Paterson Joseph wins Christopher Bland Prize; Niall McDevitt celebrated; Giggler gets the musical treatment

Books newsletter: A round-up of the latest literary news and a preview of this Saturday’s books pages

In The Irish Times this Saturday, Noelle McCarthy, a prominent journalist in her adopted home of New Zealand, discusses with Niamh Donnelly her memoir about emigrating from Cork, alcohol addiction and her complicated relationship with her mother. In an extract from his new book, Irish Times crime and security correspondent, Conor Gallagher, explores Sinn Féin’s stance on neutrality and how it could change the State’s position. And, there is a Q&A with Una Mannion about her brilliant new novel, Tell Me What I Am – and her equally good debut, A Crooked Tree – as well as life as an Irish-American in Ireland.

Reviews are Diarmaid Ferriter on Is Ireland Neutral? by Conor Gallagher; Ian Hughes on Hitler, Stalin, Mum and Dad: A Family Memoir of Miraculous Survival by Daniel Finkelstein; Ray Burke on How to Survive a Crisis: Lessons in Resilience and Avoiding Disaster by David Omand; Declan Burke on the best new crime fiction; Roddy Doyle on Youth by Kevin Curran; Dean Jobb on The Wager by David Grann; Helen Cullen on Whether Violent or Natural by Natasha Calder; Rachel Andrews on A Little Give by Marina Benjamin; Una Mullally on Why Sinéad O’Connor Matters by Allyson McCabe; Joe Humphreys on How Not to Kill Yourself: Portrait of a Suicidal Mind by Clancy Martin; Lucy Sweeney Byrne on Easy Beauty by Chloe Cooper Jones; Malachy Clerkin on Sport in Modern Irish Life by Paul Rouse; and John Boyne on High Time by Hannah Rothschild.

This weekend’s Irish Times Eason offer is the award-winning There’s Been A Little Incident by Alice Ryan, which you can buy with your newspaper for just €4.99, a €6 saving.

Paterson Joseph has won the Royal Society of Literature’s Christopher Bland Prize for The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho (Dialogue Books). A work of fiction, the story springs from documented history. Brought to London on a slave ship in 1729, the book’s protagonist, Sancho, suffered hardship and danger, found kindness, hope and love, became an acclaimed writer and composer, met the king, was an abolitionist, and was the first Black person in Britain to vote. Written in the form of a memoir, it brings Georgian London vividly to life. Paterson has been on a long-term mission to rescue Sancho from historical oblivion. The story was first a one-man show written and performed by Joseph in 2018 but the pandemic finally gave him the time to write this book.


The prize is an annual award of £10,000, celebrating outstanding achievements for a debut novelist or non-fiction writer first published aged 50 or over. This is the fifth year of the prize.

An acclaimed British actor and writer who has starred in Vigil, Noughts and Crosses, Peep Show and Law and Order UK, Paterson Joseph also plays Timothée Chalamet’s nemesis Arthur Slugworth in the forthcoming Charlie and the Chocolate Factory prequel Wonka. He said: “As a fledgling actor, I wanted to be respected by my peers and to be looked upon as ‘one of us’. The granting of this award is more than the equivalent of that, as the work on the page is somehow more personal. All my love and much of my life has gone into the creation of The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho and my reward has been this accolade. Sancho would be pleased, if not a little surprised, that his short life has lent itself to such attention 243 years after his passing. This novel is my small contribution to that remembrance and I hope it leads to many creative echoes of the life of a great Black Briton.”

Lemn Sissay, chair of the judges, said: “The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho is historical fiction, bursting with the wit and perspicacity of its protagonist Ignatius Sancho. Paterson Joseph, an actor by trade, is clearly a writer in an actor’s body. Many thespians feel the urge to inhabit the world of a writer but few can fulfil it to the degree of Paterson Joseph. He inhabits characters and scenes as Dickens does, through the character and story. The Secret Diaries leaves the reader frowning at the audacity of history for leaving out such a brilliant character. Equally, we are slightly in awe of the author for turning history around.”


Roger McGough, the 85-year-old Liverpool-born poet, brings his new show, Alive and Gigging, to Ireland later this month.

