Irish writers longlisted for Desmond Elliott Prize and RSL Ondaatje Prize

A preview of Saturday’s books pages and a roundup of the latest literary news

You can buy Patrick Freyne’s brilliant debut collection of essays, OK, Let’s Do Your Stupid Idea, for only €4.99, a saving of €6, when you buy The Irish Times in Eason’s this weekend.

Saturday’s Irish Times features Caelainn Hogan on a cultural response to the legacy of mother and baby homes; Rosita Boland on the story behind the bestselling memoir Boy 11963 by John Cameron; and interviews with Mona Eltahawy and Richard Thompson about their new books. Reviews are Colin Murphy on The Middle East Crisis Factory by Iyad el-Baghdadi and Ahmed Gatnash; Rabeea Saleem on My Phantoms by Gwendoline Riley; John Boyne on The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle by Neil Blackmore; Claire Hennessy on the best new YA fiction; Anthony Roche on Avant-garde Nationalism at the Dublin Gate Theatre 1928-1940 by Ruud van den Beuken and Cultural Convergence: the Dublin Gate Theatre 1928-1960, eds. Odrej Pilny, Ruud van den Beuken and Ian R Walsh; Paschal Donohoe on Vince Cable; John Phipps on The Light of Days: Women Fighters of the Jewish Resistance by Judy Batalion; and Sarah Gilmartin on Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny.

The Royal Society of Literature today unveiled the longlist for the 2021 RSL Ondaatje Prize, which features three Irish writers, Michelle Gallen, Ruth Gilligan and Caroline O’Donoghue. The annual £10,000 prize is awarded to an outstanding work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry that best evokes the spirit of a place.

The 2021 RSL Ondaatje Longlist is:


James Boyce Imperial Mud (Icon Books)

Michael Crawley Out of Thin Air (Bloomsbury Sport)

Catherine Fletcher The Beauty and the Terror (Bodily Head)

Michelle Gallen Big Girl, Small Town (John Murray Publishers)

Ruth Gilligan The Butchers (Atlantic Books)

Louise Hare This Lovely City (HQ)

Adam Mars-Jones Box Hill (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Caroline O?fDonoghue Scenes of a Graphic Nature (Virago)

Nina Powles Magnolia, –Ø—– (Nine Arches Press)

James Rebanks English Pastoral (Allen Lane)

Gareth E. Rees Unofficial Britain (Elliot & Thompson)

Monique Roffey The Mermaid of Black Conch (Peepal Tree Press)

Francesca Wade Square Haunting (Faber & Faber)

The shortlist will be announced on April 27th and the winner on May 11th.

The Brendan Kennelly Literary Archive was launched today in Trinity College Dublin at a celebratory online event marking the poet’s 85th birthday on April 17th. The archive is a unique collection that will be of interest not only to scholars of Brendan Kennelly’s work, but to those interested in the work of his many literary, artistic, and political contacts and correspondents. The collection contains literary drafts, lectures, research materials, reviews, workshop material, works by others, theatrical ephemera, personal material, photographs, memorabilia, and a great quantity of correspondence.

The archive forms part of the overall Virtual Trinity Library programme, an ambitious digitisation initiative of the Library of Trinity College Dublin's most valued collections. For examples of the Brendan Kennelly Literary Archive see the Library's online exhibition Forever Begin.


The 21st Franco-Irish Literary Festival runs from today to April 17th with a very special line-up of guests exploring the theme Making A Better World / Refaire le monde in panel discussions, readings and interviews. Due to the current circumstances, all events will be held online this year.

Vincent Guérend, ambassador of France to Ireland, said: “The Franco Irish Festival of Literature is turning 21! As we face the worst pandemic in a century, this 2021 edition is a great opportunity to exchange ideas and to reflect together on how we can all contribute to making a better world. The Irish and French writers participating to this festival inspire us on the paths to follow and on the world we wish to shape for the future generations.”

