University of Birmingham's Ruth Gilligan wins prestigious literary prize.
Ruth Gilligan of the Department of Creative Writing was awarded the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje prize for books that “best evoke the spirit of a place”. Her novel, The Butchers, is a thriller set in the Irish borderlands during the BSE crisis.
The Butchers follows a group of eight men who travel around Ireland practising a traditional form of cattle slaughter; it also focuses on the wives and children they leave behind, and the tension between such ancient customs and a more modern, progressive Ireland.
Ruth Gilligan said: ‘I am just elated – and still totally shocked – to have won the 2021 RSL Ondaatje Prize. I am a sucker for books with a strong sense of place, so I have long been a huge fan of the prize, but after a year of isolation and confinement, it feels more pertinent than ever to be celebrating the transportive power of reading.’
‘My students and I are always talking about how to convey atmosphere and setting – whether it’s for the short stories or plays or radio dramas they’re working on – so it’s good to know some of their wisdom has rubbed off on me.’
Lola Young, Baroness Young of Hornsey, Chair of 2021 Judges said: ‘Our winning title is about a moment in time, in a particular place. It’s been described in many different terms: Literary thriller, coming-of-age story, historical fiction, an account of superstition and the supernatural, but it doesn’t matter how it’s categorised – it’s a page-turning, roller coaster of a read. The humour works – we need relief from repressed emotional lives, and the slaughter of cows – and it lures us into recalling the recent past at a moment when ‘crisis’ was constantly on the lips of politicians and pundits alike – just like today.’
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