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.

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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

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“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

An Interview with Judi

This week The O’Brien Press chatted with the wonderful Judi Curtin about her forthcoming book Time After Time. We got down to the good stuff like time travel and friendship!

Where did you get the idea for this new book?Judi Curtin 1

It started when I thought about the regret a young girl would feel at never having the chance to know her mum. Then I had to find a way for them to be together, even though the mum had died many years earlier.

Time travel is such a cool concept, what was your inspiration for this?

Time travel has always fascinated me. Who wouldn’t want the chance to revisit the past? Who wouldn’t want to experience historical events? Who wouldn’t want to see their parents as teenagers?

If you could travel through a porthole to any decade/period in history, when would it be?

I think I’d go back to the 1920’s, when my grandparents were young. It’s an interesting era, and I’d love to see the lives my grandparents had, many years before I came along.

Is Molly based on someone in particular?

No. Except for Domino the cat, all of my characters are completely fictional. (But that doesn’t stop people saying they recognize themselves in my books!)

Did you have fun writing about the 80s?

I loved it. I know it’s ancient history to my readers, but for me I’m writing about my youth.

What is your favourite thing about the 80s?

The fashions might seem gross now, but they were wonderful too. Everything was big and loud and colourful.

When you were writing Time After Time did you miss your other characters from the Alice series or the Eva series?

I always miss my old characters, and more than once I’ve sneaked a few from one series into another.

What was your favourite part of writing Time after Time?

I loved writing the part where Beth meets her mother – the first time I’ve made myself cry. Sad, but very rewarding.

Do you read children’s books yourself?

Only rarely (which might be controversial). I read voraciously when I was a child, and as a teacher and parent, I continued that for many years. Now though, I mostly read books written for people like me.

When you write, how much do you think about the reader?

In the first draft I’m very much writing what I want to write. In later drafts, with the help of my wonderful editor, Helen, I do try to consider how the reader is going to engage with my characters and story.

How does your interaction with real children affect the way you write and what you write about?

I do very many events with young people, who can be quite transparent. They seem to like my stories about families and friendship, and as I like writing these, it’s easy to continue.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read everything you can get your hands on. Keep a diary. Enter competitions – not necessarily to win, but so you get practice at polishing your work.

Time for the mean question: What is your favourite book in the entire world?

Today I’m going to say The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis. It’s the only Narnia book I read as a child, and I’ve always loved it. (But if you ask me again next week, it could be Heidi, First Term at Malory Towers, The Great Gatsby, or even whatever book I read tonight!)

What one item would you like to banish into history and is there anything you’d like to bring back from the past?

The thing I’d like to banish into history is internet shopping – who really needs to buy a pair of shoes at three in the morning?

The thing I’d like to bring back from the past is Angel Delight dessert. The wonderful name completely made up for the fact that it tasted so terrible. It evokes such happy memories from my childhood that I had to mention it in Time After Time.

Judi Curtin, August 2016.

We will be having a launch for Time After Time at Eason O’Connell Street on Thursday 8th September. Come back in time with Judi and get ready to party 80s style this September! See your invite below:
Come to the launch of Time After Time
Time After Time is available to pre-order here and will be available in all good bookshops from 5th September 2016!

Fruit on the Table by Theresa Storey

The wonderful Theresa Storey tells us her fruitful tale .rsz_img_3647

In every group of friends, there are specialists: there’s the one you call if your computer has the blue screen of death, the one you call when your kid just ate that weird berry, or the one you call when water pours from the ceiling or a tap just came off in your hand. I’m the food and gardening specialist for our gang. If you have wilting trees, an aphid infestation or a glut of berries you don’t know what to do with, I’m your girl. And I’m not just the adviser to my friends – people often come up to me at my stall in the Limerick Milk Market IMG_2906 (2)to ask how to use their wild fruit, for help in identifying plants, or to tell me their stories and recipes. I also get phone calls from strangers asking me how to fix non-setting apple jelly, or what to use their redcurrants for. I’m happy to talk and share what I know, and I’m happy to learn. Just last week, one of my customers told me that the ginger mint plants I sell are called ‘eel herb’ in Belgium, because they’re eaten with jellied eels. He didn’t know it was a ginger mint, and I didn’t know it was eel herb – good knowledge exchange.

