Making Murphy’s Law

This week, author Muireann ní Chíobháin and illustrator Paul Nugent tell us all about the inspiration and illustration of their picture book Murphy’s Law.

Muireann ní Chíobháin

I’m a dog person but I’ve never been lucky enough to have one of my own. I’ve never met a dog I didn’t like. I can’t walk past one without stopping to say ‘Hi’. It means a trip to the shop can take longer than it should with all the pooch stops. I can’t help myself because basically dogs are simply pawsome! I spent many years living next to Herbert Park in Dublin which afforded me the great joy of meeting all kinds of gorgeous fur friends every day.

But one day, I met a puppy like no other and our brief encounter left me with the seed for a story. Irish Wolfhounds are very big dogs, even as puppies, and their owners must be the biggest dog lovers ever because they need lots more walking than other dogs, or so I’m told. This day, I saw a girl being dragged from tree to tree, bench to bin, by a very enthusiastic young hound, whose spectacular tail was wagging all over the place. He managed to do the impossible; scare the brazen D4 pigeons into giving me and my sandwich space for once by running about excitedly and swishing his huge tail uncontrollably. Unfortunately for him, his excitement was leaving a trail of minor destruction behind him. He was accidentally trampling on newly planted shrubs, knocking over signs, chasing footballs mid-match and confiscating frisbees. His enthusiasm was a joy to watch but a job and a half for his owner to keep up with. But she never shouted or scolded the puppy, just laughed and tried to minimise the chaos. The furry whirlwind bounded over to me, pulling his owner behind him. We all chatted. He was a new puppy, full of beans: a trouble magnet with no name yet.  

‘He’s a law onto himself. Whatever can go wrong will go wrong when he’s around,’ his owner chuckled.

‘You should call him Murphy so,’ I said. The dog barked in agreement. We laughed. ‘Is that your name so?’ I asked. He barked again.

‘Must be!’ said his owner.

You couldn’t write it, or could you? We parted ways and I could swear I heard her call him Murphy in the distance as he tried to sub in as a goalie in a football game on the green. That night I jotted down the first lines of what would become Murphy’s Law about the happiest dog in Ireland who, despite being a trouble magnet, clearly made his owner the happiest dog owner ever. 

Paul Nugent

When I first read the text for Murphy’s Law, I knew it would be a lot of fun to illustrate. It already had so much of Muireann’s brilliant humour packed into it, but it also had room for me to populate it with details and my own interpretation of Murphy’s mischief. The book takes Murphy to lots of different environments, and it was a joy to think of how things could go wrong in each one!

The design for Murphy came to me almost immediately and didn’t change much from the initial concept to the finished book. The design for his human best friend, Mary, however, was a little trickier. I’ve always found non-human characters a lot easier to design for some reason. The original design had Mary rounder and more cartoonish, which contrasted a bit with Murphy’s texture, so the design evolved to mirror him more. I thought of Mary as a more dependable, less clumsy, human version of Murphy, and I think the finished design conveys this!

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The GAA holds a special place in my heart…

This week Emma Larkin, author of a new sports adventure book Twin Power – Throw In!, tells us all about the importance of GAA in her life, the inspiration for her new book and her writing process!

Could you describe Twin Power – Throw In! in five words?

Football, friendship, fun, community, teamwork.

What inspired you to write Twin Power?

I was inspired to write Twin Power as I wanted to give children a book about things that they know and love, which in this case are Gaelic football and friendship. I also wanted to show in the book the dynamic of a group of friends that consisted of boys and girls and how they interact and play football together, as equals.

Your ‘Izzy’s Magical Adventures in Sport’ series is GAA focused as well. What draws you to write about GAA?

The GAA holds a special place in my heart. When I moved to Kerry, from Cork, in my late twenties, with my husband and our young son, the GAA was the place where I first made friends and got to know people in my adopted home. The irony was that we moved to where my husband is from in North Kerry, but I ended up getting to know more people than he knew! I took our son to training in our local GAA club, St Senans, where I got to know some parents. This led to me going to the mother and toddler group in St Senans clubhouse after our next son was born, which led to me joining the ‘Mothers and Others’ football group in Finuge/St. Senans ladies football club, which led to making more friends and which also got me involved in coaching football; you’re getting the gist now, I’m sure!

I think the GAA creates a fantastic community spirit, which is vitally important to so many people. There are also some really interesting characters there. I absolutely did not base any of the characters in Twin Power on people I have met in real life, though! I was definitely inspired to write about the GAA community by the fantastic people I have met there and, especially, the amazing children in the club, where I am involved in coaching.

Who was your favourite character to write in Twin Power

That is a hard question, but I think it was Aoife. It’s between Aoife and Aidan, but I have a real fondness for Billy too. I think Aoife had the hardest challenge in Twin Power– Throw In!, so that is why I am saying Aoife. But at the same time, she was hugely supported in the story by Aidan and, to a lesser extent, Billy, so I am very fond of them also.

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Making Bread and Butter

This week, Ciara McLaughlin, author of new cookbook Bread and Butter, tells us all about the inspiration behind her cookbook and selects her favourite recipes!

