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.Continue reading “Bringing the Past Alive: Writing Historical Novels for Children”
This week Juliette Saumande, Tarsila Krüse and Helen Carr tell us all about the making of My Little Album of Dublin and their favourite places in the Fair City!
Juliette Saumande is a French writer based in Dublin. She has published over 40 books in French and English. When she’s not writing, she can be found translating books, reading books, recommending books, talking about books and building forts with books. She enjoys things like tapdancing and liquorice, but hates Crunchies with a passion. Come and say ‘hi’ at juliettesaumande.blogspot.ie
The Wheels of Fortune (on a Dublin Bus)
Between Dublin and thirteen-year-old me it was love at first sight. Coming from the suburbs of Paris, where the French capital felt like a limitless maze packed-full of numberless strangers, I was struck by how small, how homely and friendly Dublin was. You couldn’t get lost! You couldn’t set half a toe in town without meeting someone you knew! It was great. I knew straight away that I wanted to come back and spend longer than the few days I had that first time. So I did. As a dedicated tourist initially (brownie points to my family for humouring me, then becoming Emerald Isle enthusiasts), then as an Erasmus student, and eventually as a Dubliner.
So I’ve been here for well over ten years, reading, writing, translating, chatting, making friends and making it even harder to feel lost or lonely. And after all that time, I still feel quite excited about the city, the new bits, the old bits, the eating places, the meeting places. My favourite haunts, if you can call it that, are Dublin buses. I’ve had some of my best ideas on the number 78 (as was), some of my best rants on the 7 and the elusive 68, some of my strangest conversations with total strangers on the 13 or 40 (about the weather, food, books, kids… or what the Irish use their churches for these days).
And I’ve had some of the best views over the city, just above pedestrian level (because, obviously, the whole point of a double-decker bus is to sit upstairs, right at the front where possible). From up there you can see beyond fancy hedges and building site fences, into first-floor shops and balconies, on top of people’s heads and bus stops (where you sometimes make interesting discoveries)…
Do you have a story to tell about The Dublin Marathon? Did you run it? Did you cheer someone on?
We want to hear from you!
Senior Editor, Helen Carr, tells us about the Dublin Marathon and what it means to her. Helen is delighted to be the editor for our forthcoming book: The Dublin Marathon: 40 Years of Running.
“I’ve been aware of the Dublin Marathon nearly all my life – as a child, I remember standing in my native Raheny, watching Dick Hooper – local hero, Raheny Shamrock runner and 2hr 12-minute marathon runner – storm through the village on his way to winning in 1980, 1985 and 1986. In the mid-80s, I also cheered on my father, handed out glucose sweets to runners and admired his etched copper finisher’s plaque. Back then, my sister and I used to complain that our Hallowe’en costumes were always very thrown together and last-minute because most of the October Bank Holiday weekend revolved around the marathon!
My dad stopped running in the 90s and the marathon moved to the Southside so it didn’t loom as large in my life until I joined Raheny Shamrock running club in 2010. Raheny has a long record in the marathon, so from June to October EVERYONE was marathon training. My husband ran it in 2012, so I thought, ‘If he can do it, why can’t I?’ and we both ran in 2013. I’ve marshalled every year since – once again, the October Bank Holiday means marathon weekend! I like nothing better than cheering friends, family and runners from all over the world to the finish. In 2018, I and my fellow Raheny Shamrock marshalls screamed ourselves hoarse cheering our clubmate Mick Clohisey to his National Marathon win.
And now the Dublin Marathon has come to my workplace too! I’m so excited that The O’Brien Press will be publishing The Dublin Marathon: 40 Years of Running in October 2019! I can’t wait to edit this book on the history of the race, the various routes the marathon has taken over the years, famous Irish marathoners, and so on. We’re also doing a call out for inspirational stories and anecdotes from Irish marathoners, charity runners and volunteers. So whether you’re a runner, a spectator or a volunteer – send us in your stories and photos of memorabilia, and you might make it into the book!”
For more information on submitting material for The Dublin Marathon, please visit our website here.
Helen Carr, March 2019
After a long, hot summer, the sun has finally lowered the temperature from scorching to a low simmer, there’s a brisk chill in the morning air, and schools are throwing open their gates once more: September is here. This, among other things, means that Culture Night is almost upon us. Culture Night is a relatively new venture for us here at The O’Brien Press. We participated for the first time in 2017 and we had so much fun at our Pitch Perfect event that we’re doing it all over again this year!
