Ambassador Mairtin O'Fainin and his wife Anne were welcoming hosts at a book launch and presentation at the Irish Embassy, Canberra on 29th March. About 100 guests attended, many of them old friends. It was a very happy evening, and we felt very much at home in Canberra surrounded by all those lovely people we knew well.
We left Hamilton very early on Friday morning and had an easy drive to Adelaide – about 5 hours. The changing landscape never fails to interest us – everything is greener than we have ever seen before, until we get to South Australia where it’s a bit browner - they are still desperate for rain.
Our first appointment was at the ABC for a radio interview with Carole Whitelock. She had read and liked the book, so that was a good interview and enjoyable talking to her.
As always it is a delight to catch up with old friends and we had some very pleasant days in Adelaide.
The Russian Community Arts and Crafts Fair was on Sunday – where we spent most of the day. There was a terrific variety of Russian crafts for sale, and some great food. Some friends came past and bought books and chatted. Some others came as a result of the radio interview on Friday afternoon, and all in all it was a pleasant, if long day.
Monday we set off south to Carrickalinga to our friends’ beach house. What a beautiful place. We walked along the beach, looked at the sparkling sea and some dolphins playing. The water was tepid and a pleasure to put my feet in. A gorgeous day with a fresh mild breeze blowing. We both felt totally refreshed and rested after an overnight stay there.
We set off on the long drive home to Sydney across country. We had a good trip and stayed overnight in Hay. We had driven nearly 800 kms that day, and were about half way! It is such a long drive.
The next day we travelled across very flat plains - saw a few wandering emus, and passed huge properties with massive wheat silos near a one track railway line - the land seems to be mostly saltbush and grain. A few sheep eating the saltbush, and unusually near Hay, some puddles of water... The road stretches for hundreds of kilometres almost straight. The land just stretches to the horizon - flat. We passed several double length huge trucks, tricky as the road is quite narrow.
We had such a pleasant time with friends on each of our stops in Melbourne, Hamilton and Adelaide. That is a really positive side of this trip - seeing really dear friends we haven't been able to see for a while.
Bally Glunin Park
What a wonderful place to be – out of Hamilton we climb up Mount Baimbridge Road and suddenly we are in 'Blake' land. Tranquil, just the whisper of the wind in the great cypress trees, and the dogs barking in their kennels whenever a rabbit or a possum intrudes. We spent this morning at the shearing shed where countless thousands of sheep are being moved from yard to yard, ready to be pulled into the door that takes them to the shearing team. Modern technology has certainly reached here – the shearers all in suspended cradles so they don’t suffer back stress, the wool shifted and flung as quickly as ever.
The wool classer now sports a laser machine to measure the microns. – Whoosh the fleece is absorbed into a chamber, a small sample sucked out. The sample is then pushed into a small cylinder where the machine counts each tiny strand and the count appears on a computer screen. Before this machine, the wool classer had to look, feel and guess. The wool is then baled, pressed, stapled and labelled for its destination and class. Most of this wool will go straight to a suit manufacturer in Italy.
However, in the shed itself the dogs still hassle and bite the heels of the unfortunate sheep, they walk on the sheep’s backs, very excited to be doing their bit. I wonder how long the dogs will continue to play a part. There is bound to be another technology soon that will exclude the dogs. Such great advances in breeding and technology mean its possible to breed sheep that don’t suffer from fly strike – the folds around their tail are bred out, and they manage to be much healthier and survive better. This farm is run to strict animal health, human safety and health standards plus environmental preservation. I am impressed at how well it is all run by Michael Blake. The work is all contracted out now, with very few employees. However, it does mean that the farmer has enormous control and responsibility.
Around the house the guinea fowl fuss around with their handsome speckly feathers and roost high in the cypress at night.
What a wonderful few days it has been. Tomorrow we leave for Adelaide.
We left Sydney exactly a week ago and stayed overnight in Beechworth on the road to Melbourne. What a pleasant country town to walk around with an interesting history and well preserved buildings.
Melbourne was relatively simple with the aid of our GPS, and we had a very pleasant evening catching up with an old kind friend. From then on it was a combination of busy and relaxing. Jim Cusack at Radio 3CR interviewed me on Saturday morning – good fun, for a radio program targeted at people of Irish descent. He suggested that on Monday evening I speak to a group who meet monthly at the Celtic Club – The Irish History Group. They were an interesting and interested group, several of them asked good questions. All such lovely people and the Cusack family so very helpful.
