Michael Magee wins Waterstones Irish Book of the Year; Sebastian Barry wins Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger

Books newsletter: a wrap of the latest news and a preview of tomorrow’s pages

In The Irish Times this Saturday, more than 20 leading writers and critics select their books of the year. To mark the recent passing of his former colleague Sean Purcell and in the week that a former Sunday Tribune subeditor, Paul Lynch, won the Booker Prize, another Booker winner, John Banville, himself a former subeditor on The Irish Press and The Irish Times, celebrates the art of the subeditor. Marita Conlon-McKenna, Paul Howard and Patricia Forde recommend Irish children’s books, while Deanna O’Connor selects 12 stocking-filler children’s books from Irish authors. As Trinity College Dublin opens online access to 60 medieval manuscripts, Henrietta McKervey finds riches beyond the Book of Kells. And there is a Q&A with Theo Dorgan about his latest poetry collection and reaching the ripe age of 70.

Reviews include Áine Ní Ghlinn on the year’s best Irish-language books; Tony Clayton-Lea on the best new music books; Catherine Taylor on the best new translations; Bill Barich on Winter Papers 9; Brigid O’Dea on I’m Not as Well as I Thought I Was by Ruby Wax; Liam Cagney on Paused in Cosmic Reflection by Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons; Kate Demolder on How to Say Babylon by Safiya Sinclair; Helen Cullen on Held by Anne Michaels; Anna Carey on The Postcard by Anne Berest; Martina Evans on Resting Places: On Wounds, War and the Irish Revolution by Ellen McWilliams; Sara Keating on children’s Christmas books; and Nathan Dunne on Fergal Tobin’s Dublin Bridges.

This weekend’s Irish Times Eason offer is Last Christmas at Ballyclare by Emily Bell, just €5.99, a €5 saving, with your paper.

Close to Home by Michael Magee has been announced as Waterstones Irish Book of the Year 2023.


Close to Home has already won Magee the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and is shortlisted for the Nero debut fiction award, having also been shortlisted for the Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize 2023. It is a powerful portrait of modern masculinity, working-class youth, and trauma, with boundless intelligence and heart. Told through the llives of two brothers in post-conflict Belfast, it is at once a pitch-perfect study of place and a universally relatable exploration of what it’s like to be young, broke and adrift.

Susan Salters, of Waterstones Belfast, said: “Close to Home was the unanimous choice for Irish Book of the Year by all the booksellers in Ireland, North and South. It’s a beautifully written, honest, witty and moving debut novel with vivid characterisations, not least the loveable rogue of a protagonist. It’s also a brilliant snapshot of a post-conflict city undergoing massive changes. I’ve lived in Belfast for most of my life and it’s made me look at my home city afresh. It’s a novel that stays with you long after you’ve read it.”

Magee said: “I’m thrilled that Close to Home has been named Waterstones Irish Book of the Year. It’s such an honour, and to have the support of Waterstones is really special. Huge thanks to the booksellers and buyers, and all the Waterstones staff. It means the world.”

Magee grew up in Belfast, where he once worked as a Waterstones bookseller. He studied at John Moores University in Liverpool, later obtaining his PhD in Creative Writing from Queen’s University, Belfast. He is the fiction editor of The Tangerine and his writing has appeared in Winter Papers, The Stinging Fly and The Lifeboat among others.


Sebastian Barry has been awarded the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger for Au bon vieux temps de Dieu Laëtitia Devaux’s French translation of Old God’s Time, published by Joëlle Losfeld, at a ceremony in Paris on Wednesday evening. Previous Irish winners include Colum McCann in 2021 for Apeirogon and Colm Tóibín in 2005 for The Master. Dating to 1948, the prize’s previous winners include Aldous Huxley, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Orhan Pamuk.


President Michael D. Higgins has launched a two-volume book collection, that brings together each of the six Machnamh 100 seminars held in Áras an Uachtaráin between December 2020 and November 2022.

The six seminars brought together leading scholars from a range of different backgrounds to consider the formative events of a century ago. The seminars, which were chaired by Dr John Bowman, were focused on the War of Independence, the Treaty negotiations, the Civil War, and the establishment of two new administrations on the island.

Running through the seminars, a particular emphasis was placed on those voices which may have been neglected, been marginalised or simply ignored in the past, including the role of women, social class and land, as well as how certain exclusions became institutionalised.

The two-volume book collection (Volume 1 of which was previously released in November 2021 but is now brought together with the newly published Volume 2 in the collection) is now available to members of the public in public libraries and universities and third-level institutions across the country.

It is also available to view or download free of charge as an ebook at president.ie/machnamh as well as via the library app Borrowbox and to all post-primary schools including via the Scoilnet platform.

In addition to the book collection, the six seminars can also be watched in full on the RTÉ Player under the title ‘Machnamh 100′ with videos and audio recordings of each individual speaker across the series also available at president.ie/machnamh.

