“I’m going to go to the Irish book awards this year,” I proudly told one of my closest friends @supasambo back at the start of the year. “Let’s go together, it’ll be fun.”
I presumed you bought your ticket willy nilly on line – like any event, ticket master style. I had a budget price in my head.
And then it came round to ticket time and I realised it wasn’t as simple as that. It was an industry event – it wasn’t something you rocked up to – you had to apply to be invited if you weren’t working in publishing or in the very enviable role of being a shortlisted author. And the tickets were expensive.
Cinderalla wasn’t going to the book ball.
And then I won two tickets. To the green room. And an overnight stay at the Hilton Hotel, where the awards were taking place.
So I did what every self-respecting literary go-getter does. I ditched my friend and told her my husband would be going instead. She could babysit.
Aren’t I a very nice friend?
In truth, @supasambo wouldn’t have been able to make it on the night, but she knew how much the event meant to me as an aspiring author and someone who has been getting to know writers and publishers over the past year. So she was excited as I was, and everything fell into place for us.
And then it was time to get ready.
This took longer than normal, for various reasons. One, I’m getting to the later stages of pregnancy now – it’s hard to look and feel great, when you there’s a hijacking alien on board. Two – I haven’t been out in ages and I forgot all the prep that goes into getting glam. (Cue the sound of jackhammers from the bathroom as I chiselled body parts back to presentable fashion). Three – I spend most of my time, writing, reading or blogging now. I do this in my pajamas. Do you know how far removed glamourous award ceremonies are from my
yummy mummy life right now?
So… you can imagine the excitement on the day itself. The professionals were visited. They did things to my face and hair that I can only dream about doing myself. They did such good work that I even took a selfie. (You know they’ve done good work, when your mother calls to tell you, she didn’t recognise you in the picture – I didn’t know who it was, she says) (Sigh.)
We checked into the hotel and made our way to the green room for our briefing. We were told that we’d be filming interviews with the winning authors throughout the night and in between being fed, watered and pooching in our goody bags, we had to sit attentively and not ask to go to the loo between breaks. This put the scare of bejaysus across me – any pregnant lady will tell you peeing happens nearly as often as breathing at this stage, but how and ever – I crossed my legs and vowed to get on with it. This was the price of TV background fame.
Holding the fort and interviewing the winning authors was Evelyn O’Rourke, who cracked jokes with us and was generally completely sound all round. I thought she was a fantastic host – more of Evelyn on the tellybox please.
After the briefing we had time to go out to the reception area and watch everyone arrive. I was dying to walk the red carpet but was too afraid as a yet-to-be published author. Maybe next year, eh?! Here’s a quick snap video I took to give you an idea of the buzz – watch out for my hubby at the end who was out to make my night as entertaining as possible.
We made our way back to the green room just ahead of the awards kicking off. The first person who wandered into the green room was none other than Jilly Cooper. What a lady. She told us she’d spent 15 years researching Riders. 15 years! She said as a journalist she always researched first and it made writing so much easier then. She was genuinely chuffed to receive her International Recognition Award, presented my Marian Keyes. When she was getting up to leave, a possy of women attacked her with half hugs and handshakes. I heard one woman cry ‘you were my sex education!’
There then flowed all the winning authors. Liz Nugent was up first who was warm and funny and told us to watch out for an ITV series of her novel very soon. She was chosen as RTÉ Radio One’s The Ryan Tubridy Show Listener’s Choice Award for Lying in Wait. Next we watched Sinead Gleeson graciously accept her The Journal.ie Best Irish Published Book of the Year for The Glass Shore; an anthology of stories from women writers from the North of Ireland. She told us not to expect an anthology from her next year as she concentrates on her own writing – in fact she said if she is back with an anthology she’ll be annoyed with herself! Kathleen Watkins (who is married to Gay Byrne) and Margaret Anne Suggs told us all about Pigin of Howth – Children’s Book of the Year Junior and Dave Rudden bounded into the room all beard and energy and excitement. “You’ll enjoy this guy,” I told my hubby, having seen him speak at events before and I was right – you can’t help but smile at Rudden’s bubbly personality of rapid chatter and enthusiasm. He scooped the award for Children’s Book of the Year Senior for Knights of the Borrowed Dark, which is all about magic he told us. I got speaking to him towards the end of the night and hope to feature him in How I Write soon.
Throughout our time in the green room, we switched tables and swapped chairs to change the scenery for the viewing public. We wondered if we would manage to make it into the ‘golden’ seats – these were the ones in view of the cameras. We had all but given up hope until the very last guests, when we somehow ended up right in view for Paul O’Connell’s interview, who won Sports Book of the Year for his biography The Battle. There was much hilarity when we realised the hubby was completely blocked from view by the sheer size of O’Connell himself. And this was after they lowered the sports star chair almost to the ground.
The energy in the room changed when it was sensed that a Mr Graham Norton would be arriving to chat with Evelyn about his book Holding which scooped the most Popular Fiction Book of the Year. We held our breath and cheered when he arrived into the room, all flurry and booming voice – boy can the man project.
