When Joel Thomas Hynes submitted his short story “Conflict of Interest” to The Telegram’s Cuffer Prize, he figured one of two things could happen.
“I felt a little bit like if I got it, it was because I’m Joel Hynes, and if I didn't get it, it was because I’m Joel Hynes,” he said.
In the end, he did get it.
Hynes was named the winner of the Cuffer during a ceremony at the Johnson Geo Centre Thursday night.
Presented in conjunction with Creative Book Publishing, the Cuffer prize celebrates short fiction in Newfoundland and Labrador by accepting stories by local writers, either established or unpublished, with a maximum of 1,500 words.
Hynes’ name had nothing to do with his win.
The pieces are judged blindly by a jury consisting of writers Russell Wangersky, Joan Sullivan and Ramona Dearing. The panel members said they did wonder, however, if the author could have been a Hynes wannabe.
"That was because I watched my language and I peeled back some of the darkness," Hynes joked.
Hynes is the author of the novels, "Down to the Dirt" and "Right Away Monday," as well as the award-winning plays "The Devil You Don't Know" with Sherry White and "Say Nothing Saw Wood." He's also an actor, having performed on stage, television and in film.
Hynes was presented with the $2,000 first place prize for his story, which tells of a young man on the Southern Shore showing up at a dance hall one night, looking for trouble and finding it, and ending up in the Ferryland lockup. His grandfather, who works as a night guard there, is dismissed for the night, since watching over a family member would be a conflict of interest.
In their citations, the judges said "Conflict of Interest" had "deftly sketched" characters, "nail-on-the-head detail and interesting counterpoints and juxtapositions.
"Much is compacted into this short story," they wrote. "It contains 1,159 words; not one is wasted. This is good writing, crisp and smart, told with wit and dash."
The story has ficticious elements to it, Hynes said, but is largely true, the protaganist being himself.
"I've been writing a series of non-ficiton pieces that deal with generations of fathers and sons in my family, and this is one of those pieces," he explained.
"When a big company puts out an award for short fiction and then puts a stamp of $2,000 on it, and you can email your submission and you're kind of half sitting on a piece anyways, I thought why the hell not. I'm really grateful for the award. I wasn't expecting it."
English literature PhD student Michael Collins won the $1,000 second place prize for his short piece, "Mrs. Wakeham." The piece was one of two he entered in the contest and both made the shortlist.
"It's very much a character piece. I very much wanted to get into her mind and write from her perspective," Collins, who flew home from Toronto just an hour before the ceremony, said of his story, which sees a woman dealing with a traumatic event she is not prepared to deal with.
Collins worked long and hard on the piece, he said, editing it and then re-editing it before submitting it to the Cuffer. His second piece, "The Last Islander," was written within two or three hours on the day of the contest deadline.
"It was a shot in the dark. I wrote it and sent it off, and never thought of it again until it made the shortlist."
Third place went to St. John's writer Sam Martin for his story, "Do You Hear Me?"
The piece, short on punctuation and high in emotion, is a story of suicide, written by a widow, grieving, but angry at having been left behind.
"This short story was not originally meant to be given to anyone," Martin said, after accepting his $500 prize. "I wrote it about a week after a friend of mine took his life. It was a very raw thing to put out there, and I'm still not sure it was the right thing to do. I wasn't able to make it out to the funeral, so this was a way of grieving."
In addition to the announcement of this year's Cuffer Prize winners, the event also served as the launch of "The Cuffer Anthology Volume II: A Selection of Short Fiction," edited by Telegram story editor and Cuffer Prize chairwoman Pam Frampton. The book, a collection of stories submitted for last year's prize, sells at bookstores for $16.95, with a portion of the proceeds going to Literacy Newfoundland and Labrador.
Literacy in this province is a cause close to The Telegram's heart, publisher Charlie Stacey said.
"It is our hope that with this award, we will encourage new writers and push established writers to create," he said.
Hynes', Collins' and Martins' pieces will be included in next year's Cuffer Anthology, something Hynes said he's proud of.
"It's my No. 1 objective, after a good writing process; getting published," he said. "And it means even if I kick it, now, tonight, something will still come out next year."
See The Weekend Telegram to read Hynes' "Conflict of Interest" in full.