I’m a day late with this, but… well. Life. It gets in the way sometimes, right? Right. On with the show,
Yesterday, November 12th, those lovely lot at Knopf Books for Young Readers in New York City published my second book, The Starspun Web. (For reasons best known to themselves, my US editors removed the hyphen from the title, but I’m happy with that.) Here they are, my US book babies. Don’t they look pretty?
The Eye of the North had a cover designed by Jeff Nentrup, a US-based artist; its younger sibling The Starspun Web‘s cover echoes the UK edition, and in both cases the artist was Sara Mulvanny. I’m so pleased and proud with how they turned out, and I hope they’ll brighten up shelves in bookstores all across North America.
If you’d like to add my new book to your own shelves, here’s the link to buy it at Barnes and Noble, and here’s the link to buy it via Indiebound, and here’s the link to buy it at Powell’s, and here’s Amazon’s link, if that’s your preference. Thank you so much to everyone who has helped me to bring this book to publication – it’s a long hard journey, and every bit of support is invaluable.
If you follow me on my social media accounts (and if you don’t, sign up to check me out on Twitter here and Instagram right over here) you’ll have spotted that, last week, I was part of an Author Dream Team touring around Dublin leaving signed copies of books all over the place. It was so much fun.
Vashti Hardy (author of Brightstorm and Wildspark (with more wonders to come from her magical pen), James Nicol (author of The Apprentice Witch series, and with more work on the way), Lorraine Gregory (author of Mold and the Poison Plot and The Maker of Monsters) and Pádraig Kenny (author of TIN and Pog and, hopefully, loads more stuff in the future) and me spent the day going from bookshop to bookshop, meeting booksellers and readers and unsuspecting members of the general public (who probably wondered who on earth had let us loose on the bookshop stock with a packet of Sharpies), and we all had a thoroughly wonderful day. It’s wonderful to meet and talk to other authors, people who really love books and stories as much as you do, and I know I gained so much from listening to the others talk about their work, their upcoming projects, their methods and secrets – and, of course, gaining lots of insider knowledge and sneak peeks, which is (seriously) the BEST part about writing books for a living.
Here’s a brilliant photo of all of us, with added Mary Brigid (Hodges Figgis’s amazing children’s bookseller):
I’m also pretty chuffed to be able to announce that Oakhill Publishing have acquired the rights to release an audiobook of my first novel, The Eye of the North, which is AMAZING news. I’m so delighted! There’s something really special about being able to listen to a book – it’s like someone telling you a story. I know the folks at Oakhill will do a wonderful job, and I’m delighted to think of my book reaching new readers. Thank you to my agent, Polly Nolan, and my brilliant publisher, Stripes Books, for doing the deal on my behalf.
And, while I’m here, did you know I’m appearing at this year’s Bath Festival of Children’s Literature? Yes, really! Catherine Doyle (author of The Storm Keeper’s Island and The Lost Tide Warriors) and I will be in discussion about myths, monsters and making stories on September 29th at 12 noon. You can get tickets over here, if you fancy coming to see us.
And now for the not-so-good stuff (I should have begun with this, really…)
I’m working on a new story at the moment (all very hush-hush just now, sorry about that) and it had been going well. I’d reached the 45,000 word mark, I had a detailed synopsis in place, I knew exactly where the story was supposed to go, but for some reason I just – stopped. I hit a wall that I couldn’t break through. For weeks I laboured over one particular (not very significant) plot point that simply wouldn’t come right, no matter how many words I threw at it, and finally, after spending at least 20,000 words trying to make it work, I had to do something drastic.
I gave up.
(*This is the Awful Catastrophe, by the way.)
However, like most Awful Catastrophes, it actually turned out to be the best thing, in the end. I’ve learned by now (though, of course, sometimes I forget) that when I reach a complete block in a story, and when absolutely nothing I try helps me to get through it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m simply being lazy/unoriginal/untalented/ridiculous/insert adjective here. What it sometimes means is that the problem I’m trying to solve is better off left unravelled. In this case, what it meant was that despite the fact that I’d already done so much work (almost five months of drafting), and that I had a synopsis which had passed muster with people much more knowledgeable than me, what I’d actually done was start the story in entirely the wrong place. (I didn’t work this out on my own: I have to thank Vashti Hardy for her brilliant suggestion that I try to find a different place to enter my story from. She’s brilliant. Go read her books.)
As soon as this realisation dropped, I knew I’d have to junk the work I’d already done – but that actually made me feel happy, and relieved, because I knew I’d written the story wrongly in the first place and this was my chance to tell it the right way round. Yes, it’s more work; yes, it’s hard to say goodbye to all the effort I’d previously made. But oh – the joy of knowing I’m finally on the right path, and the draft I’m aiming to complete now will be the story I should have been telling all along.
What I’m saying is: I gave up, but I didn’t really. I just wrote my story upside down in order to find out how to write it rightside up, and sometimes that’s the best (if not the most time-efficient) way to do things.
