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Cover Reveal for THE EYE OF THE NORTH!

Meeting your book’s jacket for the first time is a heady experience. People compare it to having a child, but it’s not 100% the same (and I should know…) When you meet your child, you’re bound to think it’s the most beautiful baby the world has ever known. There has never been a bonnier child. No eyes have ever been sparklier nor any nose more buttony, and so on.

But with a book jacket? Well. You have no idea how it will look (unless you’ve been heavily involved, which is unlikely); you sometimes don’t know the artist or their work, and you wonder if they’ll be able to ‘get’ your vision (if that doesn’t sound too precious). You worry that they’ll draw your heroine all wrong, or that they’ll put her in a flouncy gown when the book very clearly states she wears a studded armour-plated suit at all times, or whatever.

In my case, the artist (Jeff Nentrup, by the way – check him out, he’s aces) created a cover which was exactly like the one I wanted but which I would have had no chance of creating myself. It was precisely what I dreamed of in terms of layout, style and colouring. The lettering is amazing. It just smacks of professionalism, skill and – dare I say it? – a total cohesion of my vision and his for what the book is about. And all this, without me ever having had a conversation with, or even having met, Mr Nentrup. If he’s reading – *waves* – you’re awesome!

In short, I was blown away.

And now, without dragging this out any further, I present to you (tah-dah!) the cover for my book, The Eye of the North, which is forthcoming from Knopf Books for Young Readers in August 2017. Isn’t she a beaut?

eye-front-cover

Cover image for THE EYE OF THE NORTH (Knopf BFYR, 2017), artist Jeff Nentrup.

Thanks to you all for still being here, for bearing with me during the last few chaotic months, and for sharing this wonderful journey. The first place I shared the seeds of Emmeline and Thing’s story was on this blog, and now here we have the cover of their very own book. Life, sometimes, is an amazing and funny thing.

I hope you like the cover! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let me know!

Release the Author…

There’s so much dust on my blogging seat these days that I can hardly see it… Let me just blow it off, okay?

*hauls in a deep lungful*

*whuff!*

*splutters* *turns purple* *keels over in a fit of coughing*

Sorry about that. *cof* I’ll be all right in a minute. *cof*

Right. Time to clamber back aboard the hot-seat. It’s been so long since I blogged that I feel quite ashamed, but there has been a lot going on in my life, personally and professionally, which I won’t bore you with. Suffice it to say, I’ve been with you all in spirit and you’ve never been far from my thoughts, but actually finding the time to be here proved a bit of a logistical impossibility.

Anyway. Basically, I’m here today on a flying visit to tell you about something very terrifying cool.

Ready? Here we go.

This year’s lineup for the Children’s Books Ireland conference has just been announced, and – to my flabbergasted delight – I’m on it. Part of the conference is devoted to New Voices, and that’ll be the panel I’ll appear on, along with several other brand-new fledgling authors, to do readings from our work and let the world of children’s books in Ireland (and further afield) see our shiny little faces and meet our (hopefully not too terrified) selves. With any luck, I’ll be able to reveal the cover of the UK edition of THE EYE OF THE NORTH at the conference too, which will be excellent fun.

I am of course completely over the moon about all of this and any visible signs of utter terror are entirely coincidental. Right? Right.

The CBI Conference, for those who don’t know, is a marvellous gathering of kidlit-folk, booksellers and authors and illustrators and teachers and librarians and enthusiasts alike, who get together once a year to touch base and find out what’s been going on in the field (and, if I’m being honest, to fangirl/boy, squee a lot and do some serious hugging, which is always nice). I try to attend whenever I can, though I’ve been spotty the last few years (hello, parenthood), and I was very pleased to be asked to actually take part this year. It’s a welcoming, warm and very fun event – or, at least it is when other people are on the podium – so I’m hoping this year will be no different. (Particularly during my slot. Don’t worry – it’ll be brief.)

So. If you’re around Dublin at the end of September and you fancy immersing yourself in the neverending joy to be found in children’s literature, why not come along? You can purchase tickets, and/or membership of Children’s Books Ireland, HERE, and it would certainly be spiffing to see you.

