What It’s Like To Finish A Trilogy

Matt Griffin, author of The Ayla Trilogy, chats about his experience of writing a trilogy: the inspiration, the method and his three central thoughts!

Ayla’s adventure was always envisioned as a trilogy. The sacrosanct Three Acts; beginning, middle and end; the ‘monomyth’ of the hero’s journey. Three books in which to take a character from normality to abnormality and back again, nicely tied off at the end, with everything as it should be.

But I wanted to put my own stamp on that, the same way I wanted to filter the mysticism of ancient Ireland through my own (somewhat macabre) imagination. So my first thought was:

I’m going to start with my hero already in trouble.

So on the very first page of the first book, Ayla (our hero) is trapped underground, far from home (very, very far – not in terms of distance, but in terms of time) and she has no idea how she got there. She will have to work it out herself, and while she does that, the reader does too. You will learn about the how and why just as she does, and her three best friends do too. Which brings me to my second thought:

 I want this whole thing to be about loyalty. 

The bonds of loyalty between a person and their friends and family is something I consider myself well-versed in, being blessed as I am with abundance of both. And so I wanted to see what happens to the bonds between friends when those friends are placed in lethal levels of danger, in an environment that has no relation to what they think of as reality. And what happens to the bonds of family when you realise that they are not who they say they are. Or worse, they are behaving unlike themselves – in a very unsettling way. With these ties tested under severe stress, the characters learn about themselves, and surprise themselves (and hopefully the reader) with what they are capable of. When the world you know is swiped from under your feet, and you are faced with an 80-foot ogre who wants to eat you, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your true nature comes to the surface.

My final thought was:

I do not want to tie this off neatly at the end.

Ok, the whole thing was not just based on three thoughts. There was a lot more I wanted to explore thematically – like what happens when fantasy meets reality head-on, and is ‘magic’ necessarily super- or preternatural (maybe our mundane reality is magic. I certainly like to think so). But sticking to the tidy three-acts trope, my last major consideration was that everything would not go back to normal at the end of the adventure. No story ends with everything as it was at the start –  – characters have to undergo change. Ending a story with a ‘their-lives-will-never-be-the-same-again’ sunset is hardly a first – I’m not claiming otherwise. But it was important to me that when you finish this trilogy you, the reader, might find yourself imagining what happens next, and wonder: do they all really live happily ever after? I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice to say the characters are equipped for more adventure.

And so that brings me to the question I was meant to address at the start: what is it like to finish it?

Before I wrote books, I admit I used to cringe slightly at authors who referred to their characters as if they were real people. How misguided I was. When you start to create these characters, they are just that: characters. They have names, some personality traits, a bit of family background. And then you throw these barely-known characters into the wringer of high adventure and they become people. You actually get to know them as you write. That may sound slightly cheesy, but it’s true. And I bet if you read a story where the writer didn’t believe his characters were real people, you didn’t like it. If the writer doesn’t believe them, why would they expect anyone else to? As the story unfolds while you write, the cast of your story reacts just as they should because you believe in them. And, I don’t mind telling you, you love them. And I don’t mind telling you more: as I wrote the last lines of The Ayla Trilogy, I had tears rolling down my cheeks because I knew I was saying goodbye to them forever. Finishing their story was both happy (the sense of achievement) and sad (the sense of loss). Bittersweet, like releasing a bird you nurtured back to health over weeks and months with a blubbering cry of: ‘Fly! Be free!’; missing it terribly, but knowing you are doing the right thing.

Of course, the hope is that they are strong enough to live on in the imagination of the reader. And in that sense, they can go on indefinitely. That is a warming thought.

Now, it’s on to the next adventure, and new characters to write and love and let fly. But I will certainly never forget Ayla, Benvy, Sean and Finny. And I hope that if you (or a young reader belonging to you) loved them too, they’ll linger a while in that vast expansive imagination of yours.

 

 

Erika McGann on Forts, Childhood Rebellion, and the Legend of Farmer Hearty

Erika McGann, author of the Demon Notebook Series, chats to us about her new Cass and the Bubble Street Gang series. The Clubhouse Mystery is the first book in this new series!

