‘Oyster Catchers’ nets €3k prize for Cork writer

Beth Tyrrell: My legs were shaking all day after win.
Beth Tyrrell: My legs were shaking all day after win.

Writer Beth Tyrrell describes herself as lazy about her work. Don’t believe a word of it.

In between helping to raise two young boys at the family home in Bandon, Co Cork, she pens poetry, works as a freelance journalist, and edits a bimonthly supplement for the Sunday World.

If she tells you she was “very, very lucky” to be the 2014 winner of RTÉ’s Francis MacManus Short Story Competition, that might be stretching things as well — a fictionalised version that belies the hard work and talent that makes a difference.

Since its establishment in 1986, the competition has been the launching pad for several writers. Previous winners include Claire Keegan, Ciarán Folan, Ivy Bannister, Katy Hayes, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, and Martin Malone.

The competition was founded in memory of Francis MacManus, the Kilkenny-born writer and former head of talks and features at Radió Éireann.

“I write on backs of envelopes, anywhere I get a chance,” says Beth who grew up in Allihies, West Cork, before moving to Dublin for five years, and now finds contentment in Bandon with her partner, Danny McKeever, and their two sons, Malachy, 3, and Ali, 7. She describes the town as a “happy medium” between frenetic urban life and rural isolation.

Her story, ‘The Oyster Catchers’, won her not just a prize of €3,000, but national and — potentially — international recognition.

“I had to sit down and my legs were shaking all day,” says Beth, 32, describing the moment she learned she had won the prestigious competition.

Her story will be read by Love/Hate actress Kelly Campbell on RTÉ Radio 1 next Monday. “I’m really excited about that,” she says. “I have not heard it yet and it is going to be very interesting to see what Kelly is going to do with it and if she will make something different out of it.”

Read 'Oyster Catchers' first in our online Arts section.

‘The Chamber Pot’ by Richard Ball, from Meath, won the €2,000 second prize. His story, read by Andrew Bennett will be broadcast next Tuesday.

‘Whalesong’ by Barbara Leahy, from Ballinlough in Cork, is the third-prize winner and her story will be broadcast next Wednesday, July 2.

A total of 813 short stories were entered into this year’s competition, and were submitted from countries including England, Australia, France, Spain, Germany Poland, Japan, Canada, and the US.

“I love short stories, but I mostly write poems and I would love to write a novel one day,” says Beth, whose dark tale follows the fortunes of a mother dealing with mental illness.

“She is quite depressed and tries to make sense of things by communing with nature. It is a moody sort of a story, but not a downer, as she comes to self-acceptance.”

Her father, artist Charlie Tyrell, was taken aback when he first read it. “He was upset, at first, thinking it was about me. But, of course, it’s not at all. It was inspired by the work of the painter Jenny Richardson, from Allihies. Jenny does these paintings of people’s faces with watchful expressions and it got me thinking of writing about someone who exudes calm on the outside, but with a lot going on underneath.”

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