Children’s Book Festival 2018

October is Children’s Book Festival month in Ireland, and it’s always great fun. Buses and trains and taxis are packed full of lost-looking authors, libraries throw open their doors to welcome eager classes of readers and writers, and so many stories are created over the course of the Festival that it’s a wonder the island can contain them all.

And this year for the first time I got to take part in #CBF18 as a fully-fledged author. It was the best.

Tallaght Library

The front door of Tallaght Library in South Dublin. Image credit: SJ O’Hart

I was lucky enough to be invited to lead workshops in Wexford, Tallaght, Clondalkin, Lucan and Ballyroan Libraries, and I had the great joy of meeting children from third to fifth class in every session who were bubbling with stories and enthusiasm for reading. Most of my sessions featured my Dogsled Adventure workshop, which brought us on some incredible ice-bound adventures – and some completely out-of-the-box tales, too!

Clondalkin

Getting ready to set off at Clondalkin Library! Image credit: SJ O’Hart

We had stories about sleds pulled by unicorns, cats, and dragons; we heard about hover-sleds in stories that took place on the moon. We had sleds pulled by slavering man-eating wolves (eeek!) and we had sleds pulled by intelligent, clever dogs who come to the rescue when a baby bear gets stuck in the middle of a frozen lake. We had sled-dogs named Despacito and X-Box (among many hundreds of others), and more than anything else we had loads of fun. One of my Wexford workshops was entitled ‘Mythical Monsters and Heroic Tales’, where we met terrors like Rat-Man and the Tree Monster, and mythical beasts made of darkness and wasps. In every workshop, I had a forest of hands in the air when it came time to read our work out loud; there was never any shortage of volunteers, and that – for me – was the best part. There’s nothing I love more when doing school and library events than getting the privilege of listening to the stories created during my workshops; it’s such an incredible feeling of joy to know that imaginations have been fired by something I’ve said or a question I’ve asked, and that a storyfinding expedition has taken place right under my very nose.

So, I want to take this opportunity to thank the librarians and staff of South Dublin County Council and Wexford County Council for letting me loose, and of course to send a giant ‘Whoop!’ to all the children I met over the course of my busy, country-crossing week, who showed me once again how there’s nothing quite as good as storyfinding, and who let me be part of the magic of their creativity. It was a privilege to be among you. Thank you all – and remember: Always Be Curious, and Never Stop Adventurin’!

And while I’m here…

You might have missed the announcement about my forthcoming second book, so I’ll take this opportunity to mention it. My second book, The Star-Spun Web, is being published in February by Stripes Books, and you can find out more about it here. It’s a story set in two versions of Dublin, a story about family found and made and the things we do to protect the people we love when the chips are down. It’s a story about a girl and her pet tarantula, a boy and his pet mouse, and the secrets of the universe.

And I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Keep your eyes peeled for a cover reveal soon!

 

What I’ve Been Up To

Hello! *waves*

So, it turns out that this whole parenting-writering-life thing is pretty hardcore. It eats away at your time, and before you know it whole months have gone by. Since I last saw you all back in April, I have done some or all of the following:

  • Kept self (and kid) alive and mostly happy
  • Finished an intense second draft of my second book
  • Written to hundreds of schools and libraries across Ireland and the UK
  • Begun to think about a potentially Exciting New Project
  • Led a writing workshop at the Hinterland Festival in Kells, Co Meath

I think you’ll agree, that’s quite a lot of Things!

Hinterland Name Badge

My name badge from the Hinterland Festival! Photo: SJ O’Hart

I really enjoyed the workshop at the Hinterland Festival, and I’m so grateful to the organisers for inviting me along. I led a group of hardy young explorers on a polar adventure where we learned about dogsledding, named our dogsled team, and wrote thrilling adventures on the ice – all on a swelteringly hot day! It was huge fun.

I’m also preparing for a writing workshop next week in Ballyroan Library in Dublin where I’ll be discussing Monsters, Mythical Creatures, and Heroic Tales with a bunch of brave storyfinders. We’ll be uncovering what makes monsters tick, and using our insights to write stories of courage, cunning and (perhaps?) a little magic…

My second book – about which I’ll hopefully be able to tell you more in the next few months – has officially been redrafted, and so I’m expecting edits from both sides of the Atlantic over the next few months. To save myself from chewing my fingernails to the quick while I wait, I’ve been dipping my toe (or my quill?) into a new project, about which I can tell you precisely zip. Zero. Zilch. So, let’s hope all goes well there, and I can let you all in on the secret – eventually!

