Barry's double triumph at Irish book awards
Keyes is crowned queen of the chicklit authors
Sebastian Barry, author of the acclaimed novel 'The Secret Scripture', scooped two of the top prizes at the glittering Irish Book Awards 2009 ceremony in the Mansion House in Dublin last night.
'The Secret Scripture', Barry's spellbinding novel about the life of an old woman in a mental hospital in the West of Ireland, won both the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year Award and The Tubridy Show Listeners' Choice Award.
There was also huge interest in the Easons Popular Fiction Award, because this year many of the stars of the chicklit genre were lined up against each other for the first time -- Marian Keyes, Cecelia Ahern, Cathy Kelly, Patricia Scanlan and, the mammy of them all, Maeve Binchy, as well as Ross O'Carroll-Kelly, whose inclusion added a certain frisson to the category.
In the end, it was Keyes who took the award, for her novel 'This Charming Man', to the absolute delight of the sisters who cheered loudly, as well they might since every one of them is now a millionairess from writing. (And Ross isn't far behind them.)
The gala dinner, hosted by Miriam O'Callaghan, saw a huge number of authors come together to celebrate the best of Irish literature published in the last year.
Among those in attendance were Roddy Doyle, Rebecca Miller, Hugo Hamilton, Ryan Tubridy, Kathryn Thomas, Rachel Allen, Mark Cagney and budding author Amy Huberman.
Nobel Prize-winner Seamus Heaney picked up the Argosy Non-Fiction Award for 'Stepping Stones', the book of conversations about his life and work between himself and Dennis O'Driscoll.
And later in the evening Heaney did the honours, when Edna O'Brien was given the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award, an award that was given to William Trevor last year.
O'Brien, who will be 79 in December, made it clear that she was not yet ready to hang up her pen, or the Aisling school notebooks she buys in Clare and in which she writes.
She is still best known for 'The Country Girls' trilogy. When the first book was published in 1960, the local priest in Clare told parishioners to bring their copies to the church yard to be burned. That book, and the other two in the trilogy, were all banned -- and all subsequently became bestsellers.
Over the years since then, O'Brien has written 14 novels, five collections of short stories and several plays, and is still working hard.
Her latest novel, 'Byron in Love', was published this year.
Rugby ace Ronan O'Gara took the Energise Sports Book of the Year Award for his autobiography.
And long-time favourite Alice Taylor took the Best Irish Published Book of the Year Award for her depiction of country life in 'The Parish', which struck a chord with readers as society in Ireland becomes more disjointed.
This year, for the first time, Irish crime writing was celebrated at the awards, with the addition of the Ireland AM Crime Fiction Award. This was won by Alex Barclay for her novel 'Blood Runs Cold', in a highly competitive category which also featured Tana French, Arlene Hunt and Brian McGilloway.
The glamorous Barclay, originally from Sutton, Co Dublin, has cracked the American market with her books and is a rising star of the genre.
The Newcomer of the Year Award, sponsored by International Education Services, went to Dubliner Ronan O'Brien, author of the poignant 'Confessions of a Fallen Angel', beating off strong competition from Kevin Power, whose book 'Bad Day in Blackrock' was highly praised last year.
In the Children's Award, sponsored by Dublin Airport, Derek Landy won the senior section for the further adventures of his skeleton detective Skulduggery in 'Playing with Fire', while the junior section award went to 'Before You Sleep', by Benji Bennett.
This is the fourth year of the Irish Book Awards. The shortlist emerged from a ballot of over 300 Irish booksellers and librarians. The winners were chosen by votes from the public and the Irish Literary Academy.