Alan English and Paul O'Connell with sports book of the year award
Alan English – co-author of The Battle with Paul O’Connell and group editorial director with Iconic Newspapers (owner of the Limerick Leader)
‘Liz Nugent’s opening line had me hooked’
I got through four books on a 10-day holiday in August - I haven’t been that prolific since I was about 18 – and the best of them was All We Shall Know, by Donal Ryan. He might – allegedly – hail from North Tipperary but some of us have long since claimed him as an honorary Limerickman and the better he writes, the more Limerick he will become in our eyes. His fourth book, for me, is his best and most captivating yet.
The two female protagonists are brilliantly and beautifully realised - the writing is just a joy and I flew through the book, which is not something I’ve made a habit of in recent years.
Another absolute page-turner was Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent. This is a major new Irish talent and international success looks certain for her.
I’ve never really believed that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (a bad cover is almost always a sure sign of a less than riveting book), but I will often make a judgement call on the first paragraph, and often the first sentence is enough.
How could you not be won over by this: “My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.” After that opening shot, the book never relinquishes its grip.
The passage of time is the ultimate test of a book – will it still be in print 40 or more years after its first publication? The best sports book I read (or, more accurately, re-read) in 2016 was a 40th anniversary reprint of a football classic, Only A Game? by Eamon Dunphy. I read it first perhaps 30 years ago and loved it then. I think there’s every chance it will still be appreciated 40 years from now.
Donal Ryan – best-selling author
‘Steeplejill a vertiginous account of life at the top’
Billy Keane lifts people, even in the saddest of times. His columns in the Irish Independent brighten the darkest of Mondays. The Best Of Billy Keane contains some of his most memorable pieces. From the wildly funny to the heart-achingly poignant, and everything in between, there’s riches on every page. It’s an absolute jewel of a book and a perfect gift for loved ones abroad.
Sarah Moore Fitzgerald cements her reputation as one of our finest storytellers with A Very Good Chance, a gorgeously written and completely engrossing tale set in Ireland and Italy of teenage friendship, fracturing families, social division, and bareback horse-racing.
Limerick Writers’ Centre produced some fabulous books again this year, such as Michael Durack’s beautiful memoir in prose and poetry, Saved To Memory, Lost To View.
The Battle, Paul O’Connell’s brilliant, bruising account of a storied rugby life, and Front Up, Rise Up, Gerry Thornley’s account of Connacht's journey from also-rans to pro-12 Champions were two of this year’s best sport books.
Steeplejill is Angela Collins O’Mahony’s thrilling, vertiginous account of her literal and figurative rises to the top as a steeplejack and entrepreneur.
A Last Loving: Collected Poems by Maeve Kelly and Playing The Octopus, Mary O’Malley’s sublime new collection, were two of the poetry events of the year, and are works to be savoured and cherished.
Willie O’Dea – Fianna Fail spokesperson on social welfare
Economic ‘hell’ in Cowen’s term
My most compelling read of the year was Hell at the Gates, by John Lee and Denny McConnell, an account of the implosion of the Cowen Government during Ireland’s greatest financial crisis from 2008 onwards.
Perhaps this is because I was so close to the action but quite frankly I found this book impossible to put down once I started to read it. This is directly opposite to my experience of some of the great “literary works” that won such awards as the Booker prize. With some of those books I found when I put them down it was almost impossible to take them back up again.
For anybody with the slightest interest in politics or economics or indeed history this is a book they really should read. The economic story has been well told already. However, the other side of the coin is the political story and the objective of this book is to re account that.
The official historical record tells us what happened. This book records not only what happened but how the people involved thought and acted during this traumatic period in the life of our country. It is written at a great (sometimes break-neck) pace. It brings the reader right into Government buildings and gives them a ringside seat.
There are a number of pages devoted to myself but happily not too many. Apart from my observations on events while I was still in cabinet there is a section on my resignation. Ultimately that turned out to be a blessing in disguise though it has to be said it was well disguised at the time it happened.
Of course the two main characters are the two Brians, Brian Cowen who was then Taoiseach and Brian Lenihan who was Minister for Finance.
The book is not unkind to them. They come across as two very able human beings who were fallible just like the rest of us. They are portrayed as doing the very best for the country as it tried to navigate an unprecedented economic tsunami.
They had a choice. They could have dissolved the Dail much earlier and went to the country as the crisis began to unfold. However they stuck to their task and ultimately came across as people whatever their faults and mistakes tried to do their very best for the country. It was an excellent book and well worth a read.
Joseph O’Connor – Frank McCourt chair of creative writing at UL
‘Donal Ryan’s writing is stunning and utterly truthful’
Among my books of the year is the wonderful novel All We Shall Know by my friend and fellow Creative Writing teacher at UL, Donal Ryan.
It's a stunning piece of work, utterly truthful and emotionally powerful, and the portrayal of the narrator's elderly father is so moving that it sometimes had me in tears of recognition.
