I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Patricia Craig

Standing Up for Justice

Mary Ann McCracken, sister of the executed 1798 leader Henry Joy, was an advanced thinker, a dedicated philanthropist and a model of composure, dignity and firmness. Long surviving her brother, she could be seen on Belfast docks aged 88 handing out anti-slavery pamphlets.

Beating the odds

Edna O’Brien has been accused by some less perceptive critics of always writing about victims. But as she has insisted, and as is abundantly clear in her compelling new novel, she writes particularly of victims who survive, who pull through. She is celebrating resilience.

Catching Up

For decades, Northern Ireland politics meant little more than the struggle between Protestants and Catholics, unionists and nationalists. Since the guns have gone silent it has become clear that a new transformation is taking place, and it’s not the one the paramilitaries fought and killed for.

On the Side of the Angels

Polly Devlin was raised in rural Tyrone, on the shores of Lough Neagh. But at twenty she was wafted into British high society by way of a job with ‘Vogue’. Her latest, splendidly written collection, treads judiciously between candour and reticence in what adds up to a kind of oblique autobiography.

Buried Treasures

Belfast’s Balmoral Cemetery was once a gloriously dishevelled and spooky playground favoured by the more adventurous among neighbourhood children. But after many complaints it was cleaned up, and it’s now as straight-lined and ‘Protestant-looking’ as anyone could wish.

Freezing and Melting

More women than you might think have seen fit over the centuries to wander out, in good thick skirts or other climate-appropriate attire in the most far-flung of places. Most of the rest of us have preferred to stay at home, cosy and safe, reading of the savage beasts and strange peoples they encountered.

A Girl, Undaunted

A body in the coal hole of the Carlton Club; a strangulation with a Hermes scarf: Kate Atkinson has written a sophisticated and witty espionage novel which plays with the genre’s conventions while being partially based on a WWII spy’s memoir, a book with an unusual Irish dimension.

Where The Wild Things Live

Many books for the young, whether about animals and their habitats or children on a ‘wilderness’ adventure, contain a message which an attentive child may grasp, laying the ground for a future respect for nature, kindness to animals and aversion to environmental destruction.

Puttin’ On the Ritz

Zadie Smith is an opponent of dullness, mediocrity, pusillanimity and taking yourself too seriously; she is a champion, and in her work an embodiment, of position, attitude, rhythm and style, like her favourite dancers, Fred Astaire and Michael Jackson. Her essays afford not just pleasure but joy.

A Life Composed

Celebrated biographer Claire Tomalin tackles the subject of her own life with detachment and calm. Her concise and slightly formal prose strikes the right note to deal with sorrows and adversities, though occasionally one could wish for just a little idiosyncrasy or waywardness.