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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Hedgehogs, Hoglets and Hibernation

Author and illustrator, Bex Sheridan, tells us all about the inspiration for her gorgeous new picture book, Go to Sleep, Hoglet!

I live with my husband, Jay, in a house filled with animals and in 2017 a spikey little hoglet joined the crew. We called him Mu. Mu is an African pygmy hedgehog (a domestic pet hedgehog). They’re smaller than wild Irish hedgehogs and look a little different. One big difference is that African pygmy hedgehogs who are kept as pets are not supposed to hibernate, but they still can. If they do they can fall ill, so making sure Mu stayed in good health meant understanding hedgehog hibernation. This was how the seed for Hoglet’s adventure was first sewn.

Mu doesn’t like me very much, he’s a very angry little hedgehog. I know he’s angry from how he acts, how he tries to spike me with his quills at every opportunity and he makes some very funny sounds. With his mood written all over his face (he makes no attempt to hide his anger), I couldn’t resist drawing him. There’s just so much expression in such an angry little guy! I had so much fun trying to draw each and every spike that I drew him several times and even made prints to share his anger. It turned out I actually enjoyed telling people all about him and sharing what I’d learnt about hedgehogs along the way.

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Ten-minute Chat with Úna Woods

Una Woods – Photography by Ruth Medjber @ruthlessimagery

On Culture Night 2018, Úna Woods asked for a ten-minute slot with the O’Brien Press team at our Pitch Perfect event. Two years later, I asked Una for ten minutes of her time for a quick chat about her debut picture book, Have You Seen the Dublin Vampire?

How does it feel to have your first book published?

I have always dreamed of writing and illustrating my own picture book. To finally see it printed is so exciting. I can’t wait to see it in bookshops!

What made you sign up for Culture Night in 2018?

My Friend Paula Moen persuaded me to go along to the Culture Night pitching event, as I was always talking about writing and illustrating my own book. It was great to finally have the goal of pitching my book to somebody and it was such a great opportunity to meet a publisher face to face.

Tell us about your Culture Night Pitch Perfect experience.

I was so nervous when I knocked on the door, as I didn’t really know what to expect. I pitched my idea to Emma Byrne,  the Design Manager in O Brien Press. At this point I didn’t really have a full story, but I knew that my story was going to be based around a friendly Dublin Vampire. I brought along some sketches and I had done up some colour samples, so she could see what style I intended for the book. She really liked what I had brought along. It was so great to be able to show someone my ideas and chat to them face to face. I felt really lucky to have met Emma, as she mentioned she liked vampires too. And so the adventure of making my picture book began!

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Eoin Madden Returns… in Gaelic Spirit

The wonderful Gerard Siggins tells us about his return to the brilliant and popular Rugby Spirit series with his latest book, Gaelic Spirit.

Eoin Madden had a verrrrrry long rugby season. The previous summer was spent helping Ireland win the mini-World Cup in London, and without much break he had a busy winter solving the mystery of the stolen World Cup and saving Lansdowne Road from disaster. To cap it all, he was flown off to New Zealand to play for the Lion Cubs…

So you might think he would need a rest?

That’s just not Eoin’s way!

No, our hero gets home to his parents in Co Tipperary and throws himself into action with his local GAA club, Ormondstown Gaels.

Gaelic and hurling were Eoin’s original passions but he had to lay them aside when he went to boarding school in Dublin. His rugby successes have been chronicled in the Rugby Spirit series but his return to his first love kicks off a new run of Eoin Madden adventures.

In Gaelic Spirit, Eoin gets up to his usual range of mischief, attracting trouble and solving mysteries. He also has some encounters with ghosts of long-dead sporting heroes and rediscovers his talent as a footballer and hurler. I love the idea of what sports coaches call ‘transferrable skills’ and how Eoin brings things he has learnt in rugby into Gaelic football. His skill as a hurler might make him a decent cricketer some day!

In a heart-stopping climax to Gaelic Spirit he visits Croke Park for the All-Ireland final and is shocked to watch the terrible events that happened there exactly one hundred years ago as if he had been there.

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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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10 Minutes Chat with Megan Wynne

At Culture Night 2017, Megan Wynne asked for a 10 minute slot with the O’Brien Press team at our Pitch Perfect event. Two years later, I asked Megan for 10 minutes of her time for a quick chat about her forthcoming debut novel. The House on Hawthorn road is a wonderful story about two children, from different centuries who time travel through the walls of a magical house in Dublin. Here’s what Megan had to say about her Culture Night experience and her new book – in 10 minutes. 

What made you sign up for Culture Night 2017?

I signed up for Culture Night because I thought it would be fun. Also, I had recently done a workshop on ‘Pitching the Novel’ with Richard Skinner (from Faber & Faber Academy) at Listowel Writers’ Week. I had my fifty word pitch ready to send in, so I felt like it was worth a shot.

How did it feel to pitch your book directly to the O’Brien Press team?

I loved pitching my book directly to the O’Brien Press team. Kunak and Aoife listened attentively and asked really insightful questions. It was a pleasure to speak about my characters with people who understand children’s fiction and know the market so well.

Describe your Culture Night experience in five words.

Unexpectedly exciting, fun and successful!

What is the number one piece of advice you tell your Creative Writing students?

Write what excites you, and to forget about whether anyone else might like it (including parents or teachers).

What inspired you to write The House on Hawthorn Road?

I was inspired to write The House on Hawthorn Road by an extraordinary coincidence that happened when I asked my very first creative writing student for her address. I wanted to send her a Christmas card. When she told me I nearly dropped the phone. She was living in the very house that my father grew up in. I had visited my grandparents in that house when I was a child. Her mother heard this and kindly invited me over for afternoon tea. When they moved in they had built an extension onto the back of the house and while I was sitting in their new kitchen, the idea came to me: what if the extension had caused cracks in the walls that allowed Beth (my student) to travel back in time to when my Dad lived there with his brother Robin. I became very excited by this idea, as my Uncle Robin was an outrageous character and I knew he’d be brilliant in a novel. I loved the idea of the two families getting squashed together in the same time zone.

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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