Well, the winners of this year's PJ O'Connor RTE Radio Drama Awards were announced last night and, yet again, I missed out on the prizes. A high standard, they said, yada yada yada, difficult choices but in the end ...
The winners? Oh, yeah:
1st - Dylan, Thomasina and Me, by John Austin Connolly
2nd - Elvis Is Dead, by Shea Healy
3rd - Happy Hour, by Ashley Taggart
Mr Connolly is a retired clinical psychologist who, in 2007, won the prestigious David C. Horn Prize, presented by the Yale Drama Series and selected by no less a theatrical luminary than Edward Albee. Impressive stuff indeed, and congratulations!
Of course, I was gutted to miss out, though at this stage, I must confess, not terribly surprised. RTE, let's face it, are a peculiar lot.
Gripe #1 - Last night, half of the Arts Show was given over to the announcement of the award, though of course they didn't bother with such trifling formalities as actually announcing the shortlist. Trimmed to fourteen from more than two hundred, it would have taken mere seconds to do so, and it would at least have offered a glimmer of satisfaction, however tiny, but no matter...
Gripe #2 - The manner in which RTE consistently and persistently reward their own. I know this will sound like bitterness in defeat, but well, what can I say? I AM bitter. Well, a little, anyway. Look, I'm not trying to say that my play was so much better than the others. Losing out is lousy, yes, but I can live comfortably with that, having had more than my share of practice. But, usually, when you enter a contest, whether for a literary prize or for something in the local newspaper, or even for something that you find on the back of a Corn Flakes box, you will see the usual disclaimer and rules of conduct. No employees, or family members of employees, shall enter ... etc, etc.
Shea Healy, last night's second place winner, is, yes, the Shea Healy of RTE's Nighthawks fame; the Shea Healy who, back in about 1980, penned a Eurovision Song Contest winner; the Shea Healy with the seemingly wide-open walk-on-anytime-you-feel-like-it invitation to The Late Late Show; the Shea Healy who has been an RTE staple for as long as I can remember. I have nothing against the man, he is clearly a talented writer and has very likely penned a wonderful play, but honestly, this sort of thing does stick in my throat a little bit.
Now, if this was just a once-off, maybe I could shrug it off as simply one of those things. But it's not a one-off. Last year, to offer another example, the winner of the RTE Francis MacManus Short Story Award was Joe O'Donnell, another RTE-lifer, who was not only the creater of 1970s Ireland's most iconic children's phenomena, Bosco, and former head of Young People's TV in RTE, but who had also made a career of writing for some of RTE's signature shows, like The Riordans and Glenroe. Furthermore, he was a former winner of the award and had something like fifteen stories and over sixty plays broadcast on radio.
And the really amusing (or galling) thing about all of this is that both the PJ O'Connor and Francis MacManus Awards mention on their entry forms that they are in existence to encourage new and emerging writers!
Oh, take no notice. This is just me blowing off steam. The fact is, there is no beating the system. Welcome to back-scratching Ireland in all its crooked glory, where no act is considered too shameful as long as you play it out with a straight face and a brass neck. The government do it, the banks do it, even education fleas probably do it!