Annnnd… best of all, I’ve been writing to loads of schools and school libraries across Ireland and the UK, sending out packs of signed prints, bookmarks, and whatever else I can put together. It has been the most rewarding thing to see my little gifts arriving and to know they’re on display, where they’ll hopefully foster a culture of reading among the children who see them. Thank you to every teacher and librarian who has been in touch with me – I really appreciate your interest and support! And if you’re a teacher or librarian who’d like to hear from me, do get in touch.

Next month it will be a year since The Eye of the North came out in the US and Canada, and six months since its publication in the UK and Ireland. I reckon there’ll be a giveaway in the works, so if you don’t already follow me on Twitter, now’s your chance. I’m far more likely to be talking about it over there than I am to be doing it over here, so it might be worth your while.

So, that’s all for now. I’m off to wander in dreams for a bit, to see what I can see… If our paths happen to cross, do be sure to say hello. Until next time: Never stop adventurin’!

Some Mini-Reviews!

I’ve read so many excellent books lately. So many! It feels like you can’t blink, these days, without ten world-class novels being published. Every time I set foot inside a bookshop I come out with a lighter wallet, and I couldn’t be happier about it. So, today I want to take the time to write some mini-reviews of a selection of books I’ve loved lately, and tell you all where to get your hands on ’em. Because, take it from me, they’re worth it.

Great New Books

Great New Books!

So. From the top:

Frida Nilsson’s The Ice Sea Pirates

Siri and her little sister, Miki, live with their ageing, infirm father in the Arctic, where they spend their lives in fear of the notorious pirate captain Whitehead. One day, when Siri lets her guard down, Miki is stolen by Whitehead, destined to be put to work in his distant mines. So, like any good sister, Siri sets out to rescue her. This is an epic book, long and full of digressions and luxurious detail; at the same time, its adventure is full of heart and is profoundly moving.

Nigel Quinlan’s The Cloak of Feathers

Nigel Quinlan’s books are a riot. They’re filled with life and vigour and wit, folklore and history and humour, and they’re completely unique. The Cloak of Feathers is set in the town of Knockmealldown, which – every hundred years – sees the Good Folk (never call them fairies!) join in for a spectacular Festival, organised by the townsfolk. Except, this time it’s being (dis)organised by Brian and his friends, who manage to muck the whole thing up. As well as that, the fairy princess has gone missing – but Brian holds the key to finding her. Can he get all his pigs in the pen before the town is wiped off the map?

James E. Nicol’s The Apprentice Witch and A Witch Alone

So, this one is a bit of a cheat: I read The Apprentice Witch when it was newly published, but its sequel, A Witch Alone, has just been published, and I read it with as much enjoyment as its predecessor. They tell the story of Arianwyn Gribble (has there ever been a heroine with a better name?), a newly-qualified witch (and granddaughter of a respected Elder in the magical community), and her struggles to find and prove herself in her new life. She has to deal with magical creatures, dark magic, cursed hexes, and a budding first love – not to mention her own remarkable powers. Charming, lovely and heartwarming, these are books not to miss.

Vashti Hardy’s Brightstorm: A Sky-Ship Adventure

I want to preface this mini-review by saying EVERYBODY NEEDS TO READ BRIGHTSTORM AND AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! *ahem* Now that’s out of the way – everybody needs to read Brightstorm, and as soon as possible. It’s a marvel: beautifully written, evocatively imagined, with a cast of brilliant characters (child, adult and animal alike) and a compelling quest at its heart. Arthur and Maudie Brightstorm are twins whose father, a noted explorer, has gone missing. Not only that, but he has been accused, in absentia, of having broken the Explorers’ Code, something his children know cannot be true. They are set on rehabilitating their family’s sullied reputation, and they also want to find out the truth about what happened to him. Expect sky-ships, expeditions through the great Wide, clues to a great mystery, and majestic thought-wolves – along with a truly boo-hissable villain in the shape of Eudora Vane. I adored every word of this book.

