Tag Archive | Joseph O’Connor

The Big Book of Hope


Big Book of Hope

I am really looking forward to curling up on the couch tomorrow evening, in front of a warm fire, wine bottle *cough* glass at my side, munchies at the ready, and making a start on The Big Book of Hope.  I’ve been waiting for a quiet moment to read it ever since being lucky enough to win a copy on Twitter a couple of weeks ago.

A ‘competition’ was run  on Twitter where users were asked to tweet a story of hope with the hashtag #bigbookofhope in order to win a copy of the book.  There were some amazing stories tweeted.

A few hours before the competition ended, I happened to be browsing photos of Ally’s debs and thinking of how the last 17 years had flown by.  She was so tiny (1lb 10 ozes), and so ill when she was born.  I had her baptised when she was two days old on the advice of her doctors.  It felt awful heading back home to Kildare, a week after her birth, and leaving her in an incubator in the ICU in The Coombe Women’s Hopsital in Dublin, connected to a ventilator, with tubes everywhere.


I’ll never forget the day the phone rang and a nurse at the hospital asked me to come in as Ally wasn’t expected to make it.  She’d developed a stomach bug overnight, a very serious complication for such a tiny baby.  All I could do was touch her hand through the opening in the incubator cover and watch and pray.  Someone was watching over her because she began to improve.  Slowly and steadily she gained weight and, four months later, weighing 5lbs, she was discharged from the hospital.


Ready to come home


Home at last!

While thinking back on this, a few lines popped into my head and I tweeted them as my story of hope.

Tweet #bigbookofhope

It’s always nice to win something and this book, in particular, is very special.  The book was launched in order to raise funds for the Hope Foundation, which works with the street children of Calcutta.  It contains lots of stories by well known figures such as Joseph O’Connor, Maeve Binchy, Evelyn Cusack, Denis O’Brien, Claudia Caroll, among others, and was compiled by Hazel Katherine Larkin and Vanessa O’Loughlin of Inkwell.

The Big Book of Hope can be bought online from Poolbeg.  There’s been so much talk on Twitter about it that I’d advise you to buy quickly! With so many fantastic contributors, this is a gem of a book and something to be treasured for years to come.

P.S.  Ally completed her Leaving Cert this year.  This is a photo of her heading off to her Debs last month.


Ally’s Debs Photo

Ghost Light – Joseph O’Connor


This rates as one of the best books I’ve read in a while.  From beginning to end I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Ghost Light

Ghost Light

“Ghost Light” is a fictional story based on the relationship between John Synge (the Irish playwright) and Molly Allgood (Abbey actress).  In October 1952, Molly, now an aged woman of 67, makes her way across London for a radio broadcast with the BBC and reflects back on her life, her time at the Abbey Theatre, and her relationship with Synge.

A bleak picture is portrayed of her life that contrasts starkly with her memories of youth and better days.  She lives in poverty, alone, dependant on drink, cold and often hungry.  She has been married twice, divorced once and widowed once.  Molly shows great ‘gusto’ for life and her attitude adds humour to the sadness.  I wanted to cry and laugh at the same time at her behaviour and some of the things she said.

I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Molly in her earlier years.  She was so young and so infatuated with Synge and I felt he treated her awfully.  They argue often and he frequently makes cutting remarks to her.  While they are in Wicklow on holidays he goes away for a whole day and leaves her alone in a cottage in the middle of nowhere while he meets Yeats for lunch. He won’t bring her with him because he says Yeats doesn’t know the extent of their friendship and is a bit old fashioned. He doesn’t return until the next morning. I’ve no doubt he was interested in her but I’d wonder why, or in what way.  Did he ever really expect to have a long relationship with her?

Maybe I’m looking at the situation from the eyes of someone who’s been through a pretty disastrous relationship with an older man.  (I was 19, he was 27.)  Or maybe it’s because my eldest daughter is now 17 and so close to Molly’s age when she met Synge that I wonder what a man of his age saw in such a young, naiive child. Synge strikes me as quite selfish.  When Molly breaks up with him after a row they have in Wicklow, he persists in chasing after her until eventually he persuades her to talk to him in Dublin one day.  She tells him that she doesn’t make him happy and that some other girl will.  He then tells her that there will be no other girl because he is dying.  If he really loved her would he tell her this?  Would he not wish her to be free and to have a good life for herself?  Maybe I’ve too many romantic notions in my mind..

Of course the most agonising time of all for Molly must be when Synge dies and his family decide to have a private funeral.  Molly is not invited.  All her letters to him are destroyed and, according to various internet sources, any mention of her is avoided by Synge’s biographers.

Ghost Light is an amazing novel and a wonderful literary composition.  Thoughts of the story have stayed in my head long after putting the book down and it has certainly stirred my interest in the real story behind John Synge and Molly Allgood.

