In My Happy Place

Last weekend, I took part in the brilliant UCDFest, a festival held on the campus of UCD, or University College Dublin. UCD is not only my alma mater but also a place I worked for several years. It’s a haven of happy memories for me, and because of the state of the world since 2020, I haven’t been there in such a long time – so it was a real joy to get to go back, and to visit The Campus Bookshop (one of the places I used to work), and, of course, to talk about books and creativity with some very cool young (and not-so-young) readers.

A display of my books, arranged beautifully by Colm and Clare in the Campus Bookshop, UCD

I delivered a talk called How To Be A Storyfinder (which is one of my faves), where I try to encourage young folk to join me in being a Storyfinder – essentially, a person who notices all the stories that are everywhere, lurking in plain sight, hiding around corners and up trees and wrapped around lamp-posts, just waiting to be discovered. Stories are always looking for imaginations to land in, places where their seeds can take root and grow – so, who’s to say that imagination can’t be yours?

I got to meet some very lovely people, I was given a Harry Potter examination (which I failed, getting one question right out of four fiendishly difficult ones), and I answered some excellent questions: how long does it take to write a book? (As long as it takes!) What’s it like, getting published? (Tough, and challenging, but very worth it) Which of your books is your favourite? (I can’t answer this one!)

Thanks to all the UCD crew for organising such a super – and incredibly big – festival, and a HUGE thanks to the staff of The Campus Bookshop, especially my wonderful former manager Colm and his colleague Clare (who has been one of my favourite people for a few years now, despite us never having met in person until last weekend) for setting up such a gorgeous space, facilitating the talk, and letting me scribble on some books, and the HUGEST thanks of all to everyone who came to hear me, those who wandered in and just happened to stay, those who listened to me reading from SKYBORN, and those who bought some books at the end. You’re all stars! And I’m a very grateful author-type.

Me in my ‘Author Space’ with my name in lights (whiteboard marker counts!) (Photo: G. Connors)

SKYBORN is one year published as of last Friday, speaking of which, so if you fancied picking it up, giving it a whirl, and maybe leaving a review in one of the usual online spots, that would be fab?

Hope to catch you at an event some day soon!

It’s Almost World Book Day!

World Book Day is being celebrated in the UK and Ireland on March 3rd – which is only a week and a half away! World Book Day is a brilliant way to promote the joy of reading, to highlight the importance of stories, and to celebrate the power words have to lift us up, bring us together, and make the world seem brighter.

Some schools will have been lucky enough to book an author or illustrator to give a presentation, either virtually or in person, for World Book Day; some are celebrating it by asking everyone to record their reading in the run-up to the day itself, where they’ll spend the day sharing their favourite reads with one another. Some will (I hope!) mark the occasion by devoting extra time to reading, either teacher-led story time or pupils’ own dedicated reading time, or a mixture of both. And, with any luck, parents will take the opportunity to focus (or refocus) on the importance of reading with and to their children. Certainly, in my family, reading is (and was, in my own childhood) the best part of every day.

I’m lucky to be able to surround my family with books, but I know some children don’t have that opportunity. Another brilliant aspect of World Book Day is the fact that every primary school child is given a token to spend on a special £1 or €1 book in their local bookshop, which means no child has to go without a book this World Book Day.

I’ve made a video over on my YouTube channel where I talk about the importance of books and reading, and how much reading means to me; I also give some suggestions for dress-up ideas based around my books. (Hint: you don’t need any special, fancy, or expensive costumes to dress up as Emmeline or Thing, Tess or Thomas, or Bastjan or Alice.)

I hope you enjoy the video! And – more than anything – I hope you enjoy World Book Day this year. Keep on reading!

The Eye Of The North is 4!

Today my computer reminded me (thanks, technology) that it’s been FOUR WHOLE YEARS since my first book baby, The Eye of the North, was published.

Four years, people.

Me at the book launch for The Eye of the North, which was held in Eason’s, O’Connell Street, Dublin, four years ago.