Pitch Perfect is a unique opportunity to pitch directly to The O’Brien Press. We’re looking for the best unpublished writers to meet with members of our team in Rathgar for one-to-one pitches. This year, we’re on the lookout for children’s & YA fiction and non-fiction again, but we’d also like to see humour and sports (particularly GAA) books for adults. Places are limited so if you’ve got a great book idea (and think you can pitch it in ten minutes flat) we want to hear from you! For full details please see https://culturenight.ie/event/the-obrien-press/ or to make a booking email firstname.lastname@example.org.
But if you’ve missed the deadline for Pitch Perfect, don’t despair. The O’Brien Press is open to submissions all year round and all potential bestselling ideas are welcome!
Here are some top tips and a little advice to help you make your submission stand out from the crowd – in all the best ways.
Our wonderful Editor, Helen Carr, took some time to talk to me about the her job, the books she’s currently working on, what she loves about her work and advice for aspiring editors!
What is your role in The O’Brien Press?
I’m a senior editor at The O’Brien Press. We’re a small company, 15-20 staff, so all the editors turn their hands to everything – I do managerial tasks, substantive editing, copyediting and proofreading, as well as working on blurbs, handling reprints and doing a certain amount of admin. I edit or manage about twenty books a year – a mix of general and children’s – on subjects ranging from fiction to current affairs, cookery to sport. There’s a great range within the children’s books I edit too; it can be anything from YA fiction, to picture books, to middle-grade non-fiction.
What do you like best about your role?
I love the variety. Some days I might spend mainly copyediting, while other days could be full of administration and planning. In terms of editing, I think my favourite thing is the substantive edit. I love meeting authors, talking about their books and their characters, getting a feel for the book and how we could work on it to shape it. I’ve just had a meeting with one of my authors, Ger Siggins. Ger is the author of the six-book ‘Rugby Spirit’ series about young rugby star, Eoin Madden and the ghosts he encounters. Now we’re discussing the first book in his exciting new ‘Sports Academy’ series, which will be out in early autumn. It’s called Atlantis United and it’s about five sports-mad kids who are selected for a very special and mysterious sports academy where they are trained to become the best in the world – and have many adventures along the way. It was great to talk through the plot and hear what he has planned for the characters in future books.
I also really love the development process on kids’ picture books. I work very closely with our designer, Emma Byrne and we’re currently finalising a beautiful and informative picture book called Island of Adventures; Fun things to do all around Ireland by Jennifer Farley. It’s going to be gorgeous, and I think families will love looking at the fun-filled, full-colour spreads of Irish adventures – everything from surfing to St Patrick’s Day parades features! I love to see the story take shape and see the images develop from roughs to final art. Continue reading “A Chat with Editor Helen Carr”
Author Kevin Kiely talks about his inspirations for SOS Lusitania on the eve of the centenary of the ship’s tragic sinking.
In school I knew the bare facts about the Lusitania based on our history book that had a poster from that era ‘Lest We Forget‘. The poster was explained in class and we learned that the Lusitania had been torpedoed and sunk. It was an effective stirring colour poster showing the ship about to keel over. The liner was engulfed in fire and smoke and the passengers were falling. Some were in the water waving their hands. Others sat shivering in lifeboats. There were Americans among the passengers. Many of them drowned and because of this President Wilson in America declared war on Germany and the Kaiser. There were photographs of Wilson in an open-top limousine and the Kaiser in a uniform wearing a helmet with a spike on it. This was basic history with the facts as mere headlines.
Of course, in school I heard the teacher tell and retell the Titanic legend. I began to read a novel entitled A Night to Remember with its minute-by-minute depiction of the tragedy and vivid accounts of survivors who calculated how and when to leap from the sinking ship in order to have a change of saving themselves. I particularly remember the cook or kitchen porter who drank a bottle of liquor and scrambled along the flagpole wearing his life-jacket as the Titanic collapsed below him and sank under the waves. The book was on a shelf beside others such as The Longest Day documenting the D-Day Landings on the Normandy beaches.
