Years of dedication and hardship pay off for Anna Burns

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The Man Booker prize is a huge literary accolade.

Some of the best writers in Britain and Ireland, such as JG Farrell and Iris Murdoch and Salman Rushdie and Anita Brookner and Kingsley Amis have won it.

A number of Irish writers have come close to winning (such as Molly Keane’s beautiful depiction of the declining Anglo Irish aristocracy a century ago in Good Behaviour) or actually won, such as Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.

But no-one from Northern Ireland had ever previously won. The great Belfast born writer Brian Moore almost did, being short-listed a remarkable three times in 1976 for the Doctor’s Wife, in 1987 for the Colour of Blood and again in 1990 for Lies of Silence.

On Tuesday night, however, a writer from Northern Ireland won the £50,000 award.

Anna Burns’s triumph is all the more happy given that she once struggled financially as a writer, and now her endeavours have been rewarded. Her novel Milkman, about sexual coercion, impressed the judges more than any other work of literature this year and resulted in her picking up the prize at a ceremony at the Guildhall.

Writers everywhere, and particularly here in Northern Ireland, will take comfort from hearing of how she stuck with writing, despite the hardship and the waiting.

The death of books, like the death of newspapers, has been a fear of the internet age. Will people get used to reading on a screen so that the printed book disappears? Will people get used to downloading books for free so that no-one pays for them? But in the same way the newspapers are adapting to exist in both the printed and digital worlds, so it seems are books. And in the same that millions of people in Britain still prefer a printed product, so too do many readers of novels.

There are swathes of talented people hoping one day to write a great book. Anna Burns is the latest person to realise that dream.