Listowel Writers’ Festival


Finally I have an opportunity to write something about my few days in Listowel. I’ll try to keep this blog post short but I’ve so much that I want to say that it’ll be difficult.




I set off for Listowel for the Writers’ Festival last Wednesday afternoon.  I thought I’d never get going! By the time I’d dropped the girls to school, gone to work and done the shopping, it was 3:30 before I was on the road.  I hadn’t planned a route so it was a matter of hastily keying the details into the Sat Nav, sticking it onto the dashboard, throwing the cases into the car and tearing out the driveway (at a legal speed, of course)!

I don’t know when the Sat Nav was last updated but I was well on the way to Mallow when “Deirdre” (Jay and his friends christened her that) decided to ‘dong’ loudly at me and tell me that she was recalculating.  I looked at the screen and the motorway was non-existent.  She donged, loudly, about half a dozen times until I started to doubt myself and gave in and turned off the motorway.   I ended up on a narrow backroad, riddled with potholes (the road, not me), jerking along in second gear behind an extremely slow moving tractor and trailer.

When I eventually got into Mallow, Deirdre told me to take a right turn at the roundabout coming into the town.  Either Deirdre couldn’t tell her left from her right or Mallow Town Council have made a few changes recently, but if I’d turned right I would have been driving up a one way street.  I copped it just in time.  It’s a very small roundabout so not only was the driver coming down the one way street and trying to get onto the roundabout not very impressed with me, but neither were the three other drivers who decided to descend on the roundabout at that precise moment.  I managed to negotiate the rest of the town without incident and was grateful for the fact that I wouldn’t have to pass through it again in order to return home.

The drive down to Tralee was lovely.  I had a bit of a scare when the articulated truck in front of me braked hard after a tractor pulled out in front of it. (Why do people pull out in front of trucks??)  A cloud of smoke rose up from the road and I thought I was going to choke on the smell of rubber.   I’d been in tourist mode, taking time to admire the beautiful scenery as I drove, so I wasn’t too close to the truck, thankfully.

It surprised me that Killarney was such a short distance from Clonmel – a two hour drive at most – and I promised myself I’d visit the town more often.  The road was starting to get busy and when I reached Tralee there was a tailback of traffic trying to get out of the town on the far side.  The car had started to overheat a little so thankfully I wasn’t delayed too long.  The directions I’d gotten for the B&B (Teach an Phiobaire) were spot on and I was there in less than five minutes after leaving Tralee.


Teach an Phiobaire, Tralee, Co. Kerry

Teach an Phiobaire

I was greeted at the door by Patricia, a lovely friendly lady who hails from just outside the Clonmel area, herself.  She and her husband, Michael, operate the B&B and Michael  crafts Uilleann pipes in a workshop behind the house.  I was made very welcome during my stay there.  I had the most delicious bowl of fresh fruit every morning, and the full Irish breakfast was cooked to perfection! My room (en-suite with a really spacious shower) was clean, airy and bright and I slept soundly every night.

Teach an Phiobaire Bedroom

Teach an Phiobaire

Teach an Phiobaire Bathroom

Teach an Phiobaire


On the Wednesday evening I headed into the Listowel Arms Hotel for the official opening of Writers’ Week.  I arrived there around six o’clock.  It was buzzing…mobbed!!  I found a seat at the bar and had a lovely vegetarian lasagne and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon before making my way to the function room where I presumed opening night events were taking place.   Once I’d gotten past the people who were standing at the door, I was a bit disappointed to see that I was watching the Listowel Singers perform on a large screen set up at one end of the room.  I considered it would have been rude to turn around and walk out so I stood and listened to them and then to Judge Bryan McMahon and Colm Tóibín (also on screen) before finally deciding to call it a night.

As I was on the way out of the hotel I noticed double doors, opened, at the side of the hotel.  There were people standing just inside them and I made my way over to see what was happening.  Lo and behold, this was the room where everything that was being shown on screen was actually taking place! The room was packed to capacity but I managed to squeeze myself in amongst those standing at the bar.  I didn’t stay long though.  It was so hot I thought I was going to pass out, so I pushed my way back through all the people that I’d disturbed on the way in.  A few of them raised their eyes to heaven, probably praying that I’d find my way out…..and stay out.  I was tempted to shout “Just kidding” and return to where I’d been standing.

I wandered around the hotel for another few minutes, half hoping that someone (anyone) would jump from one of the little clusters of people  that were gathered at the bar or around the registration table and shout “Hey, you look like you’re on your own, why don’t you join us and our merry crew?”  It didn’t happen.  So I went for a stroll around the town square and took a few photos before heading back to Teach an Phiobaire.


