Tag Archives: The Eye of the North

Preparing for Publication Day

As I write, it’s ten days out from the publication of my debut novel, The Eye of the North.

Ten.

Days.

This is a time I’ve been imagining since I was a little girl who loved to read and dream and think. It’s a time I’ve been hoping to experience ever since, aged twenty, I began to write my first book, about a girl called Maria and a boy called Barry who stumble through a crack in an old tree and end up in a bespelled Fairyland under the rule of a sleeping queen. (It wasn’t very good.) It’s a time I’ve seriously wondered about since 2012, when I started this blog, and made the decision to focus on writing a book, and began to look at ways to actually get published for real.

And now, it’s finally here.

I thought it would be one long buzz of excitement, but truthfully – well. Truthfully, it’s a bit scary.

Author Copy from MN

My first author copy of The Eye of the North, sent by Melanie Nolan, my wonderful editor at Knopf Books for Young Readers. (Photo: SJ O’Hart; cover artist credit: Jeff Nentrup)

The moment things first began to get real was when I received a finished copy of my book in the post, in an envelope bearing the logo of Penguin Random House, sent from New York City.

Sent to me.

Little old me? Eeek.

It arrived. It sat in my kitchen for a few minutes. And then I opened it and held it, and began to quiver a bit. This is really happening, I thought. This book, this idea you hugged to yourself for fifteen years and then worked so hard to bring out of your brain, is actually sitting here in your hands, wrapped up between boards.

It’s hard to describe how I felt at that moment. You’d think it would be uncomplicated joy – and, certainly, joy is part of it – but the joy is mixed up with fear (will people hate it?) and doubt (why did I ever think anyone would read a book by me, anyway?) and an overwhelming sense of weight, perhaps responsibility, that now this book will be in the world, readable by anyone, and maybe – most terrifyingly of all – someone, somewhere, will love it the same way I love the books which formed me.

 

TEoTN and Alan Garner

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

I think, if someone were to (metaphorically) cut me open, I would bleed words. Books are such a part of me that I practically rustle when I walk. The books I love are carried within me all the time; I think about them on a daily basis, bringing to mind favourite scenes, quotes, characters and even artwork to comfort and sustain me. I never thought about it from the other side until I considered the idea of becoming an author myself – I saw books, and their creators, as things and beings separate from the run of the mill ordinariness of everyday life, forgetting that they were simply people, too, who loved to dream and find words and put them down on paper, just like me. Now that I have written a book, and some very fine people indeed have seen fit to publish it, I wonder: what might it be like to enter the heart and mind of a reader, to be taken with them wherever they go, to be remembered ten, twenty, or more years from now, the cover art from my book thought of with fondness, a turn of phrase first encountered in my writing recalled with warm satisfaction?

And I think: what a privilege.

And what a frightening thing.

Books really do shape minds. They really do affect a person’s way of thinking, feeling, and seeing the world. Books foster empathy and compassion; they heighten a person’s sense of connection with the world around them and the people in it. Books make you part of someone else. They make you imagine how it would be to live as someone else, someone whose life is vastly different to your own. They draw you in and make you feel and make you hope. Is it any wonder they’re so loved? And now my story, and my characters, have become part of that giant, neverending waterfall of words and images – a tiny part, of course, a mere droplet in the flood – but perhaps someone will find a reflection of themselves in my odd little Emmeline or my gutsy, loving Thing, or my brave, loyal Igimaq and my book will become a little building block in the makeup of their mind. How amazing is that?

So, it’s not necessarily seeing my words in print which has so astounded me, though it is astounding. It’s the sense that I might touch someone (and just one person would be enough) with something I’ve written, and make them laugh, or think, or look afresh at something they thought was familiar. What a wonder that is.

It’s a tough old world out there, these days. Things are grim, and dark, and frightening. But books help. I hope you’ll take comfort in a book – it needn’t necessarily be mine, though of course I’d love if it were – and remember that no matter how terrible things might seem, someone somewhere took the time to think up a story, write it down, and share it in the hope of making things better.

Stories make things better. Stories make us who we are, both on a cultural and a personal level. Never give up on stories, and you’ll be doing the best you can to leave the world better than you found it. Tell them, write them, share them, love them, pass them on. Let them live. Live them.

