In case you hadn’t noticed, on Tuesday evening, Anna Burns made literary history becoming the first person from Northern Ireland to win the Man Booker Prize. It’s a fantastic achievement and comes at a time when literature from this small part of the world is brimming with talent and excitement.
If your interest has been sparked by Milkman’s surprise win, here are a few other recent and upcoming books by writers from Northern Ireland that you might be interested in checking out.
Children’s Children by Jan Carson
Children’s Children is a collection of fifteen short stories which range in style from magic realism to traditional literary form. Experimental, funny and eclectic, these stories feature street preachers, disillusioned husbands and child burglars. This is life in post-conflict Northern Ireland with an absurd slant, dealing with the theme of legacy through parable and modern day fairy tale.
Jan Carson was born and raised in my home town of Ballymena and worked as the Arts Outreach Officer for the Ulster Hall in Belfast. She continues to work in community arts. Her first novel was Malcolm Orange Disappears a sweet, magical tale of a boy who literally wakes up to find holes in his body, and her next novel is due to be published next year.
December Stories 1 by Ian Sansom
Ian Sansom lives in Bangor, Northern Ireland and is best known for his Mobile Library Mystery series, featuring the unforgettable character of Israel Armstrong, a Jewish, vegetarian, depressive mobile librarian who fights crime!
His new collection, December Stories, is being brought out next month by Northern Ireland’s newest publishers No Alibis Press and it explores the frustration, heartfelt despair, joyful ecstasy and uncertainty associated with the Christmas period. The stories feature a sunny festive season in Florida featuring The Clash, imaginary sash windows, professional beard-growing and the head teacher’s Christmas appeal – all capturing our sense of wonder at how we all survive this brutal, yet magical month,.
If you follow No Alibis Press on Twitter, look out for short films of Ian reading from each of the 31 stories in the collection every day in November. You don’t want to miss them! December Stories is available to pre-order from No Alibis Press just in time to prepare you for the festive season!
Country by Michael Hughes
The reimagining of Greek myth is a current literary trend and in Country by Michael Hughes, Homer’s Iliad, is transposed to Northern Ireland and the height of the Troubles in the late twentieth-century.
Set in 1996, during the first, faltering days of the ceasefire, Country brutally depicts the fall out that happens when an IRA man’s wife turns informer and revenge is taken on a local army base. Inspired by the oldest war story of them all, this powerful new Irish novel explores the brutal glory of armed conflict, and the bitter tragedy of those on both sides who offer their lives to defend the honour of their country
Michael Hughes is the author of The Countenance Divine, published in 2016. He was born and raised in Northern Ireland before training in theatre at the Jacques Lecoq School in Paris. He has worked for many years as an actor. Under the professional name Michael Colgan.
Sweet Home by Wendy Erskine
Wendy Erskine’s debut short story collection Sweet Home, all set in her home place of East Belfast was published last month by Stinging Fly and has now been picked up by Picador, which should bring her to a much wider audience.
Featuring a rock star who ends his days on the street where he was born; a husband and wife who become dangerously involved with another, younger couple and a woman who becomes fixated on the lives of her neighbours, Sweet Home depicts the tragedy and emotion below the surface of ordinary lives.
Wendy Erskine lives in Belfast and her work has been published in The Stinging Fly, Stinging Fly Stories and Female Lines: New Writing by Women from Northern Ireland and is forthcoming in Being Various: New Irish Short Stories from Faber & Faber.
The Good Son by Paul McVeigh
The Good Son by Paul McVeigh, tells the story of eleven year old Mickey Donnelly, who lives in Belfast’s troubled Ardoyne but has problems in his life far greater than those caused by sectarian violence. Mickey is different from the other kids and they make is life miserable because of it. Boasting an unforgettable lead character who makes it his mission to give his wee sister and Ma a better life, The Good Son is a poignant coming-of-age story told against the backdrop of the Troubles.
The Good Son won The Polari First Novel Prize and The McCrea Literary Award. It was shortlisted for The Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award, the Prix du Roman Cezam in France and a finalist for The People’s Book Prize. Paul has written comedy, essays, flash fiction, a novel, plays and short stories, and his work has been performed on radio, stage and television, and published in seven languages.
Her Name Was Rose by Claire Allan
Derry-based Claire Allan spent 18 years as a journalist and is now the author of nine novels, the most recent being Her Name Was Rose which marks her first foray into thrillers. Published this year, Her Name Was Rose is a page-turning thrill of a book with a fantastic premise.
A young woman, Emily, lets a stranger go ahead of her on the street and then watches in horror as she is killed by an oncoming car. Rose, the dead woman, had everything that Emily doesn’t and that’s when Emily wonders if she could take Rose’s place in that perfect life. What she discovers is that no one’s life is perfect and that you should be careful what you wish for.
Her Name Was Rose is a real ‘read in one sitting’ kind of book and Claire Allan’s next book Apple of My Eye will be published in January 2019. This morning it was announced that Claire has re-signed a deal for two more thrillers with Avon Books.
Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh
Steve Cavanagh was born and raised in Belfast before leaving for Dublin at the age of eighteen to study Law. He currently practices civil rights law and has been involved in several high profile cases. He was selected for the Amazon Rising Stars programme 2015 and was an ACES award winner 2015 from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. His first novel, The Defence was published in 2016 featuring ex con turned lawyer Eddie Flynn.