Donal's control of his prose is just a joy to experience: the book bursts from short, punchy phrasings that draw the reader in, to these magnificent long sentences that are so risky but his wizardry makes them succeed.
Dominic Taylor – Director of Limerick Writers’ Centre
‘Anthology on 1916 Rising my top pick’
Without doubt my book of the year was the anthology 1916-2016: An Anthology of Reactions, published locally by Limerick Writers’ Centre Publishing.
In a year in which the most overused word was undoubtedly cherished, this book gave considerable cause for thought.
The book invited reactions from writers to the Ireland we have built since the 1916 Rising. The overall feeling is that we have not done a very good job in cherishing the people of the nation equally.
As one of the contributors, Eoin Devereux, points out in his poem Cherished, where he lists what he sees in our city, “the out of work broken-spirited fathers, incarcerated teenage prisoners, and terrified A&E stretchered elders”, the list goes on and is a damning indictment of our ruling class who have embraced the neoliberal ideology so prevalent in the western world today…was it for this the leaders of the Rising sacrificed their lives, cause for some sober reflection I think!
My second choice is by locally born author William Ryan and his third novel The Constant Soldier, Ryan has come up with a gripping and timely tale (a real reminder of the times Europe and its people have been through and the need to be on our guard against their repetition…why does Trump come to mind!) about the final days of the Third Reich.
Set in a holiday hut in the shadow of the concentration camps near Auschwitz in 1945, it was inspired by a set of photographs depicting Karl Höcker who was adjutant to Richard Baer, the commandant of Auschwitz from May 1944 until the Russians arrived in 1945. Although fictionalised, the characters echo real people and history. A must read written in beautiful poetic prose.
My third choice is the debut collection of poetry by Killaloe poet Deirdre Grimes called The Chaos Within, published by Revival Press it is an astounding debut and heralds the arrival of a major poetic voice. The major theme in this collection is the coping and coming to terms with bi-polar disorder, the chaos within that, as Frederick Nietzsche says we must have to “give birth to a dancing star”. An exceptional collection of poems.
Maurice Quinlivan – Sinn Fein spokesperson on housing
‘Aboy de’kid! Book on Limerick slang certainly entertains’
I have just finished Jo Spain’s second novel Beneath the Surface - a great murder mystery with a brilliant finish. It is a wonderful read and fantastic follow-up to Spain’s debut novel, With Our Blessing, a novel which was partly based in Limerick.
This is the second book to feature Inspector Tom Reynolds and while it is not essential to have read the first book, Tom's character certainly grows on you.
Inspector Reynolds is an investigator who really gets stuck in and delivers a spell binding story.
This second novel is a murder mystery where the crime takes place in the corridors of Leinster House. Resulting in a high profile and politically sensitive case.
The police tread carefully and deliver both a spectacular story and great read. DI Tom Reynolds is a wonderfully crafted character who you feel you’d like to have a pint with.
He is almost fifty years old, with no airs or graces; he could be a friend to just about any of us.
Jo Spain's writing is clever and sharp and flows effortlessly. Unlike other crime mysteries there are no high-speed car chases just some very clever police work and detection by a small team of well-led Gardai.
As a recently Teachta Dála this new novel deals with a building I have become very familiar with.
The crime around which the book is based took place whilst hundreds of guests attended a party on the night of the murder, so the case was complex with hundreds of people having to be investigated. The Police Detectives in the book had their work cut out for them.
One-to-one interviews, background checks and liaison with TDs and An Taoiseach were part of the intensive investigation. So I got to read a great book with a wonderfully scripted story that kept me guessing until the last page.
After finishing I managed a trip around parts of the Dáil that I hadn’t even knew existed.
And my second favourite book of the year was Limerick Slang by Hugh McMahon. A boy de’kid!
Judi Curtin – best-selling author
Once again, 2016 was a great year for Limerick-based authors.
Roisin Meaney’s 13th novel, The Reunion, deals with the intriguing story of two sisters returning to their 20-year school reunion, uncovering a few skeletons on the way. It’s warm and funny, like all of Roisin’s books, and I found myself wanting to be part of the community she describes.
Less warm and funny was Siobhan MacDonald’s first book, Twisted River. This is a gripping thriller, set in Limerick city, with many landmarks that will be familiar to the local reader. This book kept me guessing to the very last page. Siobhan manipulates the reader mercilessly, and when I finished the book, the first thing I did was turn back the pages to see how she had managed to so completely hoodwink me.
Further afield, Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton is set in New York and Amgash, a tiny rural town in Illinois. The narrator, Lucy, spends nine weeks in hospital and during this time, her mother unexpectedly visits for five days. The book examines the relationship between the two women as they spend rare, quiet time together. It’s harrowing at times, as it describes Lucy’s childhood filled with abuse, hardship and isolation, but it is also moving and beautifully written.
My children’s book, Time After Time, was published in September. It tells the story of Molly and Beth who are transported back to 1984, and get a chance to see the world through their young parents’ eyes. I had great fun writing this.