Guest Post: Award-winning author Joe O’Brien on his journey into another world …

A blog post from beyond……..

While writing the latest Alfie Green book, Alfie Green and the Chocolate Cosmos, for some reason after nine books in the series, I felt the urge to write a fantasy adventure novel for older kids …Yes, I had written three older novels based upon a football crazed character namely Danny Wilde, but fantasy fiction is my first love and I wanted to write something that all the Alfie fans could pick up and read when they felt that they had outgrown Alfie…

I began creating new characters (and one in particular, the most important character in every story – the main character) and that’s when Joshua Bloom first came to life. A thirteen year old boy who was raised by his uncle Henry and Aunt Nell in the quiet and most unadventurous town of Charlotty.

Joshua is a curious character who after discovering magic and mystery in the library of the long lost general Edgar Pennington, then finds himself on an adventure of a lifetime in pursuit of the answer as to where the general had disappeared to. This journey is not only a journey of a new world or magic or new friends and dangerous adversaries but it is also a discovery of Joshua himself – his bravery that he never knew he had, and most of all, his past his present and his destiny that awaits him.

Almost everything I write usually themes around other worlds – magical and dangerous worlds, with enchanting and dark characters. I absolutely love to the bones the concept of being able to find oneself discovering a new world that is so different to the real world and then going on an adventure of a lifetime – an adventure filled with danger and excitement and magical new experiences that would never ever be found in the world we live in.

All of this can be found by just picking up a book and turning page after page and as a writer I understand that in order for your reader to really believe whatever it is you have written, then you must write with complete passion and whole hearted enthusiasm, so that your feelings of excitement and anxiety and fear and sadness, and everything else you felt while writing the story, entraps the reader with every page they turn.

The graduation from writing young fiction for the 6 to 9 age group to older fiction of 10+  has been an exhilarating experience and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed creating the land of Habilon and its dark and dangerous places and characters.

So now that Beyond the Cherry Tree is in the hands of those who have been kind enough, brave enough and most of all, trusting enough, to pick it from the book shelf, I have only one last thing to say……..

Thank you and I do sincerely hope you enjoy travelling Beyond as I have done….

Joe O’Brien………….

Bumper awards’ season for OBP!

We are very happy to report that awards are coming in thick and fast for The O’Brien Press this year!

First we had a Bisto shortlisted title in Dancing in the Dark by P.R. Prendergast. Then P. R. did it again, this time as Peter Prendergast, when The Romanian Builder was shortlisted for the Reading Association of Ireland’s Children’s Book Awards, along with the three other books in the Bridges Series by authors Eithne Massey, Natasha Mac a’Bháird and Enda Wyley. The O’Brien Press received a Special Merit Award at the RAI awards ceremony for the whole Bridges Series.

Then there was the small matter of two OBP authors nominated for the world’s largest children’s literature award! Conor Kostick, author of the highly acclaimed Avatar Chronicles Trilogy and Laureate na nÓg, Siobhán Parkinson, are both in the running for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for their outstanding bodies of work. Winners will be announced on 20 March 2012.

Our adult titles were also honoured this year. Edward Hayden’s debut cookery book Food to Love has just won the Kerry Food Book of the Year and Edward will be presented with his award next Wednesday 30th November at a ceremony in Dublin, by Minster Jimmy Deenihan. Edward’s excellent book beat offerings from Rachel Allen, Catherine Fulvio and Donal Skehan!

Ambassadors on Horseback by Michael Slavin and Louise Parkes has been longlisted for the William Hill Irish Sports Book of the Year 2011 and the shortlist will be announced next week!

And rounding things off nicely, The Real Rebecca is the winner of the Irish Book Awards Senior Children’s Book category! Debut author Anna Carey was astounded when it was announced last week at a gala dinner (with Michael D. Higgins, Seamus Heaney and Bill Clinton!) and was also winner of the best surprised face on the night! Two more fabulous OBP children’s books – Sally Go Round the Stars by Sarah Webb and Claire Ranson (illustrated by Steve McCarthy) and Marco Moves In by Gerry Boland (illustrated by Aine McGuinness) – were both shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards this year too.

