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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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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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 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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A Virtual Interview with Ann Murtagh

This week, I had a virtual chat with Ann Murtagh about her amazing debut children’s book, The Sound of Freedom. Ann tells us all about her inspiration, writing process, and more! 

What inspired you to write The Sound of Freedom?

In 2016, I had been commissioned by Barnstorm Theatre Company in Kilkenny to design classroom resources for their 1916-themed play, The Messenger. Reading the play, I was very impressed by how it conveyed all the important historical aspects of the 1916 Rising, but when I actually sat in the audience with the children and witnessed its impact on them, it made me want to have a go at writing a story myself.

What drew you to writing about Ireland’s War of Independence?

As a teacher/historian, I was drawn to the next phase of the revolutionary period. For the 1916 class resources, I had accessed primary sources in the Bureau of Military History and was aware of the rich pickings the Bureau held relating to the War of Independence. In the 1940s and 1950s, men and women active during the revolutionary period were asked to provide written statements about their involvement. Among the Westmeath witness statements, two men referred to an account of an aeraíocht (open-air entertainment) that was planned to happen in 1919 in the town of Castlepollard, but was banned by the RIC. However, the event went ahead in a secret location up in the hills, and none other than Hanna Sheehy Skeffington spoke at it. In the meantime, a woman pretending to be Hanna Sheehy Skeffington was walking around Castlepollard, with the police observing her every move. This made me think of a story. What about a boy who was in the crowd that day? Although the aeraíocht is quite far on in the story, it was the event that got me started.

Describe The Sound of Freedom in five words.

Exciting War of Independence Adventure.

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Where Are You, Puffling? and Where Did You Come From?

This week we chatted with the wonderful Gerry Daly, co-creator and illustrator of Where Are You, Puffling?. Gerry’s uncle Sean came up with the initial idea, and the story developed from there! Gerry tells us all about the journey of this adorable picture book, including working with the brilliant Erika McGann.

 

What inspired your uncle Sean to write this story to begin with?

When Sean was visiting the Skellig islands he noticed that the puffins and the rabbits seemed to be getting along together as they went about their business. He heard they even share their burrows! Or at least the rabbits move back in once the puffins head out to the ocean for the winter. Sean imagined they might help each other out in times of need, and he thought this could make a good story for his grandsons.

What was it like to work with Sean on this?

Great fun! Sean showed me his finished text, and had the idea that I might add some illustrations to it. He would then have just a few printed up, for the boys and the rest of the family. We had already worked together on a short family history book. That self-published book showed Sean’s great interest in genealogy, Irish history and places. His enthusiasm for the Skellig story was very infectious. It wasn’t long before we were working on ideas for images and layout. He’d often say, ‘I love it, now we’re sucking diesel!’

Unfortunately, around this time Sean had been diagnosed with cancer, and he passed away not long after. I was then back at college doing a masters, and didn’t have much time to look at the book for a while, but eventually I managed to add the illustrations. I didn’t have a title to the story, so my dad suggested ‘The Skellig Shenanigans’. I had a few printed up, which came as a nice surprise to family and friends, most of whom had no idea that this had been in the making. I didn’t want the story to just be forgotten, and felt it really had to be finished best I could manage.

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Finding the bold, brilliant and bad women in Irish History – an Interview with Marian Broderick

This week we had a chat with the brilliant Marian Broderick, author of Wild Irish Women and Bold, Brilliant and Bad.

Photograph by City Headshots Dublin

Could you tell us about your experience researching extraordinary women from Irish history for both Wild Irish Women and Bold, Brilliant and Bad?

Researching history is an absorbing experience – but getting lost in the research is a risk known to every writer. To research Bold, Brilliant and Bad I mined reputable internet resources, walked around graveyards, galleries and museums, lived in libraries and read everything I could. Quite often I would start the day by pursuing a woman’s history – for example the legend of the murderer Darkey Kelly – become lured down a fascinating side road to gruesome executions in the seventeenth century, and spend the whole day reading about that instead!

What surprised and/or impressed you about these women?

My women are all multi-layered individuals. Many of them took their courage in their hands and flouted the conventions of their society one way or another during the course of their lives. This is true of women throughout history, but doubly so for Irishwomen, and trebly so for Irishwomen from less well-off backgrounds, such as Rosie Hackett and Kay McNulty. I was also interested to note just how many of these formidable women had had the disadvantage of losing a parent through death or desertion at an early age. These include Lizzie Le Blond, Dr Emily Winifred Dickson, Dr Dorothy Stopford Price, Sheila Tinney, Nellie Cashman, Carmel Snow and Eileen Gray.

Who are your favourite women in Irish history and why?

I have a particular fondness for the feisty working- and lower-middle-class women, such as Margaret Skinnider, Rosie Hackett, Margaret Hassan, Nellie Cashman, Winifred Carney, Kay Mills and Anne O’Brien. These people overcame obstacles to achieve prominence in their chosen fields.

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Pass Your Driving Test in Ireland with Kathleen Comerford

This month we chatted with the wonderful Kathleen Comerford about her experience as a driving instructor, her top tips for your driving test and all about her new book Pass Your Driving Test in Ireland!

What made you want to be a driving instructor?

I really love driving and teaching so, it’s a perfect match. My father and my grandfather also taught people to drive, so it must be in my blood.

Could you tell us 5 things to think about or focus on during your test?

1. It may sound obvious, but remember to breathe! Almost all my students forget to breath once I sit into the car, so I’m sure it happens more so when the Tester sits in.

2. Focus on the road in front of you and avoid thinking too much about what the Tester is thinking or wanting you to do. They just want you to drive safely.

3. Keep your driving as close to your natural everyday drive as possible, so you keep it automatic and natural and honest.

4. Avoid exaggerating anything like observation or mirrors in order to impress the Tester. Your checks should be timely and relevant, remember you are on your driving test, not looking for an OSCAR!

5. I teach my drivers to talk about the road ahead, which helps them greatly to keep focused and present, and reduces their anxiety levels.

 What is the one thing people should say to themselves before they begin their driving test?

I CAN DO THIS! I’ve put in the time and practice. I’ve read Kathleen’s book so I know what to do!! It’s not rocket science. I’ll keep it safe and simple.

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