Updated: 09/12/17 : 07:41:20
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Sligo author's fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis

When Sligo author Maureen Harkin opted to support the local Cystic Fibrosis branch at the recent launch of her short stories collection, ‘Love You Ma’, she never expected her decision would amount to €1630 from contributions per book sales and two small auctions on the night.

“I had decided to donate €5 from every book bought at the launch and expected to raise about €5-600 towards Cystic Fibrosis. What happened on the night completely bowled me over! People just kept arriving until they couldn’t get into the room.” she told us Tuesday night when she handed over the money at the Sligo branch meeting.

“As well as the book sales we also auctioned two special copies of the book. The first was for a 'faulty' print. When the books arrived from the printers the very first book I opened had two blank pages between pp143/144. You can imagine my shock, language [?] and dismay as I assumed all books would be the same. Fortunately, after a frantic search of several boxes, we knew it was a once off. My husband suggested I compose a poem about the blanks and handwrite it on those pages and we'd auction it,” she revealed. That she did and it realised €215 from a bid by Sooey native Eugene McGoldrick and the book is now in London.

Second book

The second book auctioned had the signature (and some messages) of everyone who got into the room. It made €200 and was bought by John Keane, a neighbour from Cartron. And Maureen was bowled over again the next morning when John arrived with the book and gave it to Maureen saying it rightfully belonged to her because of the personal messages, etc. “He wouldn't even take a free book in its place and insisted on paying for another one!” she said.

As a resident of Cartron for over thirty years, Maureen is only too familiar with the Cystic Fibrosis disease, having three neighbours whose children have succumbed to CF in the recent past. She has a dedication in the book to Louise Cooney, Gary Dillon and Gráinne Golden. Her friend and CF campaigner, Terri Golden, spoke at the book launch and read one of the humorous poems, ‘The Invitation’, while her daughter, Aisling Golden, designed the cover.

And what of the book itself? The Geevagh native describes the stories in ‘Love You Ma’ as ‘a cocktail of love and loss, of growing up and growing old’, with settings ranging from her own beloved Sligo to the fictional town of Hartesbridge, via Dublin, Boston, Capri and London. “One of the stories has a CF connection and is based around the Sligo Fleadh of a few years ago, but you’ll have to buy the book to find out which one!” she quipped.

Harboured

Maureen’s love of writing was nurtured as a teenage student at the Marist Convent, Tubbercurry. An avid reader, she’s harboured the desire to write her own book ever since winning a trip to Austria for an essay on the EEC while in 5th year.

The multi-layered collection of stories began to take shape when she joined the  local Inkwell Writers’ Group five years ago and her growing confidence was boosted when one of her stories ‘John & Eddie’ won a runners-up award in a Roscommon Arts Festival short stories competition in connection with The Gathering Ireland tourism initiative 2013.

But it wasn’t until the mother of four retired from her HSE job 18 months ago that the collection finally began to take shape. She explains: “I started some of the stories three or four years ago and then reshaped and revamped some of them and added others once I had retired and was able to devote more time to the writing process.

'Fertile imagination'

“I loved the whole experience of creating characters and bringing them to life. The stories were conceived on walks in Doorly Park and Rosses Point, and even on holidays in Tenerife and Lanzarote. I always had a notebook close at hand to capture events, or overheard conversations, or even a throw-away phrase. Only one of the stories is loosely based on real life – all of the other characters and events are purely fictional, the products of my fertile imagination,” Maureen reveals.

Since the launch Sligo’s newest author continues to be bowled over by the lovely messages she keeps receiving.  “We’ve been getting favourable reviews from far and wide. I’m thrilled with the reaction. It’s really important to me that so many people are enjoying the stories which I loved writing.  It seems that people find a welcome giggle in some of the yarns and then maybe a tear or two in others. I set out to cover a range of emotions, and that seems to be resonating with readers,” she adds.

And does she have a favourite among the reviews or message? “There are so many lovely messages, some too personal to share, but one in particular stood out: ‘Reading Maureen Harkin – Dinner Incinerated!’”