Read extracts from the three Irish stories on Sunday Times Audible short story award shortlist

Louise Kennedy, Kevin Barry and Danielle McLaughlin in running for £30,000 prize

 Irish writer Danielle McLaughlin.

Irish writer Danielle McLaughlin.

 

This year’s Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award shortlist, is dominated by Irish writers – Danielle McLaughlin, Louise Kennedy and Kevin Barry, 2012 winner of the prize. The others on the shortlist are Paul Dalla Rosa, 27, from Melbourne (only Sally Rooney has been younger, 26 when shortlisted in 2017); Joe Dunthorne, author of novel Submarine, and Emma Cline, author of The Girls .

Judge Andrew Holgate said: “This year Irish authors have stolen the short-story crown from the US, which dominated the prize in 2018. The Irish influence on the Award - which was the first prize to recognise Sally Rooney – and the world of short fiction continues to grow as we discover new voices and also welcome back former winner Kevin Barry.”

Danielle McLaughlin is the author of the accalimed short story collection, Dinosaurs on Other Planets. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Stinging Fly and The Irish Times. Her debut novel, A Retrospective will be published in 2020. She lives in Co Cork. A Partial List of the Saved explores an impending divorce and the interwoven family relationships it affects. Judge Blake Morrison called it “A fascinating portrayal of both cowardice and courage”.

Louise Kennedygrew up inHolywood, Co Down. Her short stories have been published in journals including The Stinging Fly. She is a PhD candidate atthe Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast, where she is researching the writer Norah Hoult (1898-1984).She has completed a collection of short stories and is working on a novel. She lives in Co Sligo. In Silhouette is an ambitious story set over four time periods inspired by The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Judge Sarah Churchwell called it “A mystery novel in 6,000 words”.

A previous winner of the award, and longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize for Night Boat to Tangier, Kevin Barry is the author of short story collections Dark Lies the Island and There Are Little Kingdoms. He lives in Co Sligo. The Coast of Leitrim is a love story which explores the relationship between an Irish man and a Polish woman he meets in a cafe. Judge Kit de Waal said: “It’s got perfect pitch … with a raconteur tone”.

The award, now in its tenth year, is the world’s richest prize for an English-language single short story, with the winner receiving £30,000 and the five other shortlisted writers £1,000 each. The winner will be announced in London on September 12th.

Irish writer Kevin Barry. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images
Irish writer Kevin Barry. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

From The Coast of Leitrim by Kevin Barry
Living alone in his dead uncle’s cottage, and with the burden lately of wandering thoughts in the night, Seamus Ferris had fallen hard for a Polish girl who worked at a café down in Carrick. He had himself almost convinced that the situation had the dimensions of a love affair, though in fact he’d exchanged no more than a few dozen words with her, whenever she named the price for his flat white and scone, and he shyly paid it, offering a line or two himself on the busyness of the town or the fineness of the weather.

“It’s like France,” he said to her one sunny morning in June.

And it was true that the fields of the mountain had all the week idled in what seemed a Continental languor, and the lower hills east were a Provençal blue in the haze, and the lake when he lowered himself into it was so warm by the evening it didn’t even make his midge bites sting.

“The heat,” he tried again. “Makes the place seem like France. We wouldn’t be used to it. Passing out from it. Ambulance on standby.”

His words blurted at the burn of her brown-eyed stare. She didn’t lose the run of herself by way of a response but she said yes, it is very hot, and he believed that something at least cousinly to a smile softened her mouth and moved across her eyes. He had learned already by listening in the café that her name was Katherine, which was not what you’d expect for a Polish woman but lovely.

At thirty-five years of age, Seamus Ferris was by no means setting the night on fire at the damp old pebbledash cottage on Dromord Hill, but he had no mortgage nor rent to pay, and there was money from when the father died, a bit more again when the mother went to join him, also the redundancy payment from Rel-Tech, and some dole. He had neither sister nor brother and was a little stunned at this relatively young age to find himself on a solo run through life. He had pulled back from his friends, too, which wasn’t much of a job, for he had never had close ones. He had worked for eight years at Rel-Tech, but more and more he had found the banter of the other men there a trial, the endless football talk, the foolishness and bragging about drink and women, and in truth he was relieved when the chance of a redundancy came up. He had the misfortune in life to be fastidious and to own a delicacy of feeling. He drank wine rather than beer and favored French films. Such an oddity this made him in the district that he might as well have had three heads up on Dromord Hill.

He believed that Katherine, too, had sensitivity.

Irish writer Danielle McLaughlin.
Irish writer Danielle McLaughlin.

From A Partial List of the Saved by Danielle McLaughlin
The flight attendant who brought the beer was the same one who’d performed the safety demonstration an hour earlier as they’d taxied down the runway at San Francisco. ‘In the unlikely event of landing in water,’ a disembodied voice had said as the woman popped a lifejacket over her head. ‘Unlikely’ hardly went far enough, Conor thought. He hated to be a pedant, but still. It was unlikely that he’d packed a European adapter, but one might yet materialise among the tangle of accessories he’d shoved in his suitcase as the taxi waited by the kerb. It was unlikely that the man seated to his left would stop talking any time soon, but it was not inconceivable that some affliction of the throat might set in. It seemed wrong, somehow, that the possibility that they would all be plunged into the icy waters of the Atlantic to have their eyes eaten out by small fishes should be placed on a par with these other, more mundane, eventualities. Surely, at a minimum, it was ‘extremely unlikely’?

