We spoke to Anne McKeon, who recently published her book, Nine Lives, with us. We talk to Anne about her favourite books, love of writing and how characters can call to you, asking for their story to be told.
“I have been writing since a very young age – always keeping a diary and I still have all my diaries going back to when I was 15 years old.
I initially wrote poetry from my late teens. Some years ago I went to a weekend workshop on creative writing and by the Sunday evening, I left thinking that I could possibly write a short story. I have been writing stories since then. I prefer writing them to poetry, but will still write any poem that pays me a visit and says ‘write me down.’”
“I have also written some reflective articles that have been published in the Spiritually Magazine (Dominican Publications) and have co-authored a book of poems with a friend, Bernard Allon, called Wounded Tree.
I am part of the Slieveardagh Writers Group, where I live and like to attend Open Mic sessions when I get the chance. These are a lovely occasion to meet and hear other writers and also to perform some of my own work.
Currently I am still writing short stories, working on a translation of a book on Zen from French to English and collaborating with my cousin on a children’s story, which he will illustrate and that I wrote.
There are many other projects in my mind that have yet to see the light of day – hopefully they will materialise.
We asked Anne to tell us about self-publishing her book, and she said “Well it was made easy enough with Lettertec. What I liked was that I was able to ring Andrew Haworth and talk to him about the service Lettertec provides. I prefer to speak to human beings than go to a site where one can self-publish, without ever having a human contact.
I chose to get my book edited independently of Lettertec and also use a different Graphic Designer. The reason being is that I personally knew the editor and designer and could talk things out well with them.
I wanted to have my book completed and I wanted it to see the light of day in the shops and in the hands of the people that bought it on the day of the launch. I could be waiting until the end of time to have it published by a publishing company. However I will now do some self-promoting of my book with publishers to see if anyone is interested in publishing it for a wider audience. “
Anne’s book, Nine Lives, is a book of nine very different stories. “Some are very serious, some funny, some entertaining, some that will leave you with a thing or two to ponder on after you have read them,” she notes.
“Two of the stories in particular woke me up in the middle of the night and said, ‘write me down.’ I did what I was told. Indeed, I feel that most of the stories were ‘given’ to me. The characters wanted to be heard and I obliged them. I got very involved with my characters, going around for days saying to myself, ‘Poor Susanne’ about the main character in the story, Spinning Tops and Sheep. Since I had no idea how the story was going to unfold, I felt very sorry for her, knowing that the beginning of her life was very sad. The same with the character, Bartly, in the story of that same name. His was a tough story. In particular, I found Dominic a hard story to put down on paper – it nearly broke my heart.”
She continues, “However, there are light moments in the book and I enjoyed immensely writing; The Brown Bread Family and My name is not Angela.
There are two stories based on stories in the Gospels, about people that were given no names, in the telling of the stories and whose stories are very brief. So I felt that they deserved to have a name given to them, particularly the two women that I write about in The Men Talked of Love. And I also wanted to imagine what their lives were like outside of what we are briefly told about them in the Gospel stories.”
As Nine Lives is a book about people, we asked Anne if she finds inspiration in people watching. She replied, “I can’t say that I purposely observe people, in such a way that I am looking for writing material.
However, I do like to meet people and talk to people about many different subjects. Some of my stories were inspired by people I knew in the past, but were not biographical. It was something in their lives made me start a story about that thing particular part of their life – then the story would just take off and find a life of its own. With “Spinning Tops and Sheep”, for example, I thought it was going to be about a very close friend of mine, whose name is Susanne and she does love spinning tops and sheep, but after the first paragraph of that story, it was clear to me that it was about another Susanne entirely, and that small idea was the door opening on a different character altogether that I had to get to know.”
Sense of Place
She also thinks sense of place is equally important in writing, “Currently I am writing a story about three women in Donegal and it seems to me that the place in this story is of greater importance in some ways to the characters,” she says. “The way the story is unfolding – it seems that they are the women they are because of where they are from.
A place can shape us and gift us with life other than we imagine. I love living where I live, for example. Not just the countryside I am living in, but the house and garden as well. It is just over a hundred years old and from the moment I walked into it I felt good about it. It is very important to me and it is the place from where I have been able to write Nine Lives.
