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. Continue reading “So are we really in the middle of an Irish literary renaissance?”

The Laureate for Irish Fiction just gets better and better…

Anne Enright, one of 34 authors on the longlist for the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction (Image: The Guardian)

A longlist of 34 authors for the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction was announced this week.

Among the various (necessarily imprecise) criteria for the award are that the author has:

  • an internationally recognised body of work, and
  • demonstrated commitment to engaging with the public, the media and the literary sector

There are 21 men and 13 women on the list, including former Booker Prize winners John Banville, Anne Enright and Roddy Doyle and also William Trevor, who has made the shortlist for the Booker five times but has never won.

Other Irish literary veterans (if that’s not too harsh) are Sebastian Barry, Patrick McCabe, Dermot Bolger and Edna O’Brien, while among the relative newcomers on the list are Eimear McBride, whose debut novel A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing won the Baileys Prize earlier this year, and Jaki McCarrick, who published her debut collection of stories, The Scattering, in 2013.

There is no more notable omission than Colm Tóibín, although there may be valid reasons for this – certainly, Tóibín was pictured at the launch of the laureateship last December, so his absence from the list of 34 writers below must have a basis in something we aren’t being told about in the publicity material.

There’s no doubt that the judging panel in phenomenally strong, chaired by poet Paul Muldoon and including his fellow Irish poet Paula Meehan, author Blake Morrison, this year’s IMPAC Dublin Literary Award winner Juan Gabriel Vasquez and Deborah Triesman, the New Yorker‘s fiction editor and producer of the New Yorker short story podcast, one of the best shows you could ever hope to listen to.

The Laureate for Irish Fiction will have a three year term (initially 2015-18), carries a €150,000 bursary and will see the laureate teach creative writing at UCD and New York University.

The first Laureate for Irish Fiction will be announced in January, and more info can be found on the Arts Council website here.

The full longlist for the Irish Laureate for Fiction:

  • John Banville
  • Sebastian Barry
  • Dermot Bolger
  • John Boyne
  • Michael Coady
  • Evelyn Conlon
  • Peter Cunningham
  • Emma Donoghue
  • Roddy Doyle
  • Catherine Dunne
  • Christine Dwyer Hickey
  • Anne Enright
  • Hugo Hamilton
  • Anne Haverty
  • Jennifer Johnston
  • Claire Keegan
  • Tom Kilroy
  • Ré O Laighleis
  • Eimear McBride
  • Patrick McCabe
  • Colum McCann
  • Jaki McCarrick
  • Liam Mac Cóil
  • John MacKenna
  • Belinda McKeon
  • Bernard MacLaverty
  • Eoin McNamee
  • Paul Murray
  • Nuala Ní Chonchuir
  • Edna O’Brien
  • Joseph O’Connor
  • Donal Ryan
  • William Trevor
  • Niall Williams

Five of the best essays on the late, great Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney (Photo: Jon Parker Lee)

Seamus Heaney (Photo: Jon Parker Lee)

There has been no shortage of published work on Seamus Heaney over the last few days. Here are some of the best I’ve read – please feel free to let me know of any other must-read reflections on the life, work and legacy of Seamus Heaney in the comments.

Belinda McKeon (Picture: Hiroki Kobayashi)

Belinda McKeon (Picture: Hiroki Kobayashi)

Belinda McKeon (The Paris Review)

“He was loved. Beloved. Whether he was met with as a name on a page, or as a voice from a podium, or as a cherished friend or fellow artist, Seamus Heaney moved into the lives of those who encountered him—those countless lives—and he made a difference that will matter forevermore. The difference, for many, was poetry itself. The difference is in those lines, the way they come to mind at moments of worry, or of beauty, or of heartache and of sorrow; today they come to mind like prayers learned in childhood, his lines, so many of them, rushing in as breath is caught, as mind reels and whirls.”

Read Belinda McKeon’s personal essay on Seamus Heaney in The Paris Review here

Roy Foster (The Guardian)

“Whereas Yeats’s shadow was seen, by some of his younger contemporaries at least, as blotting out the sun and stunting the growth of the surrounding forest, Heaney’s great presence let in the light.”

Read Roy Foster on Seamus Heaney in the Guardian here

Colm Tóibín (The Guardian)

“In a time of burnings and bombings he used poetry to offer an alternative world; he gave example by his seriousness, his honesty, the tact in his phrasing, the care with language, the thoughtfulness, the scrupulousness.

“He carried his fame lightly, easily. He preferred shadow to light; he preferred the half-said, careful, ambiguous remark to the big statement; he liked the slow smile rather than the easy laugh. He enjoyed company, but I always felt he had one eye on the door, and would be happy when the night was over and he could go home.”

Read Colm Tóibín’s article on Seamus Heaney in the Guardian here

Fintan O’Toole on contradictions, confusion and uncertainty

“What Heaney articulated, above all, was the way in which – in the words of his friend Brian Friel – confusion need not be an ignoble condition. He grew up in a literally divided landscape – ‘the lines of sectarian antagonism and affiliation’, he wrote, ‘followed the boundaries of the land’ — and lived through the hopes and horrors of the Troubles. He was drawn to both Irish and English poetic traditions. He also lived through the death of the ancient rural world into which he was born and the emergence of a globalised modern Ireland. He struggled with contradictions, paradoxes, conflicting impulses. His genius lay in his ability to hover between them, to give each side of a political or emotional equation its full weight and proper due without becoming the prisoner of either.”

