- Limerick Literary Festival 2021 | Kate O'Brien Award
26 - 28 February 2021

Congratulations to Elaine Feeney, Kate O'Brien 2021 Award Winner for As You Were, published by Harvill Secker

Announcing the shortlist for the 6th annual Kate O’Brien Award for a debut novel from an Irish female author. The Award will be presented as part of the 37th annual Limerick Literary Festival in Honour of Kate O’Brien in February 2021. It is one of Ireland's most vibrant and successful festivals which has been running since 1984 and it showcases in a diverse and eclectic programme the best in Irish and international contemporary literature. The Festival takes place online from February 26th to 28th broadcast from Limerick City. The event continues to honour the life and works of the Limerick author, while attracting prominent participants from all over the world. Building on this significant history, the Limerick Literary Festival seeks to promote Limerick nationally as a place of literary excellence and to provide a platform where readers can meet their favourite authors and other readers.

The winner of the award will be chosen from the following shortlist;

Shortlist judge Vivienne McKechnie commented on the high standard of all the submissions. "It has been a wonderful year of debut novels for Irish female writers, the standard was very high this year with a wide range of genres including crime, intrigue, romance, as well as literary fiction and short stories, with so many submissions of such high calibre that it was impossible to reduce the shortlist to four and we felt that the six chosen represented the wonderful range of talent emerging in Ireland today. We have a very strong shortlist and it will be difficult to choose a winner. We were delighted by the imaginative journeys we were taken on"

The panel of readers for the award included Limerick Literary Festival Committee members Vivienne McKechnie, Eileen O’Connor, Marie Hackett and alongside Donal Ryan and Niall MacMonagle

The Kate O’Brien Award comes with a €2000 cash Prize sponsored by Bill and Denise Whelan.

Rachel Donoghue - The Temple House Vanishing

Twenty-five years ago, a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl and her charismatic teacher disappeared without trace...

In an elite Catholic girls' boarding-school the pupils live under the repressive, watchful gaze of the nuns. Seeking to break from the cloistered atmosphere two of the students - Louisa and Victoria - quickly become infatuated with their young, bohemian art teacher, and act out passionately as a result. That is, until he and Louisa suddenly disappear.

Years later, a journalist uncovers the troubled past of the school and determines to resolve the mystery of the missing pair. The search for the truth will uncover a tragic, mercurial tale of suppressed desire and long-buried secrets. It will shatter lives and lay a lost soul to rest.

The Temple House Vanishing is a stunning, intensely atmospheric novel of unrequited longing, dark obsession and uneasy consequences.

Alice Lyons - Oona

What is the sound of a voice that is alienated from itself? How can one truthfully represent the creative process of an artist? Oona, an artist-in-the-making, lives in an affluent suburban culture of first-generation immigrants in New Jersey where conspicuous consumption and white privilege prevail, and the denial of death is ubiquitous. The silence surrounding death extends to the family home where Oona is not told while her mother lies dying of cancer upstairs. Afterwards, a silence takes hold inside her: her inner life goes into a deep freeze. Emotionally hobbled, she has her first encounters with sex, drugs and other trials of adolescence.

Lyons’ first novel gives voice to a female character on her fraught journey into adulthood and charts her evolution as an artist, as her adolescent dissociation is thawed through contact with the physical world, the materials of painting and her engagement with Irish community, culture and landscape.

Set during the era of the Celtic Tiger and its aftermath, this is a resonant story conveyed in an innovative form. Written entirely without the letter ‘o’, the tone of the book reflects Oona’s inner damage and the destruction caused by hiding, omitting and obliterating parts of ourselves.

Marianne Lee - A Quiet Tide

At the time of her death in 1815, twenty-nine-year-old Ellen Hutchins had catalogued over a thousand species of seaweed and plants from her native Bantry Bay. Ireland’s first female botanist, Ellen was a major contributor to nineteenth-century scientific discovery. And yet, like so many brilliant women lost in history, it is her personal story that will resonate today.

In her remarkable debut novel, Marianne Lee fuses fact with fiction to imagine Ellen’s rich but tormented inner life, repressed by the gender and class confines of her time. Unmarried, childless and sickly, Ellen is considered an ‘unsuccessful’ woman, dutifully bound to her family’s once grand and isolated estate, Ballylickey House. Still, she glimpses a happiness and autonomy she can never quite articulate as she reaches for meaning and expression, until the eruption of a long-simmering family feud and the rise of Ellen’s own darkness – her ‘quiet tide’ – will conspire to destroy her fragile future.

A Quiet Tide is a life examined, a heartbreaking, inspiring story that at last captures the essence and humanity of a long-forgotten Irishwoman.

