Donal Ryan ‘blown away’ by winner of this year’s €3,000 Moth short story prize

Texan author Marc Phillips ‘walked away from writing to make the mistakes necessary for new stories’

Marc Phillips’ story Pyjama Squid was the undoubted winner of this year’s Moth Short Story Prize, according to the judge Donal Ryan. “This is vibrant, tough, fearless, virtuosic writing,” he said. “It blew me away ... Mary Costello says that any short story could be a novel and vice versa; this story has already taken the form and space of a novel in my memory – so much happens, there’s so much to think about, and so much is revealed by these laconic characters in the spaces between the things they say.”

Phillips, who was born in Texas, is the author of the novel, The Legend of Sander Grant, which is, according to one reviewer, “reminiscent of John Irving’s fiction, with its depiction of an America that is strange but affable”. He has won many awards for his short fiction, including the Raymond Carver Editor’s Choice and USA Today’s Notable Writer of the Year Award. “I walked away from writing,” Phillips said, “to make the mistakes necessary for new stories.” He is now walking away with the €3,000 prize.

December Swimmers by Dubliner Paul Lenehan won second prize (a writing retreat at Circle of Misse in France and a travel stipend). It is, according to Ryan, “a stunning story. Elegiac in nature, poetically rendered and heartbreakingly sad. Here’s a life gone askew and slowly surrendered, a drawn-out testing of the darkest waters, witnessed by a loving, helpless father.”

Lenehan has been writing and publishing stories for the past 20 years. He was twice shortlisted for the Hennessy/Sunday Tribune short story award and is keen, he says, to find a publisher for his current writing project, The Way We Live Now: 100 Stories of 100 Words.


The third prize of €1,000 goes to Richard Newton’s story, Pride Goes. Newton grew up in Africa but now resides in the UK. He is a columnist and feature writer for the American magazine, Global Traveler. His travel writing has featured in the Daily Telegraph, the Times, the Sunday Times and the Guardian, as well as on BBC Radio 4. His short stories have won prizes in the United States and the UK.

“Pride Goes is a buoyant tale, its narrator’s world-weariness notwithstanding,” said Ryan. “The black comedy of Piet Cronje’s fate and the narrative wound around it allow a wider meditation; deeper questions are drawn from the bloke-ish musings of our hero, on the nature of society, the seeming pointlessness of our march towards our own extinction and the things we do to distract ourselves from the nearness of the void. A fantastically, fiendishly clever story.”

All three stories are published in the autumn issue of The Moth, available in select bookshops and to purchase online at

Ryan also highly commended stories by Wendy Riley, Gerard McKeown, Laura Morgan and Sean Lusk.

Ryan publishes his first collection of stories A Slanting of the Sun on September 24th.