Emma Hannigan wins RoNA; Samuel Beckett festival; Mountains to Sea; Bookseller of Year

Ireland’s literacy ranking; Bookmarks; Women and the Rising; John Murray’s new Irish debut; and a Northern Ireland women writers anthology

 Emma Hannigan: won the Epic Novel Category of this year’s Romantic Novel Awards (RoNAs) for her book The Secrets We Share. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Emma Hannigan: won the Epic Novel Category of this year’s Romantic Novel Awards (RoNAs) for her book The Secrets We Share. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


Emma Hannigan wins RoNA

Wicklow author Emma Hannigan has won the Epic Novel Category of this year’s Romantic Novel Awards (RoNAs) for her book The Secrets We Share. An intergenerational saga set in the US and Ireland, the judges described Hannigan’s book as “four strong stories that interlink with one another. Wonderful!”

Hannigan received her trophy from television personality and author Fern Britton at an awards ceremony in London last night, compered by Jane Wenham-Jones. Other category winners included Melanie Hudson, Annie O’Neill, Lucy Inglis and Milly Johnson. The overall winner of the Goldsboro Books Romantic Novel of the Year was the English writer Iona Grey with Letters to the Lost, published by Simon & Schuster. Grey received a trophy and £5,000 at last night’s ceremony.

Bonjour Beckett

A Paris pop-up edition of the Enniskillen International Happy Days Beckett Festival will take place this month, with 16 Irish artists participating in 16 works by the Irish Nobel Laureate. From March 12th - 27th, COMMENCEZ! brings together the three nations most associated with Beckett - Ireland, France and the UK - in a celebration of the two languages in which he wrote.

Irish artists participating in the festival include Edna O’Brien, Neil Jordan, Olwen Fouéré, Paul Muldoon, Adrian Dunbar, Denis Conway, Conall Morrison, Clara Simpson, John Banville, Carlo Gebler, Dylan Quinn, Ian McElhinney, Tom Molloy, Alan Milligan, Sarah Jane Scaife, Raymond Keane, Conor Lovett and Judy Lovett.

While most of the productions premiered at the Enniskillen Festival last summer, new events include discussions between John Banville and Professor Dan Gunn about Beckett’s use of French and English, and Anne Atik and Carlo Gebler in conversation about the author’s work and personal life.

Writers Lydia Davies, Anne Carson, Paul Muldoon, Laszlo Krasnahorkai, Edna O’Brien and others will write a message to Beckett, 1,600 of which will be handed out as souvenirs free to the public for the Allee Samuel Beckett project - the street on which Beckett, during his time in the French Resistance, passed on secret messages to his contact.

Parisians can take part in a re-enactment of an episode in Beckett’s novel Molloy, which invites the public to suck pebbles specially shipped from Irish rivers. A total of 1,600 pebbles will be distributed over the festival to evoke the 16 sucking stones sequence in the novel. Full festival listings can be found at paris-beckett.com.

Zany Zink in Dún Laoghaire

For a leftfield literary event at this year’s Mountains to Sea try journalist Sinéad Gleeson in conversation with the outspoken Virginian author Nell Zink. A protégée of Jonathan Franzen, Zink wrote her acclaimed debut The Wallcreeper in three weeks. Both it and her zany second novel, Mislaid, have garnered rave reviews and award listings since publication.

Another one to watch out for includes Booker nominees Paul Murray and the Indian writer Neel Mukherjee in conversation, with crime fiction fans able to get their fix in an evening with Sophie Hannah and Declan Hughes.

Other headline acts at this year’s festival feature Michael Parkinson, Paul Muldoon and young adult author Cathy Cassidy. Running from Wednesday, March 9th - Sunday, March 13th in Dun Laoghaire, the programme also includes Neil Jordan, Cecelia Ahern, Jennifer Johnston, David Aaronvitch, Paul Mason, Louise O’Neill, Michael Smith, Pauline Bewick, and Sinéad Crowley. Tickets for all events are on sale now from mountainstosea.ie or through the Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire on 01-2312929.

Ireland ranks 16th in literacy study

Ireland has placed 16th in a new study ranking the World’s Most Literate Nations (WMLN). The first to analyse large-scale trends in literate behaviour and literacy in more than 60 countries, the study finds the Nordic countries (Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway) are among the six most literate nations in the world, while Canada and the US rank 10th and 11th respectively.

