Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards 2016 Shortlist

The shortlist for this year’s Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards was announced today.

Eason Novel of the Year

All We Shall Know – Donal Ryan (Doubleday Ireland)

Days Without End – Sebastian Barry (Faber & Faber)

Solar Bones – Mike McCormack (Tramp Press)

The Lesser Bohemians – Eimear McBride (Faber & Faber)

The Wonder – Emma Donoghue (Pan Macmillan/Picador)

This Must Be The Place – Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press)

The Best Irish published Book of the Year

All Through the Night – Edited by Marie Heaney (Poetry Ireland)

Dublin since 1922 – Tim Carey (Hachette Books Ireland)

Looking Back: The Changing Faces of Ireland – Eric Luke (The O’Brien Press)

Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks – Edited by Fintan O’Toole (Royal Irish Academy)

The Invisible Art: A Century of Music in Ireland 1916-2016 – Michael Dervan (New Island Books)

The Glass Shore – Sinéad Gleeson (New Island Books)

Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year

Himself – Jess Kidd (Canongate Books)

Red Dirt – EM Reapy (Head of Zeus)

The Last Days of Summer – Vanessa Ronan (Penguin Ireland)

The Maker of Swans – Paraic O’Donnell (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

The Things I Should Have Told You – Carmel Harrington (HarperCollins)

This Living and Immortal Thing – Austin Duffy (Granta Books)


National Book Tokens Nonfiction Book of the Year

I Read The News Today, Oh Boy – Paul Howard (Picador)

Ireland The Autobiography – John Bowman (Penguin Ireland)

The Hurley Maker’s Son – Patrick Deeley (Doubleday Ireland)

The Supreme Court – Ruadhán Mac Cormaic (Penguin Ireland)

Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir – John Banville & Paul Joyce (Hachette Books Ireland)

When Ideas Matter – Michael D Higgins (Head of Zeus)

RTE Radio One Ryan Tubridy Show Listener’s Choice

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Lying In Wait – Liz Nugent (Penguin Ireland)

Conclave – Robert Harris (Hutchinson)

Dictatorship: My Teenage War With OCD – Rebecca Ryan (On Stream Publications Ltd)

All Through the Night – Edited by Marie Heaney (Poetry Ireland)

All We Shall Know – Donal Ryan (Transworld Ireland)

Victim Without A Face – Stefan Ahnhem (Head of Zeus)

Listowel Writers’ Week Poem of the Year

In Glasnevin – Jane Clarke (From: The Irish Times)

Patagonia – Emma McKervey (From: The Compass Magazine)

Suppose I Lost – Andrew Soye (From: Abridged Magazine)

Love / Hotel / Love – Michael Naghtan Shanks (From: Poetry Ireland Review)

Specsavers Children’s Book of the Year (Junior)

A Child of Books – Sam Winston and Oliver Jeffers (Walker Books)

Goodnight Everyone – Chris Haughton (Walker Books)

Historopedia – Fatti and John Burke (Gill Books)

Pigín of Howth – Kathleen Watkins (Gill Books)

Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits – Julian Gough & Jim Field (Hachette Children’s Group)

Specsavers Children’s Book of the Year (Senior)

Celia Ahern 

Knights of the Borrowed Dark – Dave Rudden (Puffin)

The Book of Shadows – E.R. Murray (Mercier Press)

The Making of Mollie – Anna Carey (The O’Brien Press)

Needlework – Deirdre Sullivan (Little Island Books)

Nothing Tastes As Good – Claire Hennessy (Hot Key Books)

Flawed – Cecelia Ahern (HarperCollins Children’s Books)

Avonmore Cookbook of the Year

Recipes For A Nervous Breakdown – Sophie White (Gill Books)

The World of The Happy Pear – Stephen and David Flynn (Penguin Ireland)

Natural Born Feeder – Roz Purcell (Gill Books)

The Little Green Spoon – Indy Power (Ebury Press)

Neven Maguire’s Complete Family Cookbook – Neven Maguire (Gill Books)

The Brother Hubbard – Garrett Fitzgerald (Gill Books)

Irish Independent Popular Fiction Book of the Year

Game of Throw-Ins – Ross O’Carroll-Kelly (Penguin Ireland)

Lyrebird – Cecelia Ahern (HarperCollins)

