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“And the winner of the Costa Book of the Year Award is…”

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Winner Sebastian Barry

Winner Sebastian Barry

Sebastian Barry has won the Costa Book of the Year Award after narrowly losing out in October’s Man Booker prize. The Irish novelist was announced as the winner at a ceremony in London on Thursday 27 January.

The winning book, The Secret Scripture, has been described as a moving account of a woman’s stolen life and her efforts to reclaim the past.

The judges heralded the book as an “exquisitely written love story that takes you on an unforgettable journey – you won’t read a better book this year.”

Barry was the bookmaker’s favourite to take the £25,000 prize beating what many considered to be the most acclaimed shortlist in the prize’s history. Sebastian wasn’t the only winner first time bestselling novelist Sadie Jones and her book The Outcast won the first book award whilst 91 years old Diana Athill became the oldest short listed winner for her historical memoires Somewhere Before The End.

Following the judging, Matthew Parris, chair of the final judges, said: “Sebastian Barry has created one of the great narrative voices in contemporary fiction in The Secret Scripture. It is a book of great brilliance, powerfully and beautifully written.”

The winners in each category are as followed:

Each shortlisted winner will take home £5,000 whilst the Sebastian Barry took home £25,000.

Watch Sebastian Barry talk about contemporary Irish voices below:

Discussion:
Has anyone read The Secret Scripture? What is it about Irish writers that makes them stand apart from some of their English counterparts?

Words: Seamus Swords

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Popular figures on books they just couldn’t put down this year

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The Guardian website yesterday published a very interesting article about the favourite books of some of Britain’s top public figures and literature critics.

To celebrate the final month of the year the piece talks to journalists, politicians, broadcasters, military types and many more who, collectively, make a very diverse and colourful cross-section of society. The chosen novels also throw up some intriguing results.

We’ve selected the best celebrity top books for your reading pleasure. To see the entire list click here.

Richard Curtis with fellow bookworm Stephen Fry (BBC)

Richard Curtis with fellow bookworm Stephen Fry (BBC)

Richard Curtis – Film director

“Now that Kurt Vonnegut has smoked his last cigarette, John le Carré is my favourite living author. A Most Wanted Man (Hodder & Stoughton) is full of classic le Carré delights – the plots that sneak up on you, the wonderful, compromised Englishmen, the richness of the writing, strangely allied to the feeling that he is just recording documentary fact. When I first started reading le Carré, his middle-aged British men reminded me of my schoolmasters and my father’s friends – now they’ve turned into me.”

Alistair Darling – Chancellor of the Exchequer

“The book I’ve enjoyed most this year is Ian McEwan‘s On Chesil Beach (Vintage). It’s a thoroughly evocative novel from one of the best writers of his generation. Reading it was a great escape from the Treasury.”

General Sir Mike Jackson – Soldier

“The British armed forces are much in the news and it is important that we understand what is being asked of our military. Lieutenant General Sir Hew Pike, one of my oldest comrades-in-arms, knows as much about the human dimension of soldiering as anyone I know, and in From the Front Line (Pen and Sword) he has put together a wonderful description of this human dimension as seen through the letters and diaries of the soldiers of his family over four generations.”

Andrew Marr chews the fat with PM Gordon Brown

Andrew Marr chews the fat with PM Gordon Brown (BBC)

Andrew Marr – Political journalist

“No question – the non-fiction book of the year is Richard Holmes‘s Age of Wonder (HarperCollins), not only beautifully written, but also kicking open a new perspective on the Romantic age, as scientific and artistic thinking began to diverge. But please let me also mention The Legend of Colton H Bryant (Simon & Schuster) by Alexandra Fuller, which is brilliant, moving and almost a new form – factually true fiction. And for fiction, a newcomer, Andrew Nicholl’s The Good Mayor (Black &White), a story of love, dreaming and loss, magical realism from Scotland. You will not be disappointed.”

David Miliband – Foreign Secretary

Counselor (HarperCollins) by the late Ted Sorensen, Kennedy‘s long-term adviser and speechwriter, is a reminder of the best instinct of American liberalism. Self-deprecating (which is touching), and in awe of everything JFK (which is less so), it shows how small-town America (in this case Lincoln, Nebraska) can produce people more like Michael Palin than Sarah Palin. Equality, hard graft and the frontier combine to produce something special. Barack Obama inherits its optimism.”