Author Copies of TEoTN

Me, in my kitchen, opening a box of author copies of The Eye of the North. (Photo: SJ O’Hart)

Thank you to everyone who has been here with me since August 2012. Almost exactly five years to the day after I started this blog, I am going to be a published author – and I hope that fact gives someone hope, encouragement, and strength to find their own dream and make it real. It can be done.

So, go do it.

Owning It

Recently, I have had a few opportunities to tell some interested people – real life, clever, mostly bookish people – about the fact that my debut novel is being published next month in the U.S. and Canada, and in the UK and Ireland next February. These have included a friendly bookseller, who spotted a fellow children’s lit enthusiast at ten paces, and some truly lovely folk at a birthday party who couldn’t have been more enthusiastic to know everything about the world of publishing.

But something very odd has been happening to me, every time I get a chance to publicly mention my book, my writing career, and my publication dates. I get stumble-locked.

eye-front-cover

Cover image for THE EYE OF THE NORTH (Knopf BFYR, 2017), artist Jeff Nentrup.

My tongue becomes like the paddle of an oar in my mouth. I cannot word. I forget, on the spot, what my book’s about, what my name is, how polite conversation works. I find myself saying things like ‘Oh well I know it sounds so terribly up-my-own-fundement but… yes, I’m an author,’ or apologising for the fact that I’ve got an agent and book deals either side of the Atlantic or for the fact that I dare to live and breathe at all.

I really don’t know why I do this. Is it because I’m Irish? But I know many fine Irish writers who aren’t bumbling clods when it comes to their profession. Perhaps because I’m a woman? But then, similarly, many of the writers I know are also women and can own their space with confidence. Maybe it’s just because I am me, and I’m not yet published, and it all seems so nebulous, and – frankly – the reality of this whole thing is a little terrifying, and I’ve never really been good at talking about myself unless I’m making fun of my own existence anyway.

But I come away from each encounter feeling defeated, like I have insulted the other person’s interest in me by basically saying ‘Oh, haha, why would you be bothered with me? Not at all, there are other people who are loads better and it’s not that much of an achievement, what I’ve done, blah-di-blah…’

But that’s a bit silly, isn’t it? Yes. Yes, it is.

I’ve always been better with the written word. Me and speaking can turn into somewhat of a mess, unless I am (for whatever reason) feeling totally in charge of my material.

So here’s the thing.

Thanks so much to everyone I’ve spoken to over the last few days who cared enough to ask about the book.

Yes, it’s a children’s book. But you know what? They’re harder to get right than almost any other kind of book.

It sure is cool that I got a pair of two-book deals, my friend. Yes, it sure is.

And of course it doesn’t sound pretentious to talk about having agents, editors and publishers. Nobody else gets in a muddle talking about their managers, do they? Well, then.

Now. That’s sorted. If you see me in the flesh and I babble at you in a self-effacing way, I apologise in advance and direct you back to this blog post. Meanwhile I will do my best to ‘own it’ (girlfriend, werq, hip-popping and all), and stop being such a nincompoop. Success, as ever, is far from guaranteed.

 

T-Minus One Month!

Dears…

It’s the twenty-second of July today, which means – well, nothing special, you might think. (Unless it’s your birthday, in which case – whoop! Happy day!) It’s a Saturday; here in my little patch of Ireland the weather is a battle between sun and cloud, and the sky outside my window right now is a bit like the opening montage of the Simpsons, only without the chaos.

It’s a nice day. It’s an ordinary day. And this day next month – the twenty-second of August – my first book will be published in the United States and Canada by Knopf Books for Young Readers.

eye-front-cover

Cover image for THE EYE OF THE NORTH (Knopf BFYR, 2017), artist Jeff Nentrup.

If you’ll excuse me for a moment – I’ll just be over here, breathing into a paper bag.

.

.

.

Right. Back to it!

My US/Canadian publishers are the same people, incidentally, who publish Philip Pullman in the US, and the same people who publish Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth. Sometimes I remember that and I feel a bit sick. Not, of course, that I’m comparing myself to these stellar writers for one hot second – but it is such a dream to have even that tiny thing in common with two people I admire so much. It’s quite a feeling, akin to base-jumping, I’d imagine, only not nearly so dangerous.

