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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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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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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The Making of Flossie McFluff

Following the publication of the wonderful Flossie McFluff – An Irish Fairy, author Eoin O’Brien and illustrator Audrey Dowling tell us all about the making of Flossie McFluff.

Eoin O’Brien

I have always loved fairies. I love the idea that there are magical creatures looking after forests and wild places, taking care of all the tiny creatures and the natural world. There is so much magic in nature – and more the closer you look – that it is not hard to picture little guardians keeping an eye on it all.

Flossie McFluff began as a name. It just popped into my head one day, and made me smile. It was partly inspired by meeting one of the famous McNutt family from Donegal, who make beautiful woollen things – what a great name! And I think that Flossie is from somewhere towards the north of the country, where there is lots of magic.

Since writing the book, I discovered another Flossie – Flossie Donnelly, a twelve-year-old who organises ‘Flossie and the Beach Cleaners’, a campaign to clean beaches in south County Dublin. I imagine my Flossie would get on great with her!

I have heard that a good way to write a story is to create an interesting character and then sit back and see what they get up to. So, I thought about Flossie, and what she might be like: She’s very small, small enough that a big gust of wind would probably send her flying, but she’s feisty and tough. She’s a faithful friend, always ready to lend a hand, but she’s also likely to have a fit of giggles at any moment. She talks to trees and flowers, and lets them know that they’ll always have a good friend in her. And she loves just flying around, singing a little song to herself.

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A Whaley Big Blog Post

This week, author and illustrator Gerry Daly tells us all about creating his latest picture book, Finn’s First Song – A Whaley Big Adventure!

The story of Finn’s First Song – A Whaley Big Adventure started a few years ago when I was painting humpback whales in the picture book Where Are You, Puffling?. I really enjoyed painting them, especially the huge splash that they made.

Humpback whales make loud and spectacular sound patterns that are repeated, just as we would a favourite song. Finn’s First Song is about the adventures of a baby humpback who, after becoming lost, learns to sing himself and reunites with his mum.

I’m certainly not alone in being fascinated by these massive creatures and what life is like beneath the ocean surface. In school we learn that a whale is the largest creature on the planet; that blue whales are even bigger than the dinosaurs; with a beating heart as big as a small car and an appetite to eat up to 3.5 tonnes of food in one day. It’s all enough to give a lot of mind boggles!

A couple years ago I got to see whales in the ocean for the first time on a whale-watching trip off the coast of West Cork. I learned more about their long migration from the African coast to Ireland, how they revisit each year for the tasty food that they love and, of course, how they sing to each other over vast distances.

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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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Wee Donkey, Big Personality

This week, author Erika McGann and illustrator Gerry Daly tell us all about their latest picture book, Wee Donkey’s Treasure Hunt, particularly, how this mischievous and cheeky donkey came to life and how her adventure developed.

Erika McGann

When I began working on my first picture book, I was very tempted to write it in rhyme. I grew up loving Each Peach Pear Plum and everything Dr. Seuss, and there really isn’t anything as musical or joyful as a well-written story for children in verse. But as it was my first attempt at writing a book for that age group, the added pressure of doing it in rhyme was too intimidating. I had to consider language level, structure, and content for an audience that was new to me, not to mention jamming a full and fun story into such a tiny word count. I could see myself getting close to the deadline, sweating, frantically searching for something to rhyme with ‘orange’. Although my first drafts had occasional, accidental rhyming phrases (which gave me a silly amount of glee), I knew I should wait until I had a little more experience with the age level to do it properly.

A couple of years later I was finishing up a series for older kids and looking to submit a new project to O’Brien Press. I was dying to do something just for the fun of it, and it finally seemed time to give the rhyming children’s book a go. I’d recently worked on Where Are You, Puffling? with Ger, and I thought another adorable animal protagonist would be great craic to write. I searched images of cute animals for a bit of inspiration and came across a brilliant photo of a wide-smiling wee donkey with her nose pressed up against the camera lens. She made me laugh, and I figured I’d found the right character to work with – cheeky, loveable, and great for a giggle.

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