Category Archives: Writing News

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

Are You Storyshaped?

Hey hey! Listen up.

At the end of July, I co-founded a podcast. It’s called Storyshaped, and it’s so much fun.

Art by Paul Coomey

My co-host is the brilliant Susan Cahill, whose debut children’s novel is being published next year. Susan’s book is called The World Between the Rain and as soon as it’s available, I urge you to go and grab a copy. (I’ve had an early peek. It’s brilliant). Every week, we get together to have a natter about books, and stories, and how important they are, and we welcome a new special guest each Thursday to talk about these things with us. Susan and I both firmly believe that the stories we read (or experience) as children have a powerful effect in shaping our lives, and these stories can shape not only our future careers, life-choices, and dreams, but also the work (creative or non-creative) that we go on to do.

I wrote an article about how we decided to put the podcast together, which you’re very welcome to read. Basically, I explain how Susan and I – who’ve been friends for many years now, but who’d never somehow managed to talk about books before – reconnected over our shared love of the same children’s books, which we’d read and loved in childhood. We realised our philosophies about the power of stories were very similar, and from there it was a simple leap of logic to kick off our podcast. It’s been an extremely steep learning curve, but it’s been so rewarding.

If you haven’t checked us out yet, I really recommend you do. The podcast is aimed at everyone, primarily adults who enjoy children’s books, but if you’re a person who’s interested in hearing from writers and other creatives about their work, their process, and the stories that they credit with inspiring and shaping and encouraging them during the course of their life, then Storyshaped is for you. So far, Susan and I have done some ‘deep-dive’ episodes into some of the books we found particularly captivating as children, and our guests have discussed things as varied as throwing the hammer (as a sport, not just flinging tools about), the Challenger disaster, libraries built into the walls of a castle, parents who had tabs in their local bookshop, and so much more. We have loads of wonderful guests lined up, with some fantastic episodes already recorded (we’ll be going hunting for a Sweet Tree! And potholing! And so much more!) and there have been so many people eager to come to speak to us that Susan and I feel we’re only getting started. Get on board, and join in!

Our podcast website is here – Storyshaped Podcast – but we’re available on all the major podcast streaming services, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.

So please come and listen in! Search ‘Storyshaped’ on your podcast streaming service of choice, and don’t forget to Like, Subscribe, Share the episodes, and (importantly) Rate and Review the podcast, to help the algorithms to find new listeners who might be interested in what we’re doing. We hope you’ll enjoy STORYSHAPED!

Happy Tenthiversary To Us

Today, my dear people, this very day, August 12th 2022, marks TEN WHOLE YEARS since I started this crazy journey towards becoming a published author.

Ten years since I left my last paying job, where I had the comfort of being an employee, and leapt headfirst into an unknown world, a world of self-employment, uncertainty about income, uncertainty about everything – and I haven’t regretted a single moment.

Me, with my messy bookshelves, a couple of years back…

That’s not to say that it hasn’t been hard, at times. Of course it has – I’d be lying to you if I said it’s been plain sailing, all this time. I owe so much to so many, primarily my husband and immediate family, for their support and care. I started my writing journey with nothing more than some savings, a head full of ideas, and my fingers firmly crossed, and since then I’ve gained a kid, an agent who has stuck with me through good times and bad, a Literature Bursary from the Irish Arts Council, and more book deals than I can actually talk about yet (sorry…)

And I’ve been published. Several times, now. Which is a sentence that never gets stale.

Being published, and then staying published (an infinitely harder thing to do, by the way) is the single biggest privilege of my life. I have worked hard for it, and I continue to work hard for it, but as well as that I’ve been immensely lucky, and I’ve had a lot of people in my corner. I want to thank my agent, Polly Nolan, and all the editors I’ve had the privilege of working with so far – Ruth Bennett, Katie Jennings, Ella Whiddett, Melissa Gitari, Melanie Nolan, Caroline Green and Sarah Thomas – and every member of every publishing team who has handled any of my stories. Everyone – cover artists and designers, proofreaders and copy editors, rights people, PR bods, sales and marketing teams and so many more – have such vital roles to play in getting books into readers’ hands, and authors owe you all a huge debt of gratitude.

