16 Lives – So Far So Good.

16Lives Co-Editor Lorcan Collins talks about reaching the halfway point in this groundbreaking series.

Throughout my life, I have tried to maintain an optimistic view of everything. I’ve always been a fan of the guy who falls out the window of the top floor of a skyscraper and, as he hurtles towards the ground, he keeps saying to himself “so far, so good.” The past few years have been a little like a free-fall and the ground is 2016, the Centenary of the Easter Rising.

As co-editor of the 16 Lives series with my esteemed colleague Ruan O’Donnell, it has been our responsibility to ensure that each volume in the collection is accurate and that there is consistency between all the books. It is incumbent upon us to carefully read each book a couple of times and make any suggestions where necessary. There are “in-house” editors but I guess we act as supplementary eyes looking to catch something. In addition, one of my tasks is to gather images for each book, make sure they are not repeated in the series and to ensure that they are properly captioned.  On average, so far, there have been four books published each year – so it seems that once one book is ready, just as you exhale, in comes another one! But it’s wonderful, exciting and really great to be immersed in something that I’m interested in.

It is imperative in the 16 Lives series that each book should be accessible to everyone. That’s not to say that each one should be the exact same style but the general hope is that each book will be, above all, entertaining and readable. There are far too many books being written on Irish history and in fact on World history which seem to want to make history boring, unreachable and incomprehensible. History is not just for crusty old farts sitting in dusty rooms smelling of rotting hardbacks. History is for everyone, it is alive, it’s about people like us, what they did, what they saw, how they lived and how they died. We all make history everyday, some in a small way and others in extraordinary ways. Often the most benign event can be the most interesting. How wonderful to discover that James Connolly enjoyed sledge riding with his family for a time in New York or that Joseph Plunkett often went roller skating in the Rotunda Rink. These kind of stories serve to humanise the revolutionaries of 1916 and help to prove that they were just regular people who were brave enough to step over the line to create change. They had wives and children, they had jobs, homes and security yet they were willing to risk it all and indeed, paid the ultimate price.

The importance of the intricacies and machinations behind the planning of the Rising is also of great importance in the series. When all the books are done there will be a complete picture of the role everyone played in the build up to Easter Week. Whether it’s the role that Seán Heuston played in developing Na Fianna, Seán MacDiarmada’s organizational skills in the IRB or Connolly’s working class hero’s the Irish Citizen Army – each and everyone had a significant role.

Myself and Ruan O’Donnell spoke at a 16 Lives evening in New York’s American Irish Historical Association in October last year. A question came from the floor as to why all the books were about men. As gently as possible I explained that the idea was to record the lives of the 16 people who were executed in 1916 and that they just happened to all be men. This was an insufficient answer apparently and seemed to annoy the questioner who insisted that a few women should have been included in the series. I explained that if we were writing a series of books on the Presidents of the USA that they would (unfortunately) be all men! However, I did explain that women would feature in all the books and that the women’s role in 1916 and afterwards was well documented. We have, after all, two commandant’s in 1916 who were women. Second in command in Stephen’s Green was Countess Markievicz and when Seán Connolly and Seán O’Reilly were killed in action in City Hall it was the respected figure of Dr. Kathleen Lynn who took over command of that garrison. Another feature that seems to stand out in the series is the strength of the women who stood beside the revolutionaries. Helen Litton who penned the wonderful biography of Edward Daly also wrote the book on Tom Clarke. She shows throughout the book the huge role that his wife Kathleen plays in the build up to the Rising and in the aftermath. Honor O’Brolchain traces the role Grace Gifford played in the life of Joseph Plunkett and a reading of the James Connolly book will enlighten the reader on the strong character of his wife Lillie and the support he received from his radical daughter Nora.