Michael Palin – Actor

“The surprise of the year was a modest gem of a book by Raja Shehadeh, called Palestinian Walks (Profile). Ostensibly a celebration of a lifetime spent walking the hills around Ramallah, Shehadeh’s book is also an elegy for a lost land, and an inventory of a natural environment that has been slowly whittled away by an ever-expanding Israeli state. Shehadeh’s love of his homeland and his naturalist’s eye make for a poetic little book that has big things to say.”

Jeremy Paxman with one of his larger books, we hope (BBC)

Jeremy Paxman with one of his larger books, we hope (BBC)

Jeremy Paxman – Television presenter

“I’d not expected to like Sebastian Barry‘s The Secret Scripture (Faber), of which I imagine the talkSPORT synopsis might be ‘an old woman inside an Irish loony bin tells her life story’. In fact, I found it mesmerising. It is a simultaneous narrative, in which a doctor attempts to discover why an elderly woman was committed to a Sligo asylum, while she confides her life story to a secret memoir, in which she tells, in intimate and moving detail, how the tides of modern Irish history washed against her life. Climate, countryside and a malignant Catholic priest are all brilliantly rendered. Barry’s prose is brisk and vivid and at times terribly moving.”

John Prescott (blog) – Politician

What Does China Think? (Fourth Estate) by Mark Leonard is an excellent analysis of the current debate under way in China regarding its future development. An especially important read for all of us concerned about finding global solutions to global problems.”

Kirsty Wark – Television presenter

Kate Summerscale‘s non-fiction whodunnit The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (Bloomsbury) reads like a thriller. She researched a famous murder in 1860, of a three-year-old boy in a country house whose inhabitants were siblings, parents, a governess and servants. But what gave this book such an edge was the author’s meticulous detailing, down to the weather on the day of the murder. Toni Morrison‘s latest novel A Mercy (Chatto) goes back to the 1680s and the chaotic beginnings of slavery. In her vivid story centring on one young slave, Florens, Morrison reveals the tragedy of slavery and how it also involved Native Americans and even whites.”

Vivienne Westwood – Fashion designer

“In The Road (Picador) by Cormac McCarthy – actually published last year – a man and his son are ‘on the road’ in a world where nothing lives except for a few human beings. The two must keep going to find food and to avoid groups of cannibals. This is a story of love so total that it shines like a beacon on our human resources for good. Though harrowing, it’s great literature.”

Toni Morrison also gets a special mention from President-elect Barack Obama as he and John McCain talk about their favourite books in a CBS interview below:

Discussion:
Later on today we will be posting a topic whereby you will be able to discuss your favourite reads of 2008 so be sure to come back for that, but right now let’s have some fun. What famous people would you like to think read what books? For example, the editor would like to think George W. Bush’s favourite book was Where The Wild Things Are (an easy one we know). Post your suggestions below and let’s all have a giggle.

Words: Dean Samways

Costa Book Awards shortlist announced

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Some of the nominees in the running for the Costa Book Award 2008 (picture by The Guardian)

Some of the nominees in the running for the Costa Book Awards 2008 (picture by The Guardian)

The shortlist for the 2008 Costa Book Awards has been announced. The prestigious award attracted 616 entries this year, which have been narrowed down to four books in five categories.

Judges on this year’s panels (three judges per category) include author Lisa Jewell, actress and writer Pauline McLynn, journalist, writer and broadcaster Michael Burke, poet and broadcaster Roger McGough CBE; and writer Victoria Hislop. The final judging panel will be announced in mid-December.

The winner of each category will be announced on the 6 January 2009 with the overall winner of the 2008 Costa Book Award announced on 27 January at a lavish awards ceremony in London.

The shortlisted books are:

Costa First Novel Award:

Costa Children’s Book Award:

Costa Biography Award:

Costa Novel Award:

Costa Poetry Award:

Have a look at the award video for the winner of last year’s accolade, A.L. Kennedy, by clicking below:

Discussion:
So what do you think of the shortlists?  Are there any omissions you’re particularly surprised about? Has anyone read any of the listed books? What did you think?

Words: Seamus Swords