Next day was our session at the Athenaeum Library. A very beautiful library, and the oldest library in Melbourne. A good group of people turned up, many of them old friends. Again there were good questions and delightful people working there. A memorable experience.
Our first Australian launch was held in Sydney on 1 March, at the Northbridge home of Tony and Alayne Eastley. A great gathering of old friends and interested people turned up in spite of the dreadful weather. Tony spoke very kindly about the book, followed by a talk by Jean on 'finding Kathleen'.
A very enjoyable and lively evening.
The preparations are hectic as emails and press releases and review copies are all going out now - as somebody said "we're getting to the pointy end". I hope to do some author talks in some of the Eastern suburbs' libraries (where there is a Russian community around), but don't know when.
After an exhausting and exciting two weeks in Ireland, we are now back in a steamy Sydney summer to begin launching the book in Australia.
The program here is about to start with a first launch next week in Sydney. The following week we will travel to Melbourne, where there are some radio interviews organised. There will be a launch on Monday 15th, followed by an author talk the next day at the Athenaeum Library on 16th March, at 1pm. Everyone invited – it should be a very pleasant and interesting venue.
My days are taken up with meetings and organising a publicity/promotion program.
On St Patrick’s day, we will have a launch in Hamilton Victoria. This is the area where Kathleen ffrench’s great-uncle Acheson ffrench settled. He bought land and started a dynasty, having 13 children. He named his property Monivae, a slight difference in spelling to his former Irish home. There are many descendants of this family, in Australia and around the world. Acheson ffrench also encouraged his cousins to emigrate, and the Blake family arrived in the Hamilton/Horsham area, setting up another dynasty and naming their property Bally Glunin Park after the family property in Ireland.
Monivae College in Hamilton, Victoria, where we will be launching the book at an event on St Patrick’s Day, is a secondary co-educational day and boarding school. Set on 48 hectares, the college was founded in 1954 by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. Kathleen went to the Sacre Coeur Convent in Rome – it was run by nuns of the same order.
From Hamilton we go on to Adelaide and will participate in a fair at the Russian Cultural Centre.
The day started with a meeting with my literary agent to discuss the future. Then to our usual venue at the Internet cafe in Dundrum shopping centre. The car practically knows it way there!
We went into the city to meet Una and Rosie at a lovely old fashioned pub for lunch. It was very crowded, but the soup and sandwiches were great, and there was a warm friendly atmosphere. Then to the radio station for Newstalk interview. I was interviewed by Patrick Geoghan, who presents a program on Sunday evenings called Talking History. It was quite pleasant and not at all difficult. We talked a bit about the status of woman in Kathleen's era and about her independence which was unusual for that time in history.
I am enormously relieved that the interviews are over - we are both exhausted. However it's been a wonderful experience and well worth the effort. Tomorrow is tidy up and pack up day. We will go up to Glencullen to return the car to Ruth and have lunch with them. Then one of them will leave us back here and we will get ready to go. A car will pick us up at 6.30 am on Friday for the airport, then its all over. Back to warm Sydney on Saturday.
We had a meeting first thing with my literary agent and he referred to the book as a "fine book" - I was really pleased at that remark, as coming from him, that was high praise. There was a review/article in the Irish Times yesterday in the Irishwoman's Diary column - it was good, except she spelt my name wrong! I became Joan Lombard would you believe. However, the main theme was great, and will only help to sell books.
We are now on our way to meet Una and Rosie in a pub in town for lunch, followed by a panel interview for a radio program called Newstalk - Talking History, at 2.30. This might be harder - as I am no historian! I hope this will be my last media interview, its all very exhausting.
It has been an incredible day. Off to RTE for an interview with Pat Kenny - Ireland's radio star personality. We were told to come around 11am, and of course were there early. his program runs from 10.00 to 12 midday. We waited and waited - nail biting - we weren't called in until about 12 minutes to midday - phew - but got a good 10 minutes of air time. It was all so nerve racking - I was sure he was going to run out of time, as a big political story broke that morning and everything was pushed back.
After that we had a meeting with the publisher and back home to take some deep breaths.
Its really lovely winter weather, and thank goodness we have the right gear as its very cold. But dry and sharp. Had a lovely walk in the afternoon in the grounds of UCD and felt better for it. At last we are sleeping - recovered just in time to take off again on Friday!
I was thinking a lot about yesterday and how wonderful the community at Monivea has been. Kathleen and her story really belong to Monivea, and they certainly turned on a great occasion for us. A memorable day.
