Aoife Fitzpatrick wins Kate O’Brien Award

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

In this Saturday’s Irish Times, Mary Costello talks to me about her new story collection, Barcelona. Tana French tells Niamh Donnelly about her new novel, The Hunter. Iryna Kovalchuk writes about reading on the frontline: Ukrainian soldiers finding inspiration in bibliotherapy. Breakdown author Cathy Sweeney writes an essay on women and money. And there is a Q&A with best-selling author Lesley Pearse about her 32nd book, a memoir about her tangled Irish roots.

Reviews are Chris Kissane on How the World Made the West by Josephine Quinn; Edel Coffey on The Liverbirds: Our Story of Life in Britain’s First Female Rock’n’Roll Band and Whatever Happened to Birdie Troy by Rachael English; The Future of Songwriting by Kristin Hersh; Rónán Hession on the best new fiction in translation; Theo Dorgan on Maurice and Maralyn by Sophie Elmhirst; Neil Hegarty on Desmond Bell’s Ireland through a critical lens: a miscellany of life-writing on politics, culture, and film; Adrienne Murphy on No Peace Until He’s Dead by Amanda Brown; Mia Levitin on Melting Point by Rachel Cockerell; Marianne Elliott on Elizabeth de Young, Power, Politics and Territory in the ‘New Northern Ireland’: Girdwood Barracks and the Story of the Peace Process; Brigid O’Dea on Neighbors and Other Stories by Diane Oliver; and Sarah Gilmartin on Clear by Carys Davis


Aoife Fitzpatrick has won the ninth annual Kate O’Brien Award for her novel The Red Bird Sings at this year’s Limerick Literary Festival, which has been running since 1984. She was chosen from a shortlist that included Slant by Katherine O’Donnell and The Last Days of Joy by Anne Tiernan.


The award for the best debut book from a female Irish writer was awarded at the Belltable, Limerick on Sunday night. Vivienne McKechnie, chair of the reader’s panel of the Limerick Literary Festival, said: “One judge commented that while both Slant and The Last Days of Joy were serious and important books, his heart went with The Red Bird Sings. It is a beautifully written, poignant, haunting, compelling tale, based on a real-life murder trial in 1897, West Virginia. It explores the questions which we are still asking today: who is listened to and who is ignored? Why are women so often not believed? And what does justice truly mean?”

The judges were author Donal Ryan; writer and critic Niall MacMonagle; writer and children’s book buyer for Kenny’s Bookshop Grainne O’Brien; poet and committee member Vivienne McKechnie; and committee member Marie Hackett.

The Irish Times review, by Lucy Sweeney Byrne, called it “a genuinely brilliant little read ... enjoyable, and intelligent, and does well what so many books in similar guise fail to do – offers a tangible slice of life from another time and place, one that feels both fantastical and utterly believable. It’s clear that Aoife Fitzpatrick has taken her time writing it, and that she has researched thoroughly. Researched so thoroughly, in fact, that it’s hard to believe she’s a Dublin native, and not a Virginian ghost herself, come back to tell us what for and teach us a little something about the tribulations of women through the ages.

“The depiction of coercion within marriage is unnerving in its accuracy, Fitzpatrick capturing the isolation and desperation achieved within the closed walls of a relationship. Trout Shue makes a great, old-fashioned villain, while the women of the novel are sufficiently flawed to remain human, rather than irritatingly saintly.”

The Kate O’Brien Award comes with a €2,000 cash prize sponsored by Bill and Denise Whelan. The author was previously shortlisted for Newcomer of the Year at the Irish Book Awards. She won the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize in 2020 and the inaugural Books Ireland short-story competition. She received an MFA in creative writing at University College Dublin in 2019. Her second book will also be published by Virago Press.


Michael Magee, the Belfast-born author whose debut novel Close to Home has already won the 2023 Rooney Prize for Literature and the Nero Book Awards for Debut Fiction, has been listed for two more major prizes, the Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award and the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award.

The Young Writer of the Year Award shortlist also features Tom Crewe, an editor and debut novelist from Middlesborough, for his daring novel of nineteenth-century forbidden desire The New Life (Vintage), which won the 2023 Orwell Prize for Political Fiction and the South Bank Sky Arts Award for Literature, and was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize; Noreen Masud, a Scottish-Pakistani writer and lecturer, for her raw and radical autobiography A Flat Place, which weaves her impressions of the natural world with poetry, folklore and history, and with recollections of her own early life, and is longlisted for Women’s Prize for Non-Fiction 2024; and Somali-British poet and essayist Momtaza Mehri, whose debut poetry collection Bad Diaspora Poems, told in lyric, prose and text messages, confronts ideas around diaspora, migration and home, and is the winner of an Eric Gregory Award and the 2023 Forward Prize for Best First Collection.