The greatest fort I’ve ever seen was one I didn’t help to build. It was built by the big kids. And it was probably a crime.

Nicknamed ‘The Tunnel’, it was a huge crater dug in the middle of a field; the crater was covered by aluminium sheeting, which was covered by soil, which was covered by branches, leaves and grass. It was entirely underground and it was awesome.

I wasn’t allowed into the Tunnel. None of the small kids were. We had to watch enviously, hidden in the hedgerows, while the big kids crawled in and out through a narrow trapdoor on one side. I’d forgotten about that bit – it had a freakin’ trapdoor.

The forts me and my friends made (or acquired) were much less impressive, but I remember the kick we got out of naming a secret camp and vowing to stash a bin bag full of sweets there (to be bought with months of saved pocket money … if we could just get around to actually saving it). That seemed to be the main function of a secret fort – somewhere to stash the loot. A limitless supply of chocolate, crisps and penny sweets was the dream. For the sake of our local shopkeeper, it’s a good thing that never came true. Spending 30p could easily take twenty minutes or more of careful consideration at the sweet counter. Choosing a bagful would have taken weeks.

There were secret forts and camps dotted all over the fields that stretched beyond the housing estate where I lived, and they were made all the more exciting and dangerous by the legend of Farmer Hearty.

Farmer Hearty was a huge man who wore a flat cap and a tweed jacket, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, and a shotgun over one shoulder. At his heel followed a hound of horrible ferocity – it was, depending on who told the story, a cross between a Rottweiler, an Alsatian, a pit bull and a wolf.

I’d never seen Farmer Hearty – none of my friends had seen him either – but we had heard wild tales from the older kids about being chased across the fields, bullets whizzing past their ears, the Baskerville Hound snapping at their heels as they ran, and we knew to be afraid. Because, like any good cartoon villain, Farmer Hearty hated kids. And he would shoot any he caught trespassing on his lands.

I remember sunny days, playing by the stream, crossing by the log that didn’t quite make it all the way to the other side, when my blood would suddenly run cold at the sound of the word ‘Hearty!’ echoing through the trees. I could have outrun an Olympian then. Nothing powers sprinting legs like sheer terror.

And I must have run that fast because Farmer Hearty never got me. I never so much as caught a glimpse of that huge man’s towering shadow spilling over the waves of wheat as he gave chase.

In all the years I lived there, fleeing under electric fences, through holes in hedges, wading through waist-deep water, suffering scrapes and bruises and humiliating face-plants in shallow, muddy pools, I never once saw Farmer Hearty in the flesh. None of my friends ever saw him either. Throughout those summers, the big kids taught us a valuable lesson … and the meaning of the word gullible. Thank you, big kids.

All of this stuff has been coming back to me more and more as I write the Cass and the Bubble Street Gang books; a series about a group of friends with a secret club, a secret clubhouse, and a longing for adventure.

I can still feel that spark of excitement in my belly that Cass and her friends get as they make their covert plans for a hidden fortress. Me and my friends were obsessed with having something secret, something that was just our own. I guess that comes from being a kid, and everything about your life being someone else’s business all of the time. You want your own space, your own stuff, your own adventures. Maybe it’s the very beginning of growing up – your first little rebellion. And it is a little rebellion.

A secret fort is like your very own house, and in your house you’re the boss. You decide what time you go to bed (though you’ll never actually be there at night-time), you decide what you’re going to eat (which will be junk food for as long as your pocket money lasts, but let’s face it, you’re going to go home for dinner when you’re properly hungry), and you decide who comes in and who doesn’t (through the clever use of a password, changed fortnightly – a security system that’s totally unenforceable, and you all know it, but nobody says anything).

Cass, Lex and Nicholas are in the middle of their little rebellion. They risk climbing the fence into Mr McCall’s field, braving the snorting threats of angry bulls (never that scary in cartoons but terrifying in real life) and leaping over ditches into bramble-filled hedges just to find the perfect spot for their secret clubhouse. With the hidden hideout built and packed to the paddling pool roof with muffins and cookies, they go looking for adventure. It finds them first; something I lived in very great fear of as a child – a clubhouse intruder.

