The Star-Spun Web Goes on Tour

February is drawing to a close now, and I wanted to mark this very special month by writing about the wonderful week I spent in the UK, touring around with copies of my new book. I got to visit some incredible bookshops, meet some energetic, committed and passionate booksellers and – most importantly – talk to hundreds of brilliant children across six schools. I have to begin by thanking my amazing publisher, Stripes Books, and my Publicist Beyond Compare, Leilah Skelton (as well as Stripes’ Brand Director Lauren Ace, whose heroic driving skills made Day 1 happen!) – without them and their support, none of the amazing memories I made would have been possible.

The tour brought us to Oswestry in Shropshire, where we got to visit the incredible Booka Bookshop

The wonderful display in Oswestry’s Booka Bookshop which greeted me when I came through the door! Thanks so much to Carrie, Tim and team. (Image credit: Sinéad O’Hart)

…and from there we visited Woodside Primary School, where I got to meet some incredible storyfinders (particularly one young man named Thomas, whose books are going to be on shelves in years to come!) Then, we journeyed to Ripon, in North Yorkshire, where I got the chance to revisit the lovely Little Ripon Bookshop. It’s not so little now, having expanded into the premises next door, but it’s still as charming and welcoming as ever. I have to thank Gill, Simon, Phoebe and all their team for taking such care of Leilah and me, and for helping us to get around to the local schools which hosted us on the tour. I was also amazed to meet the superbly talented (and very bouncy) James Nicol, author of The Apprentice Witch  and its sequels, who came all the way over to Ripon just to see me! Thanks so much, James – and I can’t wait to read A Witch Come True.

The Little Ripon Bookshop’s front window was a sight to behold – look at its glory! There were tentacles… and I felt like a proper author with my name in glittery blocks. (Image credit: Leilah Skelton)

I had the huge privilege of speaking to students in Ripon Grammar School, Burton Leonard Primary School, and Bishop Monkton Primary School… (Image credit below: Leilah Skelton)

…and then it was off to York, briefly, where Leilah and I started our long journey to London. I got the chance to see that beautiful city in the bright daylight the following morning as we made our way to Sevenoaks in Kent, where we were the guests of Fleur, Olivia, Nick, Diane and the crew at Sevenoaks Bookshop. What a beautiful place – and what a beautiful town!

Me outside Sevenoaks Bookshop, with their gorgeous window display featuring my books. A massive thanks to the whole team for making me feel so at home! Image credit: Leilah Skelton

We visited the bright and brilliant kids of Sevenoaks Primary School and Cage Green Primary School, where I think I got the best question of the whole tour: ‘Are your hands squishy?’ I was also asked to do a pirate impression, which I hope I managed to pull off adequately…

…and then it was away to Oxford, city of my dreams.

When in Oxford, one simply must pose in front of The Eagle and Child, in order to soak up some of those Tolkien/Lewis vibes… Image credit: Leilah Skelton

We finished the tour in the beautiful surrounds of Blackwell’s Westgate, Oxford, where I was treated like literary royalty – and got to meet some friends old and new, which was a thoroughly overwhelming experience. A massive thanks needs to be said to authors Gabriel Dylan, Struan Murray and Julie Pike, who all came to say hello and share some writing mojo as well as get their books signed – it was such a joy to meet them all. And The Star-Spun Web  was Blackwell’s Children’s Book of the Month for February, so they laid on a fine spread…

Trying not to look too pleased with myself beneath the tree at Blackwell’s Westgate – HUGE thanks to Jack, both Charlies, and all the team (and my sincere apologies again for misnaming one of the Charlies as ‘Chris’!) Image credit: Leilah Skelton

From there it was time to make my way to Heathrow and home – but this Tour will stay with me forever. I’m grateful beyond words to everyone who made it possible – my publisher and publicists, the booksellers who went out of their way to accommodate me, the teachers and librarians who welcomed us with open arms, everyone who came to meet me at my bookshop signings, and most especially the children, whose bright and sparkling enthusiasm filled me to the brim. Thank you all!

Publication Day for The Star-Spun Web!

I started this blog way back in 2012 – almost seven years ago – in the bright and burning hope that one day I might be a published author. It seemed like such an impossible hope, then; I felt like the odds of success were insurmountable.

But I wrote. And I kept writing. I wrote flash fiction and short stories. I entered competitions. I submitted to literary magazines. I got involved with other writers, following their journeys with interest and no small amount of terror, learning and waiting and watching as I went. I blogged about it all, and some of you have been with me right from the first word.

And today I’m writing to you on the publication of my second book.

Front cover of children's book entitled The Star-Spun Web. Text enclosed in a large stylised star; a web lies behind the star. Tangled in the web, in the top right hand corner of image shows a building, top left hand shows two planes with propellers. Bottom right hand shows two running children, bottom left a spider.
Front cover of The Star-Spun Web, art by Sara Mulvanny, designed by Sophie Bransby, published by Stripes Books February 2019.