When we announced the series so many years ago, many people approached me and said there would not be enough information on some of the lesser know characters such as Con Colbert or Michael O’Hanrahan. Well, John Gibney’s excellent work on Seán Heuston and the inspiring work and research carried out by Brian Hughes on Michael Mallin have both proven that there is a wealth of biographical material to be plundered. The important thing is that it has to be done now. We are in the third generation…that is to say it was our grandparents who were around in 1916…if we did not undertake this series now the task would be even greater if it were left to the next generation. And yet if it had been done in the previous generation I don’t think it would have been ideal. I think people were too close to it all then and were often over romantic and disinclined to be critical where necessary.

With the release of Angus Mitchell’s authoritative account of Roger Casement in November 2013 we reached six books in total. Now in March 2014 with the release of Thomas Clarke by Helen Litton and Seán MacDiarmada by Brian Feeney the half-way point has been reached. There is a certain serendipity about these great friends, Clarke and MacDiaramada being released at the same time. I’d like to say it was planned but truthfully it just happened that way. That’s a total of eight books between March 2012 (when the first three volumes were released) and March 2014. With the continued hard work of the internal editors Mary Webb, Susan Holden, Ide ní Laoghaire and Helen Carr (who have become experts on 1916 themselves) alongside the research and writing that the final eight authors are undertaking and with the continued support of Michael and Ivan O’Brien who metaphorically risked leaping out the window of a skyscraper for this series it looks like a case of “so far, so good” as the “concrete pavement” of 2016 comes hurtling towards us!

LORCAN COLLINS co-author, with Conor Kostick, of The Easter Rising: A Guide to Dublin in 1916; founder of the 1916 Walking Tour of Dublin; lectures on Easter 1916 in the United States, and a regular contributor to radio, television and historical journals. 16 Lives is Lorcan’s concept and he is the author of the first book in the series, a biography of James Connolly.

                                                          16Lives Titles Currently Available

 

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A War Story

Best-selling author Nicola Pierce, talks about her time researching and writing City of Fate.

I am addicted to reading and have spent a lot of money on my book-buying habit, one book always leading on to another. For years, I limited myself to fiction until somewhere along the way, I began to buy and read books about writers: biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, essays, diaries and letters. At one point, I bought a second-hand book about the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, Anna of all the Russias by Elaine Feinstein. As much as I’d like to admit to a deep appreciation for poetry, it just wouldn’t be true. However, I love to read about poets and their writing, even if I don’t ‘get’ their work.

Halfway through the biography, it struck me that I was revelling in reading about Russia. I was unaware of what the Russians had endured, before, during and after World War II. I’d no idea Stalin behaved as he did, killing more of his own people than anyone else.

Next I discovered A Writer’s War, a biography about Russian journalist and writer Vasily Grossman. This book not only introduced me to Grossman but also to the British historian, Anthony Beevoir, who wrote it. Grossman joined the Red Army to behold the fight against the invading Germans. This is where I first read about the Battle of Stalingrad. After finishing this biography, I read Grossman’s novel, Life and Fate about the battle and civilian life under Stalin. Inevitably, I bought Beevoir’s best-selling Stalingrad and by this stage was hooked on history and war. My library was expanding, as any decent library should.

There were two stories in Beevoir’s book that jumped out at me. Firstly, how a Russian teacher was ordered by the NKVD to enrol his class of thirty sixteen-year-old boys in the army to fight at Stalingrad. By the time he reached the registry office, half the class had vanished. Beevoir could not confirm the teacher’s fate but thought it highly probable that the man paid for this ‘infraction’ with his life. The second story concerned a massacre of a small Jewish village in rural Russia. The parents were shot first and then, following some debate, so were the children, aged seven right down to toddlers … even babies. This second story also appeared in William Craig’s book, Enemy at the Gates (much, much better than the film) and in a documentary I watched on The History Channel. It’s not the sort of thing one can easily forget. I’d absolutely no idea how I would incorporate it into a children’s novel but I was determined to include it somehow, though even now I can’t explain why. Perhaps I will be criticised for this because, well, I won’t make it too easy! In any case, it’s just a small mention but I stand by it.