I can’t quite believe it’s been so long, and yet – it seems like no time at all.

Of course, I’ve been hard at work on other books since then. I’ve published three more – two novels, and one early reader. You can find out more about them here. And I’m thankful to say there are more books to come from me… but I can’t say much more than that about any of them. Next year, I’ll have another story to share with you all, one I’ve been working on over the past year, and which I’m expecting edits on any day now.

This post is to say ‘thank you’ to everyone who has been here with me over the past decade (as, scarily enough, this August it will have been ten years since I started blogging). You’ve all helped me celebrate the highs and you’ve been there to comfort me through the lows, of which there are many in the publishing/writing life. Keeping this blog through my journey to publication was a wonderful way to chronicle my experience, and I hope it has helped anyone who has read it to find their own voice, and to dig deep for the courage to try – just as I did.

Happy birthday to The Eye of the North. It was the story dearest to my heart at the time I wrote it, and still a story I am very proud of. I’ll always be glad I got to share it with you.

The Eye of the North in Hodges Figgis’ window, Dublin city centre, 2018.

It’s That Time of Year Again…

Many people are settling into the festive season at the moment, and whether you celebrate Christmas or not, perhaps you’re starting the shut-down that often comes naturally at this time of year. And, of course, often – particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, where I am! – the best thing, when the weather’s cold, is to settle into some comfortable nook with a great book.

If you’re looking for great books for your younger family members and friends, whether it’s for Christmas or just because, then you could do a lot worse than check out the #BookElves2021 hashtag on Twitter, where I and many of my fellow Book Elves spent a whole week giving fantastic book recommendations for all age groups, from birth to YA. Here’s one of my own recommendations:

You don’t need to join Twitter to search the hashtags – you can visit my Twitter page here, and then in the search bar, pop in #BookElves2021 and you’ll get as many recommendations as you could wish for.

Another amazing resource for those looking for brilliant book recommendations is this radio clip, taken from the RTÉ radio show Today With Claire Byrne, where the CEO of Children’s Books Ireland, Elaina Ryan, and librarian Tracy McEneaney put their knowledgeable heads together to come up with a tip-top list of great reads for 0-11. I was amazed to be included among their recommendations, and very grateful to Elaina for her lovely words about my book Skyborn – so, if you’ve got a reader of 8+ in your life, it would make my Christmas to know you’d gifted them a copy of my book (or, indeed, any of my books!) All the links you’ll need to purchase or find out more about Skyborn can be found here.

Books are the best present, in my humble onion. Whether you’re buying for a child or a slightly more grown-up person, there’s nothing better than finding them the perfect read, be it fiction or non-fiction or biography or history or whatever. So, instead of defaulting to electronics or toiletries or faffery that (let’s face it) nobody really wants, why not wander to your nearest independent bookshop, either virtually or in person, and pick up some magic for your loved ones.

And whatever December brings you, whether it’s your festive season or just another month, I wish you well – and the comfort of having a book to step into.

To Get You in the Festive Mood…

…I’ve written a short story. *Jingle Jingle!*

Well, to be entirely fair, I was asked to write a short story by the wonderful Amy at Golden Books Girl, who is and has been such a champion of me and my work for many years now. She is running a Christmas-themed event on her blog this year, and I am one of the lucky people invited to contribute.

One of the suggestions Amy made was to write a Christmas-themed story based on my characters, or a Christmas scene in the world of one of my books, and as soon as she gave me those suggestions I knew straight away what I wanted to write. Y’see, I have more stories to tell about the family wot lives at Widget Manor. I have further adventures I’d like to bring them on. But – publishing being what it is – I will, in all likelihood, never get a chance to tell those stories in full, at least not in published form.

So, Amy’s invitation came at just the right time.

Christmas at Widget Manor is, if you like, a mini-farewell to some of the dearest, most interesting, most loved characters I’ve ever come up with. It’s me wishing them well, hoping for their happiness, and sending them on to their next adventure (because I know there are more adventures to come, for that lot).