So. I hope you’ve all been having a wonderful summer. It’s almost my favourite time of year, and I’m working on a book that excites me, and it’s almost been TWO WHOLE YEARS since The Eye of the North was published in the US and Canada (which makes me itch to do some sort of giveaway – watch this space), and I’ve also had a little bit of good news about my US edition of The Starspun Web (coming in November, and no I can’t tell you what the good news is), so all in all, I’m feeling pretty professional around here.
I hope you’ve all been reading and writing with your usual gusto and aplomb, dear people, and until the next time I have a chance to update this sadly neglected blog, I bid you all farewell!
To be honest, my dream library is just any library, as they’re all doorways to infinity. I love libraries, and I love people who love libraries, and more than anything else I love a good school library. When I was at school the library was simply the big room in the middle of the building where people were sent when they were in detention, or missing a class for whatever reason. It had very few books in it, and no librarian (not that I recall, at least). I spent no time whatsoever in it as a youngster, as I was far too good (read ‘boring’) to ever have detention, and I never missed class. Sadly, I never went in to find a good book, either, as there weren’t any.
So, when a friend of mine – who works as a secondary school (High School) teacher here in Ireland asked for some advice as to what books to buy to stock her brand-new school library, I was elated. I thought about our gigantic, empty library in my old secondary school, and how I’d love to have the resources to fill it with brilliant books, and I had a long hard think.
And here’s what I came up with.
The lists below are divided into YA-level books and MG-level books (so, broadly, books for Senior Cycle first, and then books for Junior Cycle), but I’m very much a proponent of letting kids choose the books they want to read, so I wouldn’t worry too much about age limits. The list is made out this way simply because that’s how I sent it to my friend. I hope you find some ideas for your next amazing read in here!
These lists are not alphabetised – they’re written exactly as they came out of my head – but I hope they give you some help if, like my friend, you’re lucky enough to be building a school library or perhaps buying a present for someone in your life. (Or yourself, of course!) They’re also not comprehensive – I’m sure I’ve forgotten so many brilliant books that I meant to include, so I’ll try to revisit them in a week or two and update any omissions – and they are largely focused on books published recently. Of course, they also reflect my own personal taste, which may not suit you, but please do get in touch if you want to ask about personalised recommendations.
This is a blog post I’ve been meaning to write for ages now, but somehow never managed to find the time. Recent events – specifically, the EU elections here in Europe, which have seen (particularly in Ireland, my home country) a surge in support for the Green Party (or its equivalent in other countries) – have finally given me the impetus I’ve been searching for. So, buckle up, buttercups: here are some of my personal top tips for living a greener life and, particularly, reducing the amount of plastic you consume – because, when you think about it, is there anything more important facing us as a species? I don’t think so. These tips are all things that I have personally done, which means they’re all things you can do too. I hope you find them useful.
Right. At the risk of sounding like a po-faced monstrosity, let’s get started.
1. Change Your Toothbrush
I don’t just mean ‘buy a new one’. No. What I mean is: change it from a plastic-handled one to one made from more sustainable, renewable and (importantly) biodegradable/compostable materials, like bamboo. I’ve been using a Humble Brush for a few years now (no, not the same one. Ew! Don’t be disgusting) and I find them absolutely amazing.
The Humble Brush works, feels and performs exactly as well as any plastic toothbrush, but it has one important difference: the handle is made from bamboo, which disappears (under the right conditions, i.e. in landfill or compost) within a year. Considering it takes between 800 and 1000 mindboggling years for a plastic toothbrush to ‘biodegrade’, this is a no-brainer. I’ve also recently started to use the Bambooth toothbrush, which is even fancier than the Humble Brush; it has a colourful bamboo handle, variegated nylon bristles, and it comes in its own cardboard carrying tube. Bambooth’s absolutely brilliant tagline is ‘Change the Handle, Change the World’, which sums it up for me.
2. Change Your Detergents/Soaps
This one is super-easy and will save you money, too. Instead of using plastic boxes filled with plastic pods to wash your clothes – you know the type, the ones filled with gunky detergent which you toss into the drum of your washing machine – try using the simple, old-fashioned cardboard box of loose washing powder. Admittedly, if you’re unlucky (as I often am) sometimes you’ll have spillages – but it’s worth it. When you run out of powder you have a very recyclable box, and that’s all. No plastic. No nonsense.
I also use solid hand soap at all the sinks in my house – you can get an endless variety of scents and sizes and colours and shapes, and anti-bacterial ones for the bathrooms. Try to get ones that come in cardboard and paper wrapping, which means you have brilliant soap which lasts for ages, costs a fraction of what the fancy plastic squeezy liquid soap bottles do, and leaves no lasting waste behind.
3. Think About Using Solid Shampoo/Shower Bars
This one’s a bit more tricky, as not everyone is going to like solid shampoo. Those of us with thicker hair, or longer hair, mightn’t be too enamoured of the feel of a solid shampoo, but if it suits you to try it, then please do. Some I’ve used (SoapNuts, in particular) have given a great lather and a wonderful clean. Of course, using soap in the shower instead of (or alongside) plastic bottles of gel is a huge help.