Enormous congratulations to all our authors. Such a bundle of success really makes it all worthwhile and the recognition is a tribute, not only to our authors, but to the whole OBP team, especially those that are kept hidden behind heaps of paper at their desks – our editors and editorial administrator, designer, production manager, publisher, sales team, accounts and Laura, who packs up all our books and keeps the belly of the OBP ship afloat down in the stockroom!

With an end to 2011 like this, we are looking forward to 2012!

Full details of all these awards can be found on the Press Releases page of our website.

Launch of The Miraculous Parish

Máire Mhac an tSaoi accompanied by her translators, Michael O’Brien and Micheál Ó Conghaile of Cló Iar-Chonnachta. From left to right: Biddy Jenkinson, Michael O’Brien, Máire Mhac an tSaoi, Peter Sirr, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Louis de Paor, and Micheál Ó Conghaile.

Last Monday saw the launch of Máire Mhac an tSaoi’s much anticipated poetry anthology, The Miraculous Parish. The definitive collection of the work of  Ireland’s greatest living Irish-language poet was launched in collaboration with Irish publishers Cló Iar-Chonnacht  in the State Departments of Dublin Castle.

Despite some seriously dodgy weather (even by Irish standards) the evening was well attended, with Arts Council Director and Deputy Chair both showing their support, alongside RTE, Raidió na gaeltachta,  TG4, Raidió na Life and Newstalk FM.

The Miraculous Parish is Máire’s first major bilingual collection of poetry, assembled with the help of poet, former editor of Innti and Director of the Centre of Irish Studies in NUI Galway, Dr Louis de Paor.

Máire was interviewed by Fiach Mac Conghail, Director of the Abbey Theatre, and read from her poetry in Irish. Translators Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Peter Sirr, Biddy Jenkinson and editor Louis de Paor also read their own English versions of Máire’s poetry.

Máire talked at length about her extraordinary life and poetry, and her encounters with key figures in the Irish fight for independence, including a young encounter with Eamon de Valera.

The daughter of Irish republican parents (Sean MacEntee, a founding member of Fianna Fáil and Margaret de Brun), and niece to Monsignor Padraig de Brun, a major 20th Century Irish language scholar, Máire has been steeped in Irish culture throughout her entire life.

O’Brien Press announces the acquisition of Brandon Books at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2011

Here it is folks! Our big announcement at Frankfurt, as seen today in The Bookseller and Book Trade publications…

The O’Brien Press, Ireland’s leading independent publisher, has announced its acquisition of distinguished Irish press Brandon Books, a year after its founder, Steve MacDonogh, died suddenly, leaving Brandon leaderless.

This important deal includes the purchase of the Brandon name and a significant number of their key titles, their contracts and book stock. Brandon Books will continue trading as an imprint of The O’Brien Press as of October 2011.

Publisher and founder of The O’Brien Press, Michael O’Brien, noted that The O’Brien Press looked forward to welcoming many of Brandon’s writers to their new home at The O’Brien Press and commented:

‘Steve was a man of many talents. From a small base in beautiful Kerry, he created an international literary press. He was a lifelong friend and colleague.’

Brandon Books has been a leading imprint in Ireland since 1982, during which time it has established an international reputation for both fiction and non-fiction. It has enjoyed a colourful and often controversial history and its list includes bestselling authors such as Alice Taylor, whose 1995 book, To School Through the Fields, quickly became the biggest-selling book ever published in Ireland.

Looking forward to 2012, Ivan O’Brien, Managing Director of The O’Brien Press, commented:

‘We will be focusing on fiction of literary quality and will actively seek out new original talent, bringing to our Brandon imprint the care, flair and fresh thinking that has helped O’Brien become Ireland’s leading independent publisher. Of course, we will continue to publish established authors like Alice Taylor, Gerry Adams and Sam Millar. Brandon authors will benefit from our worldwide literary agency network and from our in-house design, editorial and production management.’

