Transcript of Kevin Barry’s Speech

Kevin Barry 6th June 2013 – Award Acceptance Speech

So now – here we are. Thanks very much indeed. I have to say I really love the old pomp and ceremony, you know. I tried to talk them into letting me descend from the ceiling on a velvet rope but there were kind of health and safety issues, I think, involved with that.

It’s an amazing honour to get this prize. It was a brilliant shortlist with writers I’ve read and loved for years on it, and I’m really thrilled to get it. And I have to thank lots and lots of people and not least of whom are of course the sponsors, IMPAC. Because this is a very lively addition to the finances. But actually, first of all, I really want to thank the three libraries that nominated my book in the first place.

And in kind of an odd way I feel connections with all three of them. Limerick City Library nominated City of Bohane, and I grew up in Limerick, and as a small odd little child I would have spent many hours and many days hiding from the sun inside in Limerick City Library, and the really great thing about libraries is that these small odd little children show up with pale faces on them and with no social skills and with strangely set eyes, and they’re immediately welcomed and embraced and told “In you go, here’s a whole world of books for you, and a whole wealth of worlds for you to explore” and of course you immediately go in and start looking for the dirty bits – “Do you have Lolita?” So thanks very much to Limerick City Library.

I was very embarrassed recently. I was asked to write a little essay about James Joyce’s book Dubliners and I took my copy down off the shelf at home in Sligo and I discovered that it’s actually due back to Limerick City Library on something like March 5th 1985. So a very hefty fine obviously awaits me. Fortunately, tonight, I’m in a position to negotiate a settlement with the city library. I’ll talk about this in the bar later with the people from there.

I was also nominated by Cork City Libraries, and I spent much of my twenties in Cork city and many hours and afternoons as a kind of an odd pale twenty-something would have been spent in the Grand Parade Library.

At that stage, I was trying to write a bit myself, you know, so I wouldn’t really have been reading the books in there – I was just sat around the library with a kind of bitter face on me and looking up at the shelves and thinking, I’m way better than all these people … That’s another of the phases you have to go through. So thanks very much to Cork City.

And to Dublin City Libraries who nominated Bohane as well. When I was writing the novel, in 2008 and 2009, I was mostly based around Dublin city and I would have been in and out of the libraries all the time. In fact, when I was inventing the mad, deranged, homicidal, malevolent, dangerous streets of Bohane I was myself living out on the mean streets of Clontarf. So thanks very much to Dublin City Libraries.

The thing about libraries is once you start going to them as a kid, whenever you go to a library anywhere else in the world after that you feel immediately like you’re at home.

I want to thank anybody in the room who’s given me money. I don’t just mean random people I’ve tapped up for a tenner or anything like that but the people like the Arts Council and Culture Ireland who support writers and artists here all the time and that’s really important.

Of course, I have to thank the five judges. What can I say except I think you’ve done an absolutely superb job. And of course everyone in Dublin City Libraries and the UNESCO office and the organisers – it’s big awards like this that keep books and fiction and the literature that we love and that sustains us at the centre of the conversation in this country. We must remember that in other countries it’s a very tricky time for books. They’re being pressed from all angles, people are spending their lives with so many other things competing for their time and coming at them.

Literature still has such a central place here but we can never be complacent about that or self-congratulatory about it – we just have to fight like dogs to keep that true … Because what I believe very strongly is that books are the best of us.

I want to thank my various publishers. Thanks to everyone at Jonathan Cape and Vintage in London. Most especially at Cape my editor there, Alex Bowler, who is a joy to work with. A very young gentleman but a very old-fashioned editor, and that’s a brilliant thing to have, especially for a writer like me who turns in reams of rambling madness all the time, declaring it genius. Thanks to Alex and everyone at Cape and Vintage.

Thanks to Graywolf Press in the US who’ve done an absolutely brilliant job of pushing City of Bohane over there and they’ve been indefatigable in that.

I want to thank very much Declan Meade, at the Stinging Fly Press in Dublin, who published my first collection of short stories a number of years ago now. A really brilliant publisher and editor who is really important to the life of books in Ireland and further afield now, I think.

I’m kind of getting there, I think. I just want to thank my agent Lucy Luck who’s here tonight. Lucy and I have been plotting world domination for many years now and it’s all working out beautifully.

Olivia Smith has to put up with me on a daily basis and is always the first reader and very often the most savage critic as well – so that’s a great thing to have in the house.

I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone, apologies if I have. But just finally to think again about that kind of small odd child you find in the corner of a library, and I think that when you start going to the library at six or seven or eight years of age, you learn a couple of things very very quickly – you learn that it’s completely possible and feasible to live your entire life in books and through books and lost in books, and the other thing you learn is that that’s a really beautiful place to live your life.

Thank you very much.