Last week we put the spotlight on Louise Kennedy, who has been shortlisted for her story ‘In Silhouette’, an ambitious piece set over four time periods inspired by The Troubles in Northern Ireland. She has been published in various pamphlets, including Stinging Fly, and won the Ambit Fiction Contest and the Wasifiri New Writing Competition
She is joined by fellow newcomer Paul Dalla Rosa in upholding the award’s proud tradition of unearthing original talent. Paul is currently working on his debut collection and his work has appeared in Granta, Meanjin, and NY Tyrant.
The Award has always been applauded for the fact it is "blind" read, meaning the judges always read manuscripts without prior knowledge of the author. This has allowed it to consistently discover, promote and celebrate emerging voices. Former judge Rose Tremain spoke about her enthusiasm for this process:
‘That the stories are submitted anonymously is a clever idea. It immediately does away with prejudice for or against an author. There is just the naked story to be judged, in all its perfect beauty or its embarrassing imperfections. It means that the judges’ meetings tend to be seriously focused on the work and nothing else. And as a writer, I learned quite a lot from these about the diversity of literary taste’
The results are undeniable, from Sally Rooney getting her first big break when she was shortlisted in 2017 to newcomer Courtney Zoffness winning last year. They join a long and distinguished list of alumni who have used the award as a springboard to stardom, including Roshi Fernando, Rebecca F John, Cynan Jones and Anna Metcalfe.
If Paul or Louise are lucky enough to win this year, they will be the third newcomer to take the title and further reinforce the prize’s legacy of finding and cultivating the very best of new talent from the UK and around the globe.
As a testament to their talent, below is Sally Rooney’s 2017 shortlisted story ‘Mr Salary’.
Join us next week when we profile Danielle McLaughlin and, inspired by her, look at the amazing Irish writers that have triumphed in the award.
An excerpt from 'Mr Salary'
Nathan was waiting with his hands in his pockets beside the silver Christmas tree in the arrivals lounge at Dublin airport. The new terminal was bright and polished, with a lot of escalators. I had just brushed my teeth in the airport bathroom. My suitcase was ugly and I was trying to carry it with a degree of irony. When Nathan saw me he asked: What is that, a joke suitcase?
You look good, I said.
He lifted the case out of my hand. I hope people don’t think this belongs to me now that I’m carrying it, he said. He was still wearing his work clothes, a very clean navy suit. Nobody would think the suitcase belonged to him, it was obvious. I was the one wearing black leggings with a hole in one knee, and I hadn’t washed my hair since I left Boston.
You look unbelievably good, I said. You look better than last time I saw you even.
I thought I was in decline by now. Age-wise. You look OK, but you’re young, so.
What are you doing, yoga or something?
I’ve been running, he said. The car’s just out here.
Outside it was below zero and a thin rim of frost had formed on the corners of Nathan’s windshield. The interior of his car smelled like air freshener and the brand of aftershave he liked to wear to ‘events’. I didn’t know what the aftershave was called but I knew what the bottle looked like. I saw it in drugstores sometimes and if I was having a bad day I let myself screw the cap off.
My hair feels physically unclean, I said. Not just unwashed but actively dirty.
Nathan closed the door and put the keys in the ignition. The dash lit up in soft Scandinavian colours.
You don’t have any news you’ve been waiting to tell me in person, do you? he said.
Do people do that?
You don’t have like a secret tattoo or anything?
I would have attached it as a JPEG, I said. Believe me.
He was reversing out of the parking space and onto the neat lit avenue leading to the exit. I pulled my feet up onto the passenger seat so that I could hug my knees against my chest uncomfortably.
Why? I said. Do you have news?
Yeah yeah, I have a girlfriend now.
I turned my head to face him extremely slowly, one degree after another, like I was a character in slow motion in a horror film.
What? I said.
Actually we’re getting married. And she’s pregnant.
Then I turned my face back to stare at the windshield. The red brake lights of the car in front surfaced through the ice like a memory.
OK, funny, I said. Your jokes are always very humorous.
I could have a girlfriend. Hypothetically.
But then what would we joke about together?
He glanced at me as the barrier went up for the car in front of us.
Is that the coat I bought you? he said.
Yes. I wear it to remind me that you’re real.
Nathan rolled his window down and inserted a ticket into the machine. Through Nathan’s window the night air was delicious and frosty. He looked over at me again after he rolled it up.
I’m so happy to see you I’m having trouble talking in my normal accent, he said.
That’s OK. I was having a lot of fantasies about you on the plane.
I look forward to hearing them. Do you want to pick up some food on the way home?