The O’Brien Press, founded in 1974, is an independent, award-winning book publisher with almost 600 titles in print. With over 500 active translation agreements in 50 territories, O’Brien Press has built a reputation for books of quality and integrity both at home and abroad.

 Visit the Brandon Website to see their excellent list.

Announcing the Tweet Treats Blog Tour!

Look at all these lovely blogs!

Starting tomorrow, Jane Travers will be packing her metaphorical bags and traipsing off all over the interweb with her tasy little book Tweet Treats, which will be published in one short week!

Three weeks of fun, food (well, imaginary food I guess) competitions and much more start tomorrow, so do head over to http://tweet-treats.blogspot.com/to find out more about the book, the tour and the whole Tweet Treats project which has contributors such as Paula Abdul, Donal Skehan and The Script!

TWEET TREATS WILL BE IN SHOPS FROM NEXT WEEK!

All royalties go to Médecins Sans Frontières, who do incredible work, so show your support!

Newsflash! RAI Children’s Book Award Shortlist

The O’Brien Press is delighted to announce that four of its children’s books have been shortlisted for this year’s Reading Association of Ireland Children’s Book Awards.

The four books make up our vibrant Bridges series of multi-cultural stories, published last year to great acclaim.

Congratulations to Peter Prendergast (author of The Romanian Builder), Natasha Mac a’Bhaird (author of Olanna’s Big Day), Eithne Massey (author of The Dreaming Tree) and Enda Wyley (author of I Won’t Go To China).

The winners will be announced on Thursday 29th September at a special ceremony as part of the RAI’s annual conference in Dublin. Fingers crossed everyone!

Sally Launches to the Stars!

In celebration of the publication of the beautiful Sally Go Round the Stars, first-time author Claire Ranson shares her 10-year journey through rhyme and her experience of working with co-author Sarah Webb and illustrator Steve McCarthy to create this timeless collection…

As a first time author, I am thrilled beyond measure that my first book Sally Go Round the Stars, has finally made it into print in such a beautiful form. This book has been a long time labour of love for my co-editor, Sarah Webb and I, as we first came up with the idea of creating a collection of nursery rhymes about ten years ago. We gathered street rhymes, lullabies, songs and jingles from many sources, from dusty library books to the older generations of our families, but mostly from children and our own memories of the rhymes and poems that were important to us when we were children. It wasn’t possible for the book to be published at that stage, but when the O’Brien Press approached us last year to see if we would be interested in talking about a nursery rhyme book again, we leapt at the chance!

Interestingly enough, despite both having busy lives, and Sarah having published many books in the meantime, we both still had all the research that we had done, and had each added to it since the project had been shelved. Over the years, I would always jot down any new rhymes or versions that I heard and Sarah had done the same. Our only problem was in choosing which rhymes would make it into the book, as we had enough material for three or four books! The selection and editing process was very enjoyable, and although we mostly agreed on which rhymes should go into the book, at other times we were trading backwards and forwards to make sure our favourites were included. Ide, our editor at O’BP, was referee when the discussions got heated!

For a nursery rhyme book, the illustrations are, of course, all important, and we had very particular requirements for the illustrations. We were enormously lucky to get Steve as our illustrator, and I am just blown away by his fantastic illustrations. I love the quirky inventiveness of his pictures and they bring a fresh vision of the familiar rhymes.

As the book is published, it is a very exciting time, and we hope that readers, both young and old, will enjoy sharing the book as much as we enjoyed creating it.

Sally Go Round the Stars is available now from all good bookshops and www.obrien.ie priced €14.99!

Dublin: City of Literature Launch at City Hall

The O’Brien Press is delighted to announce the publication of Dublin: City of Literature, a complete guide to literary Dublin in celebration of the UNESCO City of Literature designation, written by Muriel Bolger.

