The Book of Alex

I had a lovely chat with debut children’s author, Alex Dunne, all about her first children’s book, her inspiration and her writing process.

Could you describe The Book of Secrets in five words?

Labyrinth meets Irish folklore’ oh wait, that’s four … how about ‘fairies return and hijinks ensue’?

What inspired you to write The Book of Secrets?

I’ve always loved Irish mythology and folklore and am particularly fascinated by fairies as they exist in the Irish tradition – the stories they feature in are often quite dark and scary – so I always knew that one day I would write something where they featured prominently. In 2018, I decided to take part in NaNoWriMo (a month-long challenge held every November where writers from around the world attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel).  Not knowing what to write, I took a look through my ‘Dump Sheet’ (the very sophisticated Google Doc where I collect random ideas that have yet to find a home in one of my stories) and two things jumped out at me – a picture I had taken of a Bronze Age ringfort called Mooghaun, which sits just outside the town of Newmarket-on-Fergus in County Clare, and a snippet I had written a few years prior about what to do if you hear the fairy music. That’s when the idea for The Book of Secrets was born.

The Irish mythology in this book is so cleverly written and so chilling, did you research Irish myths and legends for this book?

I did quite a bit of research for the book because I wanted to ensure that everything I included had some basis in Irish myth and folklore (even if I did occasionally invoke my artistic licence here and there!). I read a lot of books by prominent folklorists and storytellers, such as Eddie Lenihan and Dáithí Ó hÓgáin, but one of my main sources of research was duchas.ie, the website of the Irish Folklore Commission. It’s such a wonderful resource for anyone looking to research or write about Irish history and folklore because it collects first-hand accounts from people who lived and breathed these stories.

Who was your favourite character to write in The Book of Secrets?

Of the fantastical characters, I loved the Pooka because I’m a sucker for trickster characters. I love villains who are morally grey – he’s not strictly evil, but he cares so little for humanity that he’s happy to use them for his own entertainment. Of the human characters, I loved Granny. She’s not based on anyone I know in real life but is more of an aspirational character. She’s the kind of old woman I hope to be some day – fiercely independent and still believing in magic.

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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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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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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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An Amazing New Children’s Sports Series Begins….

 

We at the O’Brien  Press are delighted to be publishing the first two books in the all new Great Irish Sports Stars series: Cora Staunton and Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper. Ivan O’Brien, Eimear Ryan and Donny Mahoney chatted with me about this new series. 

Ivan O’Brien

Sport is becoming an ever-increasing part of the lives of many children, and it really gets them excited. We have published quite a few novels for young readers with sporting themes (you can see them here: http://www.obrien.ie/childrens/sport-childrens) and seen the way young readers devour them! Fiction is great, but it’s not real life, and role models are hugely important, so we had an idea: why not create a series of books about Ireland’s greatest sporting heroes, written for children? Unlike sports biographies for adults they would focus on the hero’s childhood and the key moments in their lives that made them a success. We approached some writers who we knew would do a great job, and Great Irish Sports Stars was born!

Eimear Ryan

As a young GAA-mad girl growing up in Tipperary, most of my idols were men. When I was pucking out the back, I’d pretend to be Nicky English or DJ Carey – or, if I was playing football for a change, Charlie Redmond or Maurice Fitzgerald. I knew of female GAA players, of course – the Downey sisters of Kilkenny, Laois footballer Sue Ramsbottom, and legendary Tipp camogie forward Deirdre Hughes. But you would only really hear about these players in September, when RTE broadcast the women’s All-Ireland finals. Unlike the men, they didn’t often get featured on The Sunday Game or turned into pull-out posters.

Then along came Cora.

Cora Staunton was one of the first crossover stars of women’s GAA. Crucially, Cora’s breakthrough in the early 2000s coincided with TG4’s sponsorship of the ladies football championship, so her career was televised from early on. Her undeniable prowess was there for everyone to see, and soon enough, she started popping up in Lucozade ads and in in-depth interviews in the sports pages. Not only was she a brilliant female player, she was a highly visible one.

In my research for the book, I took great inspiration from Game Changer, Cora’s aptly-named autobiography written with Mary White. It gives very honest insights not just into Cora’s football career, but into the personal tragedies she has lived through, such as losing her mother when she was sixteen. Later, she lost a teammate and friend, Aisling McGing, when Aisling was just eighteen. Time and time again, when faced with personal loss, Cora turned to football for solace. Her story demonstrates the importance of sport not just as a physical outlet, but as a mental and emotional outlet as well.

Cora is inspiring because of her swagger – her total belief in her own ability and the very high standards she set for herself. She is by no means a ‘safe’ player – she takes risks, and is rewarded more often than not. For most players, scoring an outlandish tally of 2-10 would be a career highlight; for Cora, it’s just another day at the office. At the same time, she’s genuine and down-to-earth off the pitch. Her unapologetic ambition, coupled with her down-to-earth attitude, is what makes her such an exciting player to watch.

Donny Mahoney

What makes a genius? Are they born or made?

Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper was a human highlight reel during his Gaelic football career for Kerry, a magician with the ball in his hand. But unlike many contemporary sporting phenoms who seem anointed for greatness from childhood, Cooper’s success was never a sure thing.