Juliette Forrest’s Twister

Twister is a storm-born girl who lives with her Ma, her Aunt Honey and her faithful dog, Point. Her Pa has gone missing, and a shadow follows his track – a terrible fire that claimed two lives has been pinned on him, but Twister knows he couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with it. As she searches for her Pa, Twister comes across a strange witch-woman named May May who owns an even stranger thing: a necklace called Wah, which has the power to transform its wearer into a wolf, a storm, a rushing river – anything with a soul. But something so powerful has attracted the attention of a terrible enemy, who will do anything to own Wah… Filled with beautiful language, evocative description, and a story with the deepest love possible at its heart, Twister is wonderful.

Pádraig Kenny’s Tin

Tin is a marvellous, moving exploration of what makes us human (can we really be sure?), the nature of war, the morality of genius, and the profound power of love and friendship. Telling the story of Christopher, a ‘Proper’ boy whose life changes completely in the wake of a terrible accident, and his band of ragtaggle mechanical friends who set out to rescue him from captivity, it is a fantastically exciting story of companionship, courage and love. Beautifully written and evocatively described, with a cast of distinct characters both human and mechanical, this is a book to treasure.

J.R. Wallis’s The Boy With One Name

Oh, how I loved this book… It’s the story of Jones, the titular Boy, who is apprenticed to Maitland, a monster-hunter. They keep the world safe from the creatures of the Badlands, which is filled with horrors most of us prefer to ignore. He wants, more than anything else, to be normal and leave all this terror behind – but then Maitland is killed fighting an ogre, and Jones’s life changes completely. With the aid of Ruby, the first and only girl he has ever known (and one who is determined to prove she is as good as any boy – booyeah!) Jones has to unravel a mystery at the heart of his own existence. This book is excellent. If you like Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood books, this is one for you.

Kieran Larwood’s The Peculiars

Sheba, along with her friends Sister Moon, Mama Rat, Gigantus and Monkey Boy, are part of a Victorian sideshow act. Their lives are hard enough, but then someone – or something – starts to pluck poor mudlark children from the banks of the Thames. Nobody else cares enough to investigate, so the case falls to Sheba and her band of Peculiars. With steampunk monsters, intrigue, and a historical flavour, this is a thrilling, fast-paced read which begs for sequels.

 

 

One Month Later…

When people ask me ‘is it hard work, getting published?’ I like to tell them yes, of course it is – but the real work comes afterwards. The Eye of the North is one month old now, and I’ve had a fun-packed few weeks of it, meeting readers and doing writing workshops and answering Twitter Q&As and basically pinching myself at least ten times a day, as it all seems too amazing to be real. I’ve had so many wonderful experiences, but I think the most special, for me, was speaking in front of almost 300 third-, fourth- and fifth-class pupils at Bunscoil Loreto in Gorey, which is the primary school I attended a very (very) long time ago. I enjoyed telling the children all about my journey from their school to published author-dom, and I hope they had as much fun as I did! I’ve been interviewed on radio, filmed in a library, and congratulated by practically everyone in my hometown – their pride in me and their support has been invaluable, and I’m so thankful.

Also, excitingly, The Eye of the North has been chosen as the #PrimarySchoolBookClub book of the month for March. This means that primary school teachers all over the United Kingdom will be reading my book during the month, and we’ll be convening on the 31st to discuss it, all on Twitter. If you’re a Twitterer, do check it out – and join in using the hashtag, if you like. I’d love to see you there!

And – as if that wasn’t enough – I also had the honour of being chosen as the Sunday Times Children’s Book of the Week for the week beginning February 25th! All this, on top of the absolutely incredible support I’ve received from bloggers, reviewers, librarians, teachers and fellow authors… it’s all a bit overwhelming, at times. Thank you to everyone who has Tweeted, emailed, sent me a picture of the book in the ‘wild’, allowed me to see photos of their children enjoying the book, bought a copy for themselves or borrowed it from their local library, and who’ve helped me to squeeze every last drop of joy out of the first month of living my dream. It’s been hard work, for sure – but it’s also been the greatest happiness I’ve ever known in my working life, and I’m grateful for every moment.

I’m now working on editing my second book, which isn’t a sequel to The Eye of the North but a new story entirely… As soon as I can share the details, I will! Stay tuned for more – and thank you, again, for welcoming The Eye of the North into the world in such style.

Whoop! Let the adventurin’ begin!

 

The Eye of the North Book Launch

The author, modelling her book, at the launch of The Eye of the North. Photo credit: Jan Stokes

The author, modelling her book The Eye of the North, at its recent launch! Photo credit: Jan Stokes

Last Thursday evening, in Eason’s of O’Connell Street in Dublin’s city centre, I had the great joy of welcoming my book into the world in style. With the support of my publisher Stripes Books, and the fantastic organisational skills of Eason’s management and staff, I got to drink wine, make a (terrible) speech and read the first chapter of The Eye of the North to a motley crew of friends, family and well-wishers.

