I’m easing my way back into things. The past couple of months have seen everything else catch up and overtake me, and it’s only now, with the changing of the clocks and the evenings drawing in, that I’ve had the temerity to tell everything to slow the fuck down and take the time to sit with a book or two.
I started with Donal Ryan’s The Thing About December, added Elske Rahill’s Between Dog And Wolf to the to-read pile and then lost myself in the slow and powerful rhythms of The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, where I have remained for the past few days (I sometimes read novels by non-Irish authors with non-Irish names, too, honest. Plans are afoot to read The Diary of Anne Frank in the next couple of weeks before visiting the Anne Frank & You visual exhibition at Pearse Library, and I’ll re-read A Christmas Carol for the first time in a few years next month, having decided that my four-year-old is probably a year or two too young for the full-version bedtime story treatment. I try to get to Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales most Decembers too. If you’ve any other recommendations for favourite Christmas reads, they will be very gratefully received in the comments below…)
But anyway, back to this month, and when easing one’s way back into regular blogs is the challenge, there’s no more straightforward way than by glancing around the awards and prizes news.
You might say that awards skew public perception, that they inflate the importance of a winning novel while reducing the also-rans to obscurity. You would be right, but to distort what Churchill once said about democracy, it’s the worst possible system of marketing books, except for all the others.
Prizes, and the attention they attract through longlists and shortlists and winners’ announcements, are great for book marketing. Yes, the judges are the kingmakers, their blessing bestowing sales spikes for the anointed authors and dispelling many of the remainder to, quite literally, a short shelf life. Prizes such as the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award have done well to democratise things, albeit at the expense of timeliness, but the appointment of an expert jury remains the standard format, and that’s the route taken by Davy Byrnes Short Story Award, which returns for its now characteristic (Word of the Day alert!) quinquennial appearance.
Given Alice Munro’s coronation by the Nobel committee, I feel like we’re living through a golden era for the short story. Whether the proliferation of reading devices has had any effect on the return to prominence of shorter fiction, I have no idea, but time may well come to show that the iPad (first launched 2010) revolutionised a lot more than just technology. Notwithstanding Eleanor Catton’s 832-page Booker-winning mammoth The Luminaries and Richard House’s well-received four-books-in-one-with-added-multimedia doorstop The Kills, there is a real appetite for bitesize literature now – Colm Tóibín and Zadie Smith have both released tiny novels recently, and on the evidence of two recent announcements short story prizes are all the rage.
The Davy Byrnes Award opens for entries in December ahead of a February 2014 shortlist announcement with the winner garlanded next June, and if the judges are anything to go by this should be seriously high on quality: Booker and 2004 Davy Byrne award winner Anne Enright (pictured above), IMPAC winner Jon McGregor and Guardian First Book Award/Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award recipient Yiyun Li. (Oh, to be an English-speaking fly on the wall when those three are discussing short stories…). The criteria for entry for the Davy Byrnes Short Story Award are available over here.
The Irish Book Awards includes a new category in the shape of the writing.ie Short Story of the Year Award. It’s a welcome development for the short story – the Novel of the Year shortlist, which last year bizarrely included three short story collections, is now actually restricted to novels.
While Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies took him to some international renown, it’s fair to say that the six shortlisted stories bring a list of mostly unfamiliar names to the fore. Colin Barrett’s debut collection Young Skins was the subject of a very favourable review by Sinead Gleeson in The Irish Times last weekend; he’s nominated here for “Bait”, while Trisha McKinney, Danielle McLaughlin, Niamh O’Connor (who day-jobs as True Crime Editor of the Sunday World) and Billy O’Callaghan make up the rest of the shortlist. You can read all six shortlisted stories over on writing.ie here.
Looking briefly to the longer form, the Novel of the Year award is foremost among the Irish Book Awards and Donal Ryan, whose The Spinning Heart was named overall Bord Gáis Energy Book of the Year in 2012, is in contention here for The Thing About December. He’s up against some big hitters, though, with Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments sequel The Guts, Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic and the debut novel of outstanding playwright Frank McGuinness (Arimathea) also shortlisted. The sextet is completed by Gavin Corbett (This Is The Way) and Catherine Dunne (The Things We Know Now).