The first idea for this book came during my final year of art college, while I was thinking up a self-directed project to finish my training in graphic design and illustration. At home we had been saying for years that it was time to upgrade the little blue notebook that sat in the top cupboard and held all the family recipes. Over time the ingredients of all our favourite dishes had been jotted down, amended and perfected, but revamping this grubby but treasured little notebook seemed like a mammoth task, especially in final year when every mark was precious! However, I was drawn to the idea of exploring my family’s food heritage and diving into the stories behind all those recipes.

I finally set myself the project and knew instantly what the main focus of the book would be: Granny McLaughlin. It had to be all about her because the food I was baking at home was all about her. The recipes I was using had all been hers, passed down through the family in the little blue notebook and baked for every Christmas, birthday or Friday night tea. Granny had died before I was born but she was still present in these moments. She was very much a part of my upbringing and she had achieved that by baking her way into the hearts of those who knew her. Baking was Granny’s way of nourishing, caring and loving and that’s something that you will definitely find in my family. You’re hardly in the door until the kettle’s boiled and a scone is plated up with butter and homemade jam. It’s great! I think there’s an element of traditional Irish hospitality behind it but the same traditions are shared by cultures across the world. Food has the power to connect people –even those who are no longer around –and that’s why I knew I had to write this book.

The ’university project’ version of Bread and Butter was a small prototype of only sixteen recipes, but it caught the eye of Michael O’Brien at The O’Brien Press and that’s when the real journey began. I had met with Michael at the publishing house and email discussions took place throughout the pandemic, but when the official contract came in the post, I could not believe it. My first emotion was pure fear, accompanied by a chorus of ‘what ifs…?’ I knew from making the prototype version that it would be a lot of work as all the elements had to be considered: writing, photos, illustrations, design and printing. I was also teaching full-time, running a home-baking business and training for a marathon, so it was a daunting prospect to say the least! Thankfully my family dragged me out of the terror and into the realm of excitement by offering their support and talents. Mummy is a fantastic home baker and knows the kitchen inside out from her years spent teaching home economics. Daddy was a graphic designer so he knew everything about the design and production side of things. I also had the support of the team at O’Brien from the very start and they almost made me feel like I knew what I was doing.

My editor Emma Dunne had the pleasure of reading the shabby first drafts and was so supportive throughout the entire writing process. The eighty-odd recipes that made the final book were carefully arranged to reflect the feel and flavour of the four seasons, using local produce and fresh ingredients. Through my writing I wanted to weave in some of the stories that conjure the charm of Granny’s quaint farmhouse, along with tales of my own childhood to show how the recipes were almost this living and changing thing.

When it came to the photography stage, I didn’t even own a camera! Over the course of a few weeks I gathered together the necessary equipment and transformed our little barn into a makeshift photography studio. It was a really intense time of the publication journey, but my family helped out a lot and kept my spirits up. The joy I felt when every recipe was accompanied by a stunning photo was unimaginable and now I just had to make it look like a book!

Designing the book was a lovely part of the process. It was like tidying up all the bits and pieces and was the moment where everything started coming together. Ivan O’Brien and the rest of the team were always at hand for advice and when the pages began to take shape it was incredibly exciting. Finally, after a few busy months, I had a fully designed recipe book, complete with photographs and illustrations for every season! At the end I was a mixture of exhausted and elated but I wouldn’t change my experience for the world.

I have quite a lot of favourite recipes from the book, all for very different reasons! Some have a beautiful backstory, others stand out because of the laughs we had baking and photographing them, and some are just plain delicious!

My favourite recipe from the spring section has to be pancakes because I adore them and they are so tasty no matter what toppings you choose to put with them.

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Ah … That’s Gas!

This week, I chatted with authors Sarah Cassidy and Kunak McGann about their most recent book, Ah … That’s Gas! – The ads, fads and mad happenings that swept the Irish nation. I wanted to know about their favourite ads and fads as well as the ones they had never heard of before writing this book together!

The Favourites

Kunak

Sarah and I had such a good time wandering down memory lane while writing this book, re-visiting favourite feelgood moments from our own childhoods as well as those from more recent times. There are so many events and experiences that we have shared as a nation, they give us a collective memory and a sense of who we are and where we come from, and it was a real joy to put those down in a book. Here are my three favourites.

Riverdance

I can still remember the rush of watching Riverdance for the first time. From those first haunting vocals from Anúna to the gazelle-like Jean Butler in the first solo dance, then Michael Flatley bounding onto stage with his bouffant hair and batwing-sleeve shirt, and Irish dancers flooding the stage in synchronised beats. Who knew Irish dancing could actually be cool?? Our hearts were full.

Kerrygold Ads

It is an undeniable fact that Ireland has the best butter in the world. It’s always been a prime export for us and Kerrygold were tapping into that with these crossover ads featuring our French friends. Made before anyone really knew the phrase ‘lactose intolerant’ and possibly the most iconic Irish ads of all time. Surely I’m not the only person who still walks into a room and asks ‘Zere is sumzing I can ‘elp?’.

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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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