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Public vote debut novel as Irish Book of the Year

By John Spain

'Solace', the debut novel by Longford writer Belinda McKeon, has been voted the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book of the Year for 2011.

The public were asked to vote for their favourite title from the list of 10 category winners announced at the recent Irish Book Awards 2011. Ms McKeon, who was named as 'Sunday Independent' Best Irish Newcomer of the Year at the awards, topped the poll.

Widely-praised by reviewers and leading writers such as Anne Enright and Colm Toibin, 'Solace' is a novel very much in the tradition of John McGahern.

It tells a contemporary story of a young man who is struggling to complete his PhD in English at Trinity College but has to return home to his father's small farm to help with the hay and the ploughing.

Ms McKeon was born in 1979 and grew up on a farm in Co Longford.

She studied English and Philosophy at Trinity College and UCD and worked as a critic and arts journalist.

Ms McKeon, who now lives in Brooklyn, New York, said yesterday: "The awards are testimony to the fact that Ireland is a country of readers, and I'm hugely honoured that 'Solace' has been endorsed and supported in this way by so many people who know and love books.

"To have won the Best Newcomer Award was a real boost, especially given the quality of the shortlist, and now winning the overall Irish Book of the Year is wonderful, and a bit of a shock to be frank.

"I'm very grateful to Bord Gais Energy for standing up for Irish writing and Irish publishing in these times, and above all I'm very grateful to the readers."

Ms McKeon will be doing a reading and signing in the 2011 Bookshop of the Year, Crannog, Church Street, Cavan, this Saturday, at 12.30pm.

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