Irish authors dominate Nero adult fiction awards

Paul Murray, Megan Nolan, Michael Magee and Chloe Michelle Howarth on shortlists

Four Irish writers make up half of the shortlisted authors in the inaugural Caffe Nero Awards for Fiction and Debut Fiction, echoing the prominence of Irish authors in this year’s Booker Prize longlist and shortlist.

Paul Murray is shortlisted in the Fiction category for his acclaimed tragicomic novel The Bee Sting (Hamish Hamilton), alongside Waterford-born Megan Nolan’s story of family secrets, Ordinary Human Failings (Jonathan Cape), her second novel. Murray’s novel is also shortlisted for the Irish Novel of the Year Award, to be announced in Dublin tomorrow, and the Booker Prize, to be announced next Sunday.

Eleanor Catton, who was the youngest person to ever win the Booker Prize, is nominated for her psychological thriller Birnam Wood (Granta), whilst Karen Powell – who works for a charity to conserve and restore York Minster – features for her reimagining of the lives of the Brontë family, Fifteen Wild Decembers (Europa Editions).

In the Debut Fiction category, Michael Magee’s Close to Home (Hamish Hamilton) – which won the Rooney Prize for Literature 2023 and was shortlisted for the Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize 2023 – is set in Belfast, where Magee is the fiction editor of literary magazine The Tangerine. Chloe Michelle Howarth’s Sunburn (VERVE Books) is a coming-of-age novel inspired in part by the author’s childhood in the west Cork countryside. She now lives in Brighton. Magee is shortlisted for Newcomer of the Year at tomorrow’s Irish Book Awards.


Norwich-based Nigerian author Stephen Buoro is nominated for his tragicomic novel The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa (Bloomsbury Circus). He is currently studying for a PhD in creative & critical Writing at the University of East Anglia. The shortlist is completed by The New Life (Chatto & Windus), an historical tale of desire by London Review of Books editor Tom Crewe, who also features as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2023.

Four books by women make up the Non-Fiction shortlist, three of them by debut authors Fern Brady, Freya Bromley and Victoria Smith. Strong Female Character (Brazen) by the autistic Scottish comedian Fern Brady, who lives in London, and Hags (Fleet) by the feminist journalist Victoria Smith, who lives in Cheltenham, both tackle misogyny and its intersections with factors of neurodiversity and age, respectively. Undercurrent (Coronet) by the Cornish writer and poet Natasha Carthew – also the founder and artistic director of the Working Class Writers Festival who writes all her books exclusively outside – highlights the issue of rural poverty and a life defined by the beauty of nature. The Tidal Year (Coronet) by Londoner Freya Bromley is an exploration of grief and the healing power of wild swimming. Bromley is the host of a podcast which shares its name with the book.

The Children’s Fiction category features a range of topics from sapphic gothic romance to a laugh-out-loud mystery adventure. Social media star and novelist Lex Croucher makes the shortlist with their first YA book, historical fantasy romcom Gwen and Art Are Not in Love (Bloomsbury YA). Croucher is joined by fellow Londoner and Japanese translator Kat Dunn with her second novel, a gothic love story, Bitterthorn (Andersen Press). Candy Gourlay, also based in London and a winner of the Philippines’ National Children’s Book Award, makes the shortlist with her ninth book: a coming-of-age tale, Wild Song (David Fickling Books), published by an independent press. Beth Lincoln, who lives in Newcastle and has a love of word games, puzzles, linguistic acrobatics and puns, rounds off the list with her mystery adventure and debut novel The Swifts (Puffin).

The Nero Book Awards fill a gap left by the Costa Book Awards, which were abruptly terminated in 2022, having been awarded for 50 years since 1971, originally as the Whitbread Book Prizes.

Gerry Ford, Founder and CEO of Caffè Nero commented: “The Nero Book Awards are important to Caffè Nero and to me because of our interest in bringing the arts, cultural programmes and intellectual pursuits to our coffee houses. The response from publishers and authors to these awards has been tremendous, and I’m excited by the quality books that the judges have shortlisted. We hope readers of all tastes will enjoy these books and recommend them to others.”

A winning title from each of the four categories will be announced on 16th January 2024 and, of those, one book will be selected as the overall winner – The Nero Gold Prize – by a final panel of judges and announced at a ceremony in late February 2024. Each of the category winners receives £5,000, with the overall Nero Gold Prize - Book of the Year winner receiving an additional £30,000.

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle is Books Editor of The Irish Times