The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is this week’s Irish Times Eason offer

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


In Saturday’s Irish Times, George O’Brien recalls visiting the set of Moby Dick in Youghal and recounts the entertaining spat between its director John Huston and screewnriter Ray Brasbury, whose birth centenary occurs next month.

Reviews include Matthew O’Toole on Surviving Autocracy by Masha Gessen; Declan O’Driscoll on The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-Eun, translated by Lizzie Buehler; Robert Gerwarth on All Against All: The Long Winter of 1933 and the Origins of the Second World War by Peter Jankowski; Tony Clayton-Lea on Small Hours: The Long Night of John Martyn by Graeme Thornton; Eoin Ó Broin on Alpha City: How London Was Captured by the Super-Rich by Rowland Atkinson and Designing Disorder: Experiments and Disruptions in the City by Pablo Sendra and Richard Sennett; Stephen Philips on Under the Red White and Blue: Patriotism, Disenchantment and the Stubborn Myth of the Great Gatsby by Greil Marcus; Sarah Gilmartin on by Callan Wink; and Claire Hennessy on the best new YA fiction.


So Many Rooms (Carcanet, 2019) by Laura Scott has won the 2020 Poetry Prize for a First Collection, supported by the Atlantic Philanthropies, the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University Belfast has announced.

Scott, who was born in London and now lives in Norwich, said: “I’m honoured and delighted, actually I’m over the moon, to have won this prize. As it’s a first collection prize, I was looking back at my first notebook, the one I bought when I started writing seriously. It has fragments of things I wanted to get into poems, notes to myself, and on the tenth page, this quote from Seamus Heaney: ‘This was the first place where I felt I had done more than make an arrangement of words: I felt that I had let down a shaft into real life. The facts and surfaces of the thing were true, but more important, the excitement that came from naming them gave me a kind of insouciance and a kind of confidence. I didn’t care who thought what about it: somehow, it had surprised me by coming out with a stance and an idea that I would stand over.’

“I never met Seamus Heaney, but here he was saying exactly what I needed to hear. He pinpointed the precise sense in which writing poems is doing something bigger than yourself. It is not just you and the words.”

Glenn Patterson, director of the centre, said: “The First Collection Poetry Prize is a highlight of the Seamus Heaney Centre’s year – one of the stand-out events, and awards, indeed, of the entire poetry calendar. With her collection, So Many Rooms, Laura Scott is a very, very worthy winner. All involved at the Heaney Centre will follow what she does next with great interest, and no little pride.”

This year’s judges were Prof Nick Laird, poet and chair of creative writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre; Prof Frank Ormsby, Ireland Chair of Poetry; and Dr Leontia Flynn, poet and reader in poetry at the Seamus Heaney Centre.

Laird said: “Laura Scott’s So Many Rooms is a confident and intricate collection dealing with relationships and memory. Cognizant of all the angles, alive to the smallest damage, to the bruises left on petals by the rain, Scott is a master of the slant take, the delicate phrasing. Her images both clarify and darken the matter at hand. In Scott’s world, poems are ‘like fish / swimming inside you, / waiting for someone / to tap the glass.’”


The Dublin Book Festival will be presenting its programme online this year, from November 27th to December 6th, due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

“We wanted to be able to provide certainty for publishers, authors and audiences that Dublin Book Festival would be going ahead in autumn 2020,” programme director Julianne Siron said. “As the festival takes place in winter we felt the only way to guarantee a festival of events and the safety of our authors, audiences and staff was to bring the festival online.

“We are disappointed not to be able to hold the festival in its usual format, however, we will work hard to make it as interactive and enchanting as possible. We also see this as an opportunity: as Ireland’s only book festival that celebrates Irish published authors and illustrators, with online events we will be able to showcase their work not only on a national level, but on an international stage, which is really exciting.”

A full programme will be released in early autumn at


Derek Owusu: his debut novel, That Reminds Me, has won the Desmond Elliott Prize 2020. .Photograph: Josima Senior
Derek Owusu: his debut novel, That Reminds Me, has won the Desmond Elliott Prize 2020. .Photograph: Josima Senior

Derek Owusu’s That Reminds Me has won the Desmond Elliott Prize 2020. The novel-in-verse, praised by judges as a “transcendent work of literature”, is chosen as the best debut novel across the UK and Ireland this year from a strong shortlist including The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré and The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu.

In addition to the £10,000 prize money, Owusu will receive a tailored year-round platform of support and mentorship from the NCW, which is running the Desmond Elliott Prize for the first time this year as part of its new Early Career Awards portfolio.

That Reminds Me is a vivid and semi-autobiographical tale of a British-Ghanaian boy called K, whose turbulent childhood spent passing through foster homes leaves him battling with a budding neurosis. At 11 years old, K is moved from his white foster family in a village in Suffolk and is taken back to the very different context of inner-city London after his foster mother develops cancer. Each section, told in fragments of memory, explores K’s flickering experiences of abuse, sexual awakening, depression, alcoholism, self-harm and addiction.

