Books newsletter: Nick Laird wins Forward Prize for best poem; Colm Tóibín awarded Bodley Medal

A preview of Saturday’s pages and a round-up of the latest literary news


In The Irish Times this Saturday, there is a Q&A interview with Audrey Magee, author of The Colony and an extract from Quinn by Trevor Birney, whose RTÉ documentary on the same subject made the headlines this week.

Reviews are Gavin Daly on Quinn by Trevor Birney; Martina Evans on Translations by Seamus Heaney; Claire Hennessy on the best YA fiction; Jonathan McAloon on Catherine Rundell’s The Golden Mole; Dan O’Brien on The History of the Department of Finance 1959-1999 by Ciaran Casey; Niamh Donnelly on Well I just kind of like it, edited by Wendy Erskine; Martina Evans on Hereafter by Vona Groarke; Malachy Clerkin on The History of the GAA in 100 Objects by Siobhan Doyle; Mia Levitin on Diego Garcia by Natasha Soobramanien and Luke Williams; and Sarah Gilmartin on What Writers Read, edited by Pandora Sykes.

Hide and Seek, the latest thriller by Andrea Mara, is this Saturday’s Irish Times Eason book offer. You can buy it for €4.99 with your paper, a €5 saving.

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The £10,000 Forward Prize for Best Collection has been won by Kim Moore for All the Men I Never Married (Seren). The £5,000 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection has gone to Amnion by Stephanie Sy-Quia (Granta Poetry). The £1,000 Best Single Poem prize went to Co Tyrone poet Nick Laird for Up Late.

Laird wrote his winning poem as an elegy to his father who died of Covid in March 2021. He said ‘it has a weird real-time element to it that wouldn’t be there if I’d been able to be with my father, so it’s of the moment in that sense. It was the peculiar circumstances of the Covid pandemic, where you couldn’t be with your dying loved ones, that brought the poem about in that form.’ The judges felt Laird’s poem sincerely engaged with death, grief and the private and shared lived experience of the pandemic in ways which readers will find profoundly moving and cathartic

All the Men I Never Married deals with experiences of everyday sexism through forty-eight numbered poems and a gallery of exes and significant others. Stephen Sexton praised the book as a ‘tonally profound collection which is precise, careful, unfolding, whose methodical, numbered poems show us the work and process of overcoming people and encounters’. Amnion spotlights colonialism, class and migration through an accomplished blending of fiction, epic poetry and the lyric essay.

Laird was born in Co Tyrone in 1975. A poet, novelist, screenwriter, critic and former lawyer, his awards include the Betty Trask Prize, the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award and a Guggenheim fellowship. Feel Free, his most recent collection, was shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize and the Derek Walcott award. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he’s on faculty at New York University, and is the Seamus Heaney Professor of Poetry at Queens’ University, Belfast. He curates the annual Irish Art Centre’s Poetryfest in New York, and last year published a book for children, Weirdo, co-written with his partner Zadie Smith. A new collection is forthcoming in June 2023.

‘So much interesting work here,’ The Moth Nature Writing Prize judge Max Porter commented, but in the end he could choose only one winner – which was Genevieve Carver’s ‘Postcards from a Fulmar’.

The Prize, run by The Moth magazine, is in its third year. It was formerly judged by Helen Macdonald and Richard Mabey and it awards writing of the highest quality that reflects the writer’s relationship with the natural world, be it through poetry or prose.

‘It’s such an interesting and surprising hybrid,’ said Porter, ‘which manages to be deeply funny and very sad at the same time, an unusual feat in both science writing and poetry, even more unusual when the two are blended. The ironic and the tender are perfectly fused, and formal innovations are cleverly tethered to meaning. Both the birds and the language were thrillingly ‒ and in unexpected ways ‒ alive in this piece.’

Carver, whose poetry has been published in journals such as Mslexia, The White Review and The North, is currently Poet in Residence with the University of Aberdeen’s School of Biological Sciences, where she’s observing and writing in response to their work studying bottlenose dolphin, porpoise and harbour seals in the Moray Firth, as well as the fulmar colony on the uninhabited island of Eynhallow in Orkney.

‘Being chosen by Max Porter as the winner of The Moth Nature Writing Prize’, she said, ‘is huge for me – especially for work from my residency with the University of Aberdeen, as it highlights the important research they are doing into these incredible birds and shows what can happen when arts and sciences work together.’

Carver’s first collection, A Beautiful Way to be Crazy, was produced in collaboration with multi-instrumentalist live band The Unsung, and her pamphlet, Landsick, explores themes of connectivity and discord between humans and the natural world.

The prize consists of €1,000 and a week at Circle of Missé, a retreat for writers and artists nestled on the banks of the river Thouet in the Loire Valley in France.

Colm Tóibín has been awarded the prestigious Bodley Medal for 2023 by the Bodleian Libraries, which cited his “sustained contribution to the world of literature”. The Bodley Medal is the Bodleian Libraries’ highest honour, awarded to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the worlds of books and literature, libraries, media and communications, science and philanthropy. Tóibín will be the second Irish recipient of this recognition, after Seamus Heaney in 2004.

