Books newsletter: President leads tributes to poet Kevin Higgins; Kate O’Brien Award shortlist

A preview of Saturday’s pages and a roundup of the latest literary news


In The Irish Times this Saturday, there is a Q&A with Sally Hayden, author of My Fourth Time, We Drowned, the Irish Book of the Year. Kitty Murphy, whose debut novel Death in Heels, a murder mystery set in a fictional Dublin drag club, is published by Thomas & Mercer, writes about their own career as a drag artist, and Keith Duggan profiles author Bret Easton Ellis, whose latest novel is The Shards.

Reviews are Jennifer O’Connell on Spare by Prince Harry; Kevin Power on A Writer’s Diary by Toby Litt; Ruth McKee on Connective Tissue by Jane Fraser; Claire Hennessy on the best new YA fiction; Chiamaka Enyi-Amadi on Not So Black and White by Kenan Malik; Dan Geary on American Resistance: The Inside Story of How the Deep State Saved the Nation by David Rothkopf; Paul Gillespie on Ireland and Ukraine: Studies in Comparative Imperial and National History; Michael Cronin on The Word: on Translating the Bible by John Barton; Chris Horn on Percy Ludgate (1883-1922): Ireland’s First Computer Designer; Mia Levitin on The New Life by Tom Crewe; and Sarah Gilmartin on Kick the Latch by Kathryn Scanlan.

Cruel Deeds by Catherine Kirwan is this Saturday’s Irish Times Eason offer. You can buy a copy of the bestselling thriller for €4.99, a €6 saving, with your paper.

President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to the poet Kevin Higgins, who died earlier this week. “It is with a great sense of sadness that all those who knew the poet Kevin Higgins, either in person or through his poetry, will have learned of his death,” the President said. “Brave and writing as he was right to the end.

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“Kevin was a poet who had read enormously widely of the work of poets writing in English, Irish and from different countries. His work includes that published by Salmon Poetry in collections such as The Boy With No Face, Time Gentlemen, Please, Frightening New Furniture, The Ghost In The Lobby and Sex and Death at Merlin Park Hospital – were valuable contemporary contributions that had a directness to it that was unsparing, but not at a cost of finely worked poems.

The partnership which he shared with his partner in writing, Susan Millar DuMars, saw them both working together in a way hard to surpass in terms of making a contribution to the arts through writing. Indeed, I cannot think of anyone who did more to bring the public to appreciation and joy of poetry, to make the case for performed poetry, and who encouraged others to read broadly and, most of all, to make poems and find their meaning in their lives. He gave generously to so many through his poetry workshops, poetry slams and creative writing classes in Galway Arts Centre, GMIT and the University of Galway.

“The many people who were to discover through participation in Over The Edge, an open reading series specialising in promoting new writers, cherished it as a gift. While as poet in residence at Merlin Park Hospital, he helped so many patients, their relations and staff, to explore and share their own lives.

“His political beliefs were clearly in the family of the Left, but he didn’t shirk from identifying the gap between what was sought, and what he saw as the failure in efforts to deliver it in practice, for the benefit of all in a changed world.

“For those of us who have known him over the decades, there is nobody who would not agree that he was a charming presence and a great friend, guaranteed to never be dull. His final pieces from hospital show a person of the deepest humanity, gifted with words and full of courage that he would wish for all to have for themselves. He will be missed by so many, far beyond Galway. May I send my deepest condolences to his great partner in words and their power, Susan, to his family, and to his wide circle of friends.”

How to Gut a Fish by Sheila Armstrong, The Quiet Whispers Never Stop by Olivia Fitzsimons and Ruth and Penn by Emilie Pine have been shortlisted for this year’s Kate O’Brien Award. The shortlisted writers will be talking about and reading from their books at a special event on Sunday, February 26th in Belltable, Limerick at 11 30am, as part of the 39th Limerick Literary Festival, which takes place from February 24th to 26th.