Rebel Sisters – Marita Conlon-McKenna (Transworld Ireland)

The Girl From The Savoy – Hazel Gaynor (HarperCollins)

The Privileged – Emily Hourican (Hachette Books Ireland)

Holding – Graham Norton (Hodder & Stoughton)

Ireland AM Popular Nonfiction Book of the Year

Adventures of a Wonky-Eyed Boy – Jason Byrne (Gill Books)

Fat Chance – Louise McSharry (Penguin Ireland)

Making It Up As I Go Along – Marian Keyes (Michael Joseph)

Pippa – Pippa O’Connor (Penguin Ireland)

Talking to Strangers – Michael Harding (Hachette Books Ireland)

Mr. Pussy: Before I Forget to Remember – Alan Amsby/David Kenny (New Island Books)

Claire Hennessy

Bord Gáis Energy Sports Book of the Year

Blood, Sweat & McAteer – Jason McAteer (Hachette Books Ireland)

Coolmore Stud, Ireland’s Greatest Sporting Success Story – Alan Conway (Mercier Press)

My Life in Rugby – Donal Lenihan (Transworld Ireland)

Out of Control – Cathal Mc Carron (Simon & Schuster)

The Battle – Paul O’Connell (Penguin Ireland)

Win or Learn – John Kavanagh (Penguin Ireland) Short Story of the Year

Here We Are – Lucy Caldwell (Faber&Faber)

K-K-K – Lauren Foley (Ol Society – Australia)

The Visit – Orla McAlinden (Sowilo Press)

Green Amber Red – Jane Casey (New Island)

The Birds of June – John Connell (Granta Magazine)

What a River Remembers of its Course – Gerard Beirne (Numero Cinq Magazine)

Liz Nugent

Crime Fiction Award

Distress Signals – Catherine Ryan Howard (Atlantic Books (Corvus)

Little Bones – Sam Blake (Bonnier Zaffre)

Lying In Wait – Liz Nugent (Penguin Ireland)

The Constant Soldier – William Ryan (Mantle)

The Drowning Child – Alex Barclay (HarperCollins)

The Trespasser – Tana French (Hachette Ireland)

Congratulations to all the nominees.

You can vote for your favourite books here.

The winners will be announced in Dublin on November 16th.



Matthew Griffin’s beautifully-written, tender, funny, sad and moving debut novel, Hide tells the story of the decades-long love story of two men – Wendell Wilson, a taxidermist, and Frank Clifton, a war veteran – who meet just after World War II in a small town in the Southern United States (the state is never named, but is probably Tennessee, where Griffin and his partner have campaigned – unsuccessfully – to be married).


The novel’s title, obviously, has a double-meaning. The two men have lived their life in secret for decades, having cut themselves off from family and friends, and set up house together on the outskirts of the town, away from prying eyes. Here the two fall into domestic bliss. Wendell cooks and cleans; Frank takes care of the garden. They never have visitors, and on the few occasions that someone stops by, Frank tells them that Wendell is a neighbour (or sometimes Frank’s brother).

The novel opens with 83-year-old Frank having a stroke in the garden of their home. Even as Wendell is checking Frank into hospital, he has to lie about their relationship. The rest of the novel charts Frank’s increasing physical and mental deterioration, alternating the contemporary narrative with chapters detailing the beginning of their love affair in the 1940s, and their life together in the following decades.

The critics have been falling over themselves praising Hide, and it’s easy to see why. The plot never sags; it’s masterfully structured; and the prose, for the most part, is superb. On occasion, Griffin walks a dangerous line between lyrical beauty and purple prose. Consider the moment the two men meet.

“Pleased to meet you,” he said, smiling wide and earnest, and I thought I’d been struck down by it, the way it struck down mortals to behold Zeus in his full, blazing divinity, reduced them to ash, the painful glory of him. The branches shuddered off their casts of ice, and the power lines broke free of their insulation, snapped taut and scattered it over the streets in pieces that still cupped the hollow channel where the wire had run. Icicles plunged from gutters and shattered on the sidewalk, sheets of slow slid from roofs. The din of it, the creak and thump and shatter, sounded like the world come undone.

