Category Archives: Writing News

When I get some writing news, it will go here!

Winner, Winner, Monster Dinner!

Hello, all. I hope everyone’s coping with whatever version of the Covid-19 Lockdown is happening in your country; things here in Ireland are locked down pretty tightly, but so long as more people are staying healthy and well, it’s worth it.

Thanks to everyone who entered my recent Creativity Competition – I hope it gave you all a little joy, and something to while away an hour or two. I hope it showed you, too, that books are a wonderful spark for creativity of all sorts. Reading them and letting your imagination fly while you soar through the adventure in their pages is (of course) the absolute best, but when you’re finished reading there are always questions you can ask yourself about what you’ve read, pictures you can draw, projects you can undertake, and models you can make. The possibilities are endless.

And so, the announcement you’ve all been waiting for *mild fanfare*…

The winners of the competition are the creators of this amazing pair of monsters, who go by the names of ‘Bob’ and ‘Bob’. They’re Abominable Vampzooloos, which is simply the best name I’ve ever heard for any monster anywhere, and the entry came with a heartwarming story about how Bob met a little girl in a forest, who was the only person who saw him for the brilliant creature that he was – and ‘to this day, Bob and the girl are friends.’ Well, of course they are.

Winning Entry No 1 (Loftus)

Image: S Loftus

This wondrous entry was made on behalf of a young lady by her mum, Sarah, and she wins a hardback copy of The Starspun Web – along with my everlasting admiration.

The other winning entry is this marvel:

Winning Entry No 2 (James)

Image: L James

This fearsome Cloud Spider came with his very own OSCAR Case File, which added a certain je ne sais quoi to the entry (as Madame Blancheflour would probably have said). The Cloud Spider’s creator is named Liam, and he will win a hardback copy of The Eye of the North, as well as my fondest wishes.

Thanks once again to everyone, particularly Bob, Bob, and the Cloud Spider, for giving me such joy over the past few weeks. I’m sending everyone positivity, creativity, solidarity, and peace of mind as the next few months roll by – we’ll all get there, together. And always remember: keep reading. Stories will get you through.

Competition Time!

So – it’s a strange world we’re living in right now. I’m mostly at home these days, as my child’s school has been closed due to the current Coronavirus/Covid-19 outbreak, and I’m privileged (and very glad) to be in the position to take up full-time care. However, life does and must go on; I still have a book deadline to make (I hope I’ll be able to tell you more about my upcoming projects soon), and the world has to keep turning.

All schools in the Republic of Ireland are currently closed, in the hope that it will help to slow the spread of the virus, and it’s possible that schools in the United Kingdom will follow suit in the coming days. As a result of this, authors and artists and performers and other creatives all over the internet have decided to offer free content to help keep children amused, entertained, and (most importantly) creating during the time they’re at home. I have a Resources page – click this link here to pay it a visit – which might help with that, and I also wanted to run a competition…

So. In the interests of fostering creativity, and of celebrating the fact that I was recently shortlisted for a fantastic competition (the KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Award) here’s what I’m proposing.

Prize Picture

I have a couple of hardback US editions of The Eye of the North and some of The Starspun Web knocking about, and I’d very much like to send one copy of each to a pair of good homes. (Winners can choose which book they’d like, of course.) I’ll also throw in some signed bookplates and a poster, which I’ll gleefully make out in the name of the winner’s choice (as in, if you don’t want them for yourself, just tell me who to sign them to and I will). The catch?

Well. The catch, if you choose to see it that way, is you’ve got to get creative. On my Resources page you’ll see fact sheets, a word-search, a colouring page, and some suggestions for activities. Based on these suggested activities, I’d like entrants to take their pick from one of the following small projects, and get their thinking caps on.

The Eye of the North-based activities

1. Based on this Resources page, design your own mythical monster and write a story or a poem about it. I’d love to see you make a model of your monster, perhaps from modelling clay or paper or tinfoil or whatever you have to hand, and I’d really love to see you write your story, or poem, out by hand with your own drawings dotted through the text. And if you’re feeling extra-adventurous, recite your story or poem for your friends and family!

2. Based on this Resources page, draw your own dog-sled team and pick names for all your dogs. You can have as few as two or as many as twelve, and they can be called whatever you like! Have a read of the Resources page for more information about the things you need to think about when naming and positioning your dogs, and for a true story in which sled dogs and their humans saved the day, and then come up with an emergency situation, where you and your dog team are all that can save your people from certain doom… I’d love to see drawings as well as stories told in words. Give it a go!

3. Take a look at the activities on this Resources page. If you’d like to tackle the first one – thinking about ways, big and small, in which we can all help to tackle climate change – that would be fantastic. You can tell me about the climate change activists who inspire you, as well as the kind of things you and your family are doing every day to help things to get better, and the kind of things we can all do (citizens and government alike) to help the planet. Drawings, models, diagrams, charts, words – they’re all good. Show me what you’ve got.

4. You could also tackle the other activities on the Climate Change Resources page and imagine you’re a creature who has always lived in a cold, icy environment. You can choose to be a real creature, or you can create one from your imagination. Then, think about the ways climate change might affect or impact you and your way of life. Draw me pictures of your creature, make a model of it from whatever you’ve got, go wild.

