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?”

How will Colin Barrett keep his feet on the ground after praise like this?

Colin Barrett at the Guardian First Book Award 2014

You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights.

– Dr Seuss.

Those lines could easily be applied to Colin Barrett, the winner of the Guardian First Book Award for his collection of short stories, Young Skins, set in a fictional (typical) town in the west of Ireland.

The ceremony took place on the 31st floor of Centre Point, high above London’s Tottenham Court Road Tube station. Barrett admitted his ears popped in the lift on the way up and he had been a bit dizzy all evening, and that sense of giddiness will be ever more profound if he tunes in to a long feature on the latest Guardian Books Podcast.

Host Richard Lea caught up with several of those in attendance at the awards ceremony, in which Barrett followed fellow rural Irish chronicler Donal Ryan to win the Guardian prize.

Josh Cohen, psychoanalyst, literary theorist and Guardian First Book Award judge:

A very worthy winner. His prose is incredibly polished, it feels very fully formed. He knows how to draw you into a story, there’s a narrative intensity. There’s something about the gap between these very kind of dirty realist settings and the articulacy and sharpness of vision, of the narrative voice, that is a very difficult tightrope to walk. It could come across as condescending but instead it actually elevates the vision of the characters and gives them a multi-dimensionality, a complexity.

He is, sentence by sentence, an astonishing writer. One of the most natural writers I’ve come across in the last few years. It feels almost unfeasible that this is a first collection.

Stuart Broom, Waterstones, former Guardian First Book Award judge, on the commercial appeal of short story collections such as Young Skins:

The thing that the Guardian First Book Award really encourages is for readers to really open their minds. Craftsmanship can seem a bit of a pedestrian criteria [but] when you look at something that is very well made, very well structured, that comes across. This is a writer who is very adept at creating all of the old-fashioned virtues, tension, plot, character, wonderful dialogue, great figures of speech that you’ve never read before.

So once you have all of those, all of your preconceptions about a maybe less commercial format [short story collections] tend to fall away under that brilliant technical virtue.

Declan Meade, The Stinging Fly journal and The Stinging Fly Press, publisher of Young Skins:

Very quickly with Colin [after his first story was published] we said we would do a collection with him. We were building up a collection very slowly. It only got to seven stories, fair enough, but there is one long spectacular story within that, and it felt like a complete world had been made during that process.

There’s an excitement within the story-telling itself. He’s relishing the act of telling you a story, and there is a bravery to it, [as if he’s saying] ‘I’m going to tell you a story and I’m going to tell it this way, and I’m going to throw all kinds of things in there in terms of linguistic flourishes that perhaps I’m not supposed to do. But that is what I’m going to do.’

Alex Bowler, editorial director, Jonathan Cape, UK publisher of Young Skins:

I first came across Colin’s work in the pages of The Stinging Fly about three, four years ago. It was instantly combustible. The first paragraph of The Clancy Kid had me. The word choice. Within the first two sentences there is a surprise. The right word, the unique word. And then you’re hooked and the eye doesn’t wander.

You enter this world, you enter this environment, and you’re with characters who compel you. And in each story there is this moment of combustion. He’s got power and control and energy in every sentence on the micro level, but also on the wider view as well. It’s extraordinary stuff.

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

Bloomsbury to bring “Dublin’s Trainspotting” to the masses

here are the young menDebut novelist Rob Doyle is the latest young Irish writer to have made the independent-to-major-publishing-house route to success, with Bloomsbury securing rights for his Dublin-set Here Are The Young Men.

Originally published by Lilliput Press, Here Are The Young Men will now be given a Bloomsbury release in the UK and Ireland this September, followed by the US next year.

Alexa von Hirschberg, Commissioning Editor at Bloomsbury, says, “Here Are the Young Men is a fierce, shocking, blackly comic wild ride of a novel – a powerful literary statement about the lives of disaffected and disillusioned young people.

“Rob Doyle does for Dublin what Irvine Welsh did for Edinburgh in Trainspotting. Brave, insightful, philosophical and heartbreaking, it introduces a talented writer at the beginning of what will be a long career.”

Seriously high praise, and fantastic news for Rob, who has written for journals including The Dublin Review, The Stinging Fly and Gorse.

Describing his book in an interview in Gorse, Doyle says it is

…a novel set in Dublin in 2003 […] about a bunch of hard-drinking, drug-abusing, fairly disturbed youngsters, who have finished school, have finished their Leaving Cert, and fall under the malign sway of their psychopathic friend Joseph Kearney, who urges them on to begin committing transgressive acts, which become more extreme and more disturbing as their first summer of freedom goes on. And everything goes to hell, more or less.

Read the full Gorse interview here

Doyle joins Eimear McBride (Galley Beggar Press to Faber), Donal Ryan (Lilliput Press to Doubleday) and Colin Barrett (Stinging Fly Press to Jonathan Cape) as Irish writers treading a path from independent publisher to major powerhouse.

