To make a long story short . . .

 

No one had an inkling who the winner was. Only the elegant and encouraging Seamus Hosey, of RTÉ Radio 1, was privy to the secret. Would he be attacked as he walked through the throng in the station's Sports and Social Club? Maybe.

He was watched carefully by many of the final 15 short story writers, who were shortlisted from a total of 600 entrants. Then the speeches got underway. The Francis MacManus Awards 2001 were about to be unveiled.

The man from Cape Clear, one of the short-listed writers, wore a camera around his neck. Chuck Kruger, an American who moved to the Co Cork island in 1992 with his wife, Nell Kruger, was there to record the event.

David Marcus with his wife, poet and writer Ita Daly, who was one of the competition's judges, were both there, as well as writer Mary O'Donnell.

Also spotted was Maurice Harmon, whose book, The Colloquoy of the Old Men, a translation of the 200 Irish stories and poems about the Fianna, Accalam na Senórach, has just been published by Academica Press in the US.

Muireann Prendergast from Limerick, another short-listed writer, listened with her friends Aisling Downey and Laura Maldonado from Cordóba, Spain.

Marie MacSweeney from Drogheda, with her two sons, Eoghan and Ciaran Cosgrave, and a friend, John Walsh, didn't know until the end that her story, Dipping into the Darkness, was the winner.

Paddy Mac Manus, son of the writer who inspired the award, was there with his wife, Syro Mac Manus, and a friend, Maureen Mitchell. He remembers his father, who died in 1965, "writing all the time . . . He was very calm, he was a terrific one for encouraging us to read".

Another member of the judging panel, James Plunkett, author of Strumpet City and other books, was there, too, enjoying the evening, catching up with old RTÉ friends, such as Maureen Hurley. Aidan Mathews, author and RTÉ staffer, watched from the side-lines as the excitement built.

Another short-listed writer, Martin Malone, was there also. The full-time army corporal finds time to write by getting up "before cock-crow", he says. Oh, to have such military-instilled discipline. His book, The Broken Cedar, is about to be published by Scribner shortly. A previous book of his, Afra Kafra, published by Poolbeg Press, is being considered for adaptation for film.

Finally, Helen Shaw, director of RTÉ Radio, presented the prizes. The four winning stories and those that were short-listed will be broadcast at 7.30 p.m. each Saturday from February 16th.