The real history of the Lusitania never entered my consciousness fully until the summer of 2006. I had been in Cill Rialaig, the Famine village, and visited a childhood haunt, Ballinskelligs. My adventures took me out to the Big Skellig one day using the cheap-fare boat. But I was restless in Kerry and one Sunday morning travelled east. I have relatives outside Cork city and although we have lost contact, it seemed an idea to take that route. I reached Cobh in a sort of minor torpor and nostalgic mood. I decided to break the journey, and found a B&B high up in the town near Park Terrace. I wandered around. To anyone who does not know Cobh it is full of rising and falling pathways, and footpaths giving different views of the giant harbour. It is a labyrinthine meandering harbour with lakes and islands linking Cork to Cobh and the Celtic sea. At sunset, I saw different aspects of the harbour with sailing vessels and one giant cruise liner.
I sat in a pub along Westbourne Place. The spirit of the Lusitania haunts Cobh. Its story emerged as if some being had transfixed my attention and taken me hostage until the bare outline of the plot was written down: Finbar Kennedy runs away from home. His father is staff captain on the Lusitania. Finbar arrives in New York having escaped with his life. Like many others, he boards the ship on its return voyage into disaster amidst spies, gun-runners, world history and romance. He miraculously survives against so many dangers. In every way the story was implicitly true. It was the real-life story of the survivors.
In 2009, I was lecturing at the University of Idaho, and had abandoned my original excitement and enthusiasm for the Lusitania. I was absorbed by poetry, and an academic text demanded a treasury of research. It seemed that my tale of a runaway would remain as a manuscript. One night, towards the close of the year, I was invited to a faculty dinner. Across from me was Richard Spence, a history professor and author of books on international espionage. His wife led us in a triangular discussion to which he vaguely contributed. I, out of politeness added about as much as he. I wanted the subject to return to literature and away from history. However, when the name Aleister Crowley came up, I agreed that I had heard of him and made a few comments to keep the conversation going. Professor Spence, according to his wife, had just published a book on Crowley, entitled Secret Agent 666 where it mentions the plot to sink the Lusitania. Our discussion opened out about the inquests into the disaster, and how Captain Turner in command of the Lusitania seemed frightened to speak about it during his lifetime. Professor Spence had read international intelligence documents to inform his book. I mentioned that I had begun a story but remained uncertain as to how it could ever get finished. Professor Spence promised to have a copy of his book sent to Brink Hall at the university where I worked in the English Department.
Secret Agent 666 led me back to the Lusitania as the story came alive filled with real characters and real history. Crowley is a common Cork name, and was perfect as a real passenger which slightly altered his actual role in 1915. I kept my plot line deliberately vague in places where history has no actual documentation. However, the actual events required little detective work based on the full research. Back in Ireland, I went to Cobh on a day trip to walk the town and its hilly streets. I was enacting my young hero’s return home. What you write about actually happens in part to yourself, which is true of SOS Lusitania for me. Soon, I had a very emotional and historically accurate narrative, hammering it all together into a clear prose style.
At the editorial stage, Íde ní Laoghaire literally came on board, and creatively suggested the Historical Note. The fact that The O’Brien Press considered publishing political history and conspiracy wrapped up in fiction is in keeping with their tough-edged principles. Already they had published A Horse Called El Dorado where the central character escapes from Colombian drug dealers and endures a series of dangerous journeys arriving in Ireland. Life in Ireland proves difficult for the hero who, through the Travellers, finds a vocational career in horse racing. The novel won a Bisto Merit Award in 2006.
I am currently re-visiting SOS Lusitania in order to bring the story into 1916 using additional real-life characters from real history. The story has suggested a trilogy to lay bare this crucial historical period. The sinking of the Lusitania unleashed events which still resonate into the twenty-first century.
Kevin Kiely has had several collections of poetry published, plays broadcast on RTE and is engaged in literary journalism and editing. He has received Literature Bursary Awards from the Irish Arts Council, and is Honorary Fellow in Writing with the University of Iowa. SOS Lusitania is his first book for young readers.
Jamie O’Connell, a member of the editorial team that worked on the Dublin Illustrated Edition of Ulysses, gives his view on the famous text and Bloomsday festivities.
As Bloomsday approaches, I await the parade of boater hats, striped jackets and lace dresses, as Joycean fans flock to Dublin to celebrate a book that has been said to have ‘changed the face of literature’. The first festival of its kind was in 1954 on the 50th anniversary of the events in the novel; the 2013 pilgrimage through Dublin along the route taken in Ulysses is said to be the largest annual event yet.