Conducted by John W Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University, the study finds that “there is no meaningful correlation between years of compulsory schooling and educational expenditures on the one hand and test scores on the other. Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway earn five of the top six slots in the study, largely because their monolithic cultures values reading.”

Western hemisphere countries do not fare well overall, particularly central and south America. Mexico is 42nd, Brazil ties for 46th, and Costa Rica comes in at 50th. Commenting on the US ranking 10th, Miller says that while years of compulsory education have increased, the practice of literate behaviours has decreased: “It is not so much that we are slowing down in this world race, but rather that others are speeding up.” The complete rankings are available online at www.ccsu.edu/wmln.

Move over, Book of Kells

An exhibition of 65 handmade books, written, illustrated and bound by Dublin primary school children, opens on Tuesday, March 8th at 6.30pm in the Long Room of the Old Library at Trinity College. Fifth class students from Drimnagh Castle, Scoil Cholmcille Ballybrack and Scoil Eoin Kilbarrack will show off their work on Tuesday morning in the Long Room Library, home to the Book of Kells, where their finished works will then be displayed.

Organised by the Trinity Access Programmes (TAP), the exhibition marks the end of Bookmarks, a two-month story writing, illustration and bookbinding programme that featured workshops with authors, artists and children’s book specialists. The programme, aims to inspire children to become the next generation of authors, illustrators and publishers. The schools are linked to Trinity through TAP, which supports students from under-represented backgrounds to progress to further education.

Long Gaze forward

A new anthology of Northern Irish women writers edited by Sinéad Gleeson will be published this autumn by New Island. It follows the success of Gleeson’s recent anthology The Long Gaze Back, a collection of stories from thirty Irish female writers that won Best Irish Published Book at the 2015 Irish Book Awards.

Spanning three centuries, The Glass Shore will feature both writers that are emerging and established, alongside deceased luminaries and forerunners. The collection will include work from Lisa Anderson, Margaret Barrington, Mary Beckett, Lucy Caldwell, Ethna Carbery, Jan Carson, Evelyn Conlon, Anne Devlin, Martina Devlin, Polly Devlin, Erminda Rentoul Esler, Sarah Grand, Rosemary Jenkinson, Sheila Llewelyn, Bernie McGill, Rosa Mulholland, Anne-Marie Neary, Mary O’Donnell and Helen Waddell among others.

Genre bending debut

An “ambitious, genre bending debut” from Northern Irish writer Michael Hughes will be published by John Murray this summer. The Countenance Divine is set in four interweaving time periods spanning centuries. In 1999, a programmer is trying to fix the Millennium Bug; in 1888, five women are brutally murdered in the East End by a troubled young man; in 1777, an apprentice engraver called William Blake has a defining spiritual experience; and in 1666, poet and revolutionary John Milton completes his epic work. Hughes was born and raised in Keady, Armagh and now lives in London. He read English at Oxford, trained at the Jacques Lecoq School in Paris, and has worked for many years as an actor under the professional name Michael Colgan.

Women and the Rising

Dr Lucy McDiarmid will give a lecture on Tuesday, March 15th entitled “Gender, the other territorial conflict in the Easter Rising” as part of UCC School of English’s Women and the Rising month. Dr McDiarmid is the Marie Frazee-Baldassarre Professor of English at Montclair State University and the author of At Home in the Revolution: what women said and did in 1916 (Royal Irish Academy). The event takes place at the Creative Zone, UCC Boole Library, 6pm. Admission is free and all are welcome.

In the gutter, looking at the stars

Bob Johnston, owner of The Gutter Bookshop, has won The O’Brien Press Bookseller of the Year Award at this year’s annual Booksellers Association conference. Johnston has spent over 25 years working in the book trade. Before opening The Gutter Bookshop in Temple Bar in 2009, he worked for Waterstones in London and Dublin and as a buyer for Hughes and Hughes in Stephen’s Green. In 2013, Johnston opened his second branch of The Gutter in Dalkey.

In the same week, there was more good news for Irish book shops as Wicklow’s Blessington Book Store was the only shop across the UK and Ireland to retain its title of regional winner at this year’s British Book Industry Awards. Stores in seven regions across the UK and Ireland are chosen each year as regional winners. Judges praised owner Janet Hawkins and her staff for a shop that “sits at the heart of the community”.

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