Colin Barrett wins Guardian first book award

Young Skins author has already won Rooney Prize for Irish Literature

Colin Barrett: said his collection was full of the “usual things that transpire within the confines of any small town … misjudgments and violence, affairs and kindnesses, silences and eruptions”

Colin Barrett: said his collection was full of the “usual things that transpire within the confines of any small town … misjudgments and violence, affairs and kindnesses, silences and eruptions”

 

Irish author Colin Barrett has won the 2014 Guardian first book award with his short story collection, Young Skins, crowning a remarkable year in which he has already won the 2014 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, becoming only the second Irish writer to do so after Edna O’Brien.

Barrett, who was born in 1982 and grew up in Co Mayo, was championed by Declan Meade, editor of the Stinging Fly magazine, which first published him in 2009. In September 2013, within weeks of another of his writers, Kevin Barry, winning the International Impac Dublin Literary Award, Meade was alerting reviewers to an “original voice” about whose forthcoming collection he was very excited. Meade was struck by the combination of a high literary style, emotional intelligence and dark humour. “Hidden and at times disturbing depths lurk beneath the surface bravado,” wrote Irish Times Literary Correspondent Eileen Battersby. Young Skins was published in Britain last spring by Jonathan Cape and Grove in the US.

Writing in Guardian Review, Barrett said the collection was full of the “usual things that transpire within the confines of any small town … misjudgments and violence, affairs and kindnesses, silences and eruptions”.

It is the intensity of the short story which attracts him, Barrett wrote, citing Anne Enright’s description of John McGahern’s stories as the “literary equivalent of a hand grenade rolled across the kitchen floor”. In some of his stories the explosion is yet to come, while others explore the “ringing aftermath”, but “that is what I wanted these stories to be infused with: the pure combustibility of being alive”.

Young Skins is “from line to line … as interesting as prose can get these days,” Enright, one of the judges, said. “You expect everything to go horribly wrong in these stories, but they move towards redemption and not disaster. Barrett is very good at the unexpected. You’re working through something that’s feels gritty and hard but by the end, each story has turned into something almost lyrical and open. That’s real writing.”

The Booker winner identifies Barrett as part of a new generation of Irish writers such as Eimear McBride, Claire Kilroy and Donal Ryan, last year’s first book award winner. “There’s a sense of excitement in the air. It’s like the ’80s, all over again.

Chair of judges, Guardian Review editor Lisa Allardice, added: “Colin Barrett has already been hailed as a ‘new, young genius’ – and you can’t get much better than that. It was a particularly strong shortlist and each of the titles was ardently debated, but in the end we had to go with the book that, in the words of one of the judges, was ‘simply the best written’ – and it is true that Barrett barely hits a false note throughout the collection.”

The panel for the £10,000 award included the classicist Mary Beard, Britain’s shadow secretary of state for education Tristram Hunt and the psychoanalyst and literary theorist Josh Cohen.

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