Can I admit to something, though? Just between us. At times, much as I hate to admit it, I have to deal with something rather nasty, and that thing is: comparing myself unfavourably to others. My path to publication (which I’m still on, I hurry to point out) has been long and bumpy and winding and filled with false starts and dead ends and switchbacks and disappointments, like most people’s, but there are always those rare few whose debut book deal is announced in a huge fanfare, attracting masses of attention and a six-figure advance, and whose journey seems somehow to be smoother and less fraught than yours. There are authors who seem to be living in a perpetual bubble of sunshine, travelling the world and giving interviews in which they reveal themselves to be not only brilliant writers but also genuinely lovely people, whose books sound like infinitely better versions of yours, and whose reviews are – by and large – glowing.

I am not one of those authors.

I didn’t earn a gigantic book deal. My debut was announced to no fanfare, besides that created within my family. My book is one of thousands, just as likely to sink as it is to swim. I haven’t done any travelling. I have attracted some wonderful reviews, but also many which are negative – and I’m grateful for each and every one. I spend most days trying to carve out a few moments to work while also trying my best to be an attentive, loving parent. It’s not easy, and I don’t always succeed. My real life isn’t like the polished version of success that some authors seem to project – but it’s the words ‘seem to’ that are important here.

Every author has started the same way. We all had an idea, and wrote it down. We all left it alone for a while, puzzling over it, until going back over it with a critical eye. We all mustered up the courage to send it to industry professionals for an evisceration consideration, and we all had the fortitude to wait. (Writing is about waiting almost as much as it’s about putting words down on a page, after all.) We all dealt with rejection in some form and we all rode the rollercoaster of waiting for our debut to be published.

Or, as the marvellous Victoria Schwab put it:

And there you have it. It doesn’t hurt to remember that every writer faces the same track, and that nobody knows what another person is dealing with behind the scenes. None of us have a ‘secret’, and everyone’s journey is largely the same. Some seem to have it easier, but most of that is airbrushing. It does nobody any good to look sideways and compare; it helps only to focus on the ground beneath your own feet, and to stretch out your hands to help those walking beside you when you can.

So, I didn’t earn a million dollars for my first book, and some people do. It’s not a problem. My novel will sit on a shelf beside theirs, all the same.

So, I haven’t written a book which has met with universal acclaim, and some people have. It’s not a problem. I’ve still written a book – and somebody wanted to publish it.

So, I’m not Victoria Schwab, or Neil Gaiman, or Tomi Adeyemi, or Angie Thomas, or China Miéville, or whoever. I may never be a ‘success’, on the same level as writers like these. But I’m a person who had a dream, just as they did; I’m a person who put in the work, just like them. And this day next month my work will sit beside theirs, and my journey to that point is just as valid as anyone else’s.

If you’re just beginning the journey, take heart. It might be hard road, or it might not, but either way I look forward to seeing you at the other end. I have spent twenty-five years trying to get here, and now that there’s only a month left, I wish I’d savoured my trip a bit more instead of wishing I was following someone else’s path.

Four more weeks, people. Thank you all for being here with me. Let’s bring ‘er home.

 

 

 

 

 

Release the Author…

There’s so much dust on my blogging seat these days that I can hardly see it… Let me just blow it off, okay?

*hauls in a deep lungful*

*whuff!*

*splutters* *turns purple* *keels over in a fit of coughing*

Sorry about that. *cof* I’ll be all right in a minute. *cof*

Right. Time to clamber back aboard the hot-seat. It’s been so long since I blogged that I feel quite ashamed, but there has been a lot going on in my life, personally and professionally, which I won’t bore you with. Suffice it to say, I’ve been with you all in spirit and you’ve never been far from my thoughts, but actually finding the time to be here proved a bit of a logistical impossibility.

Anyway. Basically, I’m here today on a flying visit to tell you about something very terrifying cool.

Ready? Here we go.

This year’s lineup for the Children’s Books Ireland conference has just been announced, and – to my flabbergasted delight – I’m on it. Part of the conference is devoted to New Voices, and that’ll be the panel I’ll appear on, along with several other brand-new fledgling authors, to do readings from our work and let the world of children’s books in Ireland (and further afield) see our shiny little faces and meet our (hopefully not too terrified) selves. With any luck, I’ll be able to reveal the cover of the UK edition of THE EYE OF THE NORTH at the conference too, which will be excellent fun.