The Starspun Web-based activities

1. Check out my Resources page about the North Strand Bombing, which happened in Dublin in 1941. This real-life tragedy is part of the plot of The Starspun Web. I’d love it if you could imagine yourself into the night of the bombing and write your own story – I’ve given a few ideas for starting points in the Resources, but you can imagine it any way you like. On the Resources page there are some links where you’ll find out more information about the bombing; they might help you to create your story. You don’t have to set it in Dublin; it can be set wherever you like. Don’t worry about getting it ‘right’; it’s your imagination, there’s no right and wrong. And, as always, if you fancy drawing me some pictures to illuminate your tale, I’d be thrilled with that.

2. Or, if you fancy getting stuck into thinking about alternate realities and other worlds, check out this Resources page – it talks about a famous scientist who spent several years in Dublin (and who is mentioned, tangentially, in the opening pages of my book), and his work in the many-worlds theory. For this exercise, I’d like you to open your imagination as wide as it can go, and design your own alternate universe. It can have anything you like – trees made of custard, creatures with woolen teeth, whatever you can dream up – and tell me how you’d get from our world to your alternate reality. Pictures would be great – draw me a graphic novel! – but whatever way you do it, I want to know about the other worlds inside your mind.

3. Next, there’s the Resources page that focuses on the Tunguska Event, which – as you might remember, if you’ve read The Star-spun Web – forms part of the plot to my own book. If you’d like to imagine that you were there on the ground in Tunguska on June 30th 1908, and write me a story (with pictures!) to describe what it was like and what you saw, that would be amazing. If you’d prefer to imagine you’re in your own house when a meteorite comes crashing through your front room, that’s amazing too. Tell me the story, draw me the picture, make a model meteorite. Whatever you like!

4. Last, but by no means least, there’s this fab Resources page all about tarantulas. (Be warned: there’s a photo of a spider on the page.) Have a read through the facts, and then take a look at the activities. If you want to tell me about the animal you’d choose to bring with you on your adventure, that’d be amazing. Tell me what the adventure is, what your animal is, what its name is, and why you chose it, and then write me the story of your adventure – with pictures, if you can. Or, you can design your own tarantula – either an animal, or a tarantula-shaped vehicle, or a tarantula-based character, or whatever you like – and tell me a story about it. Are you going to be the hero, or the villain? Pictures, models, diagrams are all welcome.

So. Some ground rules for the competition:

You don’t have to complete an activity for the book you want to win. So, if you fancy winning The Eye of the North but one of the activities for The Starspun Web strikes your fancy more, or vice-versa, that’s absolutely fine. Go for whatever one you like the best.

Please ask your grown-ups to send photos of your work to sjohart @ sjohart . com (no spaces) or send it via Twitter, tagging me (my handle is @SJOHart), so that I can see it, if they don’t mind it being publicly visible. You can ask them to hashtag it #TheEyeOfTheNorth or #TheStarSpunWeb if they like.

I’d like to be able to share some photos of the entries I receive on my social media profiles. I won’t share anything personal (so, no faces or names), but if you don’t want me to share the stuff you send me, please do let me know when you enter. It’s not a problem at all.

On your entry, let me know which book you’d prefer. I’ll draw one winner for The Eye of the North and one for The Starspun Web.

I’m going to leave this competition open until May 1st, and I’ll draw a winner from the entries after that. Then, assuming no delays with the postal system, I’ll get the prizes sent out as soon as I possibly can.

Does all this sound good? Let me know if you have questions. Share the competition far and wide – it’s open to adults and children alike, or even adults and children working together. I really hope it helps you to spend some time creating something new, using your brilliant brains and stretching your imaginations, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

Ready – Set – Create!

 

World Book Day 2020!

One of the greatest joys about being a children’s author is getting to meet actual children – and when you get the chance to meet some actual children on World Book Day, it’s a hundred times more wonderful. Yesterday, which was World Book Day in Ireland and the UK, I was lucky enough to do just that!

My books – plus my travelling companion, Violet the Tarantula!

I’m lucky that the town I live in, while small, has a wonderful primary school. It’s large and airy, full of light and the sound of laughter and learning, and the walls are covered with art and projects and wonderful messages about self-belief, love, caring for others, and looking after our planet. It’s a fantastic place to spend a day, and when you get the chance to visit and talk about books, things just go super-nova cool.

I was asked to give three author assemblies, or author talks, yesterday, so bright and early I packed up my things – including Violet the tarantula – and off we went. We brought some slides with pictures of my childhood, the books I loved when I was little, and the stories which inspired me to write books of my own, and which helped me to be the person I am today. I got the chance to talk about my own stories, The Eye of the North and The Star-Spun Web, and I was delighted to answer brilliant questions like ‘what’s your favourite mythical beast?’ ‘Will you name a character in your next book after me?’ and ‘What age are you really?’ We talked about books, and stories, and creativity, and (because the school’s theme for World Book Week was ‘Curious Creatures and Wild Minds’) we had some brilliant chats about mythical monsters, amazing animals, and how to grow and nurture our wild, creative minds.

There’s nothing better than looking into an audience of young faces and seeing their bright eyes as they think about ways in which to find and encourage their own spark of unique brilliance, and it’s a privilege to be able to tell them all how they are all rocketships of potential, just waiting to do amazing things. ‘Each of you will change the world,’ I like to say, at the end of my author talk, ‘and I can’t wait to see what you’ll do with your wild and precious spark, the unique fire that’s in each of your hearts.’

So – what are you going to do today with your wild and precious spark? Go forth and be a Storyfinder, soaking up the world around you, and see how many stories you can create!

Thank you to the staff, teachers, and pupils of St Mary’s Primary School for making me so welcome yesterday, and for giving me a glimpse into the creative wonder that is their school. I hope to come back again very soon!

The Starspun Web hits North America

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.

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!