I’ve often heard Ulysses described as the most acclaimed and yet unread book in the English language. Though I read Dubliners and The Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man a number of years ago, I skirted around Ulysses, primarily out of intimidation but also a certain amount of laziness. During my time at university I did read extracts, notably Episode 4. Joyce’s description of Leopold Bloom cooking and eating the kidneys had stayed with me, as with most people who’ve read it:
‘Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.’
I did start other episodes but they appeared indecipherable to me. After making various attempts, attacking the text from varying angles, I put the book aside with the thought that I’d likely finish it ‘some day’, though if I was honest, I probably felt I’d go through life without having quite got around to finishing it.
However, this year Ulysses and Bloomsday will have a very different significance to me. Last summer I began working for O’Brien Press and I’ve been part of the editorial team preparing the Dublin Illustrated Edition of Ulysses in conjunction with The James Joyce Centre.
It was not a usual editorial job. After all, Ulysses isn’t a manuscript that needs to be edited in any literary sense. Rather I’ve felt like a tenth century monk in one of those beehive huts, reading the prose letter by letter, word by word in various currently available versions, attempting to create an edition that is as close as possible to the original 1922 text. Wayward commas and colons were returned to their rightful place. Mixed up vowels, apparently ‘corrected’ in newer editions, were replaced with the original. And what has been created is something loyal to Joyce’s creative vision. After all, there have been many warning examples of ‘corrected’ Ulysses texts; a 1984 edition was eviscerated in the New York Review of Books for taking what it felt were liberties in its edits.
As luck would have it, I was given responsibility for Episode 14 ‘Oxen of the Sun’, described as the most difficult episode in Ulysses. On my first general read, I felt my stomach clench as I thought about the logistical nightmare of correcting a text that was written in a largely phonetic way with a near incomprehensible narrative. In the end, it involved reading each syllable out loud, comparing texts, checking each letter, all ninety-seven thousand of them.
But what did emerge as I read, was the expert skill Joyce had with voice. Like an actor that can shift from role to role seamlessly, so Joyce moves from one dialect to another with ease, from Shakespearian to Victorian to slang. The language is sometimes bawdy, with a mix of alliteration and plenty of innuendo – there’s no denying the richness and texture of the prose.
This new edition of Ulysses will launch this June to coincide with the 59th Bloomsday celebrations. That is why with a measure of pride of I think of my contribution to the 2013 festival and to the general Ulysses legacy, however tiny. Perhaps it’s time to don a boater hat and join the likes of David Norris and President Higgins as they pay homage to one of Ireland’s greatest writers.
For the past few years I have been planning and working on a collection of books called 16 Lives which will be published by The O’Brien Press in the build up to the Centenary of the Easter Rising. 16 Lives will consist of sixteen biographies of the men who were executed after the momentous events of Easter Week, 1916.
I first came up with the concept in 2008 when I was already writing and researching a biography of James Connolly. Around this time I began to consider the relationships between the various leaders, how they were connected and who introduced them to each other. It suddenly dawned on me that there was a gaping hole in the biographical information available on all these individuals. There was plenty on Pearse and Connolly but little or nothing on some of the others. The idea of 16 Lives was to address this issue rather than to wait and hope that someone else would do it. I was reluctant at first about the project and I was under the impression that most publishers would shy away from undertaking such a mammoth task. Thankfully O’Brien Press seems to like a challenge and after a meeting with the publisher and editors we laid our plans. It was a great stroke of luck that Ruan O’Donnell was available to come on board as series co-editor. Ruan has written extensively on Irish history and is a mine of information. He also agreed to write the biography of Patrick Pearse. This means that the first book in the series will be Connolly and it will be closed off with Pearse. There’s something quite balanced and neat about that.
The past few years have been quite busy for me especially as I had to wear a few hats. As I’ve been running the 1916 Walking Tour in Dublin since 1996 I’ve been busy doing tours, researching and writing on Connolly, working on 16 Lives and juggling family life. I can’t thank my wife enough for her support through the difficult writing process. At one stage she booked me into a hotel for a week to concentrate on finishing Connolly, it was exactly what I needed!
