Words of Encouragement: Annemarie Neary

The 2014 Michael McLaverty Award winner outlines why writers shouldn't stop short of submitting their works of fiction to the biennial competition

The Linen Hall Library recently announced the launch of the biennial 2016 Michael McLaverty Short Story Award. There are lots of short story competitions. You might even have entered a few — I certainly have — but the McLaverty is a cut above. It has all the virtues: a stellar line-up of judges, a beautifully produced pamphlet featuring the three winning stories, not to mention an extremely generous £2,000 prize.

Writing can be a hard, lonely business. Competitions raise confidence and hone valuable skills, bringing you into contact with other writers and encouraging a purposeful attitude to your work. While a track record of competition success alone won’t get you a book deal, it might just ease your manuscript past the gatekeepers.

Winning in 2014 meant a great deal to me. I live in London, and it was such a thrill to be invited back to Belfast for an awards ceremony associated with one of Ireland’s leading short story writers. The prizegiving is a sociable affair. Held in the library, it gathers together organisers, judges and shortlisted writers with members of the McLaverty family. Incidentally, winners aren’t informed in advance. If you make the shortlist, do try to have a couple of words ready — if not the full Oscar — just in case you end up winning.

Afterwards, there’s a quick radio interview, a photo session with the venerable McLaverty typewriter and your fellow prizewinners (in my case, Kelly Creighton and Pauline Rooney) followed by afternoon tea.

Linenhall McLaverty

2014 Michael McLaverty Short Story Award winner Annemarie Neary (centre) with runners up Kelly Creighton (left) and Pauline Rooney (right)

I hadn’t been to the library before, and my one regret is not having had more time to explore the world-class collection. Incidentally, I’ve since discovered a fantastic service whereby you can order a vintage postcard from the library’s huge database of images, personalize it with your own message, and have it sent anywhere in the world — well worth checking out.

As for the competition itself, each year an eminent writer and editor work in tandem to select the winners. Previous judges include Bernard MacLaverty, Jennifer Johnston, Anne Tannahill and Glenn Patterson; the quality speaks for itself. Multi award-winning writer, David Park, and Patsy Horton, Managing Editor of Blackstaff Press, make up the 2016 judging team.

The organisers are looking for short stories of up to 3,000 words on the theme of 'Lost Fields'. The competition doesn’t close until the end of June, so there’s still plenty of time to get writing. And remember, a field needn’t have grass in it. Ice field or battlefield? Heraldic field or data field? The field on the Twelfth or the fourth green field? Left field, sports field, force field, John Field? There’s so much room for creative interpretation. So, happy writing, and the very best of luck!

Full entry details can be found on the Linen Hall Library website. Annemarie won the 2014 Michael McLaverty Short Story Award. Her novel, Siren, was published on March 24 by Hutchinson (Penguin Random House UK).