This was what drew me to the story of the Gooch for my book in the Great Irish Sport Stars series. I thought young readers would be drawn to the story of how a good footballer became one of the game’s greats.

From a young age, Cooper loved sport and was incredibly driven. He brought a Gaelic football with him everywhere he went. But in his teenage years, he was doubted and overlooked by coaches and selectors because of his size.

The book tells the story of Cooper’s GAA journey from his estate in Killarney to the steps of the Hogan Stand. It also tries to convey the mystique of Kerry football. For as long as I’ve been watching Gaelic football, I’ve been fascinated by Kerry football, and the Gooch has been central to that.

From researching and writing the book, what I found most striking was the enduring power of the club for Cooper. The Gooch experienced more famous days in Croke Park than the vast majority of GAA players, but what truly mattered most to him were the experiences with his club, Dr Crokes.

In a way, Colm Cooper’s GAA story is bookended by two experiences with his club: acting as a mascot when they won the 1992 club All-Ireland and winning the club All-Ireland with Dr Crokes in 2017. The story of the club is the story of so many Irish communities.

It was a privilege to tell Cooper’s GAA journey for young readers. Books about sport were so important to my own youth. They fostered not just a lifelong love of sport, but of storytelling too. All good sports books – no matter what age group they’re aimed at – touch on universal themes: hope, failure and glory.

These themes run across the great career of Colm Cooper, and hopefully young readers who may have never seen the Gooch in full flight will be fascinated by his story.

 

Cora Staunton and Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper will be published 12 August 2019 and will be available in all good bookshops and on www.obrien.ie 

Ivan O’Brien, Eimear Ryan and Donny Mahoney August 2019

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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Conor Kostick on Ready Player One, Epic and LitRPG

Conor Kostick, author of the brilliant sci-fi series The Avatar Chronicles, chats about imagination, online gaming and the growing popularity of LitRPG.

In 2003, I had an idea for a novel, which was inspired by a newspaper article claiming that the value of trades of virtual goods was sufficiently large (several billion dollars) that if it were a country it would rank greater than Bulgaria. What, I wondered, if this trend were to grow until your activity in virtual environments really mattered? What if the celebrities of the world were not sports stars and music stars, but gamers…?

I wrote Epic extremely quickly. In all the years and books since, I’ve never experienced anything like the same immersion in the world of my imagination. It was the summer between finishing my degree and starting a PhD and I knew this free time was precious. So every evening I would write until the early hours of the morning and during the day I would edit. So intense was my involvement with the book that my dreams were filled with it and I learned the value of keeping a notebook and pen beside me.

I’d wake up with an insight, jot it down, and fall back to sleep. Continue reading “Conor Kostick on Ready Player One, Epic and LitRPG”

A Rugby Roar at the End of a Series

Gerard Siggins, author of the Rugby Spirit series and this year’s World Book Day book Rugby Roar, chats about the coming to the end of a series that began as a one book adventure and turned it to something bigger and better!

BOOK SIX of my ‘Rugby Spirit’ series is just out, and it may just be the last of the set. I never planned it as a series – I suppose most first-time novelists don’t have the sort of confidence that your publishers will want to keep publishing them and your readers will keep reading them.

No, Rugby Spirit was a once-off, a combination of a bedtime story my son kept pestering to write down, and a historical itch that needed scratching. I was chuffed that O’Brien Press said they would like to issue it, and even more delighted that they told me immediately to go off and write a sequel.

The first book concerned a boy coming to a new sport and finding advice and fellowship in the ghost of a long-dead rugby player. That character, Brian Hanrahan, was the only person ever to die playing sport in Lansdowne Road. He helps Eoin to get better at rugby, but also helped him to solve a mystery and understand more about the past.

As I sat down to plan Book 2, I tossed around ideas such as keeping it just to Eoin and Brian again, or taking out the supernatural element. But I realised that I could take it on a bit by keeping Eoin and Brian and adding a new ghost to the story. Rugby Warrior brought in Dave Gallaher, an Irish-born player who was the first captain of New Zealand’s All Blacks and who died in World War One. Continue reading “A Rugby Roar at the End of a Series”

We’re Going to…. Chat to Sarah Bowie

Happy 2018 to everyone! To start of the New Year we at OBP chatted to author and illustrator Sarah Bowie about her upcoming picture book We’re Going to the Zoo!

What inspired you to write We’re Going to the Zoo?

I have very clear memories of going to the zoo myself when I was a little girl and I wanted to remember what it was like when you’re seeing these wild and exotic creatures for the first time in real life

What was your process for creating this book?

I started very simply, with a sketchpad and pencil. I tried to bypass my ‘front brain’ by just doodling and writing as quickly as possible. After a while I started to hear a grumpy little voice saying ‘The zoo is BORING!’, which is not what I’d been aiming for at all. However, I just went with it, kept doodling and writing and listening to what she and the other characters were saying. The important thing at the early stage is not to judge, you can always go back and fix things later. So that was how I got the original proposal written. After that I focused on page layout and pacing. It’s usually at this stage that I finalise the writing too. Once that’s nailed down, I focus on the artwork. Continue reading “We’re Going to…. Chat to Sarah Bowie”