It is here that I have been able to be closer to the earth/soil than ever before. I grow vegetables in my polytunnel. I’ve never been able to do this before and it reminds me of when my father used to bring us to the little allotment we had when I was a child.
The birds around our house are part of the family now. They know us and we know them. We feed them. Some of the trees and plants had hard beginnings when we planted them and so we had to care for them. There is a bond created there now that is as important as any human bond of friendship I have.”
Anne is an avid reader. We asked her to name some of her favourite books and how they inspired her. She replied “My favourite novel is The Lord of the Rings. I first came across it when I was about 21 years old. I have read it five times since then. What I love most about it is how nature is personified. Tolkien describes how a path will run down into a little valley and then slowly climb its way back up over the hills on the other side. It is almost like the path has life.
Of course, there are also the trees that do have their own lives and personalities in his story and we hear about how they suffer from the way people cut them down without thinking. I am also taken with the sense of adventure in the book and the five readings I have done of this book were always at a time when I needed to go on an epic journey but wasn’t able to do so on a physical or practical level.
Another favourite is, The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I first read it in French and prefer it to the English translation as it was first written in French. It taught me about how important it is for people to ‘tame’ each other. Sometimes we just don’t hit it off immediately with certain people. A person might have a personality that takes me outside my comfort zone – not my type. That person however, (or for that matter, me for that person), may be an occasion of great gift for each other. We just need to ‘tame’ each other and then as the fox in the story says, “we will then need each other. To me you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world.”
I mostly read factual stuff. Currently I am reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimminer. A biologist who brings her own Native American Indian Spirituality into her way of looking at nature and sees each plant, animal, insect, tree….. as a living being (just like Tolkien does in his book if you like, but he uses fantasy to do it) and due the same respect as we humans are suppose to give to each other. It is a whole other way of looking at the earth and challenges us to foster a more respectful relationship with all living beings.
I found The Universe Story by Thomas Berry and Brian Swimm fascinating—again, it is a book to open our eyes and see the beauty, complexity, fragility, and power of all of creation. Since reading that book I have become very interested in reading about what is called the New Cosmology. Telling the creation story since the Big Bang, in a different way and unveiling a way forward for us humans to live in right relationship with our universe. There are many great books on the subject and they are very easy to read and understand. Another example is Radical Amazement by Judy Cannato.
Brian Keenan’s book An Evil Cradling helped me to see how important it is to reflect on our experience and not judge on face value, but go deeper.
Mary Oliver’s poetry inspires me and has taught me how to look closer at an encounter with a flower, a leaf or a spider.
There is a French Poet, Guillevic that inspires me a lot like Mary Oliver’s poems. His poems are real, respectful, encounters with nature in all it’s forms. I have thought of trying to translate some of them – maybe some day. My own poetry is inspired by his.
John O’Donohue’s books, Anam Cara, Eternal Echoes and Divine Beauty are in my library and touch once again on how to live as ‘part of’ nature and not ‘apart from’ it. “
Anne advises everyone to keep reading. “I hope the bookshops don’t become a thing of the past. Support your local library. I love mine and go there to write. Read a variety of books and not just novels and give poetry a try as well. It is not as difficult as you might think. Join a book club so that you can reflect on what you have read and hopefully this will inform your own experience of day to day life.”
About the Book
Nine lives, nine voices from the people history and society have not always heard. Anne McKeon, in her gentle observance, offers us not just their story, but their entirety and
the place they occupy – whether it happened today or yesterday – in a turning world that does not often stop for its edge dwellers. Whether her characters are fragile or magical in their universe, their author offers you a passport to theirs through her unique vision of what it means to be a person people do not always see. Beautifully described, the stories inform a tenth life – that of the reader.
About the Author
Anne McKeon is a 58 year old woman living in the countryside of Co. Tipperary.
If, like Anne, you would like to have your book printed and published, feel free to contact us at Selfpublishbooks.ie. We have a range of packages, including printing, cover design and editing and will be happy to help bring your story to life, just the way you want it.