French writers participating in the festival include Nicolas Hulot, Aymerick Caron, Serge Joncour, Frederika Van Ingen, Christophe Duchatelet, Emmanuelle Bayamack-Tam. Francophone poet, visual artist and campaigner for indigenous and environmental rights Natacha Kanapé-Fontaine will be joining the discussions from Montreal, Quebec. Irish writers include Sara Baume, John Connell, Manchán Magan, Oisín McGann, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne and Michael Longley . Roundtable discussions and readings will take place live on Facebook . And it's all free.


Viking is to publish The Magician by Colm Tóibín on September 23rd, the story of Thomas Mann. Tóibín said: “Thomas Mann is one of the most fascinating and ambiguous figures of the twentieth century. In public, he was stiff and formidable; in private he was uncertain and uneasy. He was the father of six children and kept his homosexual identity to himself. Part of the real fascination of his story is what a brilliant, wise and clever woman he married. My novel is the story as Katia Mann as much as Thomas. It is also the story of the fate of a family in the First World War, in the Second World War and in a long exile from Hitler’s Germany.”

Tóibín is the subject of a new TV documentary On Memory’s Shore, directed by Brendan J Byrne, which will be broadcast on RTÉ One on Mondaym April 19th, at 9.35pm. A new Druid theatrical production, Boland: Journey of a Poet, will be live streamed from The Mick Lally Theatre, Druid’s home in Galway, Ireland, from April 22nd to 24th. With words by Eavan Boland, edited by Colm Tóibín and directed by Garry Hynes, it explores the mind and imagination of one of Ireland’s great poets, Eavan Boland. The latest in Druid’s online theatre series, Druid at Home, the production will also be made available on demand from April 27th to May 2nd. For tickets, see


Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan and A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa have made the 10-strong longlist for the £10,000 Desmond Elliott Prize, which will be awarded to the most outstanding first novel of the past 12 months.

This year’s chair of judges, and winner of the 2016 Desmond Elliott Prize, Lisa McInerney, said: “It is a personal delight to chair the judging panel of the Desmond Elliott Prize five years after Iain Pears, Sam Baker and Katy Guest chose The Glorious Heresies as their winner. So we can keep literature in rude health, a writer who finds success should never pull the ladder up after herself, and this is one way for me to hold that ladder for emerging writers, to pass on the welcome and encouragement and assistance I’ve been so lucky to get from my peers. This is why I was so pleased to hear of the inclusion of a programme of support from the National Centre for Writing – what a positive and important expansion to the prize. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Chitra, Simon and I.”

McInerney will be joined by journalist and author Chitra Ramaswamy and book reviewer and broadcaster Simon Savidge. They are together tasked with deciding which novel to crown as the best debut of the last 12 months. A shortlist will be announced on June 1st and the winner will be announced on July 1st.

The prize, run by the National Centre for Writing and presented in the name of the late Irish literary agent and publisher Desmond Elliott, has longlisted six titles from independent publishers, including Faber, Granta Books, Saraband, Scribe, and Tramp Press. Crowdfunding publisher Unbound makes the longlist for the first time this year.

The 2021 Desmond Elliott Prize longlist in full

The Manningtree Witches by A. K. Blakemore - Granta Books

Crow Court by Andy Charman - Unbound

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan - Weidenfeld & Nicolson

“How We Are Translated by Jessica Gaitán Johannesson - Scribe

Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez - Dialogue Books

Castles from Cobwebs by J.A. Mensah - Saraband

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson - Viking

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa - Tramp Press

little scratch by Rebecca Watson - Faber

The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams - William Heinemann


The shortlist for the 2021 Fitzcarraldo Editions/Mahler & LeWitt Studios Essay Prize, an annual competition for unpublished writers has been announced. The prize awards £3,000 to the best proposal for a book-length essay by a writer resident in the UK & Ireland who has yet to secure a publishing deal. The winner will also have the opportunity to spend up to three months in residency at the Mahler & LeWitt Studios in Spoleto, Italy, to work on their book, which will then be published by Fitzcarraldo Editions. The shortlist, chosen out of 119 entries, is: Q is for Garden by Jenny Chamarette; The Report by Joshua Craze; The Observable Universe by Heather McCalden; Terra Nullius by Joanna Pidcock; The Raven’s Nest by Sarah Thomas; and Broken Rice by April Yee.

