Tag Archives: The Eye of the North

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.

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!

Fan Mail!

I recently received a really lovely piece of fan mail from a reader named Ava. Here’s her letter, with some identifying bits covered with stickers:

I was very happy indeed to receive this gorgeous letter, which arrived via email – the picture was taken by Ava, or one of her adults – and I would love to respond, but Ava didn’t leave me her full postal address. If she happens to see this, and if she’d like to ask a grownup to send me a message with her full postal address so I can write back to her, that would be great.

It’s now my policy (which I’ve fully outlined on my ‘Contact Me’ page) not to respond privately to anyone who is under the age of 18, in order to be compliant with the best Child Protection guidelines.

So – in the hope that Ava will see this! – I wanted to reply to her here.

For those who might not be able to make out my scrawl, here’s what I wrote:

Dear Ava,

Thank you so much for your very kind letter! It was wonderful to receive. I’m very pleased you found my book in your school library – libraries are the best! – and that you enjoyed reading it.

I enjoyed writing ‘The Eye of the North’ very much, and the scene where Emmeline falls off the ladder is one of my favourites, too. I worked hard to make sure every chapter had an interesting bit in it and that there were plenty of moments where a reader might have guess what would happen next. It’s brilliant to know you enjoyed guessing, and that you thought the plot was interesting.

I have written another book called ‘The Star-Spun Web’, about Tess and her friends who must save the world – and lots of other worlds! – from a terrible war. In June 2021 I have another book being published which you might enjoy if you liked ‘The Eye of the North’ – I hope you’ll check it out!

Until then, thank you so much.

Yours in stories,

SJ O’Hart

Ava also said she liked books set in the North, so I’d like to recommend some books to her. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy has a Northern setting for some of the story (and the books are amazing); you could also try Cathryn Constable’s The Pearl in the Ice, H.S. Norup’s The Missing Barbegazi and Claire Fayers’ The Accidental Pirates: Voyage to Magical North.

So, thanks to Ava – and thanks to all the children (and their grownups) who have ever been in touch with me regarding my books, my work, or anything else. It’s a great privilege to hear from readers, and one I never take for granted. Happy reading to Ava, and to everyone – stories rule!

#SignForOurBookshops

As Ireland and the UK re-enter Coronavirus/Covid-19 lockdown, many retail outlets not deemed ‘essential’ have had to close their doors again, or resume doing business online or via click-and-collect. One of these non-essential businesses, unfortunately, is my absolute favourite: Bookshops.

I’m not going to get into the philosophical ins-and-outs of how essential books are (to my mind, they’re next to air and food and water), because – of course – the primary consideration here is keeping bookshop staff and customers safe during this time of crisis. Having said that, though, there are a lot of people who do need books, and there are a lot of bookshops who desperately need customers, and so in order to do a small bit to help, the author Holly Bourne got several of us writery-types together in a campaign to help bookshops and customers survive Lockdown II. I’m proud to be doing a small bit to help.

The campaign involves authors committing to send signed bookplates to customers who buy their books from an independent bookshop during the period of lockdown, and/or sending signed bookplates to bookshops who’d like some (while stocks last!) So, in order to play my part, I’m offering to send a signed bookplate to the first ten customers in the UK or Ireland who:

  • Buy one (or both) of my books from an independent bookshop (ideally) during the period of lockdown in their country;
  • Send me a photo of their proof of purchase, along with their postal address and the name/s they’d like me to put on the bookplate/s;
  • Are willing to wait a week or two to receive their post from me (soz).

I’ll also be reaching out to some of my favourite bookshops to see if they’d like a bookplate or two, but if you’re reading this and you’re running an indie bookshop anywhere in Ireland or the UK and you’d like a couple of signed bookplates from me, drop me a line.

This CONTACT ME page is the best way to get in touch. https://sjohart.wordpress.com/contact-me/

Some other things to consider:

For the purposes of this campaign, books bought on Amazon or Book Depository won’t count (though I thank you very much for your purchase). The campaign aims to support bricks-and-mortar bookshops.

I’m happy to send a bookplate in whichever design you prefer – I have a snazzy blue-and-tentacle one for The Eye of the North and a super-dooper gold-purple-starry-webby one for The Star-Spun Web, but neither plate has the name of the book on it so feel free to take your pick.

Stocks of bookplates are, sadly, limited so, if you’d like one, the sooner the better you get in touch.

Follow along on Twitter – the hashtag is #SignForOurBookshops – and if you fancy shouting about the campaign and throwing us a bit of support, that would be fab.

Meanwhile: Keep on reading!

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!