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