The themes and speakers for the series were based on consultations between the President and Professor Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, who was the President’s Principal Advisor on the Machnamh 100 series. The President and Professor Ó Tuathaigh took part in a discussion that reviewed the series at a launch event at Áras an Uachtaráin chaired by Dr John Bowman yesterday evening. Renowned traditional Irish musician Martin Hayes performed at the event after their discussion.


Ireland Professor of Poetry Paul Muldoon will be resident in Trinity College, Dublin, for the spring 2024 semester, where he will host a series of events including his seminar series entitled How to Read a Poem. Leading on from its success at Queen’s University Belfast last year, the seminar series asks the public to address certain questions such as ‘How do we make sense of the contemporary poem? Are there any strategies we might find helpful?’ Muldoon then leads an open discussion on poems published that same week in literary journals and magazines. All are welcome. The only prerequisite? An open mind.

Commencing on January 24th, the very popular How to Read a Poem series will take place on Wednesdays from 5-7 pm, in the Long Room Hub, Trinity College, Dublin, then on February 7th, February 21st, March 6th, March 20th and April 17th. The final seminar will take place in the Physics Theatre, Trinity College, on May 1st.

This is a free event, but demand will be high, please reserve your free seat here or by visiting The Ireland Chair of Poetry Trust website.

Muldoon’s UCD event for spring 2024 will be a reading in the Museum of Literature Ireland, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin on February 1st at 7pm. Bookings for this event will open shortly.

A lecture entitled Make Like a Bird will take place in Trinity College, Dublin, on February 27th, and in Queen’s University, Belfast, on May 2nd. It will be a musing upon various topics including Michael Longley, the Royston crow, galoshes, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, The Voyage of Muldoon, MacCecht the cup bearer, incest, and the Popish Plot. Bookings for this event will open shortly.

These are all free events, but demand will be high so please reserve your free seat by visiting the Ireland Chair of Poetry Trust website.

Ledbury Poetry (UK) has announced that Donegal poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin is among the poets shortlisted for the fourth Ledbury Hellens Poetry Prize for best second collection published in Britain or Ireland in 2021 or 2022. This prize aims to support and encourage poets at the ‘mid-career’ stage, with a prize of £5,000. The other collections and poets shortlisted for the prize are: Kaveh Akbar (Chatto) Pilgrim Bell; All the Names Given, Raymond Antrobus (Picador); A Blood Condition, Kayo Chingonyi (Chatto); England’s Green, Zaffar Kunial (Faber); Bloom, Sarah Westcott (Pavilion Poetry).

Judges Togara Muzanenhamo and Penelope Shuttle said: “Drawing inspiration from the concept of restorative justice – Annemarie Ní Churreáin’s The Poison Glen entwines legend from the Gaeltacht landscape with moments from history to depict the systematic mistreatment of unmarried or abandoned mothers and the children born to these women. Ní Churreáin revisits locations of state “care” institutions in Ireland over the past hundred years and beyond with an inquisitive lens that requires us to ask what the left-behind sites remember or what sense of the child remains after trauma. The Poison Glen stands as a literary monument to silenced voices”.

Ní Churreáin is from Cloich Cheann Fhaola. Her books include Bloodroot (Doire Press, 2017), Town (The Salvage Press, 2018) and The Poison Glen (The Gallery Press, 2021). She is a recipient of the Irish Arts Council’s Next Generation Artist Award and a co-recipient of The Markievicz Award. She is poetry editor at The Stinging Fly magazine. Her most recent literary project, a limited edition poetry pamphlet titled Ghostgirl, explores the Stranorlar Workhouse and Stranorlar County Home (also known as Stranorlar Mother and Baby Home). The project was a commission of the Donegal Archives Service as part of the Donegal Decade of Centenaries Programme.

The winner will be announced on December 4th at 7pm at an online prize giving ceremony hosted by the Ledbury Centre. Please reserve your free ticket by visiting ledburypoetry.org.uk.


Good for a Girl by Lauren Fleshman has won this year’s William Hill Sports Book of the Year award – the first women’s sport memoir to win the prize (and the first year in the prize’s history that the shortlist was dominated by women).

This is a memoir and manifesto by the pro-athlete and feminist campaigner calling for a revolution in women’s sports which Virago published earlier this year. It is Fleshman’s story of falling in love with running as a girl, being pushed to her limits and succumbing to devastating injuries, and daring to fight for a better way for female athletes.

She shares her experiences navigating the male-dominated world of professional sport and its challenges: from getting sponsorship offers that were far less lucrative than her male counterparts, to being asked to pose naked for a Nike sports shoe campaign, to being expected to work unpaid for a year if she were to become pregnant, to ultimately leaving Nike to shake up the industry with feminist running brand Oiselle.

Alongside recounting her own personal story, Fleshman also employs scientific and social research to reveal how the world of sports are catered to the needs and bodies of men in the vein of Caroline Criado-Perez’s Invisible Women.


Bookselling Ireland, the committee of Booksellers Association members representing bookshops across Ireland, is encouraging shoppers to support their local bookshop by shopping local and shopping Irish this Christmas.