His three events are at Seamus Heaney HomePlace on June 21st, Poetry Ireland in Dublin on June 22nd and the Hinterland Festival in Kells on June 24th.

The show takes audiences on a journey back to key moments of his life. McGough reflects on his Liverpool childhood with memories and poems including The Full English, The Overall Winner and Learning to Read. Memories of his mum and dad are told through poems The Railing and What Does Your Father Do and some are a throwback to the ‘60s, namely The Beatles and Top of the Pops. New verses have been added for Lily the Pink, which take a playful update on the 1968 classic by The Scaffold. As well as laughs, there will be poems about growing old: A Joy to be Old, A Cure for Ageing and Let me Die an Old Man’s Death.


Children’s Books Ireland marks Pride month by launching its Pride Reading Guide 2023, filled with hundreds of new and well-loved stories celebrating queer love, joy and identity.

LGBTQ+ books for young people have made headlines in recent months, with attempts made by far-right groups to force the removal of these stories from libraries, bookshops and online publications. With recent research from BelongTo Ireland finding that 76 per cent of LGBTQ+ students feel unsafe at school, the value of these stories and their capacity to build not only understanding but also empathy and solidarity in their readers, cannot be overstated.

The Pride Reading Guide 2023, supported by An Post, features 100 reviews of excellent books for children and young people. A “read also” recommendation is attached to each review, encouraging readers to explore further based on the titles they’ve enjoyed.

The books featured include favourites such as Elmer (David McKee), Fred Gets Dressed (Peter Brown) and Heartstopper (Alice Oseman), alongside new Irish titles such as Mr Wolf Goes to the Ball (Tatyana Feeney), Croí an Teaghlaigh an Grá (Sophie Beer agus Gillian Nic Ionmhain, aistrithe Ag Shanna Ní Rabhartaigh), The Dos and Donuts of Love (Adiba Jaigirdar) and Glórtha Aiteacha/Queer Voices (ShoutOut).

Elaina Ryan, CEO of Children’s Books Ireland, said: ‘Now, more than ever, it is critical that we continue to review and recommend books that foster a spirit of inclusion and empathy, including those with LGBTQ+ themes and by LGBTQ+ authors – not just for LGBTQ+ children and young people but for everyone. The Pride Reading Guide 2023 is a ringing endorsement of the positive change that’s occurred within the publishing industry in recent years and we welcome the opportunity to celebrate and raise awareness of these brilliant books.’


Murder One welcomes best-selling author Karin Slaughter back to Ireland to promote her new book, After That Night, which she will be discussing with journalist and fellow author Edel Coffey on Tuesday, June 20th at 8pm at Lexicon Level 4, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin. To book, visit


A celebration of the life and literary legacy of the late poet Niall McDevitt takes place at the Teachers Club, Parnell Square, Dublin on June 13th at 7pm.

This special evening of poetry and film brings some of London’s most prominent poets and artists to Dublin to celebrate McDevitt, a native of Dublin, whose work had been praised by Yoko Ono, Patti Smith and John Cooper Clarke.

Two films directed by Sé Merry Doyle and featuring Niall will be shown at the Dublin event. In WB Yeats: The Battle of Blythe Road, Niall McDevitt takes us to Blythe Road in London, where Yeats studied magic at an Isis temple and had a public spat with Aleister Crowley. In James Joyce: Reluctant Groom, McDevitt takes us on a London-based Bloomsday walk and tells the tale of how James Joyce and Nora Barnacle sneaked into London in 1931 to secretly get married. There will also be readings by Niall’s fellow poets and friends: Alan Cox, Naomi Foyle, John O’Donoghue, James Byrne, and Niall’s brother, actor Roddy McDevitt. Tickets €10 here.


The Ark presents the world stage premiere of The Giggler Treatment, a new musical based on the popular novel by Roddy Doyle, written and composed by Fionn Foley. It will run from December 1st to 31st.

Director of The Ark, Aideen Howard, said, “We are proud and excited to present the premiere of this musical adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s iconic book. The Giggler Treatment is loved by children and grown ups everywhere and Fionn Foley’s new adaptation for The Ark stage, directed by Sophie Motley, will introduce it to a new generation of theatre goers.”

Tickets on sale now from