Hubert Butler Essay Prize announced

Books newsletter: Borris and West Cork festival line-ups; Banagher Brontë Festival; Open Mic for Gaza; Write by the Sea; John McGahern exhibition; Commonwealth and Jhalak prizes

In The Irish Times this Saturday, Salman Rushdie talks to Keith Duggan about Knife, his memoir about surviving a vicious attempt on his life; Ingrid Persaud tells John Self about her new novel, The Lost Love Songs of Boysie Singh; Nuala O’Connor tells Niamh Donnelly about her latest novel, Seaborne. Peter Murtagh rode his motorbike through North and South America for his travel book, From Tip to Top, and never felt in need of a gun, but writes about how in Texas and Arizona he found intense pressure around the issue. Director Pat Collins discusses his award-winning adaptation of John McGahern’s final novel with Donald Clarke; and there is a Q&A with Leeanne O’Donnell, author of Sparks of Bright Matter.

Reviews are Paul Gillespie on Circle of Stars, A History of the EU and the People Who Made It by Dermot Hodson and Nationalism in Internationalism: Ireland’s Relationship with the EU by Michael Holmes and Kathryn Simpson; Houman Barekat on Knife: Meditations after an Attempted Murder by Salman Rushdie; Neil Hegarty on Paul Carlucci’s The Voyageur; Declan Burke on the best new crime fiction; Mia Levitin on Choice by Neel Mukherjee; Jessica Traynor on Weathering by Ruth Allen; Chris Cusack on The Axeman’s Cardinal by Catherine Chidgey; Gráinne Lyons on From Tip to Top: The Journey of a Lifetime, From Chile to Alaska by Peter Murtagh; Nadine O’Regan on The Amendments by Niamh Mulvey; Pat Carty on Nuclear War by Annie Jacobsen; Niamh Donnelly on Maggie Armstrong’s Old Romantics; and Sarah Gilmartin on You Are Here by David Nicholls.

This week’s Irish Times Eason offer is Someone Else’s Shoes by Jojo Moyes. You can buy it with your newspaper for just €5.99, a €5 saving.

The Hubert Butler Essay Prize is in its seventh year. Over a period ominously racked by global crisis and conflict, the prize has focused attention on themes and issues which are central both to Butler’s work, and the world today – such as frontiers, identity, the abuse of political power, coping with the pandemic, and the tension between individual and community values.


This year’s theme is ‘With narratives of conflict currently distorted by misinformation and the substitution of memory for history, what are the chances of reconciliation?’

We wanted to encourage examination of the uses and abuses of history, at a time when deep-rooted antagonisms all round us have taken a particularly toxic form, and also to consider the implications of the tendency to discount ‘history’ in favour of ‘memory’. Butler’s commitment to clarity of thought and his determination to face up to uncomfortable truths has never been more acutely needed, and the essay form – as he showed so consummately – remains uniquely suited for projecting this essential endeavour.

First prize is €1,500 and there are two second prizes of €500. The judges are Roy Foster (chair), Barbara Schwepcke, Catriona Crowe and Nicky Grene. Closing date is June 29th. The winner will be announced on 13th August at a prize giving in Kilkenny, presented by Olivia O’Leary. Entry details here:


The Borris House Festival of Writing & Ideas, which takes place from June 7th to 9th, has launched its schedule. Final tickets are on sale for Friday and Sunday, while Saturday and Weekend tickets have already sold out.

Borris, Co Carlow is home to this annual gathering of writers from all over the world – approximately 80 in total – and the event now features performances of theatre and music as well as its unique and bespoke curated encounters between writers.

Among this year’s big names are Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth Strout, Minnie Driver, Ocean Vuong, Adam Clayton, Jon Ronson, Nick Broomfield, Cerys Matthews, Ruby Wax, Sebastian Barry, Kevin Barry, Lemn Sissay, Peter Francopan, Deborah Levy, Fintan O’Toole, Ciarán Hinds, Neil Jordan, Sinead Gleeson, Emma Dabiri, Anne Enright, Orla Guerin, Fergal Keane, Annie Mac, David O’Doherty, OIivia O’Leary, Anthony Horowitz, Liz Nugent, Roy Foster, Colm Tóibín, Misha Glenny, Louise Kennedy, Dylan Moran, Claire Kilroy, Mikel Murfi and Ye Vagabonds.

In a new departure this year, there will be an event on Sunday, June 9th in Dublin, at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre: Margaret Atwood with special guests musician Laurie Anderson, climate activist and Chair of the Elders Mary Robinson, hosted by broadcaster and writer John Kelly.


The West Cork Literary Festival, an eight-day celebration of writing and reading, takes place in and around Bantry from July 12th to 19th. There are master classes, readings, and workshops, as well as interviews with authors, book launches and other events.

Writers taking part this year include Anne Enright, Colm Tóibín, Adania Shibli, David Nicholls, Dolly Alderton, Paul Lynch, Rónán Hession, Eimear Ryan, Theo Dorgan, Andrea Mara, Irvine Welsh, Miriam Margoyles, Elizabeth Day, Caleb Azumah Nelson and Jason Allen-Paisant.

“We have just announced this year’s line-up and we’re delighted by the response so far and by the excitement generated,” said festival director Eimear O’Herlihy. “It feels like West Cork Literary Festival is becoming a destination festival because what could be better than a week in Bantry in the summer with friends, writers and exciting and inspiring conversations happening on stages and in cafes all over town?” Booking for all events is now open on or 027 527 88.


The Inaugural Banagher Brontë Festival will be held from this Friday to Sunday, April 19th-21st.

The weekend will open on Friday at 7pm with a premiere of An Evening with Charlotte Brontë devised specifically for the Banagher Brontë Group by Michael and Christine O’Dowd.

