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LITERATURE

Irish author wins top Spanish literary award

Irish author John Banville, best known for his crime novels written under the pseudonym of Benjamin Black, has been awarded Spain's prestigious Prince of Asturias literature award, the prize jury said on Wednesday.

Irish author wins top Spanish literary award
In addition to the cash, Banville received a sculpture designed by the late Catalan artist Joan Miro. Photo: Max Nash/AFP

The 68-year-old edged out 23 other contenders to take the 50,000 euro ($68,000) prize, one of eight given in different fields by the Asturias Foundation each year.

The prize jury praised Banville for his works, "each of (which) attracts and delights for his skill in developing the plot and his mastery of registers and expressive nuances, as well as for his reflections on the secrets of the human heart".

Banville won the Man Booker prize, widely regarded as the most significant literary prize in English, in 2005 for his novel "The Sea" about a retired art historian who tries to reconcile himself with the death of his wife at a seaside village.

His popular crime novels written under the pseudonym Benjamin Black featuring a hard-drinking pathologist called Quirke set in 1950s Dublin have been adapted for a BBC TV series.

Banville said "it was a great pleasure and a great honour" to win the award.

"I know what a wonderful prize it is, culturally and historically, and I am very proud indeed that my name should be added to the long list of great writers who have received it in the past," he said in a statement.

Previous winners of the literature prize include US writer Philip Roth, Canada's Margaret Atwood and Lebanese-born writer Amin Maalouf.

Banville said in an interview with Britain's The Guardian newspaper last month that the character of Quirke had come from the "damaged recesses of my Irish soul."

"I sympathise with Quirke; he is a very damaged person, as many Irish people are from their upbringing," he added.

The Spanish awards, named after the country's future king Crown Prince Felipe, are presented in the northern city of Oviedo in October in a glittering ceremony broadcast live on Spanish television.

In addition to the cash, winners receive a sculpture designed by the late Catalan artist Joan Miro.

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BOOKS

Madrid Bookie: The intimate literary salon with big ambitions

Every month a growing group of book fans meets in a loft-style gallery in the Las Salesas district, on the edge of Madrid's trendy Chueca.

Madrid Bookie: The intimate literary salon with big ambitions
Pulitzer Prize winning Forrest Gander entertains the room. Photos: Celia Knight/Madrid Bookie.

The gathering is more immersive than a book club, less formal than a book signing and much more intimate than a literary festival.

Sitting among the guests are authors who have come to read from their latest work, discuss ideas with the guests and socialise over a glass of wine or a cold bottle of beer.

“The literary festival format can traditionally be a bit stuffy, but a more relaxed atmosphere allows spontaneity and magical discussions,” explains Andreas Loizou, the man behind the hugely successful Margate Bookie, a literary festival held every September in the seaside Kent town.

After moving to Madrid he realised that the Spanish capital was crying out for a similar event and teamed up with Vanessa Fabiano, an Italian-Swiss national living in Madrid and Giedre Pavalkyte, a Lithuanian living in Madrid, to put it together. 


The team behind Madrid Bookie: Co-founders Vanessa Fabiano (L), Giedre Pavalkyte and Andreas Loizou. Photo: Madrid Bookie

The Madrid Bookie isn't a literary festival per se, but a monthly social gathering of likeminded types – people who love to read and talk about books – to which one, or sometimes two, authors are invited to read from their work and then discuss.

Each event has so far been a sell-out and seen the gathering continue in true Madrileño fashion, by spilling into a neighbouring bar and continuing long after the event was scheduled to end.

“There's a wonderful sense of community built around reader and writer that breaks down the traditional barrier between author and reader. We have a very strict no-diva policy that sees everyone get together mingling in the bar afterwards.”

Events can become quite emotional and a long with a healthy dose of laughter they can also provoke tears.

At the first event, the room was brought to tears by Laura Garcia Lorca, who read a poem penned by her father (the brother of Federico Garcia Lorca) that she had found among his papers after his death. She revealed that her father, in view of his famous sibling, had never felt confident to show the world his own poetry but had left it behind for those closest to him to find.

“All there witnessed a very intimate moment, the first time the poem had ever been read it public and it was touching and beautiful,” said Loizou.

The most recent evening also had its share of raw emotion when Pulitzer Prize winning poet Forrest Gander read aloud from a collection he wrote about the grief of losing his wife and fellow poet, C.D. Wright.

The event also saw the first ever public reading from historian Giles Tremlett's soon to be published account of the International Brigades.

Other guests have included the Nigerian writer Nnamdi Ehirim discussing his ambitious debut novel Prince of Monkeys and poet Spencer Reese.

 “It's the kind of supportive space that invites the author to open up and take a risk,” explains Loizou. “Their audience is sitting down at their level in what is essentially a living room. It invites intimacy”.

The team behind Madrid Bookie met through Madrid's vibrant literacy scene, connecting first at a creative writing workshop and then teaming up with bookseller partners Desperate Literature, who offer books by the relevant authors for sale on the night.

More and more people are looking for social activities that have a focus, that are not just about meeting a group in a bar and drinking, but building a community of like-minded souls.

“We recognised a need for a focus point for high quality writers and give them an audience that was inquisitive and literary-savvy. There's a whole underground book club scene in Madrid with people wanting to meet and connect face to face and actually talk about things that are important to them,” insists Loizou.

“After the success of the Margate Bookie, I wanted to expand elsewhere and unexpectedly found in Madrid that there was a real buzz about the literary scene and a general revival in literature. We've just tapped into that community.”

Pavalkyte, who also runs the Discussing Books in English book club, has seen literary gatherings grow exponentially in Madrid. “We now have over 600 members, and many other English language book clubs are emerging in the city.”


Photo: Madrid Bookie

 The Madrid Bookie has started small, with events hosted by troupe an exclusive community for the world's most adventurous creative professionals, who host in their Space Next Door, a private apartment style event space on Calle de Fernando VI, but even bigger events are on the horizon.

“We've already planned a summer creative writing retreat in Sierra de Gredos, monthly events around Madrid and are talking about a Madrid showcase at the Hay Festival Segovia in September.”

The next event takes place on February 18th when co-founder of Madrid Bookie Vanessa Fabiano will interview Michael Scott Moore, an investigative journalist, novelist and avid surfer. Michael will discuss his latest book, The Desert and the Sea, a memoir about the 977 days he was held by Somali pirates.

For more information about Madrid Bookie follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and for tickets CLICK HERE.

 

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