The winner will be announced by May 1st. The judges are Joanna Biggs, Brian Dillon, Joanna Kavenna, Max Porter and Jacques Testard.

Collected Poems by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Found Architecture: Selected Poems by Sinéad Morrissey; and Ourselves by Beda Higgins have been shortlisted for the 2021 Pigott Poetry Prize. This prize, in its eighth year, is Ireland’s largest monetary prize for a poetry collection by an Irish poet, with the winner being awarded €12,000 and the two shortlisted finalists each receiving €1,000.

More than 50 collections were submitted for this year’s award and adjudicators Mark Waldron and Maura Dooley had the task of selecting the shortlist of three on behalf of Listowel Writers’ Week.

Dooley said: “Transported, educated, made to see the world differently; we were delighted to discover many fresh and exciting new voices in amongst new books from already familiar and beloved poets. It was a very difficult task to choose just three books from such a rich field.”

The prize is sponsored by Mark Pigott, who said, “It is a blessing to be able to support this wonderful literary award and recognise the leading poets of Ireland. This is the 8th year of the prize and the competition is world class. I would like to thank our adjudicators, Mark Waldron and Maura Dooley, for their hard work and thorough review of all the entrants and congratulate them on their excellent selection of this year’s shortlist which showcases the beauty, diversity and strength of Irish Poetry”.

The overall winner of the prize will be announced on the opening night of Listowel Writers’ Week, June 2nd.

Fiona Murphy, editorial director at Doubleday Ireland, has won a three-way auction for Suad Aldarra’s memoir I Don’t Want To Talk About Home. Doubleday Ireland will publish in spring 2022.

Aldarra was born in Saudi Arabia to Syrian parents. She moved to Syria in 2003 to study software engineering and in 2012 she fled the war, travelling first to a post-Arab Spring Egypt and then to Galway, Ireland in 2014. She lived and worked between Galway and New York until Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and then chose to settle in Dublin where she now lives. I Don’t Want to Talk About Home tells the story of this journey.

Aldarra said: “I’ve been carrying my troubled homeland within me for a long time, hiding it like a crime every time someone asked where I was from. When the pandemic hit, I found myself trapped in a lockdown inside a lockdown, having to face my darkest memories. This book was my way of healing, discovering myself again between its lines while trying to accept the home that no longer exists.

“As a first-time non-English native writer and someone who is not very known to the media, I was overwhelmed by publishers’ passionate responses to the book proposal. It all feels surreal and heart-warming, like a thousand hugs. I am glad my book found a home with Doubleday, and I can’t wait for it to see the light. I hope this book speaks to everyone who struggles with finding a place to call home - you are not alone.”

Murphy said: “From the first page I was blown away by the power of Suad’s writing. I Don’t Want to Talk About Home reframes the Syrian migrant narrative and forces us to re-examine how we perceive these stories. Though it is in part a book about fleeing a war, it is also a story of womanhood, of identity, and of complex relationships with religion and with family. Passionate, eye-opening and deeply moving, Suad Aldarra is an exciting new writer to watch.”


The shortlist for the John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize 2021, for an outstanding debut poetry book collection by a poet in the English language, has been announced.

The shortlisted books are: Rendang by Will Harris; Tongues of Fire by Seán Hewitt; Fractal Shores by Diane Louie; and Citadel by Martha Sprackland.

The €10,000 the prize is sponsored by the John Pollard Foundation, and administered by the Trinity Oscar Wilde Centre in the School of English, Trinity College Dublin. The patron of the John Pollard Foundation is Stephen Vernon who named the Foundation in memory of his grandfather, John Pollard.