Until next time, my wordy friends, read well and be happy.

eye-front-cover

Cover image for THE EYE OF THE NORTH (Knopf BFYR, 2017), artist Jeff Nentrup.

 

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today…

Last night on Twitter, someone posted a wonderful question. It was this:

Twenty years ago (for that, horrifyingly, is how long ago 1997 is), I was about to leave school. I wasn’t the happiest of people, despite hindsight telling me, now, that I had far more going for me than I realised at the time. I was facing huge stress, and I was rather unhappy, and I had no real or proper idea what my life was going to be like, or how I was going to manage any of it.

In short, I was just like every other person in my school year. Each one of us faced exactly the same challenges and choices, looking down the same corridors of possibility and frozen in the terror of not knowing which was the right choice.

Now, of course, I know there is no right choice. There are just choices. Each of them bring you somewhere new, and every new place has its challenges. But if a person of the age I am now had attempted to tell school-leaving me this nugget of wisdom, I would have rolled my teenage eyes and completely ignored it, because of course I would.

The question on Twitter, however, really made me think. There are approximately ten million things I’d love to tell the ‘me’ of late April/early May 1997, not least of which is ‘you’ll get your heart broken in a few years, so badly that you think you’ll die – but you won’t,’ and ‘doing English at university is most definitely not a waste of time, no matter what anyone says.’ I plumped in the end for telling myself not to worry so much, which is a perennial piece of advice, but now I’m wondering if I’d be better off saying: ‘In twenty years, you’ll have achieved every single thing you wanted, and that’s great. But – and here’s the kicker – none of it will be as you expected.

None of it will be as you expected.

I wonder if I’d left school with the conviction that I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or a sea-captain, how things would be different. Instead, I left school with a nebulous headful of dreams, ideas of an artist’s life without any proper plan to make any of it real, and I settled into a series of unsatisfactory jobs – not that there was anything wrong with the jobs, as such; it was me who was at fault. I struggled for so many years to find out the things which made me real, which gave me purpose, and then I struggled for many years more to find the courage to follow the plans I finally made.

I wish, twenty years ago, someone I trusted had told me: trust yourself. Those things you feel awkward about, or which you’ve been made to feel are wrong, or which you’ve been encouraged to ignore? They’re all okay. They’re more than okay – they’re you. And one day, they’ll lead to you do a doctorate in a subject you adore, and a few years after that they’ll see you get an email with the subject line ‘You WILL be a published author!!’

(Not that I’d have really known what an email was in 1997, but let’s just go with it.)

That’s not to say that life is exactly as I want it, even now. I suppose that’s humanity, isn’t it? Stasis is death, or whatever. Yes, I have achieved everything I wanted to do, and if I were to turn around right now and meet the Reaper standing behind me, at least I could fall beneath his scythe and feel like I’d done something meaningful with the time I’d been given.

But there’s always more to be done. There are always more mountains to conquer. There is always going to be that little itch around your soul, the one which makes you wonder: ‘is this it? Could there be more?’

And so, me of 1997, this is what I want you to know: there is always more. Everything you do is a step in the right direction. You will never stop trying. There are no wrong choices. And, sometimes, dreams – even when they come true – aren’t what you expected, so you’ve got to keep dreaming them anew. Striving for your own happiness is not a mortal sin. (Also, music will never be better than it is right now.)

And that heartbreak really doesn’t kill you. Trust me on that one.

 

 

In the Tiger’s EYE!

This past Christmas, the baby got a lot of books as presents. I mean – a lot. This was a good thing, because my husband and I (obviously) love books, and we love reading to the baby, and it was great to see what stories our friends and family wanted to share with our beloved little person.

One book in particular soon marked itself out as a firm favourite, and it has retained that coveted status over the past few months. It is the marvellous I Love You More and More, by Nicky Benson, with amazing illustrations by Jonny Lambert.

One day, as I read this book with my child, I looked at the publisher’s details. Hmm, I thought. Little Tiger Press. I hadn’t heard of them before, but the book had given us so much joy and was so beautifully produced that, in a quiet moment, I looked up Little Tiger’s website. To my delight, I found that they also published Middle Grade and YA books under their Stripes imprint, and I spent some time checking out their backlist.

