Virtual Interview with Jarlath Gregory

This week, I chatted with Jarlath Gregory, author of the wonderful new Young Adult novel, What Love Looks Like.

Could you describe What Love Looks Like in five words?  

Romantic comedy with a heart.

There are so many characters in this book that I loved — who was your favourite character to write? 

Soda was the most fun to write, because he gets all the best lines. Writing him was like an excuse to drag up and let my inner diva out.

Leading on from that, who was your least favourite character to write? 

I enjoyed writing all the characters, because they all play an important part in the story. Whether a character is nice or nasty doesn’t matter — if you’re writing a character and not enjoying them, you should switch up the character until you’re happy with them.

Are any of the characters in the book based on people in real life, except Panti of course! 

No, they’re all completely imaginary. They all came out fully formed, except for Aaron, who changed a lot from the original first draft. Some of the characters are recognisable as types, like Peter, for example. I think a lot of readers would recognise someone like Peter, who’s had less support than Ben and perhaps that’s why he acts the way he does.

What is the main message you’d like readers to take from this story? If your book could pass on a piece of advice to someone what would it be? 

I don’t think books need to have a message, but if they do, it’s up to each reader to decide for themselves what their own message is. In fact, when my mum read it, her big takeaway was “It wasn’t too preachy” — high praise, I think! As a reader, I’d probably enjoy seeing how sometimes personal problems work out without any messy drama, as long as people learn to be accepting.

Ben’s family and friends are wonderful, reading about them is like being hugged. Loving people for who they are is at the heart of this book. How important was it to you to have this positive representation of family at the core of Ben’s story?

That was very important for me. There’s a tendency in some queer writing to focus on family rejection or suffering, which are real issues that deserve to be explored, but it’s not the full story anymore. I wanted to write the sort of book that would’ve seemed impossible 20 years ago, and a big part of that is celebrating the fact that parents and peer groups are very accepting of queer identity from a younger age now.

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The Making of Flossie McFluff

Following the publication of the wonderful Flossie McFluff – An Irish Fairy, author Eoin O’Brien and illustrator Audrey Dowling tell us all about the making of Flossie McFluff.

Eoin O’Brien

I have always loved fairies. I love the idea that there are magical creatures looking after forests and wild places, taking care of all the tiny creatures and the natural world. There is so much magic in nature – and more the closer you look – that it is not hard to picture little guardians keeping an eye on it all.

Flossie McFluff began as a name. It just popped into my head one day, and made me smile. It was partly inspired by meeting one of the famous McNutt family from Donegal, who make beautiful woollen things – what a great name! And I think that Flossie is from somewhere towards the north of the country, where there is lots of magic.

Since writing the book, I discovered another Flossie – Flossie Donnelly, a twelve-year-old who organises ‘Flossie and the Beach Cleaners’, a campaign to clean beaches in south County Dublin. I imagine my Flossie would get on great with her!

I have heard that a good way to write a story is to create an interesting character and then sit back and see what they get up to. So, I thought about Flossie, and what she might be like: She’s very small, small enough that a big gust of wind would probably send her flying, but she’s feisty and tough. She’s a faithful friend, always ready to lend a hand, but she’s also likely to have a fit of giggles at any moment. She talks to trees and flowers, and lets them know that they’ll always have a good friend in her. And she loves just flying around, singing a little song to herself.

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Virtual Interview with David Caren

This week, I chatted with author David Caren about the latest edition of The Irish Dad’s Survival Guide to Pregnancy [& Beyond].

Photo Credit: RUN ANGEL Picture; Miki Barlok

How does it feel to publish the third edition of The Irish Dad’s Survival Guide to Pregnancy [& Beyond]?

I am both proud and thrilled that The Irish Dad’s Survival Guide continues to be the go-to guide for Irish dads. When I think back to when the first edition was published, my kids were 2, 4 and 5. Now I have two teenage daughters chatting about subjects for the Leaving Certificate and a son who I’d be afraid to play rugby against!

What made you decide to write this book originally?

When I worked for a major bookseller I discovered there was very little for the dad-to-be on the shelves, particularly for Irish dads. New expectant mums would regularly come up to the counter and present a basket laden down with every imaginable pregnancy title. Before all the books were bagged up they would often enquire: do you have anything for himself? 

If you could describe what it means to be a dad in five words what would they be?

Rewarding, fun, protective, lucky and surprising…

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A Whaley Big Blog Post

This week, author and illustrator Gerry Daly tells us all about creating his latest picture book, Finn’s First Song – A Whaley Big Adventure!

The story of Finn’s First Song – A Whaley Big Adventure started a few years ago when I was painting humpback whales in the picture book Where Are You, Puffling?. I really enjoyed painting them, especially the huge splash that they made.

Humpback whales make loud and spectacular sound patterns that are repeated, just as we would a favourite song. Finn’s First Song is about the adventures of a baby humpback who, after becoming lost, learns to sing himself and reunites with his mum.