On the other side of him sat his ex-wife, Reece. They’d been married ten years when he’d discovered she was conducting an affair with one of her co-workers at the marine biology centre, a younger man called Dan. Or Quinoa Dan as Conor privately thought of him, with his man-bun and his Converse and his vegan tray-bakes. Conor had been to Dan’s apartment once, in the days before the affair. He’d eaten flourless vegan cake for Dan’s 35th birthday in a loft in an old bottling factory in Mission Bay, an open-plan rectangular space, with up-cycled furniture and cork floors. When confronted about the affair, Reece said that she was sorry, but she didn’t say that she would stop seeing Dan. Instead, she’d quietly packed a suitcase and left. That was in January.

*

‘This might sound a little odd,’ was how he’d prefaced his request when he’d rung her on a Saturday evening in late April.

‘Go on,’ she said.

The affair with Dan had since ended, and Reece was renting a studio apartment in Belmont. They were being civilised about the divorce, because what other way was there to be, Conor thought, at this hour of their lives, him 52, Reece 47. It wasn’t as if they were high schoolers, maddened by young love’s implosion.

‘Remember how my father always adored you?’ he said.

‘Your father’s a sweetheart. I’ll always be very fond of him.’

‘The thing is,’ he said, ‘Daddy hasn’t been well lately.’ He stopped. He’d thought long and hard about this call, but now he feared that he’d miscalculated. ‘His lungs are bad, his heart is bad, his kidneys aren’t too good either. It’s his 80th birthday on July 10th and Joanne wants us all to be there.’

‘Us?’

‘Yes, us. You. Me.’

‘Oh,’ she said. He heard a soft clunk on the other end of the line. He pictured her putting down the phone, winding her index finger round and round in her hair, as she’d always done when puzzled. ‘Reece?’ he said, ‘Are you still there?’ Was she in bed, he wondered? He imagined his voice travelling down the wires, re-visiting his wife in her new bedroom.

‘I didn’t expect to be invited,’ she said eventually. ‘I was afraid your father might think badly of me. I worried he might blame me for the divorce.’

Well who else would he be blaming? Conor thought. ‘You mustn’t mention anything about that,’ he said. ‘My father doesn’t know.’

Irish writer Louise Kennedy
Irish writer Louise Kennedy

From In Silhouette by Louise Kennedy
The hot pants look trampy with the platforms so you change into your yellow parallels. You fill your clutch bag with fags, a pat of powder, a tin of Vaseline. It’s floppy, so you wad it with tissues to fill it out. The bag came free with a bottle of Charlie perfume you bought in the chemist’s shop you’re not allowed to go into because Mr Crawford, the owner, is in the DUP. A last look in the mirror. The broderie anglaise trim on your top doesn’t quite reach the waistband of your trousers. Your stomach is hollow, which you like, and pale, which you don’t. You go down the stairs and put your head into the sitting room. Showaddy Waddy are on Seaside Special, wearing suits the same shade as your trousers. Cheerio, you say. Your mother pulls the edges of her cardigan together by way of an answer. You go down the driveway. The wee ones are down at the stream, building a dam or demolishing one, their shrieks blowing across the fields to you. The heat has been building all day. The tarmac is soft under your feet, sundering into oil and chips of stone, and by the time you get to the Half Way Inn the cork soles on your shoes are greasy-looking and the hair at the back of your neck is wet.

The front door is wedged open with a brick. The girls are already there, at the corner table by the juke box, nursing jewel-coloured drinks laced with cordial. Gin and orange. Pernod and blackcurrant. Vodka and lime. You tuck your clutch high up under your arm and go to the bar.

Buy us a drink, Thady, you say. Your brother acts as if he doesn’t know you’re there, so you have to lean in between him and Ciaran McCann. Your top has ridden up your back and Ciaran slants himself back for a better look. In profile he’s nearly gorgeous, but then he twists on his stool and you see the heavy lid of the eye that doesn’t open. You think he’s admiring you, until he sniggers. You’re in no position to be laughing at anyone, Winky, you say, and he bends back over his pint. Come on, Thady, I’ve no money, you say. He does this sometimes, makes you whinge stuff out of him. You’re not even sure he’s listening, because he has turned to look at the doorway. Everyone is looking at the doorway. It’s like watching a western, the tall silhouette against the yellow light, the face dark, in shadow. The tidy bulk of him crossing the room to the counter.

Thady must be thinking the same thing because he says Howdy, Stranger. Something has shifted in the air.

The man smiles along the length of the bar. He’s wearing a tweed sports jacket, too heavy for a summer night, and there’s a spritz of sweat on his moustache. It’s an evening for a few cold ones, he says, his accent going the length and breadth of Ireland.

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