I got to meet Jennifer Johnson at last at the Readers festival in Newbridge on the 19th October. I have long been a fan of hers since finding her work in the early eighties, but became an even greater fan when she was the judge in the James Plunkett short story award last year and chose my story as first prize winner. (More about this in my next blog) At the time she was unable to attend the prize giving ceremony at the Irish Writers centre but wrote a letter to me instead. It’s on my list for framing and meanwhile filed…sort of..with other precious things.


section of letter from Jennifer johnston


dermot bolger and jennifer j

Photo: Ger Holland Photography

This year was the fourth year for the Kildare reader’s festival and it has become a tradition on the Sunday morning to have Dermot Bolger interviewing a guest. Last year it was Paula Meehan and Theo Dorgan, this year Jennifer Johnston. There is a relaxed intimate atmosphere about these conversations, due in part to the venue but also in no small part to Dermot’s affable manner which always seems to bring out the best in his guests. Jennifer Johnston has an amazing recall and is still full of the joy of living and creating. In her own words ‘I would prefer to write badly than not to write at all.’

Most of the events in the readers festival take place in the Arts Centre in Newbridge and it’s a real pleasure to be able to walk ten minutes from my house to attend events with acclaimed writers both local and from further afield. This year I went to a discussion about writing and publishing in 21st century Ireland in the library on Friday evening with local writers Mary O Donnell, Martin Malone and John MacKenna, hosted by Anthony Glavin. Interesting to hear insights from people actively involved in getting their work out there. This was preceded by the presentation of the Cecil day Lewis awards to Laura Cassidy and Bill Tinley, which brought me back to the thrill of being awarded one last year. Francis Brennan was talking to Susan Boyle about his guide to life afterwards in the Arts centre but I decided to give that one a miss- as you can imagine the toilet paper is always facing the right way out in my house…

On Saturday I headed off after breakfast to ‘10 books you should read’ with Roisin Ingle and Peter Murphy. Interesting to hear the choices – obviously they are pretty subjective.

Roisin’s were: How to be a woman (Caitlin Moran); Rabbit Run (John Updike); On Chesil Beach (Ian Mc Ewan); The Uncommon Reader (Alan Bennet);and Maeve’s Times (Maeve Binchy).

Stories for the Ear

Peter Murphy, Eoghan Doyle (kildare Arts service), Neil Donnelly (Stories for the Ear) and Róisín ingle Photo: Ger Holland Photography

Peter’s: ‘A Good Man is hard to find’ (Flannery O Connor) of course; ‘Riddley Walker’ (Russel Hoban) now there’s one I never heard of!; ‘I’m your man’ ( life of leonard Cohen- Sylvie Simmons); ‘Getting it in The Head’/’Forensic songs’ (Mike McCormack) modern classics; and ‘The True History of the Kelly Gang’ (Peter Carey)

Again that lovely intimate atmosphere as they chatted about their reasons for those choices. After wards there was the launch of ‘Stories for the Ear’ Professional recordings of stories from Kildare writers, which has also become an annual event.  kildare.ie/ArtsService/StoriesfortheEar

I was unable to attend other events on the Saturday- Life getting in the way of my life again!- so missed the other Saturday events.

The notebook project exhibition was launched again – all those wonderful moleskin notebooks kept for three months and then returned filled with notes/artwork/ reflections/ photographs. Why not get involved next year details here; http://www.kildarenotebookproject.com/kildare Artist notebook project

On Sunday morning we had three of the writers talking about the collaborative book Sister Caravaggio – Mary O Donnell, Neil Donnelly, and Peter Sheridan- interesting project with seven different authors also including Maeve Binchy and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne. It’s described as ‘a page-turning whodunit’. I’m looking forward to reading it and trying to figure out who wrote which chapter.


Sister Caravaggio

Photo: Ger Holland Photography

jennifer and me 2

Photo: Ger Holland Photograph

Jennifer and Dermot were the last event in the festival and we all lingered in the coffeeshop after the book signings, reluctant to get back to humdrum reality. What stays with me from these events is not so much the details of who said what but the ideas that circulate when you sit and listen to people talk about their experiences, because the mind is always conducting its own dialogue with the information that comes in, filtering and processing and adding its own experiences to the mix. As thinkers and writers and creative we are always ‘filling the well’ that at some later time will provide sustenance for our own endeavours.



dermot bolger and me

Dermot Bolger checking my first edition of Jennifer’s first novel to see if I am a collector or a real fan! Photo: Ger Holland Photography

readers festival me

Photo: Ger Holland Photography










4 thoughts on “Jennifer Johnston and me. (Kildare Readers Festival)

  1. mari G

    Lovely post, Eileen. I really enjoyed the events too – you certainly hit the nail on the head about the generation of ideas from listening to prolific writers discuss their endeavours. My particular favourite was Jen Johnson’s one about it being better to write badly than not to write at all – motivating words indeed for yours truly!!
    Would like to see JJ’s letter in the flesh – not able to decipher some of those scrawled words……next time we are at coffee maybe.

    • Eileen Keane

      No problem Mari! Great few days, I’m looking forward to next year’s already.

  2. Hi Eileen,

    Great blog. It was a great line-up, especially seeing Jennifer Johnston in the flesh. I love the literary gatherings, its sustenance for the creative mind, not to mention the social aspect of meeting fellow writers.

    Wonderful post, keep them coming.

    • Eileen Keane

      Thanks Olive.

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