Gail McConnell wins £7,500 Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize



In Tomorrow’s Irish Times, Marguerite Penrose, author of Yeah, Where Are You Really From?, talks to Sorcha Pollak about the challenges of growing up as a disabled black person in Dublin. Book reviews are Seamus Martin on The Shortest History of the Soviet Union by Sheila Fitzpatrick and Afghan Crucible: The Soviet Invasion and the Making of Modern Afghanistan by Elisabeth Leake; Kevin Power on Ruth & Pen by Emilie Pine; NJ McGarrigle on Kathleen Murray’s Deadwood Encore; Paschal Donohoe on The Journey of Humanity: The Origins of Wealth and Inequality Oded Galor; Jan Carson The Secret Lives of the Ladies of the Church, Deesha Philyaw; Rory Kiberd on The Flow of Everything by John Connell; Dean Jobb on The Man Who Invented Cinema: A True Story of Obsession, Murder and Cinema, by Paul Fischer; Niamh Donnelly on Martina Devlin’s Edith; Lucie Shelly on Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo; Sarah Gilmartin on Steve Toltz Here goes nothing; and Catherine Taylor on Best New Translations.

This week’s Irish Times Eason offering is Jo Spain’s The Perfect Lie. You can buy this bestselling thriller with your diary for just €4.99, a saving of €5.

The 27th Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize, worth £7,500, was won by Gail McConnell for her book of poetry, The Sun Is Open, published by Penned in the Margins. It was presented by Fergal Keane at a ceremony at the Foreign Office, Iveagh House, Dublin last night.

Speaking on behalf of the judges, Professor Roy Foster said: ‘This year’s shortlist was a powerful one, representing fiction, memoir and historical research as well as poetry. But the judges were unanimous in selecting Gail McConnell’s startling and daring book, which unravels and unravels the stories surrounding the murder of the author’s father when she was three.

“Using a remarkable range of sources, this lengthy poem investigates and interrogates memory, grief and violence in a new and gripping way and is a thoroughly original and compelling contribution to the literature of The Troubles. It could not be more immediately relevant to the origins and inspiration of the Ewart-Biggs Prize, founded to commemorate a violently cut short life, and recognizing works that contribute to understanding between the peoples of Northern and Southern Ireland, and between Great Britain and Ireland. ”

The award was established in memory of the British Ambassador to Ireland who was assassinated by the IRA in 1976. The works considered cover a two-year period (2020 and 2021) and embody the aims of the award, which are to promote and d encourage peace. and reconciliation in Ireland, greater understanding between the peoples of Great Britain and Ireland, or closer cooperation between European Community partners. It was these ideals that inspired Christopher Ewart-Biggs and to which his widow Jane subsequently devoted herself.

Other shortlisted contestants were Michelle Gallen, Big Girl, Small Town (John Murray); David Goodall, edited by Frank Sheridan, The Making of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985: a memoir (National University of Ireland); and Niall Ó Dochartaigh, Deniable Contact: Back-Channel Negotiation in Northern Ireland (Oxford University Press).


The High House by Jessie Greengrass, Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford, The Giant Dark by Sarvat Hasin, Asylum Road by Olivia Sudjic and Maxwell’s Demon by Steven Hall have been shortlisted for the £10,000 RSL Encore Prize for Best Second Novel by the year, judged by Sian Cain, Nikesh Shukla and Paul Muldoon.

Previous recipients of the award include Sally Rooney, Ali Smith, Sunjeev Sahota, Neil Mukherjee, Colm Tóibín and last year’s winner Caoilinn Hughes. The winner will be announced on May 24.


Lea Ypi won the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize of £10,000 for Free (Allen Lane), a coming-of-age memoir set against the backdrop of political upheaval. The annual prize is awarded by the Royal Society of Literature (RSL) to an outstanding work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry that best evokes the spirit of a place.

The judges of this year’s award – chairs Sandeep Parmar, Patrice Lawrence and Philippe Sands – said spoke so resonantly to our lived moment. How do nations dream of themselves; how do individuals think of themselves within these fantasies? How do we feel about the stories and how are they institutionalized?