Those three predecessors saw their books claim several awards, and if von Hirschberg’s praise is anything to go by Doyle could be following in their footsteps in that regard too when the 2014 prize-giving season kicks off in earnest in the autumn.


Hear about the Irish twentysomething who looks like becoming a global phenomenon?

Jax Miller / Aine O Domhnaill

Aine O Domhnaill, a.k.a. Jax Miller (Picture credit:

When you hear of a debut crime novelist by the name of Jax Miller, to be published by Harper Collins after a six-figure deal, rural Ireland is not something that might immediately spring to mind.

But that’s the story behind Freedom’s Child, because Miller is a pseudonym for 28-year-old American-born Co Meath resident Aine O Domhnaill.

Freedom’s Child centres on the story of a woman who has spent 18 years under a witness protection programme and embarks on a search for the daughter she gave birth to in prison and knew for all of two minutes and 17 seconds, and who has now mysteriously disappeared.

While the circuitous route to publication is usually the norm – witness Donal Ryan’s 47 rejection slips and Eimear McBride’s nine-year itch – the news release for the Miller announcement outlines the phenomenal speed at which this particular deal was done, with Miller/O’Domhnaill signed on a two-book deal within days of finishing her book.

She said:

I finished my novel on Tuesday, Simon [Trewin, agent at WME] read it on Wednesday, signed me on Thursday and sent it to Kate Elton [editor at HarperFiction] on Friday. The deal was finalised overnight on Monday and I hope I don’t wake up tomorrow and find it was all a dream.

Elton added:

I couldn’t have been more astonished when I discovered that this incredibly accomplished, meaty thriller was a debut novel by a 28-year-old. Freedom is one of those characters you just fall in love with … I am hugely thrilled to have acquired two novels by this amazing new talent for the HarperFiction list.

The author’s route into the world of writing is also intriguing, with a counsellor in the Deep South proving the catalyst.

In an interview last year with, following her nomination for the Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger prize for unpublished crime writers, O Domhnaill said:

It’s a funny story, really. Five years ago I was living down in the southern states in America,  and I began to see a counselor due to some rough patches I was facing. Now, here was a very conservative, Kentucky bred, Born-Again Christian who would cringe over every F-word I’d utter in his office – and there were quite a few.  So he told me to write. And I hated it. But for whatever reason, I liked the shock value, and so I came back with a violent, action packed piece of work sprinkled with profanity, just to see his reaction.

While you might think that that the Debut Dagger nod and Harper deal might logically be connected to the same piece of work, it appears not – the nomination came for the opening chapters of The Assassin’s Keeper, a chronologically-reversed futuristic trilogy set in New York. It’s not hard to see why HarperFiction believe they’ve just unearthed a chunk of solid gold.

The only slightly disappointing note about all of this is that we will all need to expel plenty of bated breath before the book that caused such a kerfuffle finally hits the shelves – Freedom’s Child will be published in the summer of 2015.

Read: interview with Aine O Domhnaill

Follow Jax Miller on Twitter

Indie publishers, big players and overnight successes in the story of Eimear McBride

a-girl-is-a-half-formed-thingIt seems to be, increasingly, the way things are going in the post-internet, post-digital world: small, independent publisher unearths a hidden gem from a previously unheralded author, prizes are claimed and then one of the big hitters comes on board as a joint-publisher of the paperback.

Continue reading “Indie publishers, big players and overnight successes in the story of Eimear McBride”

Awards and prizes round-up: How little fiction is becoming big


Anne Enright is a former recipient of the Davy Byrnes Short Story Prize (pic:

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 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 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).

You can vote for the Irish Book Awards over here until November 21st.

Say hello to Tramp Press, Ireland’s newest publisher of literary fiction

tramp-press-logoIn all the media coverage that surrounded the announcement of the Man Booker Prize longlist last week, perhaps the most striking was the revelation that Donal Ryan, one of three Irish representatives among the “Booker’s Dozen”, had been rejected 47 times and only succeeded after being championed by a particularly persistent intern at Lilliput Press in Dublin.

For intern then, read publisher now. Sarah Davis-Goff has established her own publishing house, and in a development that is so well-timed one would almost think it was deliberate, the website of Tramp Press went live a fortnight ago, a few days before the Booker longlist was announced.

Quoted in The Sunday Times today, Davis-Goff says, “I got the confidence to do this from having found something on the slush pile and just trusting my judgment on it. I feel like I have the ability to go through manuscripts and know.”

Tramp Press has “about three projects” which they’re really excited about, the first of which is expected arrive on shelves next year.

While the leaning is certainly on literary fiction – the Tramp website’s “Stuff We Like” section includes mentions for Granta, The White Review, Times Literary Supplement, the Dublin Review of Books and The Millions – its homepage nevertheless proclaims that it is “actively seeking brilliant fiction of all genres”.

Best wishes to Sarah & Co. A new independent Irish publisher of quality literature is always something to be welcomed, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who will follow developments at Tramp Press with interest.

