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Caoilinn Hughes wins £10,000 Encore award for The Wild Laughter

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Caoilinn Hughes has won the 2021 Encore award, an annual £10,000 prize for the best second novel, for The Wild Laughter.

The judges – Sian Cain, Nikita Lalwani and Paul Muldoon – called The Wild Laughter “a grand feat of comic ingenuity, mischievous and insightful, and full of resonance for the way we live now”.

“The voice of Caoilinn’s doomed narrator, Doharty ‘Hart’ Black, is so original and vibrant, with a very particular poetic vernacular. This is a story of modern Ireland, set in the crash post Celtic Tiger, but it also feels timeless in many ways, with Biblical myth simmering under the surface. The Wild Laughter is a real page-turner, in spite of its literary heart, and a joy to read. We all look forward to reading more from Caoilinn Hughes in the years to come.”

The Galway-born author said she was overwhelmed to learn she had won. “I tried not to go completely bright red but I was definitely on the spectrum.

“The trail between the first and second novel is rough terrain. We all have bruises or IOUs to point at! But the readership a writer finds through her second novel is the more enduring readership. The Encore Award is a crucial recognition of its stakes.

“This award helped to bring Irish writer heroes like Dermot Healy, Anne Enright and Colm Tóibín to the fore, not to mention Sally Rooney and Lisa McInerney more recently. Other UK writers I so admire like Ali Smith and A L Kennedy were also championed early on by this award. To be following this lineage is strange and glorious.”

This year’s other shortlisted titles were Piranesi by Susanna Clarke; Should We Fall Behind by Sharon Duggal; The Blind Light by Stuart Evers; and The First Woman by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.

The Wild Laughter came out in paperback from Oneworld earlier this month
The Wild Laughter came out in paperback from Oneworld earlier this month

Hughes’ first novel, Orchid & the Wasp, won the Collyer Bristow Prize 2019 and was shortlisted for the Hearst Big Book Awards. The Wild Laughter was longlisted for the 2021 Dylan Thomas Prize. She holds a PhD from Victoria University of Wellington and is currently the Oscar Wilde Centre Writer Fellow at Trinity College Dublin.

“I think your second novel is more telling about how you might continue to write,” Hughes said. “It can be more artistically decisive or riskier than the debut. The inconvenient or less glamorous story that demands to be told. Often the first novel is showier, sexier. The second novel has often been lingering for a longer time but you need to do the first novel to figure out how to write it.”

Asked to sum up her novel in her own words, Hughes says “I suppose it’s a state-of-the-nation portrait, but it’s also a love story, a family saga, a tragedy, about the fear of losing the father figure, survival, cowardice, sacrifice, this character’s desperate need for his story to be worthy of telling. That urgency of the narrative voice gave me no choice but to write the novel, I had to tune in. It’s like the narrator’s testimony and I am one of the jurors.”

However, as the name suggests, The Wild Laughter is a lot of fun too.

“The title comes from Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour Lost. Lord Byron is challenged by the woman he is trying to woo to spend ta month in hospital with the sick and make them laugh. He responds: ’To move wild laughter in the throat of death, it cannot be, it is impossible, mirth cannot move a soul in agony’. I think Byron is wrong and I suspect Shakespeare did too. That black humour is very much part of Irish culture – Flann O’Brien, Beckett, Anne Enright, Colin Barrett, Edna O’Brien.”

Comparing her two novels, both set post-crash, Hughes says her protagonists are very different. “Orchid & the Wasp is a picaresque book with a female lead. The engine comes from her way of moving through the world. She has been taught by her father that the way to succeed in late capitalism is to protect your privilege. She grapples with cynicism.

“This book is trying to negotiate heroism, trying to tell one’s own story, negotiate one’s own culpability in society. It’s a tragic, melancholic voice.”

Her PhD was on sci-fi but her MA was in 20th-century Irish theatre, whose repressed rural Irish bachelors inevitably crept into her work. She chose Roscommon as a setting as she wanted to set it somewhere landlocked. “I’m not sure I made any friends there, except Chris O’Dowd who did the audiobook.”

It is the second major prize in a week for an Irish woman writer for a novel with a rural farm setting. Ruth Gilligan’s The Butchers has just won the RSL Ondaatje Prize.

Hughes is a political writer. “Austerity revealed the changed social contract in Ireland, moving ever closer to American neoliberal politics. It had been happening since the ’80s. It seemed so much bigger than boom and bust, it was about a country becoming aware of a contract that it had never signed.”

She wrote the first draft while living in New Zealand for seven years, listening to talk radio, particularly Liveline. “People were ringing up to admit their own greed or culpability, I don’t think they were right. I was interested in that energy from citizens, introspection.”

Hughes has been successful in several fields as a writer, first as a poet, winning the Shine Award for her debut collection, Gathering Evidence. But she turned to fiction when in New Zealand where she struggled with poetry due to the culture shift. She wrote a novel just to figure out how it was done, then the two that have been published, before she wrote her first short story and fell in love with the form. She not only won the Moth short story prize in 2018, she also came third that same year, read blind by judge Kevin Barry, and last year won the Writing.ie short story award.

Her new novel’s working title is The Alternatives, about four Irish sisters in their 30s, “who all have PhDs and none have husbands”. She has never written a multiple-narrator novel before so it’s quite daunting. One thing hasn’t changed, though, and that is her method of makijng it up as she goes along. “I write into the dark. I’ve no interest in knowing where I’m going, it feels like colouring in to me.”

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German doctor faces charges after administering thousands of self-made vaccines

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A millionaire German doctor is facing criminal charges after vaccinating an estimated 20,000 people with a self-developed vaccine against Covid-19.

Some 200 people were queueing for a jab at the airport in the northern city of Lübeck on Sunday when police arrived and closed down the improvised vaccination centre.

