Eighteen writers have been nominated for the 2009 Hennessy X.O Literary Awards, which will be announced in the Great Hall at Trinity College on 20 April. The event will mark 21 years' involvement of the Sunday Tribune with the awards, which are chosen each year from stories and poems published in the paper's New Irish Writing page. This year's judges are novelist and filmmaker Carlo Gebler and poet Paula Meehan, chaired by Ciaran Carty, editor of New Irish Writing since 1988.
The page was first published by David Marcus in the Irish Press in 1969 and the awards, launched in 1971, are today the longest-running competition of their kind in Ireland or the UK. Since moving to the Tribune, the New Irish Writing page has published the first work of Joseph O'Connor, Colum McCann, Philip Ó Ceallaigh, Marina Carr, John Boyne, Mick McCormack and Alan Monaghan, as well as early stories by Anne Enright, Kevin Power, Hugo Hamilton, Kevin Barry, Mary O'Donnell, Eoin McNamee, Claire Keegan, and Paul Perry, and poetry by Vona Groarke, David Mohan, Geraldine Mills, John O'Donnell and Kerrie Hardie.
Awards of €1,500, and a Hennessy trophy, are made in three categories – First Fiction, Emerging Fiction and Emerging Poetry – with an overall New Irish Writer of the Year, chosen from the three winners, receiving an additional €2,500 and trophy.
Paula Meehan, whose collection Painting Rain was published by Carcanet last year, made her own breakthrough as a poet in New Irish Writing. "My grandfather taught me to read and write before I went to school, so I was lucky when I went into the state system, the eldest of a family of six from the inner-city slums, that I was armed and ready. It was a great survival tool," she says. "I very early began to realise a kind of enchantment when I was in the presence of heightened language. I became a secret writer and later, after university and travelling abroad, I began the long process of learning the craft of writing, reaching a turning point when the Sunday Tribune published my poem 'The Statue of the Virgin'. I'm more myself when I write. It's highly addictive. You have to keep coming back for more."
Fellow judge Carlo Gebler, whose novel A Good Day For A Dog was published last year, feels all writing is therapeutic: "There's something about the establishment of order through language that is deeply consoling." A son of Edna O'Brien and Ernest Gebler, he didn't intend to be a writer. "I grew up with the sound of either my mother typing at day or my father typing at night, and I learned a very important lesson very early which was that you could put type-written words on bits of paper, post them away and money came back. Although I scribbled a great deal as an adolescent, I planned to be a film director. While working in cutting rooms as an assistant editor I lived with a girl who worked in the Quartet Bookshop in Soho. The Literary Review was upstairs. She gave some stories I wrote to the editor Celia Greenwood who published one of them, 'Speech of Birds'. I realised then that writing was what I really wanted to do."
The New Irish Writing page is published on the first Sunday of every month. Entries (with SAE) can be submitted to: New Irish Writing, the Sunday Tribune, 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1
An accidental poet, Helena Mulkerns has had 20 short stories published internationally. In 2009 she received a bursary from the Arts Council of Ireland, and was shortlisted for the Francis MacManus Award. She worked as a freelance journalist in Paris, New York and Dublin in the '90s. She then spent nearly a decade working as a field press officer for UN peacekeeping operations.
Olive Broderick is from Youghal, and now lives in Downpatrick. She is working towards the publication of her first collection, Night Divers. She is an active member of the Write! Down collective. She acknowledges the support of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (2009).
Cathal McCabe grew up in Warrenpoint and is a graduate of the universities of York and Oxford. He lived in Poland for 15 years where he lectured at the University of ?ódz and worked as literature consultant with the British Council. From 2003 to 2009 he was director of the Irish Writers' Centre. He won the 2004 Strong Award for Poetry. His poems and translations have been widely published.
Cliona O'Connell grew up in Co Wicklow and currently lives in Dublin. She has had work published in the Sunday Tribune, Southword Munster Literary Journal and The Fish Anthology.
Michael Massey lives in Kilkenny city with his wife Jean and four children. He has been published in literary journals like Poetry Ireland Review, The Shop and The Stinging Fly. He has two small poetry collections published. He currently co-ordinates the Vicar Street Writing Workshop.
Aideen Henry is a writer, physician and lecturer from Galway. Her first poetry collection, Hands Moving at the Speed of Falling Snow, will be published by Salmon Poetry next month. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals.
Niamh Boyce is from Athy, Co Kildare. A finalist in the Eist Poetry Competition 2008, her writing has been published in Crannóg, the Sunday Tribune, Southword and Boyne Berries 7. She was shortlisted for the Molly Keane Creative Writing Award '09, and the WOW Awards '10. She is currently working on a novel and a collection of short stories entitled Wild Cats Buffet.
Alison Wells grew up in Kerry and now lives in Bray with her husband and four young children. Shortlisted for this year's Fish Prize and inaugural WOW awards, she appears in the latest Sunday Miscellany anthology, and is writing a short story collection and a comic novel. Blog: Head above Water; www.alisonwells.wordpress.com
Kate Dempsey writes fiction and poetry and has been nominated before for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Awards. Her fiction has been broadcast on RTé's Francis MacManus Awards and published in the Poolbeg/RTé anthology Do The Write Thing. She reads with the Poetry Divas who love to blur the wobbly boundaries between page and stage.
James Lawless was born in Dublin and divides his time between Co Kildare and west Cork. His stories have appeared in Crannóg, Fish, The Stinging Fly, Willesden Herald and Windows. His novel, The Avenue, will be published by Wordsonthestreet next month.
Andrew Fox was born in 1985. Currently a student of Anglo-Irish literature at UCD, he is a graduate of Trinity College's creative writing programme and a recipient of an Arts Council bursary for literature. He lives in Dublin.
Michael O'Higgins, who won the 2007 Hennessy First Fiction award with his story 'The Great Escape', is a criminal lawyer. Prior to becoming a barrister in 1988 he worked as a journalist for Hot Press and Magill magazines. He became a senior counsel in 2000 and is working on a novel.
Oona Frawley lectures in Irish and world literature at NUI Maynooth, and has published widely in the field of Irish literature, in Irish Pastoral and the forthcoming Memory Ireland among other anthologies. She has written two novels, Air, and Water and Flight; 'Cowtipping' is from a projected volume of short stories, American Teenaged Sex Life.
John O'Donnell won the Hennessy Award for Poetry in 1998. He has since published two collections of poetry, the most recent of which is Icarus Sees His Father Fly (Dedalus Press). 'Promise' is the first short story he has ever written. He lives in Dublin.
Alice Redmond has been writing on paper for about four years and in her head for much longer. She lives in Dublin and is interested in outsiders in society.
Sara O'Loughlin was born in Amsterdam in 1988 and moved to Dublin aged nine. She graduated last year from University College Dublin with a BA in English and Drama, and has been accepted to Sarah Lawrence College, New York, to study for an MFA in Writing. She has written mostly short stories, but hopes to complete a novel in the next year.
Dubliner Robert O'Shea moved to New Zealand seven years ago. His first short story was published by the Sunday Tribune. He has also been published by First Edition magazine (UK) and Her magazine (NZ). First Edition magazine will publish three more of his stories this year. He is currently resource developer and editor for The Retail Institute (ITO) in Wellington, and is working on a collection of short stories.
Madeleine D'Arcy began to write in 2005. Her stories have been shortlisted in several competitions, including the Bridport Prize 2009 (UK). She's recently compiled her first short story collection and has resumed work on a novel set in Cork and London in the 1980s, in which the characters are a disgraceful bunch of punks and confused ex-hippies.