David Butler wins Colm Tóibín International Short Story Award at Wexford Literary Arts Festival
The Colm Tóibín International Short Story Award was launched by The Wexford Literary Arts Festival in November 2015 in partnership with Wexford County Council, and is an annual international short story competition dedicated to one of Wexford’s most accomplished and beloved writers, Colm Toíbín.
David Butler won first place for his story The Witch. Gráinne Daly won second place for her story Little Jerome, and third place went to Fergal O’Byrne for Sweetpea.
David Butler is a novelist, short story writer, playwright and poet. He is the author of City of Dis (New Island), All the Barbaric Glass (Doire Press), and Liffey Sequence (Doire Press). His new collection, Fugitive, is out now with Arlen House.
June Caldwell, author of Room Little Darker, has judged the Colm Tóibín Short Story Award for the last five years.
“Every year the stories and topics are varied, and are usually centred around family trauma, love, loss, missed opportunities, emigration, death, illness, adventure, etc,” Caldwell said. “This year there was a marked increase in climate change stories too, which I found really interesting given what we’ve all just lived through.
“I look for stories which are relevant, well-told, with believable characters, and strong narrative voices. Entries are judged anonymously which is part of the fun. I have no idea of the gender of the writers, if they are based in Ireland or penning stories in far off lands.
“I chose Sweet Pea by Fergal O’Byrne as third place this year because of its existential angst and highly unusual theme—it’s the end of the world, and the one remaining man is being contacted by his dead daughter—as I felt it was symbolic of what we’ve all lived through: the strangeness of pandemic; how out of control the planet suddenly feels; the idea of catastrophe.
“In second place I picked Little Jerome, by Gráinne Daly. It’s a sweep of a young boy’s life around the time of the first Bloody Sunday in 1920 in Croke Park. It is full of fine historical detail, great dialogue, tension, and drama. While the reader is aware from paragraph one what the outcome for the boy is, we still rewind back into his life to find out his hopes, dreams, and ambitions for a future that are ultimately not going to be.
“David Butler’s winning story The Witch is so prescient. I love how writers manage to tap into the Zeitgeist almost unconsciously in the choice of topics they choose to write about. This story is perfectly paced; it tells a very distinct tale from the accidental witness viewpoint of a child at a time in Irish society when women’s agency is at an all-time low. There’s the added detail of a political family making the most political decision of all.
“As it turned out the theme of the story coincided with Roe Vs Wade in the US. It’s a legacy story from the 1950s, the type of stories we’re only hearing about now, and all too believable.”
Prizes were awarded at a ceremony at Wexford Literary Festival on 1st July, an event which was a hybrid of real life and virtual.
“In 2022 we created the idea of room and Zoom,” says Anne Gilpin, one of the founding committee members of the festival, “people who were internationally based sent such positive and passionate feedback about being included that we had the idea of having the event as both physical and virtual.”
On winning the award, David Butler said that he has fond memories of Wexford Literary Festival: “Five years ago, a play of mine made the shortlist of the Billy Roche and received a staged reading, and the following year a story came third in the Colm Toíbín. When I wrote this year’s winner, The Witch, six months ago, I had little idea that a story set in Ireland in the 70s would, in the wake of the overturning of Roe-Wade, have such contemporary relevance. It’s one of a group of linked stories which I hope will cohere into a mosaic in the manner, say, of Elizabeth Strout.”
Anne Gilpin says that a crucial aim of the Wexford Literary Arts Festival is to support, inspire and inform writers through the passion of story.
Wexford Literary Arts Festival Competition Winners
The Colm Tóibín International Short Story Award
First place: David Butler, for The Witch.
Second place: Gráinne Daly, for Little Jerome.
Third place: Fergal O’Byrne, for Sweetpea.
Eoin Colfer International Short Children’s Story Award
First place: Marie Day, for Monsters In The Snow.
Billy Roche International Short Play Award
First place: Megan O’Malley, for Unforgettable.
Second Place: Alice Lynch, for The Girls.
Third Place: Eamonn Dolan, for Aunty Maggies Remedy.
Anthony Cronin International Short Poem Award
First Place: Angela Patten, for ‘Shine’.
Second Place: Derek Sellen, for ‘G is for Grey’.
Third Place: Liz Bryne, for ‘I Long To Lift A Saxophone.’