In the second book they move on to entrepreneurial adventures, determined to make millions through jumble sales, ghost tours and virtual holidays. That’s also inspired by my own childhood efforts, but it would take an entire other blog post to list all the money-making ideas that never made us a bean. The dream of the bottomless bag of chocolate, crisps and penny sweets remained forever beyond our reach.

I’ve lost the desire for it anyway. I am a fan of junk food, but a black plastic bag stashed in the corner seems ridiculous. And I haven’t built a fort in years, not even a temporary indoor one with chairs and cushions and blankets (and a mop for height; it was always a killer getting height). I have grown-up adventures instead. I’ve travelled a bit, I’ve had some quirky hobbies, I’ve been scuba diving and abseiling and white water rafting, and I once slept through a hurricane. But nothing’s ever quite matched the thrill of watching someone dig a big hole in the ground and cover it up with soil and twigs.

It felt like the Tunnel existed for months – an entire summer at least – but it probably only lasted a week or two. It was a foot that did it. One single careless foot that slipped between the sheets of aluminium and ploughed right through the roof of the tunnel below. I can remember one corner of aluminium sheeting poking skywards through the soil – the beginning of the end. The big kids hadn’t the motivation to fix it, and we hadn’t the know-how. The Tunnel collapsed like a bad soufflé, but what it lacked in structural integrity it more than made up for in wow factor. It is, ironically, cemented in my mind as the greatest fort that has ever been.

Erika McGann, April 2017

The Clubhouse Mystery is available here and in all good bookshops!

The O’Brien Press seeks Production Administrator

 

Ireland’s leading independent publisher is seeking an experienced book production administrator for a challenging and interesting position.

This is a full-time job. The job includes the following key roles: managing relationships with, and buying print from, a wide selection of international printers. Preparing files for print for all of our titles, approx. 150 per annum. Schedule management for these jobs. Strong working knowledge of InDesign, Photoshop and Acrobat are essential. The successful candidate will be highly organised and accurate, working well in a dynamic team environment.

CV and cover letter to jobs@obrien.ie by 20 March

 

Natasha Mac a’Bháird on the Star Club Series

With the publication of Starring Meg nearly upon us, Natasha Mac a’Bháird talks about her inspirations for the Star Club Series. Natasha chats about her narrators and how she finds herself becoming attached to them.

When I visit schools to talk about my books, they always want to know where I get my ideas. It’s a really tough one to answer. Ideas come from all sorts of places – something I’ve read, a conversation with someone – but they rarely have a clear form, more like something vague emerging from a fog that I try to grasp on to.

My new series, Star Club, is a bit easier to explain. I can trace the roots of this idea right back to when I was the same age as the four girls in the books. At twelve the thing I was most passionate about was reading (no change there then!), but a close second was drama. I loved everything about it from creating characters to dressing up to making up stories. Like the Star Club girls, I used to put on shows, roping in my sister and brothers and sometimes friends and neighbours too to act and sing and dance with me. Hannah’s brothers, Zach and Bobby, are loosely based on my own brothers – when we wanted them to be in one of our plays, my sister and I always had to make sure there was a sword fight in it, so we could send them off to practise that scene on their own when they were starting to lose interest (or getting in our way …)

The other part of my idea for this series was the concept of a club, with all the fun of making plans, arranging meetings and the excitement of keeping secrets. I especially liked the idea of a group of girls sharing their talents and working together to achieve a goal that means a lot to all of them. I was a big fan of the Babysitters Club books growing up, and those books helped inspire me too.

I started writing the first book with new girl Meg as the narrator, but after the first three chapters I got stuck. I left it for a while, not sure why it wasn’t working for me. When I went back to it a few months later and read over what I’d written, I realised I was trying to tell the story from the wrong point of view. It would work much better to have Hannah as the narrator, allowing me to describe her sense of intrigue with the mysterious Meg moving in next door. I started all over again, and with Hannah’s voice clear in my head I was soon flying along. The second book gave me the chance to bring the story on from Meg’s perspective, and to reveal the full extent of Meg’s secret past.

