Gail McConnell wins John Pollard Prize; Tóibín and Smyth on Walter Scott shortlist

A preview of Saturday’s books pages and a round-up of the latest literary news

Reviews in The Irish Times this Saturday are Nicholas Allen on Trespasses by Louise Kennedy; Kevin Power on Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart; Rosemary Hennigan on Clare O’Dea’s Voting Day; Neil Hegarty on The Quiet Whispers Never Stop by Olivia Fitzsimons; Arnold Fanning on Trouble by Marise Gaughan; Johnny Watterson on A Delicate Game: Brain Injury, Sport and Sacrifice by by Hana Walker-Brown; Niamh Donnelly on Companion Piece by Ali Smith; Joelle Taylor on Ellen Hawley’s Other People Manage; Sarah Gilmartin on One Day I Shall Astonish the World by Nina Stibbe; Charles Lysaght on The Great Post Office Scandal by Nick Wallis; and Seán Hewitt on the best new poetry.

This weekend’s Irish Times Eason book offer is Diving for Pearls by Jamie O’Connell, just €4.99 when you buy a copy of the newspaper, a saving of €6.

Gail McConnell has won the 2022 John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize, wirth €10,000, for The Sun is Open at an award ceremony in Trinity College Dublin this week.

Her debut collection, published last year by Penned in the Margins, focuses on the life and death of the poet’s father, who was murdered by the IRA outside their Belfast home in 1984. Moving between child and adult perspectives, the collection of poetry pieces together his history and life.

McConnell said: “I am deeply honoured to be the fourth recipient of the John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize for The Sun is Open. This book swirls around an autobiographical event: my father’s murder by the IRA outside our Belfast home in 1984. Using newspaper reports, Hansard, fragments of the Psalms, my father’s student diaries and other public and private materials archived in a ‘dad box’, it moves between child and adult voices to try to piece together a history and a life. I started my career as a critic of Irish poetry and swerved into writing poems as I approached the age at which my father died. It means a great deal to me to be awarded an Irish prize, judged by writers and critics whose work addresses the complexities of this place – this place where, as Louis MacNeice put it, ‘history never dies’ and where one hopes to find what Yeats called ‘a passionate syntax for passionate subject-matter’.

“I wish to extend my sincere thanks to Eoin McNamee, Phillip Coleman, Vona Groarke and Alice Lyons for the time, attention and understanding they have given to my work. I thank the benefactor of the prize, Stephen Vernon, wholeheartedly, and I am grateful to Trinity College Dublin for hosting the award.

“I was three-and-a-half when my father was murdered. My wife, Beth, and I now have a three-and-a-half-year-old child. In part, this prize will be an investment in his future, and I hope it will help create some space and time for more poems. I am grateful to my editor at Penned in the Margins, Tom Chivers, for understanding this book intimately. I also wish to thank the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the School of Arts, English and Languages at Queen’s University Belfast, whose support made its completion possible. Finally, I wish to honour Ciaran Carson who was this book’s first reader and whose work and friendship have been one of the greatest gifts of my life.”

Chair of the judging panel, Prof Eoin McNamee, director of the Trinity Oscar Wilde Centre, said: “Out of a very strong shortlist the panel recognised the authority and lyric command of The Sun Is Open. Working on the very edge of what can be said, The Sun Is Open is both a work of adamantine witness and a patient unearthing of what is rare and beautiful. This is a work of gravity and importance and we are delighted to have the opportunity to acknowledge it.”

The patron of the John Pollard Foundation Stephen Vernon, who named the foundation in memory of his grandfather John Pollard, congratulated the winner on her achievement: “Once again the judges have picked an outstanding example of emerging literary talent. Gail’s collection is influenced by Belfast and gives the reader a new perspective on the Northern Irish experience. I am delighted to add Gail’s name to our growing list of talented prize-winning poets.”

Colm Tóibín and Trinidadian-Irish author Amanda Smyth have been shortlisted for the £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction alongside Scots Andrew Greig and James Robertson.

Settings include the riven and violent Scotland of the 1570s (Greig’s Rose Nicolson); a fictitious Highland glen through three different eras (Robinson’s News of the Dead); the Caribbean oil rush of the 1920s (Smyth’s Fortune); and 20th-century Europe, seen though the life of one of its most celebrated writers, Thomas Mann (Tóibín’s The Magician).

Smyth said: “I am absolutely thrilled to be on the shortlist, especially after seeing such a strong longlist. My first novel was also historical fiction, but I had never before now considered myself to be a historical novelist.”