I very much hope you read and enjoy the story – here’s the link again, just in case you missed it – and that if you do, that you take the time to follow Amy and/or send her a word of thanks for setting up her Golden Christmas blog event. I know I, for one, am very grateful. And, if you’d like to read the books that come before this story, starting with Skyborn and continuing with The Eye of the North, click on the book titles and you’ll find links to purchase them.

And with that – on with the show!

Image by Chad Madden via Unsplash

A Letter To A Young Reader

Almost a year ago, a young reader wrote to me looking for advice on how to become a writer, of SF and fantasy in particular, and what to do if you don’t think you can come up with any new ideas.

Recently, in looking through some old emails, I came across my reply. I thought it was filled with the sort of timeless advice I give everyone who asks me questions like these, and then I thought: why not put this advice on the blog, for everyone to see?

So, here you go. I’ve obviously redacted all identifying information relating to the sender of the original query, but the majority of this post is exactly reproduced from my letter, sent last October. I hope, if you’re full of questions, that it will help you too.

The Eye of the North meets some of its older cousins. (Photo: SJ O’Hart)

How Do I Become A Writer?

I’m delighted to hear you’re interested in writing. I get asked all the time where my ideas come from, and to be honest the answer is ‘from everywhere’. What I mean is, I’m a person who pays attention to the world around me, and I’m insatiably curious. I’m forever asking questions, wondering about things, needing to find things out, and I try to learn all the time. As a kid I loved to read dictionaries and encyclopedias and books of facts (I just loved  to read in general, really) and all the interesting bits would sort of stick to the inside of my brain, where they’d eventually grow into story-seeds. The Kraken from The Eye of the North, for instance, was something I first came across in a book of myths and legends I read as a seven-year-old, and it stuck with me for decades before finding its way out in a story. So, my tips would be:


-Read as much as you can, and as widely as you can. No reading is ever wasted.


-Think about things, daydream, wonder, ask yourself questions and find out the answers, cherish the things you’re interested in and dive into them as deeply as possible. All those nuggets will go into your memory bank and could eventually turn into a story.


-Keep a notebook handy. When you’re out and about, take notes and/or doodle the things you see, hear, and smell. Listen to how people talk. Eavesdrop as politely as possible! Get a feel for the rhythms of language by listening as carefully as you can. 


-Cultivate your curiosity. Notice things. Don’t walk through the world with your head down – look up and see the cat sitting on the window-ledge, or the rainbow peeking through the clouds, or the old couple holding hands in the park, or the runaway dog with one ear turned inside out… look for all the beautiful detail in the world and soak it all in. Ideas are everywhere. Writers are just the people who notice them. (An addendum to this: make sure to use all the senses that are available to you, and don’t neglect your senses of smell, touch, and taste!)


-Whenever you get a little story-seed – so, a character name, or a good sentence, or an interesting image, or a setting, or even a line or two of dialogue – write it down. But if you only get a little ‘flash’, don’t worry, and don’t push it. Put it aside. Lay it down in the warm darkness of your imagination, and let it grow. You’ll find, eventually, that it’ll start bugging you so much that you’ll be itching to write the story!


-Don’t worry too much about originality. There are no new things under the sun! That old saying has a lot of truth in it. Nobody comes up with ideas that are completely unique – I didn’t invent the idea of a girl going after her kidnapped parents, or an Arctic setting, and I certainly didn’t invent the Kraken! But perhaps the way I put them together, and the fact that the story was written in my ‘voice’, made it mine. Anything you write will have your stamp on it, and if you infuse it with the things that are special to you, the things you love and are passionate about, it will always have a fresh feeling to it. 


-Don’t judge yourself too harshly. Write for the joy of it, and know that any story you create is a huge accomplishment. Be proud of it. Don’t throw anything away, even stories that don’t work, because there’ll be something useful in everything you write. And don’t expect things to work first time, all the time. If it’s frustrating you, put it aside and come back to it in a week or a month; don’t give up. Writing can be hard work. It often is. Every story and every published book will have a hundred thousand ‘wrong’ words behind it. I did so many drafts of all my published books, and they were edited in depth by multiple people! They didn’t pop out of my head as they appear on the page. 