It’s very exciting seeing Hannah and Meg in print, side by side, with the amazing covers designed by Rachel Corcoran. The lovely thing about writing a series is not having to let go of characters I’ve come to know and love. I’m now writing the third book, which is Laura’s story. So I have a new voice in my head, full of Laura’s feistiness and overactive imagination, as I find out what these four girls get up to next.

Starring Meg is out 6th March.

Natasha Mac a’Bháird, March 2017

Starring Meg is available here and in all good bookshops!

Design Internship

The O’Brien Press, Dublin is seeking a paid graphic design intern for a busy, highly creative publishing environment, for a period of 3-4 months (probably April, May, June, and July – but this is negotiable).

Ireland’s leading independent publisher produces a huge range of books, from children’s picture books to biography and fiction for adults. The position will provide invaluable skills and experience in editorial design and other aspects of the publishing environment.
The applicant will work with and answer to the Design Manager in the editorial office for 3 days a week: 9 – 5.

Applicants must be proficient in Adobe CS, in particular InDesign and Photoshop, and have an interest in editorial design. Please send your CV along with samples of design work to Emma Byrne, Design Manager, The O’Brien Press, 12 Terenure Road East, Rathgar, Dublin 6 or emma@obrien.ie

Also see www.obrien.ie

Attachments over 10MB will not be considered

Closing date for applications March 31st  2017

Gerard Siggins on Rugby and Writing

Gerard Siggins chats about his love for rugby and his passion for books ahead of the publication of the fifth book in the Rugby Spirit series – Rugby Runner!

I never really intended to write for young readers. I had enough problems making older ones engage with my weekly column on that esoteric (for Ireland) sport of cricket. But a series of coincidences and chance meetings led me to write the Rugby Spirit series, the fifth of which has just been published.

I grew up – and still live – beside Lansdowne Road, a magical site soaked in the sweat of 100,000 sportsmen and women where the dramas and delights of sport have been played out for nearly a century and a half. As boys, we used it as a playground – in those pre-security guard days we had free run of the stadium and even got to kick and run on the holy turf of the main pitch.

I grew up and became a sports journalist, and found myself returning to Lansdowne Road for big games. Every visit was special, and always brought back memories of my own and of the deeds of the past.

When it was decided to level the grand-stands and bring it back as a shiny, kidney-bowl shaped stadium, I resolved to capture those deeds in a book. With colleague Paul Howard, (later replaced by Malachy Clerkin when Paul, by then busy with Ross O’Carroll-Kelly, “couldn’t be orsed”), we put together a series of tales under the title Lansdowne Road, the Stadium, the Matches, the Greatest Days (O’Brien Press 2010).

Malachy was a youngster, so he got to do the easy work of talking to players and those who had seen action on the ground. I got the front half of the book, which involved burrowing in the Gilbert and National Libraries, and other dusty archives.

One of the stories I came across was that of Brian Hanrahan, the only player ever to die from injuries sustained in the ground. He was largely a forgotten figure, ignored in several histories of Irish rugby, so I resolved to find out as much as I could about his life and death, and it became a chapter, ‘The Fatal Scrum’, in our book.

Brian’s story stayed with me, however, and I wanted to write about him again.

I had been making up bedtime stories for my youngest son Billy, who particularly enjoyed the story of a kid who meets a ghost who helps him play soccer and become the best player in his team.

I met Joe (Little Croker and Legends Lair) O’Brien at an awards dinner and, chatting about children’s books, I told him about my story. He encouraged me to write it down and gave me a few hints. I struggled at first, but had a brainwave to turn Billy the soccer player into Eoin the rugby player – the ghost became Brian and the location Lansdowne Road.

As they had published two previous non-fiction books of mine, I sent the first draft to O’Brien Press and happily they accepted it. Since then, Eoin and Brian have gone on to have several adventures, each time being joined by a new real-life rugby-playing ghost such as All Blacks WW1 hero Dave Gallaher; Irish rebel and Belvedere winger Kevin Barry; Russian Prince and England winger Alexander Obolensky; and the man credited with inventing rugby, William Webb Ellis.