Off to the mausoleum for 10am meeting with the RTE TV crew for filming Nation wide. A freezing cold day - pale wintery light, but at least dry. The crew decided to film me on the roof of the mausoleum - where it was bitter. I talked myself dry for three quarters of an hour - then lots of walks in and out of the door, in the woods, around the effigy of Robert Percy ffrench and the altar. They then talked to Paddy Moyles who holds the huge old key of the mausoleum, and filmed him opening the door.
Then over to the remaining tower of Monivea Castle for more walking, looking, posing etc. My toes were like ice blocks. It all took much longer than we anticipated, so our departure from Monivea was a bit rushed. Some of the Monivea people went off and managed to get hold of a generator to put up lights inside the mausoleum for the camera - anything we asked them to do or help with was done so willingly. We are so grateful to them all.
We were anxious to get back to Dublin to say goodbye to Stephen and Barbara who are leaving for Spain, they have been so kind to us. As has everyone - this visit and the very busy schedule is working well really because of the kindness and support of family and friends.
I am writing this on Tuesday morning. It was snowing when we came out the door! I am on the way to RTE for a radio interview with Pat Kenny - hope it goes well.
A magnificent day, dry and cold with a pale wintery sun. Perfect for the woods and the mausoleum. The tracks into the woods had been repaired, pot holes filled and gravel spread. One of the locals said to me "it's the only road in Ireland that has been repaired, you'd better come more often". The person who was responsible for opening the mausoleum said that when he arrived at 12.30 there was a queue waiting to get in. From then on there was a steady stream of visitors, until we left at 3.30 to go to the Community Hall.
Welllll the hall - there was already a line of people with books waiting for me to sign, some with several books in their arms. People wanted different dedications written, some very interesting, but mostly to families. One woman told me she had haunted the woods and around the mausoleum as a child full of curiosity about its history. She was very excited about being able to read the book. She passed me a small parcel - saying this is a book I have written myself I want to give you. It wasn't until I got back to my room that I opened the parcel. It's a beautiful book called Viking Summer, about the filming of MGM's epic movie of Alfred the Great. She is writing another very interesting book at the moment too.
So the formal part was a bit late starting - and in the end the publisher had to tell people to wait until afterwards when I would start signing again. John introduced the talk, then I had to perform. I was a little restricted by a table and lectern and microphone - so felt I was a bit wooden, however it all went well and everyone listened attentively.
So many of our friends came from far and wide, Australia, Holland, England and of course from all over Ireland, including Jane's friends - a great group of them there, it was wonderful to see them. People who were in some way associated with the ffrenchs and their friends and descendants - an incredible number.
After the speech, more signing, and the queue was still long - but they ran out of books!!!
what a shame. However, people can still buy them at book shops around, so there shouldn't be any problem.
After that was all over we came back here and had dinner in the snug - I think there were about 18 of us in all. Absolutely exhausted, but pleased it went so well.
We woke up to a dense fog, which really didn't clear most of the day.
Walking around Galway which is usually a pleasure, was damp and cold.
However we were welcomed in the bookshop, Dubrays, very excited the see the poster in the window. It all seems so unreal.
The signing went well - a number of people who came in had heard me on the local radio on Friday morning. Some were from Monivea, and thought they would get in early!
Marilyn Hatton and Paul Collins from Canberra turned up at the shop - exciting to see them there. When we got back to the hotel it was 2 hours of hard slog interview in front of a camera crew by a guy who is making a documentary. He had some hard questions. I was exhausted by the end of it.
Roger and Jane Matthews had arrived from England, Willy Slingerland had arrived from Holland, and Rachel and Alain arrived next from Chateau! Rachel and Alain brought a signed note wishing me well from a collection of people in the village - a lovely thought.
We had dinner in the bar together and crashed.
Big day tomorrow!
This morning my first interview on live radio - Galway FM - which apparently went well, I had to do all the talking! After the interview we called into Mary and Brian Fitzgerald - the postmasters at Monivea - just to let them know we are here and to have a look at the hall. It's an enormous hall - quite intimidating, but I guess it will be an enthusiastic audience, so hopefully I won't have any trouble. Brian and Mary told me they had heard me on the radio and thought it was good.
We are both exhausted, neither of us sleeping well, me in particular. Long old jet lag. 11 hours difference is a killer.
It's very cold, but at the moment quite dry, so there is a pale winter sun, bare trees, brown and pale wintery green countryside, and sharp air. But inside very cosy. However, when walking its great.