Across a literary career of over 30 years, and with novels including The Blackwater Lightship, The Master, and Brooklyn, the latter of which was adapted into an Oscar nominated film, Tóibín has developed a formidable body of work that demonstrates a perceptive and empathetic approach to storytelling. Tóibín has also produced a substantial amount of essays, criticism and non-fiction. Most recently Tóibín’s novel The Magician, a fictionalisation of the life of Thomas Mann, was awarded the 2022 Folio Prize.

Tóibín said of his award: “I feel honoured and thrilled to receive this medal. This is mainly because many of its recipients are writers I admire deeply, but also because of the Bodleian Libraries and their distinguished history. I write novels tentatively and, no matter how much I revise, am never sure if I get things right. Being recognized in this way helps to validate work done and encourage further efforts. And for that I am very grateful.”

Tóibín’s medal will be awarded alongside his presentation of the 2023 Bodley Lecture, where he will also appear in conversation with Bodley’s Librarian Richard Ovenden, on March 30th, 2023 at the Oxford Literary Festival.

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Cover Versions is an exhibition of artworks from 50 years of The Gallery Press which takes place in the Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts, Dublin until January 29th, 2023.

The exhibition includes paintings, photographs, prints and sculpture by Ireland’s leading contemporary artists that have been on or in (or just beyond) Gallery Press publications for more than half a century. Also featured are a number of American artists, some showing their work for the first time in Europe. Much of the work included in Cover Versions has never been seen in public before.

The catalogue for the exhibition is available to purchase from the RHA or from Gallery’s online shop.

During the exhibition, in association with Poetry Ireland, The Gallery Press will presents a series of live events in the RHA.

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Dublin Art Book Fair has opened at Temple Bar Gallery + Studios in Dublin city centre. 136 art books produced by artist-makers take centre stage, alongside nominated titles from specialist publishers, on art, design, visual culture, philosophy, architecture and more. Guest curator Rosie Lynch from Workhouse Union in Callan, Co Kilkenny, has applied a theme of ‘A Caring Matter’ to the books and a programme of connected events. They include walking tours of Temple Bar taking in signage lettering and bookshops, conversations and a specially commissioned textile work by visual artist Marielle MacLeman. It runs until 4th December. See templebargallery.com.

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The Irish Writers Centre is to celebrate women writers worldwide at its annual Nollaig na mBan event, at 7pm on Friday, January 6th, 2023. The words of Maeve Brennan – “Home is a place in the mind” – will provide a guiding thread throughout the event, which will take place in-person for the first time since 2020.

Sinéad Gleeson will introduce a series of fast-paced commissioned Soapbox performances by leading writers such as Louise Nealon, Suad Aldarra, Claire Kilroy and Nithy Kasa, who will provide personal narratives on their views of home. There will also be music from ESSIRAY and an address by Irish PEN / Freedom to Write campaign member Catherine Dunne. Dr Roja Fazaeli, chair of the Immigrant Council of Ireland and assistant professor of Islamic Studies at TCD, will add an expert opinion to the conversation.

Publisher Arlen House will join in the proceedings with a showcase of contributors to Look! It’s a Woman Writer! a feminist anthology celebrating women born in mid-twentieth-century Ireland, whose literary lives have spanned half a century and whose works are still relevant and read widely today. This segment will feature writers Liz McManus, Anne Devlin, Mary Rose Callaghan and Phyl Herbert, who will read their works.

Tickets, which include a complimentary glass of wine, cost €22 or €20 (IWC members) and are available from the Irish Writers Centre website.

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Venetia Gosling, Associate Publisher at Gill Children’s Books has acquired two books in a world rights deal with author Sam Blake, from Simon Trewin of Simon Trewin Creative. The first book, Something Terrible Happened Last Night, will be published in May 2023 and the second title, set in the same elite school, is set to publish in Spring 2024.

Blake is a multiple Number 1 bestselling adult thriller writer, whose books have been shortlisted for Irish Crime Novel of the Year three times. Under her real name of Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, she is the founder of Writing.ie, The Inkwell Group, and Murder One, Ireland’s acclaimed International Crime Writing Festival.

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A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Chapters (Pan Macmillan) by Nature editor Dr Henry Gee has won this year’s £25,000 Royal Society Science Book Prize.

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The Society of Authors, in conjunction with the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, is delighted to announce the launch of the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation Translation Prize, celebrating translations into English from Japanese. In 2019, Morgan Giles was awarded the TA First Translation Prize for her translation of Tokyo Ueno Station by Yū Miri, from Japanese; and in 2018, Janet Hong was awarded the same prize for her translation of The Impossible Fairytale by Han Yujoo, from Korean. However, the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation Translation Prize marks the first Society of Authors prize dedicated solely to translations from an Asian country.