Okay, if that is a tad excessive, consider the circumstance. This is the United States at a time when men like Wendell and Frank were losing their jobs, being thrown in prison, or being chemically castrated because of who they were. No wonder love at first sight for Wendell carries an extra spark.


Wendell is the book’s narrator, and we learn surprisingly little about him, as his focus (and the novel’s) is on Wendell, the tall, strapping handyman whose outward bravado hides a frightened little boy (he makes a point of being home every night in time for dinner with his mother, and intimacy with Wendell doesn’t come easily at first). It is implied that frank probably is suffering battle fatigue. Wendell didn’t go to war – he has no idea what a real machine gun sounds like, or what it is to kill; ironic, therefore, that it’s Wendell the taxidermist who puts wounded animals out of their misery – Frank can’t bear to harm an animal.

It’s the skin and the skin alone that makes any of us worthy of love and kindness. Underneath it we are monsters, every living thing.

Griffin’s real triumph with Hide is that he has written a remarkably intimate book with an extremely small cast of characters. Apart from a few walk-ons, this is pretty much a two-hander, and Hide is  a celebration of domestic bliss and domestic misery, focusing on the daily routines, arguments, humour, bickering, chores, tedium and love and affection of a long-term marriage. A long-term relationship that has to be lived in secret.

After fifty years together, they don’t even have any photos of the two of them, because they are too fearful to ask someone to take their picture together, and on one of the very few occasions they venture out of the house together, they go to the supermarket (in separate cars and with their shopping list split into two). It’s a trip that ends badly when Frank panics and begs Wendell to get him out of there.

Frank and Wendell watch a lot of TV courtroom drama, and running through the book is the trial of a woman – nicknamed Debbie Drowner by the tabloids – for drowning her baby. Wendell ruminates on the brief moment of quiet she must have enjoyed after killing her baby, before the realization of what she did set in – there is a lot of death in Hide: it looms over the novel.

Not that there isn’t humour. Hide is at times a laugh-out loud funny book, as Wendell and Frank bicker over chores and Frank’s increasing stubbornness. As he slips farther into senility, he develops a sweet tooth, but is remarkably choosy – Wendell bakes every sort of cake imaginable, but the only thing Frank will eat is store-bought Christmas fruitcake, and then he takes to hiding the wrappers around the house.

Along with the comedy, of course, is the wearying stress of caring for an invalid: bed sores, incontinence, and so on, and the ever-present sense of the inevitable facing the two men, with Wendell realising he will outlive Frank, and that after that, because nobody knows he lives in the house, he will no doubt die alone, his body possibly undiscovered for days.

However, Hide is still a life-affirming novel, one that proclaims the power of enduring love and affection, even as it doesn’t forget to count the cost.

 “I wanted really badly to be a part of the world … I wasn’t always as good to you as I could have been, but I was just so scared. All the time.”

“Of what?”

“That they’d take you away from me.”

Verdict: Four Stuffed Animals out of Five




Happy National Book Lovers Day

To celebrate, here is a repost of a review of two great books about reading: The Novel Cure and Survival Lessons

Reading is good for your soul, of course, and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so it seems apt that  on a day that encourages children to learn to love books I should be reviewing two marvellous books offering “bibliotherapy”.


“One sheds one’s sicknesses in books – repeats and presents again one’s emotions, to be master of them.” D.H. Lawrence

Reading, as everybody knows, is a healing act. There are few things which will make you feel better about things than a good book. Bibliophiles Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin met at Cambridge, and “began giving books to each other whenever one of them seemed in need of a boost.” Having prescribed literary tonics to friends, they have taken their “bibliotherapy” to an extreme in The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies, a joyful collection of literary cures for every possible physical or emotional ailment.


The authors’ advice covers everything, from the minor, like being unable to find a cup of tea – their cure is to read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, whose hero, Arthur Dent, has to remember everything he knows about tea so that the Nutri-Matic drinks synthesiser can make him a decent cup, to the major, like dying – the authors prescribe Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which we learn that “everything is mutable, nothing remains static, all beings pass from one state into another – not dying, but becoming.”

Writing with wit and style, the authors offers an eclectic range of books and show a healthily democratic approach to literature.


Are you a liar, unaware of the damage lies do? Read Ian McEwan’s Atonement, in which a child’s lie ruins several lives, including her own.

