Cathy Sweeney and daughter Lucy Sweeney Byrne shortlisted for Butler Literary Award

A preview of Saturday’s books pages and a roundup of the latest literary news

Mother and daughter Cathy Sweeney and Lucy Sweeney Byrne have both been shortlisted for the 2020 Butler Literary Award, along with fellow short story writer Wendy Erskine, Ian Maleney and Oisín Fagan.

The $2,000 award is for what the judges deem to be the best first publication by an Irish writer in any literary form, or a first publication in a new form by an already published writer, from August 2018 to June 2020. This year’s judges are Kevin Barry, Eibhear Walshe and Helen Meany, chaired by Catherine Marshall.

The judges said that they were struck by the wealth of talent among emerging writers in Ireland at present, especially in the short story and essay forms. “Choosing five titles was not easy but we think that this shortlist showcases the originality, literary playfulness and verve that made the selection process a pleasure.”

The shortlisted titles are: Modern Times by Cathy Sweeney (Stinging Fly); Minor Monuments by Ian Maleney (Tramp Press); Sweet Home by Wendy Erskine (Stinging Fly); Nobber by Oisín Fagan (John Murray); and Paris Syndrome by Lucy Sweeney Byrne (Banshee Press).


The award was initiated in 1962 by Patrick and Aimee Butler of St Paul, Minnesota and revived in 2018 by the Irish American Cultural Institute. The winner will be announced in early October.


Akin by Emma Donoghue is this Saturday’s Irish Times Eason offer. Save €6 on the retail price and buy it for just €4.99 at any branch along with a copy of The Irish Times.


Doubleday Ireland is to publish Diving for Pearls, the debut novel by Irish writer Jamie O’Connell, after its editorial director Fiona Murphy bought the rights from agent Marianne Gunn O’Connor.

Murphy said: “I was blown away by the scope of the novel and the control and skill with which Jamie weaves this story. Diving for Pearls is a stunning and page-turning novel that allows us to see Dubai through the eyes of a diverse range of characters, examining the complex eco-system and vast inequalities that characterise the city. It’s a novel for our times and one I can’t wait to publish.”

O’Connell said: “I am delighted to be published by Doubleday. So many of their authors’ books already line my shelves and I feel honoured that I’ll be published alongside this amazing group. The novel has been many years in its creation and it’s wonderful to have someone like Fiona, a champion of Irish writing, give my work this endorsement.”

O’Connell was highly commended for the Costa Short Story Award 2018, shortlisted for the Maeve Binchy Travel Award and the Sky Arts Futures Fund, and long-listed for BBC Radio 4 Opening Lines Short Story Competition. He has received bursaries from The Arts Council of Ireland, Culture Ireland, Dublin City Council and Cork City Council. He has previously taught creative writing in University College Dublin and worked for Penguin Random House. He was on the committee of Dublin Book Festival (2014-16) and one of the judges of the Irish Bookseller of the Year Award 2018.


This Saturday’s Irish Times features an interview with author Caroline O’Donoghue by Una Mullally about her new novel, Scenes of a Graphic Nature. Katie Mack also tallks to Laura Kennedy about her new work, The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking). Reviews include Matthew O’Toole on Democracy for Sale by Peter Geoghegan; Barry Pierce on Summer by Ali Smith; Catherine Toal on Sarah M Broom’s The Yellow House; JS Tennant on How to be Nowhere by Tim MacGabhann; Niamh Donnelly on Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey; John Self on Sanne Blauw’s The Number Bias; Sarah Gilmartin on True Story by Kate Reed Petty; and Declan Burke on the best new crime fiction.