Chair of judges Johanna Thomas-Corr said: ‘We have found four very different writers who are injecting real energy and vitality into the literary scene. What impressed me most was their attentiveness to the world around them and their commitment to telling complex and often tough truths, as well as the unique ways in which each has made space for humour in their work. They have all shown daring and gumption.’

The winner receives a prize of £10,000 (with each shortlistee receiving £1,000), and will be announced in a ceremony at Canova Hall, Brixton on March 19th. The four shortlisted authors will also be in conversation at a public event in a central London Waterstones on Monday, 18th March, hosted by Sebastian Faulks, Chair of the Charlotte Aitken Trust.

Magee said: “I’m grateful for all the judges involved in the selection process. It’s not an easy job by any account, there are so many good young writers knocking about, and to be named alongside Tom Crewe, Momtaza Mehri, and Noreen Masud, is such a privilege. I wish them all the best.”

The Authors’ Club this week announced the longlist for its annual Best First Novel Award, now in its 70th year and worth £2,500. The longlisted books are: Santanu Bhattacharya’s One Small Voice; Stephen Buoro’s The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa; Kate Collins’ A Good House for Children; Tom Crewe’s The New Life; Jacqueline Crooks’ Fire Rush; Heather Darwent’s The Things We Do To Our Friends; Sian Hughes’ Pearl; Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow’s All the Little Bird-Hearts; Michael Magee’s Close to Home; Alice Slater’s Death of a Bookseller; Sarah Thomas’s Queen K; Wiz Wharton’s Ghost Girl, Banana.

Lucy Popescu, chair of the judging panel, said: “We are delighted to announce our longlist of 12 striking debut novelists who introduce us to an array of memorable characters. There are fresh perspectives on the coming-of-age narrative and a thrilling range of themes, from corruption and religious intolerance, through neurodiversity and masculinity, loss and bereavement, wealth and privilege, obsession and desire, to ghosts and superstition. As well as their inward journeys, the books transport us from Britain to India and Hong Kong, Jamaica and Nigeria, and a luxury yacht in the Maldives.”

The shortlist will be announced on March 25th and the winner, to be selected by this year’s guest adjudicator, the journalist and broadcaster Samira Ahmed, on May 22nd.


Emma Shannon from Dubray Books, Cork has been named this year’s winner of The O’Brien Press Bookseller of the Year Award. The announcement was made by the publisher on Monday at the annual Irish Book Trade conference and dinner, held by Bookselling Ireland & Publishing Ireland, at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Dublin Airport.

Shannon, who worked for nearly 20 years in Dubray Books, Rathmines before moving to Cork to set up the Dubray Books Cork store, is the 30th recipient of the award, which is presented annually in recognition of outstanding achievement or an invaluable contribution to the book trade by an individual bookseller. Winners are presented with The Elements, a bronze perpetual trophy sculpted by Rowan Gillespie and a framed commemorative certificate.

Ivan O’Brien, managing director of The O’Brien Press, said: ‘The thirtieth winner of the O’Brien Bookseller of the Year award combines experience with flair. A great shop-floor bookseller, she set up the first Dubray shop in Cork and made it a real destination. In a tight field with lots of potential winners, she was the outstanding candidate. When The O’Brien Press was founded 50 years ago, the instincts and actions of a few key booksellers were instrumental to our success. The importance of knowing what customers will want – whether in a big chain or through handselling to long-standing customers – has never been greater. A good bookseller does what the internet never can.”

The citation reads: “Emma Shannon of Dubray Books, Cork runs her shop superbly in the face of fierce local competition. Enthusiastic, engaged and always pleasant with customers, colleagues and other industry professionals, she has built and mentored an extraordinary team. A true asset to the Irish book world, she knows the needs of her local customers so well that you would think that she was actually from Cork!”


The Strokestown International Poetry Competition is back!

Established in 1999, former winners include Vona Groarke, Paddy Bushe, Maureen Boyle and Jane Robinson among a list of many distinguished poets. This year’s competition will be judged by the award-winning poet and broadcaster, Enda Wyley.

With a prize fund of €2,000, the prize’s five shortlisted poets will be invited to read their poem at this year’s Strokestown International Poetry Festival 2024 from May 3rd to 5th, where the winner will be announced. The festival programme will go live in early February.

