User Menu

All shall have prizes, or at least be longlisted

Irish writers are at the fore of various award lists, including the Desmond Elliott Prize worth £10,000

Agent Desmond Elliott, left, lunching with client, writer Adam Diment, and actress/ model Suzie Mandrake. Photograph: Getty Images Agent Desmond Elliott, left, lunching with client, writer Adam Diment, and actress/ model Suzie Mandrake. Photograph: Getty Images

Confirmation, if it were needed, that Irish literature is having a moment came last week with news that no fewer than three Irish debut novelists have made the 10-strong longlist for the £10,000 Desmond Elliott Prize. These include the last two Irish Times Book Club selections (The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney and Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea).

Sara Baume, who next month reviews The Mandibles, Lionel Shriver’s new novel, for us, has been longlisted for Spill Simmer Falter Wither. So we have no favourites. Eimear McBride won the award in 2014 for A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing.

McInerney has also been longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Literature, as has Anne Enright for The Green Road. McCrea is shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.

Elliott, who died in 2003 aged 73, was a fascinating figure. As a publisher and agent, his successes included Leslie Thomas, Jilly Cooper, Penny Vincenzi, Linda Lee-Potter and Claire Rayner. He also introduced Tim Rice to Andrew Lloyd-Webber and represented them during the early years of their careers.

A “dapper little elf”, only 5ft tall, Elliott lived the high life, drinking only champagne and treating Fortnum and Mason’s as his corner shop and office canteen. He only flew Concorde to New York, where he exchanged his Mayfair bachelor pad (complete with kitchen trapeze) for a Park Avenue apartment.

Elliott’s education at Dublin’s Royal Masonic Orphanage was another rich source of anecdote. As Leslie Thomas later put it, this was the only orphanage in Ireland to host a parents’ day – and, indeed, Elliott was not even an orphan. His father died and his mother had insufficient means to support both her sons on a housekeeper’s wage.

Read Liz Thomson’s full profile online at (Other web-only highlights we recommend are Joanna Walsh and Susan Tomaselli discussing April’s Book Club choice, This Is the Ritual by Rob Doyle; Sarah Gilmartin’s interview with Brian Bilston, the unofficial poet laureate of Twitter; and Ed Power on why Lor d of the Rings beats Game of Thrones.)

John McAuliffe and Doireann Ní Ghríofa, this year’s winners of the Michael Hartnett Poetry Award, will travel to Newcastle West, the poet’s home town, to collect their award and read from their collections (The Way In and Clasp) next Thursday, April 14th, as part of this year’s Eigse Michael Hartnett.

Meg Rosoff has won the richest prize for children’s literature, the Astrid Lindgren memorial award, valued at 5 million Swedish kroner, or €535,000. The jury said Rosoff’s seven young adult novels, which include How I Live Now and Just in Case, “speak to the emotions as well as the intellect”, and that “in sparkling prose, she writes about the search for meaning and identity in a peculiar and bizarre world”.

It’s been quite a season for big prizes. Irish playwright Abbie Spallen won one of the world’s richest literary awards, the Windham-Campbell Prize, worth $150,000 (€138,000) last month. In December, Fintan O’Toole wrote of Spallen’s latest play, Lally the Scut: “This brave, brilliant, darkly hilarious Swiftian satire on the peace process is my Irish play of the year.”

Spallen is working on plays for the Abbey in Dublin, the Lyric in Belfast, and the National Theatre, Royal Court and Tricyle Theatre in London. And she plans to put some of her prize money towards writing and directing her first short film.

Mylesday, the annual homage to Flann O’Brien, was celebrated on April 1st at the Palace Bar on Dublin’s Fleet Street. This prompted a wit to recall the old one-liner that Patrick Kavanagh was famous for his Great Hunger while O’Brien was famous for his great thirst. Martin Doyle is Assistant Literary Editor