Shortlist announced for inaugural £5,000 John McGahern Annual Book Prize

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

In no particular order, the four titles selected to contend the £5,000 prize are:

  • Anne Griffin, When All is Said (Sceptre)
  • Adrian Duncan, Love Notes from a German Building Site (Lilliput)
  • Lucy Sweeney Byrne, Paris Syndrome (Banshee)
  • Nicole Flattery, Show Them a Good Time (The Stinging Fly)

The shortlist was compiled by a judging panel consisting of Professor of Irish Literature in the Institute of Irish Studies, Frank Shovlin; University of Liverpool Vice-Chancellor, Dame Professor Janet Beer; and Sarah Gilmartin, fiction reviewer at The Irish Times.

Professor Shovlin, who is currently researching John McGahern’s work and correspondence for an authorised biography, said: “We were impressed by the standard of the entries for the inaugural John McGahern Book Prize for debut Irish fiction, which came from across the genres.

“I am especially pleased to see the short story holding its own, with our final four books divided evenly between novels and stories.

“Entries came from both well-established publishing houses, and from smaller, newer operations, with themes ranging from the historical to the supernatural, to the comic. The standard of entries made it difficult for the shortlisting committee to select the shortlist from the 20 entries.”

An overall winner will be decided by award-winning Irish writer, and University of Liverpool Chancellor, Colm Toibin, before an announcement is made on July 15 2020.

Professor Shovlin provided his insight on the shortlisted titles:

Anne Griffin, When All is Said (Sceptre)

Through one man’s twilight-hour toasts to five people who defined his life, Griffin’s novel weaves a powerful and tender depiction of ordinary existence in all its flawed and quiet glory.

Adrian Duncan, Love Notes from a German Building Site (Lilliput)

Love Notes from a German Building Site is an oblique, haunted novel of quiet meditative intelligence. Adrian Duncan evokes the building of cities and the dislocated, ghostly lives that unfold amid their looming geometries.

Lucy Sweeney Byrne, Paris Syndrome (Banshee)

Lucy Sweeney Byrne manages to capture both the weariness and optimism of the eternal traveller in this impressive debut collection of short stories. These portraits of the unfamiliar, exotic and occasionally threatening communities briefly inhabited by the protagonists are, at heart, meditations on home, belonging and self.

Nicole Flattery, Show Them a Good Time (The Stinging Fly)

A sense of otherworldly menace is at work in the fiction of Nicole Flattery, but the threats are all too familiar. Show Them a Good Time tells the stories of women slotted away into restrictive roles, and Flattery's characters demolish the boundaries of these limited and limiting social types with complexity and caustic intelligence.

Professor Shovlin added: “The four shortlisted works all stand testament to the robust health of the Irish literary scene. They combine the careful craft needed of any lasting prose fiction coupled with imaginative intelligence of a high order.”

Born in Dublin in 1934, and brought up in the West of Ireland, John McGahern is the author of six highly acclaimed novels and four collections of short stories, a play, an autobiography and a number of essays.

His novel Amongst Women – winner of both the GPA and Irish Times Award – was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and made into a four-part BBC television series.

His final book, Memoir, was published in 2005. John McGahern died in 2006.

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