Suffering from unrequited love? Try Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, and Turgenev’s First Love.

 Having an identity crisis? Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

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Feel yourself to be somehow different from others? Try Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex (a girl, Cal, discovers she is in fact a boy, and so sets about living life beyond conventional boundaries: “I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say ‘the happiness that attends disaster.’”), or John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces with its wonderful, grotesque, revolting, obese, dirty genius-hero Ignatius J. Reilly.

The authors have sound advice about, er, vices. Trying to quit smoking? In Tom Robbins’ Still Life with Woodpecker, a character meditates on and creates an imaginary world out of the palm trees and pyramids on a pack of Camels: she then can’t open the pack because it would ruin the illusion. In Patrick McGrath’s Asylum a compulsive smoker deliberately turns her head from an appalling and preventable tragedy so she can focus on her cigarette.

The cure for doing too many drugs? Irvine Welsh’s heroin tale Trainspotting, Huxley’sBrave New World (in which it’s mandatory to take the hallucinatory drug soma – “Christianity without the tears” – that leaves the novel’s protagonists so addicted they can’t be saved), and Bret Easton Ellis’ hedonistic Less Than Zero.

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Their advice for people who fear they may be on the road to alcoholism comes in three parts. The first is to scare yourself silly by reading Stephen King’s shlocky pulp horrorThe Shining, followed by the radically depressing but still funny Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano (in which the British consul in Mexico gleefully drinks himself to a stupor before uttering his final words, “Christ, what a dingy way to die.”) The final part of the cure is to read John L. Parker Jr’s Once a Runner, a novel about the joy and pain of competitive running. “Let Once a Runner inspire you to change your relationship with your body completely.”


The Novel Cure also includes a selection of cures for various Reading Ailments, such as “Not knowing what novels to take on vacation”; “Reading-associated guilt”; “Having a non-reading partner”; and “Being a compulsive book-buyer” (take note, Cathy of 746 Books). All of their cures are filled with a mixture of love for reading and good old common sense. Their advice for “Reverence for books, excessive” is Personalise your books. “Books exist to impart their worlds to you, not to be beautiful objects to save for some other day. We implore you to fold, crack, and scribble on your books whenever the desire takes you.” If you are put off by an over-hyped book, they suggest storing it in the garden shed, preferably wrapped in leftover Christmas paper. Then: “when taking a break from watering the tomatoes one day, pick it up and start to read. The unexpected, unbookish surroundinsg will bring an air of humility to the book.”

There are some ailments that need more than one cure, so the book offers “Ten Best” lists. I’ll pick just one list as an example:

The Ten Best Breakup Novels


Call Me by Your Name                                                           Andre Aciman

Wuthering Heights                                                                 Emily Bronte

The End of the Story                                                              Lydia Davis

This Is How You Lose Her                                                      Junot Diaz

Heartburn                                                                               Nora Ephron

The Love of My Youth                                                             Mary Gordon

The End of the Affair                                                               Graham Greene

High Fidelity                                                                           Nick Hornby

Important Artifacts and Personal Property

From the Collection of Lenore Doolan and

Harold Morris, Including Books, Street

Fashion, and Jewellery                                                           Leanne Shapton

Anna Karenina                                                                        Leo Tolstoy


Verdict: The Novel Cure is a book to have by your bedside in the case of any sickness, physical, psychological or spiritual. Highly recommended.


Novelist Alice Hoffman offers therapy and wisdom of a different sort in Survival Lessons. Several years ago, the author of Practical Magic, Turtle Moon, and Seventh Heaven was diagnosed with breast cancer, and during her treatment “I was looking for a guidebook. I needed help in my new situation. I needed to know how people survived trauma.” She wrote Survival Lessons “to remind myself that in the darkest hour the roses still bloom, the star still come out at night.” Fifteen years later, she’s a survivor.

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Choose Your Heroes: Hoffman tells how as a girl her hero was Anne Frank, who she admired for her amazing optimism. Her other heroes are her mother and her grandmother (“if you’re lucky enough to have one person believe in you, you have it made.”)

Choose to Enjoy Yourself: Hoffman’s advice is to start with chocolate. She offers up a treasured recipe for brownies.

