2014 Guardian First Book Award goes to Colin Barrett

Having already won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award earlier this year, Colin Barrett can now add another notch to his trophy cabinet after being presented with the Guardian First Book Award for his debut collection of short stories, Young Skins. The book takes this year’s prize ahead of Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos, Do No Harm by Henry Marsh, The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane and Things to Make and Break by May-Lan Tan. Barrett joins an illustrious roster of previous winners, including Zadie Smith, Chris Ware and Yiyun Li.

Booker winner Anne Enright, sitting on this year’s judging panel, describes Barrett’s book as being ‘from line to line … as interesting as prose can get these days’, adding: ‘You expect everything to go horribly wrong in these stories, but they move towards redemption and not disaster. Barrett is very good at the unexpected. You’re working through something that feels gritty and hard but by the end, each story has turned into something almost lyrical and open. That’s real writing.’

Enright also suggests that the win places Barrett at the forefront of a resurgent Irish literary scene alongside the likes of Eimar McBride, Donal Ryan and Claire Kilroy, saying ‘There’s a sense of excitement in the air. It’s like the 80s, all over again.’

The remnant of the judging panel consisted of academic Mary Beard, shadow secretary of state for education Tristram Hunt, psychoanalyst and literary theorist Josh Cohen and, serving as chair, editor of the Guardian Review Lisa Allardice, who says: ‘Colin Barrett has already been hailed as a ‘new, young genius’ – and you can’t get much better than that. It was a particularly strong shortlist and each of the titles was ardently debated, but in the end we had to go with the book that, in the words of one of the judges, was ‘simply the best written’ – and it is true that Barrett barely hits a false note throughout the collection.’

Barrett claims a prize of £10,000.

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