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'Spellbinding' work about Irish woman who tried to kill Mussolini wins RTÉ Short Story Competition

The story about Violet Gibson imagines what was going on in her mind at the time.

Shane Tivenan
Shane Tivenan
Image: RTE

A SHORT STORY about the Irish woman who attempted to assassinate Mussolini has won RTÉ’s short story competition.

Flower Wild, a short story by Shane Tivenan, was this evening announced as the winner of the RTÉ Short Story Competition in honour of Francis MacManus, one of Ireland’s most significant literary prizes.

The announcement was made live on Arena on RTÉ Radio 1 as part of a special programme dedicated to the awards.

Flower Wild was described by the judges as “spellbinding” and “an outstanding piece for radio”. The piece is an imagined interior monologue of Violet Gibson, the Irishwoman who attempted to assassinate Mussolini.

“I came across Violet Gibson when listening to Lisa O’Neill’s song about her. I looked into Violet’s life more over the following months and found many unknowns,” said Tivenan, who is from Athlone but is an English teacher currently based in Madrid

“What stories did she need to tell herself before she upped and shot an Italian dictator? Was it possible for her to stay sane in that asylum for three decades?  Was she able to make peace with the complete abandonment, with herself, at the end of a life? These questions haunted me into writing Flower Wild.”

This is Shane’s first published and broadcast short story since he took up writing in 2018.

The second place spot was awarded to the story Kissing Booth by Alan Walsh from Wicklow town. In third place is The Shape on the Strand by Katherine Duffy, from Dundalk but living in Churchtown, Dublin.

Alan_Walsh_Kissing_Booth Alan Walsh Source: RTÉ

Kissing Booth was described as “a skewed, brilliant take on this year’s global pandemic”. 

“Kissing Booth is about inverting a familiar narrative and how that might unexpectedly lead to a utopian conclusion,” said Walsh.

“I’ve grown very keen on the idea of writing towards a utopia, with the wide range of meanings that word might hold, and how to construct interesting and unexpected ways to get there.”

Katherine Duffy Katherine Duffy Source: RTÉ

Meanwhile, The Shape on the Strand is a “clever and playful ghost story set on an unnamed Spanish island”. “The idea of a writer haunting his translator occurred to me when I was abroad, and losing sleep over a difficult literary translation project, just like the main character in the story,” said Duffy. “But there the link with reality ends and the literary ghost story begins…”

This year’s judges are: editor, lecturer and journalist, Madeleine Keane; award-winning short story writer and previous prize-winner of the RTÉ Short Story Competition, Danielle McLaughlin; and writer and broadcaster, Vincent Woods.

Shane Tivenan will receive €3,000, while €2,000 and €1,000 will be awarded to Alan Walsh and Katherine Duffy respectively. Each of the seven runners-up will receive €250.

All 10 shortlisted stories will be broadcast in a season of new writing on RTÉ Radio 1, starting tonight at 11.20pm with the winning story, which will be read by Ingrid Craigie.

The three winning stories will also be featured on TheJournal.ie.

RTÉ received a record number of entries for this year’s competition – over 4,000.

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Sarah Binchy, producer of the RTÉ Short Story Competition series, said: “Our congratulations to the prizewinners and all on the shortlist. These talented writers are literary names to watch. We look forward to bringing their richly imagined stories to a wide audience on the radio and by podcast over the next two weeks.”

As a measure of the particularly high standard of this year’s entries, the judges also gave special mention to a further five stories outside of the 10 short-listed short stories:

In the Highly Commended category are:

  • The Atlantic’s Cold Edge, by Kieran Marsh, Dublin 5
  • Fata Morgana, by Paul Duffy, Co Wicklow
  • Cast Offs, by Lem Kinlon, Co Kildare
  • Eggs Bed, Bed Eggs, by Rory Duffy, Co Westmeath
  • Dead Water, by James Martyn Joyce, Co Galway

A competition for original short stories for radio was first established in 1986 in memory of Francis MacManus (1909-1965). He was a novelist, biographer and former Head of Talks and Features at Radio Éireann. 

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