Wouldn’t it be brilliant, I thought, if I could one day get a book deal with a great little press like this.

Well. Fast forward a bit.

The Eye of the North had been out on submission with UK publishers for quite some time, and I had long given up hope it would find a home. It’s hard, dealing with rejection behind the scenes; I completely understand it’s part of the job, and that every single person whose book is on a shelf knows what it feels like, but that doesn’t make going through it any easier. Plus, I kept reminding myself that I had a deal to publish not one but (gasp!) two books in North America, and that was head-spinny enough for me. I won’t get to see The Eye of the North on Irish shelves, I told myself. But there’ll be time for that with future books.

And then.

And then.

It was a day, much like any other. My husband happened to be working from home. The baby was doing the usual stuff babies do, most of which is loud and/or dangerous. And, in the middle of it all, there was a telephone call for me.

(I don’t like the telephone, I should say at this point. It makes me anxious. But that’s a story for another day.)

I took the phone from my husband. It was my agent, Polly, who said: ‘are you ready for some good news?’

I think I responded with ‘Um?’

‘You have a UK book deal!’ she said, in delight.

To my absolute joy, the deal wasn’t just any old deal – it was an offer to publish from Stripes, the aforementioned imprint of Little Tiger Press, who look after the MG side of things. I was dumbfounded. My mind went straight back to the baby’s favourite book, and how much we all loved it, and how I’d joked with myself that they’d be a great home for me.

And now – I can announce! I’m so full of joy! – they are the UK/Irish/Commonwealth home for my debut novel, The Eye of the North!

I’ll keep you all up to date with things like cover reveals, release dates and any other news, but until then I hope you’ll all join me in shouting a huge RAWWWR of Tiger-y joy. I’m delighted to be joining the Stripes family and I can’t wait to take the next step into this new, uncharted and utterly thrilling territory. Thank you to everyone at Little Tiger/Stripes for their enthusiasm and faith in me and my book.

And now I’m off! Book 2 won’t write itself, you know. *wipes brow*

 

Celebrating Ireland

Yesterday, among other things, it was St Patrick’s Day. I’m proud of my nation’s day, even though, truth be told, my nation itself causes me more problems than pride most of the time. I spent yesterday huddled indoors hoping it would stop raining for long enough to get to our local parade (spoiler: it didn’t), and so it passed mostly unremarked; this was a pity, as I love St Patrick’s Day parades with all their mismatched, homemade, amateur whimsy. They’re a true celebration of what living in a rural town in Ireland looks and feels like, and though some of it doesn’t deserve to be romanticised, some of it is pure fun. If you celebrated it, I hope you enjoyed yourself.

In honour of the national day, I wanted to spend a bit of time bigging up my fellow Irish writers, just because. There are a lot of them, so I’m beginning this post by apologising (which is, of course, the most Irish thing of all); I’m bound to forget someone, and I mean no disrespect. I put it down to my being old and grey(ish) and not having enough space in my brain-pan for everything that needs to fit into it. So, if you don’t see yourself here and you feel, all told, that you should be, do let me know. Also, I’m going to focus on kidlit/YA types, mostly because I’m lazy and this is the age-group I know best – but also because the best writing happens there, and because if I opened my focus to literary fiction I’d literally be writing this blogpost for the rest of my life. We Irish, we know our words.

Irish Books

With apologies to Mr Walliams, who isn’t included in my Irish roundup! Photo: SJ O’Hart

Right. To begin at the beginning.

If you haven’t already made the acquaintance of the one-man wonder show that is Dave Rudden, I heartily recommend you do. His second novel, The Forever Court, is imminent, and as his first – Knights of the Borrowed Dark – was one of the best books I have ever read (and I have read many books, so this is A Good Thing), I fully expect the second book in this series to be stupendous. As well as that he’s one of the nicest people around, full of excellent writing advice and general nerdery/geekery on Twitter, and he sports a beard of wonder which deserves to be more widely admired.

I also kneel before the throne of Claire Hennessy, who has been around so long in Irish writing circles (despite still being a very young lady) that she practically functions as its fulcrum. She has a publishing record as long as your arm, having released her first book into the world while she was still in her teens, and her novel Like Other Girls is forthcoming from Hot Key Books in May. This is only the latest in a body of work which is noteworthy for its feminism, intelligence and social awareness, and Claire is one of the most interesting writers, speakers and  human beings I know. She’s also an awesome creative writing teacher with Big Smoke Writing Factory, as I can personally attest.

