Author John MacKenna from Athy
Two new books from The Harvest Press were launched earlier this month, and both have links to County Kildare.
The Harvest Press was one of the more positive outcomes of the Covid 19 lockdown — an idea dreamed up in March and reaching fruition this autumn, according to those behind it.
It is a small kitchen-table publishing enterprise founded by local writers John MacKenna and Angela Keogh, whose works are its first two publications. The Harvest Press will publish new work, offer performances and workshops and have scripts for theatre productions available. The two books are of strong local interest — one being set in south Kildare, Carlow and Kilkenny and the other by a Castledermot born author.
The Winter Dress, a novel by Angela Keogh, is particularly apt for the times we live in. Set mostly in and around south Kildare during the plague that was the Black Death, the book tells the stories of two travellers whose paths cross as they shelter for the night at a monastery.
One is Rose, a wild, Irish dressmaker, from Tristledermot (Castledermot) who is travelling to Kilkenny to find a man with whom she fell in love. The second is Brother John, a Norman monk, who has lost his faith and is returning to the Tristledermot. after a twenty-year absence.
In a time when a terrifying epidemic is spreading across the land, the pair spend the night in conversation and find they have more in common than they first thought. The novel is a story of love, loss, heartache, hope and resilience.
The Winter Dress was a winner at the 2020 Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair and its author, Kilkenny-born Angela Keogh, lives and works in Carlow. This is her first novel.
“Winning the Irish Novel Fair award was a huge boost,” she says, “but getting the novel published and into the readers’ hands is even more important. Writers want to have their books read.”
Angela comments on the coincidence of the book coming out during a pandemic, “When I wrote the book, over the last four years, I had no idea that it would be published during a pandemic that has so much in common with the Black Death. I hope the readers find the parallels interesting.”
Angela is currently working on a new novel set in contemporary times. Two of her radio plays will broadcast in the coming months.
The second book from The Harvest Press is I Knew This Place a collection of eighty-five essays from the RTE Radio 1 programme Sunday Miscellany, written and broadcast by John MacKenna over the past fifteen years.
Many of the stories in the book are set in and around MacKenna’s native Castledermot and in the south Kildare area and deal with everything from robbing orchards to ghosts in his car.
Not all of the material is set locally, however, and the essays range from Greece to London and Holyhead to America.
“These are stories drawn from the landscape of south Kildare, from events in my own life and from the characters among whom I grew up. They’re light and dark – just like life,” John says. “But I’m really happy to have them available in book form.”
John MacKenna is one of the most popular and regular broadcasters on Sunday Miscellany and I Knew This Place is his twenty-first book. He lives in Co Carlow and teaches creative writing at Maynooth University
Both The Winter Dress and I Knew This Place are available in bookshops throughout Kildare and at Behan’s Castledermot, the Community Centre in Castledermot and the Heritage Centre in Athy or online at www.theharvestpress.ie.
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