The night Ireland's literary stars came out to shine
Accepting the Listener's Choice Book of the Year for he, his novel about Stan Laurel, John Connolly talked about "people who are in love with books" and last Tuesday night at the Irish Book Awards the Clayton Hotel was filled with them. Authors, agents, retailers, editors, librarians and publishers came together for what our elegant compere Keelin Shanley described as "some writers one and only Christmas party night out". Later, much later, leaving the after-party knee deep in bibliophiles, I couldn't help feeling they'd taken her very much at her word.
After Champagne, a poignant farewell from our wonderful headline sponsors Bord Gais Energy, and dinner, it was awards time. A strong London contingent included literary agents Ivan Mulcahy and Sallyanne Sweeney, both delighted that Darach O'Seaghdha whose career they have nurtured, won the Popular Non-fiction title for Motherfocloir, his engaging romp round the Irish language. And O'Seaghdha pointed out: "I beat Dustin."
Ryan Tubridy paid eloquent testament to 'supernova' David Walliams who was presented with the Bord Gais Energy International Recognition Award for his exceptional contribution to children's writing. A happy Walliams was pleased with the plaudit and to be in Ireland, "home of great writers like Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and Paul O'Connell".
The increasing importance of children's publishing was recognised, with their categories expanded to three. Sarah Webb, who has been an outstanding champion of this genre, picked up the laurel (junior) for A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea while Judi Curtin, who has written 25 books, was given the senior prize for Stand by Me. In teens, Tangleweed and Brine won: a dozen dark retellings of traditional fairytales, it was described by its author Deirdre Sullivan as "a book of my heart".
At this newspaper, we were very proud that Fergal Keane won Onside's Non-fiction award for his powerful and moving memoir of love and war - Wounds - while our sister publication, the Irish Independent gave the coveted crime gong to Julie Parsons, back after a decade with The Therapy House. Ballymaloe continued its domination with another member of the celebrated culinary clan Rory O'Connell (brother of Darina) getting the cobalt crystal for Cook Well, Eat Well, named Eurospar's Cookery Book of the Year.
Wonderful it was too in the week Patrick Kavanagh's work was celebrated, that poetry got so much attention. The Listowel Writers' Week award was won by Clodagh Beresford Dunne, and then Olivia O'Leary (currently presenting RTE's new poetry show) delivered an eloquent encomium for Eavan Boland - this year's recipient of the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award.
Finally it was time for the biggie, Eason Book Club's Novel of the Year. This year's shortlist featured six literary heavyweights - the Johns Banville, Boyne and Connolly, Roddy Doyle, Molly McCloskey and Bernard McLaverty, who won for his beautifully nuanced portrait of a long marriage - Midwinter Break. Delighted with the acclaim that this, his first novel for 16 years, has been getting, McLaverty quipped, "when it comes to humility, I'm a master". Maestro, we salute you.