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City of Books Podcast with Louis de Bernières – New Episode

Louis de Bernieres in Edinburgh 2010. Picture by Ivon Bartholomew 2010.


Louis de Bernières always knows which novel people are talking about when they tell him: “I’ve read your book.” He says he’s written more than fifteen, but Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is the one people focus on.

He novels, poetry collections, short stories and children’s fiction under his belt, won a Costa Novel Award and a clutch of Commonwealth Writers Prizes. But whatever he does, Corelli is his defining work.

He is grateful for what the novel has given him and has fond memories of socialising with Penelope Cruz and John Hurt while the film was being shot, he tells Martina Devlin in the latest City of Books podcast.

The Norfolk-based author sets his books in exotic destinations, from Pakistan to Turkey to Canada to Australia and, of course Greece – but has never located a novel in Ireland although he seizes any opportunity to visit.

There are too many excellent Irish writers, he says, and he’s not convinced he could add anything to the body of literature. He mentions Donal Ryan as one he particularly enjoys.

His latest book, recently published, is the third in a trilogy, The Autumn of the Ace, which describes the life of World War One flying hero Daniel Pitts. It follows The Dust that Falls from Dreams and So Much Life Left Over.

The trilogy is created from his interpretation of what happened to his grandparents’ lives. His grandmother’s fiancée was killed in action in 1918 and she married another local boy, his grandfather – but never recovered from the loss of her first love.

The couple separated and Louis’s father always felt abandoned by his dad. But Louis decided it was time to track down his grandfather’s version of events – and the trilogy ensued.

For more on The Autumn of the Ace (published by Harvill Secker):

For the podcast listen here or look for City of Books on Spotify and Apple.


City of Books Podcast with Doireann Ní Ghríofa


In her first podcast interview since being named winner of the An Post Irish Book of the Year award for 2020, Doireann Ní Ghríofa describes how she shares her life with a famous eighteenth-century widow – Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill. When she began the literary detective work that resulted in A Ghost in the Throat, Doireann began to feel a strong sense of Eibhlín Dubh’s presence.

Her book is an original and compelling work which pays tribute to a passionate love affair that ended in tragedy. It traces the life of Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, an Irish noblewoman and poet – composer of Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire or The Lament For Art O’Leary, which she recited over her husband’s dead body.

Composed in Irish and translated later into English, it has been described as the greatest poem of the era. It outlines how she eloped with a dashing cavalryman, murdered in 1773 by a tyrannical landowner.

Doireann Ní Ghríofa. Photo: Bríd O’Donovan

Doireann tells the City of Books podcast, presented by Martina Devlin, that she was quite a lonesome child and young mother but since becoming immersed in the story “I haven’t felt so lonesome – I have the sense that she’s with me”.

She adds: “I’m not alone in having Eibhlín Dubh’s presence, I think.” Many people also feel a connection with Eibhlín Dubh, and have written to her saying they believe they know what happened to her afterwards.

Doireann’s book, in which she weaves reflections on her own life through a meditation on Eibhlín Dubh’s, says: “He was a bit of a bould character. Art, this man Eibhlín Dubh fell madly in love with – he was wild, he was really wild. That element of his personality was what drew both of them almost inevitably towards the tragedy.”

The lament’s power echoes down the centuries and means we keep coming back to “this amazing woman and she’s always there to meet us,” she adds. Doireann has also written six poetry collections.

Listen to the podcast here

“The Truth About Secret and Lies” City of Books Podcast with Eoin McNamee


Writer Eoin McNamee blurs fact and fiction to produce art, whether exploring the activities of secret intelligence agencies or speculating why Princess Diana died in a high speed car accident.

His novels are both gritty and poetic – beautifully written noir – and have earned him a Booker nomination.

But they sometimes attract criticism for being near the knuckle, although he sees that as their function, he tells Martina Devlin in the latest episode of City of Books.

His most recent novel, The Vogue, is set in the North where a corpse is dug up, and other secrets uncovered along with it. “A wonderfully eerie, tragic read” is how Milkman author Anna Burns describes it.

