Why are all short stories depressing?

Short Story

I recently toyed with the idea of writing a short story. It would appear that one of the ways an aspiring novelist can get their work before the eyes of scouting agents and publishers is through short story competitions (and really, winning them is the key – there are no blue participant’s ribbons here).

Now, there is a trick to winning writing competitions. Usually the winners of each competition write in a similar genre, explore similar themes or have a similar tone to their writing. There is little point entering a short story aimed at children into a competition that usually rewards crime writers, because no matter how good the story is it will not be to the taste of the judges, and the agents/publishers one is likely to encounter through this competition will have little interest in representing a children’s author (usually).

So one must find a competition that is similar to one’s style of writing, or else one is wasting one’s entry fee.

As a comedic writer this is harder to do than I had initially realised, because it turns out the wining stories of most short story competitions are utterly depressing. I don’t mean ‘a little blue’, or ‘going through a tough patch’, or ‘not having a good day’, I mean ‘rip out you heart, throw it on the ground and stomp on it’ depressing.

If it’s not children being abandoned, wives being abused or animals being tortured, then its insurmountable odds crushing the underdog, innocents being abducted or brief moments of happiness being snatched away by unexpected trauma.

They are emotional rollercoasters. However in this particular fairground there are no tea-cups or swings. The only rides seem to be versions of the ‘Wall of Death’ where they build you to high only to plunge you into a devastating low, only to pick you back up so that they can plunge you back down.

It’s the writing equivalent of water boarding.

I understand why these stories win; I can see the intense emotional journey the reader takes, the well-constructed phrases, the correct use of punctuation and grammar. But why do they have to be so depressing? Is it because it is easier to make a person cry than to laugh?

I write this in a week that six young students lost their lives in a balcony collapse and nine church-goes lost their lives to hate-filled racism, not to mention the hundreds of wars and conflicts that blight lands I rarely think of. Tragedy surrounds us, so much of it is of our own making, and it is all but inescapable, can what we conjure for entertainment not give us just a little reprieve?

Even in Hollywood the critically acclaimed Oscar nominations are inevitably bleak, grim, serious, gritty, depressing films, and yet when it comes box office success it is inevitably the light hearted Inside Out, Spy, Avengers, Perfect Pitch or Jurassic World that top the polls.

I understand that exploring the things that tear lives apart prompts readers to consider more deeply the life they live, but just once can we not have a competition that celebrates the stories that make us giggle, see the funnier side of life, or just generally amuse because they can?

I am hoping that this blog post gets a rush of angry posts pointing to several comedy short story competitions, but tragically I think the comments box will remain empty because at the moment literary acclaim seems to be intrinsically linked with emotional torture.

Irish Bucket List


There are a few of them floating out there – lists of Irish attractions that you should really see/do before you kick the bucket. Some of them I have completed simply because I live here (walk down Grafton Street at Christmas) and others I’ve done several times because my Primary School Tours were repetitive and dull (a walk around Newgrange on a wet Tuesday afternoon, after spending four hours in a fume-filled bus, has little to recommend it) and others I will never do because they look boring (visit W.B. Yeats grave? – not until the graveyard adds a fun-park with a coffee stand or possibly a bar).

However there were a few things on the lists that seemed that they might be ok (dare I say it, even fun?) and a few new attractions that I hadn’t heard of yet. So I made a pact with my husband that each weekend in the summer we would try to cross one item off the list, and see how far we get.

We decided to take the Earl approach from My Name is Earl and do whichever one we fancied, rather than trying to follow any pattern or numerical order. This will allow for rainy days, and meh-I-just-don’t-feel-like-doing-that-today days.

Now, obviously we couldn’t start the weekend I made the list because there wasn’t enough notice, and we couldn’t start the following weekend because it was going to be a long week and we would be knackered that weekend, plus I had a friend’s birthday on the Saturday. And the weekend following that we were at a wedding, but soon, very soon, we were going to start and it was going to be epic.