From the very beginning, I had two boys in mind. I didn’t know who they were but they kept turning up in my mind’s eye, walking through the ruined streets of Stalingrad, mostly oblivious to the two warring armies around them.

I wanted the story of the teacher and the fifteen pupils who stood by him. What is it like to be a schoolboy one minute and then an inexperienced soldier in the midst of a deadly battle? I tried to imagine the fear and confusion, especially when it came to actually having to kill another human being who was trying to kill you.

The story grew thanks to the characters. I don’t plan my books and generally have little or no idea what I will write, from day to day. This can be quite scary but I can’t seem to break the habit.

All I knew was that I wanted to include as much fact as I could, as I did in Spirit of the Titanic. Also, I wanted to show that there could still be beauty in wartime, whether it’s a solo rendition of Beethoven or a charcoal drawing of Mary and baby Jesus. Art might not change your life in such situations but it can help, even momentarily, to lift your spirits.

I wanted to explore what motivates a person to fight and keep fighting when all seems lost. I think I managed to work it out: I think it’s about the importance of “home”.

Just before City of Fate went to the printers, I unexpectedly received the new sixth edition of Spirit of the Titanic. I am writing this essay a month before City of Fate reaches the book shelves and – there’s no denying it – I am nervous. Recent sleepless nights have been spent trying to distract myself from visions of readers finishing the new book and finding it inferior to my Titanic story.

However, I have to remind myself that no matter what the reception is or what anyone else says about City of Fate, I did it. I wrote a second novel. And it’s a book that I would like to read.

I simply have to accept that I have no control over what happens next!

Nicola Pierce

City of Fate is now available at www.obrien.ie and most good bookshops.

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A Taste of McGuinness

Writer and O’Brien Press Sales Administrator, Jamie O’Connell, writes about his experiences at University College Dublin under the tutelage of Frank McGuinness and how it impacted his reading of Arimathea.

In late January 2009, I sat in Room 207 of the Newman Building in University College Dublin. It’d been a particularly cold winter, but this cold Monday morning was an exciting one. It was my first class with Frank McGuinness, as part of my MA in Creative Writing.

I’d heard of Frank McGuinness many times before this first meeting. His plays, like Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme and The Factory Girls, have left their mark both within Ireland and internationally. And when Frank did appear, his passion for writing was immediately evident. The books he enjoyed, he examined with zeal.

We studied Albert Camus’s The Fall in great detail. At the time, I remember finding the book a difficult read and the assigned reading each week was put on the long finger by me, generally until 11pm the night before class. However, in the years that have followed, as various events happened in my life, wisdom from that book, words and quotes, have spontaneously come into my thoughts, making life more understandable. It has given me ‘new eyes’ – something that Marcel Proust described as the fundamental role of fiction. I am grateful that Frank challenged my classmates and me to read it.

Last September, I returned to University College Dublin to complete an MFA in Creative Writing. Frank teaches a seminar on this course too; this time we studied the work of Jane Austen, notably Emma. Throughout our seven seminars, Frank’s love of Austen’s prose, her creation of the small town of Highbury with all its intrigues and dangers, has been an eye opener. His examination of the inner lives of Austen’s protagonists and the dangers lurking in this community, has rekindled my love of this eighteenth century novelist. Those who attended Sean Rocks’ interview with Frank at the Dublin Book Festival on 14 November heard him likewise speak passionately about Austen’s writing (the full interview is available on the RTE Player).

Over the last year, I have encountered Frank and his work through a different avenue again: The O’Brien Press’s publication of his debut novel Arimathea. Nominated for Book of the Year at the The Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards 2013, the novel has lived up to anticipation. Reviews in The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement and The Irish Times have all been stellar.