At the time of writing this blog, Rugby Runner is just hitting the shelves of the nation’s bookshops, and I’ve just finished writing the 17th chapter in book six. Looking outside, the glass-wrapped wall of the stadium fills my back window and reminds me every day of the power of sport to bring joy.

* Rugby Runner is out on February 13th.

Gerard Siggins, February 2017

The Rugby Spirit series is available here and in all good bookshops!

 

The Making of The Making of Mollie!

Anna Carey tells us about the compelling research process for her latest novel The Making of Mollie!

When I started writing my book The Making of Mollie, the story of a would-be teenage suffragette in 1912 Dublin, I didn’t have to think long about where to set it. When it was founded back in 1883, my old school, Dominican College, was at the forefront of girls’ education in Ireland, and it was known for its progressive ethos – its old girls include the famous suffragette leader Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. Since 1984, the school has been on Griffith Avenue in Drumcondra, but for just over 100 years it was in Eccles Street in Dublin (when I was there, from 1988 to 1993, lots of people still referred to the school simply as ‘Eccles Street’). As my fictional heroine, Mollie, was a middle-class girl living in Drumcondra, it made sense that she would have gone to Eccles Street – which was handy for me, because I live down the road from the school’s current location.

And so a rainy day in February, I went back to school, thanks to Sr Catherine Gibson, the nun (and former teacher at the school) who looks after the archive. In a cosy room in the convent next to the school building (I’d walked past it every day for five years but never entered it before), I ate biscuits, drank a particularly delicious pot of tea, and immersed myself in the past. Dominican College began producing a yearbook called The Lanthorn in 1913, and there was a complete collection in the archive. I was able to pore through the pages for several hours, taking copious notes and photographs and finally photographing entire pages.

The Lanthorn was an incredible source of information. It told me what subjects the girls studied at school, some of which were mystifying over a century later (historical geography?). It showed me that the girls called their lay teachers “professor” (the historian Dr Senia Paseta later told me this wasn’t unusual). In the school class lists, it gave me dozens of authentic girls’ names of the period which inspired the names of many characters in the book (there were several Mollies, a LOT of Noras – and yes, at least one Grace and Stella and a few Gerties). There were accounts of “a year in Eccles Street” which told me when the girls had exams and when they put on plays (which they seemed to do surprisingly often). Best of all were the short stories about school life by the girls themselves, which were often very funny and which provided me with a lot of authentic contemporary slang. They were the parts I enjoyed the most.

The Making of Mollie is my first historical novel, and I cared a lot about making it as authentic as possible while still being entertaining. So it’s a good thing that I turned out to love the research. In fact, in an ideal world I’d have spent even longer on it. And no part of the research was more fun than throwing myself into the world of the girls who’d gone to my school 75 years before I did – and seeing they weren’t always so different from me and my friends after all.

Anna Carey, December 2016

The Making of Mollie is available here and in all good bookshops!

Eric Luke Looks Back

Upon the release of his photographic collection, Eric Luke looks back over forty years capturing the changing faces of Ireland.

The Garda put his two hands together to form a stirrup. I placed my foot in the hold and he hoisted me over the high wall. Shimmying down the other side, I looked for a gap in the crowd of protesters, then landed squarely on Lansdowne Road. Not a glamorous exit from the oldest rugby ground in the world, but I was on a mission. I barged my way through the mass of people and headed for Jury’s Hotel, Ballsbridge. There, a telex-operator took the Press Association copy and transmitted the breaking news directly to London.

The occasion was an international rugby match between Ireland and South Africa in 1970. A large group of anti-apartheid protesters had gathered outside Lansdowne Road, and I was delivering copy for my brother, a news reporter with the Press Association in London’s famous Fleet Street. This was my first time to experience the excitement of a hot news story, breaking before my very own eyes, and I was a part of it. A small link in the chain from eyewitness to reader. While I didn’t own a camera to capture this bit of history, I believe it was here I got my love for a great news story.

Moving from being a press messenger for one day off school to being a staff photographer with the largest newspaper group in Ireland proved as big a jump as over that stadium wall. Yet in 1973 I was offered the position of staff photographer with the Irish Press Group. Shooting pictures for the morning daily and The Evening Press, alongside excursions for The Sunday Press, saw the start of a forty-three-year journey that culminated with my current position on The Irish Times. A four-decade whirlwind, and a bit of a blur.