It was chosen as the best debut of the year by a judging panel chaired by author and previous Desmond Elliott Prize winner, Preti Taneja, who was joined by chief lead writer at The Observer, Sonia Sodha, and writer and editor Sinéad Gleeson.

Taneja said: “That Reminds Me is written with a rare style that wrings pure beauty from every painful, absurd moment K must face. Despite the terrors around him, this young black man has an instinctive love for the world that burns at the core of the book. The judges and I were as shattered by the truths of the story as we were moved by the talent of its writer. Derek Owusu has given us a unique, profound and transcendent work of literature: we want as many readers as possible to discover it - once they do they will return to again and again.”

That Reminds Me is published by Stormzy’s #Merky imprint. It is the first title in a two-book deal for Owusu, and the first book published by the imprint to have won any major literary prize. The TV and film rights to Owusu’s second book with #Merky, Teaching My Brother to Read, have already been sold to Idris Elba’s production company, Green Door Pictures.


Matthew Dooley has won the 2020 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction with his debut graphic novel Flake, the first graphic novel to win in the prize’s history.

Judge Sindu Vee described it as “a rare joy: a laugh out loud story with characters you want to meet again and again”. Flake tells the comic tale of ice cream wars and sibling rivalry. Described by The Observer as a meld of Alan Bennett and graphic novelist Chris Ware, it combines clever detail, warm characters and a good handful of puns.

Also shortlisted were Nobber by Oisin Fagan; Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane; Weather by Jenny Offill; 46% Better than Dave by Alastair Puddick; and House of Trelawney by Hannah Rothschild.


Candice Carty-Williams became the first black writer to win Book of the Year at the British Book Awards with Queenie, which also won Debut Book of the Year at the virtual ceremony. Bernardine Evaristo won Author of the Year and the Fiction prize for Booker-winning Girl, Woman, Other.

David McKee, creator of children’s character Elmer, was named Illustrator of the Year. There were also awards for Pinch of Nom, Three Women by Lisa Taddeo and My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. Holly Jackson won Children’s Fiction Book of the Year with her debut, The Good Girl’s Guide to Murder.

Carty-Williams’ tale of Jamaican British woman Queenie Jenkins was praised by The Bookseller books editor Alice O’Keeffe as “by turns funny, wise and heartbreaking”. Fellow judge Stig Abell, formerly editor of the TLS, said: “This is a novel of our time, filled with wit, wisdom and urgency; and unafraid to tackle life as it is being experienced by a young, single black woman in the city. This shouldn’t be filed away as simply a funny debut by a brilliant writer (though it is that); this is an important meditation on friendship, love and race.”

Carty-Williams said: “I don’t quite know how I feel about winning book of the year; I’m proud of myself, yes, and grateful to the incredible team that helped me get Queenie out of my head and onto the shelves. I’m also sad and confused that I’m the first black and female author to have won this award since it began. Overall, this win makes me hopeful that although I’m the first, the industry are waking up to the fact that I shouldn’t and won’t be the last.

“The last words I wrote in Queenie were ‘Black lives matter’, and it feels really important to say that again here and say that as part of my acceptance speech because I’m really proud of who I am, and I’m proud of where I’ve come from and against all the odds, I’ve managed to get to this place and I just hope that more people like me get to do that.”


Angela Finn has been awarded the 2020 Desperate Literature Prize for their epistolary story of “sad long silences”, Excerpts from a Pale Blue Notebook with Silver Stars. Finn, whose work has been featured in The Irish Times, RTÉ Radio and Poetry Ireland Review, lives in Dublin.

Finn will receive €1000 in prize money, a seven-day residency at the Civitella Ranieri artist’s retreat in Umbria, and a consultation with a literary agent from Andrew Nurnberg Associates alongside publication in the collected shortlist in the annual collection Eleven Stories published by Desperate Literature. The prize was judged by authors Claire-Louise Bennett, Rachel Cusk, Niven Govinden and Ottessa Moshfegh.


Don’t Worry, Little Crab by Chris Haughton (Walker Books), the award-winning creator of Shh! We Have a Plan, has won the Picture Book award at the 2020 Indie Books Awards.

Winning in the fiction category is Booker winner Bernardine Evaristo with her lyrical and compelling exploration of gender and identity Girl, Woman, Other (Penguin), while Mudlarking, a journey through objects unearthed from the river Thames by Lara Maiklem (Bloomsbury) won the Non-Fiction category. The winner of the Children’s Fiction category is Sophie Anderson with The Girl Who Speaks Bear (Usborne), a playful adaptation of myth, folklore and fairytales.

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