I am of course completely over the moon about all of this and any visible signs of utter terror are entirely coincidental. Right? Right.

The CBI Conference, for those who don’t know, is a marvellous gathering of kidlit-folk, booksellers and authors and illustrators and teachers and librarians and enthusiasts alike, who get together once a year to touch base and find out what’s been going on in the field (and, if I’m being honest, to fangirl/boy, squee a lot and do some serious hugging, which is always nice). I try to attend whenever I can, though I’ve been spotty the last few years (hello, parenthood), and I was very pleased to be asked to actually take part this year. It’s a welcoming, warm and very fun event – or, at least it is when other people are on the podium – so I’m hoping this year will be no different. (Particularly during my slot. Don’t worry – it’ll be brief.)

So. If you’re around Dublin at the end of September and you fancy immersing yourself in the neverending joy to be found in children’s literature, why not come along? You can purchase tickets, and/or membership of Children’s Books Ireland, HERE, and it would certainly be spiffing to see you.

Until next time, my wordy friends, read well and be happy.

eye-front-cover

Cover image for THE EYE OF THE NORTH (Knopf BFYR, 2017), artist Jeff Nentrup.

 

In the Tiger’s EYE!

This past Christmas, the baby got a lot of books as presents. I mean – a lot. This was a good thing, because my husband and I (obviously) love books, and we love reading to the baby, and it was great to see what stories our friends and family wanted to share with our beloved little person.

One book in particular soon marked itself out as a firm favourite, and it has retained that coveted status over the past few months. It is the marvellous I Love You More and More, by Nicky Benson, with amazing illustrations by Jonny Lambert.

One day, as I read this book with my child, I looked at the publisher’s details. Hmm, I thought. Little Tiger Press. I hadn’t heard of them before, but the book had given us so much joy and was so beautifully produced that, in a quiet moment, I looked up Little Tiger’s website. To my delight, I found that they also published Middle Grade and YA books under their Stripes imprint, and I spent some time checking out their backlist.

Wouldn’t it be brilliant, I thought, if I could one day get a book deal with a great little press like this.

Well. Fast forward a bit.

The Eye of the North had been out on submission with UK publishers for quite some time, and I had long given up hope it would find a home. It’s hard, dealing with rejection behind the scenes; I completely understand it’s part of the job, and that every single person whose book is on a shelf knows what it feels like, but that doesn’t make going through it any easier. Plus, I kept reminding myself that I had a deal to publish not one but (gasp!) two books in North America, and that was head-spinny enough for me. I won’t get to see The Eye of the North on Irish shelves, I told myself. But there’ll be time for that with future books.

And then.

And then.

It was a day, much like any other. My husband happened to be working from home. The baby was doing the usual stuff babies do, most of which is loud and/or dangerous. And, in the middle of it all, there was a telephone call for me.

(I don’t like the telephone, I should say at this point. It makes me anxious. But that’s a story for another day.)

I took the phone from my husband. It was my agent, Polly, who said: ‘are you ready for some good news?’

I think I responded with ‘Um?’

‘You have a UK book deal!’ she said, in delight.

To my absolute joy, the deal wasn’t just any old deal – it was an offer to publish from Stripes, the aforementioned imprint of Little Tiger Press, who look after the MG side of things. I was dumbfounded. My mind went straight back to the baby’s favourite book, and how much we all loved it, and how I’d joked with myself that they’d be a great home for me.

And now – I can announce! I’m so full of joy! – they are the UK/Irish/Commonwealth home for my debut novel, The Eye of the North!

I’ll keep you all up to date with things like cover reveals, release dates and any other news, but until then I hope you’ll all join me in shouting a huge RAWWWR of Tiger-y joy. I’m delighted to be joining the Stripes family and I can’t wait to take the next step into this new, uncharted and utterly thrilling territory. Thank you to everyone at Little Tiger/Stripes for their enthusiasm and faith in me and my book.