Chair of the judging panel Eoin McNamee, director of the Trinity Oscar Wilde Centre, said: “The shortlist demonstrates the vitality and diversity of current poetry in English and features volumes from a range of publishers including small independent houses as well as university presses and long established commercial publishers. Trinity Oscar Wilde Centre has a rich tradition in creative writing and the nurturing of new talent. We are delighted to be associated with the Pollard Foundation and with this prestigious international prize.”

Other members of the judging panel are Prof Philip Coleman, Alice Lyons and Vona Groarke. The winner will be announced at a virtual award ceremony hosted by Trinity College Dublin in April.


Cork World Book Fest is going online and will virtually welcome Irish and international writers to Cork for an extravaganza of books and writing from April 20th to 25th and incorporates, as always, Unecsco World Book Day on April 23rd.

David O’Brien, Cork City Librarian, said, “Every April, we look forward to meeting writers from around the world. This year, we’re delighted to bring everyone together in our virtual event space.

“Cork World Book Fest, given its influences from the Iberian peninsula and especially Catalunya, has always had a Hispanic flavour. This year is no exception. We are very pleased to welcome Santiago Roncagliolo, Josefina Báez and Karla Suárez, three rising stars from Latin America who are among the most exciting voices in contemporary Spanish-language writing.”

Patricia Looney from Cork City Library, said, “Every year, there’s increasing demand for workshops for budding writers. We’re delighted to facilitate these free of charge. Literary agents Simon Trewin, Ian Drury and Sara O’Keeffe will join us for our popular Meet the Agents and First Page Pitch, facilitated by Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin. We also look forward to giving a warm Cork welcome to two highly acclaimed and award-winning Australian writers Cate Kennedy and Paddy O’Reilly.”

To book tickets for these events, which are free to attend, visit


Queer Love, feautirng Paul McVeigh, James Hudson, Emer Lyons and Shannon Yee takes place via Zoom on April 20th at 7pm. Queer Love: An Anthology of Irish Fiction was published by Southword Editions in 2020 and is edited by Paul McVeigh. The collection seeks to redress the lack of acknowledgement of the LGBTQI+ community in Irish literary anthologies, with a mixture of established writers of international standing, writers who have been making a splash in recent years and new emerging writers. This event will see Paul McVeigh, the editor of the anthology, in conversation with three of the contributors. For details visit here.

Lismore Castle provides the magical backdrop to the 2021 children’s book festival Towers & Tales, which will all take place online on Friday, April 30th and Saturday, May 1st.

The team behind the celebration of children’s literature and illustration has a fun-filled programme of engaging opportunities for young readers everywhere.

Launching the 2021 programme the festival’s Artistic Directors Niamh Sharkey and Elaina Ryan said, “We are proud that this year’s programme will celebrate some of the best authors and illustrators Ireland has to offer. Brilliant, memorable experiences for children are still at the heart of what we do, and we hope to bring some of the magic of Lismore Castle and town into homes all over Ireland and beyond”. Tickets for the 2021 festival are now available at


The Irish Writers Centre is set to launch its 10th annual Novel Fair on Thursday, April 15th, at 7pm. The online launch will feature novelist and former winner Laura McKenna, New Island commissioning editor Aoife K Walsh and broadcaster and 2021 judge Rick O’Shea.

The launch will take audiences through the Novel Fair process. As one of the 2020 winners, McKenna met representatives of New Island Books on the day and was subsequently signed by them. Walsh published Laura’s debut novel Words to Shape My Name, which has just been shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Book of the Year. O’Shea was one of the judges of Novel Fair 2021, the first ever online Fair. He will speak about his experiences as a judge.

Over the past 10 years, Novel Fair has launched a number of successful writing careers. Some of the titles which were discovered through the IWC Novel Fair include Beatsploitation by Kevin Curran, Eggshells by Caitriona Lally, Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen, Oona by Alice Lyons, and most recently, Guard Your Heart by Sue Divin and Words to Shape My Name by Laura McKenna.

The window for submissions for Novel Fair 2022 will be from September 1st to 30th. The launch will be livestreamed on the IWC's YouTube channel.