The home is the most dangerous place on Earth — Don Hennessy on Newstalk

Our newest release Steps to Freedom — Escaping intimate control is out next Friday, and a couple of weeks ago Don Hennessy had a chat with Seán Moncrieff on Newstalk about the main topic of the book: domestic violence.

Seán explained that 'the term "domestic violence" can often describe something beyond domestic violence: it can describe a highly dysfunctional relationship where one partner effectively controls the behaviour of the other. Both women and men can find themselves in such relationships, and the numbers in Ireland are thought to be in the hundreds of thousands.'

As Don put it during the interview, 'the home is the most dangerous place on Earth and there are lots of different forms of violence going on within the home, and lots of psychological and emotional abuse as well.' Domestic violence is not just about physical violence, but also about all those kinds of violence based on the desire to control the other person in the relationship.

What are the signs that indicate we are dealing with an abusive relationship? Don pointed out that 'the primary thing that happens is that the target person takes the blame for what's going on. Instead of looking at his behaviour, she examines her own actions and she begins to tell herself "if I don't say that, if I change my approach to that then he won't be upset and then I'll have a reasonably good relationship." She tries to improve herself rather than condemn him.' 

It is very difficult for the victims to realise what's actually going on, to realise that they're victims. Seán read a message of a listener that proves this perfectly: 'My friend is in an abusive relationship. We have all tried to warn her, help her, but she refuses to believe anything is wrong. She's in love. We're all worried she'll end up dead.' Don, who's been a relationship counsellor for several years, told: 'the person who's being controlled may never know. I've met women in their eighties controlled all their lives that defined the relationship as difficult or up and down, but when I say "no, you've never been in charge of your own life", it becomes a shock to them to realise that any decision that was ever made in the relationship, if it was a big decision, was made by him.'

The whole interview can be found on Newstalk's archive. If you want to know more about domestic violence, abusive relationships and how to find a way out of it, get your copy of Steps to Freedom.

Those We Have Lost

In earlier days, the winter solstice was viewed as the turning of the year, with the noticeable lengthening of the day in early January signalling rebirth – a sign that the world was continuing to live and thrive, rather than descending into perpetual darkness. It is also, fittingly perhaps, a time of year when many elderly people give up the ghost – to use an old-fashioned expression. This winter, the extended Liberties Press family has lost three members, each of them someone who has made a mark on the country, and the world – and each of them, in their different ways, a fine writer to boot.

John Montague was the finest poet Ireland produced in the twentieth century. He was a mentor to Seamus Heaney: as is the way of things, the pupil received all the praise and attention, while the teacher was somewhat neglected. He saw the country with an exceptionally clear eye – as only someone who left it can – and wrote perceptively and movingly of it. He never wrote a pompous line, and we will be reading his work in a hundred years’ time, when many of his contemporaries have been largely forgotten.

I had a drink with him in Dublin a couple of days before his death. Although he had recently had a minor medical procedure, he was hale and hearty, and in his usual acerbic frame of mind. He was about to receive a lifetime-achievement award. I asked him if he had a few words prepared. Four-letter ones, he replied. He refrained from this course of action, but on accepting the beautiful glass award, he complained that it didn’t look possible to drink out of it.

Several years ago, I was driving John and Elizabeth to a reading. He commented on the boscy road down which we were traveling, and noted that this was a fine word, which one seldom had opportunity to use. Whenever I see it, I think of him. John had not been in great health, and went on to remark that it would be no harm if he died while travelling the country, reading from his work. He would be happy to go out with his boots on, as he put it. We forget that the poet is a campaigner too.

On another occasion, we were having lunch, when a faraway look came over him. He had been pondering the fact that the skills that one generation prized most highly – ploughing a straight furrow, in his case – were not only quickly forgotten by the next, but often became obsolete in short order. His memoir The Pear Is Ripe is one of the most entertaining literary memoirs you will read. Let’s be honest, many of them are pretentious, self-aggrandising nonsense. There’s nothing worse. He was astute – and kind – enough to dedicate his selected short stories, A Ball of Fire, to ‘Tim O’Keeffe, an exemplar to all gallant publishers’. (Tim – no relation – was the publisher of, among others, the great Dylan Thomas – a posting which kept him on his toes, by all accounts. I am reminded of a film director who made a short with Peter O’Toole – playing Queen Elizabeth, wielding a blunderbuss. O’Toole arrived on the train for the day’s filming drunk as a lord. The director was caught in the horns of a dilemma: if the great man got any drunker, he would, like any lover, be unable to perform; on the other hand, if he sobered up, the day would become a misery for everyone involved. The solution was to keep O’Toole ‘topped up’ with just enough alcohol to retain his merry state – without pushing him over the edge. The approach clearly worked: the resulting film was a fine, bewildering romp. O’Toole looked great in his enormous, flouncy dress.)