All events on Saturday will be held in Crank House starting at 11am with Joanne Wilcock’s talk, Falling in Love with Arthur. Joanne will explore the different opinions and feelings people have had about Charlotte Brontë's husband, Arthur Bell Nicholls.

At midday, Brontë scholar, Pauline Clooney (author of Charlotte & Arthur) will present Currer Bell’s Silent Years 1852-1855, an examination of Charlotte Brontë's paths to publication and her attitude to a writing life, and how, consequently, this attitude illuminates her creative silence from 1852 until her death in 1855.

At 2.30pm. Dr. Maebh O’Regan will present The Art of Branwell Brontë. From their earliest years the Brontës were passionate about art and were particularly inspired by the wood engravings of Thomas Bewick.

Further enquiries to James Scully on 085 710 7569 or

Open Mic for Gaza will be held again on Global Pay It Forward Day, Sunday, April 28th. The online fundraiser will run on Zoom from 7pm-9 pm, featuring a wonderful line-up of special guests including |Michelle Gallen, Catherine Dunne and Juliana Adelman along with 15 open mic readers/performers. All funds raised will go to the Ghassan Abu Sittah Children’s Fund. You can register, donate, and express interest in an open mic slot here.


Write By The Sea, a boutique literary festival held annually in Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford, has secured a publishing partnership with Waterford-based literary journal, The Waxed Lemon.

The four category winners of the 2024 Write By The Sea writing competition will have their work published in the Winter 2024 edition of The Waxed Lemon. Each winner will also receive a prize of €500, plus a free weekend ticket to Write By The Sea festival. Second-place winners in each of the four categories will receive a cash prize of €300 and third-place winners will receive €200. Writers can submit their work now until June 21st via

Joanne McCarthy of The Waxed Lemon said: “Nothing beats seeing your work in print. Write by the Sea is one of Ireland’s most respected literary festivals and we’re really delighted to be joining the judging panel and to be printing the winning entries.”

A Deep Well of Want: Photographs and Archives of McGahern Country, a new exhibition of photographs by Paul Butler, documents the landscape and passing rural life of Co. Leitrim and surrounding areas – the hinterland of writer John McGahern. It opens as part of Cúirt Festival on April 24th at 4pm-5pm in Room G10, Hardiman Building, University of Galway, with a Q&A discussion with the curators, moderated by Prof Tom Inglis (McGahern Barracks Museum).

Accompanied by archives and literary manuscripts from the John McGahern Archive, held at University of Galway Library, curated by Dr. Barry Houlihan, this exhibition presents a visual and documentary journey through McGahern Country – to the sites, places, words, and ideas that formed a wellspring for the literary imagination of John McGahern.

Opening as part of Cúirt Festival of Literature, the exhibition represents the largest display of manuscripts and materials from the McGahern archive. Combined with the beautifully captured and evocative photographs by Paul Butler, the exhibition is a unique opportunity to explore the visual and the written landscapes of McGahern and of Co. Leitrim.


Twenty-three writers from 13 countries have been shortlisted for the world’s most global literature prize – the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Writers from three Commonwealth countries – Mauritius, Rwanda and St Kitts and Nevis – have been shortlisted for the first time. The prize is viewed worldwide as a bellwether of new talent and many nominated writers go on to find publishers, agents and other opportunities. Previous regional and overall winners include Sharma Taylor, Kevin Jared Hosein (both from the Caribbean) and Fijian writer Mary Rokonadravu – and this year’s themes are also interesting. One features a young person contemplating gender transition, a quarter are meditations on motherhood, and there are many speculative fiction stories. Five regional winners (for the five regions of the commonwealth) will be announced on 29 May and the overall winner on 26 June.


The Jhalak Prize and Jhalak Children’s & Young Adult Prize 2024 shortlists have been announced. The Jhalak Prize shortlist features exhilarating fiction, a raw snapshot of contemporary multicultural London, beguiling non-fiction about landscape and the natural world, an audacious true crime tale and an award-winning poet.

The Jhalak Children’s and Young Adult Prize shortlist features thought-provoking young fiction, vividly illustrated picture books, a YA thriller and an assured debut for middle grade readers. As with previous years, the shortlists demonstrate the exceptional quality and breadth of work produced by writers of colour, from the UK and Ireland today.

Prize director Sunny Singh said: “Every year, the Jhalak Prize shortlists exemplify literary excellence in contemporary Britain and mark them as future classics. I am in awe of the courage required to tackle difficult themes and ideas coupled with the command of the chosen genre and form demonstrated by our shortlistees. These are books about belonging and its price, about confronting injustice with hope, and about the audacity of trying even in the face of impossible odds. Most of all, these are books about moral courage, which makes the books on our 2024 shortlists necessary, urgent and timeless.”

The shortlist for the Jhalak Prize is: A Flat Place, Noreen Masud; Anansi’s Gold: The Man Who Swindled The World, Yepoka Yeebo; Boundary Road, Ami Rao; Fire Rush, Jacqueline Crooks; Self-Portrait As Othello, Jason Allen-Paisant; Twelve Words For Moss, Elizabeth-Jane Burnett. The 2024 shortlist for the Jhalak Children’s & Young Adult Prize is: Geoffrey Gets the Jitters, Nadia Shireen; How to Die Famous, Benjamin Dean; Safiyyah’s War, Hiba Noor Khan; Steady for This, Nathanael Lessore; To The Other Side, Erika Meza; and Wild Song, Candy Gourlay.

The two winners will be announced at the British Library on May 30th. Each winner will be awarded £1,000 and a specially created work of art as part of the ongoing Jhalak Art Residency.