Thirteen is the fourth instalment in the Eddie Flynn series, and features a Hollywood star on trial for the murder of his equally famous wife. To make matters worse, Flynn is convinced that the real killer is on the jury.
If that premise isn’t enough to draw you in, Cavanagh’s writing has been supported by Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, Mark Billingham, Ruth Ware, Lee Child and Clare Mackintosh, that many great writers can’t be wrong!
Crime writing in Northern Ireland has long been at the forefront of writing about the Troubles. If you are interested in exploring more of the wealth of crime writing in Northern Ireland, here is a piece I wrote a few years ago about the unstoppable rise of Irish crime writing.
The Vogue by Eoin McNamee
I’m a huge fan of Eoin McNamee’s work particularly his blending of fact and fiction to create unforgettable novels.
The Vogue will be published at the end of this month (and I’ll be going to the launch!) by Faber & Faber and sounds like it is going to be another fascinating read.
‘Late 1944, and two teenagers dance the Vogue in silence on the projectionist’s floor of the Cranfield Aerodrome. She draws the outlines of their footwork in eyebrow pencil on the white sheet. He loses their bet.
Decades later, a ghost returns to Mourne to identify a body found in the shifting sands. Names have long since been changed; children long since cast out; lies long thought forgotten.’
Eoin McNamee’s novels include Resurrection Man, later made into a film, The Blue Tango, which was longlisted for the Booker Prize, and Orchid Blue, described by John Burnside in the Guardian as ‘not only into a political novel of the highest order but also that rare phenomenon, a genuinely tragic work of art’. Born in Northern Ireland, he now lives in Sligo.
Catholic Boy by Rosemary Jenkinson
Rosemary Jenkinson is primarily known in Northern Ireland as a playwright with works such as Here Comes the Night and The Bonefire and also for her satirical Michelle and Arlene plays that lampoon Northern Ireland’s largely absent politicians. She won the 2001 Black Hill Magazine Short Story Competition and was shortlisted for the 2002 Hennessy Award for New Writing. In 2016 she was the Writer-in-Residence at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast.
Catholic Boy is her third collection of short stories – a dark, witty portrait of contemporary Belfast about the longing for freedom, whether political or sexual. The title, Catholic Boy, comes from one particular story but it really fits the collection. You can read an interview I did with Rosemary on the blog earlier this year here.
Travelling in a Strange Land by David Park
David Park’s Travelling in a Strange Land was published last year by Bloomsbury to great acclaim. The UK is covered in deep, treacherous snow and Tom, a photographer must venture out from his home in Northern Ireland to collect his son, sick and stranded in student lodgings in Sunderland. During the solitary trip, Tom muses on family life and a family history clouded in regret.
David Park was born in Belfast in 1953, and now lives in County Down, Northern Ireland.
He is the author of a collection of short stories and seven novels including The Truth Commissioner (which won the Christopher Ewarts-Biggs Memorial Prize, which recognises works that promote peace and reconciliation in Ireland) and The Light in Amsterdam. He has won the McCrea Literary Award and been shortlisted for the Irish Novel of the Year Award for his book Swallowing the Sun and Travelling in a Strange Land was BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime earlier this year.
The Watch House by Bernie McGill
One of my favourite reads of this year, Bernie McGill’s The Watch House is a beautifully told love story set against the backdrop of Rathlin Island and Marconi’s attempts at radio communication in 1892.
The Watch House is a moving, tender and elegant novel that cements Bernie McGill’s reputation. Meticulously researched and incredibly detailed, it is the story of Nuala, who lives on the island in a loveless marriage and Italian radio expert Gabriel which transcends its historical setting to become a universal exploration into the power of language and ultimately, the power of hope.
Bernie’s first collection of short stories, was published in May 2013 by Whittrick Press and shortlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2014. Her work has been anthologised in The Long Gaze Back and The Glass Shore. And her first novel, The Butterfly Cabinet was published in 2011.
Star by Star by Sheena Wilkinson
Published last year, Sheena Wilkinson’s novel for teenage readers is set during 1918 in the aftermath of the war and features a strong intelligent lead character, Stella, who is living with her aunt following the death of her suffragette mother. Mixing history, politics and women’s rights this is a great example of the work coming out of Northern Ireland for younger readers.
Sheena Wilkinson has won many awards for her fiction including five Children’s Books Ireland Awards, most recently the Honour Award for Fiction for 2017’s Star By Star, which was also shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards. Described in The Irish Times as ‘one of our foremost writers for young people’, Sheena received a Major Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in 2013. She teaches creative writing in settings ranging from universities to prisons and runs a young writers’ group in Belfast.
This is just a small selection of some of the fantastic books to have come out of Northern Ireland in the last few years. There are so many more I could talk about – Stuart Neville, Lucy Caldwell, Brian McGilloway, Claire McGowan, Adrian McKinty, Roisín O’Donnell, John Kelly, Deirdre Madden, Brian MacLaverty, Glenn Patterson, plus many, many more.
Maybe I need to make this a regular feature!
I do hope you are tempted to try some of them out. Or have you a favourite writer from the North that hasn’t made my list…yet?
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!