– As for tips for writing fantasy/sci-fi/humour – my best tip is to read those sort of books and watch those sort of movies. Every story you take in will teach you something – how stories work, what makes a funny line so funny, and what ideas have been a bit overdone. I really recommend Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Ursula le Guin, Diana Wynne Jones, Catherine Fisher, Justina Ireland, Karuna Riazi, Hannah Alkaf, Sarwat Chadda and so many more, but those authors are a great place to start. I get a lot of my humour in my dialogue, and the only tip I have for that is to listen to people, enjoy accents, and take pleasure in funny, new words and in language overall.


I hope this helps!


Keep reading, keep wondering, and keep dreaming. The stories will come.


Warmly yours,
Sinéad  

Skyborn Is Published!

Today is June 10th, 2021. For many, that won’t mean much. But for me?

Today’s the day my third – third! – novel publishes with Little Tiger Press. *shocked and amazed emoji face*

Skyborn is released into the world today. It’s available wherever you get your books (ideally, a bookshop… a real one, in a proper building, with tax-paying staff and proper toilet breaks and all that stuff… but no judgement if you choose otherwise) and I very much hope this book reaches an audience, that it’s read and enjoyed and that it brings a sparkle of magic and wonder to the world.

Skyborn cover, designed by Sophie Bransby and drawn by Sara Mulvanny, published by Little Tiger Press, 2021

Skyborn is a prequel to my first book, The Eye of the North, and tells the story of Thing (who you might remember from The Eye of the North) during his earlier life, before we get a chance to meet him in Eye. If you’ve read Eye you’ll know that, in that book, we follow Thing – a mysterious character with no proper name, and fragmented recollections of his family – as he travels to Greenland in the company of the brave Emmeline in order to try to save the world. Skyborn takes the reader back to those fragmented recollections, fleshing them out into the full-bodied story of Thing’s childhood in a circus and his discovery of a deeply-buried secret from his mother’s past which threatens his own future, and that of everyone he loves…

As Skyborn is a prequel to The Eye of the North, please don’t feel you have to have read the earlier book in order to read Skyborn. In fact, they work better the other way around! It’s great to finish one book and have the sequel ready to go.

All my books have been fun to write, and I’ve loved the creation of all of them in different ways, but Skyborn has been such a wonderful journey. It’s a book I never thought I’d write, a story that I discovered as I put it together, one that draws on the deep loves of my childhood in the same way as everything else I’ve ever written but which had the added benefit of being about a character I’d already created, and one that I already loved. Its circus setting comes straight from the circuses I found so magical as a child; the walled city with its long-held secrets is excavated from the stories and movies I adored growing up; the characters – particularly Crake, who I love so dearly – have threads of my own beloved people in them. All these shining flecks of the story were taken from my own strange story-cauldron where I keep all the ideas I get in the hope they’ll germinate into something wondrous. I think, in Skyborn, they truly have.

This is a book I’m proud of. Thank you, so much, for all the support you’ve given me since I began this writing dream almost a full decade ago. I’m (incredibly) on my fourth book – my third full-length novel – and I have no intention of stopping just yet. I hope you’ll stick with me as I figure out where to go next.

Now. Roll Up, Roll Up – you’ve got a front-row seat! The performance is about to begin, and The Skyborn Boy is ready to fly… Alley-oop!

Five Cool Facts About SKYBORN

My new book, Skyborn, is coming from Little Tiger Press in just over three weeks – on June 10th, to be precise! So, I decided to make a short video: Five Cool Facts About Skyborn, to introduce you to the book and its story world, and to give you a flavour of what it’s about. I hope you enjoy!

