‘I felt like I was in our own book club’
Readers gathered at The Sugar Club for The Irish Times live Books Podcast to hear a panel of authors discuss 2020’s hot new titles
Ryan Reid, Meagan Malone, Tara O’Neill and Alice Sheehan at the Irish Times/Green & Blacks live Books Podcast at the Sugar Club. Photograph: Conor Mulhern
2020 got off to a flying start with this year’s first live recording of the Irish Times Books Podcast, as readers gathered in The Sugar Club on Dublin’s Leeson Street. Any new year’s resolutions were long forgotten thanks to the array of tempting chocolate treats laid out on every table, including the new Green & Black’s crunchy Velvet Bark range. Whether they sought inspiration for their book club or simply to get out of a reading rut, audience members came away from the event festooned with ideas, after their team of bookworms Declan Burke, Clodagh Finn, Freya McClements and Paul Howard shared their recommendations.
The panel’s main topic of discussion was 2020’s hot new releases, and the titles they’re especially looking forward to. Along with boxes of homemade pizza, some proof copies from publishing houses were passed around, giving attendees a taste of what’s coming, such as Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times, As You Were by Elaine Feeney, and This Happy by Niamh Campbell. Also mentioned were Patrick Freyne’s collection of essays, OK, Let’s Do Your Stupid Idea, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, and The Secret Guests by BW Black (aka John Banville).
Declan Burke has published several spy thrillers and crime novels, many of which have been shortlisted and featured in the Irish Book Awards. His most recent book is The Lammisters, set in 1920s Hollywood.
So far this year, Burke has enjoyed The Island Child by Molly Aitken. He eagerly awaits John Connolly’s The Dirty South, a prequel about Connolly’s protagonist, Charlie Parker. It’s the 18th book in the series – one which will hopefully attract new readers. Burke’s favourite classic writer is William Goldman, who penned Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man and The Princess Bride.
“Go to the William Goldman section in the bookshop, because no matter what you’re in the mood for, he will have the kind of book you like, he’ll have done it brilliantly, and if you’re still a bit stuck, just go straight to The Princess Bride. If that doesn’t get you back into reading, there’s no banging on the top of the coffin – because I think it’s terminal,” he joked.
Clodagh Finn’s new book, Through Her Eyes, is a history of Ireland through the lives of 21 women, from the Stone Age to the present. She also wrote A Time to Risk All (2017), a bestselling biography of Mary Elmes, the so-called Irish Oskar Schindler.
Finn ordered Hilary Fannin’s memoir, Hopscotch, in advance of her debut novel, The Weight of Love. She also looks forward to Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & the Light. Her staple recommendation is The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal.
“One of my favourite writers is Colum McCann. He wrote a novella called Thirteen Ways of Looking and I suppose the spirit of that is present in his new book, Apeirogon. I’m a great fan of Marian Keyes – Grown Ups is coming. Anne Enright as well; I’m looking forward to reading Actress. In the spirit of stories in the landscape, Skelligs Haul is out with Lilliput Press, and it’s the prose and poetry of a man called Michael Kirby about the Unesco heritage site – it’s the Star Wars set,” he tells audience members.
Paul Howard is a journalist, comedy writer and creator of Ross O’Carroll-Kelly. Howard recently collaborated with Gordon D’Arcy on Gordon’s Game, the first in a new series of children’s books.
According to Howard, who skipped a Liverpool match to join the panel, he can read anywhere. All he needs is silence and a comfortable(ish) chair. “I focus so much when I’m reading, that I don’t really notice anything around me. We have a dog called Humphrey. He’s this adorable Bassett hound and he gets really frustrated when I’m reading, because I don’t give him any attention. Sometimes when I’m lost in a book, I’ll just look up and he’ll have brought eight different toys into the room.”
The reason I wrote Ross O’Carroll-Kelly phonetically is because I read Irvine Welsh
Howard listed three new books – just don’t ask him the titles. To the amusement of the crowd, he remembered them just in time: Tales of Boomtown Glory by Bob Geldof (who is Howard’s long-time hero), Champagne Football by Mark Tighe and Paul Rowan, and Eoin Colfer’s Highfire, an offbeat fantasy novel about a dragon who loves vodka and Flashdance. His old favourites are the Flashman Papers series by George MacDonald Fraser and Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, which largely inspired the dialogue of his own series.
‘I didn’t read a lot of fiction as a kid or as a teenager, but that book just spoke to me. I love the fact that it was written in phonetics and that it was about working class culture. The reason I wrote Ross O’Carroll-Kelly phonetically is because I read Irvine Welsh.’
With plenty of time for conversation, attendees had lots to say about the night and how it inspired them to read new titles.
Áine O’Neill brought her friend Brianna Byrne. O’Neill, a television presenter and producer, addressed the panel at question time because Declan Burke mentioned William Goldman.
“I’m reading William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade at the moment, so it’s actually a really good book if you’re interested in reading, and you’re interested in TV and film as well.”
The event left a positive impression on civil servant Rachel Keane, who said, “I think it was great that they handed around some books, that you can get a feel for what’s on the market now. I got a lot of inspiration for my next read.”
Her friend Rita McDonnell, an office worker, chimed in. “I loved all the book recommendations and the discussions between the authors about the politics of writing. I think it’s an exciting time for women authors as well.” They were both drawn to This Happy by Niamh Williams.
It’s interesting listening about all these books written by Irish authors about Irish life
A bunch of colleagues from Carat Ireland had the best seat in the house, where they enjoyed espresso Martinis made with Green & Black’s chocolate.
Meagan Malone appreciated the variety of works discussed. “There are just so many authors that I’ve never heard of. I’m just so used to reading mainstream books that everyone’s talking about, especially as an American. It’s interesting listening about all these books written by Irish authors about Irish life – I definitely have a long list.”
Ryan Reid said: “My favourite part was the books to get you back into reading because, admittedly, I’m a bit of a lapsed reader. So I’m going to take a lot of the recommendations to get inspired – to get back in the game.”
Tara O’Neill was possibly the most pleased of all. “I thought the panel was brilliant – it really flowed. I felt like I was in our own little book club. I got some great ideas and tips for not only books that are coming up, but also past books and authors. I used to be a member of a book club but then it dwindled off. I’m hoping to get one up and going again, so this evening has inspired us to do it.”
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