That’s pretty much why I started my blog, www.thegreenapron.ie: to share some of what I know and to start a conversation.

The logical extension from the blog was to write a book. A seasonal fruit cookbook. I wanted to show how we use fruit through the year, so I put in lots of preserve recipes – that’s what we specialise in at The Green Apron – but also other recipes using both fresh and raw fruit to make both sweet and savoury dishes.jams (2)

Writing a recipe book felt a lot like writing a thesis in college. Lots of research, lots of notes, and then cutting the information down and deciding what to include and what to discard. Lots of experimentation too – why does it work with that fruit but not this other one? What happens if you substitute this or change the temperature? Why didn’t it work that time? How can I make it better?

While many of the recipes in my book are ones we’ve been using in the family for years, there were some challenges in getting them into a useable format. I had to rewrite our single-line recipes into something anyone could use. ‘Bang it in a pot and cook for three hours’ isn’t enough instruction! I also added lots of whys and why nots, and lots of substitutions. What seems obvious to one person leaves someone else baffled, but thankfully after years of teaching workshops on cooking, growing and foraging, I have a good idea of what gaps people have in their knowledge, and what kind of questions they usually need answered. I also sent the recipes to my friend Barry – who doesn’t cook. I figured if he could follow them, anyone could.

Many of the recipes in Fruit on the Table are American, and translating their measures to Me making chutney (2)metric and imperial was an exercise in exciting mathematics. American fluid ounces aren’t the same size as imperial, nor are their pints. American recipes are often in cups, and since that’s a volume measurement, I had to weigh cups of everything. That was another interesting exercise, since, for instatheresa's phone pictures 041 (2)nce, a cup of sliced strawberries weighs more than a cup of whole strawberries. Anyway, after much weighing and  second-guessing and research on the net, I converted the American measurements to metric and then converted metric to imperial. Another problem then reared its head: the metric measurement might equate to an unwieldy number of ounces (like 4.75oz rather than 5oz), so I had to round up or down and then remake the recipe a few times to be sure it worked perfectly. We ate a lot of cakes and pies that month.

Most of the photographs for the book were taken last summer, for two reasons: I wanted to wait until the summer fruit was in season, and I also wanted the best naIMG_2259 (2)tural light (though it seemed to drizzle every day through the summer). On Sundays, the girls and I would cook a selection of the recipe dishes (thank goodness for my diligent daughters). Val O’Connor, our photographer, would come on Monday morning, and we’d style and photograph until late in the evening. For the rest of the week, I would experiment and write recipes, work in the garden and orchards, pick fruit, and make jam and chutney for the Saturday market. That was a pretty hectic few months.

Then came the editing. Thanks go to Liz Hudson, my editor, who tightened and streamlined everything and caught all the silly omissions and mistakes I made. (I sometimes forgot to add in tin-size or temperature or left out a step.) And who encouraged me when I was mithered from editing.

So now I have a shiny new book in which I share my recipes and my foraging and growing knowledge. I hope it expands the reader’s fruit-recipe repertoire and encourages them to grow their own – or at least to pick some wild fruit. I know writing it encouraged me to experiment with using fruit in ways I hadn’t thought of before, and I learned a great deal.

Now it’s time to write the vegetable version.

Phillip liks to assist in the photography (2)

And Phillip says “That’s a wrap!”

Theresa Storey, July 2016.

Fruit on the Table is available here and in all good bookshops!

Marketing & Publicity Internship

Irish publishing house The O’Brien Press is seeking a Marketing & Publicity Intern.

The position involves providing administrative assistance to the department across all areas of marketing, publicity and events and offers the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge and experience in marketing & publicity as well as other aspects of the publishing environment.