By this point I had been asked by one of the TV team to swap chairs. I was wearing red and it was very prominent on camera, so they needed to move me for the interview. The seat they put me into was – no word of a lie, about three inches from Norton himself. I felt like I was sitting right on top of him – I was closer than Evelyn, who was interviewing him. I was practically in his lap.
Poor Graham – later in the bar, we saw him being accosted by some worse for wear guests who were hugging him and no doubt, confessing their undying love for his wit and Friday night support week in week out. A stream of people approached for back gropes and pics and we watched it, in our soberness, thinking, isn’t fame mad altogether? For that reason, we didn’t approach ourselves for a photo, but I can claim that we rubbed shoulders. At least my bump rubbed his shoulder. Kinda.
In his interview he told us how much he enjoyed writing fiction – what an escape it was, how he loved it so much more than writing non-fiction about his life- which felt like homework. He also was humble and said he understood how other full time writers might feel he was getting the prize because of his profile or because he was ‘Graham off the telly’, but when Evelyn compared his work to Maeve Binchy, he was moved and gracious.
We were present for 16 interviews in total. It was pretty intense and it takes a lot of energy to keep the momentum up for TV – we were hanging off our stools by the end.
When the cameras stopped rolling and the authors has lumbered back to the awards with their heavy pieces of glass, we too made our way next door for some unwinding.
I wasn’t mingling too much due to my lessened mobility at the moment but we did have great craic with Fionnan Sheahan from the Irish Independent, with Liz Reapy who took home Best Newcomer for her amazing book Red Dirt, with author ER Murray and her lovely hubby Mick and with Ciara Doorley from Hachette. I checked out Catherine Ryan Howard’s anchored accessories (related to her book Distress Signals) and was delighted to get time to hang out with Cat Hogan and her friend Sabia who were in the green room with us.
When we thought it was time to go we made our way to the lobby where we discovered a whole other possy of revellers in the bar so we dived right in and took up chats with 2FMs Rick O’Shea, who my hubby spent ages trying to identify, purely by his voice and who in turn identified me by my shoe, as I’d posted it on Twitter the night before with the hashtag #IBGEIBA. We talked cocktails, Colin O’Donoghue and Government memos with author Carmel Harrington and her hubby Roger, who was up for a gong in the Best Newcomer category and hung out with Hazel Gaynor (up for Popular Fiction Book of the Year) and her hubby Damian for a little bit before it was really time for bed.
What I so enjoyed about the night was the interesting people everywhere. I’ve always loved hanging out with writers, whether journalist or fiction writers. There was no sense of hierarchy that I could feel. We were all there for our love of books.
People. Books. And a bit of glamour thrown in.
What’s not to love?
Well done to the full list of Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards 2016 winners:
The Eason Book Club Novel of the Year
Solar Bones – Mike McCormack (Tramp Press)
TheJournal.ie Best Irish Published Book of the Year
The Glass Shore – edited by Sinéad Gleeson (New Island Books)
The Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year
Red Dirt – E.M. Reapy (Head of Zeus)
The National Book Tokens Non-Fiction Book of the Year
I Read The News Today, Oh Boy – Paul Howard (Picador)
RTÉ Radio One’s The Ryan Tubridy Show Listeners’ Choice Award
Lying In Wait – Liz Nugent (Penguin Ireland)
The Specsavers Children’s Book of the Year (Junior)
Pigín of Howth – Kathleen Watkins, illustrated by Margaret Anne Suggs (Gill Books)
The Specsavers Children’s Book of the Year (Senior)
Knights of the Borrowed Dark – Dave Rudden (Puffin)
The Avonmore Cookbook of the Year
The World of The Happy Pear – Stephen and David Flynn (Penguin Ireland)
The Irish Independent Popular Fiction Book of the Year
Holding – Graham Norton (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Ireland AM Popular Non-Fiction Book of the Year
Making It Up As I Go Along – Marian Keyes (Michael Joseph)
The Bord Gáis Energy Sports Book of the Year
The Battle – Paul O’Connell (Penguin Ireland)
The Books Are My Bag Crime Fiction Book of the Year
The Trespasser – Tana French (Hachette Ireland)
The Writing.ie Short Story of the Year Award
The Visit – Orla McAlinden (Sowilo Press)
The Listowel Writers’ Week Irish Poem of the Year
In Glasnevin – Jane Clarke (From: The Irish Times)
(List taken from www.writing.ie)
Hopefully we’ll be back next year. Until then, we’ve a whole new stack of books to read and authors to get to know.
Christmas is coming. Support Irish writers. Start a book club. It worked for Bord Gais.
I won my tickets through Bord Gais Energy Book Club Facebook page. You see these competitions are real! The book awards highlights are being broadcast on Rte One on Saturday 19th November at 11.10pm. Watch Paul O’Connell block out my entire husband 🙂