The ILS is delighted to share the news that Sebastian Barry has become the first novelist to win the Costa Book Award twice. His second win comes for a love story set in the Wild West and inspired by his son coming out as gay. Barry gave a thrilling reading of his novel Days Without End when talking with our Vice President, Roy Foster, on 30 January and went on to win the award the following night. Also announced was the Costa Short Story Award which went to another ILS guest from this year, Jess Kidd. Jess grew up in London as part of a large family from Mayo. Her winning story Dirty Little Fishes is about a young Irish girl in London. Billy Callaghan from Cork was a runner up in this category.
Barry was awarded the £30,000 prize for Days Without End, which the judges praised as a “searing, magnificent, incredibly moving description of how the West was won”.
It is no run-of-the-mill tale of frontier life. At its heart is the relationship between Thomas McNulty, a teenage boy who flees the Irish famine for America, and his comrade, John Cole, who both sign up for the brutal Indian Wars. They also work as entertainers in a saloon bar, dressing as women to comfort miners starved of female company, and settle down as a family with a young Sioux girl as their ‘adopted’ child.
The book is dedicated to Barry’s son, Toby, who came out as gay when he was 16.
Accepting his award, Barry said the win had made him “crazy happy from the top of my head to my toes, in a way that is a little bit improper at 61.”
And he paid tribute to his family, singling out his son with the words: “This book is dedicated to Toby eternally.”
The author has previously described himself as a “proud father of one shining person who happens to be a member of the LGBT community” and in a recent interview said the book was in part a reaction to an incident in which his son was threatened on a train after a gang saw him kissing his boyfriend goodbye.
Eoin McNamee, reviewing Days Without End in The Irish Times, wrote: “There is a majestic rhythm to Barry’s prose, deep craft in the shaping of the novel, the impetus of events carrying us through at pace… “Sebastian Barry is the most humane of writers. The leeway is always generous; beauty is mined to its last redemptive glint…the voice is humorous, compassionate, true. It is his glory as a writer. It is the stern, glorious music of a great novel.”