So are we really in the middle of an Irish literary renaissance?

spill-simmer-falter-wither-book-jacket-fJason Arthur, the Publishing Director of a group of Penguin Random House imprints, has described the current Irish literary scene as “experiencing a renaissance”.

Arthur’s comments came amid the announcement that he has secured the UK and Commonwealth rights (apart from Canada) to two Sara Baume novels, including current hit Spill Simmer Falter Wither, published by new kid on the block Dublin independent publisher Tramp Press.

SSFW, which hit the shelves in Ireland and the UK last month, will now go much further afield with an immediate issue of an export trade paperback by William Heinemann (one of the PRH imprints) with Windmill (another imprint) to publish the novel in paperback and ebook format later this year.

The deal also includes a second novel by Baume. Finer details of either the deal or the second book are, right now, understandably scant.

Said Arthur: “Irish literature seems to be experiencing something of a renaissance, and in the last few years Ireland has produced more than its fair share of brilliantly talented young writers. But even with that in mind, Sara Baume’s unique talent is something very special indeed. Spill Simmer Falter Wither is an exceptionally original and impressive work.”

glorious-heresies-mcinerneyBaume is just one of a number of Irish writers to have attracted the attention of critics and publishers alike in recent times. Over the past nine months, we’ve seen debut novels such as Mary Costello’s Academy Street and Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing win major awards such as the Irish Novel of the Year and the Baileys Prize while hot on the heels of Baume’s debut comes Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies, which will be available from the end of this week and has already been described as “a big, brassy, sexy beast of a book” by Joseph O’Connor in the Irish Times. (The first chapter of The Glorious Heresies is available to read on the Sunday Times website here.) Throw in the slightly more established Claire Keegan, Claire Kilroy, Nuala Ni Chonchuir and Belinda McKeon (among others), and the state of play for Irish women writers looks very healthy.

Anne Enright, recently appointed Irish Laureate for Fiction, would surely approve of this wave of supremely confident young Irish women writers, but the fellas are not without their representation in this “renaissance” either.

Colin Barrett’s short story collection Young Skins has been hoovering up the prizes (Guardian First Book award, Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award) while Rob Doyle’s Here Are the Young Men, Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart and The Thing About December and Gavin Corbett’s This Is The Way also attracted plenty of acclaim over the past couple of years.

Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane won plenty of admirers, although there’s a suspicion that it falls a step short of his breathtaking short stories, the 2012 Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award winner “Beer Trip to Llandudno” being a standout example of story-telling at its best.

More than five years after the dazzling Skippy Dies, Paul Murray’s third novel The Mark and the Void is due out this summer; including a character called Paul Murray who is writing a novel, it sounds more than a little bit Paul Auster, and I can’t wait for it.

(A final word too, for The Stinging Fly, the Dublin literary periodical and press which first published collections by Costello, Barry and Barrett.)

Vive La Renaissance!


Francis MacManus Short Story Competition details

The annual Francis MacManus Short Story Competition has been open to entries since February, and the closing date for the 2015 prize is the fast-approaching Friday, May 1st.

Unlike many prizes of the sort, which understandably seek a fee for entry (often without even covering costs), this one is free to enter.

Entry is open to anyone born or resident in Ireland and stories must be no shorter than 1800 words and no longer than 2000 – and no exceptions! (It is a prize designed for radio reading, so length is important.)

The judges this year are promoter-of-all-things-books Cormac Kinsella, novelist, short story writer and editor Evelyn Conlon and journalist, novelist, playwright and creative writing teacher Katy Hayes.

Download an application form here

The 2014 winner was “The Oyster Catchers” by Beth Tyrrell and you can hear that one, as well as all other short-listed entries, over on the Francis MacManus Short Story Competition page here.

The Classics Club (Irish edition…)

For all the dark sides and murky corners of the Internet, there’s something intangibly fantastic about its interconnectivity. While Twitter and Facebook, with their social weight and smartphone buzz notifications, undoubtedly lead the way, I’ve learned through the two and a bit years of this blog that there’s a huge and supportive community on WordPress too.

The Classics Club Blog is dedicated to inspiring us to read the classics which stare at so many of us, spine out, from our shelves but which often remain unread. Middlemarch, for one, greets me every time I walk into my kitchen – it’s not, gladly, a taunt; more a recurring invitation which I’ve yet to take up. I’ve tried Ulysses at least three times now, and have never made it more than a quarter of the way through. Maybe one day…

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Book thoughts: Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín

Okay, so I’m six years late to this, but as I’ve grown older (I’m 38 this year) some self-awareness has slowly dawned: it takes me time to do things.

I didn’t leave home or learn to drive until my mid-20s, despite those two things being almost sacrosanct for any coming-of-age Irish provincial-dweller with even a passing interest in the wider world. I first experienced the great cities of Europe at 26 (Madrid, Barcelona, Paris), later in life and for a much shorter stay than many contemporaries who made interrailing their summer at a time when I was scared of what the future held and thought that a holiday job, with the short-term, transient but undeniable security it offered, was the better course of action.

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Ireland’s Best Loved Poem


I rarely reblog, but happy to make an exception for this excellent post about RTE’ current project, Ireland’s Best Loved Poem.

Originally posted on Top of the Tent:

At the weekend, RTE, the Irish national broadcaster announced the shortlist of 10 for their ‘Best Loved Poem of Ireland’ (of the last 100 years) competition. Members of the public nominated their ‘best loved’ poem online and a jury of Irish poetry aficionados cut the suggestions down to the final list shown below. You can now vote to influence the final choice of ‘A Poem for Ireland’ on the RTE Poetry website and the winner will be announced on Friday 13th March. It seems to be perfectly timed for the last weekend before St Patrick’s Day, but there’s something else about timing that bothers me slightly with regard to how ‘fair’ such a competition can possibly be.

The ‘last 100 years’ – mmm, if we count back that takes us to 1915. Well, there’s no poem from that year on the list – it starts the year after with W…

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On Valentine’s Day, five great love poems by Irish writers

A post about Seamus Heaney’s favourite love poem a couple of Valentine’s Days ago (before Heaney’s all too untimely passing) received a bit of interest at the time, and a steady flow of visitors to the blog ever since.

I forwarded the belief then that Irish writers might not be perfectly disposed to the art of the love poem, an art form which requires perhaps a loss of inhibition more straightforwardly associated with the English Romantics.

With the Irish writer (to risk accusations of grand generalisation) so much an outsider already – in themes or in actuality – would any have dared to write the line “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” except as a parody? Letting go of all inhibitions and declaring such undying love is to risk ridicule and excommunication from whatever small parish has not already disowned you.

But how naive and wrong could I have been? Irish poets do, of course, write love poems. They just do it in ways markedly different to summer’s days or red, red roses.

Continue reading “On Valentine’s Day, five great love poems by Irish writers”