NI Arts Council funds Lough Derg: the musical and Hurricane Higgins: the novel

Colin Bateman and Eoin McNamee among four artists to receive £15,000 awards

A musical about Lough Derg, a fiction based on the life of snooker star Alex "Hurricane" Higgins and a novel about a small-town weekly Northern Ireland newspaper are among four major artistic projects to receive £60,000 in funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Awards of £15,000 each were presented last week to four leading artists – novelists Colin Bateman and Eoin McNamee, playwright Abbie Spallen and jazz drummer and composer Steven Davis – in honour of their contribution to the arts.

The grants, which are equivalent in value to such international awards as the TS Eliot Prize, are designed to enable artists to take time out to dedicate to their creative work and to produce a substantial and ambitious project that will make a significant contribution to the development of their careers.

Best known for his crime fiction, including Divorcing Jack , which was made into a film starring David Thewlis as a troublesome journalist, Bateman has published 30 novels since 1995. His first play, National Anthem , was shortlisted for the Irish Times Theatre Awards in 2010. His award will enable him to work on a new novel, Papercuts , which will see him step outside of the crime-fiction genre into the world of a small-town weekly Northern Ireland newspaper. Bateman started out as a reporter and scripted Scúp , a TG4 series set in an Irish-language newspaper office in Belfast.


Bateman said: “The major individual award has been of huge value in that it allows me to work on fiction outside of what I might normally be expected to produce. I’ve published more than 30 books over the past 20y years, and I love writing crime fiction, but sometimes you need to try something else, and try it away from the commercial pressures that come with working in genre fiction. The major individual award lifts those pressures and buys me that time – and the great thing is I have no idea what will come of it, which takes me back to the way I started writing all those years ago, the way it should be, when there was no great expectation but there was a lot of excitement.”

Eoin McNamee , who was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2001 for The Blue Tango , is about to publish the third part of the trilogy, Blue Is The Night , about another notorious miscarriage of justice in the North, which will be reviewed in The Irish Times this Saturday. Perhaps best known for his fictional account of the Shankill Butchers, Resurrection Man , which was made into a film starring Stuart Townsend, he will use his award to work on a new novel, Hurricane , based on the life of Alex Higgins.

McNamee said: “It is extremely valuable to have the autonomy to work independently, to be able to stand outside formal work structures and take the time to work into the deep lodes of language and meaning. I am very grateful for the opportunity.”

Abbie Spallen is a Newry-based writer and has won international acclaim for her work in theatre, radio, television and film. Her plays include Abeyance, Pumpgirl , also adapted for television, and Strandline . She recently completed a year as writer-in-residence at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast and has been commissioned by the National Theatre in London to write a major satirical drama. Her award will enable her to take time out to work on her first musical – a play about Lough Derg and its followers. The play will mark a major change in focus, using songs for the first time to drive her narrative forward.

Spallen said: “To be able to afford the time to concentrate solely on my work is of immense benefit to me right now. With this award I will be able to write my first original stage musical; the prospect of which fills me with that most healthiest of things; terror!”

Steven Davis is an award-winning jazz drummer and composer, based in Donaghadee, who was awarded the New Music Biennial Award 2014 PRS for Music Foundation and nominated for the Paul Hamlyn Award for Composers in 2013. Davis said: "The award has provided a great opportunity for me to travel and collaborate with other artist in New York and London. This will help me further my career on an international scale."

Roisin McDonough, chief executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: “All four of these artists have already made a notable contribution to the arts in Northern Ireland. Each will benefit greatly from being able to spend the year concentrating purely on their new projects and with the financial backing needed to produce work of lasting value. This award will help to cement their national and international reputations, and help to strengthen the positive cultural profile of Northern Ireland abroad.”

Previous recipients include writers, Carlo Gébler, Damian Gorman, Glenn Patterson and Owen McCafferty, artists Rita Duffy, Susan MacWilliam, Patricia Craig and Cara Murphy, and composers Brian Irvine and Elaine Agnew.

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle is Books Editor of The Irish Times