It was a truly wonderful experience, and I will be grateful to everyone involved for as long as I have full use of my mind (which, hopefully, will be quite some time).

However, because I made rather a mess of the speech I had prepared – including forgetting to thank some very important people – I’ve placed the text of it here, to give those who couldn’t attend a sense of the night and to assuage my own guilt at the bits I forgot. So. Without further ado:

The first thing I think of when I look around this room full of dear and beloved people, my friends and family, is this: have yiz nothing better to do in Dublin on a Thursday evening? Thank you all for being here. Every one of you is here because you’ve been in some way helpful or encouraging or supportive – perhaps you sent a Tweet, perhaps you did more than that – and you’ve all had a role to play in bringing this book to life. Thank you all.

I particularly want to thank, of course, the staff and management of Eason’s for hosting the event for us here and making us so welcome, and my publisher, Stripes Books, who have been a dream to be involved with. Beth Ferguson and Lauren Ace are absolute gems, who’ve managed to get me out of my comfort zone as kindly as possible, and they’ve helped arrange this fantastic event which is more than my tiny culchie mind could ever have dreamt of – so thank you, Beth and Lauren. Thanks to Katie Jennings, too – Katie is my editor, so she deserves your sympathy and admiration as well as my gratitude. The whole team at Stripes are just wonderful, and they’ve made me look very good, so they have my eternal devotion. I also need to thank two people in absentia – my agent, Polly Nolan, is the first of these. Polly’s hard work, her belief in me and in this book, and her commitment to me before we’d even signed up to work together, meant that I had the encouragement I needed to keep going when it seemed like a book deal was an impossible dream. The other is author Kieran Fanning, who has believed in this book since before it was even a thing – and that support has meant more than I can express.

I won’t detain you long, but I do want to say a few small things while I have a fairly captive audience. The first is this: I don’t come from power, or wealth, or influence. My grandfathers both worked in factories, among other things; my grandmothers were in service, taking in washing to make ends meet, doing whatever they could to support their large families with very little. Neither of my parents had the opportunity to follow any artistic or educational dreams they might have had, as such things weren’t for people like them. I am fiercely proud of all of them, and of all my family, and of where I come from. The fact that I stand here today not only as an author launching her debut novel but also as a person with a PhD is an overwhelmingly emotional thing. I wish my grandparents were alive to see me do this thing, this thing they could hardly have imagined, and I hope they would have been proud of me as I am of them.

The second is: I began my reading life at home with my parents, who did everything they could to feed my mind and my curiosity, to give me access to books, and to encourage me. Sometimes I think I scared them a bit with my appetite for words and knowledge, and I think at times they didn’t understand where it came from – but I think they always knew they were raising two children, my brother and me, who had artistic leanings and a sensitivity to creativity. They helped us fly. I want to thank them for all they have done, for being entirely unsurprised at the fact that my brother is a playwright and short-story writer, not to mention the editor of a literary magazine and the holder of an MA degree, and I am what you see before you, and for loving our odd little ways. I don’t think it can be overstated that doing as my parents did and giving a child access to books, encouraging their literacy – both in terms of reading books and in reading the world around them – and allowing them to know their dreams are realisable are the best gifts a parent, teacher or carer can give. As an author and a parent, I am so proud to be a small part in that huge and wondrous process, that amazing thing where I get to share what I have been given and light the flame anew. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí.

My two wildest dreams are in this room. I’m holding one, and my husband is holding the other. I am so glad to have both my babies here with me this evening, and I am so glad to be sharing all of this with all of you. Thank you.

So. If you were there – thank you so much. If you weren’t, but you’re reading these words – thank you, too. Nobody writes a book alone, despite how it feels at the time. We all need our net of support to keep us going. I’m so lucky to have one like you.

The Eye of the North Comes Home

Earlier today, I was sent a photo via email. It was from my mother-in-law, who happened to be passing a bookshop window at just the right moment, and snapped this shot.