Irish bookselling contributes €189 million to the economy and supports 3,145 jobs. Dawn Behan, Chair of Bookselling Ireland, said, “With the festive countdown now underway and people shopping for gifts for their loved ones we would encourage everyone to shop local this Christmas and support your local bookshop. Our experienced booksellers are on hand to help and offer advice on books for young and old that will be sure to delight come Christmas morning.”

Some of Bookselling Ireland’s recommended new books for Christmas 2023 include:

For children: The Forgettables by Myles Dungan and illustrated by Alan Dunne.

This book shines a light on some of the fascinating men, women and animals who made an impact on Irish life, but have since been forgotten. Learn about Alice Kyteler, the Kilkenny Witch; jewel thief Francis Shackleton (brother of explorer Ernest); and Paddy the Pigeon, awarded the Dickin Medal for being a D-Day hero.

For those who want to learn as they read: Dirty Linen: The Troubles in My Home Place by Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle, Books Editor of the Irish Times, draws on his personal experiences growing up in rural Co. Down in the 1970s to paint a moving and poignant account of the long-lasting consequences of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

For the foodie: Flavour by Mark Moriarty

It’s difficult to find a cookbook that will show you how to cook basic everyday meals elevated to restaurant quality, but Mark Moriarty uses his 15 years’ experience working in professional kitchens to create 100 imaginative yet easy to follow recipes. This book will delight beginner and experienced cooks.

For fiction lovers: My Father’s House by Joseph O’Connor

Based on the true story of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty and his trusted network of accomplices who risked their lives to smuggle thousands of Jews and escaped Allied prisoners out of Italy during WWII, this literary thriller is fast-paced and beautifully written.

For fantasy and science fiction lovers: The Undetectables by Courtney Smyth

A magical serial killer is stalking the Occult town of Wrackton. Enter the Undetectables, a detective agency run by three witches and a ghost in a cat costume (don’t ask). They are hired to investigate the murders, but with their only case so far left unsolved, will they be up to the task?

For the armchair sportspeople:

This is the Life: Days and Nights in the GAA by Ciarán Murphy

Already well known as a Second Captains host and sports journalist, Ciarán Murphy’s first book is his love letter to the GAA, capturing the significance of the organisation to communities throughout the country and the unbreakable bonds forged between all those involved.


The judging panel for the 2024 Dublin Literary Award has been announced.

The Dublin Literary Award, sponsored by Dublin City Council, celebrates excellence in world literature and is the world’s largest prize for a single novel published in English.

Uniquely, the award receives its nominations from public libraries around the world and recognises both writers and translators. In 2023 there were 70 books on the 2023 longlist nominated from 84 libraries in 31 countries. This judging panel will choose both the shortlist and ultimate winner of the award.

The longlist will be announced on January 16th 2024.

The international panel of Judges features Irenosen Okojie, Nigerian British author and journalist who has judged 2023 Women’s Prize for fiction and received an MBE for Services to Literature; Daniel Medin, Professor of comparative literature at the American University of Paris, where he teaches courses on East Central European literature and culture and a former judge of the Booker International prize ; Lucy Collins, Associate Professor at University College Dublin, where she teaches modern and contemporary literature; Anton Hur, Korean author and translator who was double-longlisted and shortlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize; and Ingunn Snædal, Icelandic poet, translator, literary editor and teacher who has translated over 100 novels and children’s books from Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, English and Icelandic, and received several nominations and accolades for her translations.

The non-voting chairperson is Professor Chris Morash, the Seamus Heaney Professor of Irish Writing at Trinity College Dublin who has been at the helm of the judging process since 2019.


“We want to give every child the chance to discover a lifelong love of books, and we need your help.” That’s the call from national charity, Children’s Books Ireland as it launched its ‘Gift A Book’ appeal.

Children’s Books Ireland has committed a starting fund of €10,000, the prize money from their recent National Lottery Good Causes Award, to put books into the hands of children in need this Christmas. In partnership with Irish charities such as Dublin Simon, Novas and Doras, these books are being delivered to children and young people across Ireland who are experiencing homelessness and living in Direct Provision.

Children’s Books Ireland says that while this starting fund will ensure that over a thousand children receive the gift of a book this Christmas, there are thousands more who still need their support. The charity is asking the public to match this figure, making this gift go even further in 2024.

Elaina Ryan, CEO of Children’s Books Ireland, said: “For many people, Christmas is a time of joy, relaxation and indulgence. But there are approximately 2,440 children living in Emergency Accommodation Centres and almost 4,000 children living in homelessness in Ireland. For these children, Christmas is just another day without basic comforts, let alone luxuries.

“A book cannot put a roof over a child’s head, but it can give them a moment of reprieve from a difficult reality. Reading gives a child the gift of time travel, of magic, of a smile at a silly joke, or a moment of recognition when they see someone like them. In launching this appeal, we want to share this gift with children, and we are so grateful to everyone whose donations will help us to do that.

“We’re calling on everyone to gift a book this Christmas by donating at childrensbooksireland.ie/giftabook.”