Newcomer wins Irish fiction award


A first-time writer and chartered accountant from Belfast became the winner of the Kerry Ingredients Irish Fiction Award on the opening evening of the 31st Listowel Writers' Week last night.

Anne Barnett (38) was awarded £5,000 for The Largest Baby in Ireland After the Famine. The book is based on the life of her Catholic grandmother who married into a Protestant community in Moneymore in Derry against the backdrop of the first World War and the Easter Rising. It was chosen from 47 books, and a short list of four.

Not alone was it her first novel, "it is the first piece of writing of any sort," Ms Barnett said. She said she was "absolutely amazed to win", and being shortlisted had already encouraged her hugely to continue. Ms Barnett is expecting her third child in July and began writing four years ago in the evenings before giving up full-time work.

Prof John A. Murphy, who opened Writers' Week, has paid tribute to Listowel's John B. Keane, one of the founding fathers of the festival. The town of Listowel itself is said to be credited with the success of his work. "John B Keane is not only a genius; he is the genius loci. He is the tutelary deity of Listowel," Prof Murphy said.

Staying and writing in one's own town took great courage as did starting a festival like Writers' Week 30 years ago.

"Writers' Week began 30 years ago in a climate of puritanism when there was a puritanical disapproval of a festival like this where people would stand in grave danger of enjoying themselves," he said.

Writers' Week continues until June 3rd with workshops, lectures, film showings. The Sun- day Independent/John B Keane Emerging Writer Bursary was awarded to Martin Malone, author of Us and After Kafar. The other short listed novelists were Joseph O'Connor for Inishowen, Emma Donoghue for Slammerkin and Anne Enright for her novel What Are You Like.