Victoria Kennefick on Costa Award shortlist; Joanne McNally deal; Moth Arts Prize winner

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

In The Irish Times this Saturday, Niamh Donnelly selects the perfect books to give as a Christmas present across various tastes and genres. Reviews are Colm Tóibín on Haughey by Gary Murphy; Oliver Farry on Black British Lives Matter, edited by Lenny Henry and Marcus Ryder; Michael O’Loughlin on Intimate City: Dublin Essays by Peter Sirr; Richard Pine on The Politics and Polemics of Culture in Ireland 1800-2010 by Pat Cooke; Aoife Bhreatnach on Katherine Harvey’s The Fires of Lust: Sex in the Middle Ages; Martina Evans on New and Selected Poems by Ian Duhig; Sarah Gilmartin on These Precious Days by Ann Patchett; and Claire Hennessy on the best new YA fiction.


Victoria Kennefick has been shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award for Eat or We Both Starve, alongside All the Names Given by Raymond Antrobus; A Blood Condition by Kayo Chingonyi; and The Kids by Hannah Lowe. Judges Rishi Dastidar, Ian Duhig and Maya Jaggi called the shortlist “an electric and contemporary shortlist – these are the poets of the present and the future”.

Eat or We Both Starve draws readers into seemingly recognisable set-pieces – the family home, the shared meal, the rituals of historical occasions, desire – but Kennefick forges this material into new shapes, making them viable again for exploring what it is to live with the past – and not to be consumed by it.


The judges said: “Harrowing and hilarious, this book explores all aspects of the body in language that is both visceral and vivid.”

Kennefick is a poet, writer and teacher from Co Cork now based in Co Kerry. Her award-winning poetry has been widely published and broadcast on radio. A recipient of a Next Generation Artist Award from the Arts Council of Ireland, she co-hosted the Unlaunched Books Podcast in 2020 and is on the committee of Listowel Writers’ Week, Ireland’s longest-running literary festival.

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson, The Manningtree Witches by AK Blakemore, Fault Lines by Emily Itami and The Stranding by Kate Sawyer have been shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award.

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller, The High House by Jessie Greengrass, The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed and The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak are on the Costa Novel Award shortlist. The Costa Biography Award shortlist features Consumed: A Sister’s Story by Arifa Akbar; The Moth and the Mountain: A True Story of Love, War and Everest by Ed Caesar; Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell by John Preston; and Free: Coming of Age at the End of History by Lea Ypi.

The Costa Children’s Award shortlist is made up of Maggie Blue and the Dark World by Anna Goodall; The Crossing by Manjeet Mann; The Midnight Guardians by Ross Montgomery; and The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh by Helen Rutter.

Winners in the five categories, who each receive £5,000, will be announced on January 4th. The overall winner of the 2021 Costa Book of the Year will receive £30,000 and be announced at a ceremony on February 1st.


Martina O’Sullivan, publisher at Penguin General, has pre-empted a collection of essays by stand-up comedian Joanne McNally. McNally is the co-host with Vogue Williams of the podcast My Therapist Ghosted Me, which has 2 million downloads each month, and her forthcoming tour The Prosecco Express has sold more than 70,000 tickets so far with 30 nights at Dublin’s Vicar Street and three sold-out appearances at the London Palladium.

O’Sullivan acquired world rights from Faith O’Grady at the Lisa Richards Agency. Publishing in autumn 2023, the as-yet untitled book will blend personal memoir with cultural and social observations examining why we do the things we do. McNally will explore topics including sex, dating, heartbreak, friendship, body image, aging and much more.

McNally said: “I’ve always wanted to write a book and I could not be happier that I’m going to do it with Penguin! I started out in life wanting to be a journalist but was told I’d need to be prepared to sell my granny for a story and considering all my grannies were deceased, I didn’t feel I had the resources to pursue that dream, so to get an opportunity to write without having to traffic elderly people is very exciting!”