The Eye of the North in Hodges Figgis window

When I received it, my heart leapt. This bookshop is Hodges Figgis, Ireland’s oldest (I believe), and certainly a place in which I have whiled away many happy hours over the past twenty years. It is always my first port of call when I’m in ‘town’ (as anyone who has ever lived in any part of Dublin invariably refers to the city centre) and while Dublin is, thankfully, full of bookshops, and I am not a stranger to any of them, there’s something special about Hodges Figgis. We have history. We go back.

So to see my book – my book, with its fabulous, Sara Mulvanny cover – sitting in Hodges Figgis window… well. That was an experience.

Last August, when my book was published in North America, I felt proud too. This, however, feels different. This feels personal, like the book is coming home. This feels like a circle has been closed, like the ‘me’ of twenty years ago – for whom a day like this was a distant, barely-dreamed dream – could walk into Hodges Figgis and see a beautiful foil-edged handful of a book, a book like mine, and pick it up. My book is going to be on the shelves of the bookshops of the city I called home for so many years, where I did all my growing up, where I lived and loved and lost and laughed, and that makes my heart ache with something like nostalgia and pride and pure, bright happiness all mixed in together.

I don’t know how to feel. It’s strange, this publishing a book lark. You’d think it would feel a lot less complicated than it does.

I spoke to a friend a few weeks ago, when my confidence was at a low ebb. He told me: ‘Tolkien, when he published The Lord of the Rings, said ‘What have I done? I’ve given them my heart to shoot at.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard it put quite so well as that. Publishing a book – particularly a first book, the book you’ve had in you for years and into which you’ve poured every bit of yourself – is exactly like placing a target over your most vulnerable self and inviting people to take aim. But somehow knowing Tolkien felt the same way makes it seem much better, even though it doesn’t lessen the sense of panic and anxiety that are always there, like a counterpoint, below the happiness and relief. Perhaps the panic and anxiety are heightened when your book comes home, when it lands on turf you know, when shops you’ve walked through in search of a perfect dream become repositories for your own story. You begin to imagine other seekers, people just like you, for whom your book might be their perfect dream – and that brings a weight, as well as a lightness.

I didn’t know any of this when I began to write. Would I have continued, if I had? Yes. Absolutely. Despite everything, this journey has been perfect, and has all happened just as it was supposed to.

So. Once more, to you – the faithful reader who has been here through it all – thank you. The road has been smoother because of your company. It’s not an easy thing, this realising of dreams, but everything is easier with friends by your side. Thank you for being part of my dream, and for cheering The Eye of the North home.

EOTN_UK_FrontCover

THE EYE OF THE NORTH front cover, UK edition (Stripes Publishing, 2018), artist Sara Mulvanny, designer Sophie Bransby

One More Week!

One More Week

Photo ‘credit’: Me (with apologies to my kid for wanton misuse of a toy chalkboard)

Hello, my lovelies!

It almost seems redundant to say ‘it’s been a while’; lately, around here, aeons pass between posts, and there’s not a lot of chance that’ll change any time soon. It’s a busy old life, this full-time-mammying-while-trying-to-full-time-write thing; I don’t manage it very well at any time, but particularly not at the moment.

And why particularly not at the moment? Well, that’s because it’s ONE MORE WEEK until my book (The Eye of the North, in case you’re new here) is published in the UK and Ireland by those wonderful folk at Stripes Publishing. One more week! It’s been busy. I’ve been contributing to other blogs about my writing journey, taking part in question-and-answer sessions, writing pieces for the Irish Times (no less), and lots of other fun stuff.

On top of that, I’ve been organising some school and library events – eek! Stay tuned for those. I’ll post more details when I have them, but here’s one to be getting on with.

And then there are the competitions! Phew. There are five copies of The Eye of the North to be won through radio DJ and general all-round media personality Rick O’Shea’s book club – you can find out more about that competition here. And if you’d like to win a signed copy of the book from my very own publisher, you can take part over here – give it a shot!

Almost lastly, there’ll be some more online writery-stuff going live over the next few days, including a piece I’ve written for #FeministFebruary that I’m quite proud of – so, in short, if you’re not heartily sick of me yet, you soon will be.

Phew. I think that’s it.

No – wait! One more thing.

My next post will likely be all about the launch for The Eye of the North, which is taking place next week in Eason’s in Dublin. I can’t wait to share photos and (hopefully) some lovely details about the night with you all. And, until then, you can have a peep here and here for ordering information, just to make sure you get your copy of the book promptly. I’ll be checking…

Now. Did anyone see where I left that Time-Turner?