Amongst all this, I’ve read the novel. The two semesters with Frank, studying Emma and The Fall, has given me a view of the novel different than most. In the social snobberies, the secret worlds, the intrigues of the Donegal town in Arimathea, I found myself thinking of Austen’s Highbury, with all its social complexities. Rural life is not as simple as impressions would appear. Both Austen and Frank have clear tight prose that drives the novel forward. One glides over the well-crafted sentences. There is nothing sluggish in either.

However, in Arimathea, elements of The Fall also appear. In each character’s monologue truths appear which don’t always show humanity in a favourable light. Yet, there is a departure from The Fall at this point; in the conclusion of Arimathea, humanity is offered a sort of redemption. An act of kindness occurs and the reason for the choice of ‘Arimathea’ as the title becomes evident.

The Sunday Business Post summed it up well: ‘a beautifully bleak first novel’. Humour mixes with pathos, as The Irish Examiner wrote: ‘deeply funny about the absurdities of human behaviour’. Both as a student of Frank’s and as an avid reader, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Arimathea is now available at www.obrien.ie and most good bookshops.

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Christmas Reading

Happy Christmas from OBP!

So it’s that time of year when we’re all planning on settling down for a long winter’s nap or rather a long holiday with lots of books by a warm fire! This time of year always seems tinged with nostalgia and having just published a collection of fairy tales by Oscar Wilde (Stories for Children), here at OBP we’ve been thinking about our childhood memories of reading and our favourite stories at Christmas …

 

OscarWildeStoriesforChildren

Jamie O’Connell, sales administrator:

“Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words!”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1943

I was the kind of child that read everything I could lay my hands on: the cereal boxes while eating breakfast, the shampoo bottle’s promises of glossy hair while having a bath, the labels on the cleaning products under the sink; the RTE Guide on the sofa; my mother’s Hello! magazine stuffed down the side of the couch.

Each week, my grandparents took my sisters and I to Fermoy and stuff us full of sweets: Refreshers, Stingers, Desperate Dans, and Sherbit Dips. This trip would always include a trip to the library. Roald Dahl’s books were a firm favourite, as were Enid Blyton’s. Later on, my appetite for Point Horrors was insatiable. Often, I’d have one of my six library books read before my grandparent’s Morris Minor pulled up outside our bungalow in Ballydeague.

However, though I loved contemporary authors, I had a great love of legends, myths and fairy tales also. Irish legends were a particular favourite, as were the tales of Hans Christian Andersen, notably the story of The Wild Swans and the poor sister who’s hands got stung as she sewed jumpers made out of nettles. The Wild Swans, like most of those fairy tales, had dark elements. Protagonists were not guaranteed to survive the stories unscathed. But this made the stories all the more thrilling, even if took a little longer to get to sleep at night!

Five years ago, I had the good fortune to study ‘Archive of the Imagination’ under the tutelage of Dr Éilís Ní Dhuibhne in Unversity College Dublin as part of my MA in Creative Writing. The module involved the examination of fairy tales, raising the question, why have they have survived over the millennia? It’s often theorised that they remain because they are not simply ‘stories for kids’, rather they tap into our unconscious on a deep level, challenging our fears and expectations of life. In fact, many of the great children’s fiction of the last one hundred years draws on these fairy tales, be it the tales of J. K. Rowling or Roald Dahl, where heroes and heroines are forced to face darkness and cruelty in a very real way.

This autumn I’ve had the chance to dip back into the fairy tales of my childhood as we published a new illustrated version of Stories for Children by Oscar Wilde. Like the Hans Christian Andersen tales, they contain all the bleakness and magic that I remember from the days when I ate sticky Refresher bars and read books in the back of my grandparent’s Morris Minor (while they warned me that I’d be as ‘sick as a dog’ from reading in a moving car).

Last September, I visited my eldest sister’s home and was woken up at dawn by my six and four-year-old nephews. As I made them breakfast, I watched my nephews fight over who could read the cereal boxes, proof that nothing changes. It makes me confident that the fairy tales that I once read and loved, and millenniums of children did before me, will find an audience in a whole new generation.