The first of three workshops with Sheila O’Flanagan took place on the Thursday morning at nine o’clock.  After dumping the car in a free carpark in the town I had ten minutes to find the Community Resource Centre where the workshop was to take place.  The Centre didn’t appear to be too far from the town, judging from the road layout on my map.  I asked a couple of locals, to be sure, but they didn’t know where it was.  A wine Ford Fiesta pulled up beside me with two middle aged ladies who asked me where they could find the Centre.  I told them I was trying to find it myself but I didn’t think it was too far as the last person I’d stopped had told me it was around the corner….somewhere.  They were right.  It was around the corner, a good ten minutes walk past the fire station (which I’d already circled twice), past Lidl (or was it Aldi), through the traffic lights, turn left, into a housing estate and on the left! As I went back to get my car the Ford Fiesta passed me twice, travelling a different direction each time.  I pulled up in the carpark outside the Resource Centre (or Listowel’s best kept secret as I now call it), at ten past nine.  The Fiesta was nowhere to be seen.

I arrived in the middle of introductions.  Being late meant that the only seat left was beside the author, herself – THE Sheila O’Flanagan! Go me! Go Sheila! Wow! I was so awestruck (and flustered and out of breath after my stressful journey and having to lug my camera and laptop bags into the room) that I missed about three of the introductions.  Unfortunately I zoned back in just in time to hear the words ‘accountant’, ‘solicitor’, ‘halfway through first novel’, ‘writing a trilogy’ and began to have a massive panic attack, wondering what I, as an amateur blogger, was doing there in the first place.  Thankfully the last two people to introduce themselves, before it was my turn, said they hadn’t written much, which cleared the way for me to say that I ‘dabble’.  What a word, eh? I am forever grateful to whoever invented the word ‘dabble’.  It encompasses so much! I write seriously, I blog, I scribble shopping lists, I ‘dabble’!

But, anyway, (I also digress), once introductions were made the workshop got underway.  We covered so much in that first workshop – ideas, theme, subplots, how/when to write.  We discussed and reviewed other books and what made them work, had coffee, got to know each other a bit better and the four hours were over before we knew it.


Abbeydorney Abbey

Abbeydorney Abbey

After dropping off my laptop at the B&B I took a bit of a spin around Slea Head and got a few photos of Abbeydorney Abbey on the way.  I knew I wouldn’t have time on the Friday or Saturday as there were so many speakers that I wanted to see and I didn’t want to come home without seeing some of the scenery.

Abbeydorney Abbey

Abbeydorney Abbey


Realising it had gotten quite late I drove back into Listowel for dinner ahead of Kate Adie’s talk at 7:30.  I opted for the chicken kiev at the Arms’ Bar with the obligatory (*cough*) glass of white wine and coffee.  When I’d finished I managed to get a space at the back of the already crowded function room and made the decision that I would not leave it so late in future to get seated.  Despite Kate’s talk being  witty and highly interesting and entertaining, the heat of the room about halfway through was making me feel distracted and tired.  I wasn’t too tired afterwards though to get my copy of her book signed and have my photo taken with her.

Kate Adie Listowel

Kate Adie

Outside the Listowel Arms the Abbeyfeale Drama Group were providing entertainment as part of the Literary Pub Trail.

Abbeyfeale Players

Abbeyfeale Drama Group, Literary Pub Trail, Listowel 2010

I followed them as far as Christy’s Bar, where they performed a scene from John B. Keane’s Sharon’s Grave, before returning to the B&B for the night.

Abbeyfeal Players - Sharon's Grave

Abbeyfeal Drama Group perform Sharon’s Grave at Listowel 2010

Christy's Listowel

Christy’s Bar, Listowel


The second workshop with Sheila O’Flanagan centred around editing.  Again, very informative, more discussion, lots of tips.  One thing that stuck in my mind was to watch out for repetition.  I have a habit of repeating particular words.  Reading back on this blog post so far I’d typed the word ‘thankfully’ about six times.  A lot of the time the word wasn’t even necessary.  Oh…and people don’t ‘giggle’ things.  They say what they have to say and then giggle, or they giggle first  THEN speak. This gave us a few laughs throughout the workshop.

I managed to get a photo of all of us and, of course, my copy of  ‘Dreaming of a Stranger’ signed by Sheila.

Sheila O'Flangan Listowel Workshop 2010

Sheila O’Flanagan, Fiction Writing Workshop, Listowel 2010


Paul O’Mahoney (@omaniblog) tweeted me at lunchtime on the Friday to say that he was in Lawlor’s with Patrick Stack (@destaic) if I wanted to have lunch with them.  Deirdre, Patrick’s daughter, was also there and I spent an enjoyable hour in their company.

Twitter is such a great asset in this regard.  I use Tweetdeck to keep tabs on upcoming events or place names and had had columns set up for the hashtag #LWW10 and for Listowel.  I had been following both Paul and Patrick but had also Tweeted @sunny100 as I’d seen her Tweeting that she was going to be in Listowel.