To apply, visit the website and go to ‘Poetry Competition’. The site is currently accepting entries and the closing date is March 8th!


The 2024 Michel Déon Prize for non-fiction was opened to nominations this week by the Royal Irish Academy. The €10,000 prize will be awarded in September for the best non-fiction book by a writer living in Ireland. The winning author will give the ‘Michel Déon Lecture’ in France in 2025.

The inaugural prize in 2018 was presented to historian Breandán MacSuibhne for his book The End of Outrage: Post-Famine Adjustment in Rural Ireland. In 2020 the Royal Irish Academy awarded the prize to journalist Conor O’Clery for his book The Shoemaker and his Daughter. The 2022 prize was awarded to journalist Sally Hayden for her book My Fourth Time, We Drowned.

The prize, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs, will be awarded to the author of the book that the judging panel consider to be the best work of non-fiction published in the previous two years from the eligible categories – autobiography, biography, cultural studies, history, literary studies, philosophy and travel.

Michel Déon (1919–2016) is considered to have been one of the leading French writers of the 20th century, who made Ireland his home in the 1970s until his death in 2016. He published more than 50 works and was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Prix Interallié for his 1970 novel, Les Poneys sauvages (The Wild Ponies). Déon’s 1973 novel Un taxi mauve (A Purple Taxi) received the Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française and in 1978 he was elected to the Académie française.

Nominate a title for consideration on the RIA website. The closing date for nominations is midnight on April 8th.


Padraic Quinn, former international cyclist, Velotec & TG4 commentator and David Brennan, Castle Books, will discuss their favourite cycling books and more, in the welcoming setting of The Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar on Friday, March 8th at 6pm.

The competitive sport of cycling inspires those with a love of adventure. It is a spectacle of strategy and human endurance. The colourful and festival atmosphere that accompanies races provides many entertaining anecdotes about the most memorable sport stars and fans. The landscape of iconic races provide the perfect opportunity to discuss literature, architecture, history, food and more.

Enjoy hearing two fluent Irish speakers speak about the books and sport they love.

Fáilte roimh chách. All welcome. Entry is free but advanced booking is advised: Ag ceiliúradh an chultúir rothaíochta le Padraic O’Cuinn i gcomhrá le Dáithí Ó Braonáin | Arts for All at the Linenhall Supported by Seachtain na Gaeilge le Energia.


The Irish Writers Centre will be opening its doors for Spring Open Day on Saturday, March 9th. Taking place inside its beautiful Georgian building on Parnell Square in Dublin, Spring Open Day is a dynamic programme of free events that brings together anyone with an interest in books and writing through taster workshops, information sessions and a panel discussion. All welcome! Sign up and more details here.


Passing on the Irish language to the next generation is a priority for many adults in Ireland, whether they have just a cúpla focal, speak Irish at home, or are entirely new to the language. Often, one of the best places to start is to pick up a book, exploring new words together with the help of illustrations, rhyming text and the excitement of a brand-new story.

This Seachtain na Gaeilge (March 1st-17th), Clár na Leabhar Gaeilge, Foras na Gaeilge and Children’s Books Ireland are launching their campaign, ‘Give Leabhar Gaeilge’, highlighting the excellent books on offer in the Irish language for children and young people.

At the heart of the campaign is their new ‘Give Leabhar Gaeilge’ reading guide, featuring 100 brilliant leabhair Ghaeilge for ages 0–18. Copies of the reading guide will be available in 30 libraries and 25 bookshops nationwide, with 25 ‘editor’s picks’ from the guide, available to buy or borrow in each library or bookshop. The guide can also be downloaded free of charge from the Children’s Books Ireland website.

A set of these 25 books will also be delivered to 125 primary schools across the country, helping spread the grá for leabhair Ghaeilge this March and beyond.

For more information on the campaign and to download the reading guide, visit


The inaugural Pratchett Prize will be announced at the opening session of Creative Brain Week – a series of free public events celebrating the brain and creativity, hosted by the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity College Dublin which is taking place next week, March 4th–9th.

Inspired by the life and work of author Terry Pratchett, the new award, administered by the Trinity Centre for Literary and Cultural Translation, acknowledges the contribution of a scientist, artist, activist or person living with the condition who collaboratively or individually works to reduce the impact of Alzheimer’s disease.

Pratchett became one of the most vocal advocates for supporting research into Alzheimer’s disease after being diagnosed with the condition in 2007. He continued this advocacy until his death in 2015. The winner will be presented with the symbolic prize, a bust of Terry Pratchett, by the late author’s assistant, Rob Wilkins.