Death of Eileen Battersby

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The tragic death of writer and journalist Eileen Battersby on Saturday 23rd of December, following a car accident, as she went to feed her horses, touched all of us who had the good fortune to know her. This Christmas was tinged with sadness at the loss of such an independent mind and spirit who loved books and literature, writing and words and animals with a fierce and dedicated passion.

I always admired Eileen’s work and looked forward to her book reviews which always drove me to get the book and read it for she had a way of capturing the essence of a story that few writers have. Hearing that Eileen was to interview me on the publication of my first adult novel ‘The Magdalen’, filled me with trepidation for her interviews were legendary and she had a way of getting an insight into a  writer’s persona that few journalist have.

The house was in chaos when she arrived as it was the day of our daughter’s 21st birthday party but I soon found myself deep in conversation with one of the liveliest and brightest minds ever as she quizzed me about why and how I write and the books and writers that I cared about and influenced me.  We are both mad on dogs and the hours flew by as we talked about books we loved that deserved more attention. She was a champion of books and writers and as she finally disappeared down my driveway I realised just how very special Eileen was.

Over the years I always enjoyed meeting Eileen and she came along to Irish Pen dinners and also took part in a few Irish Pen debates and discussions. I particularly remember one night asking her to come along to talk about her favourite books. Asking Eileen to pick her favourites was a bit crazy of me for she had a voracious mind and an immense knowledge of Irish and international literature. She arrived with three massive bags of books which she encouraged us all to find and to read. I still laugh as ~I think of everyone furiously trying to write down everything she said.

There never will be anyone as free spirited and big hearted as Eileen. Listening to her beautiful daughter Nadia talk about Eileen at her funeral made all of us present realise that we have witnessed the passing of a very special and gifted human being.

Sacha Abercorn –Sadly December also brought the death of another special lady, my friend Sacha Hamilton, the Duchess of Abercorn. Sacha worked tirelessly to promote creativity and to foster the imagination and the love of writing, the arts and nature amongst children both in the North of Ireland and the South of Ireland.

Sacha set up The Pushkin Trust in 1987 which was named after the Russian writer Alexander Pushkin who was a relative of hers. At the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland she organised workshops and school visits that brought children together and sought to break down divisions.  Over the years The Pushkin Trust grew and grew and became even more successful. I always enjoyed being part of it and helping any way that I could whether it was with children or with teachers.

Sacha loved meeting children and their families. She cherished creativity in all its forms and often arranged for young prize winners to come to her home in Baronscourt in Omagh. Kind and gentle Sacha had a deep inner strength and conviction and her beloved Pushkin Trust has encouraged imagination and hope in so many young hearts and minds.

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Happy New Year to everyone. May 2019 be a year of kindness towards our fellow man…..

 

Blazing a Trail…Irish Women Who Changed the World

IMG_3928What an amazing launch in Dun Laoghaire’s Lexicon Library for Sarah Webb’s wonderful new book Blazing a Trail…Irish Women Who Changed The World.

Sarah and talented Illustrator Lauren O’Neill have shone a light on 28 amazing intelligent, hardworking, pioneering Irish women who have influenced people both at home here in Ireland and across the world.

In terms of design, Blazing a Trail is visually stunning and an exhibition of Lauren’s illustrations from the book is currently on display at the Lexicon.

Sarah has done a huge job in compiling, researching and finding out more about these incredible women some of whom I’m ashamed to admit I was not even aware of.

From Maureen O’Hara, Sybill Connolly, Eileen Grey, Nellie Cashman, Aleen Cust, the list I promise is truly varied and this is a book that deserves to be read by girls of all ages.

Ossian Smyth Cathaoirleach of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council and Librarian Marian Keyes helped to launch the book alongside O’Brien Press Editor Aoife Walsh.  There was a great surprise when a few members of Sarah’s talented young writers group, complete with wigs and costume, entertained us with dramatized scenes from the lives of three of these remarkable women.   What a brilliant night and what a brilliant book!

Bold Girls

What a perfect day to launch Bold Girls as across the world we celebrate International Women’s Day and the Centenary of Women’s Suffrage here in Ireland !

Bold Girls’ is the innovative new project by Children’s Books Ireland to celebrate and the representation of girls and women in children’s books, that have strong, intelligent female characters that appeal to all ages. The aim is to break down barriers and put girls front and centre

A ‘Bold Girls’ Reading Guide is part of the initiative and it includes a broad reading guide from picture books to teenage novels and also includes a  focus on twenty Irish female authors and illustrators of children’s books.  It was great to take part in a special ‘Bold Girls ‘school event  in Eason’s with authors and illustrators Sarah Crossan, Niamh Sharkey and Yasmeen Ismail  and the brilliant kids from St Mary’s School in Dorset Street with lots of stories and doodling  and face painting going on.

boldgirlsLater all the Bold Girls gathered in the amazing Long Room in the Old Library in Trinity College (The inspiration for the Hogwarts Library in the Harry Potter films) for the official launch of Bold Girls.

There is also a small selection of children’s books by Irish female author’s part of the ‘Story Spinners display in the library which marks women’s role in writing and illustrating children’s literature over the century.  The books are part of Trinity’s wonderful Pollard Children’s Literature Collection of over 10,000.00 books.

Dr Norah Patten, faculty member of the International Space University officially launched ‘Bold Girls

With so many female writers and children’s book lovers gathered together it was always going to be a fun night with lots of stories!!

Well done to Jenny Murray and all the team in CBI for organising it all and putting the Reading Guide and the  Bold Girls  initiative together.IMG_1642.JPG