I photographed presidential inaugurations and state funerals, rioting on the streets and peaceful protests, everyday life in rural Ireland and a vastly changing capital city; the job was never predictable. But what was predictable was the necessity to put ‘my old negatives’ in some form of order. And so when I was invited by The O’Brien Press to publish a selection of my work, I jumped at the opportunity.

Poitín-making in Mayo shot on colour transparency film in the 1980s, Tory Island life in black & white in the 1970s, rock music by Rory Gallagher, Thin Lizzy and U2 over three decades – it all fell into place. With a good editor and a great layout, all that was required of me was to assemble a selection of work and write some copy to accompany the images.

Everybody at The O’Brien Press came on board, and with their guidance and encouragement I managed to put my photographs in order. In many ways the experience was as much fun as taking the original pictures.

Dalkey barber Dom McClure:

Photograph: Eric Luke

It’s funny how we overlook what’s sitting on our own doorstep. Growing up in Dalkey, County Dublin, the local barber, Dom McClure, featured regularly, providing a short-back-and-sides to satisfy the demands of the local school principal. Years later in the 1980s, I went back to photograph his barber shop, and spending the day observing him at work helped to produce a small piece of local history which I now look back fondly on. The interior of his establishment looking somewhat like a theatre set, with Dom on stage in the spotlight. These pictures provided a neat selection for the chapter on Dalkey in Looking Back.

 

Photograph: Eric Luke

Martin Sheen on Main Street:

Sifting back over ‘my old negatives’ I also came across a photograph of local man Des O’Brien with the actor Martin Sheen. This was not a Hollywood-style photo shoot but a pint interrupted and a favour for a friend, recording the movie star’s appearance on Dalkey’s Main Street to film the Hugh Leonard film Da.

 

Photograph: Eric Luke

Tory Island, Donegal:

My first visit to photograph Tory Island in the 1970s was not as simple as planned. Without transport to the island, I worked my passage by helping to load a boat with turf. On arrival I was surprised to find the island didn’t support a hotel or pub, and I was eventually accommodated in a local cottage. With great hospitality the islanders welcomed me, and the selection of photographs taken over the following ten days provided the bones for a chapter in the book on Tory. Many trips since have brought this work up to date.

Looking Back has given me a platform to show photographs that otherwise would be gathering dust in my attic; the archive of forty years has now got a new lease of life. Working for newspapers, I’m used to a photograph getting great exposure on the front page only to be replaced twenty-four hours later by a new front page and a new accompanying photograph. This lovely hardback presentation by The O’Brien Press is here to stay, and I look forward to leafing through the pages for years to come.

Eric Luke, December 2016

Looking Back – The Changing Faces of Ireland is available here and in all good bookshops!

Illustrating The Moon Spun Round – W.B. Yeats for Children

The Moon Spun Round – W.B. Yeats for Children Edited by Noreen Doody and Illustrated by Shona Shirley MacDonald

Shona Shirley MacDonald chats to us about her experience of illustrating this beautiful book. Emma Byrne, who designed the book, describes the commissioning process and the importance of illustration for a book like this.

 

Shona Shirley MacDonald

When I first heard about the project I was instantly keen to get started and already imagining how the finished book might look. Near the beginning I was lent a biography of W.B. Yeats and ended up reading it all in one sitting, which I think was quite useful and must have helped to inform the working-in-studioway I interpreted his poems. The introduction and background about Yeats as a child by Noreen Doody also added to that. Apart from learning a bit about his life, however, I didn’t search for any analyses of his text (with the exception of ‘Running to Paradise’), so for the most part I just illustrated it the way it made sense to me, taking into consideration that the anthology is aimed at children.

