Northern Irish author scoops top book prize

Northern Ireland-born author Maggie O’Farrell has scooped a second top writing prize in the past few months.

Wednesday, 2nd December 2020, 12:00 am
Maggie O'Farrell author. Pic Neil Hanna

In September the author, who spent the early years of her life in Coleraine, won the Women’s Prize for Fiction and today her novel – ‘Hamnet’ – has been named Waterstones Book of The Year.

The book is a fictional account of the life of Shakespeare’s only son, Hamnet, who died from the plague aged 11 in 1596.

Author O’Farrell also set out to correct the “barefaced misogyny” in portrayals of Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway.

She said: “I’m over the moon that ‘Hamnet’ has been chosen as Waterstones’ Book of the Year.

“It’s a huge honour to be added to this list, especially as I know that the award is nominated by those most discerning of readers – booksellers.

“Without their expert guidance and knowledge, my reading shelves would be much the poorer.”

In a story she wrote for the Irish Examiner O’Farrell said she “was born by the sea in Coleraine”.

At the age of eight she got encephalitis and missed a year of school: “I had to learn to walk again. I can’t remember who I was before I became ill, but I am sure the event affected me deeply.”

She commented: “I was born in Co Derry, not long after Bloody Sunday, but we left and moved to Wales when I was still quite young.

“I grew up in Wales and Scotland and then I went to university at Cambridge.

“When I graduated, I travelled and saw a little bit of the world. I worked as a journalist in Hong Kong and later in London. These days, my home is in Edinburgh.”

O’Farrell is the author of the Sunday Times number one bestselling memoir ‘I Am, I Am, I Am’ and eight novels: ‘After You’d Gone’, ‘My Lover’s Lover’, ‘The Distance Between Us’, ‘The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox’, ‘The Hand That First Held Mine’, ‘Instructions For A Heatwave’, ‘This Must Be The Place’ and ‘Hamnet’, her latest acclaimed work.

Bea Carvalho, Waterstones’ fiction buyer, said that “for our booksellers, ‘Hamnet’ is the clear standout title – a work of immense style and emotional heft which will surely go on to be a future classic”.

The novel has also won the Women’s Prize for Fiction, netting the author £30,000.

The novelist previously told the PA news agency that Shakespeare’s wife had been maligned by history.

“I was outraged on behalf of the woman we know as Anne Hathaway, because I feel that she has been treated with such sort of hostility, just barefaced misogyny,” she said.

Waterstones booksellers voted for the title they have most enjoyed recommending to customers over the course of the year.