Monday, 16 November 2015


The shortlist for the Eason Book Club Novel of the Year award shows the depth and quality of Irish fiction

By Deirdre Conroy

A wonderful way to herald the festive season is to celebrate our home-grown literary luminaries and have all sorts of book categories and shortlists to talk about and titles to mull over.

The Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards bring together the entire book community - readers, authors, booksellers, publishers and librarians. While all else around us might still be feeling the pinch of austerity, the Irish public will always love a good book. That is what makes these awards so special and why your vote counts.

The prestigious Novel of the Year award is sponsored by Eason and recognises the depth and quality of Irish fiction. Previous winners include international Man Booker Prize recipients Roddy Doyle for The Guts, John Banville for Ancient Life and Anne Enright for The Gathering. Colum McCann won the award in 2004 for Dancer, while Emma Donoghue won in 2010 for her highly acclaimed Room.
Last year, Mary Costello's quietly tragic tale Academy Street took the prize. In the past, the late John McGahern, Sebastian Barry, Neil Jordan, Ronan Bennett and Pat McCabe have all been honoured.
This year's nominees are a satisfying shortlist including fresh names, providing local and global narratives, all classic in their own way. Nuala O'Connor and Kevin Barry create fictional accounts of real characters. Belinda McKeon and Anne Enright focus on the minutiae of fractured Irish relationships. Meanwhile, Edna O'Brien and Paul Murray tackle some international monsters.

Belinda McKeon
Pan MacMillan/Picador

McKeon's second novel, Tender, evokes Dublin in 1998 on the cusp of social media saturation. Set in Trinity College, in a flat on Baggot Street and a couple of pubs, the story focuses on Catherine Reilly, who has left her native Longford to embark on her studies in Trinity. Her friendship with James Flynn, a gay aspiring artist, gallops into an all-consuming obsession for her. Dark and compulsive desire is the central theme of this pure, spare novel. The Guardian praised McKeon's "immersive, unflinching yet humane portrait of Catherine (which) makes Tender richly nuanced and utterly absorbing." McKeon now lives in New York.

Miss Emily
Nuala O'Connor
Sandstone Press

The enigmatic life of Emily Dickinson holds a deep fascination for writers and readers alike. Nuala O'Connor has anglicised her name from Ni Chonchuir for the American market and has taken on the challenge of reimagining the reclusive poet's life through her relationship with an 18-year-old Irish maid, Ada Concannon. Ada is from Dublin and her story is narrated in alternate chapters, providing a lyrical counterpoint to the period tone of Dickinson's voice. The two women find common ground through a love of nature and baking. As the poet hardly ever left her house in Amherst, it is the two female personalities that enrich the novel. Born in 1970, O'Connor has also published poetry, fiction and short stories, and lives in Galway.

The Green Road
Anne Enright
Jonathan Cape

The Green Road is Enright's sixth novel. Born in 1962 in Dublin, she won both the Novel of the Year award and the Booker Prize for The Gathering. Enright is also our first Laureate of Irish Fiction. In The Green Road, she continues to probe the fault lines of family life. Deeply disenchanted characters vent their disappointment in a manner only Enright can channel.
In a tale that spans 25 years, Dan Madigan returns to his childhood home in west Clare, travelling the eponymous Green Road which runs through the Burren with glimpses of the Atlantic ahead. There is beauty and darkness, hypocrisy and humility; it wouldn't be an Irish novel without them.

The Mark and The Void
Paul Murray
Hamish Hamilton

The Mark and the Void is about the financial crisis and is Murray's third novel. Claude is a French investment banker based in Dublin. Murray's depiction of the city is one few of us would recognise or want to remember.
The other characters are French, German, Greek, Russian and Australian, giving the book a sense of anywhere, except when Claude finds himself on an unexpected journey: "And here, on the teeming road, are the Irish: blanched, pocked, pitted, sleep-deprived, burnished, beaming, snaggle-toothed, balding, rouged, raddled, exophthalmic … " The author of Skippy Dies has faced down the melodrama of our financial crisis and searched for meaning beyond.

Kevin Barry

Intrigued by John Lennon's purchase in 1967 of Dorinish Island in Clew Bay, Kevin Barry explores how the story might have played out through the perspective of Lennon's fictitious driver, Cornelius O'Grady.
It is 1978 and Lennon, aged 37, wants to retreat to the island, delve into his creative pool and do some primal screaming. A shaman is needed to negotiate the strange airs of the west coast, and O'Grady obliges.
Car and boat journeys around Mulranny and Newport nurture the psychedelic mythology. Lennon's mythic quest through the doors of perception define this book, which was making waves before it went on sale.

The Little Red Chairs
Edna O'Brien
Faber & Faber

Edna O'Brien, the doyenne of Irish writing, published her 24th novel, The Little Red Chairs, this year. Evidently based on Radovan Karadzic ("the Butcher of Bosnia"), a dark stranger comes to the fictional town of Cloonoila.
Dr Vladimir Dragan is ostensibly a healer and sex therapist from Montenegro. The local beauty, Fidelma, seeks help with fertility problems and falls in love with the mysterious Balkan.
But Vlad is a Serbian war criminal and his unveiling has global significance together with horrific consequences for Fidelma. O'Brien confronts evil head on, and typically shines a spotlight on an Irish rural community that punishes a woman who has broken the tribal rules.
The Sunday Times praised The Little Red Chairs as "a timely and defiant book".