I am a Celine Kiernan completist, and I wait with bated breath whenever she mentions she has another book coming. Her Moorehawke Trilogy is world-class fantasy, and her novel Into the Grey is a stunning piece of work. My favourite of her works is Resonance, her most recent, which is an incredible piece of writing, storytelling, world-building and imagination, and I can’t recommend it more highly. She can’t write her next book fast enough for me.

Then there’s the one-woman powerhouse that is E.R. Murray, who manages – it seems – to constantly be writing four books at once, and all of them to an excellent standard. Her Nine Lives series about Ebony Smart, a young girl with the power to reincarnate, is published by Mercier Press. As if that wasn’t enough, her YA story about a young girl struggling to cope with the challenges of her family life with the help of her mother’s recipe book is called Caramel Hearts, published by Alma Press. E.R. is widely regarded as an in-demand speaker, creative writing teacher, and author, and she is a warm and welcoming presence on the Irish literary scene.

Kieran Fanning (who daylights as a teacher) is the author of The Black Lotus, published by Chicken House Books in the UK and Scholastic in the US, which is one of the best books for kids I’ve read in years. It encompasses adventure, martial arts, time travel, history, superpowers and an epic battle – and I loved it. He’s a supportive and helpful voice on social media, a source of huge encouragement for newbies like me, and an authority on making books and literature accessible and interesting to children. Anyone who writes for children in Ireland should be following his every word.

Nigel Quinlan’s The Maloney’s Magical Weatherbox stands, in my humble onion, shoulder-to-shoulder with Pat O’Shea, a legend of Irish children’s literature. When I read Weatherbox I was reminded of nothing more than O’Shea’s The Hounds of the Morrigana book which was a gigantic part of my childhood. In its zany humour, utterly Irish turns of phrase, and completely bonkers family, it’s a book which made me laugh while keeping me glued to the plot. I enjoyed it so much, and I can’t wait to see what Quinlan does next. Also, if you’re looking for bonkers zany humour on Twitter, Nigel‘s your man.

I can’t write a post like this without mentioning Louise O’Neill, who has – deservedly – enjoyed worldwide success with her novels Only Ever Yours and Asking For It, which tackle some of the most complex aspects of modern life as experienced, primarily, by young women. They are books which can be searingly painful to read, simply because they are so true, and so important. Her work has drawn comparison with that of Margaret Atwood, and the clarity O’Neill brings to her dissection of what it is to be female in a world which seems to hate women is utterly compelling.

There are so many more incredible Irish writers I could mention, including Sarah Webb, Sheena Wilkinson, Siobhan Parkinson, Deirdre Sullivan, Eoin Colfer, Oisin McGann, Derek Landy, Sarah Crossan, P.J. Lynch, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, Shane Hegarty (who has enjoyed recent film success with his trilogy of Darkmouth books), Alan Early (whose Arthur Quinn novels about resurrected Vikings and Norse Gods taking over Dublin city are fantastic), Oliver Jeffers, Máire Zepf, Tarsila Kruse (who I’m claiming as Irish!), and more who I’m sure I’m forgetting that I really would be here all day, so I’ll have to leave it at that. Ireland is producing some top-notch writing for children, teens and young readers, as well as its already enviable record in relation to literary fiction, and it’s a great time to be part of it.

So, Beannachtaí lá le Phádraig oraibh go leor, and take my word for it: the best way to celebrate St Patrick is to check out a book by an Irish writer. Maith thú, beir bua, is bain taitneamh as na leabhair!

 

I Am Lucky

I am lucky to have been born when I was born.

I am lucky that my parents were married to one another.

I am lucky that my mother survived my birth.

I am lucky that my father was not sick, or unemployed, or addicted to anything.

I am lucky that I was raised with love and stability.

I am lucky. Simply that.

Other babies, born just as I was in Ireland, the country I call home, were not so lucky.

They were born to women young enough to be called children themselves.

