LOCAL woman Catherine Wilkie was described as the Midlands’ “latest and brilliant new author” when her debut novel ‘The Easter Snow’ was launched last week.
Speaking at the event at Midland Books, Tullamore, John Whelan, former senator and regional newspaper editor, said ‘The Easter Snow’ was a book born out of the Midlands, its people, its landscape, its peculiarities and its vernacular.
Ms Wilkie (nee Farrell) is a native of Kilbeggan who lives in Tullamore and previously worked for Bord na Mona and the Irish Peatlands Preservation Council. A mother of two children and qualified ecologist, she has self-published ‘The Easter Snow’ and the book was designed and printed by Ferbane firm Brosna Press, which is run by Diarmuid Guinan.
“In a world where not just our natural heritage and environment are under extreme pressure and strain, but also our written literary heritage and standards of journalism are in a downward spiral – this book stands out as a beacon of hope on so many fronts,” said Mr Whelan.
He said the world was “obsessed” with the “three-minute read”, something which would not take up much time, but would also not take up “much of anything really”, including effor, energy, engagement and emotions. “This is a dangerous and pitful dumbing down,” said Mr Whelan.
“In stark contrast ‘The Easter Snow’ will take up your time, demand your attention and linger with you long after you have left it down.”
He said it will engage, entertain and “ensnare” the reader as any good book should. Mr Wheland said it was unfortunate that many of us sometimes even fail to notice nature, “even though it should be the constant screen-saver to our lives”.
“We speak of life it terms of the seasons, the spring of our youth, the summer of love, the autumn and winter of our years. ‘Easter Snow’ is a book for all seasons, just as Catherine Wilkie, its author is a woman for all seasons,” he said.
The book was inspired by her bachelor granduncle’s admission to a nursing home following a stroke.
Ms Wilkie writes of the Irish Midlands in the 1940s and 1950s where unimaginable things like arranged marriages were part of the norm and where your destiny, especially if you were female, was written largely by the number of acres of good land you carried and/or the man you married.
On the first page of ‘The Easter Snow’ we meet Marianne – a woman who escaped that fate, and yet she has returned – the draw of home.
Soon after we meet Lily, a woman of more recent generation struggling to find the balance between mothering and career, surrender and control. Their stories are intertwined, though worlds apart. Taking cover from a snow shower in spring close to her home on the outskirts of Tullamore planted the seed of the story in the author’s mind and in ‘The Easter Snow’, as snowdrops give way to bluebells, daily life and the healing force of time re-awakens the spirit of Marianne and Lily.
The novel also tells the story of the love between a brother and sister, Liam and Mary Ann, separated in childhood and separated from their home, the countryside and small fields around them, and trips to Mass and market.
Speaking after the launch, Ms Wilkie said she was delighted to get the book out to the public and was busy distributing it to retailers near and far and stockists such as Offaly History.
“Diarmuid in Brosna Press did a fantastic job and everybody commented on it,” she said. “He provides such a great service”. The launch was an informal occasion attended by many members of Ms Wilkie’s family, including her father Gerry, a dairy farmer well known as the former chair of Westmeath Co-Op.