To vote please visit Voting ends the 19th at midnight. One vote per email address.

Friday, 13 November 2015



Tomorrow I am taking part in 'Writing Long & Short' at the Dublin Book Festival with Dermot Bolger, Aidan Mathews, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne and Donal Ryan. We're in conversation with Paula Shields.

When: Saturday 14 Nov, 3.30pm – 4.45pm
Where: Main Theatre, Smock Alley Theatre
Cost: €5/€3 Concession| BOOK NOW
Paula Shields, senior researcher for RTE’s arts show The Works, discusses form, inspiration and the current work of some of Ireland’s most prestigious writers. Join Dermot Bolger, author of eleven critically acclaimed novels, most recently Tanglewood (New Island Books); Aidan Mathews, poet, playwright, novelist and author of new short story collection Charlie Chaplin’s Wishbone and Other Stories (The Lilliput Press); Nuala Ní Chonchúir, short story writer, poet and author of three novels including The Closet of Savage Mementos (New Island Books); award-winning novelist, short story writer and playwright Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, who received the 2015 Irish PEN Award for Outstanding Contribution to Irish Literature; and Donal Ryan, whose first collection of short stories, A Slanting of the Sun: Stories, will be published by The Lilliput Press and whose first two novels, The Spinning Heart and The Thing About December (The Lilliput Press), have won and been listed for numerous awards.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Ballinasloe library gets behind #BGEIBA nom.

My local library in Ballinasloe made this super supportive poster, which was very decent of them. The library has now moved into their stunning new home in the old church and convent on Society Street. More on that when the official launch happens.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015


I have a feature in today's Irish Independent about me, Emily D and baking. I am grinning rather manically. The photographer was Andrew Downes, a super-nice fella from Galway. We had a laugh with the sieving etc. Click and zoom to read.

Monday, 9 November 2015


I love The Gloss, the very shiny, posh magazine that these days comes free with The Irish Times once a month. It's one of those aspirational magazines that features drool-worthy designer clothes and outrageously priced furniture and handbags (and the odd affordable item).

But they love books too. People like Antonia Hart, Mary O'Donnell and Polly Devlin are regular contributors and the magazine often has features on women's writing.

I have a feature in this month's edition about novel writing in general and Miss Emily, and the next novel, in particular. See pic below. Click and zoom :)

Sunday, 8 November 2015

The 4 Best Ways to Fuck-up Your Poetry Reading

Patrick Cotter, IMO the best arts administrator in Ireland (he's director of Munster Lit) is also a poet, writer and blogger. He has a brilliant new post on his blog for poets. His advice also applies to fiction writers. Below is the first bit, to whet your appetite. Go here for the rest.

1        Make like it's 1983

Strange to think it, but there are still poets out there who deliver their poems in a monotonous monotone. Most of them tend to be over fifty years of age. Last century (literally) it was de rigeur to give a poetry reading in a monotone – I guess it was a reaction against the way many actors can mangle a poem as they declaim it. Most poets hate the way most actors read poetry. Somebody wise once observed that most poets, when saying a poem aloud, do so by moving from consonant to consonant whereas most actors move from vowel to vowel. Jeremy Irons is a lovely man but he is the stereotypical example of an actor who knows how to destroy a poem, especially one by Yeats, by stretching out every vowel like a dog’s yowl. Anyhow last century the way most poets mitigated against this particular trauma was to put no feeling at all or variation of tone into the public reading of a poem. To inject feeling into a poem was believed to get between the audience and the poem; to impose an interpretation. It was believed by many that if you delivered a poem in a monotone the audience could concentrate specifically on the words and react in their own chosen way as they might by absorbing words straight off the page. 

Famously Paul Celan met with sneering disapproval when he read his poems in the traditional Eastern European shamanistic style (with feeling) to a group of German poets in Hamburg in 1952. One observer said Celan had sounded just like Goebbels, another said he sounded like he was singing in the synagogue. Amazingly, this attitude to reading poetry was not confined by the borders of Germany – it was fairly common throughout the English-speaking world too and was the most dominant reading style right up to the beginning of this century.

Slam and performance poetry shook the whole scene up – demonstrating how large audiences would react better to a bit of life in your voice as you declaimed your poem. Sadly there are still older poets who make it like it’s 1983 – often brilliant, insightful, exciting poets on the page who destroy their own reputations as soon as they open their mouths in a crowded auditorium – these days even frequent readers of poetry, even gifted, sophisticated younger ‘page’ poets no longer possess the ability to ‘read’ a poem aurally in a monotone. Monotone poets rarely receive repeat invitations to read and curators elsewhere get to hear how boring they sound and drop them from their thoughts too.

See points 2, 3 and 4 here.