The successful candidate will be energetic, enthusiastic, highly organised and will be able to work well on their own and as part of a team. They will be able to work well under pressure. They will be proficient in MS Office (Word, Excel) and Outlook. Experience with InDesign and/or an interest in social media would be a bonus but not essential.This position would be ideally suited to graduates who are seeking to gain experience in publishing, and in the area of marketing and publicity, in particular.

This is a paid internship starting in August, finishing in November 2016, 5 days a week.

Please apply with CV to The O’Brien Press at publicity@obrien.ie

Closing date for receipt of applications is 5pm on Friday 15th July.

Kim Hood on writing Plain Jane

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Kim Hood

This month the wonderful Kim Hood shares her experience of writing her most recent Young Adult novel Plain Jane and describes what it means to be an author.

Authors are a strange breed of people. Most of the time you might not notice how strange we are. We learn how to adapt; how to hide what we do.

What we do is spend most of our lives cataloguing observations into a vast storehouse of senses and feelings. We are always noticing and noting: a smell that defines a place, that snippet of conversation that sums up a relationship, the fleeting look of pain on an otherwise happy face. Anything at all. Authors are never bored. We are happy to sit in a corner and soak up every mundane detail.

Then there is this other part of our brain that is always asking questions. I wonder why? What if? What does it all mean?

At some point mixed up bits of stored observation and something we wonder about collide – and the seed of a story is born. In my case, the catalyst of this birth is almost always character.

So it was with Plain Jane.

Years ago, I had one glorious year of university when I didn’t have to work at the same time. With time to spare I decided to volunteer on the children’s ward of a hospital, doing arts and crafts with kids one afternoon each week. This particular hospital was the hub of treating childhood cancer for towns and villages in a huge radius.

I got to know a lot of the kids, many of whom were there for weeks and months at a time, and some of whom were very ill. They were amazing kids, who almost always took their illness in their strides, dragging IV poles behind them. The nurses and doctors doted on them and volunteers like me came in to make their days more joyful. A weary parent was by their side day and night.

While it was very sad when some of these kids died, and while I did store up details of what a hospital setting is like, it wasn’t the kids in hospital that interested me. Not in an ‘I-must-write-a-story-about-this’ sort of way, in any case.

It was the kids in the corner that had me wondering. What about the brothers and sisters of these terribly ill children? Many families travelled from towns and villages miles away to access treatment. What was it like for the siblings who didn’t see their mum or their dad most of the time? At a time when you are searching for who you are, and want to be, what is it like to be in the shadow of a sibling who – by necessity – takes a whole family’s focus?

That wondering stayed with me for a very long time. I needed the right character to answer the questions I had, though. I’m learning that, for me, starting to write before I have a character to guide me, will just not work. I can wonder all I want, but until I have someone in my head to have a dialogue with, my questions will remain vague and hard to pin down.

Eventually, the right character did come along. Jane. One day she appeared in my head, sat down and wouldn’t leave me. That was when the work of writing her story started. Perhaps I would not have started had I known just how hard it would be.

With a sister being treated for cancer over many years, Jane was the right person, but that didn’t mean she was going to answer my questions easily. I have to say that she was the most uncooperative character I have imagined yet. I spent many months in front of a computer screen with very little coming from her – until finally her story poured out in torrents over a few weeks. Thank god, as I was writing to a deadline.

Still, when I got to the end of her story I had to forgive her for being so difficult. There was much more to her than I first saw. (Stuff I can’t tell you about without giving away spoilers!) We have been through a lot, Jane and I, and I am really fond of her at this point. I hope you will be too!

Kim Hood, June 2016

Both of Kim Hood’s books, Plain Jane and Finding a Voice are available here and in all good bookshops!

Vacancy: Sales Administrator

The O’Brien Press is seeking a highly-organised, sales-driven person to help run a busy sales office, as part of our sales and marketing team, reporting to the Managing Director. Responsibilities include preparing and distributing sales materials for national and international sales teams, handling orders and providing support for key clients, as well as book trade communications and website content management. The successful candidate will have a passion for books, an interest in sales, and excellent computer and communication skills, and will be encouraged to help identify new sales opportunities. This is a full-time position.