4. Change Up your Sanitary/Babycare Shop
Back when my little one was a baby, we made a choice to use washable/reusable and/or biodegradable nappies/diapers. We used several brands of washable nappies – Little Lambs, Charlie Bananas, and G Nappies primarily, all of which worked fantastically well – and at the end of our nappying/diapering journey we supplemented our stash with biodegradable nappies. The brand we used was Kit and Kin, but there are loads of brilliant options available now. Just think: babies are a small-ish percentage of the overall population, but nappy/diaper waste is a huge problem. Every baby in diapers is changed perhaps ten times a day, or more; every single one of those diapers/nappies goes into the bin, and into landfill.
Where they do not disappear. Just imagine the sheer numbers.
When I was pregnant with my child, I went for a walk one hot summer’s day. I passed a bin filled with used nappies, and the smell made me retch. It was then I swore we’d try to find the greenest option possible for our own child’s diapering needs. If you have a bum (or bums!) in nappies in your house, maybe look into greener options. They exist in abundance. I’m very happy to help if you have questions!
The same principle applies to things like baby wipes, sanitary protection, cotton buds, plasters/bandaids, and so many small things we take for granted. Baby wipes are a scourge to our waterways, beaches and pipes; never flush them, even if the packet says you can. Try not to use them if possible (though I do admit they’re extremely handy, out and about), and look for biodegradable ones. We use Kinder by Nature, widely available in pharmacists nationwide. Sanitary protection (like sanitary pads/liners, tampons and so on) should also never be flushed, and there are loads of brilliant options available if you want to get away from plastic. Mooncups and reusable/washable sanitary protection work brilliantly for loads of people, but the option I go for is to use the Natracare range, which is very easy to find in most pharmacies and shops, and which is fully compostable. It’s plastic, chlorine, and bleach free, and the range works just as well as any plastic-packed alternative. I also swapped out my cotton buds/Q-Tips with plastic free alternatives, and I use plastic-free plasters/bandaids.
Something I discovered as my child grew older, too, was how often things like glitter and balloons feature in their lives. Glitter is a horror for the environment (I bought some biodegradable glitter, but it’s an expensive option) and balloons are even worse. At the risk of sounding like a killjoy, try to limit these things when you can.
I also replaced my clingfilm/Saran wrap with beeswax wraps, which I find to be very useful and easy to clean, though not really suitable for use with meat leftovers. (Don’t beat yourself up over a little clingfilm.) Another small change I’m happy to have made is swapping out plastic straws for paper ones, and bamboo ones for more sturdy challenges.
5. Shop Clever, and Remember the 3 Rs
It’s not always easy, but something you can do which really helps is to cut down on the plastic you buy in the supermarket. Some supermarkets provide biodegradable bags for loose fruit and veg; if yours doesn’t, then bring your own. If you buy fresh meat at a butcher’s, then bring your own (scrupulously clean) plastic box, with a perfectly sealable lid (a lunchbox is perfect) and ask them to put your raw meat products in it instead of in two or three throwaway plastic bags. Always bring your own bags to carry shopping home – I have a collection of cotton totes large enough to hold everything I own, and which I invariably forget to bring when I go shopping – and try to be aware, as you purchase, of how much waste the item will create, and buy accordingly. Try to buy meat and fruit products in clear plastic packaging, as opposed to black (it’s harder to recycle black plastic), try to buy packaging which is already recycled (companies like Ecover and Innocent are good for this), and try to buy cardboard packaging as often as you can.
We recycle scrupulously in my house, as I’m sure most people do, but the more important of the 3 Rs is the first one – Reduce. It’s easy to lessen the amount of rubbish leaving your house if you don’t use it in the first place! Reuse whenever you can – yogurt pots as planters for seeds or paint-mixing pots, fruit trays as storage boxes for small toys or crafting materials, plastic wrap (where it’s unavoidable to buy) as binliners – there are loads of things you can do. And then Recycle as much as you can. Please do wash out your containers before putting them in your recycling, and squash them down to maximise space.
Phew. So, if you’re still here, thank you. I’m (in case you hadn’t guessed) passionate about the environment and protecting it for future generations. I know it feels like we, as individuals, don’t have a lot of power – but that’s not really true. If every one of us made an effort to be mindful about plastic, waste and recycling, it would make a huge difference. If – as we’ve seen – we vote in large numbers for parties and politicians who will prioritise dealing with climate collapse, everyone will be better off. Governments and corporations need to move the dial, of course, but never feel like your own small effort is worthless. It’s not. I hope you’ve found these suggestions helpful, and if you have any of your own, let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from fellow Greenies about the tips and tricks you bring to living a bright, green, clean life on this beautiful planet we all share.
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…
…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!
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.
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…
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!
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.
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?
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:
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…
I'm halfway through A Star-Spun Web by @SJOHart and I am loving: 🔹 Positive representation of spiders 🔹Positive representation of girls in science 🔹The most intriguing magical device since the Box of Delights 🔹The mystery in this book 🔹Evil governess and mysterious guardian.
“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!