Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Author defends Brendan Kennelly biography that 'deeply hurt' poet's daughter

The  author of a biography of Brendan Kennelly has spoken of her distress at complaints by the poet that the book is hurtful to him and his daughter.

Sandrine Brisset has said that she is "very sad" at Mr Kennelly's claim that the book "denigrated" his daughter Doodle, saying she had tried to "tread carefully" when it came to sensitive issues raised in the book.

The poet says his daughter has been "deeply hurt" by passages outlining how she had "harrowing sexual experiences" during her adolescence.

And it emerged that the book was withdrawn from a number of outlets at the request of the Kennelly family.

In 'Brendan Kennelly: Behind the Smile', billed as an authorised biography, Ms Brisset recounts the "trauma" experienced by Mr Kennelly when his daughter told him she had been raped on more than one occasion in her teens.

Mr Kennelly told the 'Sunday Independent' that he had instructed Ms Brisset to "never speak to me again" when he met her at a recent event.

He said: "Doodle has been deeply hurt by what has been said in the book."

As well as referring to the rapes that occurred in her teens, the book mentions his daughter's struggle with mental illness.

Ms Kennelly said that she wanted the passages about her removed from the book, adding: "Then she can make as much money as she wants writing about my father's poetry."

The ugly row is a far cry from the launch of the book in April, which was attended by, amongst others, Senator David Norris and singer Mary Black.

Dublin book shop Hodges Figgis and the Trinity College library book shop have since removed the biography, reportedly due to complaints from the Kennelly family.

Ms Brisset told the Irish Independent the controversy saddened her. "It's sad, very sad. I spent 10 years working on his poetry."

She insisted that while Mr Kennelly had not read the book prior to publication, it was "fully authorised" and "he knew what was in the book".

She added; "I'm sorry Doodle is not happy with the book."

Ms Brisset said she was "extremely careful" when she wrote the chapter referring to Mr Kennelly's daughter, saying that it was never her intention to hurt anyone.

"I was treading very softly when I wrote that because it's so sensitive."

Ms Brisset said she dealt with the issues surrounding rape and mental illness because they were already in the public domain.

She pointed to Doodle Kennelly's upcoming autobiography 'Upside Down in a Spoon'.

The blurb for the book on Ms Kennelly's literary agent's website describes how her relationship with her father helped her deal with "mental illness", rapes and "the trauma of a family divided by divorce".

"As a scholar and a researcher I had a duty to comment on what's in the public domain," Ms Brisset said.

Ms Kennelly disputed that these issues were in the public domain, telling the 'Sunday Independent': "I have never written about the rapes. I once wrote that I had a couple of awful sexual experiences."

Despite the row, Ms Brisset said: "I'm not going to wipe away 10 years of friendship (with Brendan Kennelly). I believe in his poetry, I think he's a wonderful poet."

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