I’m certainly not alone in being fascinated by these massive creatures and what life is like beneath the ocean surface. In school we learn that a whale is the largest creature on the planet; that blue whales are even bigger than the dinosaurs; with a beating heart as big as a small car and an appetite to eat up to 3.5 tonnes of food in one day. It’s all enough to give a lot of mind boggles!

A couple years ago I got to see whales in the ocean for the first time on a whale-watching trip off the coast of West Cork. I learned more about their long migration from the African coast to Ireland, how they revisit each year for the tasty food that they love and, of course, how they sing to each other over vast distances.

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A Virtual Chat with Judi Curtin

This year’s World Book Day from Ireland is by bestselling author Judi Curtin. Lily and the Lissadell Ghost is an exciting side story from the Lissadell Series (Lily at Lissadell and Lily Steps Up).

In Lissadell House in Sligo in 1914 Lily and her friend Nellie are housemaids at Lissadell House. Work keeps the girls busy, but they still find time for fun – and for friendship with Maeve, the madcap daughter of Countess Markievicz. So when there are rumours of a ghost at Lissadell, Sherlock Holmes-fan Maeve is determined to investigate. Between them, can the girls solve the mystery of the Lissadell ghost? This is a brilliant story of friendship, history and mystery.

This week I chatted to the wonderful Judi about her World Book Day book and the Lissadell series!

Lily and her friends are such great characters, did you enjoy writing this World Book Day book about them?

Ah, yes. I usually become very fond of my characters, and the Lissadell ones are no exception. This book is much shorter than my usual ones, and I had a lot of fun trying to give all my old friends a role.

What drew you to write about Lissadell House for this series?

Michael O’Brien had the original idea, and initially I resisted. It was the thought of my grandmothers, both of whom worked as housemaids, that first made me take the idea seriously. I liked the story of Countess Markievicz and her family, but I wanted to tell the stories of the servants too.

Who is your favourite character to write in the Lissadell series?

That’s a hard one! I love Lily of course, and also Maeve, and Nellie – basically I’m now bonded with all of them, and refuse to choose.

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The Magic of an Irish Christmas

As Christmas fast approaches, I had a chat with the wonderful Sarah and Kunak about their latest book, The A to Z of an Irish Christmas.

Why did you decide to write this book?

Sarah: We wrote this book because we both LOVE Christmas and we thought we’d spread some Christmas cheer. We didn’t know at the time that there would be a pandemic, then there was one and I just think that this is a lovely book for people who are stressed or away from home. So, it’s a little bit of an Irish Christmas for them.

Kunak: Sarah and I are both nuts for nostalgia. And the nostalgia doesn’t get much more feel-good than when it’s Christmas nostalgia. And nobody does Christmas better than the Irish. We have taken all the best bits of Christmas, and then added our own little touches to make it unique – like the Barry’s Tea ad, the Late Late Toy Show, the smoked salmon and the spiced beef. We have the Arnotts Santa and the Brown Thomas window, the Christmas Day swim in freezing waters, and the Wren Boys on Stephen’s Day. From the first bars of ‘Fairytale of New York’ in early December right up to Women’s Christmas on the 6th January, we’ve got it all sorted.

What do you love about Christmas?

Sarah: My favourite thing about Christmas is watching Christmas movies! My all time favourite movie is It’s a Wonderful Life and then Home Alone and Elf. It wouldn’t be Christmas if you didn’t watch them. I also love getting a real tree and putting it up. This year, I’m looking forward to having Christmas with my kids.

Kunak: To this day, I can still remember the absolute joy and excitement of waking up on Christmas morning, moving my foot under the duvet and hearing the rustle of the wrapped presents that Santa had left there. That moment, for me, was the pinnacle of all the pre-Christmas build-up, and was also filled with all the potential of the day ahead, full of present-opening and new toys and selection boxes. Does life get better than that? And writing this book with Sarah was about capturing that sheer joy and hoping that we can spread it to others –­­ particularly this year, when we can all do with a lift in our spirits. Continue reading “The Magic of an Irish Christmas”

Wee Donkey, Big Personality

This week, author Erika McGann and illustrator Gerry Daly tell us all about their latest picture book, Wee Donkey’s Treasure Hunt, particularly, how this mischievous and cheeky donkey came to life and how her adventure developed.

Erika McGann

When I began working on my first picture book, I was very tempted to write it in rhyme. I grew up loving Each Peach Pear Plum and everything Dr. Seuss, and there really isn’t anything as musical or joyful as a well-written story for children in verse. But as it was my first attempt at writing a book for that age group, the added pressure of doing it in rhyme was too intimidating. I had to consider language level, structure, and content for an audience that was new to me, not to mention jamming a full and fun story into such a tiny word count. I could see myself getting close to the deadline, sweating, frantically searching for something to rhyme with ‘orange’. Although my first drafts had occasional, accidental rhyming phrases (which gave me a silly amount of glee), I knew I should wait until I had a little more experience with the age level to do it properly.