Elsewhere in the podcast, he says he never imagined writing his novel 12:23, about Diana’s death in Paris in 1997. But he took on the subject because he saw parallels with Northern Ireland, where he grew up near the border.

“There you have one of the most valuable heads in the world and she’s driving through Paris and there are no security people around her. Nobody is keeping an eye on her. Nobody’s watching her. Why? Why is nobody watching her? Where are the people?”

He said this scenario was familiar from the Troubles, when there were cases of security forces stepping back to facilitate paramilitary-led assassinations.

“There is a name for it. They sanitise an area – they withdraw all security forces from it to give them a clear run in. Is this what happened (with Diana)? Did they sanitise it? The more you look at it the stranger it gets. Something terribly untoward happened.”

Elsewhere in the podcast, he discusses writing episodes for the Netflix series Valhalla, a Vikings offshoot.And he insists it’s not a writer’s job to be a moral arbiter.

“If a writer accepts that, it almost emasculates them. All of a sudden you allow yourself to become a public figure and they’re putting your face on a tea towel and calling a warship after you.

“Writing should be transgressive. The actual authority lies in the art.”

His latest novel is The Vogue, published by Faber, more info here:

:: City of Books is funded by the Arts Council of Ireland, supported by Dublin UNESCO City of Literature and MOLI, and is available free on all podcast platforms.




Dublin Book Festival 2020

The Dublin Book Festival is one of Ireland’s most successful and vibrant book festivals, running since June 2006. This year, they are taking the festival online, with launches, podcasts and interactive events for our audiences all taking place from the comfort of your own home!

In response to the level 5 lockdown, they have created DBF Snug, a specially curated package of events running from Tuesday 10th November to Friday 13th November. They hope that this mini-festival helps bring comfort and solace to their audiences during these strange times. They have something for everyone at DBF Snug, but a must-see highlight is our evening with former President, Mary McAleese who will be joining them for a conversation about her new book Heres The Story.

The main festival will run from 27th November to 6th December with a dedicated programme for children and families and also for schools. There are events for writers and readers of all ages!

They are kicking off the festival with some stellar events beginning with an evening of conversation and music with Kevin Barry, Roddy Doyle and Christine Dwyer Hickey in partnership with the RTE Radio One Arena Live show. We are also looking forward to Dublin City Libraries Readers’ Day with Marian Keyes and Roisin Ingle and our live event with the An Post Irish Book Awards winners! Plus many, many more events and all of them FREE!

Dublin UNESCO City of Literature and Dublin City Council are proud to support Dublin Book Festival

Be sure to check out our website and secure your tickets here:

HOW RULE-BREAKING LED TO THE OSCARS – City of Books Podcast with Emma Donoghue

Working with film maker Lenny Abrahamson was a highlight of her career and she learned a lot from him – including why some rules should be broken, says writer Emma Donoghue.

She has taken on more film and TV projects as a result of their collaboration on the 2016 Oscar-winning film Room, based on her novel by the same name.

That positive experience “wouldn’t be true of every writer’s who’s tangled with Hollywood,” she admits.

Lenny, who won plaudits recently with the series Normal People based on the Sally Rooney book, taught Emma to ignore the rules in screenwriting manuals. It proved useful advice when it came to adapting her story about a woman held as a sex slave for seven years, and how she tried to shield her rapist’s child born during the ordeal.

“Lenny was great for freeing me from the rules because he’s so steeped in cinema, he knows when you need those rules and when you don’t,” Emma tells the City of Books podcast. She won an Oscar nomination for her script, and Brie Larson won a best actress gong for playing Ma.

“Like any newbie to a genre you tend to learn the rules a bit too stiffly. So I had learned the rule that you should get into a film scene late and get out early. In other words, make the scene as short as possible.

“Lenny was like, ‘No, no that’s when you’re trying to impress someone and get them to buy your script but we’re already making this film together. In this case can you please write me long scenes like a wildlife documentary. I just want loads and loads of this woman and boy interacting and I will find the places to cut.’”