The list so far in no particular order is:

  1. Football Golf : http://footee.ie/
  2. Tedfest: http://www.tedfest.org/
  3. Lisdoonvarna Festival : http://matchmakerireland.com/
  4. Horse Fair : http://ballinasloeoctoberfair.com/
  5. Guinness’s Store House : http://www.guinness-storehouse.com/en/Index.aspx
  6. James Distillery : http://www.jamesonwhiskey.com/en/agegate
  7. Galway Races: http://www.galwayraces.com/
  8. Attend an GAA All-Ireland Final in Croke Park
  9. Climb Croagh Patrick (not entirely sure I feel the need to do this barefoot)
  10. Climb Carrauntoohil (this might take some training)
  11. National Park – Killarney http://www.killarneynationalpark.ie/
  12. Glenoe Waterfall, Co. Antrim
  13. Viking Splash tour
  14. ……..

We would love to hear of anything that you have experienced and thought was fabulous that should be on here…..

Does England ever think of us?

does england ever think of us

As divorce rates in Ireland continue to increase, I pondered, as an ex-partner is often wont to do, does England ever think of us? We think of them. Our citizens are over and back all the time; going to get work, a change in lifestyle, visiting family who have emigrated, off to do a bit of shopping, catch a show, what have you. We are over and back that often sometime it’s hard to remember that it is a separate county with whom we have a troubled passed.

For us they are like a good-looking ex-husband we have built a friendship with many years after the fact. They are always there is the background, at the back of our thoughts. Sure we have had great loves and boyfriends since, America will always be the sugar daddy we can call, but England holds a special place in our sub-conscious, perhaps because we share a dependent, Northern Ireland. Like the only child in a bad divorce has had its emotional problems and run-ins with the law, but now older and wiser on the other side of the Good Friday Therapy Sessions it’s practically able to look after itself. What was once a source of pain, frustration, worry, anxiety has now blossomed into its own entity, and that pressure point that was sure to make the parent countries quarrel, both assuming they knew what was best, has now subsided. We fight less. Maybe we talk less. And so I wonder do they ever think of us?

As of late England has had its own family problems, dependents from previous relationships are maturing and trying to find their independence; defining themselves and trying to find their place in life. Like kids finishing college, they want to be seen as adults, independent sovereign nations, but know they still need their parent’s cash.

For the most part the wounds of the divorce have healed, so much so that in some ways we can look back nostalgically about the time we spent together – sure there was oppression and a bit of land robbing, but there was also a fine infrastructure, a pre-packaged system of law, and an education system, not to mention a language that sounds less like coughing up phlegm.

Even now as we plan our big party, 100 years since we left ‘em, the prelude to the divorce party in 1922, the biggest question being asked is should we invite them over – officially like. Of course we are hoping lots of them get on a boat or a plane and come over for the craic, but are we going to send them an actual invitation? Is it appropriate to invite your ex to celebrate the anniversary of your separation? There will be a lot of drinking and reminiscing about the good times we had, do we really want to run the risk of waking up the morning after back in bed with each other?

And then, like the most insecure of ex-partners, even though we dumped them, the ultimate question of self-doubt was asked (by Ivan Yates of all people) do they even want to come? Oh the mortification of us being the bigger country and asking the over for the sake of Northern Ireland and the good times we had only for them to say they are washing the Thames that week and can’t make it. A county-wide #TotesAwkyMomo. How would we come back from that? France would never give over sniggering about it.

But do we have to invite them? It’s not like we were invited to the Royal Wedding or the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Northern Ireland was, thank god, and I am glad it was for the kid’s sake, and Northern Ireland should be there on our big day too, but do we really need to invite their dad?

Facts about First Time Motherhood

first time mother

A thesis on some of the finer points of first time motherhood. 


  1. The first 6 weeks are hell

There is no pretty way to dress it up, or tell it another way. And like Nam, you don’t know unless you were there.

Nobody talks about it. Nobody warns you. But for 6 weeks you might as well be living in Guantanamo Bay – there is sleep deprivation, the food is awful and you live in constant fear. Fear you will drop the baby. Fear they will stop breathing. Fear they will never stop crying. Fear your in-laws will never leave. Fear you will never want your in-laws to leave.

Some days it feels like your love for your baby is closer to Stockholm Syndrome – you love him, you know he doesn’t mean to hurt you, and yet, if you could hide him under the bushes without Social Services getting involved you might. Like Bosco’s magic door, people have no idea what is going on behind your front door, but just assume it’s likely to resemble a zoo.

