The new year heralds a new home for New Irish Writing, the renowned literary page that has discovered many of Ireland’s leading writers. Launched by David Marcus in the ‘Irish Press’ in 1968, and edited since 1988 by Ciaran Carty, the Hennessy New Irish Writing page will in future appear in
The Irish Times
on the last Saturday of each month, beginning in Weekend Review next Saturday. ‘The Irish Times’ also welcomes the Hennessy Literary Awards, established in 1971 to celebrate the best work published each year in New Irish Writing. They are the longest-running literary sponsorship of their kind in Ireland or the UK.
Today ‘The Irish Times’ introduces the 18 writers shortlisted for the 2014 awards, which will be announced at a gala ceremony at the Westin Hotel in Dublin on February 24th. The shortlisted writers were chosen from the best work published in New Irish Writing last year.
As has been the policy since Elizabeth Bowen and William Trevor adjudicated the inaugural awards, in 1971, each year two new judges are appointed. This year they are the Tyrone-born author and journalist Martina Devlin and Xiaolu Guo, one of ‘Granta’ magazine’s best young British novelists in 2013.
Devlin won a Hennessy award with her first published story, in 1996. She has since received the VS Pritchett Memorial Prize, given by the Royal Society of Literature for the best unpublished short story of 2012. Her novels include ‘Ship of Dreams’, inspired by her family link to the ‘Titanic’ disaster, and she wrote ‘Banksters’, an account of the Irish banking crisis, with David Murphy of RTÉ. Her 2014 novel, ‘The House Where It Happened’, inspired by Ireland’s only mass witchcraft trial, in Antrim in 1711, has been optioned by Samson films.
Our other judge, Xiaolu Guo, who was a schoolgirl in a fishing village in south China when the Tiananmen Square student protests erupted 26 years ago, moved to London in 2002, on a scholarship to the National Film School.
Although rejected after two appeals when her visa ran out, she was eventually allowed to stay in self-exile; she has made 10 films and written four novels in English, the first of which, ‘A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers’, was shortlisted for the 2007 Orange prize. Her latest novel is ‘I Am China’, a love story about a punk and a poet who were separated and exiled after Tiananmen Square but never give up hope of finding each other.
Awards of €1,500 and a trophy will be made in three categories – First Fiction, Emerging Fiction and Emerging Poetry – with a New Writer of the Year, chosen from the three winners, receiving an additional €2,500 award. The judging will be chaired by Ciaran Carty.
A highlight of the awards ceremony will be the induction of a 13th member to the Hennessy Hall of Fame, which was inaugurated in 2003 to celebrate established writers whose early work won recognition in New Irish Writing.
Previous recipients of this honour are Dermot Bolger, Joseph O’Connor, Patrick McCabe, Colum McCann, Frank McGuinness, Anne Enright, Hugo Hamilton, Neil Jordan, Sebastian Barry, John Boyne, Dermot Healy and Deirdre Madden.
A remarkable feature of the 2014 shortlists is that three of the writers have already signed publishing contracts since their work appeared in New Irish Writing.
Sara Baume went on to win the £15,000 Davy Byrnes Short Story Awards, and her debut novel, Spill Simmer Falter Wither, is about to be published by Tramp Press. Dave Rudden’s ‘The Borrowed Dark’ trilogy is due for publication in the spring of 2016, by Puffin Random House, and Henrietta McKervey’s first novel, ‘What Becomes of Us’, will be published by Hachette in March.
Nominees for the
FIRST FICTION AWARD
Sheila Armstrong Skins
"The idea that a thin film of flesh is what separates inside from outside, me from you, thoughts from reality, has always fascinated me," says Sheila Armstrong, a 25-year-old freelance editor who is working on her first collection of short stories. "I think I wrote Skins as a way of looking at how that boundary can sometimes create this awful loneliness that can never really be overcome."
"My story was inspired by my fascination for flight and, as I get older, watching the surviving partner of a couple unravel when they are left on their own," says Louise Cole, who arrived in Co Roscommon 11 years ago with her husband, two children and a herd of alpacas, intending to live the good life and grow organic vegetables. This is her first published fiction.
Mirror After Mirror
"The story is inspired by the idea of the potential and waste of life, and how we go about attempting to fulfil (or waste) our lives, creatively and passionately – in this case represented by art, football and the mask," says Colm Reynor, a 28-year-old electrical engineer from Tallaght who has been shortlisted for RTÉ's Francis MacManus Short Story Award.
Henrietta McKervey The Dead of Winter
"The Dead of Winter was inspired by the sight of Rockfleet Castle, in Co Mayo, on a wet summer day in 2013. Dark and inaccessible, it had a solid dignity that stuck with me," says Henrietta McKervey, whose first novel, What Becomes of Us, will be published by Hachette in March. "Then I kept coming across Granuaile, firstly in an illustrated children's book about pirates and then again on a folklore course. Four hundred years ago two of the most powerful people were women. I find the story of the only time they met very moving, because the reason for that meeting wasn't power or status; it was love."
