its basic appeal for Irish writers.
Indeed, what's heartening for lovers of the short story is the fact that so many contemporary writers are embracing the tradition begun by George Moore and James Joyce and furthered down through the decades by writers as diverse as Liam O'Flaherty, Elizabeth Bowen, Mary Lavin, James Plunkett, Maeve Brennan, William Trevor, Edna O'Brien and John McGahern.
Thus, we've had wonderful stories in the last few years by Anne Enright, Colm Toibin, Claire Keegan, Kevin Barry and others. Indeed, while I'd be hard put to name 20 truly great Irish novels, I'd easily come up with 20 great story collections.
In other words, although the novel may be deemed a more saleable, headline-grabbing and somehow sexier form, it's in the short story that Irish writers still truly excel.
Anyway, RTE will be broadcasting all 25 of this year's shortlisted Francis McManus stories over the coming months, so you can judge the emerging talent for yourself.