John once read with the very finest modern poet of them all, William Carlos Williams, in an American university. Williams, who was elderly, had had a stroke, and was difficult to understand. He threw his arm around John, and exclaimed, in a garbled but heartfelt way: 'Poet! Poet!'

Leland Bardwell was another member of the literary community who will be sorely missed. She recounted how, at school, there was a dull grumbling whenever the latest prize-winner in English was announced: Leland again. She certainly suffered for her art: a Dutch-Irish woman (she rejected the tag ‘Anglo-Irish’) from a prosperous background, she lived for years in what we would now describe as social housing. Leland was a heavy smoker throughout her life; indeed, smoking featured in many of her books, as a release, and an act of rebellion. It does not seem to have shortened her life. (My father-in-law, still going strong well into his eighties, and a heavy smoker, went for a checkup to his GP recently. When he asked whether he should give up smoking, the doctor told him he was in excellent health and should probably just keep doing whatever he was doing: he was clearly on the right track.)

Like The Pear Is Ripe, with which it has a few things in common, her memoir, A Restless Life, with its photograph of a shy but confident little girl, resplendent in a fine hat, on the front, is a superb piece of work. Leland wrote in a clear, unflinching manner, but took great pains, during the editorial process, to excise any material that might have caused offence or upset to those about whom she was writing. The lead-up to the launch was fairly torrid – Leland was not the easiest of people to work with – and I remember the friend of hers who launched the book exclaiming loudly, from the pulpit as it were, that publishers were only interested in sex. Nonetheless, the evening was a triumph, and Leland seemed to enjoy herself greatly. I am honoured to have published her autobiographical novel, Girl on a Bicycle, a small masterpiece, as well. I received a call just a few weeks ago from a man looking to acquire the rights to turn that book into a film: all those years on, hopes of the grand triumph spring eternal!

Last but not least, as they say, is Professor Risteárd Mulcahy. Risteárd was advocating robust personal health well before it was fashionable to do so. He clearly revered the memory of his father, General Richard Mulcahy, the head of the Free State forces. Years after the turmoil of the civil war, Mulcahy was Minister for Education. During a visit to Scandinavia, he was being shown around a school, including the school psychologist’s office. On being asked how many educational psychologists there were in Ireland, Mulcahy replied: ‘Do you know, I don’t think we have any.’ Richard Mulcahy helped build Ireland as an independent nation, and Risteárd certainly inherited this public-service ethos. We had long conversations about what he regarded as the corruption of the commercial world – the business of publishing and bookselling, in my case – and about the direction in which the country was traveling – a direction of which he did not entirely approve. After a visit to the Beacon Hospital, he remarked that if this was the future of health care, we may as well give up doing anything else, as there would be no money left!

I published a string of his books: Improving with Age, My Father the General, Memoirs of a Medical Maverick, Is the Health Service for Healing? and his last book, a provocative pamphlet-style publication entitled On the Survival of Humanity. Above all, he was an independent thinker who would not be cowed. He had a fine library, and kept a reading diary, with notes on every book he read. I admired his decision not to receive treatment for the cancer with which he was diagnosed – on the basis, presumably, that at that stage the cure would inevitably be worse than the disease itself. His funeral demonstrated the great love with which he was surrounded throughout his life, by his large extended family and many friends – among whose number I am honoured to count myself.

Death is a strange animal. One day you’re having a chat with a good friend; the next, he’s gone, never to return. While I am sorry that I will never see any of these three people again, and I realise that those closest to them are heartbroken, I find it difficult to mourn their passing. For one, each of them had had a good run of life (‘a good innings’, as my English grandmother used to say), and could not really complain on that score. For another, their lives, and the conversations we shared, are completely fresh in my memory. It’s just that, the next time I think to contact them, to discuss a new project, perhaps, they won’t be there to take the call.


