Louise Kennedy wins best debut at British Book Awards; line-ups announced for Borris and UCD festivals

Books newsletter: a round-up of the latest literary news and a preview of Saturday’s books pages


In The Irish Times tomorrow, Richard Ford talks to John Self about his ‘final’ Frank Bascombe novel, why he wants to write ‘useful’ books, and his fantasy president; Andrea Mara writes about her latest crime novel, No One Saw a Thing; David Jameson introduces his remarkable new book, The Tilson Case: Church and State in 1950s Ireland; Harry McGee describes meeting murderer Malcolm Macarthur over the past 18 months and speaking to him at length as he wrote his book, The Murderer and the Taoiseach; there is an extract from Poor, a powerful new memoir by Katriona O’Sullivan; Katherine O’Donnell taks to Una Mullally about her debut novel Slant; Darragh Geraghty selects 20 great audiobooks to get stuck into this summer, from recent award-winners to all-time classics; and there is a Q&A with Preti Taneja, author of Aftermath and We That Are Young, which won the Desmond Elliott Prize.

Reviews are Paschal Donohoe on Politics: A Survivor’s Guide: How to Stay Engaged Without Getting Enraged by Rafael Behr and Free and Equal: What Would a Fair Society Look Like? By Daniel Chandler; Seamus Martin on The Russo-Ukrainian War Serhii Plokhy and Memory Makers: The Politics of the Past in Putin’s Russia by Jade McGlynn; Declan O’Driscoll on the best new translations; Nicola Carr on The Murderer and The Taoiseach by Harry McGee; Chris Kissane on The West by Naoíse MacSweeney; Liam Cagney on Her Own by Dragana Jurišić; Michael Viney on Wild Waters: the Magic of Ireland’s Rivers and Lakes by Richard Nairn; Carol Ballantine on The Feminist Killjoy Handbook by Sara Ahmed; Pat Carty on Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s The Sleep Watcher; Helen Cullen on The Paper Man by Billy O’Callaghan; and Sarah Gilmartin on Big Swiss by Jen Beagin.

This Saturday’s Irish Times Eason offer is The Satsuma Complex by Bob Mortimer. You can buy a copy with your paper for just €4.99, a €6 saving.

Louise Kennedy won Debut of the Year for Trespasses at the British Book Awards at a ceremony at Grosvenor House London this week, adding to her Irish Novel of the Year Award and her shortlisting for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Overall Book of the Year 2023 was awarded to Menopausing by Davina McCall and Dr Naomi Potter. Nominated for five awards, the internationally bestselling novelist Bonnie Garmus, who wrote her debut novel Lessons in Chemistry at 64 years old, was named Author of the Year. Alice Oseman, creator of the bestselling Heartstopper graphic novels which inspired the Netflix series, was awarded Illustrator of the Year. R.F. Kuang’s Babel was named Fiction Book of the Year after huge breakout success, with UK editor Natasha Bardon and imprint HarperVoyager also winning awards.

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The 12th annual Borris House Festival of Writing & Ideas takes place in the small village of Borris, Co Carlow over the weekend of June 16th to 18th.

Among the novelists appearing this year are Ian McEwan, Bernadine Evaristo, John Banville, Elaine Feeney, Paul Murray, Katherine Rundell, Richard Ford, Claire Keegan, Audrey Magee, Kathleen Murray and Caoilinn Hughes.

Nonfiction writers include psychiatrist Dr Iain McGilchrist, the brains behind QI and Spitting Image John Lloyd, political, investigative & conflict journalists Fintan O’Toole, Gary Younge, Carol Cadwalladr, Iain Overton, Misha Glenny, Andrew Small, film-maker David Puttnam, author of Hare with the Amber Eyes and artist Edmund de Waal, historians Ben McIntyre and William Dalrymple, Don’t Touch My Hair author Emma Dabiri, traveller activist and essayist Rosaleen MacDonagh, comedians David Baddiel, Ruby Wax, and Natalie Hynes, human rights lawyers Philippe Sands and Jason McCue, environmental / sustainability thinkers Gaia Vince, Manchán Magan, Finn van der Aar, Vincent Doumeizel, Mikaela Loach, Eoghan Daltún, Paul McMahon, and interviewers Mariella Frostrup, Alex Clarke, Kirsty Lang, Roisin Ingle and Olivia O’Leary.

Musicians speaking include Nick Cave’s lifelong collaborator Warren Ellis, Fontaines DC frontman Grian Chatten, Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood, U2′s Adam Clayton, Hothouse Flowers guitarist Fiachna O Braonáin, the composer behind Riverdance Bill Whelan, and Imelda May.

