Author and illustrator Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick tells us the inspiration for The Sleeping Giant and the little girl, Ann.
In 1988, my sister Bernardine and myself were spending a week in the Kingdom of Kerry. Our neighbours, the Kennedys, happened to be there at the same time so we dropped around to their holiday rental to say hi. Their cottage faced the sea. Mary pointed out over the wall and said to her little girl, ‘Look, Eva, we can see the Sleeping Giant from here.’
‘The Sleeping Giant?’ I asked. A dozen family holidays in Dingle and I’d only ever heard Inis Tuaisceart referred to as ‘An Fear Marbh’.
‘I don’t want to scare Eva by calling it “The Dead Man”,’ Mary whispered. ‘Not when she can see it from her bedroom window.’
Hmm, I thought. So if the island is a giant, why is he asleep? And what happens when he wakes up?
An unfamiliar name for a familiar landmark caused a shift of perception inside my brain, which, in turn, sparked an idea. I spent the rest of the week imagining the giant waking up and watching him roam around the Dingle Peninsula in my mind’s eye. My sister and I toured and walked and sunned ourselves by day, and I snapped photos with my trusty Olympus OM10 as we went, already thinking of these shots as research. We met the Kennedys at Coumeenole a few times, and I painted them into the beach scene in the book to mark the fact that it was Mary (yes, that Mary Kennedy) who sparked the idea for the story.
Evenings were spent in local pubs. The sessions were mighty, and I captured one of them in the book. In my memory, the pub was Páidi Ó Sé’s in Ventry, but my sister remembers that session being in An Cúinne, Feohanagh. Who knows which of us is remembering the venue correctly, but we do concur on the singers and the craic!
Ahead of World Book Day 2019 on Thursday, 7 March, I chatted with Alan Nolan about his World Book Day book, Sam Hannigan’s Rock Star Granny, and the world of books, writing and illustrating!
What’s your favourite thing about reading?
A good book will put you directly in the shoes of the characters, helping you see the world through their eyes. That’s my favourite thing about reading – understanding and empathising with others.
What’s your favourite thing about writing and illustrating?
I love storytelling, and writing and illustrating are two great ways of telling a story. I enjoy them both equally, and I try to get them to work together and complement each other. I tend to think visually – if a character pops into my head, I have to draw them immediately; if a scene comes into my head, I reach for a pencil and get drawing. Then I’ll write some notes about what I’ve just drawn around the sides of the sketch. It always happens in that order: idea, drawing, writing.
Who is your favourite character to illustrate?
I love drawing Ogg the caveman from Conor’s Caveman and the Sam Hannigan series. I had a lot of trouble getting him right at the design stage – I knew he was huge and that he wore caveman furs and had chunky, hairy arms, but I just couldn’t get his face quite right. His big, stubbly chin worked, but there was something too open and modern about his eyes. Then I hit on it: a huge, bushy monobrow would hide his eyes, making him more enigmatic, and it would also make him look more Neanderthal-like. Ogg is an easy character for kids to draw as well – I can show them how to draw a very convincing caveman with only twelve pencil lines!
Sam Hannigan is a great character. What was your inspiration for her?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a dog. My granny, Lizzie Bunn, lived with us (as did her mum, my great-granny), and she helped me achieve my doggy dreams. She made me a pair of doggy ears out of stuffed brown socks that she stitched onto a Healy-Rae flat cap, and a furry tail that I tucked into the back of my trousers. Sometimes when she’d call us down for dinner, I’d insist that she put mine on the floor. I would eat it on my hands and knees, my ‘tail’ (actually, my bum) wagging happily as I chowed down without the aid of a fork, knife or spoon, my doting granny looking on. Of course, this only happened when my mother was at work. She would have marmalised me and my poor granny if she knew these canine capers were going on every second day. So I think Sam Hannigan was based partly on me – a dreamer with a lightly loopy grandmother.
This week we chatted with the wonderful Gerry Daly, co-creator and illustrator of Where Are You, Puffling?. Gerry’s uncle Sean came up with the initial idea, and the story developed from there! Gerry tells us all about the journey of this adorable picture book, including working with the brilliant Erika McGann.
What inspired your uncle Sean to write this story to begin with?
When Sean was visiting the Skellig islands he noticed that the puffins and the rabbits seemed to be getting along together as they went about their business. He heard they even share their burrows! Or at least the rabbits move back in once the puffins head out to the ocean for the winter. Sean imagined they might help each other out in times of need, and he thought this could make a good story for his grandsons.
What was it like to work with Sean on this?
Great fun! Sean showed me his finished text, and had the idea that I might add some illustrations to it. He would then have just a few printed up, for the boys and the rest of the family. We had already worked together on a short family history book. That self-published book showed Sean’s great interest in genealogy, Irish history and places. His enthusiasm for the Skellig story was very infectious. It wasn’t long before we were working on ideas for images and layout. He’d often say, ‘I love it, now we’re sucking diesel!’
