All to Write For

In this blog post, author Donn McClean tells us about his inspirations for All to Play For and his experience of writing his first children’s novel.

Anna was in my head for a little while before she started to evolve in letters and words and sentences and paragraphs in front of me. She was a conundrum in my head: strong but fragile, consistent but unpredictable, independent but needing support, timid and shy and anxious, yet strong and brave and feisty. 

Anna is a little bit of each of our four girls. (They’re similar, but very different.) Anna’s dad is a little bit me I’d say, but not too much me. He’s way cooler. He’s a little bit more my aspirational self than my real self. He’s a little bit my dad. (See above re: way cooler.) He’s probably a little bit my mum too, or a little bit my picture of my mum.

I lost my mum when I was very small, so small that I can’t remember what she was like, so it wasn’t difficult to write the longing that Anna felt when she didn’t have her dad in her life. It was more difficult to write that acute sense of loss though, when Anna went from having him to suddenly not having him. That part had to be sourced from imagination: how it would have been for me, how it would be for our four daughters if anything, God forbid, happened to me or my wife.

The Gaelic football part was easy. It was all we knew when we were growing up in rural Ireland. The nearest soccer club was a bus ride away, hurling was only played beyond the county borders, as far as we knew, and rugby was something that you watched on television when Ireland were playing, so we were all-in on Gaelic football. 

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Bringing the Past Alive: Writing Historical Novels for Children

This week, Sarah Webb chats to us about her experience writing her wonderful new children’s novel, The Little Bee Charmer of Henrietta Street.

My new book, The Little Bee Charmer of Henrietta Street, is about Eliza and Jonty Kane, who are aged thirteen and ten. When their father loses his sight and can no longer work, they have to move from their red-brick home in leafy Rathmines to a tenement flat in inner city Dublin. Here they find new friends and start working for a travelling circus in the evenings. Set in 1911, it’s the first historical novel I’ve published for children and in this blog I will talk about the research and writing of the book.

So how did I go about writing a book set in 1911? And where did the original idea come from?

A couple of years ago I visited 14 Henrietta Street, the Dublin tenement museum. I thought it would make a fascinating setting for a children’s book but I couldn’t find a way into the story. Then I attended a conference for festival programmers in Amsterdam (pre-Covid!) and met a Professor of Circus. She told me about the history of circus in Ireland and a bee charmer who visited Dublin with her circus, Patty Astley. I was intrigued. The night after meeting the Professor I spent the night in my hotel room reading articles about the history of the circus.

I discovered that travelling circuses often visited Dublin in the early twentieth century and bingo, I had my story. By adding a circus to the tenement setting I could balance the hardship of the tenement life with the drama and sparkle of the circus.

Illustration by Rachel Corcoran
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Erika McGann and the Edge of the Book

This week, I chatted to the wonderful Erika McGann about her new fantasy, adventure children’s book – Tabitha Plimtock and the Edge of the World.

Photo credit Lee Furlong Absolute Studios

Could you describe Tabitha Plimtock and the Edge of the World in five words?

Adventure. Fun. Monsters. Danger. Wonder.

I tried putting that in a sentence but I kept running out of words. I’m not good at writing short things.

What inspired you to write Tabitha Plimtock and the Edge of the World?

To be honest, I can’t really remember a particular thing that was the inspiration for Tabitha. I know I wanted to write a book purely for the fun of it. So I began writing without deciding what kind of story it would be, who it was for, or even what age group it was aimed at. It was kind of like closing my eyes and jumping off a cliff just to see where I’d land. Up until then it was the most fun I’d ever had writing a book, and I resolved to write that way in future whenever possible.

What came first: the character Tabitha Plimtock or the fantasy realm of the Edge of the World?

The edge of the world came first. I had an image of a rickety house teetering at the edge of a cliff, then imagined it was teetering at the very edge of the world, and the book went from there.

Illustration by Philip Cullen
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‘It’s always interesting to see the world through the eyes of another person’

This week, we chatted with author Brian Gallagher about his latest book Winds of Change.

Could you describe Winds of Change in five words?

Fast-moving, thought-provoking entertainment! (Not sure if that counts as five words or three!)

Who was your favourite character to write in Winds of Change?

Probably Clara.  Her life, as a member of the gentry, is the most far removed from my own life. It’s always interesting to see the world through the eyes of another person – one of the main reasons, I think, why we read fiction in the first place – and I enjoyed immersing myself in her world of privilege. The fact that that privilege was being challenged by the Land League made Clara’s position tricky, especially when her eyes were being opened by her secret friendships with Aidan and Molly. I like to see a character evolving over the course of a book, and I enjoyed making that journey with Clara. I also liked writing the scenes with the Tobin twins. Nobody likes a bully in real life but, as an author, writing the more villainous characters can be fun!

Did you have to do a lot of research?

Loads. Before writing a word of the book I spent weeks researching the period. Obviously, that meant reading up on what was happening in 1880s Ireland – and indeed the wider world – but it also meant studying things like fashions in clothes and discovering what was the popular music of the day. I loved immersing myself in old music-hall songs and Percy French tunes. And that’s one of the dangers with research. It’s really enjoyable, and you can easily find yourself doing too much of it – and actually using research to put off the evil day when you have to sit down with a blank sheet of paper and start writing the book. So it takes a bit of discipline not to overdo the research, and also to resist the temptation of ‘getting value’ for the hours spent on research, by inserting more historical detail into the novel than the story actually requires.

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Eva and the Perfect Blog Post

To celebrate the new paperback edition of the wonderful picture book Eva and the Perfect Rain, author and illustrator Tatyana Feeney tells us all about her writing and illustrating process.

by City Headshots Dublin

When I became interested in making picture books, I really was thinking about the illustrations and making beautiful art to go with a story.

But after working on some character design projects in art college, I started to think about stories to go with my drawings, or stories about the characters that started to evolve as I was drawing them.

What was different about Eva and the Perfect Rain, is it was the first story I wrote that began with the words.

When I first moved to Ireland, I was amazed and intrigued by all of the words that are used to talk about rain. The words and phrases that I heard made me think of different textures, colours and ways of showing weather. ‘Soft day’, ‘sunshower’, ‘pelting’, ‘lashing’, ‘bucketing’, they are all so descriptive and I realised I wanted to make a book that would show what those words look like to me.

This is how Eva’s story started.

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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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