Applications to Kunak McGann at jobs@obrien.ie

Closing date Friday 13th May at 5pm.

I Was a Boy in Belsen

IWasABoyInBelsenBOn the eve of the publication of the new edition of Tomi Reichantal’s powerful memoir, I Was a Boy in Belsen, Gerry Gregg, producer/director of the feature documentaries Till the Tenth Generation and Close to Evil, talks about his work with Tomi and all that has occurred since the initial publication of his incredible story.

For the past twelve years, Tomi Reichental has been on a very public voyage of personal recovery from the searing embers of the Holocaust. Six million European Jews were annihilated during World War Two; among them were most members of Tomi’s extended family. How, Tomi wondered, could so much hate take root at the heart of Europe? The thirty-five members of his family who perished were farmers, shopkeepers, lawyers, doctors, mothers and children.

In 1935, the year of  Tomi’s birth, they had every reason to hope for the future. Within a decade, their neighbours and fellow countrymen would betray them and send them to a hellish death at the hands of Adolf Hitler’s genocidal killing apparatus.

The RTÉ/Irish Film Board feature documentary Till the Tenth Generation (2009) took Tomi back to the most traumatic days of his life. It was he said ‘the time of the devil’ as he retraced the last steps of his loved ones who were gassed, worked to death, starved or guillotined by reason of their race, religion and political views.

The RTÉ documentary Close To Evil (2014) took as its starting point Tomi’s quest to meet one of Hitler’s willing executioners: the convicted SS war criminal Hilde Michnia. Hilde Lisiewicz, as she was in 1945, was on duty in Bergen-Belsen during the period that Tomi, his brother Miki and his mother Judith were incarcerated and slowly starving. Tomi’s grandmother, Rosalia Scheimowitz, perished from hunger on Hilde Lisiewicz’s watch at Bergen-Belsen in March 1945.

In the multi-award-winning Close to Evil, Hilde Michnia made a number of incriminating statements. Frau Michnia openly admitted in interviews she gave in 2004 that she was also involved in the forced ‘evacuation’ from the Gross-Rosen network of camps in what is now Poland to the town of Guben in January 1945.

We know that the word ‘evacuation’ was a euphemism for a manic, lethal commitment to persecute and kill Jews right to the bitter end of the Third Reich on what became known as ‘death marches’. We know from the accounts of survivors such as Luba Varshavska, who spoke to Tomi in her home near Tel Aviv, that hundreds of female prisoners died on the cruel trek from Grünberg to Guben in the middle of winter. Many were shot for failing to keep up with the forced pace of the slog through snow and ice and biting winds. In her recorded testimony, Hilde Michnia claims she witnessed no ill-treatment of prisoners; indeed, she asserts that they were fed and cared for as well as could be expected by her and her SS comrades.

Now Tomi has set himself the task of bringing this unrepentant SS guard to account, not only for her complicity in war crimes but for her public distortion of the truth and denial of the Shoah.

Ironically, Tomi’s generosity of spirit has helped to heal others with a Nazi past. From Germany to Australia, those prepared to confront both the actions and the shame of their forefathers have found Tomi to be an inspiration and a source of support.

In January 2015, following a public screening of Close to Evil in Lüneburg, Hilde Michnia’s admission that she was a participant in the Grünberg to Guben ‘evacuation’ in January 1945 prompted the German authorities to open an investigation into the then 93-year-old Hamburg woman. After the German premiere, a formal complaint was filed by Hans-Jürgen Brennecke, the son of a Nazi policeman whose father had justified the slaughter of Jews on the basis that ‘it was them or us’. Brennecke is a man who has faced up to the skeletons in his family cupboard. He believes many more Germans have still to come to terms with what their fathers and mothers did during the Third Reich. In the case of Hilde Michnia, Brennecke submitted that her claims that there was no maltreatment of prisoners on her watch at either the Gross-Rosen–affiliated camp or Bergen-Belsen amounted to ‘Auschwitz Luge’ – Holocaust denial, a criminal offence in Germany.