But then it passes. Like dawn arriving, it’s silent and you don’t realise it’s happening until the darkness lifts and brightness returns. And then you forget it ever happened, like a horrific event your mind blocks it out and supressed it to your subconscious, which is the reason the world has middle and youngest children.



  1. It’s no longer creepy to watch somebody sleep

And to add to that – now watching someone sleep is a completely acceptable group activity.


Forget the TV, you and your partner will pass many a happy moment just lying on the couch or bed watching your little one sleep. Some of this is joy they are no longer crying, some of it is to watch that they keep breathing, but mostly it’s because you are too tired to do anything else. Anyone who drops by during this moment will probably just sit down beside you and join in the staring.



  1. You realise Queen Bey, Christina Aguilera, Britters, Lily Allen, Pink – all your pop icon Mums lied to you

Ladies who have sung about all the heartbreak and hardship in life. Ladies who have taken on everyone and everything, declared what was womanhood, and said it how it was. They have sang about cheating, lying, orgasms, drinking, going to work, watching other people going to work, being back-stabbed, going on a night out, sleeping around, traveling, everything and anything and sometimes about nothing at all. You name it – they have a tune about it, and how you will overcome it. But another human gets ripped from your Ya-Ya ….. nothing – just an empty space on the record.

You would think somewhere along the way they might have dropped a hint. Somewhere between waxing lyrical about how much they love their kids and declaring war on any challengers in their absence, you think they might have mentioned, oh by the way, getting pregnant is great and all, but childbirth is hell, and after that, your body looks like a deflated balloon and your spirit, well best not talk about it really, but we made it through somehow and you will too. Nowhere in their songs of motherhood is there the mention of cracked nipples, tracking the ratio of wet:dirty nappies, or the elation felt when the baby finally burps.



  1. You become strangely competitive

Milestone check-ups and Mother/Baby groups seem to bring out the crazy in the most stable of people. Mothers morph from the Relaxed Mom “ah-he-has-ten-fingers-and-ten-toes-sure-he-is-a-grand-little-baby” to Stepford Mom “my-baby-can-lunge-at-10-weeks-clearly-he-is-Mensa-material-and-Harvard-would-be-lucky-to-have-him”.

Parents know in their right minds that very few grown adults are incapable of lifting their head, or moving it to both sides, and yet, coming up to that milestone check, they are training those babies like they are trying out for the Olympics. There is a daily schedule of practice time and rest time to be strictly followed. And once the baby passes the test? well, books back in the bag until it’s time to cram for the next one.



  1. Dirty nappies are no longer totally gross

You become very comfortable with a little baby sitting on your knee filling that nappy practically to the brim, because you know if it is coming out, there is enough going in the other end. Plus there will be less chance of colic and the sleepless nights of crying it brings with it, if everything is passing through the clearing house. Shit never smelt so good.


  1. Previous faults can now be disguised as enthusiastic mothering

All previous irritating habits and faux pas can now be twisted so that it does not appear that you are an annoying twat, rather you are An Awesome Mum:


Previously: OCD Clean Freak disinfecting everyone and thing in a 10 mile radius

Now: An Awesome Mum working fearlessly against the invasion of germs in any disguise


Previously: Social bore telling tedious stories that may be a reflection of her son’s genius or may be him passing wind.

Now: An awesome Mum of a possible over achiever


Previously: Over demanding pushy bitch

Now: An Awesome Mum just trying to get the best start from life for her kids


Previously: Self-obsessed narcissist only waiting for you to finish your dull story about skydiving from a speeding train while being tracked by international spies, so that she can tell the story of her kid’s dirty diaper again

Now: An awesome Mum concerned about her son’s health



  1. No matter what you are doing, someone will make you feel like you are doing the whole thing wrong.

Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding, gave birth vaginally or by C-section, have decided to conduct social experiments on your children by raising them with wolves or have opted for the more traditional route, everywhere you go someone will have an opinion.


My particular favourite is that something you are doing makes you ‘less of a Mom’. Now last time I checked the only criteria to being a Mom was having kids. There is no grey area. Either you have kids and are a Mom, or you do not have kids and are not. I can imagine that there is many a mother out there who has had to drive down to the police station to discuss her kids anti-social behaviour who would love to say to the arresting officer “Actually, I didn’t breastfeed him until he was three, so there is that possibility I am not 100% his Mom, and so therefore may not actually be liable for this fine.” I could imagine the officer’s response would not be open to that theoretical debate.


