Mary O’Shea’s short story Out of Season was selected by Maggie Gee as the deserved winner of this year’s Willesden Prize. Recently Mary journeyed over to Willesden (north west London) from her home in Cork to be at the award ceremony. I caught up with her when the dust had settled, to find out why the short story means so much to her, and what impact winning the prize may have on her future plans.
First of all Mary, congratulations on winning the Willesden Prize. At the presentation readings I put my money on you as a winner, so I was delighted Maggie Gee picked your story. Apart from your own story, which are your favourites in this year’s book of Willesden Herald Prize stories, and why?
The Willesden Herald New Short Stories 5 anthology is a wonderfully diverse collection of strong individual voices and compelling themes. I feel honoured to be part of it.
My personal favourites are:
- YJ Zhu’s Apartment, remarkable for the universality of its characters and situation albeit in an exotic location.
- Adrian Sells’ Thingummy Wotsit: such an eloquent evocation of the twilight state of early dementia along with its accompanying dread and impotence.
- Teresa Stenson’s Blue Raincoat: I am full of admiration for her economy of style, the laser-like concentration of her creative purpose, the skill with which she plumbs those depths of family grief and love.
There have been some very well known Irish short story writers through the years. Living in Cork no doubt you’ve read them all, and perhaps seen some of them read at the short fiction festival in Cork. Who is your favourite living Irish short story writer?
Yes, indeed. Cork has a respectable place in this tradition. Although I love Frank O’Connor’s work, especially his thoughts on the short form in The Lonely Voice, I have to say that William Trevor is my favourite Irish short story writer of all time. I am proud to have been born in the same county!
And who is your favourite living non-Irish short story writer?
There are so many brilliant practitioners I find it difficult to say. Sticking a pin in my top ten names, I come up with Alice Munro. She gives us a consistently interesting, thought provoking and emotionally resonant read.
Who or what inspired you to want to write short fiction yourself?
It looked easy! But there is an element of magic, isn’t there, in the short story form? I think that’s what attracted me to it. Reading writers like William Trevor is like watching a good magician. You’d really like to know how they get the rabbit out of the hat but they never let you see.
Now that you have achieved this success, what is the next step – have you any plans to write longer fiction at all?
I have been down that road and may have dallied there a shade too long. It takes a different mind-set to write a novel and I’m not there just at the moment. I find the process of writing a short story much more exciting and fulfilling. So my next step will be to complete a story I have had trouble finding the right ending for. I know it’s there, it just hasn’t poked its head out yet. Sometimes they make you wait!I have a few pieces under consideration in desirable destinations. If I have any success there I intend to get them all together for publication in a collection.
Well, that is a book to look forward to Mary. I wish you every future success. Finally, a tip for the person who wins this free copy of New Short Stories 5: what other anthology or single-author collection would you suggest they go out and buy?
Again, a really hard call. There are at least five recent collections that would grace any night table. A must on the list: James Lasdun’s It’s Beginning to Hurt.
****HOW TO ENTER*******
To win a copy of the Willesden Herald New Short Stories 5 anthology as part of as part of the May is Short Story Month giveaway, just add a comment to this post – it only takes moment and your email will remain prvate. The winner – picked at random – will receive the prize direct from the publisher. (Thanks Stephen Moran/the Willesden Herald.)