Choose Your Friends: “When you have a dinner party, only invite people you want to talk to …invite alive young people. Girls with pink hair who have big dreams. Young men who plan to change the world. Children who get into trouble at school because they have too much energy and too many ideas.”


Choose How You Spend Your Free Time: “Watch every old movie you’ve always wanted to see…Avoid anything focusing on death, sorrow, or illness.” I’m glad to learn that Hoffman is a big fan of Bill Murray.

Choose to Dream: “Plan the trip you always wanted to take. You didn’t have time before, you couldn’t afford it, you were afraid to fly. Now just buy the ticket and stop thinking so much. You’ll pay it off later. You’ll take a Valium. Now you know that you have to make a time.”

Verdict: Survival Lessons is a short, pithy book offering some sage and common-sense advice on life and love. At moments it might be in danger of Oprahitis, but this is still a warm, generous-hearted book: picking it up at random is like getting homemade biscuits and a big hug from your granny or favourite aunt, and there are times when we all need that.

at the john hewitt summer school

Writers should always hang out with non-writers; it encourages a different, equally important sort of creativity.

More importantly, it ensures that conversation is not too writery. There’s nothing wrong with writery conversations, but most writery conversations start off with spirited discussions about character and plot and language and soon dissolve into grumbling about book deals gone awry and useless agents.

The annual John Hewitt International Summer School in Armagh offers a unique opportunity for writers; the opportunity to mingle with painters, musicians, poets, actors, potters, sculptors, and academics.

It’s an arts festival. It’s a music festival. It’s a literary festival. It’s a festival of ideas.


And it’s busy. It’s a hectic week of workshops, readings, lectures, discussions, music, and theatre.

Glenn Patterson

And scones. There are an awful lot of scones, served at several intervals each day by the massively hardworking and relentlessly upbeat staff at The Marketplace Theatre. Sometimes there’s shortbread.

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John Hewitt

The John Hewitt Society is a non-profit set up to promote literature, arts, and culture inspired by the ideals and ideas of the poet John Hewitt. This was my first time to go, but it won’t be the last.

For a countryman the living landscape is
a map of kinship at one level,
at another, just below this, a chart of use,
never at any level a fine view:
sky is a handbook or labour or idleness;
wind in one airt is the lapping of hay,
in another a long day at turf on the moss;
landscape is families, and a lone man
boiling a small pot, and letters once a year;
it is also, underpinning this, good corn
and summer grazing for sheep free of scab
and fallow acres waiting for the lint.
So talk of weather is also talk of life,
and life is man and place and these have names.

Landscape by John Hewitt

I was in Armagh as a winner of a bursary to attend the school, and going there brought back pleasant memories of college, especially on the first day when we had to register and collect our packets of information. As in college, there was that simultaneous rush of excitement and shyness at meeting a throng of new people.

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Sarah Howe

I spend much of my time in the company of imaginary people, who as a rule I prefer to the other kind, but it turns out I might not be as anti-social as I thought.

I had a thousand interesting conversations and wished I’d had time for ten thousand more.

Where else would you find yourself  in a few short hours discussing nineteenth-century architecture, witchcraft in Ireland in the eighteenth century, Heidegger’s poetics, road bowling, the ritual and significance of tattoos, medieval walled gardens, the exact sort of knock on the door required for admittance to a lock-in, the GAA’s eligibility rules, Mötley Crüe, the superiority of Doc Martens over other boots, regional Irish dialects, the life and career of Victorian war correspondent William Howard Russell, whether you can risk a tipple when pregnant, the beauty and brutality of the sea, and the meaning of an empty room in a painting?

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Carlo Gébler

As part of my bursary, I was able to attend a short story workshop with Carlo Gébler, and it was utterly brilliant.

A story must be scrupulously true, Gébler said. He didn’t mean factual, of course; he meant that if the world of the story is not truly described, you will lose the reader.

It was an absolute privilege to listen as he outlined his ideas about what makes stories work, and to listen to him read from Chekhov, Orwell, Maupassant, Carver, Shalamov, and then best of all, from an as-yet unpublished short story of his own, one which gets the facts down correctly, is quite assuredly scrupulously true, is pitiless, does not waste a single word, and is utterly devastating.

I have the distinct impression that Carlo Gébler doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and in a different life he would have made a terrifying – but utterly brilliant – Victorian schoolmaster.