Helen Carr, Editor:

As a child I was an avid reader. Books always featured on my Christmas list, and I was delighted to unwrap books (alongside other less erudite, but equally memorable, presents like a large plastic unicorn we called ‘Mighty One’, ‘Cluedo’, My Little Pony, an ‘Irish’ Care Bear, ‘Operation!’ and other beloved toys of the 1980s). In truth, I remember my first introduction to some of my favourite childhood authors being connected to hospital visits rather than Christmas – a big haul of second-hand books bought for me when going in to hospital for an eye operation, aged six, included Elinor M. Brent Dyer’s The School at the Chalet and Noel Streatfeild’s White Boots and began a long relationship with both authors’ books. I discovered Antonia Forest, Meindert de Jong, Philippa Pearce and Nina Bawden in my classroom library at school, while my local library had lots of L.M. Montgomerys and Laura Ingalls Wilders.

Some authors, though, are really linked to Christmas in my mind – one Christmas when I was about nine or ten I got ‘A Box of Enchantment’ by Nina Beachcroft for Christmas. It might have been the novelty of the box, and the four books sitting so tidily inside it, that made me remember it so well, but I think it was also the stories – I’d never read Nina Beachcroft before then, and there was a real – and quite frightening – magic to her stories. Set in England in the eighties, they were about ordinary children stumbling into magical situations. Even today, I remember her description of the heavy air and oppressive silence in an English forest as the children find themselves transported back in time in Under the Enchanter. Another author who always seemed connected to Christmas is J.R.R. Tolkien. I can’t remember when I first read his books. I borrowed The Lord of the Rings from an older friend when I was in primary school, and read The Hobbit after, but it wasn’t until I was ten or eleven that I really grew to love Middle Earth, but from then until almost the end of secondary school my dad bought me a Tolkien calendar for Christmas every year.

Ironically, some of the books that I loved to re-read around Christmas as a child were about an American-Jewish family – Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family series. These stories about a big, New-York-Jewish family in the early part of the twentieth century really captured my imagination with their stories of apartment buildings and trips to the soda fountain and the big public library. Even though they were celebrating Hanukkah rather than Christmas, the descriptions of their big family celebration dinners always made me feel particularly festive. I used to reread The Snow Queen and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe quite often too – though as my sister recently reminded me, I only really liked the snowy section at the beginning of the book, with Mr Tumnus, and the iconic streetlight in the snow illustration; I never liked Aslan, and enjoyed the book less once he came on the scene.

By the time I was fifteen, I was godmother to my youngest cousin, and I continued the tradition of books as presents with her. Happily, her childhood and teenage birthdays often coincided with the release of a new Harry Potter book – the age gap between us melted away as we both read them for the first time and compared theories of what might happen next.  I now have a twenty-month old niece and a one-year-old nephew, and they’ll both be receiving books (among other things!) this Christmas. (I don’t want to spoil their surprises, but Chris Judge and Dick Bruna will be featuring). Long may the Christmas-book tradition continue!

Jamie O’Connell is sales administrator at The O’Brien Press and Committee Member of Dublin Book Festival. He is the author of a short story collection, Some Sort of Beauty (Bradshaw Books, 2012). He was awarded an Artist’s Bursary from Dublin City Council in June 2013 and completing an MFA in University College Dublin. More information can be found on www.jamieoconnellwriter.com

Helen Carr is an editor at The O’Brien Press and children’s books enthusiast.

Stories for Children by Oscar Wilde is available now in all good bookshops and at www.obrien.ie

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Confessions of an O’Brien Press Intern

Intern

 

Last week our wonderful intern Catherine finished up her five month internship with us. Here she writes about her experiences …

 

The word ‘intern’ often comes with more than a few negative connotations. And, after hearing some of the internship horror stories from America, many friends automatically questioned my sanity when I told them what I had voluntarily put myself forward for. Not only would I be getting to grips with my new job as a publishing intern, but being in my final year of college, I would have mountains of reading material and essay deadlines looming at every corner. I can see now why most thought I was absolutely mad!