They were born of rape, or incest, or simple love relationships not ‘sanctified’ by marriage.

They were born to women who could not care for them.

They were born into families where too many children existed already.

They were born to women who were committed to institutions against their will.

They were born to women who fought for them, who begged for them, and who were told ‘no’.

They were born to women who never knew that they’d been sold to good, decent families abroad.

They were born to women who never knew they’d died, unloved, and were buried in unconsecrated ground.

They were born to women who loved them desperately, but who were torn from them before an ‘attachment’ could form.

None of this was their fault, just as nothing about my birth had anything to do with me.

 

It’s the tiny cruelties which break me open the most – the fact that these children were stigmatised by being called ‘illegitimate’, sent to school at different times to the ‘ordinary’ children so that friendships couldn’t grow between them – for fear, the horror, the very idea that an illegimate child from a Mother and Baby Home could be friends with a legitimate child of a married couple. The fact that information about families was kept from the members of those families – names, birthdates, addresses – meaning that parents couldn’t trace their children, children couldn’t trace their parents, inquiries were met with stony silence.

Hush it up. Brush it off. Ignore them. They’ll go away.

Ireland did this – my country, which I love. Members of my church, the Catholic church, were intricately involved with this decades-long conspiracy of silence.

Let us be silent no more, and let the names of the lost children shame us all. Let the memories of the lost women remind we who are lucky enough never to have seen the inside of a Laundry or a Home exactly how lucky we are.

And let every single one of them be counted, claimed and told – too late – you belong.

 

 

 

 

To Live Without My Music…

…would, as the song says, be impossible to do.

Besides writing and reading, the one thing I love to do most in the world is listen to music – and create some of my own, at times, when I feel like dusting off my old guitar and tuning up the vocal cords – and, some time ago, I sat down to make a list of songs I love, and why I love them.

I never got around to sharing it on the blog, for one reason or another (*ahem baby*) but I thought this might be an opportune time to give you all some listening pleasure, as well as an insight into my life – for what better way is there to crowbar open someone’s mind than to have a look at the music which has shaped them? (Well. You could look at the books which have shaped them, but you’re sick of reading about my favourite books, so…)

The Song I Listen to When I Miss Home

Helpless – Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young. This version is a live one, performed by Neil Young and the Band, the night of the Last Waltz. I can’t explain why – as I’m not from Ontario, nor anywhere near it – but this song screams ‘home’ to me. It has, like all of my beloved music, a lot to do with my dad.

The Song Which Means the Most to Me

I hesitate to say ‘favourite song’, because I love so many that I can never truly have a favourite. This one is up there with many others, including Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale, and it will always occupy a central spot in my heart. It’s Who Knows Where the Time Goes? by the irreplaceable, unmistakable Sandy Denny.

The Song Which Sings Freedom

Years ago I worked in a job I didn’t like much. Every day at 1 pm, I would be released for lunch and I had Nick Drake’s album Five Leaves Left in my CD walkman (oh, how cool I was!) This track, Time Has Told Me, was the first one, and I can’t hear its opening notes, even now, without thinking of freedom and a weight lifting off my shoulders.

The Song I Have Listened to Most Often

In my final year in university, one album got me through a very tough time. I lost a lot of friends, I faced tough exams, and I struggled with a lot of personal issues, and I had Jeff Buckley’s Grace on almost permanent repeat. So, any of the songs on that album would do as my ‘most listened’… but the title track, Grace, is the one I like the most. So, here you go.

The Song Which Makes me Yearn to  Sing

I learned to ‘sing’, if you can call it that, by listening to music as a kid. Nicolette Larson, Linda Ronstadt, Crystal Gayle and most of all, the monumental Joni Mitchell shaped my dreams of what being a singer meant. My voice comes nowhere close, but a gal can dream.

The Song Which Reminds me of my baby

I’m never not thinking about my baby, of course. But, even years from now, this song will bring me back to our earliest days and months together, and it’s one I still sing every bedtime. Thank you, Mama Cass, for your voice. You’ve given my baby and me some very beautiful memories.

The Song Which Raises My Neck Hairs

I don’t know if it’s the intro, or the opening vocal, or just… everything, but this song makes something in me thrill. I never tire of listening to it, and I will never stop missing David Bowie. Here’s his Sound and Vision.