I was already familiar with some of the poems, including ‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’, but I hadn’t realised they were written by Yeats. Mostly the poems and stories were new to me, but they were not hugely difficult to conjure images for, as they are already rich in imagery. Each illustration had its own meandering and tricky journey, though. The most difficult poem to illustrate was ‘Running to Paradise’, it seemed quite obscure, and it took me some time to fully get to grips with it. Also I was initially worried about what to do with ‘The Man in His Boots’, but then I realised it was set in a haunted house, and if I couldn’t make that look interesting then I shouldn’t be an illustrator. Perhaps my favourite illustrations in the book are the ones I did for ‘The Wisdom of the King’, as they were some of the last ones I illustrated, and it was nice at that point to create a series that belonged together rather than individual images, as for many of the poems.

With all the detail that went into each illustration it was certainly a time-consuming project to work on, but it was enjoyable. However you always need another set of eyes. Emma, the designer, was great at guiding the project, allowing me space to interpret the poems, but also giving feedback and constructive criticism. My partner Ciarán who is also an artist was another huge help throughout the project.

There is still much I have to read of Yeats’s poetry, but working on this book has brought me an appreciation of his work. It was brilliant to have the chance to create strange and magical images for such beautiful poetry, and my hope is that children and adults alike will get enjoyment out of reading the book too.

fiddler-of-dooney-progression_higher-resto-a-squirrel_progression

Emma Byrne – Commissioning The Moon Spun Round 

As a fan of the work of our national poet, I was hugely excited when this book came across my desk. I also knew it would be an enormous challenge to find an illustrator who could interpret, embellish and visualise the work yet enhance it – without overpowering it. This takes discipline and sensitivity – where both the text and visuals combined take the reader on a road, a journey the reader needs to finish themselves.

The physical book was important to Yeats, and it seemed fitting to convey that in this exploration of his work for children . The packaging, which included the flaps, a secret poster, and different laminate cover all enhanced this, but the lynchpin, was always going to be the illustration.

I hadn’t worked with Shona before, but had asked her to do a sample for another project. It wasn’t right for that particular book, but I saw a magic in it, and kept her work in mind. I saw her work online, and saw these imagined worlds full of strange creatures at play and thought, this is perfect! I asked her to do a fully worked sample for ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree,’ to see if she could do the whole project.

I told her to lose all inhibitions and immerse herself in the work – and interpret freely. I told her a little of the world of Yeats and some of his obsessions with fairies and the magic in nature, but really it was just all in the text. When the resulting sample came in, to say I was blown away was putting it mildly. I knew it was going to be very special.

The initial concept, which starts as the poet is standing ‘… on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,’ and the explosion of life and colour that works its way up the page, was in itself very strong. But it’s exceptional beauty came in the detail that revealed itself in creatures and unfolding colour as the poem progressed. All of this whilst creating an atmosphere and visual tension. This artwork, like the poem, would reward by revisiting again and again.

I showed it to the inhouse team, and they all agreed, this was the illustrator for the project. Also the author, Noreen Doody, was suitably impressed. So we set out a schedule and all got to work. Each illustration had a series of rough approaches before we went to colour – so hugely time consuming. Each poem brought a different interpretation, and a different approach in concept and visualisation.

It is difficult to choose favourites, but if I had to, I think the second illustration for ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’, where the swan becomes the lake is genius, as is the power in the illustration for ‘To A Child Dancing in the Wind. The cover art, which features characters from the whole book, is also very clever stuff.

These illuminations of Shona Shirley MacDonald, would, I have no doubt, have pleased W.B. Yeats very much. The combined work of Noreen Doody and Shona makes for an exceptional book that will bring young and old great enjoyment – for years to come.

Shona Shirley MacDonald and Emma Byrne, October 2016

The Moon Spun Round is available here and in all good bookshops!

 

Three Things About a Trilogy by Ruth Frances Long

ruthfranceslong

“When I finished A Crack in Everything, I thought that was that, to be honest. I had finished the story. But the story hadn’t finished with me.”

With the recent release of A Darkness at the End, the third and final instalment in her contemporary fantasy series, Ruth Frances Long chats to us about beginning, continuing and completing a trilogy.

