The University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies has announced the shortlist for the fourth John McGahern Annual Book Prize, carrying a prize of £5,000, for the best debut novel or short story collection by an Irish writer or writer resident in Ireland in the year 2022.
Sixteen entries were received, all of which have now been read and adjudicated upon by the shortlisting committee of Prof Dame Janet Beer, recently retired Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool; Frank Shovlin, Professor of Irish Literature, University of Liverpool; and Dr Eleanor Lybeck, Senior Lecturer in Literature at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool.
Now in its fourth year, the prize for best debut book published in 2019 went to Adrian Duncan’s Love Notes from a German Building Site (The Lilliput Press), for 2020 to Hilary Fannin’s The Weight of Love (Doubleday), and for 2021 to Louise Kennedy’s short story collection, The End of the World is a Cul de Sac (Bloomsbury). All three writers continue to prosper and build on these striking fictional starts, with last year’s winner quickly following her debut with the multi-award winning novel of the Troubles, Trespasses (Bloomsbury).
The prize was established to promote new Irish fiction and to celebrate the memory of one of the country’s greatest masters of prose fiction, John McGahern (1934-2006), whose authorised biography Prof. Shovlin is now writing under contract at Faber and whose edition of The Letters of John McGahern was published by Faber in 2021.
Professor Shovlin commented on this year’s entries: “After the success last year of Louise Kennedy’s terrific collection, The End of the World is a Cul de Sac, it was interesting to see short stories becoming dominant this year. The other clear trend that continues in new Irish fiction is the flourishing of women writers – our shortlist is entirely female, as were 14 of the 16 entries. We look forward to seeing the final adjudication of our judge Colm Tóibín later this summer and welcoming the winner to read and receive their prize at the Liverpool Literary Festival on the weekend of 6-8 October.
The three shortlisted books published in 2022 are Aingeala Flannery, The Amusements (Sandycove); Niamh Mulvey’s Hearts & Bones: Love Songs for Late Youth (Picador); and Niamh Prior’s Catchlights (JM Originals). The shortlisting committee commented on each of the books:
Aingeala Flannery, The Amusements
This collection of interlocking stories charts the fortunes of the seaside town of Tramore through the lives of its residents across 30 years. Flannery portrays her cast of characters, and the social issues they represent, with humour and warmth. Major twentieth-century and contemporary Irish writers are subtly evoked and subverted here: from James Joyce and Kate O’Brien to Neil Jordan and Martin McDonagh. An accomplished and well-conceived debut.
Niamh Prior, Catchlights
Marketed as a novel though much closer to a collection of short stories, Catchlights is a collection of episodes which have shared characters and narrative developments. The connections between stories are inventive and Prior is bold in deploying supernature alongside nature to build her scenes and characters. Well written and meticulously constructed and connected throughout, it is only as the book unfolds that the reader begins to see an overall, unsettling pattern as characters recur and locations shift and change over decades.
Niamh Mulvey, Hearts & Bones
A haunting collection of short stories set across contemporary Britain and Ireland, this book marks the emergence of an original new voice in Irish writing. At its core lies ‘The Doll’, a story of a troubled young man and his use of a ventriloquist’s dummy (or perhaps its use of him) to come to terms with his own estrangement from the world. It is a piece of work that lingers long in the memory, marking literary achievement of a high order in this impressive debut volume. Were it the only high point, one might pass over these stories, but the book represents a pleasing whole by a writer with enormous promise.
Entries are now being accepted for debut books of fiction published in 2023. Find out more here.