Tuesday 10 December 2019

A night for leading literary lights to come out and glitter

Poets, publishers and a peer come out to play at the Book Awards, says Madeleine Keane

Glittering Chapter: Ath the Irish Book Awards were Sunday Independent editor Anne Harris and Paul Howard. Pic. David Conachy.
Glittering Chapter: Ath the Irish Book Awards were Sunday Independent editor Anne Harris and Paul Howard. Pic. David Conachy.
Barry Egan, Graham Norton and Brendan O'Connor
Louise O'Neill
Constance Harris, Cecelia Ahern and Rachel Allen at the ninth annual Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards 2014. Pic. David Conachy.

Madeleine Keane

By the end of the evening the Reverend Mother was pregnant, but that's writers for you. Receiving the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award, Paul Durcan was in characteristically subversive, playful form and his poem, dedicated to his greatest support, his late mother, in the form of a letter home from the convent, had his glamorous audience convulsed.

The occasion, the ninth Bord Gais Energy Irish Books Awards, at the Double Tree by Hilton, kicked off on Wednesday night with red-carpet razzmatazz as the Irish book industry came out to play. Spirits were high as publishers, agents, authors and editors enjoyed a champagne reception before a sumptuous meal of goat's cheese tart, sirloin of beef and Black Forest log.

Then it was down to the real business, with our hostess for the evening the ever elegant Keelin Shanley, joined this year by a quartet of guest presenters. The first of these, children's laureate Eoin Colfer, announced the winners of his genre, Chris Haughton for little bookworms and for older readers, Moone Boy; in a Hollywoodesque touch Chris O'Dowd and Nick Murphy accepted this by video link, the latter telling us to enjoy the free gas. And indeed great gas was provided by non-fiction winner Graham Norton, who, entranced by the warmth of our welcome, suggested we set up the Immigration Awards before leaving us with his lately acquired pearl of wisdom "time is a great teacher but it also kills all its pupils."

First a baby boy, then a book award - but Brian O'Driscoll took it all in his cool stride. Winning the Sports Book of the Year, he generously acknowledged his ghost writer Alan English before informing us that his wife was home minding the children, endearingly adding "how grown-up that sounds."

This year saw the introduction of a new prize - the International Recognition Award. George Hook delivered the citation which ranged over an eclectic array of figures - Michael Collins, Pablo Picasso, Alan Shatter and Theodore Roosevelt - before handing the cobalt crystal comma to Jeffrey Archer, who, confessing to great excitement at being in the same room as one of his heroes, Brian O'Driscoll, told us this reminded him of his time at Oxford. The peer and former Tory MP, who has sales of over 270m books in 147 countries and 35 languages, recalled that "my first breakthrough came in this city. The Irish have three great qualities - they're not judgemental, they can't abide literary snobbery and they believe in fair play."

As ever, this paper was deeply proud to sponsor the Newcomer of the Year Award, which was won by young Cork woman Louise O'Neill who informed us she'd practised "a gracious losing speech"; in fact, her dsytopian tale was a very worthy winner On an exciting list. Our own Brendan O'Connor reminded us that popular fiction is "a euphemism for books people actually read", naming the perenially delightful Cecelia Ahern as the winner of this category, and she thanked us "for paying me to be a weirdo - I'm so happy." It was a proud moment for her agent Marianne Gunn O'Connor, who, like so many of us felt great sadness over the death, announced earlier that morning, of one of her authors, the much loved Anita Notaro. There was poignancy too for the Sunday Independent team as this was the last Book Awards (of which we are founding members) for our outgoing (in every sense) editor Anne Harris, to whom Brendan paid affectionate tribute. Accepting her bouquet, Anne simply noted that, just as there are many situtations that can only be confronted by art, there are many truths that can only be told in fiction.

A new innovation this year was the Green Room, where Evelyn O'Rourke conducted the exit-interviews amidst a party atmosphere engendered by various book clubs who appeared to be making a night of it. The Eason Novel the Year was won by Mary Costello for her powerful first novel Academy Street, and she accepted with understated grace while John Boyne, picking up the short story gong, informed us about his recent marriage. Finally it was time for a pair of poets to round off the evening and Paula Meehan, professor of poetry at Trinity, paid eloquent homage to the great Durcan.

The formalities concluded, they turned down the lights, turned up the jazz and the band played on. Roll on next year and our 10th birthday!

And the winners are ...

Eason Novel of the Year:

Academy St by Mary Costello (Canongate)

Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year:

Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill (Quercus)

RTÉ Radio 1's John Murray Show Listeners' Choice Award:

It's All in the Head by Majella O'Donnell (Simon & Schuster)

Ireland AM Crime Fiction Book of the Year:

Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent (Penguin Ireland)

Avonmore Cookbook of the Year:

The Nation's Favourite Food Fast by Neven Maguire (Gill &Macmillan)

National Book Tokens Non-Fiction Book of the Year:

The Life and Loves of a He Devil by Graham Norton (Hodder & Stoughton)

Books Are My Bag Popular Fiction Book of the Year:

The Year I Met You by Cecelia Ahern (HarperCollins)

Bord Gais Energy Sports Book of the Year:

The Test by Brian O'Driscoll (Penguin Ireland)

TheJournal.ie Best Irish Published Book of the Year:

Dubliners 100 by Thomas Morris (Tramp Press)

Specsavers Children's Book of the Year, Junior:

Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton (Walker Books)

Specsavers Children's Book of the Year, Senior: Moone Boy by Chris O'Dowd and Nick Vincent Murphy (Macmillan Children's Books)

Writing.ie Short Story of the Year:

Rest Day by John Boyne

International Recognition Award:

Jeffrey Archer

The Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award:

Paul Durcan

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