I started A Crack in Everything, the first in my series of Dubh Linn books, after seeing a piece of graffiti on a door in Dublin. It was like the first breadcrumb in a trail that led me a very long way, down some unexpected paths, and took up several years altogether. Of course it didn’t all happen at once. Stories sometimes tease themselves out of the writer’s brain; they are tricky like that, waiting for the writer to discover the relevant pieces that will slot into place.

Dublin is an amazing place in which to set an urban fantasy. It’s been here for over a thousand years, and the oldest parts still peek through the various modernisations. It has been home to so many writers, it seems to be made of stories. Every street, every building, every corner … You never know what might be embedded in those stones. It is easy to trace the original Black Pool after which Dublin (and indeed Dubh Linn) is named, to walk around the park where it is said to have been. We can climb the hills surrounding the city, wander down alleyways that could lead anywhere, visit libraries that are like slices of another time. Research comes easy when the stories are right there, waiting to be read. It’s not just the big important buildings either: it’s the streets, the lanes, the public parks, even the basement of a coffee shop. They’re all in there. Even the fantastical elements of Dubh Linn, while fictional creations, are composed of elements found in the city and surrounding hills. Perhaps the stories seep up from the land itself.

The second thing was the legend of how the Sídhe – angels who refused to take part in the war in heaven and were expelled to earth, to Ireland, instead – came to be. The blend of Celtic and Judeo-Christian stories shouldn’t have really worked. But somehow it did. I’m always amazed at the wealth of stories in the Irish Celtic tradition. From the earliest to the medieval, from un-dateable folklore to its descendants, the modern urban legends we all know so well, the stories link together. Sometimes I didn’t even expect them to, but on some fundamental level I found links, similarities and shared themes, a way for stories to just lock together and work.

And finally: Izzy and Jinx. And Dylan and Silver. Clodagh, Ash and Marianne … All of these characters who started off as ideas and became something more, people that seem so very real to me now that they have a habit of wandering around elsewhere when I try to make them follow what I laughingly call ‘the plot’.

Setting, folklore and characters: three things which came together to make a story of three parts. It was an exhilarating and exciting adventure, telling this story. When I finished A Crack in Everything, I thought that was that, to be honest. I had finished the story.

But the story hadn’t finished with me. When the idea of a trilogy was suggested, my poor brain immediately started coming up with ideas, with myths that would work, monsters that would slot into that world. Places in Dublin suddenly jumped to mind, places that would make wonderful, eerie settings. New characters started to form, ready to help continue the tale.

Of course it wasn’t that easy, because my characters were my characters and my brain doesn’t work that way. I had a plan. I was going to take them all over Ireland this time. We were going to visit ancient sites and wonderful, different locations. If A Crack in Everything had explored Dublin, I wanted A Hollow in the Hills and A Darkness at the End to do the same thing with Ireland. I started into the research – the Giant’s Causeway, the Dunmore Caves, the Poulnabrón Dolmen and Newgrange.

But no. Not my characters. They were not going to leave their city, no matter what I thought. The furthest I could get them was Bray Head. A Hollow in the Hills turned out to be hard work. At one point I cut over 30,000 words, leaving me with only 8,000 – but those 8,000 words were still the beginning. They were solid. Once I gave up trying to explore further afield, I decided to go deeper into the city, just like before, and suddenly it all clicked. It worked. Once that happened, the book just flowed.

I approached the third book with a bit more trepidation. I thought, well, if book two was hard, book three might actually kill me. And with my characters, anything was possible.

In another twist of fate, this didn’t happen at all. I spent a wonderful summer and autumn writing A Darkness at the End. Things just slotted into place. The story took on a life of its own, and those characters who had been so stubborn and difficult the year before just let the story unfold for me. Things I had never planned fitted into place and made the story so much stronger.

I’d love to say I had intricately mapped it all out after the beginning, with charts and spreadsheets … I didn’t. I was as surprised as anyone.

This is part of the real magic of writing, the way stories wind themselves around the places and the people we create. The way they draw in all the unexpected items that you come across – the stories, the places, the little details – and use them to create a whole new world. The way the mind keeps track of all those threads, subconsciously of course (no, I don’t really believe that my characters have minds of their own, honestly).

I never meant to write a trilogy. It just kind of happened.

Ruth Frances Long, October 2016