“Ypi is a master at juxtaposing these grand personal narratives – of family secrets and political crises – and we have repeatedly returned in our judgmental conversations to the long shadow of history, asking what darkness lurks where things go unchallenged.Ypi’s dark yet deeply serious work has made us reflect forcefully on the need for truthfulness in the stories we are told and how we negotiate our own lives within them.

Ypi is Professor of Political Theory at the London School of Economics & Political Science.

“It started out as a concept book, so it’s amazing to receive this award for the best book that captures the spirit of a place,” Ypi said. “It shows that concepts and places are connected to each other. It’s really important to me because the place the spirit of which is being evoked is Albania, a place that people don’t usually think about – it’s not a place that makes the headlines unless nothing problematic is happening. I hope it will interest people in the history of this country, which is also a history of universal significance.

“The book deals with the transition from communism to liberalism in Albania, as well as the freedom dilemmas that arise when people navigate these different systems. He relates these ideas to ordinary life, to the conflicts, hopes and tragedies that people have experienced. I hope this book will make people more aware of the realities to pay attention to, whether or not there is a recognized crisis in a place.

The Society of Authors has announced the shortlists for the ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award, Betty Trask Prize and Awards, Paul Torday Memorial Prize, Queen’s Knickers Award, McKitterick Prize and – in its first year – the Gordon Bowker Volcano Prize .

Among the 32 shortlisted works are Red Market by How to Gut a Fish author Sheila Armstrong for the ALCS’s Tom-Gallon Trust Prize for a Short Story; Megan Nolan’s Acts of Desperation for the Betty Trask Award for a First Novel by a Writer Under 35; Diving For Pearls by Jamie O’Connell and Winter in Tabriz by Sheila Llewellyn for the Gordon Bowker Volcano Prize for a novel focusing on the experience of a journey away from home; Checkout 19 by Claire-Louise Bennett for the McKitterick Prize for the first novel by a writer over 40; and Maybe… written and illustrated by Chris Haughton for the Queen’s Knickers Award for Outstanding Original Illustrated Book for Children Ages 0-7.

Blood Ties by Brian McGilloway (Constable) has been shortlisted for Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, the UK and Ireland’s most coveted detective writing award, along with Chris Brookmyre, Denise Mina, Mark Billingham, Mick Herron and other great writers.

After Lovesong’s sold-out release, Red ‘n Blue Theater Company returns with Bridget O’ Connor’s award-winning comedy The Flags.

The Flags centers on Howie and JJ, lifeguards on Ireland’s second-worst beach, littered with rubbish, a dead cow and a burnt-out car. They have the ambition to fill vacancies for lifeguards on the golden sands of Banna Beach. However, they must first overcome an eagle-eyed inspection from their boss Brendan, who has his own secret agenda. The incompetent couple, who have lost their lifeguard manual, are plunged into further turmoil by the arrival of a mysterious young woman with surprising intentions.

This hilarious piece has been compared to a mix of Father Ted and Martin McDonagh. It takes place at the Cork Arts Theater from 31 May to 11 June at 8pm and at Garter Lane, Waterford from Wednesday 15 to Saturday 18 June at 7.30pm. See the trailer here.

Bridget O’Connor, one of my favorite writers, was a Bafta-winning author, playwright and screenwriter. O’ Connor’s first success in writing came in 1991, when his story Harp won the Time Out Short Story award. After that, she wrote two collections of stories: Here Comes John and Tell Her You Love Her. His plays include The Centurions, States of Mind, The Lovers and Becoming the Rose. In her later years, Bridget and her husband Peter Straughan wrote screenplays for the films Sixty Six and Mrs Ratcliffe’s Revolution. They adapted John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy novel into a 2011 film of the same name, for which they received the BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Bridget died of cancer in 2010 at the age of 49.

The Red ‘n Blue Theater Company was founded in 2018 by married couple Dylan Kennedy and Jenny Fennessy, from Cork and Waterford respectively.

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