Tóibín said: “My novel The Magician is set between 1880 and 1950 in Germany and the United States. It covers the First World War, the Munich Revolution, German inflation, the rise of Hitler, the Second World War, the division of Germany and the Cold War. It is told through the point of view of one man, who had a different response to each of the events listed above. I did a great deal of reading and I tried to imagine Thomas Mann’s life in this time. Having my work recognised and honoured in this way by the Walter Scott Prize is wonderful.”

First awarded in 2010 to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, and sponsored by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, the prize honours the inventor of the historical fiction genre and Buccleuch kinsman, Sir Walter Scott. The prize judging panel comprises Katie Grant (chair), Elizabeth Buccleuch, James Holloway, Elizabeth Laird, James Naughtie and Kirsty Wark. Last year’s winner was Christine Dwyer Hickey. The winner will be announced on June 17th.

International Literature Festival Dublin has announced the full lineup of events for the 25th anniversary edition which will run from May19th-29th. After two years of online events, ILFDublin is back in-person for this 11-day celebration of writing and literature. Details were also announced today of the new festival home, a literary village which will, for the 11 days, be set up in Merrion Square Park, a beautiful space in the heart of the city and surrounded by a rich and unique literary history.

ILFDublin 2022 features more international authors than ever before, with writers from as far afield as Nigeria, Angola, Japan, Rwanda, Tanzania and Colombia meeting their counterparts from Ireland in a global gathering.

Highlights include: Nobel Prize winner Abdulrazak Gurnah, Booker Prize winners Damon Galgut and Bernardine Evaristo, Cecelia Ahern, Louise O’Neill, Richard Dawkins, Scholastique Mukasonga, Emilie Pine, Jennifer Egan and Ardal O’Hanlon. On the closing night of the festival the lives and works of Eavan Boland and Thomas Kinsella, two great Dublin poets, will be celebrated.

Cross-cultural conversations are a key element of this year’s programme with authors from different countries dialoguing in events across the festival. Writer Colm Tóibín and poet Padraig Regan will read from their own and each other’s poetry, while reflecting on the creative process; Columbian Margarita García Robayo and Boston native Sandra Newman will discuss their two novels, in which two women struggle to find their place in the world; Eloghosa Osunde & Ondjaki who both write from the margins people their cities with outcasts who deserve to be heard while Mieko Kawakami and Rónán Hession, two authors from different corners of the globe share a literary eye for vulnerable, gentle characters in a hostile world.

There will also be a chance to get to know the authors shortlisted for the 2022 Dublin Literary Award through a special podcast with Jessica Traynor and Seán Hewitt who will take listeners inside the novels and speak to the authors and translator. The winner will be announced as part of the opening day programme.

To celebrate the launch of Bob Johnston’s children’s book Our Big Day, the @TwitterDublin handle will host an exclusive Twitter Space on Tuesday, April 19th at 7pm, inviting people to tune in and listen to Bob chat about the book’s themes of love, family, weddings and marriage equality. Hosted by Twitter International Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Accessibility (IDEA) lead Olivia McEvoy, Bob will also be joined by Children’s Books Ireland CEO Elaina Ryan. Twitter Spaces is a new way for people that use Twitter to host and listen to live audio conversations on the platform.

Johnston is the owner of indie institution The Gutter Bookshop, in Dublin and Dalkey. Our Big Day is his first book, a beautifully illustrated and heart-warming introduction for children to the idea of same-sex marriage. Illustrated by Michael Emberley, the story is roughly based on the wedding of Bob and his husband, the artist Leon McAleenan, who met in 2001 and after the historic Irish Marriage Equality Referendum in 2015 were finally able to get married in August 2016 on their 15 year anniversary. Originally from Boston, Michael Emberley has lived in Ireland for 15 years. After writing and illustrating in the US for over 40 years, this is his debut Irish children’s book.

The Lord Mayor of Dublin Alison Gilliland has invited the public to a new event being held in the Mansion House later this month celebrating Unesco World Book & Copyright Day.

Dublin Reads: Rumpus in the Round will be a free fun family day for book lovers of all ages on Saturday, April 23rd from 10.30am in the Round Room of the Mansion House.

“From children to adults, everyone loves a good book,” said the Lord Mayor. “This year to mark World Book Day I want to invite all book lovers aged 5 to 95 into the Mansion House to celebrate the day with me. There’ll be something for everyone to enjoy.”

On the day there will be a number of activities taking place including book readings, author panels, illustration workshops, face painting and book doctors to prescribe books to children in the category of their preference.