He insisted upon addressing me as Mr. McArdle while calling everyone else in the class by their first name, something I have been puzzling over for days, but he did use my first name when he signed his book.



At the end of the week, students read out our work at a creative writing showcase. It was wonderful to hear poets and writers debut new pieces.

The Hewitt is also decidedly non-snobby. High-falutin’ literary authors hang out with sci-fi writers. Crime novelists share tea and scones with poets.

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Some of Jack Doherty’s work

It’s almost impossible for me to pick out my favourite event, but highlights of the week definitely include readings by poets Sarah Howe, Andrew McMillan, Ciaran Carson,Rita Ann Higgins, and Paul Durcan; interviews with authors Glenn Patterson,Belinda McKeon and Donal Ryan; music by Martin Hayes and David Power; an open mic night with songs, poetry, and stories; a fascinating talk about the artistic process by potter Jack Doherty; and a performance by Mikel Murfi in his one-man show The Man in the Woman’s Shoes.


See this show as soon as you can. It’s brilliant: hilarious, moving and tender.

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Some of my haul of books, all bought from the stall run by No Alibis bookshop

I haven’t even talked about the city itself, which is lovely.

I spent a very pleasant hour in St. Patrick’s Cathedral (the Anglican one) gazing at its splendid ceiling, reading the inscriptions to fallen soldiers in the wars, and chatting with the Dean, a delightful character who would not be out of place in a country house mystery.

Oh, and I visited some pubs. There may have been some drinking. I can’t really say much more than that because what happens in the John Hewitt Summer School stays in the John Hewitt Summer School.


The week flew by and when it ended there was an awful sadness in the air because it was over too soon. People who had met as strangers on Monday morning milled about, bags in hand, reluctant to say goodbye, like children at the end of summer camp. We exchanged contact information and took selfies. I left Armagh with a bag full of books (thanks, No Alibis), a head full of ideas, a heart full of memories, and the soft and lingering feel of hugs and kisses from my new friends.

Go to the John Hewitt International Summer School if you get the chance. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

51 Book Quotes to Get You Through Any Situation

A while ago, book blogger booklovebabbles published a post featuring quotes from favourite novelists.

There are fifty-one quotes in total, selected by bloggers from all over the globe (including me).

The choice of writers is extremely diverse, including Charles Dickens, Lemony Snicket, J.K. Rowling, John Irving, Harper Lee, Alan Bennett, and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Some of the quotations:

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever.

Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.

Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.

A bee settling on a flower has stung a child. And the child is afraid of bees and declares that bees exist to sting people. A poet admires the bee sucking from the chalice of a flower and says it exists to suck the fragrance of flowers. A beekeeper, seeing the bee collect pollen from flowers and carry it to the hive, says that it exists to gather honey. Another beekeeper who has studied the life of the hive more closely says that the bee gathers pollen dust to feed the young bees and rear a queen, and that it exists to perpetuate its race. A botanist notices that the bee flying with the pollen of a male flower to a pistil fertilizes the latter, and sees in this the purpose of the bee’s existence. Another, observing the migration of plants, notices that the bee helps in this work, and may say that in this lies the purpose of the bee. But the ultimate purpose of the bee is not exhausted by the first, the second, or any of the processes the human mind can discern. The higher the human intellect rises in the discovery of these purposes, the more obvious it becomes, that the ultimate purpose is beyond our comprehension.

A self is not something static, tied up in a pretty parcel and handed to the child, finished and complete. A self is always becoming.

Click here to read all the quotes. 


Books on the Shelf

The lazy, hazy days of summer continue: here in Ireland we’re experiencing a heatwave, so things are a bit odd because the notion of the mercury rising as high as 30° was until this week unimaginable.

While others are outside enjoying suffering the heat, I have decided to stay indoors and curl up with a few books.


At least, that’s the plan.

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Every summer my good friend Cathy of 746 Books runs her 20 Books of Summer Challenge, and every year I fail to get around to reading all the books I promise myself I will (or if I read them, I can’t quite muster the energy to review them).

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This summer, however, I have managed to get through quite a few books, so here are some recommendations for books to take with you to the beach, or the back garden, or (if you’e sensible) a corner chair well out of harmful, dizzying sunlight.

