The Michael McLaverty Short Story Award

Find out more about one of the most prestigious literary awards in Ireland

The 2008 Michael McLaverty Short Story Award launched at The Linen Hall Library, Belfast, on January 22. The competition aims to find the best new short story by an Irish writer.

With a prize of £2,000 and the possibility being published by The Linen Hall Library, the award seeks to unearth the best emerging new talent, whilst celebrating the legacy of one of Ireland's most important writers.

The Michael McLaverty Short Story Award encourages the art of short story writing in Ireland. It seeks to support the difficult and often lonely practice of writing, to help new and young writers find an individual voice, and to play a meaningful role in Irish publishing.

Michael McLaverty'The prize money is agreeable for the winner,' says novelist and playwright Eugene McCabe, 'but any writer will tell you that money is inconsequential compared to the euphoria of seeing your work acknowledged in print.’

The prestigious biennial award is named after one of Ireland’s foremost exponents of the short story, Michael McLaverty, whose extensive archive was presented to the Linen Hall Library in 2005.

McLaverty’s writing spanned 70 years, from his earliest stories and his most famous novel Call My Brother Back in the 1930s, short story collections The White Mare (1943), The Game Cock (1947) and Collected Short Stories (1978), to the re-issue of The White Mare by the Linen Hall Library in 2004.

Throughout a busy life, McLaverty corresponded with many of the great Irish writers of the 20th century, including Mary Lavin, Peadar O’Donnell, Daniel Corkery, Seán O’Faoláin, John McGahern, Padraic Fiacc, Daniel Corkery, Brian Friel and Seamus Heaney, giving and receiving advice, encouragement and support.

He carefully honed his style, seeking his own distinctive voice in writing. Always, he encouraged fledgling and established writers to, as Seamus Heaney puts it, ‘go your own way, and do your own work’.

'A short story is a journey of transition,' said Carlo Gebler, speaking at the launch. Highlighting the power of an effective short story, Gebler reminded the audience of a story's transformative power. 'The people are as they are at the beginning but change greatly at the end.'

Born in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, on July 5, 1904, McLaverty was partly raised on Rathlin Island. He was five when his parents moved to Clowney Street, off the Falls Road in Belfast. McLaverty was educated in St Malachy's College and Queen's University, Belfast, graduating in 1927 and gaining an MSc in 1933.

McLaverty then spent a year at St Mary's, Strawberry Hill, London, and gained a Higher Diploma in Education, during which time his friendship with arts students stimulated his interest in literature. In 1929 he began his teaching career, teaching maths and physics, in St John's PES in west Belfast. He remained there until 1957 when he was appointed principal of a new school, St Thomas' Secondary School, on the Whiterock Road, retiring in 1964. 

Belfast plaque in honour of the author McLaverty's stories draw on the places where he lived, visited and worked - Carrickmacross, Rathlin Island, Toomebridge, Belfast, the Lecale area of Co Down. His short stories, regarded by many as his best work, are lyrical evocations of human emotions and moral choices, and their attention to detail of place and mood paint a vivid portrait of the lives and ethical dilemmas of ordinary people.

His writing was increasingly influenced by his strong moral sense and his finely drawn characters display the conflicting themes of the human condition, reflecting their uniquely Irish Catholic perspectives, played out often to their logical, and sometimes stark, conclusion.

In his introduction to Collected Short Stories, Seamus Heaney (who had been a student teacher in St Thomas's Intermediate School in Belfast during 1962-63, McLaverty's last years there) wrote that his work showed 'a comprehension of the central place of suffering and sacrifice in the life of the spirit'.

McLaverty wrote several short stories including The Road to the Shore and many novels. These include Lost Fields (1949), In This Thy Day (1945), The Three Brothers (1948), Truth in The Night (1952), School For Hope (1954), The Choice (1958) and The Brightening Day (1965).

Many other writers also wrote about McLaverty and offered critical assessments of his work, such as Sophia Hillen King's Quiet Places - The Uncollected Stories, Letters and Critical Prose of Micheal McLaverty and The Silken Twine - A Study of the Works of Michael McLaverty.

Seamus Heaney’s 'Fosterage', fifth in the six-part sequence of related lyrics titled 'Singing School', first appeared in North (1975) and is dedicated to McLaverty. The manuscript drafts of 'Fosterage' are held at Woodruff Library, Emory University, and reveal a complicated process of revision involving twelve separate drafts of the poem.

During this process, Heaney includes and later excises multiple references to the Troubles in NI, focusing finally on his friendship with McLaverty and on the theme of artistic style, which is the final poem's dominant concern.

McLaverty died in 1992. A plaque has been erected in his memory in Killard, Co Down, his holiday home and residence after his retirement.

Sheila CunninghamSpeaking at the Linen Hall Library ceremony, McLaverty's eldest daughter, Sheila Cunningham, recalls a ‘very special and unique man’. Smiling as she remembers long walks with her two brothers and her father on Sundays when she was a child. ‘It was a very long walk for small legs,’ she says.

To entertain his children as they walked, McLaverty told them the names of the different trees on their route and taught them to listen and distinguish the specific birds' songs.

‘By the time this all happened we were at the Carson Statue,' says Cunningham. 'Then we had to turn back and walk the whole way back again.’

Cunningham also notes that McLaverty considered himself to be an Irish writer who just happened to live in the north, and he couldn’t see a divide between north and south.

Submissions to The Michael McLaverty Short Story Award 2008 are open until June 30, 2008. All submissions must be sent to Linen Hall Library, 17 Donegall Square North, Belfast BT1 5GB.

Each entry must be accompanied by an entry fee and must not exceed 3,000 words. The prize will be awarded to the winner at a special presentation ceremony in November 2008. For a full list of guidelines and regulations, please log on to www.linenhall.com, or contact John Killen, Deputy Librarian, Linen Hall Library.