Read Fintan O’Toole’s piece on Seamus Heaney in The Irish Times here

Seamus Deane on school-days with Heaney in Derry

Seamus Deane and Seamus Heaney (Picture: Maccana)

Seamus Deane and Seamus Heaney (Picture: Maccana)

Note: Deane’s piece was published in The New Yorker (March 2000), and re-linked by The New Yorker blog this weekend. It’s a phenomenal, luminous essay on growing up in Derry in the 1950s.

“Seamus Heaney and I met at St. Columb’s College, in 1950, when he was eleven years old and I was ten. St. Columb’s College is a diocesan grammar school for boys in the city of Derry (as we called it), or Londonderry (as the official title had it)…

“The school was divided between day boys and boarders. I was a day boy; I came from the city. Boarders came from the city’s hinterland, County Derry and County Donegal. The countryside that the boarders came from seemed to the day boys strange, and indicated a wildness. Beyond the city, all civility ceased. Heaney was a boarder from Bellaghy, which was near Swatragh and Maghera and Magherafelt, on the far side of the mountain range. The names of those places, with their ‘gh’s squatting on wide vowels, seemed designed for the boarders’ accents. Boarders talked so slowly that sometimes you thought a sentence had been spoken when in fact only a place-name had been…

“I remember (with some embarrassment) an issue of the English Department student magazine, Gorgon, in which I published a long, shapeless poem, full of vacuous profundities, based on Allen Tate’s ‘Ode to the Confederate Dead’, and in which Heaney had a short, shapely poem entitled ‘Aran’: it was as modest as mine was pretentious, as precise as mine was vague. [Lecturer] Laurence Lerner asked me if I had noticed Heaney’s poem. I had, but I wanted to hear what Lerner had to say about mine. Of course, that was what he had to say about mine, but I was too dumb to realize it then.

The microfiche of the full Seamus Deane New Yorker essay on Seamus Heaney is here

If you’ve read any brilliant and insightful pieces on Seamus Heaney, please let me know in the comments below.

Irish writers in esteemed company on Sunday Times short story prize long-list


Belinda McKeon (image via

Two Irish writers are rubbing shoulders with some mighty big names on the long-list for the world’s richest short story prize.

The Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award carries a prize fund of £30,000, and Philomena Kearney Byrne and Belinda McKeon are among the 16 names announced this morning.

Kearney Byrne is a psychotherapist from Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim while McKeon hails from from Longford.

While McKeon boasts a decent profile for her work – her debut novel Solace won the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book of the Year and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and she was also named Sunday Independent Best Newcomer last year – it’s probably fair to say Kearney Byrne is a relative newcomer to a stage like this.

As far as I can make out, her only published book so far is Earthworks, about the artist Derval Symes, although she did win the Francis McManus Short Story Award last year.

Kearney Byrne and McKeon share a long-list which includes some of the biggest names in world literature, including Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time author Mark Haddon, Booker Prize winner Graham Swift and Ali Smith, a former Whitbread Prize winner.

Both ladies will learn whether they’re £30,000 richer when the winner is announced at the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival in March. Not incidentally, they will be bidding to keep the gong in Ireland following the victory of Kevin Barry for the dazzling “Beer Trip to Llandudno” last year.

Best of luck to both.

Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award long-list

Caroline Adderson – “Erection Man”
Junot Diaz – “Miss Lora”
Helen Dunmore – “Spotted Dick”
Adam Foulds – “Tunnelling”
Mark Haddon – “The Gun”
Sarah Hall – “Evie”
Cynan Jones – “The Dig”
Philomena Kearney Byrne – “Honda fifty”
Toby Litt – “Call it ‘The Bug’ Because I Have No Time to Think of a Better Title”
Belinda McKeon – “Eyes on Me, Eyes on You”
Mark McNay – “Ten Years Too Late”
C D Rose – “Arkady Who Couldn’t See and Artem Who Couldn’t Hear”
Ali Smith – “The Beholder”
Graham Swift – “I Live Alone”
Claire Vaye Watkins – “Rondine al Nido”
Samuel Wright – “Best Friend”

Irish Arts Center PoetryFest honours Montague

John Montague

New York-born Tyrone poet John Montague will be one of the main attractions at the 2012 IAC PoetryFest (Picture:

Poet John Montague (pictured) will be honoured at the fourth annual Irish Arts Center PoetryFest in New York early next month.

Ciaran Berry, Theo Dorgan, Mary O’Malley and Leanne O’Sullivan  are other Irish poets who will participate at PoetryFest between November 2-4.

Several American poets are also in the line-up, with the festival climaxing with a reading by Montague and US Pulitzer winner C.K. Williams on Sunday, November 4th at 5pm.

Those readings will follow a public conversation between Dorgan and Montague, so anyone with an interest in Irish writing who happens to be in New York on the first weekend of next month is in for a treat.

The PoetryFest is being curated once again by Belinda McKeon, whose acclaimed debut novel Solace won the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book of the Year award in 2011, and her husband, the philosopher Aengus Woods.

McKeon has plenty of experience of literary festivals, having curated DLR Poetry Now in Dun Laoghaire between 2008 and 2011.

Tickets to the IAC PoetryFest events range from free to $15. More details and booking information is available at