Whether or not Hilde Michnia eventually faces trial is not the point of the process initiated by Hans-Jürgen Brennecke and supported by Tomi Reichental. Their aim is to confront the legally uncontested claims of an SS guard that under her care frightened, famished and frozen slave labourers were fed cocoa and hot soup – when those who survived this ordeal can recall only fear and loathing and the sound of gunfire directed at those who could not keep up with the pace of the retreat from the advancing Soviet Red Army.

This book, first published in 2011, is a bestseller. It is, however, not the end of the Tomi Reichental story. Anything but. In 2015, two Irish universities, NUI Maynooth and Trinity College Dublin, bestowed on Tomi honorary doctorates for his ‘mission of remembrance’. Soon Dublin City University will confer a similar honour on Tomi. But it is the affection of ordinary people that is most striking. Tomi is often stopped in the street or on trains and trams by strangers eager to shake his hand and wish him well in his work.

Every week Tomi speaks to students at schools all over Ireland. Close to 100,000 Irish second-level students have heard Tomi describe ‘the indescribable’. Wherever he goes, he is received as a valued, special citizen of the Irish Republic.

In 2014 Tomi won a Rehab People of the Year Award. A frequent contributor to high-profile TV and radio shows, Tomi’s commitment to truth and reconciliation is regularly the subject of sympathetic media coverage. He is now a national figure whose actions are reverberating beyond Irish shores.

Remarkably, in June 2015, on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, Tomi was invited to speak about the Holocaust to the congregation of a large Dublin mosque. The Imam of the West Dublin–based Islamic Educational and Cultural Centre, Dr Shaykh Umar Al-Qadri, pointed out that this was ‘a unique event in modern Europe, if not the world’. The Imam hopes that the example of Tomi reaching out to, and being embraced by, Irish Muslims will be a beacon for the rest of Europe to follow.

Far from putting his feet up and taking it easy, Tomi Reichental is starting a new chapter in his remarkable life. He is embarking on new adventures and taking on fresh challenges. Long may he continue to inspire with his big heart, his open mind and his generosity of spirit.

The journey continues. The man who was a boy in Belsen is still restless, and has ‘miles to go before he sleeps’.

Gerry Gregg

The Deer’s Cry by Eithne Massey

This month sees the publication of  Irish Legends: Newgrange, Tara & the Boyne Valley by acclaimed author Eithne Massey. To celebrate the launch of this beautiful hardback for children, Eithne has retold the ‘The Deer’s Cry’ – a bite-sized Boyne Valley legend – just for the O’Brien Press Blog!

The Deer’s Cry

St Patrick was a holy man. He brought Christianity to Ireland. There are many stories about him.

But did you know the story of why his most famous prayer is called ‘The Deer’s Cry’?

It happened like this.

When Patrick first came to Ireland, he landed at the mouth of the Boyne and made his way towards Tara. He wanted to see the high king, Laoghaire. He was going to ask permission to tell everyone in Ireland about the new religion. But King Laoghaire’s druids were angry. They didn’t want any other religions in their country.

‘Send an ambush to kill this trouble-maker!’ said the chief druid. ‘He must be stopped before he reaches the king. No one can harm him once he is inside Tara. We are not allowed to harm a visitor. We must hunt him down before he gets here, while he travels through the great forest.’

Patrick and his friends started their journey to Tara. They began to make their way through the great forest. It was springtime. Birds followed where Patrick walked. Foxes and rabbits peered from their burrows, and small red squirrels jumped from branch to branch, keeping him company. Patrick had the gift of bringing animals to him, and even a shy deer came and drank from his hands as he rested by a stream.

‘Why do you waste time with a creature like that, when we are on the way to see a great king?’ asked Conall, one of his followers.

‘God is in every creature,’ said Patrick mildly.

They continued on through the shadows of the wood, and suddenly Patrick stopped dead.

‘I think we might have someone waiting for us,’ he said.

‘You mean someone who means us harm?’ said Conall.

‘Are we in danger? What will we do?’ asked Benignus, the stable boy, looking around him nervously.