Please join us for the official launch of the book at City Hall, Dublin on Tuesday 13th September at 6pm. We are honoured to have the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs, Jimmy Deenihan, to launch this landmark publication. Celebrated Dublin writer Lee Dunne is our guest speaker and will be sharing his thoughts on how Dublin has influenced his body of work that stretches back to 1965, with the publication of the controversial novel Goodbye to the Hill.

This event is open to all and will be a celebration of all things literary in Dublin, with an important chance to reflect on Dublin’s literary future with Minister Deenihan. We would be delighted to welcome you along and look forward to seeing you there.

You can RSVP to Donna Sorensen on donna@obrien.ie – we’d like to make sure we have enough wine and glasses for you all, so please do RSVP!

And We’re Off!

Spring has officially sprung, summer has been rained off and all this can only mean one thing. Autumn is here.

We confirmed it a little while ago with a brilliant bash in honour of the launch of our Autumn Children’s List at Kelly’s Hotel’s swanky Candle Bar. It was a great way to kick off what is going to be an extemely busy season, in a nice relaxed fashion (in other words, in denial!)

Our guests included booksellers, bloggers, journalists and authors and they were treated to a brief introduction to our wonderful new titles (which include many newcomers this year and a raft of incredibly exciting new projects) by Ivan O’Brien our MD. They also got to see the books and meet the authors and so our Autumn List is officially launched!

Author of Across the Divide, Brian Gallagher, is back with a gripping historical fiction for 10+, set in a Dublin torn apart by civil war. Taking Sides will be published later this month.

Bestselling Sarah Webb returns this season with a beautiful collection of nursery rhymes, illustrated by the talented newcomer Steve McCarthy. Sally Go Round the Stars is co-authored by Claire Ranson and is out next week!

Eithne Massey, author of the magical Silver Stag of Bunratty, is about to see her seventh book with The O’Brien Press published!  Eithne’s newest book, Where the Stones Sing, is out on 19th September and is a story of a fight for survival in the shadow of the Black Death and set in Christ Church Cathedral.

Judi Curtin is back too! The follow-up to bestselling Eva’s Journey, Eva’s Holiday, is out now and Judi’s army of fans all over the country will be treated to a fantastic new adventure with Judi’s sassy heroine.

Celine Kiernan, author of the bestselling Moorehawke Trilogy, has written a ghostly tale of possesion set in a dream-like world, and it is out now! Into the Grey has given many a reader nightmares already!

We’re also delighted to say that Joe O’Brien returns too this season with a fantasy adventure called Beyond the Cherry Tree.

And finally, we are launching two new talents and their very memorable characters this month. Gerry Boland is the author of Marco Moves In – the first in a series of three remarkable tales about a grizzly bear named Marco and a boy named Patrick. And graphic novelist Alan Nolan has three books coming out now too. The hilarious Murder Can be Fatal Mysteries (Death by Chocolate and Six Million Ways to Die) and The Big Break Detectives Casebook for younger readers. 

It’s an amazing list and we’re all delighted with it! Thanks to everyone who came along!

Not only are details of all of our new and forthcoming titles available on our website, but they are also showcased in our brand-spanking new catalogues, fresh off the press! You can view these online too, by clicking here.

Titanic victim Samuel Scott’s grave marked, 101 years late

Last weekend, an incredible event took place at Belfast City Cemetery. Author Nicola Pierce helped make it happen and she tells us all about it in her emotional guest blog post…

Over the last two years or so Samuel Joseph Scott has never been far from my thoughts.

When Michael O’Brien rang me to see if I’d be interested in writing a children’s novel about the Titanic I told him that the very first death associated with the ship was that of a fifteen year old boy who had fallen to his death in Harland & Wolff two years before that fatal encounter with the ice-berg. Within twelve hours of this phone call I had worked out that Samuel’s spirit would narrate the book and accompany Titanic on her maiden and only voyage.

 The next eight months or so were spent in building Samuel’s story alongside Titanic’s. I had few domestic details to go on; aside from where he lived (East Belfast), what he worked at (junior member of a rivet squad), what killed him (fractured skull) and when that happened (20 April 1910).

