We talked to Niamh Cooper about her involvement in a fantastic charity collection of stories, poems and photography called Lights on the Horizon – first as a writer, and then as a publisher. A hard copy ‘coffee table’ edition of the book was published, following endorsements from both Jeremy Irons and author Louise O’Neill. It was written during the first lockdown by writers north and south of the Irish border, and all proceeds go to frontline workers in the HSE and NHS Northern Ireland.
On a mild and sunny September Sunday, a group of six almost-strangers (mother-and-son duo, two crazy book club friends, and two almost twin-colleagues with identical names, and coffee-habits), were thrown together for a rather unusual event, between lockdowns. There were people lying on the ground. There was cake. There was a script. And we knew that glowing halos would later be superimposed on people’s heads – though their lights already shone brightly. And no, it wasn’t my halo. For this individual, any attempts at angel-hood would be futile at this point. Plus, angels don’t wear boots.
But, I hear you wonder. Why was there an ambulance? A blue blanket? Full protective gear? And Cadbury’s Twirls? Why did the instigator later have to (socially distantly) appease the concerns of a troubled citizen, who’d seen the flashing lights (put on for full effect) and heard the sirens (put on for devilment)?
Lights, I tell you. It’s all about the lights.
What we were doing on that early Sunday morning, in this strange new world we found ourselves in, with all the bad news, and the grief, and the silence, and the worry, was to collectively try and find a way to make others’ lives a little brighter. Because we all needed a little cheering up, especially as we found ourselves on the brink of lockdown. Again.
Unfortunately, as I write this, it is very timely again, as we are in yet another lockdown, and we don’t quite know how long this one will last. Lockdown seems to be a common theme; the story of “Lights” begins during lockdown. Let’s go back, just a little bit.
During the very first lockdown of 2020, in March, to be precise, I spotted a call for submissions, put out there, into the world by Antrim-based author and playwright Andrew William Tinney. I found myself compelled to write a story, for his charity collection, and all proceeds would go to frontline staff in the HSE and NHS Northern Ireland. The book was called ‘Lights on the Horizon’ and writers across the island of Ireland were involved. The first edition was published in May.
When we held the copies of the books in our hands, it was a proud moment – and it felt a bit more meaningful than clapping for our healthcare workers who were doing such a fabulous job.
Work crumbled all around, and I found myself with very little work, and too much time on my hands. So, I started sending good old-fashioned cards and copies of the book to any celebrity I could think of. Yes, Matt Damon was written to, also, as he was in Dalkey at the time… But he wasn’t the only one we wrote to. And, two months later, none other than Jeremy Irons sent a reply. What a boost – hadn’t he gone and written a few lines in support of our collection. The yells were surely audible in his castle in Skibbereen! We were so touched by this gesture, that someone so famous would take the time to even consider such an initiative, that the seed of an idea took hold, and we couldn’t shake it off. With “Lights” came a vision. What if we could raise even more money? What if we created visually beautiful version of this literary time capsule?
But before we started, we had to ask the very man who’d had the original idea: Andrew William Tinney, who had brought all these authors north and south of the Irish border together in the first place. Luckily, Andrew loved the idea of doing a hardback coffee table edition.
And so, phone calls were made, and publishing professionals were assembled, who gave their time, and expertise, so generously, and absolutely free of charge.
Tess Tattersall, our amazing Editorial director, and her meticulous eye for detail. And Graphic Design director Ailbhe Hooper, whose beautiful designs brought our project to life! Andy Smithyman was there with advice, and his website, bozpublications.com, was our very first shopfront, to be able to sell the book online. And then there were the dozens of individuals who have supported, encouraged, phoned, zoomed, emailed, messaged, massaged, poured wine, and cups of tea, and showed their support in so many ways.
And then, there were those who turned up on that bright and almost summery Sunday morning; a perfect setting for an impromptu photo shoot, only initiated the Friday before. Because, you see, we needed pictures. We had already assembled a few Ireland-based photographers, who had donated fabulous pictures of our beautiful country.
Just as the stories in the book were authentic and heart-felt, so too the photos would be. The stock image sites are all well and good, but it’s hard to find a picture of an elderly woman and an Irish ambulance during Covid-times, or of a young boy who sees an angelic vision of a paramedic. The amazing Teresa McShane did a fantastic job, as did young David Dodog, who had accompanied his Mum, the talented photographer Anna Dodog, @Wild Dream Photography , on this photo shoot, and was happy to roll with everything we threw at him that day.
On 27th November 2020, the books finally arrived. They turned out so much better than we had ever hoped, and we have almost sold 250 copies. Our goal is to sell 500. The more we sell, the more we can give back to our frontline heroes.
We’d be delighted if you could support the book, and at the same time, our independent bookshops, many of whom are posting books nationwide. You can buy ‘Lights on the Horizon’ for yourself, or a family member, or that hero in your life. It’s a beautiful production, and is such a visually stunning piece, with uplifting tales and poems. It can sit on your coffee table, or in your car, or in a display case, together with your ‘old’ Irish money – it may even be worth something in years to come. One thing we can guarantee you is that it will have a certain sentimental value. At the same time, you will have done something for a great cause, supporting our incredible frontline staff who have kept this country going during this horrible pandemic.
‘Oh, but you said two celebrities, you only mentioned one’. I hear you say. Well, yes, we almost forgot. We were fortunate enough to have two celebrities endorse our book. Sadly, Matt Damon hasn’t yet replied, and we figure he never got the memo. But, we were very lucky all the same: author Louise O’Neill reviewed the book, and kindly took the time to write a few wonderful lines in support.
(Matt, if you’re reading this, we might be able to squeeze you in for the reprint.)
(c) Niamh Cooper
Lights on the Horizon is published by eThentique and retails at €24.95. You can purchase it in Kerr’s Bookshop, Clonakilty, Philip’s Bookshop Mallow, Bookstór Kinsale, Waterstones Cork, Charlie Byrne’s Galway, The Secret Bookshelf in Carrickfergus, and Rathfarnham Bookshop in Dublin. It’s available online on bozpublications.com, craftersofireland.com, shopinireland.ie and itslocal.ie.