The competition is open to all debut fiction by an Irish female writer. The €2,000 prize is sponsored by Bill and Denise Whelan. The judges are: Marie Hackett (committee member), Grainne O’Brien (writer and Children’s book buyer in O’Mahony’s Bookshop), Vivienne McKechnie (poet and committee member), Donal Ryan (novelist), and critic and writer Niall MacMonagle.

Irish poet Alice Lyons has been selected to be the first writer-in-residence of the new Heaney-Miłosz Residency, to take place in Krakow, Poland, the Estate of Seamus Heaney, Krakow Festival Office (operator of the Krakow Unesco City of Literature programme) and the Irish Embassy in Poland have announced.

As part of the residency, Lyons will stay in the former apartment of Polish poet and writer Czesław Miłosz in Krakow for four to six weeks this autumn. Chris Heaney, of the Estate of Seamus Heaney, said: “We’re delighted that Alice Lyons will be the first recipient of the Heaney-Miłosz Residency, having been selected from a very strong field of impressive candidates. She has a longstanding and deep connection with Poland and Polish culture, which has informed her work across various media, and we hope that the residency will provide her with time and space for the development of her work.” Ambassador Patrick Haughey said: “It is wonderful to see Alice Lyons selected as the first recipient of the Heaney-Miłosz Residency. This residency is a tangible celebration of the friendship of Czesław Miłosz and Seamus Heaney, and will contribute to strengthening the ever tighter bonds between Irish and Polish literature, poetry and culture.”

Booker Prize winner Roddy Doyle has been announced as a judge for the 2023 BBC National Short Story Award, which was won last year by Belfast writer Lucy Caldwell.

BBC News presenter Reeta Chakrabarti chairs the panel, which includes authors Jessie Burton; Okechukwu Nzelu; and Di Speirs, Books Editor at BBC Radio. The award is one of the most prestigious for a single short story, with the winning author receiving £15,000. The deadline for entries is 9am on March 13th.

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Joseph O’Connor will be in conversation with Flor Mac Carthy on Wednesday, February 1st at 8pm in the Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire.

O’Connor will read from his literary thriller based on the true story of a fearless Irish priest, Hugh O’Flaherty, who rescued countless victims of the Nazis from the clutches of his SS officer nemesis. His home is Vatican City, the world’s smallest state, a neutral, independent country within Rome where the occupiers hold no sway. Mac Carthy is a journalist and broadcaster who hosts political debates on Oireachtas TV (Irish parliamentary TV.) Her first book, The Presidents’ Letters, was a huge bestseller in 2022. Tickets €17 & €15 from paviliontheatre.ie

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The Maples Group has announced a new sponsorship with the Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) that will support the development and expansion of MoLI’s innovative learning programmes for students at all levels in Ireland.

Under the new partnership, the group will become the main sponsor of MoLI’s ‘Shut Your Eyes and See!’ programme that supports teachers with curricular art strands, literacy and the personal and creative development of students. ‘Shut Your Eyes and See!’ was launched in September 2019 and was initially only made available to primary school children, however, with sponsorship from the Maples Group, MoLI can now expand the enriching programme to secondary level schools across Ireland.

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The Cúirt International Festival of Literature’s annual New Writing Prize is open for submissions until January 30th, with judges Donal Ryan for short fiction, Seán Hewitt for poetry and Áine Ní Ghlinn for prose and poetry in Irish.

The winner in each category will be awarded a €500 cash prize and the opportunity to read at Cúirt! The closing date for submissions is Monday, 30th January 2022 at 5pm. Check out cuirt.ie/projects/cuirt-new-writing-prize-2023/ for more details.

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Little Island Books is to publish a new version of The Táin: Ireland’s Battle Epic, the first chapter-book edition of Ireland’s greatest legend for more than 30 years, by Alan Titley, one of Ireland’s most respected writers in Ireland and English. Publisher Matthew Parkinson-Bennett acquired world rights directly from the author.

Titley goes back to the source material, his publisher says, and his translation sparkles with the wit and humour as well as the thrill of the ancient tale. Illustrations by comics artist Eoin Coveney lend a fresh and modern feel. The Táin publishes on March 17th.