In straitened economic times, the services on which public money is spent rightly comes under close scrutiny. We have a right to know what our still relatively scarce public resources are being spent on, and journalists have a professional duty to provide us with this information, and to comment upon it.

In the field of book publishing, the main state funder is the Arts Council. This organisation has received remarkable little scrutiny over the years, in either bad or good economic times. (In fact, in my twenty years working in publishing, I have only once seen a detailed investigation into the workings of the organisation – by, to her great credit, Rosita Boland.) I may have missed some coverage, but not much, I suggest. The lack of investigative reporting in this area is perhaps not as surprising as it may appear: the journalist writing a critical piece one day might be applying for a grant for their novel the next – or their publisher might be.

In recent months, Liberties Press has received significant media attention in relation to various aspects of its business (attention which is wholly out of proportion to its size and influence, but that’s another story). The funding the company has received from the Arts Council over the years formed part of this coverage. Despite my requests, the journalists who wrote the initial article have given no attention, either at the time or since, to the funding offered to any other publisher, nor to the business dealings of any of these publishers – or to those of any non-funded publisher, for that matter.

Over the twelve days of Christmas, I will be tweeting details of funding received by publishers over the past eight years. These tweets are not intended as an attack on any of the organisations named, nor on the Arts Council itself (or its director or any of its executive officers or other staff). In some cases, the awards have been justified, and the money received has been well spent. I repeat: these tweets do not constitute an attack on any individual or organisation, but rather an effort, albeit a small one, to draw attention to what the state is spending our money on.

This course of action may be seen as sour grapes on my part, given the fact that Liberties Press has been offered nothing in the current round of funding, and, unlike most of the companies on the list, has never received more than e20,000 in any one year. So be it. (The company has, in my view, never been offered funding commensurate with its efforts to provide opportunities for authors and their work over the years, or the quality of its publishing output. Again, that’s another story.)

All the funding information I intend to put forward is available through the Arts Council’s website. For whatever reason, no one (journalists, authors, publishers or state agencies) has ever made much effort to publicise it. In fact, the reason for this is, I think, fairly clear: it is not in the interests of the members of a cosy little club to advertise who the members of that club are, or how much each member of the club receives from it.

I am not deluded enough to think that my efforts in this regard will do much to change the situation immediately. Nonetheless, I hope that they stimulate some public debate on the important issue of funding for the arts in this country – an issue in which I have been personally involved for nearly twenty years.

Statement from the Publisher

The situation facing Liberties Press now is similar to two previous episodes in the company’s development. In November 2010, when my then business partner left the company, I decided to continue with it, and began a process of restructuring and rebuilding. The second episode came in November 2012, when I successfully fought off efforts, culminating in High Court action, to prevent Melanie Verwoerd from publishing her life story: a different outcome in the case would certainly have spelt the end of the company.

On several occasions during the economic crisis, the easier path for me personally would have been to close Liberties, and move on to other things. This would have left the company’s creditors, including many authors, permanently out of pocket. As Stanley Unwin put it, ‘the primary responsibility of a publisher is to remain in business, in order to be in a position to pay authors their royalties’. In this spirit, I have always preferred to move ahead and develop the company, despite the many challenges involved.

I am extremely proud of the achievements of Liberties Press over all thirteen years of its existence, and in particular in the past six years, when the company has moved to the forefront of independent publishing in Ireland. Over the years, I have employed around twenty people, many of whom, in the economic climate of recent years, might have not found other work, or been forced to emigrate. I have helped launch the writing careers of many exciting new talents, including Frankie Gaffney and Caitriona Lally, and cement the reputations of midcareer authors such as Joe Joyce, whose book Echoland was recently announced as the 1 City 1 Book selection for 2017 – a great example of the adage that it sometimes takes years to become an overnight success. Meanwhile, Liberties Press has continued to publish popular titles in health, history and other non-fiction genres, the most notable being Dr Harry Barry’s best-selling ‘Flagging’ series, alongside more cutting-edge fare, including Numb and Bare. I am proud of the fact that I have paid for numerous staff members to go on work trips to Frankfurt, London and elsewhere, and on a variety of training courses; this level of commitment to staff training and development is unusual in the sector. Finally, as the leading force behind popup bookshops run in Dublin city centre for the last two years, the company has done more, at a stroke, to raise public awareness of Irish independent publishing than the organisation officially charged with this responsibility.

