“A HUGE encouragement to continue writing,” is Carrigaline-based Sean Tanner’s response to having won the First Fiction category of the Hennessy Awards, recently announced at IMMA (Irish Museum of Modern Art) in Dublin.
Tanner, 32, who works in his family’s business selling pool tables and coin-operated machinery, says the first time he submitted a short story to the Hennessy Awards, it was rejected but Ciaran Carty, the Irish Times New Irish Writing page editor, wrote a few encouraging words to him which spurred him on to enter the competition again.
His winning short story, I Could Have Been a Dancer, is about a guy who is suffering from a hangover, looking back with disappointment at his life.
Tanner says he has had plenty of experience of hangovers, saying he drank too much when he was younger. But family responsibilities have put paid to that past time.
“Hangovers are kind of interesting in themselves. It’s kind of an altered state. With a bad hangover, you’re not really yourself. You’re stripped down, you’re raw and more open to strange things. You can have interesting epiphanies. Your ego is not working properly as it would be on a normal day. There’s a lot there to look at.
“The story ends up not being so much about a hangover as dissatisfaction. A young man is trying to get through the day and is having thoughts about his past. He regrets not having been a dancer, having won a dancing competition when he was younger. He is not happy about how his life turned out. It’s compounded by the hangover which gives him negative thought cycles. He doesn’t have the full picture of himself but hopefully, the reader can see that he’s really in a bad place.
“I guess you could say that it’s a dark story with depression in it. It was supposed to be kind of light. Starting out, I was going to have a bit of fun with the hangover. But you don’t really know what you’re going to write until you start writing. The story just came as a bit dark.”
Tanner, who is quite open about the fact that he has received “loads of rejections for other stories,” started writing when he was aged 19.
“I remember reading ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ by Hunter S Thompson and thinking it was the coolest book ever. It’s so rebellious and he has such disdain for authority. I just wanted to copy him so I started scribbling away. I’ve moved on from him and from Jack Kerouac. Now I read a lot of Cormac McCarthy. At the moment, I’m reading ‘The Ginger Man’ by JP Donleavy.”
Married with a two year old son, Tanner says it’s important to find the time to write every day.
“You just stop watching television,” he says.
He adds that he has a lot to learn.
“I don’t have any formal training. I didn’t go to college and I was rubbish at school.”
While he would ultimately like to write a novel, Tanner plans to continue writing short stories. His mother is an influence. She has won “a couple of awards for short stories. That gave me the feel for writing when I was younger.”
Tanner doesn’t attend creative writing workshops per se but goes to the Cork writers’ group, ‘Virgin Slate’ occasionally.
“It’s all very nice and encouraging. We critique our writing on the night. Most writers that you meet are kind of sensitive and have a certain empathy. Writing a short story and reading it out is a vulnerable thing to do.”
Tanner works from notebooks before going on to his laptop.
“I scribble down my first draft in bed before I go to sleep. The next day, I type it up on my laptop and do the editing. I didn’t used to rewrite too much because editing felt like homework. I enjoy writing the first draft. It’s exciting, getting it down really quickly. I was never really interested in going back to check commas. But I know now that’s all part of it. You have to do it. The more I started editing and rewriting, the less of a chore it became. You can’t just plonk down any old thing.”
Irish writing “seems to be very strong at the moment. There’s lots of stuff going with literary magazines such as ‘The Penny Dreadful’ (founded in Cork) and ‘The Winter Papers’ edited by Kevin Barry. I have a short story coming out in a Welsh literary magazine, ‘The Lonely Crowd.’”
Like all writers, Tanner would love to ultimately be a full-time writer, able to give up the day job. But he is under no illusions.
“Full-time writing is unrealistic. It’s hard to make money out of writing. I recently read about Donal Ryan having to go back to the day job. But that wouldn’t discourage me. I write because I love it. It isn’t really the financial aspect of it that keeps me going.”
Tanner won €1,500 at the Hennessy Awards. Rachel Donohue was named the Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year for her story, ‘The Taking of Mrs Kennedy.’
The judges for the awards were authors Elizabeth Day, Mick McCormack and Ciaran Carty.
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