A couple of years later I was finishing up a series for older kids and looking to submit a new project to O’Brien Press. I was dying to do something just for the fun of it, and it finally seemed time to give the rhyming children’s book a go. I’d recently worked on Where Are You, Puffling? with Ger, and I thought another adorable animal protagonist would be great craic to write. I searched images of cute animals for a bit of inspiration and came across a brilliant photo of a wide-smiling wee donkey with her nose pressed up against the camera lens. She made me laugh, and I figured I’d found the right character to work with – cheeky, loveable, and great for a giggle.

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Hedgehogs, Hoglets and Hibernation

Author and illustrator, Bex Sheridan, tells us all about the inspiration for her gorgeous new picture book, Go to Sleep, Hoglet!

I live with my husband, Jay, in a house filled with animals and in 2017 a spikey little hoglet joined the crew. We called him Mu. Mu is an African pygmy hedgehog (a domestic pet hedgehog). They’re smaller than wild Irish hedgehogs and look a little different. One big difference is that African pygmy hedgehogs who are kept as pets are not supposed to hibernate, but they still can. If they do they can fall ill, so making sure Mu stayed in good health meant understanding hedgehog hibernation. This was how the seed for Hoglet’s adventure was first sewn.

Mu doesn’t like me very much, he’s a very angry little hedgehog. I know he’s angry from how he acts, how he tries to spike me with his quills at every opportunity and he makes some very funny sounds. With his mood written all over his face (he makes no attempt to hide his anger), I couldn’t resist drawing him. There’s just so much expression in such an angry little guy! I had so much fun trying to draw each and every spike that I drew him several times and even made prints to share his anger. It turned out I actually enjoyed telling people all about him and sharing what I’d learnt about hedgehogs along the way.

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Ten-minute Chat with Úna Woods

Una Woods – Photography by Ruth Medjber @ruthlessimagery

On Culture Night 2018, Úna Woods asked for a ten-minute slot with the O’Brien Press team at our Pitch Perfect event. Two years later, I asked Una for ten minutes of her time for a quick chat about her debut picture book, Have You Seen the Dublin Vampire?

How does it feel to have your first book published?

I have always dreamed of writing and illustrating my own picture book. To finally see it printed is so exciting. I can’t wait to see it in bookshops!

What made you sign up for Culture Night in 2018?

My Friend Paula Moen persuaded me to go along to the Culture Night pitching event, as I was always talking about writing and illustrating my own book. It was great to finally have the goal of pitching my book to somebody and it was such a great opportunity to meet a publisher face to face.

Tell us about your Culture Night Pitch Perfect experience.

I was so nervous when I knocked on the door, as I didn’t really know what to expect. I pitched my idea to Emma Byrne,  the Design Manager in O Brien Press. At this point I didn’t really have a full story, but I knew that my story was going to be based around a friendly Dublin Vampire. I brought along some sketches and I had done up some colour samples, so she could see what style I intended for the book. She really liked what I had brought along. It was so great to be able to show someone my ideas and chat to them face to face. I felt really lucky to have met Emma, as she mentioned she liked vampires too. And so the adventure of making my picture book began!

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Virtual Interview with Carol Ann Treacy

This week, I had a virtual interview with the wonderful Carol Ann Treacy, author and illustrator of Barney Goose – A Wild Atlantic Way Adventure. Carol tells us about her inspiration for Barney Goose, her writing and illustrating processes and more!

What inspired you to write and illustrate Barney GooseA Wild Atlantic Way Adventure?
A few years ago we took a trip along the Wild Atlantic Way coastline. It was such a fun holiday, and I was struck by the beauty of marine and bird life there. I really wanted to capture that in some way, so I started thinking about creating an illustrated journey book. I am fascinated by wildlife and in particular birds (mostly because they can fly). I’m kind of in awe of how geese fly in formations and on such incredibly long journeys across vast oceans every year. I thought it might be interesting to tell a tale of a barnacle goose who starts his life as a displaced egg, away from other geese, but through instinct, determination and a little help from other animals he meets along the Wild Atlantic Way, finds his way back on track. And then he makes that unbelievable journey, thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean, for the first time.

What was your creative process with this book? What came first – the illustrations or the words?

I start my process with notebooks, which are usually a mess that no one could decipher apart from myself! Initially, I worked on both the storyline and illustrations for Barney Goose in tandem. Whenever I got stuck, I could switch over, and one kind of informed the other. I worked on my main character, Barney the barnacle goose, first – they are such striking geese, with long, black necks and white-feathered faces.

After doing my research on the life and character of these geese, I started teasing out the story of Barney’s journey from West Cork to Donegal, and drawing some of the other characters Barney meets along the way. When I had my storyline in place, I submitted the text to my editor, Eoin O’Brien, for refinement. At this stage, Eoin suggested creating some ‘scamps’ – very rough sketches. Using a roll of parchment paper, I sketched out every double page spread as one long, continuous storyboard. This was my favourite part of the process, where everything started to come together. I love using a scrollable storyboard – it’s a great way to see just how all the scenes interact, and at this stage you can correct or change anything, before any detail is added.

Once everyone was happy with the sketched layout, I photographed my storyboard and started to work over my drawing in digital format. I used Adobe Illustrator and a Wacom tablet for drawing and painting.

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