Article published on November 13, 2015.
PUBLISHING AQUIRES AN EMERALD HUE
The shortlists for The Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards 2015 were announced at a jam-packed gathering of literary folk in Dublin on November 4th and the general consensus expressed the view that the Awards had produced perhaps its best-ever range of titles over the now vast array of thirteen categories. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the Awards claim to bring together the entire book community and on the evidence of the launch event, this is no idle boast as writers giddy on the excitement of being nominated rubbed shoulders with fellow nominees, booksellers, publishers and media celebs. TV types thrust microphones under the noses of mostly willing victims while snappers snapped, snarling inwardly at the competition mounted by the ubiquitous selfie machine.
The Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards began in 2006 with a mere three award categories: fiction, nonfiction and children’s but in the ensuing decade, the growth of the awards has been phenomenal. Presidents, Taoisigh, Nobel Laureates and most of the best writers in Ireland have attended the Gala Dinner in what has become one of the premier events in the Irish literary calendar, a unique evening to celebrate Irish writing, broadcast to the nation on the RTÉ TV highlights show. Most impressive is the manner in which the awards provide a showcase for Irish books in the critical two month period at the end of each year. Literary awards proliferate but few projects achieve the level of media penetration of the BGEIBAS.
Addressing the gathering, Executive Director, Alastair Giles, declared the objective “to promote and celebrate this island’s established bestselling authors and to encourage first-time, debutants across the entire publishing spectrum. This is my favourite time of the campaign; the genuine excitement of a fabulous list of authors rightly heralded and demonstrating perfectly the unbelievable breadth of genres and depth of Irish talent in each.”
Giles’s enthusiasm for the quality of Irish writing was recently shared in a Guardian feature entitled ‘A new Irish Literary Boom – the post-crash stars of fiction’ which lauded the work of a “new wave” of young Irish fiction writers, including many of the nominees who attended the launch. Amusingly, the Newcomer of the Year category which includes some really strong titles — including Sara Baume’s Spill Simmer Falter Wither, hailed as a masterpiece by Joseph O’Connor and also shortlisted for The Guardian First Book Prize – has been christened “The Group of Death” so tough is the competition. But as Giles points out “it’s not just literary fiction that boast an emerald hue at the moment; short stories, popular fiction, children’s publishing, cookery books, sports writing, biographies and histories, Irish writers are leading the charge in every one of these areas.”
The emerald hue Giles refers to is no mirage because Irish writers are being signed for major deals by the large UK houses, which is tough on the indie Irish houses which broke these writers in the first place, but a sense of pragmatism dictates a weary acceptance of the publishing realities. One writer who did not have to pass GO is Crime Novel of the Year nominee, Jax Miller, whose debut novel, Freedom’s Child was acquired by Harper Collins as part of a reported dream six-figure book deal. Miller will be up against established stars like Jane Casey, Benjamin Black and Louise Phillips in the ever-popular crime fiction category.
Perhaps the most talked-about book of the year in Ireland is Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It, a challenging and deftly-rendered story on the nature of consent, slut-shaming and the role of social media. Originally billed as a YA title by publishers Quercus and nominated in the YA category, the book is felt by some to be straining the boundaries of the genre but O’Neill is gathering an impressive band of supporters including Jeanette Winterson who commented “O’Neill writes with a scalpel.” Asking for It is also nominated in the RTE Listeners’ Choice category.
There are so many great books on the shortlist it seems invidious to mention so few in a shortish piece but in the Novel of the Year category special mention must go to one of my personal favourite novels of 2015, Nuala O’Connor’s Miss Emily, based on the life of the poet Emily Dickinson and the relationship with her Irish maid. There are many reasons to cheer this book on not least because of the compelling subject-matter but also for the shimmering frictionless prose and the fact that it was published by Sandstone Press a small Scottish publisher from Dingwall in the far North. O’Connor is up against two icons of Irish literature in Edna O’Brien and Anne Enright giving the novel category a seriously competitive edge.
Finally, much has been written lately of a misogynist imbalance in the publishing world with the VIDA count highlighting its worst excesses. VIDA (Women in Literary) might care to take a look at the BGEIBAS shortlists where in Novel of the Year the balance is two-thirds to one third, women to men. The Newcomer category is 100% women but counterbalancing that the Nonfiction category is 100% men. Overall, the BGEIBAS shortlists reinforce a sense of healthy respect for Irish women writers across the genres, better perhaps than in the UK.
Winners will be announced at the Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony in the Dublin on November 25th and you can vote for your favourites by going to the website at http://www.irishbookawards.ie/vote2015/ Voting closes on November 20th.
Hundreds of books were submitted this year for consideration across the thirteen categories and from today, the public are being asked to cast their vote on the best books via the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards website www.bgeirishbookawards.ie. Last year, over 45,000 readers and book lovers made their voices heard and voted to select the winners in each category. Votes can be cast until midnight 20th November 2015 and the winners will be announced at a gala event in Dublin’s Double Tree by Hilton Hotel on Wednesday, 25th November, including Novel of the Year, Popular Fiction, Non-fiction, Crime, Children’s, Sports, Short Stories and Cookery.
Bert Wright, Editor – The Nudge List
Louise O’Neill (c) Miki Barlok
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