On the financial side, I have managed to pay off many debts – while accumulating others. I have never paid myself more than any of my full-time staff members, and very often nothing at all. Liberties Press has no significant financial backing from any quarter, and injections of funds from various sources, mainly family members, have been required on a regular basis. A large number of authors are owed royalties, and a small number of former staff members are owed over one month’s salary each; this is a situation I am sorry about, and one I am addressing. I have never run away from a difficult situation, as should be clear, I hope, from the fact that I was prepared to be put through testing interviews on the BBC Radio Ulster Arts Show on 18 October and for The Book Show (an interview which is yet to be broadcast).

For a variety of business reasons, 2016 has been particularly challenging for the company. Unfortunately, this summer, I had to let several staff members go, and others chose to leave. It has clearly been a difficult process for them, and it was painful for me to see them depart. Continually rebuilding the team made additional demands on my time and energies. The path ahead, for myself and the company, is clear: Liberties Press now has a very low cost base and, as a result, good prospects for future rebuilding and growth once again. Having said that, it has been a very tough time for me individually, and for my family.

There has been some debate recently over Liberties’ introduction of a fee for manuscript submissions. One of my aims in introducing this policy was to foster a debate about how independent publishers are funded – a debate in which I plan to continue to play a leading part. My main concern here is that state funding for publishing, despite the best intentions of funding bodies, promotes systemic weakness in the sector, particularly in tough economic times. In recent years, organisations experiencing difficulties have received funds to prop them up – using resources taken from organisations (such as ours) which are, or are seen to be, doing well. In this Alice in Wonderland scenario, weakness is rewarded and success punished.

The current campaign against Liberties has many of the elements of a witchhunt – something I am familiar with from my experiences with Melanie Verwoerd’s book. What those baying for blood seem to fail to realise is that, now as in 2010 and 2012, the only way to ensure that authors and others receive what they are rightfully due is for the company to continue to trade successfully – which remains my first, and only, professional priority.

As a final word, I recently received a message on a Post-It note attached to a manuscript submission. It read: ‘It’s because of people like you that books get published that otherwise would not be. Keep going for it, for all our sakes.’

Seán O’Keeffe
Publisher, Liberties Press
October 2016

Liberties Press at the Dublin Book Festival 2016

Here at Liberties Press, we're big fans of this time of year; summer may be gone but we have autumn to look forward to; autumn colours, cosy clothes and even cosier nights in with a good book. However, should you deign to leave the comfort of your sofa at some point (and we recommend that you do!) you should make your plans early and book some tickets for this year's Dublin Book Festival, taking place in the beautiful Smock Alley Theatre.

Alongside some other brilliant Irish authors and publishers, Liberties Press has a whole range of fiction, non-fiction and children's authors speaking at this year's festival. Have a browse below, or check out the Dublin Book Festival website for full details of all of their wonderful events!

Thursday the 10th of September:

Gabriel Fitzmaurice, author of Will You Be My Friend? event as part of the DBF School's Programme.

Diana Bunici, author of The Pursuit of Awesome event as part of the DBF School's Programme.

12.15pm: RB Kelly, author of Edge of Heaven, will be speaking as part of the "Lunchtime Readings: Out of This World" event.

Friday the 11th of September:

9.00am: Catherine Moonan, author of The Pitch Coach, chairs "The Business Clinic" with a host of food writers and producers.

6.00pm: A Flash in the Pan by Homan Potterton, will be officially launched in the National Gallery of Ireland. Free entry and all are welcome to attend.

7.00pm: John Boorman, author of Crime of Passion, in conversation with Declan Power and Sean Rocks as part of the RTE Arena Show.

Saturday the 12th of September:

7:00pm: Buried Treasure: Overlooked, forgotten and Uncrowned Albums With Cormac Battle, author Dan Hegarty and Ian Wilson In conversation with Tony Clayton-Lee.

Sunday the 13th of September:

2.00pm: Dr Harry Barry, author of the Flagging series will be speaking as part of the "Your Body and Mind" event, with Aoife Hearne and David Gillick In conversation with Rosemary Mac Cabe.