00:00 Saturday 20 November 2010  Written by Frank O Donovan

Bantry publisher Clem hopes to capitalise on his links with Spain

BANTRY publisher Clem Cairns, who has been successfully running literary competitions for the past 15 years, is now set to capitalise on a strong link he has established with Spain by setting up the first joint literary festival between Ireland and Spain.

He has been spending time each winter in Granada, while continuing to administer the literary competitions that are run by his company, Fish Publishing, and has made some contacts in the Spanish literary scene in the past few years.

As well as setting up the Fish Short Story Prize, Clem founded the West Cork Literary Festival in 1997, which is still running successfully in Bantry, and served as its director for 11 years. He still misses running the festival.

'I miss the buzz and excitement of persuading established writers to come to the festival to do readings or pass on their writing skills, organising the readings and workshops and the great atmosphere that was around the town of Bantry during festival week,' he said.

So his intention now is to set up the first Ireland-Spain literary festival in Granada.

The idea is to bring Irish writers to Granada to meet their Spanish counterparts and to explore the cross-cultural links between the two literary communities. Clem is working steadily on the idea at present and hopes to have it up and running within two years.

'I've spoken to some well-known Irish writers about it and they are very enthusiastic about the idea,' he said.

Clem's link with Spain began three-and-a-half years ago when, at the age of 50, he decided to go and live in a number of different countries for a few months every year, while still maintaining his strong roots in West Cork.

With his partner Jula and children Zoe (11) and Moya (7), the family took to the roads in a camper van and travelled through England, Wales, France, Portugal, Andorra and Spain.

They had friends near Granada in Spain, so they stayed for a few months in a village high up in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, the highest mountain range in Spain. They liked it so much that they now go back every year for a few months during the winter.

Winter sojourn

The fact that Fish Publishing went fully online six years ago has facilitated this annual winter sojourn.

'One of the unexpected results of having the competition online is that it can be run from anywhere where there is a broadband connection. This means I can keep in touch with my 18 editors and the thousands of people who enter the Fish short story and poetry prizes from anywhere in the world,' he said.

Fish Publishing (www.fishpublishing.com) runs three competitions every year - the short story competition, the poetry prize and the one-page story prize. The judge for the 2010-2011 short story prize is Simon Mawer, author of The Glass Room, which was shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize.

He read from his work to great acclaim at this year's West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry.

The closing date for the short story prize is November 30th and the closing date for the poetry prize and the one-page story prize is next April. The ten winners from each competition are published in the annual Fish anthology.

Clem started off the Fish short story competition in 1995 and it has been running successfully ever since, with thousands of aspiring story writers entering every year. The two new competitions were introduced six years ago and the prizes receive an average of 4,500 entries a year.

Previous winners of the short story prize include Molly McCloskey and Eamonn Sweeney and its distinguished panel of judges over the years include Roddy Doyle, Colum McCann, Dermot Healy, Joseph O'Connor and the late Frank McCourt.

This year Fish Publishing introduced another first, its online flash fiction course. Flash fiction involves writing a one-page story, no more than 300 words.

Fourteen students, from Ireland, Britain, the US and Australia, have signed up for the first course, which is being taught by one of Fish's editors, Mary Jane Holmes, an Irish woman living in France. 'The course is proving to be very successful. There is a particular skill in writing a one-page story and the writers are relishing the challenge,' said Clem.

Media attention

Clem lives at Dunbeacon near Durrus, across Dunmanus Bay from where Senator Ivor Callely has the summer home that landed him in controversy in recent months.

Clem recalled a recent letter to The Irish Times, which suggested that it wasn't too late in the season to inaugurate the 'Ivor Callely Summer School' in Kilcrohane.

The summer school would boast its own senator-in-residence, attract a lot of media attention, and celebrate fiction in the mystery genre.

'That letter prompted me to think of an innovative new competition to add to the other Fish Publishing prizes - the "Ivor Callely Award for Fiction". Now that could be a runner!'

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