However, after nearly five months working as a marketing intern for The O’Brien Press and although I will willingly admit that it was tough, I have absolute no regrets about my decision. From day one, it was obvious just how rewarding the experience of working here would be. Once introduced to all the staff, I was warmly encouraged to ask questions about the job I would be taking on, the department I would be working with and about the publishing industry as a whole. I was always invited into the different meetings, whether they related to editorial, production or sales, which gave me such a wide perspective on what the different roles in publishing actually are. I found the production meetings particularly fascinating. You never realise how much thought goes into the minute details that essentially create the books in front of you.

My day to day job usually involved a variety of tasks as well as long term projects that included everything from designing invitations for book launches to researching blogs, preparing mail-outs and organising author events. As part of the marketing team, my job was to do what I could to make sure the widest possible audience was aware of the new up and coming publications. Although that seemed pretty straightforward at the beginning, I was surprised at how flexible and creative the job really demands you to be. The marketing officers, Clare and Ruth, were constantly bouncing ideas off each other about their many on going and future projects. They treated each book in a uniquely specific way, changing small details to suit each particular publication. It made the learning process a lot easier (as I could actually listen in to all their good ideas!) but also really interesting as each different project really came alive. It made the atmosphere in the office really enjoyable as well since there was rarely a quiet moment!

A definite highlight of my time here was an event that took place in the National Gallery where The O’Brien Press celebrated the launch of Brandon, now an imprint of The O’Brien Press, in conjunction with the launch of two new books. It was fascinating to be at an event that was attended by so many influential people from the publishing industry, although admittedly, a little over-whelming as I’m woeful at names and could barely remember who was who. Nonetheless though, the experience was so motivating. It made me realise just how much I wanted to stay involved in this industry. Looking back on my time with The O’Brien Press, I can definitely appreciate just how worthwhile the experience of working here was, not only in terms of discovering the industry’s different roles but exploring which of these I would be best suited to. I’ve learnt as much about myself, my work ethic and what I want for the future as I have about the industry and that is what has really made this experience a rewarding one.

For now however, all I need is to finish my college year, pass my exams and then begin my search for the dream job every publishing intern dreams of!

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What did the Normans do for Ireland?

StrongbowThis is the question that Conor Kostick aims to answer in his new book Strongbow – The Norman Invasion of Ireland. Here he talks about the book’s journey to publication.

 

In a way, this book on Strongbow has been a lifetime in the making. I grew up in Chester, a town in the UK that in medieval times had a very strong connection to Dublin. My dad was a tour guide in Chester and being from Dublin, really explored that connection in depth. Our house had three or four shelves of academic books about the medieval period. And as kids, my brother Gavin and I would love to play in the ruins of the castles we were taken to on outings.

My raw enthusiasm for the subject was channeled in a more scholarly direction by my attending Trinity College Dublin as an undergraduate and a postgraduate in Medieval history. TCD had – and despite suffering from the impact of austerity policies, to a large extent still has – a real concentration of expertise in the period (Strongbow came to Ireland in 1170).  I’m thinking of Katharine Simms, Terry Barry and Sean Duffy in particular, but also I.S. Robinson, who helped me considerably with my reading of Gerald of Wales, our main source for these events.

The book took solid form thanks to a remarkable stroke of luck. In the summer of 2010 I was writer-in-residence at Farmleigh, for my fiction writing. But there Julia Cummins, the librarian, knowing my interest in medieval history, showed me a Latin manuscript, a copy of the Topographia Hibernica by Gerald of Wales. Feeling like a character in a Dan Brown novel, I examined the document with growing excitement. It turned out that this was a version of the Topographia unknown to modern scholarship, due to the fact it ‘disappeared’ from view in 1969, into the private collection of Benjamin Guinness.

Marsh’s Library, which assumed responsibility for the Farmleigh Library in 2009, awarded me a fellowship in 2011 to work on the manuscript and this was really useful for getting to grips with Gerald of Wales.