New Yorker



Poet Patrick Deeley‘s wonderful memoir of growing up in 1960s Galway is a love letter to his parents, the melancholy wonder of solitude, and a rural way of life that was already on its last legs when he was a child. A while back I interviewed Deeley about the book.



Another Irish childhood memoir, this time from Irish Times columnist Hilary Fannin. Written with an awareness of the immediacy of experience that only a child knows, this is a moving, occasionally startling read.


The Man Booker Prize announces its longlist next week. I’ll be very surprised if Mike McCormack‘s remarkable Solar Bones isn’t included in the list. The novel has received high praise for its adventurous, modernist (or is it post-modernist?) form and use of language. The book – a ghost story told from the point of view of the ghost – is written in one long sentence.


Tom Bullough has written a modern saga of the Welsh-English border that is as much about the Welsh and English languages as it is about Wales and England. Filled with beautiful passages and marked by the insistent use of the local dialect (sans glossary, so you just have to go along with it), Addlands is a novel about change, technology, manhood, and violence.


Conor O’Callaghan‘s debut novel hasn’t received the same amount of attention that his countryman Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones has, and that’s a pity.


Mia Gallagher‘s huge, tough, remarkable, moving, bizarre, and ultimately tragic Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland is a book not easily forgotten. It’s one of the most adventurous Irish novels in years, taking in issues of terrorism, identity, refugees, transgenderism, and the look and feel of Dublin in the grimy 1970s, and as with Solar Bones, I expect to see it on the Booker longlist. You can listen to Gallagher discussing the novel’s many themes here.


The dreaded, ever-growing To-Be-Read pile:


Making Hay at the Weekend

I spent a wonderful weekend of songs, stories and laughter in Kells at the Hay Festival Kells.



The heritage town was filled with writers, musicians and artists, including Hanif Kureishi. We strolled around town together, discussing the Book of Kells, medieval round towers, Brehon laws, and Cromwell. I don’t have many claims to fame, but I can now say that I explained the origin of the term Beyond the Pale to Hanif Kureishi.

I had been up until four in the morning in a lock-in working, but Kureishi wisely had an early night, so while he looks like a contented, successful author, I look a shambles.

We also talked about Brexit (it was the day after the result). He’s distraught. “When are you heading back to London?” I asked him. “We might just stay here,” he responded, only half-jokingly, I think.

Did you know that pole-vaulting was invented in Kells?

Or that under the Brehon code divorces were public affairs, with the couple standing on two mounds, facing each other and airing their grievances in front of a crowd before husband and wife turned their back on each other and walked away?

Those two facts are unrelated, by the way.

Part of the Kells Type Trail, a celebration of typography throughout the town

In the run-up to the Festival I interviewed poet Patrick Deeley about his wonderful memoir, The Hurley Maker’s Son. He gave a fantastic reading from the book, peppering it with anecdotes and asides, all delivered with a giddy, infectious enthusiasm and tremendous warmth, and was as delightful in person as he was on the telephone.

Patrick Deeley

He was also very grateful for the interview: he’d promised to buy me a pint.

I am happy to report that Patrick Deeley is a man who keeps his promises.

I had hoped to catch The Lost Brothers in concert but unfortunately missed them (see above), and it was one of those gigs that everyone was talking about on Sunday morning as one of the best I’ve ever seen.

The Lost Brothers (facebook)

The duo are on tour with Glen Hansard in Europe now.


Another highlight was getting to meet the brilliant, hilarious, scarily-talented Jax Miller. Because there were so many events at Hay, several readings happened simultaneously. Jax was reading from her thriller, Freedom’s Child at the same time as Eleanor Fitzsimons was discussing her book, Wilde’s Women. Jax was talking about bikers, meth, and hookers, and hurling f-bombs from the podium. A woman of a certain age arrived late and listened for a few minutes before she realised she was in the wrong room and loudly pronounced ‘This isn’t Oscar Wilde!’

Jax Miller


Zlata Filipović would probably prefer if you would stop referring to her as ‘the Anne Frank of Sarajevo’ (not least because she actually survived the Balkan siege). More than twenty years after her diary put a human face on the siege of Sarajevo, Zlata spoke with remarkable frankness and a great deal of humour about the hardships her family endured.

