Dublin Airport, Shannon, Dubai, JFK, Sydney, Charles de Gaulle- what do these airports have in common? They all feature a host of Irish writers on the best-seller shelves; the new generation of popular writers who are following in the footsteps of the late, great Maeve Binchy and taking the national and international world by storm. Maeve, the trailblazer, led the way. She gave them a voice, or rather, gave them permission to use their own voice to write about the way we live today, highlighting issues that beset our daily lives, everything from marital breakdown to caring for someone with cancer, unemployment and depression, love, friendship and family. This new breed of Irish female authors like Cathy Kelly, Sinead Moriarty and Emma Hannigan have become hot properties and publishers like Penguin are queueing up for their signatures. According to Patricia Deevy, the senior editor at Penguin Ireland
'Suddenly there are all these young women writers from Ireland out there and publishers are keen to get them. The talent has just arrived on the scene. Part of their appeal is that far more women than men read fiction. In Ireland, for instance, as more women went into the workplace due to the Celtic Tiger and commuted quite a lot to work, they had time on their hands to read. At present, women are reading about a book a month in Ireland.'
Commercial fiction serves an important function in the literary world. Consumers crave escapist books that will entertain, amuse and can be read easily and quickly. Who hasn't picked up the latest best-seller at the airport, to go in the beach bag along with the sun cream and beach towel? And these popular titles are not to be sneered at. Many commercial fiction writers are talented and deserve success in their field.
And the public want to read them. They can be modern romances; or comedies that have you sniggering on the morning commute; or gritty tales of heartbreak and loss. In these days of economic austerity it provides an escape, without any major outlay. We can relate to these tales of relationship struggles, monetary struggles, workplace woes, and enjoy the hope inherent in the inevitable happy endings. You can lose yourself in their stories and relate to their well-drawn characters. From sad moments to happy celebrations to "thank goodness that never happened to me" - it's pleasurable and comforting to escape into a story that you connect with on a certain level. Who doesn't crave an escape from everyday life now and again?
And so it is only fitting that the Bord Gais Irish Book Awards (formerly the Sunday Independent/Hughes and Hughes Book Awards) are honouring those writers whose books are hitting the best-seller lists; Anna Mac Partlin, Cathy Kelly, Emma Hannigan, Cecelia Ahearn, Sinead Moriarty and Ross O'Carroll-Kelly. The Awards, now in their ninth year, play a pivotal role in promoting and lauding Irish writers in all their diversity, across a broad spectrum of genres. Although women dominate the Books Are My Bag Popular Fiction short list, one man, the three-times winner Ross O Carroll Kelly features once again. Stiff competition for the other five nominees, all women. But they are up for the challenge. All six authors have earned their place on the short list, well deserving the plaudits coming their way. Their novels enlighten and entertain, engage and charm. Warm-hearted and funny, Irish, yet universal, they make us laugh. They make us cry. They gently point out our faults and foibles. They make us feel more human, less alone.
The Secrets Sisters Keep follows the three Devlin sisters in their early forties as they cope with all that life has to throw at them. Julie is struggling to adjust to her new found wealth, Sophie is struggling with ageing and an errant ex-husband, and Louise is struggling with her young daughter. A warm, touching read with a good storyline.
Transworld Ireland, €11.95
The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin chronicles the last few days of Mia Hayes, a single mother from Dublin, who is losing her battle with cancer. Surrounded by her warm, funny, chaotic family, she tries to make plans for her beautiful daughter Juliet. A real emotional roller-coaster that will have you and laughing and crying at the same time.
Hachette Books Ireland, €15.99
This book revisited our characters from Driving Home for Christmas and follows on with the family's plan to open Huntersbrook House up to the public for venue hire. As the family pull together to get everything in place to make this venture work so they don't lose their family home, we begin to see what changes have occurred to the children's private lives too. One to curl up with in front of the fire.
When Jasmine, a successful business woman, finds herself on gardening leave for a year, she doesn't know how to cope with so much time on her hands. Never one to pry, she is however forced to get involved when her dislikeable neighbour Mark seems to be heading down a path to self-destruction. And an unlikely friendship ensues. A tender and funny romance.
A proposal at the top of the Eiffel Tower leads to change, not only for the happy couple but also for close family and friends surrounding them. Marriage, marital problems, death, hope, loneliness - it's all here. An enjoyable family drama showing the intricacies of modern day families.
Picking up where last year's Downturn Abbey left off, life is as chaotic as usual in the O'Carroll-Kelly household. Sorcha is expecting triplets, his hideous 8 year old daughter is up to her usual tricks, while his mother is dabbling in illicit substances. But when his long-suffering friend, Fionn, is kidnapped while doing aid work in Uganda, Rosser swings into action and heads off to Africa on a rescue mission. Hilarious one-liners and astute observations.
To celebrate this award, we have five sets of the six short-listed titles to give away. To enter, tell us who wrote Gone Girl. Answers on a postcard to The Literary Editor, Sunday Independent, Independent House, 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. Closing date Dec 2, winners will be announced here on Dec 7. Usual ts and cs apply