I’m not hugely enthralled, I have to say, with the idea that the prizes in the Irish Book Awards will be decided, in part at least, by a public vote. I do appreciate that a public vote means raising the profile of the Awards, and by extension that of all the writers involved, and that this can only be a good thing; and God knows the publishing industry in Ireland, and all who sail in her, could do with all the help they can get right now.
That said, it just doesn’t feel right to harangue people to vote for your book. For starters, I’m not very good at asking people for favours. If I was, I wouldn’t have retreated into a silent room to fabricate fantastical versions of reality; I’d have gone into politics, and told the whole world any old lie they wanted to hear.
It’s also true that anyone who spends any time on Twitter or Facebook, et al, is badgered on a daily basis to vote for people and things they’ve never heard of before, which rather undermines the whole basis of the award process in the first place. Literary awards aren’t some kind of Olympic Games, in which there’s only one clear winner; but even allowing for the inevitable intrusion of taste, opinion and prejudice, a literary award should aspire to reward quality rather than quantity. I don’t believe it should become a popularity contest, especially as we already have the bestseller lists as a reasonable guide to a writer’s popularity (or - koff - lack of same).
And even if you confine your ‘Vote for Me-Me-Me!’ requests to those people who have already read and liked your book, that’s a bit much too. You’ve already asked people to pay good money for the book, and to devote their precious reading time to your tome. To ask any more is a little rude, I think.
Mind you - and this may sound perverse, or even hypocritical - I do like the notion of the various shortlists being established by public vote, with a panel of judges then deciding which of the shortlisted offerings is the best. Does that make any sense? Or is it just replicating the issues outlined above, but at an earlier stage in the process?
Anyway, I won’t be asking you to vote for my own book this year, but given that the system is what it is, I’m more than happy to point out some shortlisted books that I’ve read and enjoyed, and which you might well enjoy too if you haven’t already. To wit:
In the Popular Fiction category, Marian Keyes is nominated for THE MYSTERY OF MERCY CLOSE, which is a very funny take on the private eye novel but one that’s pretty dark and poignant too. Incidentally, Melissa Hill is shortlisted here as well, for THE CHARM BRACELET; I haven’t read it, but I was surprised that Casey Hill’s TORN didn’t make the Crime Fiction shortlist.So there you have it. The Irish Book Awards - vote early, folks, but not often …
Over in the Novel of the Year category we have Keith Ridgway’s HAWTHORN & CHILD, another crime-influenced tome, albeit a crime novel in which all the conventional narrative gambits have been excised. A very interesting offering. I’ve also read Kevin Barry’s DARK LIES THE ISLAND, which I’d be inclined to vote for out of sheer devilment, simply because it’s collection of short stories shortlisted for novel of the year.
In the Crime Fiction category, I’ve gone on record many times to say that Tana French’s BROKEN HARBOUR is a superb piece of work, and well worth your time. Part police procedural, part psychological thriller, it’s easily the most terrifying book on any of the shortlists this year. Also in contention is TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT by Niamh O’Connor, a writer I’ve huge admiration for.
I haven’t read any of the titles in the Sports Book of the Year category, but if Keith Duggan’s surfing tome THE CLIFFS OF INSANITY is half as good as his weekly columns in the Irish Times then it’s probably an instant classic. Also, it rips its title from THE PRINCESS BRIDE, which means Keith Duggan should be conferred with sainthood in time for Christmas.
In the Children’s Book of the Year category it’s very difficult to see past Eoin Colfer’s ARTEMIS FOWL AND THE LAST GUARDIAN, which is a stonking good read, very funny, and a satisfying climax to the Artemis Fowl epic cycle. I loved it.
Finally, the Bookshop of the Year category features ye olde Gutter Bookshop in Temple Bar, Dublin, which has hosted more book launches of mine than I care to remember (two, to be precise). A fine emporium, and well worth your patronage.