When I think of book launches my mind conjures up a scene in the middle of a bookshop after closing time, filled with writers and publishing industry professionals, wandering around chatting with each other, glasses of wine in hand. The author who is launching the book likely knows many of the guests but they would have been invited to attend because of their status in the genre or in the publishing world, rather than their connection to the author. Although these events are often entertaining and beneficial for author and guests alike, they have a rather formal air about them.
On Tuesday evening I attended a different sort of book launch. Everyone was well dressed and there was wine flowing and nibbles to be had but it just had a different feel to it. The book being launched, Against All Odds, is a memoir by Robert Donaldson, a polio survivor who has gone on to lead a full, active life despite disability resulting from his illness. Over the past three years I have worked with Robert to record his memories and get it all down on paper.
The launch was held in the local library. When I arrived just before the official starting time to help with any last minute arrangements that needed to be sorted out before the guests arrived, I was amazed to find that the room was already half full and buzzing with talk and laughter. People were flocking in and Robert was busy signing copies of the book near the door. I joined him to play cashier for the evening. As I listened to snatches of conversation it became apparent that the guests were Robert’s friends, family, work colleagues and people he had met through the organisations and industries he has been involved in. Some of them featured in the book and it was delightful to meet them in person after hearing tales about them and committing them to paper. Many of the people I met had stories to tell about Robert and all of them were effusive in their praise of him. And everyone was enthusiastic about the book. As I collected the money for book sales I heard Robert chatting with everyone from breeders of champion race horses to hospital porters. The conversations were lively and warm. It was obvious these people liked the author and many admired him too. The launch was a celebration of contacts and friendships made throughout a lifetime as well as the release of the book. I was pleased to be a part of it.
The book launch was held for the many people who know Robert to join in celebrating with him. It was a local affair but I think the book itself will have a wider appeal than only his circle of friends and family. His experiences and how he has coped with, and sometimes overcome, the limitations of his disability will resonate with readers. So will his enthusiasm for life.
To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s the blurb from the back cover of the book:
When he was five years old polio changed Robert Donaldson’s life forever. After spending much of his childhood in Musgrave Park Orthopaedic Hospital – and only to be permanently discharged in his late teens – his doctor predicted that he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. However, his disability was never going to defeat him. Sheer determination and an unshakeable belief in himself, propelled Robert from the confines of a wheelchair onto his feet and to greater accomplishments. While he still has physical limitations, he does what he can to the best of his ability. When he was asked once why he strives to excel and pursues his passions with gusto he replied, “Because I can.”
Robert became a successful businessman who brought many snooker greats, including Alex Higgins, Dennis Taylor and Stephen Hendry, to County Fermanagh. For a quarter of a century, as Chairman of NIACTA, he spearheaded the development of the Gaming industry within Northern Ireland. A skilled angler, he was a member of the Irish team in the 1991 World Sea Angling Championships. In his professional life, he was the first DUP councillor to sit on Fermanagh District Council. Passionate about horses, he was the first horse breeder on the island of Ireland to raise the rare equine breeds Falabella horses and Sardinian donkeys. A man of many talents, he never forgot the care he received as a child and served for many years as a volunteer in both the Red Cross and the National Hospital Service Reserve.
In this warm, frank, humorous memoir Robert recounts how he has lived his life to the fullest Against All Odds.
The paperback edition is being available in shops in Enniskillen and the ebook version will be available soon.