I don’t do star struck.
I don’t do speechless.
I don’t do babbling.
Last Friday night, however, I managed to do all three at the Kildare Readers Festival.
Ireland’s best writer of the decade – Joseph O’Connor – was there. An incredibly gifted writer, he is also a consummate gentleman and a very charismatic person. When he talks to you – in that mellifluous voice you know from the radio – he addresses you as though you are the only person in the room.
I first came into contact with Joseph O’Connor (rather than his work) a year ago when The Big Book of Hope was still just an idea I’d had on a bus. I jotted off an email to him, asking him to be part of the project – the Big Book of Hope will raise funds for the HOPE Foundation – and he responded immediately. Without hesitation, he committed to the project and delivered -without fanfare – before deadline.
When I met him, finally, on Friday night, I turned into a babbling thing of God knows what. See? Just like that – I couldn’t string a coherent sentence together. Now, I’m fairly used to famous people. I’ve dined with ambassadors, royalty and artists of note and never found myself star-struck before.
I think the difference is that Joseph O’Connor is not just famous, he is talented and he is disarmingly humble. In fact, I think that must be what did for me. I was expecting someone who seemed at least a little aware of his own talent; and who wore that knowledge like a beautiful cloak that we were all expected to admire. But no. Mr. O’Connor seemed vaguely surprised that all these people were there and had turned up to see and hear him.
He was generous with his time – chatting with everyone who had a book to sign, allowing people to use their mobile phones to take snaps of them with him, and humbly accepting the praise his fans delivered. I had my children with me, and he took the time to acknowledge them and speak to them, too.
On our way back to the car, my daughters weren’t sure what I was so thrilled about.
‘That was Joseph O’Connor,’ I explained to them. ‘The writer!’
‘Oh,’ said the Eldest, obviously still not sure why this was such a big deal for me. ‘But you’re a writer too. And so are loads of your friends. Especially your friends on Twitter.’
‘I’m not in the same league,’ I assured her. ‘He’s an amazing writer. Very clever and very funny.’
‘He wrote on your book,’ the Eldest pointed out.
‘He signed my copy of his book,’ I told her.
‘That makes it more special.’
She paused for a moment.
‘When I met Westlife, they were fighting over who would hold my hand,’ the Eldest said in what I suspect may have been a stab at one-up-manship. ‘And there’s four of them. There’s only one of him.’
That’s right, Darling. There is only one Joseph O’Connor.