1 Growing up, what book had the greatest impact on you?

Whenever we visited my grandfather, he’d always say, “Take a book home now.” I saw John B Keane’s The Contractors, and I liked the cover, so just to placate him, I said, “OK, I’ll take this.”

I would have been 13 or 14 at the time, but I still remember how much I enjoyed that book and the sense of pride that I lived in the same town as the writer.

2 Listowel is famous for its writers; have you childhood memories involving any well-known names?

Two come to mind. My neighbour and friend, Máire McMahon, was a grandchild of Bryan McMahon, and at Máire’s birthday parties, her granddad would read us stories.

I remember thinking, “He’s reading a story from his own book”; but in a town like Listowel, that didn’t seem unusual at all!

Another day, my neighbour’s dog, Benji, was missing. We were wandering around and John B Keane came up and said, “Are you alright?” We told him all about the dog; and he came along and helped search for the puppy.

As it transpired, the puppy arrived back home long before we did.

There were no ivory towers in Listowel. These people were so accessible: they were part of the community.

3 What is your earliest memory of Listowel Writers’ Week?

There was a book fair run in the boys’ school. I went to the convent, so it was alien territory! But it was like an Aladdin’s Cave.

I still have a couple of books at home with, “Catherine, from Listowel Writers’ Week 1985, 1986” written inside. There was one by Sean McCarthy and one by Enid Blyton, so it shows that the fair had everything from the international to the local author.

Another memory was of a fancy dress competition. At the time, there was this Kerry Group calf feed called High Bloom. Our parents made dresses out of the High Bloom bags and got us to carry banners saying “Roses in Bloom”.

We thought we were just like mini Roses of Tralee; we had no idea of the wittiness of “Roses in Bloom”!

4 Having attended the festival through the years, what stands out as a personal highlight?

Before I knew who Colm Tóibín was or had ever read his books, I remember standing outside a venue in Listowel that he was speaking at.

The people coming out were almost hypnotised. Years later, when I met him through the festival, I remember thinking, “I totally get it now”. They say don’t meet your heroes, but he is so unassuming and so friendly and so generous with his time.

5 With Listowel Writers’ Week returning to its traditional format post-COVID, what are you most looking forward to?

This is like trying to pick a favourite book or a song! But there are a few things I am very excited about.

For the Kerry Group Irish Novel Of The Year, we have an event called “Meet The Shortlist” on Thursday 2 June at midday.

To have Nuala O’Connor, Kevin Power, Lisa Harding and Claire Keegan in the one room in the Listowel Arms; I think that’s going to be a reason to get up bright and early.

We also have an event with Donal Ryan and Louise Kennedy called “From Chrysalis To Butterfly” later that day. It’s about the journey of a writer from being unpublished to having that first book out; and then the fear of the follow-up.

Donal Ryan is such a generous writer and is now teaching in UL, while Louise Kennedy was a chef for 20 odd years and has brought out a book of short stories and her debut novel to great acclaim, so I think it will be really interesting.

We also decided to pay tribute to Brendan Kennelly. The final line of his poem, Begin, is, “We forever begin”. We felt that was a very fitting theme to the festival after COVID.

The poet John McAuliffe will be chairing and moderating an event on Saturday 4 June on Brendan Kennelly’s poetry and we’re lucky enough to have Neil Astley, who works with Bloodaxe Books, there too. That promises to be a beautiful tribute.

6 There are many literary festivals, but what makes Listowel Writers’ Week unique?

I think it’s the people of Listowel and the town- this intimacy of the festival- which makes it special. Everybody makes an effort to welcome people. They really embrace the festival in whatever way they can.

7 How do you think COVID has affected the literary landscape?

With COVID, I wondered how it would affect the creativity of artists and writers, but what I saw come out of it is that writers tried something new. For example, Colm Tóibín has a poetry book out, Vinegar Hill.

Stephen James Smith, the poet, worked with the musician Cormac Begley. There seems to be an emerging movement for writers to diversify or try new mediums and even collaborations.

8 What books are on your summer reading list?

I have pre-ordered Donal Ryan’s new book, The Queen of Dirt Island, while I’m also looking forward to reading Emilie Pine’s, Ruth and Pen.

9 Do you abandon a novel if you are not enjoying it; or persevere to the bitter end?

Before I would try to finish every book. Now I find that life’s too short! At page 100, it needs to give me a reason to carry on.

If I’m not able to finish a book, I give it away in the hope that someone else might enjoy it. But I’m also in a book club and they will say that I tend to rush through crime fiction sometimes. I just need to find out who killed who!

10 If you were to recommend a piece of work by a Listowel writer, what would that be?

I think everyone should read a book by John B Keane; something like The Bodhrán Makers.

But I also would encourage people to read John McAuliffe’s poems. He has a collection called Selected Poems with Gallery Press, as well as an anthology of sports poems called Everything To Play For.

Sometimes people find it difficult to commit to reading a book, but poetry is something you can pick up, look at for a couple of minutes and put down again. It’s a balm for the distraction and the busyness of our lives at the moment.

Listowel Writers’ Week runs from 1-5 June. www.writersweek.ie