And now I’m off! Book 2 won’t write itself, you know. *wipes brow*

 

Books Within Books

When I was at university, a hundred million years ago, there was a lot of talk about ‘intertextuality’ on my English courses – the idea that, essentially, every text which exists carries within it the influences of a great many other texts, whether deliberately or not, and that the reader also brings their own experiences of other texts to their reading of everything they encounter. It’s a fascinating idea and I whiled away many hours daydreaming – I mean, doing intense research – on the topic.

The Eye of the North, while most definitely being a book which sprang from my head, is no exception to this idea of intertextuality. The seeds which eventually brought it to fruition were sown over many years, and the basic outline of the tale began over fifteen years ago. It’s silly to think that the books I’ve read – of which there have been many – played no part in the shaping of the book I would eventually write; I have long been fascinated, too, by the polar regions and their history. There are a few books, however, which I could point to as having had a direct impact on my writing of The Eye of the North, and here they are.

1. The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean (OUP Children’s, 2005)

I love a great many books, and there are few I love more than this one. The spine of my copy is creased like an old boot, such are the rigours I have put it to over the years. I read it in my twenties, long after I had first come up with the basics of The Eye of the North, but the reading of this book has definitely helped to flesh out my own mental idea of what the polar regions might be like – despite the fact, of course, that The White Darkness is about Antarctica, and not the Arctic. It tells the story of Sym, a girl who is taken on a trip to the South Pole by her strange uncle, a man who has definite nefarious intentions, and her struggle to survive there when things go pear-shaped – but what I love about this book more than anything is Sym’s unwavering devotion to Captain Lawrence ‘Titus’ Oates, who was one of the brave men on Scott’s expedition to the South Pole in 1912. It is he who uttered the fateful words ‘I am just going outside; I may be some time’, as he sacrificed his own life in an ultimately fruitless attempt to save those of his comrades, and it is he who accompanies Sym, inside her mind, as she navigates her daily life. The book begins with her declaring her love for Captain Oates, despite the fact that he has been dead for over ninety years, and I am never left unmoved by the very real relationship between them, even though Sym knows, on some level, that the Captain Oates in her head is merely her own imagination and not the real man himself.

But then, how does he tell her things she wouldn’t have known any other way?

This book is a wonder. I heartily recommend it, as I do most things that Geraldine McCaughrean has written.

the-white-darkness

Cover of ‘The White Darkness’, OUP Children’s Books, 2005

2. The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule by Joanna Kavenna (Viking Books, 2005)

This is a travelogue, of sorts, as well as an exploration of myth and legend surrounding the North of the world, most particularly the idea of ‘Thule’, long thought to be the most northerly outpost in existence. Mentioned in texts going back centuries, it nevertheless proved impossible to pin down exactly where Thule was; some thought it was the Orkneys or the Shetland Islands; others Iceland; others Greenland, or Estonia, or a variety of places dotted around the northern regions of our planet. Some thought it was entirely made up. Kavenna, in her book, takes us through the whole Arctic region, exploring not only the landscape around her but also her own mind and heart as she searches for the mystical lost land. It’s a love letter to the Arctic, which deepened my own passion for it, and it ticked all my boxes: maps, medievalish stuff, myths, legends, ice, and exploration. It’s been years since I revisited The Ice Museum, and it’s high time I went back.

3. The Cruellest Miles, Gay and Laney Salisbury (Bloomsbury, 2004)

Years ago, I worked in a bookshop, and when things were quiet I used to while away my time by cleaning and sorting the stock. In our World History section, a slim volume with a navy spine kept catching my eye. One payday, I walked straight over to it and bought it, and I read it in one sitting, gripped by the story it told. It’s the story of Nome, an isolated town in Alaska, which was ravaged by a diphtheria outbreak in 1925, when supplies of antitoxin serum had run dangerously low. Children were dying, and unless more antitoxin serum could be brought in, an epidemic would begin to rage. Nome, at that time, was more or less unreachable for months on end, and the only way to get the serum to the town was to use a chain of dogsled teams, who battled heroically through the worst conditions imaginable to rescue the children and people of Nome. I named a character in The Eye of the North after Balto, one of the dogs who was part of the lifesaving effort, and I have been passionately interested in dogsledding ever since reading this book. It made me cry on a packed train, though. I warn you, in case you want to read it yourself – prepare to have your emotions put through the wringer.

the-cruellest-miles

Cover of The Cruellest Miles (Gay Salisbury and Laney Salisbury, Bloomsbury, 2004)