Having said all this, I don’t want to give the impression that Strongbow is a book written for academics. It isn’t. Here, I’m writing for everyone interested in the story of Strongbow’s involvement in Irish affairs and while my narrative relates to the information we have from historical and archaeological sources, I didn’t want to fill the text with endless qualifications and justifications. For those who want that extra depth, I make suggestions for further reading in an afterword.

With Strongbow, I was trying to write the kind of history I love to read when I’m not seeking a specialist piece of research. I’ve tried to do justice to the passions and violence of the era and the qualities of the main personalities. In particular, I read Diarmait Mac Murchada’s feud with Tigernán Ua Ruairc of Bréifne as being so bitter that Mac Murchada is a kind of Captain Ahab figure, willing to set aside all the usual norms of the Irish aristocracy in pursuit of vengeance.

One last point worth stating is that the book does not take the usual view that the arrival of Strongbow’s army represented a clash of two rival ethnicities, the Saxon and the Celt, not least because Strongbow’s knights saw themselves as ‘Franks’ and spoke a variant of Norman French. Rather, Strongbow deals with what lay beneath the personal dramas, the clash of two differing social systems.

 

Strongbow – The Norman Invasion of Ireland by Conor Kostick is out now

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Interview with New Children’s Author Erika McGann

TheBrokenSpell

Erika McGann is an exciting new talent in Irish children’s books and we were delighted to publish her spooky debut The Demon Notebook last year. Readers will be thrilled to know that the fantastic sequel The Broken Spell is out now!

Here is Erika’s interview with a great new children’s books website Gobblefunked.com whose co-founder is an ex-OBPer!

 

We are very excited to introduce our very first interviewee, debut author Erika McGann. Her debut novel, The Demon Notebook, is a funny, entertaining and spooky adventure that 12+ girls will love. She sat down with Gobblefunked to tell us all about life as a writer.

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1)    Why did you want to become a children’s author?

I loved writing when I was a kid, but never really kept it up after school. It wasn’t until my late twenties that I thought of giving it another go. I wanted to write something I’d really enjoy and, even though I’m a sophisticated grown-up now, supernatural stuff in school still sounded like the most fun.

2)    Tell us about your writing process/habits?

I’m not terribly disciplined, but I do try to have the whole story and major scenes planned out before I start writing anything. I’ve got the memory span of a fruit fly so, if I don’t scribble out a timeline first, I’m likely to wander off on a tangent and change the story entirely. I keep my messy, barely readable timeline by my laptop as a constant reminder. I still wander off sometimes, but I’m working on it.

3)    What was your favourite book as a child?

When I was very young I adored Roald Dahl, and I think The BFG was my favourite. A few years later, though, I got stuck into the Point Horror series. They were kind of scary, predictable, and published by the dozen; the literary equivalent of buttered popcorn. I couldn’t get enough of them.

4)    What’s your favourite part of being a published author?

Having friends and family recognize characters or events, and asking ‘Is that supposed to be me?’ I lie a lot, and say ‘no’.

5)    What authors do you admire today?

I’m a big fan of The Hunger Games trilogy, so Suzanne Collins would definitely be one. I love the dystopian / sci-fi thing, but I’m also a sucker for the romantic classics. I’ll never tire of re-reading Jane Austen. I think I know Persuasion by heart at this stage.

6)    What’s next for you? Have you any books lined up?

I do. I’m very excited about the sequel to The Demon Notebook, which is coming out in August. It’s called The Broken Spell, and I’m working on the edits at the moment. I can’t wait to have both books sitting together on my shelf at home!

7)    Will you be doing anything to celebrate World Book Day?

I’ve got a number of events lined up with school classes in bookshops all around Dublin. I was terrified of doing them when I started back in October, but the kids aren’t nearly as scary as I thought they’d be! They get so enthusiastic about reading and writing, and I have a great time doing the events now.

