Llangollen-born Davies, who now lives in Lancaster with her husband and four children, studied modern languages at St Anne’s College, Oxford, and worked for several years as a freelance journalist in England, New York and Chicago. Her debut collection, Some New Ambush, came out with Salt Publishing to considerable acclaim in 2007, and offered immediate evidence of a significant talent at work. Her second collection also published by Salt, confirms beyond doubt her position among the finest British exponents of a particularly challenging form.
“I’ve been writing stories for 20 years,” she said, “and what I’ve learned is that the short story is neither an abbreviated novel nor an expanded poem – it’s its own thing. A short story may be short, but it is not small or slight. It is a brief drama of the soul; a tense, urgent thing that disturbs the mind and shocks the heart.”
The Redemption of Galen Pike has already enjoyed considerable industry recognition, winning a Northern Writers’ Award and the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, and making the shortlists for both the Wales Book of the Year Award and the Edge Hill Prize. The book’s title story also won the prestigious Royal Society of Literature’s V S Pritchett Memorial Prize, back in 2011.
Yet even cushioned by so much recent triumph, the impact of today’s news caught the author off guard: “I’ve always been aware, of course, of the Frank O’Connor as the big prize for a collection of short stories, and of the writers who’ve won it over the years... and to have won it now, well, I honestly still can’t quite believe it. “What does it mean to me? It means encouragement – huge, huge encouragement – and enough money to keep on writing in a form which, as every short story writer knows, can be commercially challenging.”
The Frank O’Connor International Award is named in honour of one of the 20th century’s short story masters, a native son once referred to by W B Yeats as “Ireland’s Chekhov”. Run by the Munster Literature Centre, and co-sponsored by Cork City Council and the School of English, University College Cork, it carries a €25,000 prize, making it the world’s most lucrative for a short story collection. Now in its 11th year, and with a roster of past recipients that includes Yiyun Li, Haruki Murakami, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ron Rash and Edna O’Brien, its standing as one of the most prestigious and coveted in literature is not misplaced. But as well as attracting big names, it has blazed a consistent trail in recognising major new and under-appreciated talent.
This year, the award drew more than 90 entries. Davies’ collection emerged triumphant from a strong, diverse shortlist that included, among others, Chile’s Alejandro Zambra; American literary heavyweight, Thomas McGuane, and New Zealander Kirsty Gunn, whose latest collection, Infidelities, recently scooped the Edge Hill Prize.
Speaking on behalf of a jury that also consisted of Ladette Randolph, editor of Ploughshares, and British novelist Clive Sinclair, Dr Eibhear Walshe, novelist and director of creative writing at UCC’s School of English, said: “The Redemption of Galen Pike is a truly original and striking collection, full of funny, keenly observed stories replete with twists and turns that surprise... Davies takes historical moments and themes and examines them in novel ways which intrigue the reader.”
Patrick Cotter, artistic director of the Munster Literature Centre and the award’s non-voting chairman, offered congratulations to the winner, but was also Salt Publishing’s unwavering support of the short story: “The selection of The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies as the 2015 winner of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, not only acknowledges a gifted writer committed to the short story but also a small independent, gritty publisher which has been dedicated to the short story for over a decade, often publishing more short story titles in a year than the imprints of major international conglomerates.”