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Belfast writer Jan Carson’s hot new novel earns her major literary prize

Top prize: Jan Carson
Top prize: Jan Carson

By Mark McConville

A Belfast-based author has said she is "delighted" after being named as the Irish laureate of the 2019 European Union Prize for Literature.

Jan Carson's The Fire Starters was chosen ahead of three others - Her Kind by Niamh Boyce, Catholic Boy by Rosemary Jenkinson, and The Watch House by Bernie McGill - as winner of the £4,400 prize.

Her book has three intertwining narratives against a backdrop of a city in flames.

The main story concerns fires that rampage through Belfast sparked by an elusive arsonist who spurs others to like-minded destruction.

She said: "I'm delighted to have won this prize and really hope it will help in showcasing The Fire Starters to a wider European audience.

"It was such an honour to be shortlisted alongside three Irish writers whose work I really admire and I'm particularly proud to have a book so definitely set in Belfast chosen to represent the island of Ireland this year."

The European Union Prize for Literature (EUPL) is an award that recognises outstanding new and emerging literary talents across Europe, and highlights the wealth of contemporary European literature, while drawing attention to the Continent's unique cultural and linguistic heritage.

Carson was named as one of the 14 laureates by Romanian Minister of Culture and National Identity Valer-Daniel Breaz, and Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport at the Permanent Representation of Romania to the EU.

She previously wrote the critically acclaimed magical realist novel Malcolm Orange Disappears, which tells the story of a boy who slowly but surely begins to vanish from sight.

She followed that up with a collection of short stories, Children's Children, and postcard stories, which started out as a challenge to write a short story every day for 365 days straight, scribble them down on postcards and mail them to friends, family and acquaintances far and wide.

Her love of literature was instilled from a young age. She attended Carniny Primary School in Ballymena and later Cambridge House Grammar School for Girls, and remembers her parents Robin and Joye reading to her often.

Carson added: "I've always been blessed by an over-leaping imagination. My dad likes to read crime fiction and my brother Alan has had a life-long obsession with Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe books.

"My parents took me to the library weekly and encouraged me to read and write, which I'm really grateful for."

National juries, consisting of experts in literature, publishing and bookselling, are set up in each country participating in the EUPL in the respective year.

After shortlisting three to five authors, the national juries choose their laureates who receive a financial prize but also benefit from increased international visibility and cross-border promotion, starting with the awards ceremony in Brussels and continuing at major book fairs in Europe and beyond.

So far the EUPL has rewarded 108 authors from 41 countries during a decade of its existence.

The awards ceremony will be held on October 2 in Brussels.

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