Erika McGann grew up in Drogheda and now lives in Dublin, Ireland. She has a respectable job, very normal friends and rarely dabbles in witchcraft. She loves writing stories that are autobiographical. Sort of.

TheDemonNotebook

Check out Gobblefunked.com for lots of reviews and news on children’s books and for more information about Erika’s books visit www.obrien.ie


 

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Guest Post: Entertaining Made Easy with Edward Hayden!

FoodtoLove-pb                   FoodForFriends

More and more when it comes to all the big occasions in a family, be it a christening, first Holy Communion, Confirmation, special birthday or anniversary, people are choosing to entertain at home. With this in mind I have devised some really simple, stress free recipes to help people when planning the culinary aspects of the occasion.

On April 26th in the Springhill Court Hotel Kilkenny I launched my third cookery book, Food for Friends which was published by The O’Brien Press. When I set about planning this book, I thought long and hard about a different style format and themes to focus on to separate it and set it apart from other books in this genre. My first book, and indeed my company is called Edward Entertains so I wanted to keep this book very much focused on entertaining, but entertaining of a different kind. Sometimes when we think of entertaining we think of it in a much stylised way with polished silverware, cut glass crystal and starched linen. What I wanted to demonstrate in Food for Friends is that entertaining can be simple and still very stylish so I picked a series of different occasions where people would be entertaining family and friends and then planned some recipes around them.

I think that when people are having friends and family around they want to do the same as I do when I am entertaining and that is cook simple and tasty food which will impress the diners!

We had a wonderful night at the launch of Food for Friends with well over 500 people in attendance and I’m delighted to say that so far the book is doing very well and has already enjoyed a number of weeks in the top 10 Irish bestsellers list!

So these are my recommendations for your upcoming family gatherings – keep things simple, be prepared and relax and entertain with a little help from Food For Friends.

Happy Cooking!

Edward

For more information about Edward log onto www.edwardentertains.com or follow him on Twitter @EdwardHayden and to find out more about Food for Friends and Food to Love visit www.obrien.ie!

EdwardHaydenBookLaunch-1

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Learning to Love ‘Ulysses’ – An Editor’s View

UlyssesJamie 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 more information on the Dublin Illustrated Edition of Ulysses click here.

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Our take on ‘Dubliners’ by James Joyce

DublinersOur wonderful designer Emma Byrne gives her thoughts on designing the jacket for our new edition of Dubliners by James Joyce, which was published last year as part of Dublin One City One Book 2012.

 

When something like Dubliners by James Joyce comes across your desk for a new jacket and design concept, it really deserves a little more attention. How do you represent the visual shell of one of the most famous books in the English language? Indeed.

All of life is here in this collection of fifteen short stories. The characters of these stories, these ordinary Dubliners lives, loves, triumphs and failures are observed with a sharpness and empathy that few writers have ever achieved.

Father Flynn in The Sisters, Jimmy Doyle trying to better himself and failing in After the Race, these, for me, were just two ‘windows’ on these Dubliners’ lives that convinced me that using the ‘window’ as a metaphor might be the approach to take. The stories centre on Joyce’s idea of an epiphany: a moment where a character has a special moment of self-understanding or illumination. The initial stories in the collection are narrated by children as protagonists and, as the stories continue, they deal with the lives and concerns of progressively older people. This is in line with Joyce’s tripartite division of the collection into childhood, adolescence and maturity.

There I had my two design elements:

1.The tripartite division of the collection of short stories into childhood, adolescence and maturity. This is achieved by splitting the word ‘Dubliners’ in three. Also within the book three photographs break up the main body of text.

2. A ‘window’ looking onto Dublin of the period hidden behind the letters. As the stories look deeply at their characters, the image used is College Green in 1914.

What did you think of our cover?

For more information on Dubliners click here.

Throughout the month of June receive a 20% discount on all our James Joyce books when you buy online at www.obrien.ie!

Happy Bloomsday!

 

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