4. The Arctic, ed. Elizabeth Kolbert, Volume I of The Ends of the Earth: An Anthology of the Finest Writing on the Arctic and the Antarctic, eds. Elizabeth Kolbert and Francis Spufford, (Granta Books, 2007)

I will admit I haven’t read all of this, as it’s an anthology of writing designed to be dipped into, but its introduction is a great statement on climate change and the danger of global warming, particularly the damage it’s doing to the polar regions. The pieces in this anthology are varied both in style and emphasis, and it’s a great wide-ranging look at the idea of the Arctic as a place, as a challenge, and as an idea.

So, there you have it. Every book I’ve read has, no doubt, left its traces on my mind and imagination and I’m sure there are many more books than these which I could point to as being part of the culture that went into the creation of The Eye of the North. It’s interesting to trace the journeys that the books you love take you on, though, both internal and external; certainly, without my love of books – and the fact that I was encouraged to read from an early age – I wouldn’t have cultivated the mindset to write one of my own. It’s great to feel that my own small contribution might sit among these books one day, and might even spur someone else on in their love of the yawning ice-fields of the far north – so long as you beware what you might find living deep in the ancient glacier…

 

 

 

…And A Happy New Year

So.

2016 is nearly over (maybe we should bury it at a crossroads with a stake through its heart, though, just in case) and a new year beckons. It’s been an incredibly hard year for some of us; the world has changed, fast, from being a place which felt stable and safe-ish into a tilting, unknowable reality. A disconcerting reversal in world politics seems to be taking us back to a time when words like ‘law’, ‘order’ and ‘right’ develop new and twisted meanings, and the sort of doublespeak which would make Orwell break into a sweat is being used on a daily basis. Long-held associations are breaking. Peace, hard-won, and taken for granted by those who didn’t have to fight for it, is falling apart.

In short, I won’t be sad to see this year pass away.

So many of my heroes started 2016, but didn’t finish it. Each loss has laid me low. Add to that the rest of what this year has brought us – people drowning, in terror, as they attempt to flee the unbearable horror of their homelands; atrocities scarring the world; those in power sitting around and talking while people die – and it seems clear that humanity has become harder, less compassionate, more selfish, liable to gloat in its own privilege at those who suffer unimaginable oppression. Or, more accurately, this has been the case for some time, but 2016 brought it to light in all its ugliness. It’s been hard for those who suffer with mental health issues, and it’s a scary time for everyone – even, though they’d be the last to see or admit it, those who think they’re ‘right’, in the old and the terrifying new senses of the word.

But 2017 is about to dawn, and it’s a year when art and creativity and expression will be even more important than ever. It’s the year in which I will go from being a person to being a published person. It’s the year in which my voice, small and reedy as it is, will join the chorus calling for peace, the reining-in of those who seek their own goals at the expense of everyone else’s, and the protection of our natural world. It’s a year when those who write for children will find their jobs even more relevant.

So. It’s time for some resolutions.

My child is growing older now, and the mental molasses of early motherhood is behind me. Days are still long and hard; I don’t get a lot of time. But I resolve, in the coming year:

  1. To blog at least once a week, about writerly things and books I have loved and news about the release of THE EYE OF THE NORTH and – let’s hope – positive things going on in the world;
  2. To finish the book I’m currently working on, which I have plotted out but simply haven’t managed to haul beyond 23,000 words;
  3. To catch up on the blogs of those I follow, because I feel terribly out of touch;
  4. To stay positive and fight the good fight, in whatever form is necessary.

And, of course, to do my utmost to be the best person and citizen I can be.

I hope you’re all looking forward to the onset of a new year, and that 2017 will bring you all joy, peace and prosperity – and that you’ll feel equipped to share your good fortune with your fellow human beings. Let’s all be a light this year, shining in whatever way we can. Let’s read and write and sing and dance and be happy, and let’s stretch out a hand to the person beside us – or to people across the world – and bring them forward with us. Let’s fight selfishness and small-mindedness and the fear that goes with them by being open and generous and kind. Let’s share stories. Let’s celebrate our common humanity.

And let’s make like Captain von Trapp.

captain-von-trapp

Image source: zebratigerfish.blogspot.com