Lenny’s “extraordinary film brought out the cinematic qualities” of her multi-award-winning book, also turned into a play. Room won four Oscar nominations, while the novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Elsewhere in the podcast Emma talks about the coincidences in her latest novel, The Pull of the Stars. It’s set in a Dublin hospital during the 1918 flu pandemic, with parallels that sound a familiar note today.

Just as she finished writing it, the Covid-19 virus struck. Her publishers fast-tracked it because of how closely it chimes with the times.

For more on Emma’s book: Click HERE

City of Books is supported by Dublin UNESCO City of Literature and MOLI The Museum of Literature Ireland.

They are available on the usual platforms including Apple and Spotify.


UNESCO City of Literature Virtual Residency Opportunity

The National Centre for Writing, based in Norwich UNESCO City of Literature, is offering three virtual residencies for writers or literary translators from other UNESCO cities of literature, in February 2021. During the month-long residency, the virtual writers and translators in residence will be asked to explore connections between Norwich and their own UNESCO city of literature, and to work on a range of commissions. They will receive a fee of £1,500.


The commissions may include:


  • Writing (in your own language) or translating (into English) one short story, essay or series of poems (up to 2000 words) that can be shared on the NCW website;
  • Taking part in an online Meet the World event with the other writers in residence;
  • Recording one podcast with a writer from Norwich UNESCO City of Literature as part of the NCW Writing Life series of podcasts;
  • Contributing your top five writing tips to the writing tips section of the NCW blog;
  • Running a workshop with Lit from the Inside, our youth group exploring the literary arts scene in Norwich and elsewhere;
  • Writing a walk for the Walking Norwich section of the NCW website, which explores the real and imagined city;
  • Providing a reading list of recommended books from your UNESCO City of Literature (available in English or in English translation in the UK) for the NCW website, some of which may be promoted as a package by the Book Hive in Norwich.


If you are interested in this opportunity, please send an application which should include the following information:


  • Why you are interested in Norwich and this virtual residency opportunity;
  • What you will bring to it and what you hope to get out of it;
  • Your project for exploring connections between Norwich and your UNESCO City of Literature;
  • Your connections with a UNESCO City of Literature;
  • Your CV, including publication record.


Please send your application to The deadline for applications is Monday 16th November 2020.


Irish Author Anna Burns wins the 25th International DUBLIN Literary Award for Milkman

Dublin City Council announces Milkman by Anna Burns as the winner of the

2020 International DUBLIN Literary Award

Award-winning Irish novelist claims €100,000 prize

Irish author Anna Burns has won the 2020 International DUBLIN Literary Award, sponsored by Dublin City Council, for her novel Milkman (published by Faber & Faber and Graywolf Press). With prize money of €100,000, the Award is the world’s largest prize for a single novel published in English. Anna Burns is the first writer from Northern Ireland and the fourth woman to claim the prestigious award in its 25-year history.

Uniquely, the Award receives its nominations from public libraries in cities around the globe and recognises both writers and translators. The winner was announced on the morning of Thursday the 22nd October at a special online event as part of the International Literature Festival Dublin which runs online until Oct 28th.  The announcement was delivered from the Gravity Bar at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, 43 metres above ground level, as well as the Irish Embassy, London, where speakers and interviews had been filmed at an earlier date (before newly announced level 5 restrictions).  The award is usually presented by Owen Keegan, Chief Executive of Dublin City Council in the Mansion House each year, however due to the pandemic the Award organisers were unable to invite the winner to travel to Dublin from her home in England for the ceremony.  On this occasion, Ambassador of Ireland to the United Kingdom, Mr Adrian O’Neill, was delighted to present Irish author Anna Burns with her award.


Commenting on her win, Anna Burns said; ‘What an honour. I’m thrilled to bits and am about to break into my sevens with the excitement of it all!

This is an extraordinary honour – especially given the fantastic list I find myself on. I thank the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Hazel Chu, and Dublin City Council for being the patron and the host of this generous award. Also I salute them for representing Dublin’s position at the cultural heart of world wide literature’

Anna went on to praise libraries and talk about how much they meant to her as a child in Belfast. She said: ‘ To go from being a wee girl haggling over library cards with my siblings, my friends, neighbours, my parents and my aunt, to be standing here today receiving this award is phenomenal for me, and I thank you all again for this great honour.’