I met with @sunny100 purely by coincidence even though we’d swapped phone numbers via Twitter.  On the Saturday I had lunch in Lynch’s Bakery and Coffee Shop.  The only seat free was at a table where a lady was reading her paper.  She told me the seat was free and so I sat down.  We must have been sitting and chatting for about ten minutes when I mentioned that I was from Clonmel.

‘Are you Susan’ she asked.

‘I am’ I said.

‘I’m Sunny100’ she said.

What are the odds that out of all the hundreds of people milling around Listowel that weekend that the two of us would sit down at the same table in the same café? Amazing!

On Saturday evening I went to dinner in Allo’s Restaurant with Paul O’Mahoney and others for a lovely meal – perfect ending to my stay in Listowel.

So, thanks to Twitter I had company on several occasions during the festival, although I met with others on the workshop and during events also so I wouldn’t hesitate to go alone again.



Joseph O'Connor Listowel


While at Joseph O’Connor’s reading, I met Annette from Waterford.  We were queueing up to have our copies of ‘Ghost Light’ signed.   Annette said she had really enjoyed Joseph’s talk but had never read anything by him.  I told her that if it was the very next thing she did, she should get a copy of The Irish Male and read it.  I told her that I used to bring my copy of The Irish Male on the train with me to Dublin and, eventually, I had to leave it at home because I must have looked like a complete loon laughing to myself all the way to work.

Annette was kind enough to take my photo with Joseph O’Connor. 🙂

Joseph O'Connor, Listowel

Joseph O’Connor, Book signing, Listowel 2010

(The photograph above shows me apologising to Joseph O’Connor for taking so many photographs of him.  I’m serious!! Because I was trying to set the camera manually without using the flash (didn’t want to distract Joseph), it took a huge number of attempts for me to get a decent photo.  I have lots of photos with blurred Josephs, shaky Josephs, more than one Joseph, no Joseph…..unreal!)

I waited outside for Annette to get her book signed and to see how she’d gotten on.

“You’ll never guess what’s happened”, she said when she came out.

“What?” I asked.

“I asked Joseph O’Connor what the piece he was reading at the beginning was, because I really liked it, and he gave me his own copy of “The Irish Male”, she said, showing me the book.

Well I’d say my chin nearly hit my shoes!

“I don’t believe it” I said.  (I had difficulty refraining from screaming it actually).  “You lucky thing!”

“I know” she said, “I can’t believe it!”

Nor could I! I was overwhelmed by the fact that Joseph O’Connor was so lovely and so generous and had given his book away.  But a teeny part of me (well, no actually….a HUGE part of me) wanted to go back into him and tell him he should have given The Irish Male to me because I had read all about his secret world and his being at home and abroad and everywhere else! And, actually, I had to buy TWO copies of The Last of the Irish Males because I’d lent the first one and the person I’d lent it to had never returned it! And I’d queued for an hour to see him so I’d get the best seat and five people had skipped the queue because they came in the far door. And Sinead O’Connor had agreed with me about leaving the Irish Male at home because she had to stop bringing her own copy on the train too – she Tweeted me and told me that! Honest Injun!

Annette started to leaf through the pages and we both oohed and aahed at the handwritten notes on it.

“Of course”, I said, “you’ll have to get another copy.  You can’t read that one”.  I was ‘half’ joking.

“Of course I’m going to read this one” Annette said.  The book obsessed side of me shrieked inwardly at the thought of Joseph O’Connor’s page folds being undone and his handwritten notes being worn away but I tried to put the thought out of my mind by singing loudly inside my head!

Hunger was getting to me having eaten so early on in the day.  We walked up the road to the chipper.  Annette left the Irish Male on a table and her bag on the seat while we ordered curried chips at the counter.  I was horrified!  Someone could so easily have stuck their hand in the door and grabbed the Irish Male, or someone inside the chipper could have grabbed it and run away very quickly….. and never have been caught!! Hmmm……

Anyway, it was all very exciting and enjoyable and I was glad I’d met Annette.  I look forward to catching up with her at some stage in the future as she doesn’t live too far from me, otherwise I’ll probably see her at Writers’ Week 2011!


Eddie Hobbs, Listowel 2010

Eddie Hobbs, Listowel 2010

The man who has it all! Looks, brains, gorgeous Cork accent…..phew!! It’s no wonder I couldn’t get a decent photo of him!  Sure I was overcome with emotion at seeing him…..and at hearing what he had to say regarding mortgages!  However,  according to Mr. Hobbs it is not all doom and gloom.  “Are we absolutely screwed?” he asked, then said “We’re absolutely not!”.

Eddie’s talk took place on the Saturday in the Listowel Arms, my last event of Listowel Writers’ Week.  On Sunday morning I said goodbye to beautiful Kerry, threatened to return, and set off for Lahinch – another story!