Visit the Tramp Press website here

Sarah Davis-Goff and Tramp Press are on Twitter here and here

Irish writers comprise a quarter of the Man Booker Prize shortlist. Almost

Man Booker Prize logoWell, if anyone was in any doubt about the health of Irish writing, it should be dispelled by the announcement of the Man Booker Prize yesterday morning, in which three of the 13 authors are Irish.

Colm Tóibín is nominated for a third time for The Testament of Mary, his alternative gospel of the life of the mother of Christ.

Colum McCann, previously an IMPAC winner with Let The Great World Spin, is Booker-nominated for the first time for TransAtlantic, the novel which covers 150 years of transatlantic history, covering three journeys back and forth between the USA and Ireland – of an antislavery campaigner in the 1840s, pioneers of flight Alcock and Brown in 1919 and George Mitchell in 1998.

While Booker nods only help to consolidate an already well established international reputation for Tóibín and McCann, the third Irish writer on the list is at the other end of the scale.

Sales of Donal Ryan’s debut, The Spinning Heart, are sure to get another massive boost from this recognition, and it’s fantastic to see the Limerick-based civil servant on the list.

I’m not sure at this point whether Ryan is still actually on the payroll of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, but if he is, his days there may well be numbered, particularly if he makes the shortlist when it’s announced on September 10th. No doubt his second novel, The Thing About September, will get even more attention now when it hits the shelves later (which should be around about the time the Booker is handed out).

As someone with a keen ear for all things digital, my attention is grabbed by one of the other books on the longlist, namely Richard House’s The Kills, which runs to 1000 pages and has auxiliary audio and video content. The Booker judges, however, will be judging just on the written words, which the digital curmudgeon in me doesn’t have a problem with at all. (This is despite the fact that the multimedia element does hugely appeal to me. I am a blogger of many inconsistencies.)

Another interesting nomination is for Eve Harris. The most striking thing about her novel, The Marrying of Chani Kaufman, is not so much that it’s her debut, or that it’s published by a small independent press, Scottish publisher Sandstone, but that it isn’t even on the shelves as yet. A nomination for an as yet unseen (by the wider public at least) debut novel from a small independent publisher? It must really be very good indeed.

The full Man Booker Prize longlist is available here

Happy New Year, and holidays in Broken Harbour

broken-harbour-tana-frenchOkay, so I’m just about a week late with this, but it’s the best way I could think of, during the course of another too-rushed lunchtime, to ease my way into a first post of 2013.

I enjoyed an extended Christmas holiday, which was great, although that didn’t exactly translate into additional time spent blogging. Sitting in front of a PC screen is not, I find, really conducive to looking after two children under the age of four, including a three-and-a-half-year-old who spent a few days laid up sick on the couch and a 15-month old who plods around leisurely but is liable to cause the damage of your average hurricane in any given five-minute spell.

So for most of the break, sitting on the PC was out. Reading, on the other hand, was in. Yes, my attention is just as diverted, but I tell myself that concerted exposure to their Dad sitting (or slouching, or even lying down – it was Christmas, after all) reading a book is sure to exert a positive influence.

I got through three books over the holidays: the sports fix was sated for a while by Soccernomics, by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, which was very interesting to a point (I’m nerdy about sports books); I thoroughly enjoyed Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell’s engrossing investigation of success and its roots; and most pertinently to a blog about Irish writing, Tana French’s Broken Harbour.

I was led to Broken Harbour by a breathless review by Declan Burke on The Last Word with Matt Cooper before Christmas. I occasionally go through phases of reading crime fiction (I’ve got through several by Iain Rankin, one by Benjamin “Banville” Black, some John Connolly and one or two dreadful ones by Harlan Coben in the past), but it’s been a few years since I picked up a new one. I find the vast majority of genre fiction pleasantly diverting and almost instantly forgettable, which is not really what I’m looking for in a book.

Whether I’ll remember a huge amount about Broken Harbour in a year or two, I’m not sure, but it did seem to poke its head well above the better end of the crime fiction genre. There were certainly several passages that felt much more profound than anything I’d read in, say, Rebus. As usual with crime novels, a fine-tooth comb by a top real-world investigator might reveal a plot-hole or two, but on the whole it was hugely enjoyable, fizzing along page by page as events revealed themselves to its convincing first-person narrator, Detective Garda Michael Kennedy.

It also succeeded in painting a grim picture of boom-and-bust Ireland, all ghost-estate grimness and post-designer label humiliation. As an illustration of the woes facing Ireland’s silent majority, the put-upon middle class, it was much better than anything I’ve read, including Claire Kilroy’s quite acclaimed The Devil I Know. (Note: I’ve yet to get my hands on Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart, which has been held up by some respected observers as the stand-on novel about the Irish financial crisis.)

More pertinently, though, its depiction of a fraying mind was a frightening reminder of our slim hold on our sanity. Leaving aside the mental associations brought to me by the Coben cover quote, Broken Harbour is highly recommended. I just wonder how long Tana French will spend in this part of the world.  Her market, like the thousands of young families who in an alternative, utopian future might have been making a vibrant community of her fictional remote north Dublin coastal enclave of Brianstown, is elsewhere.