One of the difficulties Ruan, myself and O’Brien Press faced was comissioning and confirming the authors for the rest of the series. We needed to maintain a level of secrecy and yet explain to potential authors the concept of 16 Lives. There was a little luck involved too, certainly on my part. I was conducting a 1916 Walking Tour and I got talking to one of the participants, Brian Hughes, who came across as very knowledgable especially on the Irish Citizen Army. It transpired that Brian had written his thesis on Michael Mallin. So, no better man for writing a biography of Mallin. Another night someone introduced me to Honor O’Brolchain. I knew Honor’s grandmother was Joseph Plunkett’s sister and we discussed her book All In The Blood. Honor told me she was researching and writing a book on Joe so she kindly agreed to conisder publishing it with the 16 Lives series. Ruan, who is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Limerick had a phd student, Laura Walsh, who was researching and is now writing the life of Tom Clarke. He also had colleagues that he was able to encourage to join up, Angus Mitchel (Roger Casement) and John O’Callaghan (Con Colbert). Another couple of people who are related to their subjects were secured by the publisher, Helen Litton (Edward Daly) and Mary Gallagher (Éamonn Ceannt) are two worthy participants in the project. The prolific author T Ryle Dwyer will tackle Thomas MacDonagh and Cork’s own Meda Ryan is the best person to write the biography of the only executed Cork volunteer in 1916, Thomas Kent. Roisín Ní Gharbhí has already unearthed a very interesting side of Willie Pearse and hopes to bring him out of the shadow of his larger than life brother. My walking tour colleague and Trinity academic John Gibney is busily writing and researching on Seán Heuston. Conor Kostick who previously co-wrote a book with me on the Easter Rising will be collaborating with me again as we are co-authoring Michael O’Hanrahan’s biography. Brian Feeney, raconteur, politician and author of Sinn Féin: A Hundred Turbulent Years, will no doubt produce a great work on Seán MacDiarmada. Another prolific writer and well known Galweigan, William Henry, who I have known for some years is researching the life of John MacBride, which I’m very much looking forward to reading.
One of the more rewarding tasks, for me personally, was the picture and image research. We needed a decent stock of good qulaity images so for the past couple of years I’ve been quite active in this area. We ended up with three big photo albums full of images of the destruction visited on Dublin in 1916. Kilmainham Gaol, the Pearse Museum and the NLI proved to be a huge and generous resource. The fact that three of our authors are directly related to their subjects is also a great bonus as they have ready access to family images that have never been published before now.
Working with O’Brien Press on 16 Lives has been very rewarding. I’ve been working for myself for a long time and it was unusual for me to suddenly have colleagues. None of us have been involved in a project of this type before so it has been fascinating to see how people have pulled together. Although myself and Ruan are series co-editors, each individual author also has an in-house editor; Susan Houlden (who edited my book on Connolly with great patience, dilligence and skill), Ide Ní Laoghaire, Helen Carr and Mary Webb are all gearing up for a busy few years ahead. The months leading up to Christmas 2011 were very busy for all concerned as the deadlines for the first three books, Connolly, Plunkett and Mallin approached. The busy period culminated with a gathering of all the 16 Lives authors and editors. It was a great night, seeing and meeting each other, in many cases for the first time and it gave a great sense of cohesion to the whole project. I also felt that all the authors could get a grasp of collective nature of this project – it meant that the authors could get to know each other and would feel enthusiastic about sharing and exchanging research.
I hope 16 Lives appeals to the general reader as well as the serious historian. All the books will be very well researched but they will also be accessible. I hope the events of Easter Week will catch the attention of the new generation and ensure that the legacy of these men and women who gave so much will live on. We all really hope that younger readers will enjoy and collect these books too. Emma, the in-house designer for O’Brien Press has done a magnificent job on producing these books. It was Emma who came up with the idea to splice a large image into 16 strips and place one on the spine of each book. That way if they are all lined up on a book shelf they will produce an image. But I can’t tell you what that image is…you’ll just have to collect all 16 Lives!
There’s a brand new series that we have been working on that we have been getting really excited about internally, and I’ve been holding back talking about. Ireland has transformed itself within the last ten years from an essentially mono-ethnic country to one that is very culturally diverse. It’s been a very rapid change and, thankfully, has been pretty smooth. However, there is still a huge education process that needs to take place across society about how this new Ireland is going to work, particularly given the Current Economic Climate.