  1. “Well…. did you miss him?”

Leave your child for more than two seconds and this question will be asked. However, a little like the question “When did you stop beating your wife” there is really no correct answer. Say yes and you are an over-bearing possessive mother raising a clingy child. Say no and you are a callous bey-atch that does not deserve a child.

The real question should be what self-indulgent naughty thing do you get up to without them? Did you go into shops in old-fashioned cramped buildings with steps at the entrance and a windy staircase to the other level? Did you wander around expensive designer stores without worrying if you would have to buy something because it was now covered in puke? Did you sit in the cinema to watch the loudest action film you could find and stuff your face with noisy foods around nap time? Or did you just crawl back to bed and lie there, with a book and maybe a cup of tea, with no reason to get back out of it for hours. Paradise.

Win a Stove worth €799!





Guest Blog: Mark from Heritage Stoves (with a competition!)


As autumn leaves start to fall and the chill of winter looms, it’s time to think about heating our homes. More and more people are turning to multi fuel stoves as a cost-effective heating solution, as they burn inexpensive fuels like smokeless coal, seasoned peat briquettes and eco-friendly dried wood.


Mark Dineen from Heritage Stoves, Irelands leading supplier of Multi Fuel Stoves, has kindly put together some useful tips that ought to be considered when purchasing a stove, and some advice on the best type of stove to suit your needs.


AAAANNND … (drum roll please) …. he brings with him an awesome competition to win a Belleek 11.5kw room heater stove worth €799! How exciting. More details on how you can enter below. But first ….


A Guide to Multi Fuel Stoves


Before you rush out and buy a hot new stove, here are some points to consider:


  1. Make sure you ask a professional to clean your chimney/flue before installation. Clean your chimney at least once per year particularly prior to reusing your open fire or stove.


  1. Consider the style of stove that you prefer. Stoves can be inset, double sided, or freestanding; room heater or boiler stove (more about these choices later). Also, some stoves are available in a range of enamelled colours, adding certain “wow” to any living space.


  1. If you are considering burning wood make sure you have a plentiful supply. Consider the environment and use wood from a recyclable source. Many suppliers sell wood from managed forests helping the carbon cycle and thus our environment.


  1. Fuel should be fully dry for maximum efficiency. Fuel with high moisture content can result in a build-up of tar in both the stove and chimney, which could ultimately shorten the life of your flue and appliance.


  1. When placing fresh fuel into your stoves firebox, cautiously open the door, as air rushing in can cause smoke to leave the chamber, riddle the grate to reduce ash build up, place the new fuel on top of the embers.


  1. Avoid allowing a build-up of ashes in the ash pan, as doing so will result in the grate burning out prematurely. Clean the ash pan daily and regularly check inside the stove to ensure there is no build-up of ash or soot, particularly around the flue collar.


  1. It is a requirement that adequate air ventilation is provided to ensure plenty of air for combustion, if a vent does not exist in the room where the stove is being installed, one must be provided.


  1. DO NOT burn rubbish and household waste or plastic in your stove. Burning plastics can create caustic fumes that are harmful to people and their lungs. Also, the soot created from burning garbage can be very sticky and cause rapid buildup of creosote and other deposits in the flue. This makes cleaning the chimney more difficult and sometimes more expensive.


Which stove will serve you best depends on your home and needs


  1. Room Heater Stoves

These are a cost effective method of delivering sustainable, dependable heat all year round and if fuelled with wood, are an eco-friendly low carbon heating system. They are safe and easy to use.


  1. Inset Stoves

These are best way to utilise your existing fireplace. Inset stoves are tidy and inconspicuous and do not impose on your living room space. They add character and charm to your home by maximising the efficiency of a stove while retaining the cosiness of your fireplace. They are particularly recommended if room space is limited.


  1. Boiler Stoves

A duel-function stove which provides you with home heat and domestic hot water, they offer practicality, efficiency and economic value, while creating an aesthetically pleasing addition to your home decor.




*** Competition Time ***

Black Belleek Enamel 1200px


To celebrate winter, Heritage Stoves, Ireland’s leading supplier of solid fuel stoves, is offering A Home Made By Committees’ readers the chance to WIN a Belleek 11.5kw room heater stove worth €799.


