‘I’d encourage writers of any standard to participate in the competitions. Deadlines are great and help us all put pen to paper. Its therapeutic too, especially in the dark days we’ve been experiencing over the last year….’ Pat Mullan.
Writers Ahoy! This week, Tuesday’s Writer chats to Pat Mullan, who runs the annual Michael Mullan Cancer Fund Writing Competition. The closing date is the 15th of July and by entering, you also help raises funds for a very important cause. In this interview, Pat gives some advice to writers on entering the competition, and an insight into his own writing life.
Q. Welcome to Tuesday’s Writer Pat, can you tell readers a little about the MMCF writing competition?
We started the Michael Mullan Cancer Fund Writing Competitions back in 2018 to help with funding our son’s cancer treatment in Boston. This is the fourth year of the competition and once again the writing competitions will feature in the Kildare Readers’ Festival. We’ve got great support from the libraries in Kildare town, Naas and Newbridge, and also and from Kildare County Council Arts service. The competition is now an established part of the Kildare Readers’ Festival.
There are four writing competitions in all this year. There’s a short story competition with a maximum of 2,000 words. We have a Flash Fiction section with a maximum of 1,000 words. There’s a poetry section with a maximum of 40 lines. And new for this year, we have added a “micro-fiction” section with a maximum word count of 500 words, confined to residents of County Kildare. So, there’s something there for everyone. The closing date is Thursday 15th July and the awards event will be on 14th October in Kildare Town Library.
We have your good-self, Niamh, judging the short story competition again this year. We really appreciate your support and the support of the other judges – John MacKenna for the poetry competition, Caroline E. Farrell for the flash fiction and Lynn Buckle for the micro-fiction.
All proceeds from the competitions go to kidney cancer research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, where Michael got first class treatment and care over the last five years.
‘Use your own voice, don’t try to slavishly imitate other writers’ approaches.’
Q. What advice would you give emerging writers considering entering this year’s competition?
I’m not sure I’m the one to be giving advice on creative writing Niamh. But, as with any writing competition you need to stick to the guidelines – it would be a shame to be eliminated due to a clerical error. Make sure your word count does not exceed the maximum number, and that you get your entry in before the closing date and time.
It’s probably best to write what you know about and stick to a genre that interests you. Use your own voice, don’t try to slavishly imitate other writers’ approaches.
Be selective and discriminating about the words you choose – quality over quantity.
Don’t be afraid to edit. And edit again.
I find that reading your work out loud helps and you can often see where the flow isn’t what you want and where something jars. And I find getting honest feedback from others can be very helpful in pointing out weaknesses and inconsistencies.
Make sure you don’t leave it until the last minute to submit your entry. Remember wi-fi is not 100% reliable.
Q. So true! What are common mistakes writers make when sending in work Pat?
Not sticking strictly to the guidelines would be the main one. If you don’t read the instructions carefully, you could be eliminated before your work is even considered. Spelling mistakes and poor editing in general feature is some submissions. So, give yourself time to go over what you have written several times and get colleagues or friends to have a run through it before you submit.
Q. Books have become a source of comfort and escape for many during these times. Who are your own favorite writers or books?
The first Donal Ryan book I read was “The Thing About December,“ and I was blown away by it. It felt so rurally authentic, and we all know characters like Johnsey. There’s one in every community. The bullying of someone a bit different, the loneliness and isolation of people with disabilities like Johnsey, and the local accents all help make the book a compelling read.
And I loved your last book Niamh, “Her Kind.” History was one of my subjects at college many years ago and I loved that medieval period.
I’m currently reading “The Mis-remembered Man” by Christine McKenna and really enjoying it. In some ways its similar to Donal Ryan’s work – rural setting, very strong local dialogue and holds the attention.
Then there’s the easy read Lee Child, Michael Connelly, John Connolly books and Sam Blake’s novels that hold the attention throughout too.
Q. Is there any book you would recommend to people finding these times particularly difficult?
I’ve been told that it’s a good time to return to the classics, though I haven’t done so myself. I’d be inclined to go for the easy read stuff. Nothing too heavy. Lee Child or Michael Connelly.
‘we all miss the face to face contact…’
Q. The competition is open to flash, poetry, short stories and micro fiction – what’s your own favorite form? Do you write yourself Pat?
Yes, I do. I took a beginner’s writing course with the Big Smoke Writing Factory in Dublin back in 2013 enjoyed it. This got me started. Then following a writing course (which I didn’t attend by the way) run by yourself, Niamh a few of the participants approached Naas Library about setting up of a creative writers’ group. I think you had suggested it to the course participants. I linked in with them and the group has been running since. The encouragement I got and still get and the constructive feedback I find really helpful. I later joined the Wordsmiths Writers’ Group in Kildare Town Library and again I gained a lot from the participants. I continue to benefit from membership of both groups. Of course, for the last year our meetings have been through Skype and Zoom and we all miss the face to face contact. Without these groups I don’t think I’d be writing at all. And the group members have been so supportive of the Michael Mullan writing competitions year after year.
Short stories are my what I mostly write, flash fiction too, and the odd poem now and again. I think the longest piece I’ve ever written was just over 7,500 words. I really admire people who can write novels and keep it all together over 80,000 plus words. That takes some commitment and stamina.
I’d encourage writers of any standard to participate in the competitions. Deadlines are great and help us all put pen to paper. Its therapeutic too, especially in the dark days we’ve been experiencing over the last year.
Thanks, Niamh for giving me this opportunity to talk a little about the competitions and thanks again for agreeing to judge the short story competition.
You’re very welcome Pat, it’s what libraries are all about! The very best of luck to anyone who decides to enter the competition.
About Pat: Pat Mullan is a founder member of the Naas Creative Writers’ Group and is also member of Wordsmiths Writers’ Group in Kildare Town Library. He was joint editor of Naas Library’s Creative Writers’ Group Cuisle Chill Dara (The Heartbeat of Kildare) anthology.
His short stories have been published in Spontaneity, The Galway Review, Paper Swans, Lagan-on-Line, The Incubator, Deep Water Literary Review, Shift Magazine, Honest Ulsterman, The Bangor Literary Journal, Word Bohemia, Idle Ink and in the Luisne an Chleite and Cuisle Chill Dara anthologies. He was shortlisted for the Francis McManus Short Story Competition in 2015 and his story “Checkpoint” was broadcast on RTE Radio 1.
The Borrowbox library app has work by many of the authors mentioned in this blog, as well as some guides to creative writing. You can find more information here
Niamh Boyce April 2021