‘Don’t worry,’ said Patrick, and he closed his eyes and prayed.

The chief druid’s men could never understand how Patrick and his companions got past them. They lay in wait for hours, their swords drawn. The sun set. The moon rose. The moon set, and then the sun rose again. The soldiers saw nothing but the birds and beasts of the forest. A flock of doves flew into the starry sky; a herd of shy deer passed them in the moonlight.

Patrick reached Tara, and there he defeated the druids in a contest of magic. King Laoghaire allowed Patrick and his monks to travel throughout the land, spreading their good news.

And that is why, ever since then, Patrick’s prayer has been called. ‘The Deer’s Cry’.

Eithne Massey, March 2016

Irish Legends: Newgrange, Tara & the Boyne Valley is available here and in all good bookshops.

16Lives: Celebrating the Heroes of The Rising

Ivan and Michael O'Brien. Copyright photograph: Richard Mills birdpics@newsguy.com

O’Brien Press Publisher, Michael O’Brien, talks about developing and publishing the 16Lives series over the past eight years.

It’s easy to say yes to a brilliant concept! When Lorcan Collins marched into The O’Brien Press with the great idea of 16 Lives, a series of biographies of the sixteen executed leaders of the 1916 Rising, all to be published in time for the centenary in 2016, our response was, ‘A simple but brilliant idea,’ and ‘Go for it!’. That was in November 2007. Lorcan suggested adding Ruán O’Donnell, senior lecturer in history at the University of Limerick, as series co-editor, bringing his huge historical knowledge and academic credibility to the table.

But it wasn’t simple to anticipate all the challenges involved in a series of this scale. One fear was that some of the less well-known figures, like Thomas Kent and Michael Mallin, were too obscure, without enough known about them to make a book or find an audience. But with 2016 on the horizon, archives were opening and new facts emerging, and our ambition to create a more truthful and less propagandist history was made possible. In the case of Kent in particular, author Meda Ryan was surprised by the depth and range of information available about him and his networks.

We recognised early on the value of adding photographs to each book in the collection – of the people, their lives, their actions. Lorcan helped create a collection of hundreds of photos, which were distributed for reproduction across the 16 Lives series. The book spines are an added treat: when the sixteen books are put together, a picture of O’Connell Bridge c.1916 emerges (buy a set and see for yourself).

The 2016 centenary could have been a cynical damp squib marred by a simple-minded, propagandist approach. Apparently, at one stage the British government proposed the ‘Decade of Remembrance’ model, where we would honour the First World War, the War of Empires, equally with our struggle for independence against the very same imperialists. The Queen of England was offered as part of the 1916 package (of course she had a very successful visit in 2011). Stirring speeches at several 16 Lives launches opposed this formula. In fact, the centenary has inspired and moved young and old, native and visitor, and our friends in the EU and Britain to respect Ireland’s cultural revolution. It has encouraged a renewed look at the values of the Proclamation ‘To the People of Ireland’, all seven signatories of which were executed by the British (as well as the nine other leaders of the Rising).

We conclude the 16 Lives series with a launch by Chief Justice Susan Denham in the GPO, the dramatic HQ and symbol of the Rising (what a strange, inadequate word). We have had eight launches over four years as the books were born, and the audiences have included many descendants of the leaders who organised what in retrospect was Ireland’s cultural revolution: Cumann na mBan, Gaelic League, GAA, Abbey Theatre, Fenians, Sinn Féin, IRB, and other movements in the USA. Many of the sixteen leaders were poets and playwrights, including Pearse, MacDonagh, Plunkett, Casement, Kent, O’Hanrahan and even Connolly.

The 16 Lives project began in 2007 and, over eight years later, is now complete. History will judge its value. Thank you to everyone who made it happen: to Lorcan, Ruan and the individual authors who brought each of the sixteen to life so vividly; to the army of editors, researchers, indexers and designers who ensured the books are attractive, readable, reliable, and above all, fascinating; and to the marketing and sales staff who are working so hard to get the books into the hands of readers.

Michael O’Brien

Publisher

O’Brien Press