And don’t forget: if you pre-order your copy of SKYBORN from Halfway Up the Stairs Bookshop in Wicklow or from the Rocketship Bookshop in the UK, you’ll receive a signed and personalised bookplate to stick into the book, thereby transforming it (ta-daaaah!) into a signed copy. But, of course, you can pre-order SKYBORN just the same as you can pre-order or order any book: by calling into, or phoning, or emailing, or using carrier pigeons, or in any other way contacting your favourite bookshop or bookstore and asking them to organise getting a copy of the book to you. Booksellers are magicians, people. They can find literally anything. Try it!

Anyway. Without further ado, here are FIVE COOL FACTS ABOUT SKYBORN!

Roll Up, Roll Up… It’s SKYBORN!

The wonderful Gavin Hetherington (of How To Train Your Gavin fame) revealed the cover of my new book, SKYBORN, earlier today over on Twitter. I’m immensely grateful to him, and to the team at Little Tiger Press, for organising such a stylish and exciting unveiling!

For anyone who missed it, here it is… *drumroll*

The cover was designed by Sophie Bransby and drawn by Sara Mulvanny, and here’s what you can expect in its pages:

It’s rare, my friends, to come across a talent so incandescent as the one you’re about to see. You think you’ve seen performers in the air? You think you’ve seen artists on the trapeze? Prepare yourselves for skill beyond compare. Without further ado, I present to you the young man known only as… The Skyborn Boy!

The circus has seen better days, but for Bastjan it’s home. He will do anything he can to save it, even if it means participating in a death-defying new act. But when that fails to draw in the crowds, the ringmaster makes a deal with a mysterious man by the name of Dr Bauer.

In exchange for his help, Bauer wants a box that belonged to Bastjan’s mother and came from her birthplace – the faraway island of Melita. Bastjan is desperate to keep his only memento of his mother out of Bauer’s hands. And as he uncovers more about the strange objects contained within, he realizes it’s not only the circus that’s in terrible danger…

This book is coming from Little Tiger Press on June 10th, 2021, and if you’d care to pre-order it, I’m partnering with The Rocketship Bookshop in the UK and Halfway Up the Stairs bookshop in Ireland (click the shop name for a link to their website) to manage pre-orders (hopefully, we’ll have a little personalised touch to send with copies ordered through these bookshops). Other pre-order links are HERE and HERE, but of course you can also pre-order through your favourite local bookshop via phone or email, if they’re able to send books through the post/mail or offer a click and collect service (they’d be very glad of the business). Pre-orders are so welcome for new books, particularly during these sad bookshop-less days, so it would make my year if you’d pre-order your copy. I hope you’ll enjoy reading the story of Bastjan, his friends Alice, Wares, and Crake, and their perilous quest to save not only their circus, but also a mysterious young girl with incredible powers, from certain doom…

Thanks so much to Sara Mulvanny, to Sophie Bransby, to my editor Ella Whiddett and my former editor Katie Jennings, to my agent Polly Nolan at PaperCuts Literary Agency and Consultancy, and to everyone at Little Tiger Press (especially Charlie Morris) for their help in bringing this book to the world. Alley-oop! Off we go!

Happy Book Birthday to The Ravens’ Call!

It’s the first of two book birthdays this year for me. My book The Ravens’ Call is published today, and I’m really happy to see it out in the world. Click the link below to find out a bit more about it, and to purchase a copy if the mood takes you:

The Ravens’ Call is a banded reader, designed for use in a classroom setting, and it comes complete with brilliant resources at the back to aid pupils’ understanding of the story and their enjoyment of the themes around it. But you don’t have to be a pupil or a teacher to read or enjoy the short tale – it’s a great story about a brave girl named Alys, her clever raven friend Cuthbert (and all his raven friends), and their quest to find the King in time to deliver a very important message.

Will they reach him in time – and will the King heed the ravens’ call?

Cover of The Ravens’ Call, written by Sinéad O’Hart, illustrated by Maria Brzozowska, published by Harper Collins Children’s Books 2021.

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve found a copy of The Ravens’ Call on your travels, and particularly if you’ve used it with your class or read it with your own kids. I’m working on a selection of activities to complement the book, too, so keep an eye on my Resources page.

Happy book birthday to me!