Chuck Kruger's multi-storied island of Cape Clear

 

Chuck Kruger is the winner of the 1998 Hubris Prize for Literature. The award ceremony hasn't taken place yet - the prize, so far, is not on the mantel. It never will be.

Search The Writers' and Artists' Year- book but you won't find a mention of this accolade nestling among the Bookers' or the Whitbreads' because it doesn't exist. It is spawned by a keen imagination. But on the blurb of his first work of fiction, it reads well. The Man who Talks to Himself is also a good read, linking Cape Clear Island, off the south-west coast, and Switzerland, in an epic story of intrigue and greed.

The author's daughter, Meredith, Kruger reveals, made the award. It was all done in a light-hearted spirit; the term Hubris Prize was coined by a friend. Award or no award, the self-published novel is a ripping read. On the back cover there's a picture of the author at the helm of a yacht in a red sweater. There are glowing tributes to his work under the Hubris Prize reference. As an attention-getting ploy it is as good as any.

Chuck Kruger's story is good. He knows something about good stories. Why wouldn't he when he has been running a story-telling festival on Cape Clear for five years?

Switzerland to Cape Clear is quite a jump. The Swiss are better known for watches and clocks and banks - we were supposed to be the ones who knew about story-telling. But when he was teaching secondary school back in Zurich, Chuck Kruger got the idea of commissioning storytellers to spend a week in residence in his classroom. The students were enchanted.

In 1986 with his wife, Nell, whose other incarnation was as a professor of linguistics in Switzerland, he bought 63 acres on Cape Clear. The couple had visited the beautiful island before and it drew them in. "I have two loves in my life - the first is Nell, the second is Cape Clear," he says. The third love is obviously story-telling.

The rich tradition of story-telling in the south-west - especially on islands like Cape Clear and the Blaskets - where sadly no inhabitants remain - is no longer as vibrant as it was.

When Chuck Kruger arrived on Cape Clear, he found story-telling had all but died. Television had seen to that. The old "rambling houses" were no more, although once they had been such a feature of rural life, when people had more time on their hands and knew how to amuse themselves.

Of an evening, the better story-tellers would ramble from house to house telling tall tales, often macabre ones, made even more so by the gloom of descending night in an age before electric light reached remote places. They were stars. A good audience was guaranteed.

Chuck Kruger's mission was to bring it all back. So began the story-telling festival on Cape Clear which has grown rapidly - so rapidly, in fact, that this year the organisers are not even courting publicity.

Chuck Kruger says: "Our problem is to find enough beds for 300 people. We're not advertising it because we just can't cope with the demand. We used to feel each year that we had to have a formal launch of the festival. Not anymore."

As well as the September story-telling festival, the Kruger camp organises an Easter retreat on the island for international story-tellers and a workshop during the October bank holiday weekend when tales are swapped and honed. It is an exciting time for those who believe in the ancient art form.

For Cape Clear, it elongates the tourist season. The publicans on the island and others involved in the tourist industry say when the story-tellers arrives they bring with them enough business to match the high season. For a small island about to shut down for winter, this is a major boost.

You might assume the story-telling festival would take place in a pub atmosphere. You know the scene: the pint, the banter, the call for hush and the story. But not at all. Chuck Kruger's philosophy is that story-telling should not take place in a pub. Instead, he has found that in a drink-free atmosphere the stories get more attention and the audience is riveted. "When you can hear a pin drop, you know you have them," he says, adding: "Then, we all repair to somewhere else."

As well as the Hubris Prize for Literature, Kruger has received (really), the Cork Literary Review short-story award for 1998. In 1994, he published Cape Clear, Isle of Magic, a loving look at the island and what it means to him.

Now that it's up and running, who'll win the Hubris next year?