The Star-Spun Web is released into the world today, my miraculous story which seemed to come from nowhere, emerging from my imagination just when I needed it. Thank you, little book. Writing you has been a surprising and fulfilling adventure; meeting your characters has been a unique joy. I love this book, which layers wartime Dublin on its mirror city, Hurdleford, a breath and a thought and a whole reality away, and which follows the story of brave Tess de Sousa, an orphan who knows there’s more to her – and to her lost, mysterious parents – than she has ever been told. Tess is clever and quick, resourceful and logical, self-sufficient but grateful for the help of her friends when she needs it, and she has a quiet confidence which comes from being loved and accepted by the family who has raised her. She is herself, and she inhabits every corner of herself without apology, and I am so proud of her.

Writing this book allowed me to explore new worlds, create friendships, and explore what it means to be part of a family. It has given me the chance to get to know my character of Thomas, a frightened but desperately courageous boy determined to get to the bottom of his own family mystery. It brought me to Violet, the most lovable tarantula I’ve ever ‘met’, and her counterpart Moose the mouse, who stole my heart. It gave me the freedom to imagine spinning stars, turning worlds, tunnels between realities, and the frightening possibilities such power wields. Writing this book brought me so much joy, and I hope, if you pick it up, that reading it brings that joy to you.

Thank you for all the support you’ve given me and my writing over the past seven years, and thank you for helping me to get here, to a day I dreamed of for so many years and wondered if I’d ever reach. My second book baby skips off into the world today, and I couldn’t be happier about it. It’s available in all good bookshops (including Eason’s, Waterstones, Blackwell’s, and Foyle’s, as well as via Hive) and it would make my heart sing to think of you ordering it via your own local bookshop, or perhaps wandering in and finding it on a shelf.

And if you’re wondering whether this book is for you, how’s about this for some advance reviews?

My 10yo read this in two sittings and the overall feedback was: BRILLIANT!” – Laura Danks, review from Goodreads

The Star-spun Web is such an enjoyable book. Very inventive and creative, the characters O’Hart creates almost step off the page. I loved it from first page to last and though I’m afraid of spiders I found myself loving Violet (read it, you’ll know what I mean). The Star-spun Web is a book that cultivates the joy of reading. Can’t recommend it highly enough! ” – Graham Connors, review from Goodreads

I’d love to know what you think of it… won’t you write and tell me?

The Star-Spun Web Makes its Debut

Last month, I was privileged to have Scott Evans (@MrEPrimary) unveil the cover of my new book, The Star-Spun Web. Just in case you missed it, here it is again:

The Star-Spun Web Front Cover

Front cover of The Star-Spun Web, art by Sara Mulvanny, designed by Sophie Bransby, published by Stripes Books February 2019.

I love everything about it – the movement, the web itself, the stars, the planes, the boy and girl, the building in the top right corner (the Home in which Tess, the main girl character, has grown up), and particularly the spider in the bottom left corner. This is Violet, Tess’s pet tarantula, who has been with her since she was a very little girl. Tarantulas aren’t the commonest pets in books, it’s true – and certainly, they wouldn’t make the sort of pet I’d like to have myself – but, for whatever reason, when the character of Violet came into my head she was a tarantula, and so a tarantula she’s stayed. Despite being rather arachnophobic myself, I love everything about Violet, and in the story she’s a cute and lovable (and very important) companion to Tess – and importantly, she doesn’t do anything remotely frightening. There’s no biting, for instance, nor any pouncing, or anything of that ilk. So, if you were hesitant about reading this book when it comes out – in February 2019, which is really getting rather close now – please don’t let the idea of Violet put you off. She’s a darling, I promise.

The artist who created this cover is Sara Mulvanny, whose amazing work also adorned the cover of The Eye of the North; I was lucky enough to have the same cover designer too, Sophie Bransby of Stripes Books. I think they’re a dream team!

The Star-Spun Web is a science-tinged tale about a girl who must embrace her own frightening power and face the horror of war to save everyone she loves – and the universe itself. It’s a very different story to The Eye of the North, but it has some things in common: clever, brave and determined children, scheming adults, and seemingly overwhelming odds, for a start. It’s been getting some good reviews from its early readers…

“There are cliff hangers and nail biting moments and moments of wondrous joy! I couldn’t put it down and was disappointed to finish. I wanted more… and I am hopeful that more may be on the cards? This is one to read and share and pass on to friends, young and old.”  – Review by Erin F., Librarian, on NetGalley

I’m really looking forward to The Star-Spun Web being out in the world, and I hope you’ll enjoy it. While it’s not a story which has lived in my head all my life, as The Eye of the North was, it’s one which has come to mean a lot to me over the past year, and it’s a story about (among other things) family and what it means to be part of one, the cost and motivation of war, and the wonder – as well as the danger – of scientific experimentation. It will be published in the UK and Ireland by Stripes Books on February 7th, 2019, and you can preorder it, and find out more about the book, here if you like. Preorders are really appreciated by authors and publishers alike, and I’m grateful for each one!

While I’m here: I was also proud to see The Eye of the North named by Sarah Webb as one of her top 50 children’s books of the year. It was a wonderful surprise, and a great way to finish out this crazy, busy, and brilliant year.

Thank you to everyone who’s read, reviewed, enjoyed and spread the word about me and my books over the past year – it’s been a magical, unforgettable time. I hope 2019 will bring lots more of the same!

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!