We are planing to have a quiet evening and an early night - hopefully to sleep. Tomorrow I have to be at a book shop called Dubrays in Galway at 1.30pm to sign books. An acquaintance told me he had bought a book at Dubrays this afternoon. I think he must be the first person in the world to buy a book at a shop!!! Imagine how I am going to feel when I see it in the window tomorrow.
The publisher made some wonderful posters for the event - they are beautiful.
After I get back from that, a local Galway guy who is making a documentary about Kathleen will come here to the hotel to film me answering questions. In the evening our various friends start arriving - a couple of friends from England and a friend from Holland, so we will have a pleasant dinner together. And of course Sunday will be all go, with the mausoleum open from 1 to 3.30 for visitors, then the event/launch at 4pm in this huge local hall in Monivea, afternoon tea - book sales and signings.
Yesterday was a very tiring but exciting day, culminating in the launch at the Russian Embassy in the evening. The morning started with a telephone interview with the Connaught Tribune, then conversations with other media people in the afternoon, despite trying to have a snooze! The party at the Russians was great, a marvelous spread and drinks - all very generous. Everyone had a happy time.
Afterwards we had a short time with English friends who had flown over for the occasion and then crashed. I am still finding it hard to sleep - I think last night I was too hyped.
This morning - I had a very good telephone interview with Shirley Kelly of Books Ireland. She loved the book - that is the first professional opinion I have had, so good news.
This evening we are going to Moynalvey in Co. Meath for a dinner. We are overnighting there and will set off for Galway early tomorrow morning. I have to be there by 11am for Galway FM live on radio.
That starts a series of busy times in and around Galway, with all sorts of meetings and interviews.
Well – my shoulder is aching. I had to sign 200 books this morning at the publishers. They are using it as a marketing gig – ‘the author has come all the way from Australia, buy your book now, and get a signed copy!’
Rainy and cold, about 5 degrees today.
Yesterday was a busy day as well as a day of recovery. The flight arrived in early and as we stepped outside, the cold air cut like a knife. It was minus 1c. The driver was there to pick us up and off we went. Even at that hour there was a lot of traffic. When we arrived at the apartment – there was no one here, they weren’t expecting us until about 9am. So we dragged our down coats and fur hats out and marched around to keep warm until they arrived.
Unfortunately the phone isn’t working yet, and the mobile reception isn’t great here, so I have to rush outside and up some steps to receive or make calls. And there were many, back and forth with arrangements about media events. John's brother Stephen took us for a drive around for a bit of orientation and a bit of food shopping, then my sister Ruth and her husband Mick very kindly brought us Ruth’s car – this makes an enormous difference, as it gives us freedom to come and go. This morning we will go out searching for access to the Internet somewhere!
In an Internet cafe in Dundrum shopping centre - all very efficient and feel connected once again. Just about to go to a meeting with the publisher, lots to discuss.
Everything went smoothly – the aircraft is almost empty – as a result the staff don’t have enough to do, so we have to slow them down.
Had a hilarious incident – we have tables to pull out for eating, with flourishes of napkins etc, and there is a little metal ring in which
to hook our finger to pull the table out. John’s finger got stuck in
the metal ring, I think he put his finger in too far and he simply couldn’t get it out. All the staff surrounded us – as the cabin manager tried to extract his finger. All John could say was “we are going to Dublin, can you imagine the jokes if I have a small table top permanently attached to my finger”. Sadly and badly, all I could do was laugh hysterically.
Sunday, 31 January 2010, Sydney to Dublin
Well, all the bags are packed, except last minute odds and ends. The baggage has been a bit of a nightmare – with 60kgs of books flying with us! Hardly any room for clothes. The eight boxes of unaccompanied baggage have arrived in Dublin safely, so now there will be plenty of books for the various launches and signings arranged around Ireland.
As we leave Sydney the temperature is 30c and in Dublin right now it’s 1c. Ripper! As a matter of fact I won’t mind a bit of cooler weather in Ireland, even if it is damp – it will be an enormous relief to get away from the Sydney heat and humidity.
We are due to arrive in Dublin at 7am on Monday 1st local time – 6pm Sydney time, with the first launched planned in Dublin on Wednesday 3rd February.
What a busy schedule has been arranged for us – so many media appointments between launches. We go to Galway on Friday morning for a busy few days, culminating in the launch at Monivea village on Sunday 7th February, with the mausoleum open to the public for viewing beforehand.
I feel a bit like the prodigal daughter returning to the land of my birth.
I've just got to keep that jet-lag at bay, hopefully the adrenalin will help! I look forward to starting a diary from Dublin pretty well as soon as I get there.
John keeps writing “bon mots” to help me with interviews!
Will keep you posted.