Elaine Feeney - As You Were

Sinéad Hynes is a tough, driven, funny young property developer with a terrifying secret.

No-one knows it: not her fellow patients in a failing hospital, and certainly not her family. She has confided only in Google and a shiny magpie.

But she can’t go on like this, tirelessly trying to outstrip her past and in mortal fear of her future. Across the ward, Margaret Rose is running her chaotic family from her rose-gold Nokia. In the neighboring bed, Jane, rarely but piercingly lucid, is searching for a decent bra and for someone to listen. Sinéad needs them both.

As You Were is about intimate histories, institutional failures, the kindness of strangers, and the darkly present past of modern Ireland. It is about women’s stories and women’s struggles. It is about seizing the moment to be free.

Wildly funny, desperately tragic, inventive and irrepressible, As You Were introduces a brilliant voice in Irish fiction with a book that is absolutely of our times.

Michelle Gallen - Big Girl Small Town

Majella is happiest out of the spotlight, away from her neighbors’ stares and the gossips of the small town in Northern Ireland where she grew up just after the Troubles. She lives a quiet life caring for her alcoholic mother, working in the local chip shop, watching the regular customers come and go. She wears the same clothes each day (overalls, too small), has the same dinner each night (fish and chips, microwaved at home after her shift ends), and binge-watches old DVDs of the same show (Dallas, best show on TV) from the comfort of her bed.

But underneath Majella’s seemingly ordinary life are the facts that she doesn’t know where her father is and that every person in her town has been changed by the lingering divide between Protestants and Catholics. When Majella’s predictable existence is upended by the death of her granny, she comes to realize there may be more to life than the gossips of Aghybogey, the pub, and the chip shop. In fact, there just may be a whole big world outside her small town.

Told in a highly original voice, with a captivating heroine readers will love and root for, Big Girl, Small Town will appeal to fans of Sally Rooney, Ottessa Moshfegh, and accessible literary fiction with an edge.

Niamh Campbell - This Happy

When Alannah was twenty-three, she met a man who was older than her - a married man - and fell in love. Things happened suddenly. They met in April, in the first bit of mild weather; and in August, they went to stay in rural Ireland, overseen by the cottage's landlady.

Six years later, when Alannah is newly married to another man, she sees the landlady from afar. Memories of those days spent in bliss, then torture, return to her. And the realisation that she has been waiting - all this time - to be rediscovered.

The Kate O'Brien Award was established in 2015. It celebrates new Irish writing by a female author. It was established by the organising committee of the Kate O'Brien Weekend to celebrate Irish Women's Writing in memory of Kate O'Brien. It is an honorary award which celebrates debut Irish fiction; this award is a great affirmation for the debut winner and a recognition of the literary quality of the book. There is a presentation to the winner at the Limerick Literary Festival in honour of Kate O'Brien.

It is an award presented for debut book which could be either a book of short stories or a novel. The competition is open to debut female writers so long as they are Irish. There are no age or geographic limitations. The shortlist is announced at the beginning of January and the shortlisted authors are invited to the Festival, where the winner is announced.

In 2015, the winner was Martine Madden for her novel Anyush.

In 2016, the shortlist was Caitriona Lally with Eggshells, Danielle McLaughlin with Dinosaurs On Other Planets, Doreen Finn with My Buried Life, and Sara Baume with Spill Simmer Falter Wither. 2016 winner was Sara Baume.

In 2017, the shortlist for the award was Tanya Farrelly with When Black Dogs Sing, Roisin O'Donnell with Wild Quiet and E.M. Reapy with Red Dirt. The winner of the Kate O'Brien 2017 award was Tanya Farrelly.

In 2018, the shortlist for the award was Lisa Harding with Harvesting, Maria Hoey with The Last Lost Girl, Andrea Mara with The Other Side Of the Wall, and Sally Rooney with Conversations With Friends. The winner of the Kate O'Brien 2018 award was Lisa Harding for her novel Harvesting.

In 2019, the shortlist for the award was Eileen Battersby with Teethmarks On My Tongue, Rebecca O'Connor with He Is Mine And I Have No Other, Caroline O'Donoghue with Promising Young Women, Sue Rainsford with Follow Me To Ground, and Dervla McTiernan with The Rúin. The winner of the Kate O'Brien 2019 award was Sue Rainsford.

In 2020, the shortlist for the award was Sarah Davis Goff with Last Ones Left Alive, Nicole Flattery with Show Them A Good Time, Lucy Sweeney Byrne with Paris Syndrome, and Anne Griffin with When All is Said. The winner of the Kate O'Brien 2020 award was Nicole Flattery.

We celebrate the shortlisted authors and the winner on the Sunday of the Festival.

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