Six Books for Christmas

Give the gift of reading as Damian Smyth selects some of the best works published by local writers over the past 12 months

Spend some charming, magical and mesmerising quality time in the twilight zone with Marie Heaney’s All Through The Night: poems and lullabies. Launched recently in Waterstones in Belfast, the book gathers gems from the sleepy lands by the likes of Shakespeare, Dickinson,  Durcan, Plath, Keats,  Mahon,  Ní Chuilleanáin, Ní Dhomhnaill and from the work of her late husband, our great poet Seamus Heaney.

The publishing sensation of 2016 in Ireland is undoubtedly The Glass Shore (New Island Books, edited by RTÉ’s Sinéad Gleeson), short stories by women writers from the north of Ireland and winner of the Bord Gais Best Irish-Published Book of the Year a few weeks back. ‘Ground-breaking’ is an overused term, but with classics such as Janet McNeill, Polly Devlin and Mary Beckett joining contemporary wordsmiths Lucy Caldwell, Bernie McGill, Jan Carson and Sheila Llewellyn, this astonishing collection is one for the bookshelves for generations to come.

If you have a particularly big stocking, how about the five-volume Collected Plays of Brian Friel (Gallery Press), who died in 2015. The massive joint publishing venture between Ireland’s Gallery Press and Faber & Faber, with joint Arts Council NI/Arts Council of Ireland funding, is now definitive and complete.

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Temper your seasonal sentimentality with some home truths from Inspector Celsius Daly, as he returns in Trespass, the latest thriller from Tyrone’s best-selling Anthony J Quinn, investigating abduction, smuggling and organised crime in today’s Ulster borderlands.

For a less treacherous traipse around the border country, tag along with Garret Carr and The Rule of the Land (Faber), what is shaping up already to be a classic non-fiction account of a journey by foot and canoe – don’t ask – which is soaked in storytelling, bizarre facts and seriously old lore.

A favourite for younger readers, as well as with anyone with a taste for historical fiction at its best, will be Sheena Wilkinson’s Name Upon Name (Little Island), a stunning and moving novel set in Belfast in 1916, as a family is riven by rival allegiances in the heat of national conflict. One of our best children’s writers getting to grips with a shared past.

This article was originally published on the Arts Council of Northern Ireland's website. Read more including their Christmas Gift Guide at www.artscouncil-ni.org/blog.