Triumph of creative spirit
Coffee, croissants and a dazzling autumn day were the backdrop to the announcement of the shortlist for Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards 2013, where the atmosphere was far more one of mutual congratulation and harmony than competition.
There was a general feeling of enthusiasm for an event, now in its eighth year, that has grown to become both the greatest champion of books and reading, and greatest showcase of our finest writers. Good news then, via Dave Kirwan, managing director at Bord Gáis Energy, and a self-confessed book lover, of the future: "We remain committed to our support of the Irish Book Awards," he said, adding, "This shortlist of authors reminds us how lucky we are to have such writers."
Later, he and Alastair Giles, chief executive of the Irish Book Awards, expounded to me on the role played by these awards: "It is really important that it is all-involving," said Alistair. "Not just a literary panel choosing four or five books. The popular end is celebrated just as much as the literary end."
In the on-going, worthy battle of independent booksellers against the encroachment of online multi-nationals, these awards are a vital piece of ammunition.
"This is a triumph of the Irish creative spirit," was how Tim Pat Coogan – whose book The Famine Plot is short-listed in the Non-fiction Book of the Year category – put it to me. "The way it has sailed in the hurricane of recession and come to shore. You get a sense of the power of the intellect as opposed to corporate vision. It's nice to be a part of that."
It was the kind of generosity in evidence everywhere. Cork hurler Sean Og O hAilpin, looking dashing in a well-cut pinstripe suit. His Autobiography is shortlisted as Sports Book of the Year. He told me "to be in company with legends like Sean Kelly and Johnny Sexton, and DJ Carey, a guy I idolised growing up – I'm pinching myself!"
"Writing is very solitary. I'm now on my tenth book, and I'm still riddled with self-doubt. In fact, if anything it's worse," said Sinead Moriarty. "These awards are a pat on the back, recognition from people within the industry, and readers, and that's amazing. I'm a very happy bridesmaid," she added, a cheery reference to this, her sixth nomination, for Mad About You, in the Popular Fiction Book of the Year, now sponsored by International Education Services, for the first time.
Ciaran Collins, nominated for The Gamal in the Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year category, and also winner of the 2013 Rooney Prize, agreed, adding: "I didn't think mine was a book that would be widely liked. The reception has come as a surprise."
On every hand was gratitude and delight at the recognition these awards offer writers, and the boost they give book retailers.
"A town isn't a town without a bookshop," is one of Neil Gaiman's sayings, and he's dead right. Without a bookshop, any town is a sad, unfinished thing.
And without a grasp of history, a country is unmoored, inadequate. Ronan Fanning, author of the excellent Fatal Path, shortlisted for Non- fiction Book of the Year, brought this home, saying, "what has really struck me, giving lectures and talking at festivals around the country, is the appetite for history. Ruairi Quinn's proposals to abolish history in the core curriculum, has the potential to destroy that. It is an act of culture vandalism."
Keelin Shanley, who will be presenting the awards at the gala evening in the Doubletree Hilton Hotel on November 26, was clear about the "huge value" of the event.
"It gives you an opportunity to really focus in, when you see all the writers and books brought together like this, and realise how vibrant our literary community is."