Zlata Filipovic

Speaking with Zlata about putting a human face on tragedy reminded me of the Kells Type Trail, art installations that are a celebration of typography. One of the installations is a tribute to Alan Kurdi, the toddler who drowned while fleeing Syria.

The letters form the Arabic for ‘Rise’, the theme of this year’s Type Trail

The last event that I attended before hopping on the bus back to Dublin was Mike McCormack reading from Solar Bones, a novel set in Mayo, a place that can seem “a penitential enclave” with its proliferation of shrines, hermitudes and penitential houses.

Mike McCormack

My scribbled notes from the talk include mention of a woman granted license by the Vatican to live as a hermit, and who later emerged from her hermitude confirming that “Hell is real, and it’s not empty.”

Afterwards, I asked him if there really is a resurgence in Irish literature. “I don’t know if there’s a causal link between the resurgence of Irish editors and the resurgence in experimental writing,” he said. “I’m not sure if there’s a link there, or if it’s just a coincidence. You’re the journalist, you figure it out!”

For a so-called writer and journalist, you’d think I’d have a pen to hand always, so I have to thank Lisa Coen from Tramp Press for lending me one so Mike could sign my copy of his book.


Historically, hospitality was highly important under the Brehon Law, and its spirit is alive and well in Kells. Thank you to everyone at the Hay Festival Kells, The Kells Experience and Teach Cuailgne  for their warm welcome.


The Dream Against The Deed

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Patrick Deeley. source: Irish Times

Poet Patrick Deeley has written a beautiful memoir about growing up in East Galway. The Hurley Maker’s Son has been hailed for its evocative prose, and for its moving celebration of life in rural Ireland in the 1960s.

As a child, Deeley was something of a misfit in his family: a loner, a dreamer, and somewhat melancholic, a mood that suffuses the memoir.

Some nights, however, a sudden sadness would touch me right in the place where my heart was and I’d put my hand there and feel the steady thump, and wonder what dying meant.

Deeley’s father, Laurence tried to impart his carpentry skills to the boy, without much success. While he could not master the bandsaw or lathe, however, Deeley was obsesses with the language of his father’s workshop, where his father would talk of the bas of a hurley or the felloes of a cartwheel, of spoke-shales and augurs and planes and routers.

His father’s language was in contrast to his mother’s. Mary Deeley was a farmer, and as such her speech was peppered with farm phrases and old Galway idioms.


Deeley has recollected all of this in The Hurley Maker’s Son, a moving elegy to a lost way of life, to the landscape that formed him as a poet, and to his late father (Laurence was killed at an early age when a tree he was felling struck him).

Donal Ryan calls it “a glorious book, a perfect elegy, a gorgeous tumble of memories of life, death, love and, above all, family”, while Theo Dorgan writes that “there is something both eerie and deeply convincing about Deeley’s re-inhabiting of the landscape that formed him, the family that shaped and nourished him.”

I had the chance to interview Patrick Deeley ahead of his appearance at this weekend’s Hay Festival Kells.

The interview is on the Irish Times website here.

Patrick Deeley will be reading from The Hurley Maker’s Son on Saturday, June 25th, at 6.30pm at the Presbyterian Church in Kells as part of the Hay Festival Kells.

Making Hay in Kells

The historic Irish town of Kells will play host to some of the world’s finest writers this coming weekend during the Hay Festival Kells.

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The line-up of fiction writers includes Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette, The Buddha of Suburbia, Love and Hate), Patrick McCabe (The Butcher Boy), Kevin Barry (Beatlebone), Lisa McInerney (The Glorious Heresies), Jax Miller (Freedom’s Child), Liz Nugent (Unravelling Oliver), Oona Frawley (Flight), Mike McCormack (Solar Bones), and Vanessa Ronan (The Last Days of Summer).

Lisa McInerney

There will also be a range of non-fiction authors, including Myles Dungan (How the Irish Won the West), Hilary Fannin (Hopscotch), and Patrick Deeley (The Hurley-Maker’s Son), as well as a series of talks on the graphic novel and game design.

Patrick McCabe

I will be blogging the Festival as a guest of the Kells Experience, and I will be interviewing several of the writers.

Posts will appear here and at over the weekend.

Tickets for the Festival can be booked here.