"I read Colin Barrett's The Clancy Kid and felt I had a similar story in my mind, coming from a small rural town myself," says Kevin Murphy, who is 23 and studied English and history at University College Dublin. He intends to return to college to complete a postgraduate degree.
"If a stranger asks for help there's only a moment's choice before saying yes or turning away. If I'd been alive at the time of Jesus would I have dropped everything, and followed, or steered clear, because things could only end badly? They're a couple of questions that went through my head when I wrote Stranger," says Mary Butler (bottom), a journalist and communications trainer. She lives in Dublin with her husband and has two sons. This is her first published story.
Nominees for the
EMERGING FICTION AWARD
Sara Baume Dancing, or Beginning to Dance
"I saw a woman on the street one day; she was giving directions, waving her arms in the air as if about to start dancing. I built the story around this image; I wanted to wring something strange and marvellous out of the daily grind," says Sara Baume (left), who was born in England in 1984 and now lives in a seaside village in Co Cork. Her stories have been published in the Stinging Fly magazine, and last year she completed a short novel.
Dave Rudden Crossing
"Fiction is just truth wearing a different set of clothes. We never took the ferry, and she always rolled my cigarettes for me," says Dave Rudden, whose The Borrowed Dark trilogy is due for publication next year by Puffin Random House and has sold in a further five languages.
"The narrator's voice came into my head, her headstrong independence and vulnerability. Her experience of her emerging sexuality felt subversive, and her understanding of her power intrigued me and kept me writing and exploring," says Elizabeth Brennan, who was also shortlisted for the Hennessy Literary Awards in 2012.
Often I'll spend weeks or months assembling the idea for a story, putting disparate elements together gradually, but all the parts of Home came together at once, over a single weekend. I felt I just had to trusts my instincts and roll with them," says Nathan O'Donnell (right), whose first novel, Letters to Lucy, was nominated for the 2014 Novel Fair at the Irish Writers' Centre. He is coeditor of an Irish journal of contemporary art criticism, PVA.
"My story originated with the phrase the first time I met him he was was drunk – the last time I met him he was drunk and I wondered what might have happened in between. The outcome was a post-Celtic Tiger tale of love and loss," says Ron Woods. His story Paddy's Will was published in New Irish Writing in 2011.
Some Random Story
"Some Random Story was suggested by the work of the visual artist Veronika Straberger. Beyond the story lies the crucible of its creation, the womb of the thing, as Patrick Kavanagh had it," says Seán Coffey, who won the Laois Prize for Literature in 2002. He lectures in electronic engineering at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.
Nominees for the
EMERGING POETRY AWARD
I Lay Upon the Kitchen Floor; Quantum Leap; Tumbling Jewels
“I live on Aran. I was sitting at Cill Mhuirbhigh Beach, below Dun Aengus, watching my children swimming as the sun set. The sun’s light was shining through the entrance to the fort on the Cliffside. A poem began,” says Tess Harper, a Dubliner who has lived on the Aran Islands since 1985. With her husband and four children she works a smallholding with gardens and animals.
The Zoo, Cork, 1981; Creosote; Two Sisters
‘My ancestors arrived to Cork from Lithuania in the 1890s, and I wanted to explore how they survived and coped with the challenges they faced, much like immigrants do today, in 21st-century Ireland,” says Simon Lewis (below) , a Dubliner who is principal of a primary school in Carlow.
Anita Heffernan A Curious Blend; Matching Coordinates
“These poems are inspired by memories, both from childhood and more recent times, where I have attempted to capture the moment, whether it is full of domestic drama or is quieter and more reflective. They explore how we create our own reality,” says Anita Heffernan, a musician, who lives with her husband and two children on a farm in Kenmare, Co Kerry.
John FitzGerald Curiosité – Un Regard Moderne; Couple in a Car Park; Fields
“Robert Graves once said that you need to be in love to write poetry. I have been in love with words all my life, only in recent years finding the courage to ask them out,” says John FitzGerald. He lives with his family on a farm in Lissarda and is librarian of University College Cork.
Breakdown; Bloods; Demonic
“Images inspire most of my poems. They are also my favourite part of writing. Other poems come from first lines found in my notebooks, or that sprang to mind and snagged there,” says Gavan Duffy, who lives in Dublin with his wife and children.
Diagnosis; Thanks Doc; Hope
"Raymond Carver's poem What the Doctor Said was the inspiration for my poem Diagnosis. His unpunctuated, whoosy style allows for comedy in the bleakest places," says Davnet Heery. A long-time resident of Cois Fharraige, Connemara, she enjoys solitary walks on bog and shore.