Speaking at the winner announcement,  Lord Mayor and Patron of the Award, Hazel Chu, remarked:

‘What a wonderful book and massively talented writer! The judges should be very proud of their work as it wasn’t easy to choose a winner from among this very strong shortlist. I was so delighted to open that envelope and see Milkman written on the card! I wish to extend huge congratulations to Anna Burns.’

Anna Burns was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She is the author of three novels, No Bones, Little Constructions and Milkman, and of the novella Mostly Hero. No Bones won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Milkman won the 2018 Man Booker Prize. She lives in East Sussex, England.

About Milkman: In an unnamed city, where to be interesting is dangerous, an eighteen-year-old woman has attracted the unwanted and unavoidable attention of a powerful and frightening older man, ‘Milkman’. In this community, where suggestions quickly become fact, where gossip and hearsay can lead to terrible consequences, what can she do to stop a rumour once it has started? Milkman is persistent, the word is spreading, and she is no longer in control.

Borrow the Book

Copies of the winning novel, the shortlisted books and the full list of novels longlisted for the 2020 award are available to borrow from Dublin’s public libraries and from public libraries around Ireland. Readers can also borrow the winning novel on BorrowBox: eBooks and eAudiobooks for limited periods by way of digital loans. Further details about the Award and the winning novel are available on the Award website at

The 2020 judging panel, which is led by Professor Chris Morash of Trinity College Dublin, and includes Yannick Garcia, Shreela Ghosh, Niall MacMonagle, Cathy Rentzenbrink and Zoë Strachan commented:

‘Reading this book is an immersive experience. Once experienced, Anna Burns’ Milkman will never be forgotten. The reader becomes the world of the book. There was simply no other novel like it on the longlist. Many novels come and go but this tour-de-force is a remarkable achievement. We read it with huge admiration and gratitude. When we finished it, we felt enriched, informed, wiser.

A description of what this original book is about fails to do it justice. Its brilliance lies in its compelling, questioning voice, its strong individual, resilient narrator, its evocation of place, its threatening and sinister atmosphere, its description of what Burns calls lives of ‘nervous caution’.

Milkman soon emerged as a frontrunner and naming it our eventual winner was a unanimous decision.’

Milkman was nominated by public libraries in the UK, USA and Germany, as well as Limerick City & County Libraries.  The winning novel was chosen from a shortlist of 10 novels by writers from Canada, France, India, Iran, Ireland, Poland, the UK and the USA. Eight of this years shortlisted novels are by female authors.

The Award Ceremony is available to watch on our YouTube channel.



Senior Times Podcast Series

A new series of the Senior Times podcast has been launched. It includes interviews by Mary Kennedy with Patricia Scanlan, and Mike Murphy chatting to John Banville. Mike also chats to Kathleen Watkins about Yeats’ poetry. Upcoming interviews will include Christine Dwyer Hickey, Rachel English, Liz Nugent, Mary McAleese and Cathy Kelly.

You can listen on whatever platform you normally listen to podcasts such as Spotify, Soundcloud and Apple Podcasts

Here’s a preview of what’s coming up over the next few months

International Dublin Literary Award Winner Event – 22nd October 11am


Join RTE broadcaster and book enthusiast Rick O’Shea from the Gravity Bar at the Guinness Storehouse on Thursday 22nd October at 11am for the announcement of the 25th Winner of the International Dublin Literary Award.

The online Award ceremony takes places during this year’s International Literature Festival Dublin for the first time, as part of an exciting new partnership. 

Be sure to book your FREE ticket here.


Booking is required.

The International Dublin Literary Award, now in its twenty-fifth year, is the world’s most valuable annual prize for a single work of fiction published in English, with the winner receiving €100,000. It is open to novels written in any language and by authors of any nationality, provided the book has been published in English or English translation. Uniquely, books are nominated by libraries in major cities throughout the world. It is sponsored solely by Dublin City Council.

Click below for full details of the 10 shortlisted books