All you have to do is Like this post and share or retweet this link, and, drop an email to clarke_cathy@hotmail.com letting us know, if you won, where you would install this stove and why you would like it. Humour, as with all things, will be king here, unless you have a particularly heart-warming tale. Closing Date 20th October with the winner to be announced on 24th of October.


Heritage Stoves, one of Ireland’s leading suppliers of multi fuel stoves, offer a wide range of appliances to suit your needs. For more information and a list of stockists nationwide visit www.heritagestoves.ie.



A Riposte to A Home Made By Committee

Space Dinosaurs - The Real Enemy
Space Dinosaurs – The Real Enemy


On Wednesday we posted an article called Moon Acreage: Sound Financial Investment or Immoral Speculation. In the interest of frank and fair debate, we have invited Maire Brophy, the said friend who purchased the moon acreage, on to give her rebuttal.


I am compelled by a sense of natural justice to write a repost to the scurrilous article “Moon Acreage: Sound Financial Investment or Immoral Speculation” dated September 24th, 2014.

As the ‘friend’ Ms Clarke mentioned in the article, the reasons for my purchase of this property were roundly misrepresented.


I am, as it happens, currently experiencing seriously difficulties relating to the current Dublin property bubble that, by all accounts, is not happening. This, however, is entirely unrelated to my moon land purchases.


I did not, as purported by Ms Clarke, buy moon land in order to set up a home there, despite the possible commuting issues. I’m not irrational, I know the Luas won’t reach the Moon until at least 2050, by which time I will be well retired and spending my summers on Mars and winters on Venus in a timeshare, when I’m not visiting the penguins on Pluto.


No, the moon land I purchased is simply a matter of legacy. You see I want to be remembered. And I’m very lazy, so I want to be remembered with as little effort on my part as possible.


I was left with a conundrum of how to be remembered. The traditional way to do this, I believe, is to have children. But that comes with a lot of downsides. They expect you to care for them and love them, and even occasionally feed them. So far I’ve got around this by having niblings (children of your siblings) instead of children. Niblings don’t require the day to day nurturing that your own children require, but you can still destroy their Lego creations with your space dinosaur attack and disrupt their education by trying to convince them that space dinosaurs are actually a thing.


Importantly you can also leave things to your niblings that might be passed on to their descendants.


Now let us return to the moon. The legality of the claim on the moon, and subsequent selling of the plots is certainly questionable. But the legal world around us is of our own construction and it may be that moon deed holders come to power and uphold the veracity of our claim, by the time we can actually go to the moon on the Luas. In that case future generations will attribute their wealth and status to my visionary whim (after, of course, a lot of wrangling over who actually owns the deed).


Indeed not only will I have supplied them with the right to moon land, but also with the skills to defeat the space dinosaurs that dwell there (the first of which is not to build your moon dwellings out of Lego) and will fulfil our birth-right to enslave space dinosaurs everywhere (it’s in the constitution – look it up!).


If, however, and this case is much more likely, the claim is considered to be highly questionable, well then we’ve got a long legal battle on our hands. In which the deed, bearing my name, will be discussed at length. I would expect my name to be long remembered, and possibly cursed. But the important thing is to be remembered. Not bad for something that cost 20 euro.


Like my granny always said, if you can’t be remembered for doing some great thing to improve the lot of humanity, you might as well be remembered for causing a complicated legal situation, and the subsequent protracted battle in court.


Those old sayings really are timeless.


So in response to your titular question, I would say that the purchase of moon land is neither a sound financial investment nor an immoral speculation, but rather a way to pre-emptively get back at future generations for their loud music, erratic fashions and insistence that space dinosaurs are not real.


Moon Acreage: Sound Financial Investment or Immoral Speculation



The crisis is back. Dublin is facing a significant housing shortage; with buyers’ beginning to queue for five days before houses open for sale to the public. Property prices in urban areas are beginning to rise, rents are inflating accordingly, while rural areas struggle to gather enough property tax to maintain basic services. Once again as the bubble swells, it’s all beginning to feel a little bit Deja-vu, as we are assured that it is absolutely not a bubble and that there will indeed be a soft landing. People are once again desperate to get on the property ladder as soon as possible, fearing that if they wait prices will once again soar astronomically.


