Self-publisher still buzzing after a decade

Delores Keaveney is full of positive energy ahead of her 70th birthday and a decade on from publishing her first book. It’s now very much a family affair, she tells Margaret Jennings.

TAKING ROOT: Author and illustrator of children’s books, Dolores Keaveney in the garden at her Mullingar home. Picture: Bob Morrison

SHE wrote and illustrated her first book at age 60, called If I Were A Bee, which became a children’s bestseller, and artist and author Dolores Keaveney has been buzzing herself since then — self-publishing new work on an annual basis over the past decade.

Mullingar-based Dolores, who will be 70 in the coming weeks, says that she has had a positive energy since the day she was born, and that once she gets a notion to do something, there is no stopping her.

The theme for her first book, for instance, was inspired by a class she attended in bee-keeping, while her beautiful watercolour illustrations were inspired by her love of gardening.

The poppies weren’t only pollinated by the bees: Shannonbridge Pottery licensed some of those images to use on ceramics which were sold countrywide. And another company in Donegal, Pixalili, are featuring her floral and bird designs in a range of textiles, including cushions and aprons.

Not all Dolores’s books have been illustrated by herself; last year she published one called Dilly The Camper & The Magic Fairy Garden, which was illustrated, the cover tells us, by Keaveney & Lennon children, for children.

When she started writing in 2009 she had two grandchildren; now she has eight, ranging in age from 14 to 18 months — all of them actively under the creative spell of their productive nana, who dedicates her work to them.

“In Dilly The Camper when my grandchildren called, we made up a story about the camper and the older ones did all the art for that book; the three-and-a-half-year-old did handprints and the other little guy did scribbles and we put it in as a road,” she says.

Judging by their charming illustrations, the children — Ellie, Greg, Mal, Will, Ali, Marta, Hue, Austin — are well on the creative path, with this book they have dedicated “to our mams and dads”.

Her grandchildren also experimented with recipes and handwrote them for a book called Beelicious: Recipes with Honey, linked to the original bee edition.

With another book on bees earmarked to be completed for her 70th birthday, about how they pollinate, and invitations from libraries and schools on an annual basis to give talks and workshops, Dolores is a hive of activity, so to speak.

“I travel all over the country doing workshops, reading my books. I bring a beehive and put on my bee-suit and tell them all about the bees and then I roll out a big sheet of paper and we do a colouring doodle,” she says.

Her creative energy, while partly inspired by her grandchildren, runs deeper within herself, as she has been meditating for 25 years.

“It’s number one in my creativity, because every morning I wake up now and I say ‘thank you’ and I say ‘what will I do today?’ and I listen and see, what will today bring and try and focus on a few things — writing down on a journal just what I want to do, and being positive about it and visualising it. I visualise stuff and it happens.”

Life hasn’t been a bed of roses — or poppies — for Dolores either. Her first husband, Malachy Keaveney, died when she was in her mid-40s, leaving her to finish rearing her three children, John, now 46, Adrian, 44, and Claire, 42, who “are all magnificent” and all contributing to the pool of grandchildren she also adores.

Ten years ago she remarried John Kenny who is obviously no slacker either in the creative department. “We both did a book two years ago called The Hills Speak History and Mystery,” says Dolores.

“When John retired he went to Maynooth [University] and did a three-year history degree and then a two-year masters. And we climbed 20 hills around the country about three years ago and then we made the book — a big coffee table book — and he did the history and I did 180 watercolours.”

Aside from self-publishing her books which appear in shops and libraries, Dolores also travels to crafts fairs and other events around the country selling and promoting them. She has no notion of retiring.

Although she has scoliosis and has had several non-life-threatening procedures over her life, she says she doesn’t “pass any remarks on those things anymore”.

She has a healthy lifestyle: “I walk daily, don’t drink or smoke and eat very plain food.”

It may be a cliché but she says her approach to ageing is that it is a number. “I know I’m 70 in September but I still feel 20,” she declares.

“I have the energy I always had and I am positive; I want to keep going as an artist. I have a vision that I would love to have a shop with all my own designs in it. I have so many things in my head — I’m always planning ahead to do more art, more creative stuff.”

Check out Dolores’s books and artwork at doloreskeaveney.com


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