When I started my writing journey, I knew it would be tough. I knew I would face rejection; I knew the mountains I’d climb would be steep. All that has proven true. I didn’t anticipate some of the mental challenges that came along with publication – much like parenthood, I don’t think anything can prepare you for it besides going through it yourself. Being published, for me, has been a process of attempting to unlearn lessons I spent my life, up to that point, learning by heart: lessons like ‘you’re not good enough’. Lessons like ‘nobody cares what you think’. Lessons like ‘who do you think you are, to try to tell the stories in your heart?’

Those lessons were hard ones, and unlearning them – a lifelong process, which I haven’t mastered yet – is harder still.

My writing career hasn’t propelled me to the heights of fame, nor has it brought me riches or stability of income. But none of that matters. I know that I can walk into a bookshop and, most of the time, I’ll find my stories on a shelf. I know that children all over the country, and further afield, have read my books and that they mean something to them. I know that I have more stories to come.

But the greatest feeling of all is knowing that some of you have been here all this time, through the last decade, following my journey and cheering me on, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without you. Happy Tenthiversary to Us. And thank you all for every comment, every cheer, every read of my blog posts, every time you’ve purchased or read or recommended my books or my writing – it all means so much.

And don’t forget to stay tuned… because believe me, there’s more to come.

Introducing… Storyshaped!

Logo for Storyshaped Podcast, designed and photographed by Sinéad O’Hart

Last week (even though, as so much has happened since, it feels like last year) my old friend and fellow author, Susan Cahill, sent me a text asking about Alan Garner.

Anyone who knows me, or who has been around these parts for any length of time, will know that Alan Garner is my personal hero. He’s the author whose work has had the most profound effect on my life, and on my career(s) – as he, in a roundabout way, helped me to become a medievalist before he prodded me towards writing books – and so I was thrilled to know that Susan had discovered his work, too, and was interested in talking about it. She’d started reading Garner’s work in the opposite direction to me, beginning with the more challenging books like Red Shift; I began by reading his incredible novel Elidor, published in 1965, and only ‘graduated’ to Red Shift in my twenties, when I felt intellectually capable of appreciating it. This is not to say that Elidor doesn’t require attention and care; it does, and as a ‘children’s’ book it’s unsurpassed in its command of sparse language to evoke massive themes, but Red Shift (and so many other books by Alan Garner) are on another level in terms of the meaning their author can convey in the smallest space. They’re like singularities, in book form.

All of this talk about Alan Garner is coming to a point, I promise! Not only has Garner finally turned up on the longlist for the Booker Prize this year with his most recent book, a masterpiece entitled Treacle Walker which I urge you to read, but our shared appreciation for his work led Susan and I to decide to do something we’d both been considering for a while: start a podcast.

And so, our podcast – Storyshaped – has been born!

It’s a podcast about the stories that shape us, and the stories that we go on to shape – whether those are stories we write, draw, film, or create in some other way, or stories we point others to, or the stories we make from our own lives. We are all living stories, and every one of us is shaped by stories, though I feel many people don’t realise the extent to which this is true. Storyshaped aims to ask the questions: which stories have shaped you? How have they shaped you? And how have they helped to shape the stories you have gone on to tell? Stories are the chain that connects us, past to present to future, and in them we hand down our history, our humanity, our deepest connections. Our podcast will welcome a different guest every week, and Susan and I will aim to discuss these big, and interesting, questions with them – and with one another. I hope you’ll tune in!

Storyshaped is also available on Spotify and it should also be available on most of the major podcast streaming platforms, so do please follow and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

I hope, more than anything, that Storyshaped will get you thinking about the stories that have shaped you – and that it’ll help you to revisit those stories, and discover lots of new stories to bring you on journeys of untold possibility…

And, of course, please do get in touch if you have any suggestions or feedback on the podcast! Our Twitter handle is http://www.twitter.com/StoryshapedPod, and our contact email can be found in the shownotes of each episode.

Happy listening!

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

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!