A nasty new trait of this second bubble however is the position of the lowest rung on the property ladder. With dramatically fewer units being built each year, many first-time buyers are being forced to buy second-hand homes. Most of these current home owners are still being scorched by negative equity, so the bottom rung is not the price of the fire-sales of the crash, but rather a price at which previous owners can afford to walk away at (unless of course you are fortunate enough to find a new estate with fixed prices opening in your area). Planners are predicting that the shortage of affordable homes in the city will push the commuter belt out as far as Louth, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow, forcing long commutes on already weary workers. It is no wonder that people are beginning to look around for alternative accommodation.


The question remains however, how far will they go this time? While the desperate among us quote house prices in Leitrim for €45,000 and less, in the Celtic Tiger Era it was not unknown for commuters to undertake a two or three hour daily trek from Gorey, Athlone, Edenderry or Portlaoise. The agreement being that it was possible to buy land and build for a fraction of the city prices and that there was no traffic on the commute once outside the city limits. Usually there was a vague Council Development Plan to improve public transport to these new urban hubs, so really these commuters were early pioneers whose properties were bound to dramatically increase in value at any time now.


A friend of mine took this reasoning one step further, and looking at the advancements being made by Virgin Galactic to commercialise space travel, she figured out that her quality of life and her work/life balance could not be diminished any further if her home was on the moon. Although not currently a feasible commute, she has made a speculative investment on behalf of the next generation and purchased a bijou plot overlooking the Sea of Tranquillity, located on the bright side of the moon, but within easy walking (bouncing?) distance of the entertainment quarter bound to be located on the dark side.


With precedents set in the land grab of America by the Mayflower settlers, and in the plantations of Ireland, the validity of this investment cannot so easily be dismissed by naysayers. The purchase from the Lunar Embassy takes advantage of the UN Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which stipulates that no government can own extra-terrestrial property, but, neglects to mention individuals and corporations. Therefore, under laws dating back to early US settlers, it is possible to stake a claim for land that has been surveyed, by registering it with the US Office of Claim Registries, and by informing the General Assembly of the United Nations, the US Government, and the Russian Government, in writing, of the legal claim. These governing bodies have several years in which to contest the claim, which they never have.


However before my friend bedecks herself in the latest in Pioneer Women’s Fashion, a few practical matters must be addressed. While investing in foreign properties was a characteristic of the first bubble, and I am sure there have been guarantees made that the Luas link will eventually get that far, one must not overlook the unique challenges having a home not only in a different timezone, but also on a different calendar. Acquiring insurance in such a volatile market will have its own quirks and ‘acts of god’ will probably require redefining. Should one decide to lease their property, or enter into time-share, contracts will have to overcome the differences in an Earth year verses a Moon year (354 days). This difference in calendar will also have to be overcome by employers in the new lands as the Working Time Act, Public Holidays and indeed the number of hours in a working day will all need reinterpretation for the new environment (a day on the Moon lasts 29.5 Earth days).


However before rushing forth to these new lands, one must stop to think of the repercussions this absentee landlordism might create. I presume the strategy to populate these new lands will be much as it always has been in human history. Just as the conquests of old, an invading wave of mercenaries shall sweep before the settlers clearing up any misunderstanding the native population might have regarding land ownership, with the colonists to follow, flag in hand, ready for planting. However this general assumption seems to be that much like the Spanish had steel and the English had long swords, that we Earthmen will have the superior weaponry to clear the moon men/ women/ super furry animals/ beings from our path. Not once has anyone stopped to consider that much like playful lambs prancing into a pack of wolves and back out again, that the moon beings have been salivating since the first moon walk waiting for us to come back. Just because they didn’t eat Neil Armstrong on sight doesn’t mean that he wasn’t a shocked and confused alien expression away from his most famous words being “One small step from man, one giant – oh my god, what the hell is tha- it’s got my leg!! It’s got my leg?!”, with Buzz running for his life in the background. Although one could also consider that much like the UN protects developing primitive tribes from the onslaught of modernisation, so too could the advanced Moon civilisation be allowing this culture to grow at its own pace organically, and they are just waiting for us to get there to start selling us the Moon equivalent of sneakers, McDonalds, Coke-Cola and gin.