Professor Frank Shovlin in his office

Shortlisting for the John McGahern Book Prize for debut Irish fiction

The University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies is proud to announce the shortlist for the second John McGahern Annual Book Prize, carrying a prize of £5,000, for the best debut novel or short story collection by an Irish writer or writer resident in Ireland.

16 entries for 2020 were received and have now been read and adjudicated upon by the shortlisting committee of Professor Dame Janet Beer, Vice-Chancellor, University of Liverpool; Professor Frank Shovlin, Professor of Irish Literature, University of Liverpool; and Sarah Gilmartin, fiction reviewer at The Irish Times.

Three books were shortlisted as follows:

  •   Niamh Campbell, This Happy (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Niamh Campbell writes with the flair and confidence of an established author. The reader is drawn quickly into the world of her protagonist, Alannah, a woman in her early 30s whose toxic relationship with a university professor makes for a compelling read. This Happy is a layered and vibrant debut, packed with astute observations on human behaviour told in a sardonic voice that always has one eye on the absurd.

  •  Hilary Fannin, The Weight of Love (Doubleday)

Hilary Fannin, already well established as a journalist, memoirist and playwright makes her fictional debut with The Weight of Love, a beautiful novelistic exploration of ordinary lives unravelling in the face of desire. This novel is an intimate and moving account of the intricacies of marriage and the myriad ways in which we can love and be loved.

  • Cathy Sweeney, Modern Times (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Cathy Sweeney’s Modern Times is a compact and compelling short story collection with a series of often eccentric and dissonant vignettes bound together by an overriding preoccupation with sex and its discontents. The result is a compulsively readable debut, equally assertive in both male and female registers, revealing a wonderful, fresh imagination at work.

An overall winner will be chosen this summer by the Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, Colm Tóibín.