42nd Hennessy XO Literary Awards 2013

So, on Tuesday night I won the Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year Award.


Myself, Ruth Quinlan and John O’Donnell with our prizes

It’s very difficult to write about these (rare) instances of success without sounding smug – but I think it’s also important to mark the occasion, so please excuse any gloating and here goes:

I really didn’t expect to win anything this year. I had attended the awards in 2011 when the lovely Afric McGlinchy won and on that particular evening I was in knots, terrified and excited and hoping against tiny hope that I might win something. I was a little disappointed when I didn’t, but not surprised and absolutely delighted for Afric, whose poetry is musical, intelligent and rich with memorable imagery. This year, I approached the event feeling a little older and wiser, simply ready to enjoy the fact that I was invited to a cocktail party in the French Ambassador’s residence (on a Tuesday, no less!)

The other nominated poets were all extremely talented – Helena Nolan, Jane Clarke, Michael Ray, Jessamine O’Connor and Patrick Toland and I had absolutely no inkling that I might be in with a chance to win something. Hearing my name read out for the Emerging Poet category almost knocked me over and when I was called up to accept the overall prize I thought they’d have to take me out of the building on a stretcher. I managed to hold it together for my (completely unprepared) speech, but I’m pretty sure the Perspex lectern betrayed how badly my legs were shaking. This makes it sound like an ordeal – it wasn’t – it was fantastic (which, co-incidentally, was the only superlative I could come up with in the interviews afterwards. It was fantastic fantastic fantastic. Poetry howareya.)

Me and Declan working the red carpet.

I’d like to mention at this point that the work of the other category winners was really excellent. John O’Donnell’s story

was clear-voiced and engaging with a truly gripping narrative drive. Ruth Quinlan’s was elegant, sensual and demonstrated an enviably fluent and poetic turn of phrase. I’m looking forward to hearing more of their work in the future.

Moment of the evening that I will remember on my death bed? When Rupert Thomson, after saying some marvellously complimentary things about the winner’s work, said: ‘The winner of this year’s New Irish Writer Award…is a poet.’ There was a collective intake of breath and everyone in the room turned, just in time to catch me making a noise like a strangled moose. I may excise the moose part on my death bed, but the rest is gold.

You can hear Tara Quirke giving a beautiful rendition of my poem here:


The Indo’s report on the winners is here (love the headline – I managed to plug the day job!)


One thought on “42nd Hennessy XO Literary Awards 2013

  1. Jessica: A brief note to congratulate you. I didn’t get a chance to speak properly to you or Ruth on Tuesday evening. We did have our photos taken together briefly before the announcement when we chatted though I can’t recall about what. Maybe we should have twigged then; I was called out to join the two of you because I was told the photographer “needed a man”. But after the announcements things all seemd to happen so fast that I never really got to speak properly to you. I’d love to have sat down for a chat – and a drink – with the two of you, to find out more; where your writing comes from, where you’re going to, and so on.

    Maybe we’ll get another chance. I know Bryan MacMahon (he was in our game before he joined yours) and I know he was very proud of you; he texted me to this effect. I’m sure Fiach is very pleased also. (Maybe you should ask him to have a reading on the big stage…..).

    I look forward to reading your work. I’d be very grateful if you’d send me copies of the two poems. I’m sure you’ll find a publisher; your well-deserved award will doubtless increase your marketability.

    Anyway, I’ll sign off. Not sure when we’ll meet up again, but hope it’s soon. In the meantime, do send the poems. And if you have contact details for Ruth, send them on.

    Warm regards, and well done again

    John O’Donnell

    PS I like your website; can you tell me who designed it, how long it took, and what it cost???

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