Irish writer Chris Connolly wins Society of Authors’ Award for short story

Belfast poet Stephen Sexton takes award for poets under 30

There can’t be a writer alive who doesn’t appreciate a monetary prize, no matter how famous or established they are. Everything helps. Literary prizes are also not just about the money; they are about peer recognition and acknowledgement of good work.

The Society of Authors’ Awards have just been announced; awards that carry the biggest literary prize fund in Britain. Among the 31 winners this year are three writers with Irish links.

Chris Connolly won the Tom-Gallon Trust prize of £1,000 (€1,121) for his short story, The Speed of Light and How it Cannot Help Us. Connolly's fiction and poetry has been featured in The Irish Times-Hennessy New Irish Writing section. He won Best Emerging Fiction at the 2016 Hennessy Literary Awards. He was born in Dublin in 1983, where he still lives. Judge Paul Bailey said of Connolly's story that it was a "beautifully composed story about a harrowing matter." The Speed of Light and How it Cannot Help Us also won the 2016 RTÉ Francis McManus Award.

Seven poets won a £4,050 Eric Gregory Award, which is given for a collection of poems by a poet under 30. One of these was Stephen Sexton, for his collection, Animals, Moon. Sexton lives in Belfast. He teaches at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen's University, and completed his PhD last year. His work has also appeared in Granta, Poetry London, and Best British Poetry 2015. His poem, The Curfew, won the National Poetry Competition in 2017. Judge Inua Ellams said of the poems, "Surprising and funny, they show Stephen Sexton's ability to construct resonant myth and narrative out of the everyday nothing."


Writers always need their community, and although the internet has brought us all closer, it still can't physically transport you across distance to spend actual real time with friends. Conversations about work are difficult to have via email or a phonecall or Skype. So the £1,575 Travelling Scholarships awarded to five writers "to enable them to keep in contact with writing colleagues aboard" are particularly inspired prizes. One of these five Travelling Scholarships was awarded to poet James Harpur, who lives in west Cork.

The largest award, the £10,000 Betty Trask Award, went to novelist Omar Robert Hamilton for his book, The City Always Wins. Hamilton lives in Cairo. One of the judges for this award was Joanne Harris, author of a number of novels, including Chocolat. Fellow category judge Ben Brook described Hamilton's work as "a furious frenetic novel that captures a pivotal time in history. It captures the whispers and screams, from the Cairo streets and the homes of a city unravelling, as its residents battle through their grief."

The Society of Authors' Awards have been in existence in some form since 1943. The society is run by writers, for writers, and honours fiction, nonfiction and poetry, and the monetary award are funded by patrons, including fellow writers. The society now has a membership which exceeds 10,000. The awards were announced at a ceremony at London's Royal Institute for British Architects, hosted by Stephen Fry. The introduction was made by the Society of Author's president, the writer Philip Pullman.