And, there you have it. There are ten thousand other songs I could have picked, for ten thousand other reasons, but this selection will do for now. Happy listening…

 

Filthy Lucre?

There’s been some talk recently in writing circles about money and its role in an artistic life, fuelled (at least in part) by Donal Ryan‘s recent interview in which he admitted he has had to resume work as a civil servant in order to pay his bills, despite being an award-winning, successful novelist. It’s something that every person who writes and makes money from it has to think about and deal with, and something that very few of us talk about.

money

Money money money money… Mo-ney! Photo credit: SJ O’Hart

Well. Very few people talk about money at the best of times. But writers and artists, somehow, talk about it even less; as though money somehow taints the integrity of artistic work, or we like people to think we can subsist on good wishes and sunbeams. (Note: we can’t. Pay us, please!)

So, I thought I might address the issue as it pertains to my own life, at least a little.

Firstly, the issue of money is not straightforward. The idea of ‘making a living’ is not monolithic. Different people have different needs, different outgoings, different commitments, and these vary depending on: your housing situation, whether or not you have children, whether or not you need a car, whether you are in ill health or need ongoing medical support, and a host of other things. It also depends on what ‘enough’ means to you. Some people aren’t comfortable without a substantial cushion in the bank account, while others are happy if they have a month’s rent/mortgage and bills banked in case of a rainy day.

I have a simple life. My husband and I don’t smoke, we rarely drink, we don’t go out much and we haven’t had a holiday since our honeymoon. Despite this we manage to have plenty of fun, but we don’t need to spend a lot of money to have the lifestyle we want. Our main expenditure is books and the baby – and, since we use cloth nappies for the latter, that’s not even a huge source of spending any more – so we can get by on one salary, by and large. I am privileged, and I admit as much, to be married to a person with a job, which pays him a reasonable if not huge salary, and that this person is (and has been) willing to help me financially as much as possible. I’m also privileged insofar as I am in full health, at least as far as I am currently aware, and I don’t have any long-term or recurring medical expenses.

Having said that, I worked all my life from the age of fifteen, in a variety of jobs both full- and part-time, and when in 2012 I took a chance and left a job to give writing a go, I supported my end of our household for almost three years out of the money I had saved. I was nearing the bottom of my financial barrel, admittedly, when I signed my book deal – and that was the saving grace for us. By Irish standards, it was generous; it certainly gave me, and our family (by then, of three) a bit of breathing room.

However, it was news to me, until recently, that advances to writers in Ireland can be so low, and I find it wrong, simply put, that sometimes book deals are signed where the author receives no advance at all. I’m not suggesting that the country ‘owes artists a living’ – but art is important, particularly during turbulent times, and it should be recognised that it is also a job, which deserves payment, recognition and respect. I also understand that writers often need to work at other things to make ends meet, and when the time comes for me, I will do so, too. My advance won’t last forever and I may never earn royalties on a word I write, so I’ve made backup plans. For the moment my time is amply spent trying to fulfil my publishing contract and parent my child, and when things change, so will I. Again, this is a privilege I am happy to acknowledge.

Very few writers will earn enough to live on; without my husband’s income I freely and gratefully admit I wouldn’t be where I am. However, those of us who do write or create things which are consumed, used and enjoyed by society in general deserve to be paid for that work. Writers should always receive advances from their publishers. Society should provide grants and bursaries for visual artists, and these should be ringfenced – not slashed – in times of crisis. People from disadvantaged backgrounds should be given even greater access to the communal pot of funding. Should, should, should – and I realise I have no power to bring any of this into being, or ensure it happens consistently, and I also realise that most people don’t create art for financial gain – but it boils down to this: we need to value artists, in all the ways it’s possible to value a person and their work. Without art and culture, everyone suffers.

It’s in everyone’s interest to ensure that people can create, that they’re given the space and time to make art, that they’re respected and supported and paid appropriately, depending on the situation. Even if I weren’t in the position of earning a ‘living’, such as it is, from writing, I’d believe this to be true. How about you?

Do you have any thoughts on the thorny issue of paying artists for their work, and how best to manage it? I’d love to know your opinions.