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Debut novelist Caoilinn Hughes comes first (and third!) in The Moth Short Story Prize

Kevin Barry chooses two stories by author of ‘Orchid & the Wasp’

The author Kevin Barry chose not one but two of Caoilinn Hughes’ stories as his prizewinners in this year’s Moth Short Story Prize, which he judged anonymously. Psychobabble takes first prize, and is, according to Barry, “a story that walks a difficult road in terms of its tone or note – it’s a dark situation dealt with not lightly but with an effervescence in the line, in the sentence-making, and it’s this vivacity that elevates the piece above the rest. It’s both poignant and very funny, emotional yet sardonic. The writer has great control.”

Hughes’ debut novel Orchid & the Wasp (Oneworld/Hogarth Press) was published this summer to great acclaim. Among its many admirers are Sebastian Barry, AL Kennedy and John Banville, who described it as “an ambitious, richly inventive and highly entertaining account of the way we live now”.

Hughes is also a poet, and her collection Gathering Evidence won the Irish Times Shine/Strong Award in 2015. Her work has appeared in Tin House, Granta, Poetry and BBC Radio 3. She has a PhD from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and recently held a three-year visiting writer position at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

Caoilinn Hughes: Publishing a debut novel is an emotionally-blustery, sanity-testing endeavour. This seal of approval is superglue for the sanity! I am mighty grateful

“The Moth magazine is a thing of beauty,” Hughes said. “And Kevin Barry is a singular storyteller and stylist I’ve long admired. Publishing a debut novel is an emotionally-blustery, sanity-testing endeavour. This seal of approval is superglue for the sanity! I am mighty grateful.”

Tracey Slaughter’s Postcards are a Thing of the Past, which won second prize, is “a narrative that shows the boundless possibilities of the short story as a form – it could be described almost as a kind of erotic travelogue, but the important movement is internal, or within,” said Barry. “It’s about the heart, essentially, and there is real intensity in the writing, and some astonishing jolts in the language.”

Slaughter, who is from New Zealand, has received many awards for her stories and poems, including the Bridport Prize, two Katherine Mansfield Awards, and shortlistings for both the Manchester Fiction Prize and the Manchester Poetry Prize. Her most recent work is a collection of short stories, Deleted Scenes for Lovers, and a volume of poetry entitled Conventional Weapons is due for publication in 2019. She teaches creative writing at the University of Waikato, where she edits the literary journal Mayhem.

Slaughter will spend a week at the luxurious writers’ retreat, Circle of Misse, in the Loire Valley in France, and receive €250 towards her travel expenses.

“Winning this prize is a blissful shock,” said Slaughter. “I’m still a bit speechless with excitement! I’m thrilled that my stories are travelling … and now I get to travel too! Deepest thanks to The Moth for the amazing opportunity.”

Hughes’s third-prize-winning story is Standard Deviation. This is, in Barry’s words, “the story of an odd encounter, and it feels very close-in for the reader but it’s kind of mysterious, too. Line by line, it’s very carefully arranged, and it follows its own tune or music, and the contemporary dressing of the story’s world is beautifully done and never feels forced.”

“Neither of these stories is easygoing or biddable,” Hughes said, “and it takes just the right reader and opportunity to allow such stories to come to life. Thank you, Kevin Barry, thank you, The Moth, thank you, dear reader!”

Caoilinn Hughes will receive €4,000 in total in prize money.

“This will be the first time in The Moth’s eight years where we have published work by the same author twice in a single issue,” said its editor Rebecca O’Connor. “And we couldn’t be more delighted. The huge talent of Caoilinn Hughes and Tracey Slaughter shines from the pages.”

Kevin Barry also commended stories by Chris Mansell (Australia) and Una Mannion (Ireland). The three winning stories appear in the autumn issue of The Moth, available to purchase in select bookshops and online at themothmagazine.com.