Danielle McLaughlin wins £30,000 Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award

Win caps rich year for Cork author after $165,000 Windham-Campbell Prize in March

Danielle McLaughlin: “I’m a new writer, but not a young writer. It’s never too late for anybody to start writing and human beings don’t stop having stories to tell, just because we’ve got older.” Photograph: Claire O’Rorke

Danielle McLaughlin: “I’m a new writer, but not a young writer. It’s never too late for anybody to start writing and human beings don’t stop having stories to tell, just because we’ve got older.” Photograph: Claire O’Rorke

 

Irish writer Danielle McLaughlin has won the 2019 Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award, whose £30,000 (€33,500) prize money makes it the world’s richest for a short story.

It caps a remarkable year for the former solicitor from Co Cork, who only took up writing seriously 10 years ago at the age of 40 when illness forced her to stop practicing law. In March, she was awarded the $165,000 (€150,000) Windham-Campbell Prize for fiction.

Her winning story A Partial List of the Saved, explores a divorce and the interwoven family relationships it affects. Judge Blake Morrison called it “a fascinating portrayal of both cowardice and courage”. The idea behind the story, of two people pretending that they are still married for a family event, was inspired by a real-life situation. It was first published as part of this year’s Faber anthology Being Various: New Irish Short Stories, edited by Lucy Caldwell.

McLaughlin is the second Irish writer to win the award and follows in the footsteps of 2012 winner Kevin Barry and 2017 shortlistee Sally Rooney, who were both discovered early in their literary careers. They were all first published by the Stinging Fly, a small Dublin publisher and literary magazine founded by Declan Meade. Other previous winners include Yiyun Li (2015), Junot Diaz (2013) and Anthony Doerr (2011).

Barry also made this year’s shortlist along with fellow Irish writer Louise Kennedy; Emma Cline, US author of bestseller The Girls; Joe Dunthorne, best known for Submarine; and Australian writer Paul Dalla Rosa. They each receive £1,000.

Another three Irish writers, Caoilinn Hughes, Wendy Erskine and Gerard McKeague, were on the 18-strong longlist.

Author and judge Kit de Waal said: “This deceptively simple story based around a man’s visit to his elderly father is pitch perfect. By turns funny, tragic and sad – circling and re-circling complicated family and sexual relationships – it ends, fittingly, without any clear answers. It is a brave writer that can take their foot off the pedal at just the right moment. It’s a delight to read such a well-wrought story – all the judges were unanimous in our admiration for Danielle McLaughlin. We are sure she has a long and bright future as a fiction writer ahead of her.”

Fellow judge Andrew Holgate, literary editor of the Sunday Times, said: “Danielle McLaughlin hasn’t exactly come from nowhere but, following on from Sally Rooney, who received her very first recognition by being shortlisted here, McLaughlin shows Ireland’s continuing ability to produce fresh, vibrant and exciting new voices, and our award’s continuing ability to discover and showcase the very best new talent. We’re over the moon to have found another such controlled and memorable literary voice.”

McLaughlin’s debut collection of short stories, Dinosaurs On Other Planets, was published in Ireland in 2015 by The Stinging Fly Press, in the UK and US in 2016 by John Murray and Random House. “This is not a debut in the usual sense: a promise of greater things to come,” Anne Enright said of Dinosaurs. “There is no need to ask what Danielle McLaughlin will do next, she has done it already. This book has arrived. I think it will stay with us for a long time.”

Her debut novel, A Retrospective, will be published in 2021 by John Murray. “It began back in 2012 in a writing workshop given by Nuala O’Connor at Waterford Writers Weekend. I can still remember the chalky feel of the prompt – a piece of broken delph – in my hand. It’s set between Cork city and west Cork and the main character is a fortysomething woman whose past intrudes on her personal and professional life at the worst possible time in the guise of her dead friend’s son and his father. It’s about infidelities and betrayals, and about hope and friendship also.”

Her stories have appeared in the New Yorker, the Stinging Fly and The Irish Times. Her previous awards for short fiction include the William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen International Short Story Competition. Last year, she edited the anthology Counterparts, a synergy of law and literature published by Stinging Fly in aid of housing charity Peter McVerry Trust. She has been writer-in-residence at University College Cork and together with Madeleine D’Arcy, she co-runs Fiction at the Friary, a free monthly fiction event in Cork.

Of her relatively late start as a writer, she said: “I’m a new writer, but not a young writer. It’s never too late for anybody to start writing and human beings don’t stop having stories to tell, just because we’ve got older. Writing is a mid-life career change for me. For many years I worked as a solicitor. I became ill quite suddenly in 2009 and had to stop practice. It was while I was ill that I began writing and I haven’t returned to legal practice since. Law was my dream for years, since I was a teenager. I studied and trained and worked for years and then suddenly it was gone. I think perhaps it was the creative void that it left that sent me down the fiction road.”

As sponsor of the award, Audible has produced an audio anthology of the shortlisted stories, available free to Audible members and free with a 30-day Audible trial at www.audible.co.uk.

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