The new issue of Reading Ireland is a mix of critical essays, memoir pieces and poems dedicated to four writers whose work deserves more attention: Padraic Fiacc, Richard Murphy, Michael Hartnett and Dermot Healy. Contributors include Gerald Dawe, Benjamin Keating, Philip Keel Geheber, Mary O' Malley, Dermot Bolger, Nichola Bruce, Gerard Smyth, Harry Clifton and Brian McCabe. In addition, Alannah Hopkin's memoir of Aidan Higgins, A Very Strange Man, is reviewed by Fred Johnston; Eamonn Wall reviews Making Integral: Critical Essays on Richard Murphy; Graham Price reviews Sacred Weather: Atmospheric Essentialism in the World of John McGahern, by Niamh Campbell; and Adrienne Leavy reviews Conor O' Callaghan's novel We Are Not In The World and Brendan Galvin's new poetry collection, Partway to Geophany. To subscribe to Reading Ireland visit

A new literary festival is set to take place on Spike Island Cork in 2022, dedicated to the theme of crime writing. Planned for the second half of 2022, the Spike Island literary festival will hone in on the popular genre with a series of author talks and workshops, giving attendees the chance to learn more about the subject. Agents and publishers from the industry will be on hand giving advice, and those looking to write a book can get invaluable insights into the writing and publishing world.

The event is set to take place at Spike Island, a perfectly fitting setting given its historic past. The island was used as an island prison on 4 separate occasions over the last 400 years, with the last prison incarnation that opened in 1985 only closing its doors in 2004. As well as a chance to attend author led talks and workshops, attendees will be brought on a very special tour of the island’s former prisons, that will detail the stories of the former inmates. So attendees might leave with inspiration for a novel of their own! Details of tickets and events are set to be launched in early 2022.

Spanish artist Blanca Amorós has been awarded The Moth Art Prize 2021, a €1,000 prize run by The Moth magazine for a body of figurative or representational work.

‘I consider the artists who have won The Moth Art Prize to date to be exceptional painters,’ says Amorós, who was born in Elche in Spain in 1990 and now lives in Vienna. ‘It is a real honour to be part of this group and I am truly grateful.’

Amorós studied art in Munich, Vienna and Valencia, where she obtained the Facultad de Bellas Artes’ Award in 2013. She graduated from the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Munich in 2018.

Her work has been exhibited in Belgium, Spain, Germany, Austria, South Africa and Taiwan. In 2015 she won the Nazarte Award in Valencia, and in 2019 she won the Fischer/Collegen Kunstpreis Special Prize in Stuttgart.

Amorós playfully juxtaposes all sorts of found materials in her paintings - old photographs and other archival source materials - to create her own new fictions. ‘All in all, it is a process of recontextualization that discloses the adverse side of images and objects that surround us: the ideological domination of our private life that is intrinsic to capitalism.’

‘The Moth Art Prize is a joy to judge,’ says The Moth publisher Will Govan, who is himself a painter and judges the prize alongside co-director and editor of the magazine, Rebecca O’Connor. ‘The prize was truly international this year. It is wonderful that the language of figurative and representational art can be universally understood and recognised. We felt very privileged to meet so many wonderful painters for the first time. There were some captivating pieces of work but, as a whole, Blanca’s work had a cohesive and magnetic quality to it. It is very assured. It has a strangely eerie and hypnotic quality, while also being witty and stylish in a way that is difficult to ignore.’

Amorós’ work features on the cover and throughout the winter issue of The Moth, available to purchase at and in select bookstores in Ireland and the UK.

The publishers of The Moth also commended work by Christy Burdock, shortlisted for the Sir John Hurt Art Prize last year; Komachi Goto, a Japanese artist based in Edinburgh; Sally Roberts, an emerging Lancashire-based artist; Tess Glen, a Scottish artist whose work tunnels into physical and mental interiors; Sophie Herxheimer, whose has exhibited at the Tate Modern and along the seafront at Margate; and Uzma Sultan, a Slade graduate who was born in Pakistan and lives and works in London.