As usual the festival will present a few less definable events including Dylan Moran teaching bi-hemispherical portraiture, William Sieghart’s Poetry Pharmacy, Paul’s Kitchen, a pop-up restaurant serving four courses of exhilarating food, Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack tackling Joyce on Bloomsday, morning yoga led by movement artist Amaia Elizaran with Liam O Maonlaí on the harp, visual artists Dorothy Cross, Perry Ogden and Osman Yousefzada, and the diary of teenage Ukrainian war escapee Yeva Skaliestka. This year’s music in the evening will be from Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, Liam O Maonlaí, Donal Dineen, and some surprises. Full details on www.festivalofwritingandideas.com

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The UCD Festival is returning on Saturday, June 10th, showcasing more than 130 free events at the university’s Belfield campus.

This year’s literary strand, curated by broadcaster Rick O’Shea, has with an impressive range of talks, workshops and exhibitions. Lisa McInerney and Roddy Doyle discuss “writing working class characters into fiction”. Elaine Feeney and Karl Geary tackle whether there is much truth in the idea of “the difficult second novel”.

As part of the festival’s New Writing strand, catch Emilie Pine in conversation with Michael Magee and Nicole Flattery on their acclaimed first novels, Close to Home and Nothing Special. Also, don’t miss author Disha Bose’s interview with Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan, the voice behind the audiobook version of Bose’s debut novel Dirty Laundry.

A new Junior Literary Strand has been designed for budding writers. Fighting Words will host workshops, and authors Graham Tugwell and Dave Rudden will lead an exhilarating Greetings Heroes creative writing experience in which young writers can create their own adventure.

Elsewhere on campus, Victoria Kennefick will host a poetry reading inspired by the Irish Civil War, and visitors can check out the new Seamus Heaney collection at the UCD special collections.

Events are free but booking may be required see: festival.ucd.ie

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The Winter Guest by WC Ryan has been shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger Award and Breaking by Amanda Cassidy is up for the ILP John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger.

2023 marks the CWA’s 70th year; the Daggers are the oldest awards in the genre, created in 1955. The winners will be announced at the Daggers awards night on July 6th at the Leonardo City hotel in London, with guest speaker, author Charlie Higson.

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Writers Patrick McCabe and Timothy O’Grady go on the road with this music and spoken word event based on their novels ‘Poguemanhone’ and ‘I Could Read the Sky’ with some of Ireland’s top musicians, Michael McGoldrick, Dezi Donnelly, Cathy Jordan and Larry Beau.

The Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith, London presents the world premiere of In the Smoke: A Night of Words, Music, Song and Images, A Lament and a Celebration of the History of the Irish in London on Saturday, June 3rd at 8pm.

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John Robb, author and bass player for perennial post-punk survivors The Membranes, is Limerick bound on June 2nd to speak about his latest best-selling book, The Art Of Darkness: The History Of Goth. Robb will be interviewed by Prof Eoin Devereux, co-director of the Centre for the Study of Popular Music and Popular Culture at UL, on June 2nd at the Kasbah, Dolans. It’s a free event and will feature a public interview, a book signing. To round off this special night, John Robb will do a unique DJ set.

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As the TS Eliot Prize celebrates its 30th year, the foundation behind it has announced the judges for the 2023 Prize: the panel will be chaired by Paul Muldoon, alongside Sasha Dugdale and Denise Saul.

The judges will be looking for the best new poetry collection written in English and published in 2023. The prize is unique in that entrants are judged by their peers; the panel always consists of established poets. Muldoon said: ‘It’s an honour to chair the T. S. Eliot Prize as it celebrates 30 years of excellence in poetry. I look forward to reading numerous collections, discovering remarkable new voices and rediscovering familiar ones, as I work alongside my distinguished fellow judges Sasha Dugdale and Denise Saul.’

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The Commonwealth Foundation has announced its 2023 winners for the world’s most global literature prize, the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Chosen from 6,642 entrants by an international judging panel chaired by Pakistani writer and translator Bilal Tanweer, five writers have been selected, one for each region of the Commonwealth (Africa, Asia, Pacific, Caribbean and Canada/UK). After a final round of judging the overall winner will be announced on June 27th.

The prize is often seen as a bellwether of new talent, with former winner Ingrid Persaud describing it as ‘opening doors overnight’. This year’s youngest winner is 20-year-old South African Hana Gammon for her story ‘The Undertaker’s Apprentice’. Two stories are based on historical events: Caribbean winner Kwame McPherson’s ‘Ocoee’ is named after a town in Florida where, in November 1920, a group of African Americans were massacred in a brutal, racially aggravated attack. New Zealander Himali McInnes’s story ‘Kilinochchi’ is set in her country of birth, Sri Lanka, and tells of a mother searching for her son who is fighting in the civil war. British author Rue Baldry’s ‘Lech, Prince and the Nice Things’ offers a subversive take on the British class system. Agnes Chew’s ‘Oceans away from My homeland’, the story of a young Singaporean women facing a health scare in a foreign clinic completes the lineup. Commonwealth Short Story Prize