I stood beside Samuel’s unmarked grave on 21 April 2010, one hundred years and one day after he died. By this point I was half-way through the first draft. My heart raced as I made my way around Belfast City Cemetery, searching for Samuel, eventually having to ask a cemetery worker for help. I expected to be tearful when he led me to the exact spot but it proved almost impossible to feel anything. I don’t think I had really appreciated what “unmarked” meant. There was nothing to do except look around at the surrounding headstones and read them instead.

Standing there, however, an idea occurred to me but it seemed much too ridiculous. Nevertheless I asked Councillor Tom Hartley, the expert on Belfast City Cemetery, if there was some way we could mark the grave. Now, in all honesty, I don’t think I expected anything to come of it but, just like the novel, the idea grew to fruition when Tom, in turn, mentioned it to his friend, Danny Morrison, who runs the West Belfast Festival. Quite quickly the festival decided they were going to pay for a headstone and the date for marking the grave was set for Saturday 30 July 2011.

Two months following the book’s publication I found myself talking a lot about Samuel, from book festivals north and south, to various schools, including my own, Presentation Primary School, a place I had left rather reluctantly as a timid twelve year old. I could almost believe he was with me.

The day before the grave-marking I had to go to Belfast for an interview with UTV. The camera crew were due at 11 o’clock at the festival’s office on the Falls Road. I found the office thanks to my taxi-driver and arrived far too early, at ten but I was but a few doors from the cemetery.

So I pretended to amble up the road, crossed the busy junction and went into the graveyard. Over a year had passed since I was last there – and I have no sense of direction. Not wanting to talk to another person until I was ready to, I asked Samuel where the grave was…and, seconds later, saw the headstone. I don’t know how long I stood there but at some stage I felt I was bade to rest myself, which I did, but not before apologising to Samuel’s neighbour as I sat down on the tiny wall surrounding his old, unkempt patch.

Don’t ask me what I was thinking because I can’t remember, all I know was that I grinned a lot at the glistening stone.

The following morning I was back again and nauseous with nerves. A photographer led me off to a quiet corner to take my photo; I took deep breaths and smiled or looked thoughtful as instructed. When he was finished I thanked him and wondered what to do next, I looked about for my husband in vain; it was fifteen minutes before the ceremony was due to start and I didn’t feel nearly ready.

‘Miss Pierce?’

A good-looking couple was standing in front of me with the most beautiful toddler.

‘Hello? Yes?’

‘I’ve sent you a friendship request in facebook’.

Before I could try to make a reply to this he continued on, ‘I saw you on UTV last night and that’s why we’re here. I rang my grandmother and she wanted to come along. We’re related to Samuel Joseph Scott.’

I’m almost sure I asked him to repeat himself, as he pointed in the direction of a dignified looking lady who was slowly making her way towards me, accompanied by more relatives.  

As a writer I should be able to describe what I was feeling as I shook Samuel’s niece’s hand.  

Looking a decade younger than her eighty years, Mrs Margaret Donnelly explained how she heard her father talking about the brother who died while working on the Titanic. She and her grandson had tried once before to find where he was buried.

Samuel was no longer just mine.

Mrs Donnelly named his siblings and wracked with guilt I rushed to explain that he was an only child in the novel. I felt anxious, as if I had stolen something, despite the fact that his family seemed only thrilled to be standing there.

Before I had a chance to tell anyone I knew, Tom Hartley called Sammy Douglas (MLA, DUP) forward to unveil the headstone.

It was my turn next. I gave a little talk about Samuel and then giddily introduced his relatives, who were standing right next to Michael O’Brien. I need never wonder again how a magician feels when he whips a white rabbit out of a top hat. And then I opened up the book. I had chosen to read the last three pages of the first chapter, where Samuel tells us how he died – in my story, at any rate.

As I neared the last line I found myself dazed by fact that I had accidentally done something very fine, thanks to a team of individuals that included Michael O’Brien, Tom Hartley and Danny Morrison. In the novel I reunite Samuel with the ones he loved the most, and now, on 30 July 2011, I had done it again, only this time for real.