The Story Behind “The Call of Birds” by P. Kearney Byrne

PKearneyByrne-HeadshotToday’s post is written by P. Kearney Byrne, whose short story “The Call Birds” appears in our Fall 2015 issue.

In 2013, I saw a UK short story competition with a prize of £7,500; a lot of money at a time when I was indulging in daily fantasies of winning my way into the black in my bank balance. The word-count limit was 2,500. However, as it was the Jeremy Mogfod Prize for Food and Drink Writing, the story had to centre around food in some way. Previous winners featured haute cuisine meals and menus set in high-end restaurants with lots of intense chefs, kitchen knives and so forth. I thought it might be a nice change—funny, even—to have a story set around a different kind of food; the sort people in Ireland eat every day, perhaps a typical ‘mammy’s breakfast;’ great clunking chunks of bread with inches of butter, a big fry with plenty of eggs and rashers, and if vegetables insisted on making an appearance, let them be overcooked in the traditional Irish manner.

So I started off with this in mind, and my opening sentence was more or less as it appears in this version of the story. Within a few paragraphs, I saw that this wasn’t a story about food and it wasn’t funny either. I set it aside and knew it was one to return to.

In the meantime, I forged on with my attempts to write a food story. The result was ‘Five Star Mammy,’ about a young gay man bringing his boyfriend to his mammy’s house for Sunday dinner. Food was central, but perhaps not in the way the Mogford Prize had intended, and the story, needless to say, wasn’t placed.**

Over the course of the following two years, I went back to the first story every now and then, working it along slowly—which is how I tend to do things, until there comes a point when that particular story becomes the main one I’m working on. I had ‘The Call of Birds’ in final draft by May this year. The central concern is ancestral/generational wounding and the ‘whats and hows’ and ‘ifs’ of its resolution, and of course, short stories traditionally zoom in close to one incident or moment, and focus on that. I knew covering such a long time-span was slightly risky, but it felt to me that that was the momentum and the shape of the piece, so I went with it.

** ‘Five Star Mammy’ was published in the July 2015 Issue of Vitality Magazine. This is not the Vitality Magazine devoted to vitamins and body-building, but the Queer magazine featuring gay, transgender and asexual protagonists. The story is free to read online at

About the Author

P Kearney Byrne’s work has won the Francis MacManus Award (2012) and the Bryan MacMahon Award (2014). In 2013 she was long-listed in the UK Sunday Times EFG Short Story Competition and this year she was a finalist in the inaugural Hamlin Garland Award for Fiction (Beloit Fiction Journal, USA). She has work forthcoming in the Winter Issue of Per Contra Magazine. Phil is currently enrolled on an MA programme in University College Dublin. Originally from Dublin, she and her partner now live in Co Leitrim, Ireland. 

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