A police spokesman said doctors had already administered about 50 vaccines: not from BioNTech or Moderna or another recognised producer, but a home brew by Dr Winfried Stöcker.

The controversial doctor, who is also the owner of Lübeck airport, insists his jab is 97 per cent effective against Covid-19.

Dr Stöcker was not present, did not administer vaccinations and faces no charges, according to his lawyer Wolfgang Kubicki, a leading member of Germany’s Free Democratic Party (FDP), which is part of Berlin’s new coalition government.

Lübeck state prosecutors see things differently. On Monday, they announced an investigation into four doctors, aged between 61 and 81, for involvement in the unauthorised vaccination centre.

Dr Stöcker may also face legal action for running an unlicensed vaccination campaign, which is considered a criminal offence under Germany’s Medicines Act. 

Contacted by the Bild tabloid, Dr Stöcker said he had not submitted his vaccine for approval because the process would “take too long and cost millions”.

“We have a responsibility to the patients, not the state, but the police stopped everything,” said the 74-year-old.

In May 2020 Dr Stöcker claimed to have developed a traditional vaccine – without any external assistance – similar to that used against tetanus, using inactive pathogen cells to activate the body’s immune system.

The doctor says he tested the jab on himself and some 100 volunteers before rolling out the vaccinations around the country. In total, he claims some 20,000 people have received a dose of his vaccine.

“Some 2,000 of them are under observation, no side effects were noted to date,” he said. “There were virus breakthroughs in 10 people.”

‘Lubecavax’

On his website, he says his “Lubecavax”, a three-dose vaccine, has proven highly effective. Some 376 friends and colleagues were vaccinated with the substance during the summer, he wrote, and “97 per cent developed high concentrations of antibodies against coronavirus”.

“In our view the ‘Lübeck vaccine’ is safe, effective and presumably the most suitable vaccine for children,” he adds in a blog post. “Doctors have the right to mix together compounds that they believe will help people.”

In this assertion he is drawing on a 2000 German constitutional court ruling which forbade federal authorities from prohibiting an experimental treatment of two doctors using stem cells.

News of the rogue vaccination has horrified German medical authorities. The Paul Ehrlich Institute, which is responsible for approval of medicines and vaccines in Germany, said on Monday it had offered Dr Stöcker assistance with testing in September and December of last year, but that he had not responded to the institute’s offers.

The hurdles to vaccination licensing “are deliberately high”, the institute added, “to ensure the maximum possible security for participants in clinical trials”.

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Denmark school closes due to suspected Omicron Covid-19 case

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Odense Municipality confirmed the closure in a statement on Monday after informing parents and pupils on Sunday evening.

The Danish Patient Safety Authority (Styrelsen for Patientsikkerhed) said on Monday morning that the case is suspected of being linked to the new Omicron variant.

READ ALSO: Denmark does not rule out new travel restrictions after Omicron variant detected

The authority recommends contact tracing up to “third” contacts, or people who have been in contact with suspected close contacts to the confirmed or “first” case.

Pupils and teachers in the same class as the confirmed or “first” case are considered “second” contacts, with close contacts to the class the “third” link.

People who fall into these categories are asked to isolate at home until they have tested negative on the fourth and sixth days since the potential contact.

The school is closed as of Monday while contact tracing is undertaken.



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Trees go to pot to ensure many festive returns

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Christmas trees aren’t just for Christmas, at least for the Cork business with a pot-grown tree initiative that sees householders rent their tree in early December and bring it back to the farm in early January, to be cared for all year around.

Colm Crowley from Glanmire says his 5ft trees, which are rented out for €40 a year, are a very sustainable way to celebrate Christmas.

Customers can rent or buy a living Christmas tree in a pot from Cork Pot Grown Christmas Trees. The rented ones are then taken back to the farm in Rosscarbery, west Cork, after the festive season.

“I started off with small pot-grown trees and I started selling them for €10 or €15 and a lot of customers were coming in asking, ‘have you anything bigger?’ It got me thinking that there was a market for bigger pot-grown Christmas trees.

‘Always alive’

“With the pot-grown trees, they are never dead. They are always alive. They continue to take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide oxygen as well,” he says.

“They come with a care leaflet. The water would be the big one: making sure they have enough water but not too much because too much would cause root rot,” he says.

“I found that pot-grown trees are very big in America and it has started spreading to Germany and the UK. I knew that Irish people would love it.”

It takes 12-14 years to grow a Christmas tree from seed, with a lot of work involved in pruning, shaping and making the tree perfect.

“It is only used for four weeks. With the pot growns, we get to use the tree over and over. That said, cut Christmas trees are also very environmentally friendly because when a tree is cut in November, another one or two are planted in spring. With the pot growns, between November and spring that cycle continues, so for those few months the Christmas trees continue to take the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide oxygen.”

As rental trees will continue to grow throughout the year, Crowley is anticipating customers not recognising their tree when it is returned to them the following Christmas.

‘Exact same tree’

“They send me pictures looking for the exact same tree,” he says.“With the rentals, you are getting the same Christmas tree you liked and picked out. But it will have continued to grow. There is a lovely smell – you are bringing a bit of forest in your house.”

Crowley says the real Christmas tree business has grown hugely since he first started selling, from his mother Margaret’s house in Ballinlough, Cork city, in 1998 before moving to bigger premises.

Last year was particularly buoyant for sales as families sought to create a festive atmosphere during the pandemic.

“Sales right across the country were probably up around 50 per cent. People wanted a bit of happiness. They needed cheering up.”

Customers are encouraged to name their trees, with the two most popular names being “Spruce Springsteen” and “Woody”.

The father of two adds that he couldn’t survive the December whirlwind without the hard work of wife Jacqui and mother-in-law Rose.



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