Unfortunately, around this time Sean had been diagnosed with cancer, and he passed away not long after. I was then back at college doing a masters, and didn’t have much time to look at the book for a while, but eventually I managed to add the illustrations. I didn’t have a title to the story, so my dad suggested ‘The Skellig Shenanigans’. I had a few printed up, which came as a nice surprise to family and friends, most of whom had no idea that this had been in the making. I didn’t want the story to just be forgotten, and felt it really had to be finished best I could manage.
I have loved nature, for as long as I can remember. My family always had at least one pet dog. There was Brandy when I was a toddler, then Fozzie, Sooty, Lady, and then Teddy, most of them mongrels, and each one a truly loved member of the family. I think it was probably these dogs that began my love of animals and nature.
I was always amazed that you could build this relationship with another species, that you found a way of overcoming barriers of speech, never mind language. That they understood your ways, your moods, and you learned their traits and their individual personalities. These four-legged hairy beasts opened up another world for me and led me out into it, following their wagging tails.
One of my earliest memories is lying in the long grass in the field behind our house with Fozzie, and hearing the buzzing of insects in the grass. That field was my playground and was full of wildflowers and grasses. I would lie hidden in the long grass, while Fozzie bounced up and down, trying to find me. I would pull my fingernail up along a grass stem, scattering its seeds to the wind. We made daisy chains, and made wishes as we blew hard on dandelion clocks and and watch the seeds float off into the sky. We held buttercups under our chins to see if we liked butter. Simple games, which even in the 1980s were still played.
There was a small, wet ditch at the bottom of the field that was home to frogspawn. Every spring I duly collected it and kept it in the bucket of my builder Dad’s old broken dump-truck, which was full of rainwater, to watch it grow. Little did I know back then that feeding the tadpoles plants only kept them happy for a while. When their legs develop, tadpoles became carnivorous — I don’t want to think too much about what happened when they were forced to start looking at each other in a new light in the bucket of that dump-truck! The Hunger Games comes to mind.
This week Blazing a Trail won the Children’s Book of the Year (senior) Award at the An Post Irish Book Awards 2018. This is a wonderful award and we, at the O’Brien Press, are very proud of this book and the remarkable women who created it. Blazing a Trail – Irish Women Who Changed the World was written by Sarah Webb and illustrated by Lauren O’Neill. Sarah and Lauren have chosen their favourite woman from Blazing a Trail with a disclaimer that this is very difficult to choose because they are all amazing in their own right!
I’ve spent the last two years in the company of some of Ireland’s most remarkable women and it’s hard to select one as my ‘favourite’. As I read about the women in turn, I discovered the truth about each individual journey – the obstacles they had to overcome, their tenacity, their determination, their hope that Ireland might be a different place for women in the future – and my admiration for all of them grew and grew.
However I discovered that one woman in particular had direct links to my family and also changed the course of my own education and that is Sarah Purser.
Sarah was an artist, patron and businesswoman who was born in Dún Laoghaire in 1848, the town where I live. She studied art in Paris as women were not allowed to study at the Royal Irish Academy (RHA) in Dublin at the time. Later, Sarah became the first woman to be given full membership of the organisation at the age of seventy-five.
She became well known for her portraits and painted some of the most famous Irish people of the time from Maud Gonne to Douglas Hyde.
In 1903, she set up An Túr Gloine (the Tower of Glass) and, thanks to her excellent business skills, it became a world-wide success, exporting glass to churches around the globe. It makes me smile to think that the stained glass windows in churches in Canada and New York and many other places were shipped over (and in many cases created) by Irish women at a time when women’s art was not widely appreciated or celebrated. Stained-glass artists Evie Hone and Wilhelmina Geddes and Harry Clarke all made glass for Sarah’s company.
Every Tuesday, Sarah held salons in her house for artists, writers and academics. My grandfather, WB Stanford, was a classics professor at TCD and wrote widely on the Greek language. He attended these salons with my grandmother.
Sarah also helped establish History of Art courses in both Trinity College Dublin and UCD. I studied History of Art in TCD; a course I loved. It is responsible for my abiding love of art, illustration and picturebooks.
And finally we share a first name.
Sarah Purser, I salute you!
It’s obviously very tough to choose a favourite among the Blazing a Trail women – they’re all very unique individuals. In terms of the artwork, Eileen Grey was probably my favourite to draw, or the aviators, Lilian Bland and Lady Heath. I love how those images turned out! I think the woman who made the biggest impression on me though was Margaret Bulkley, who lived her whole adult life as a man, Dr. James Barry. Her, or I should say his, academic achievements alone were amazing. But he was also the one who made the biggest leap in terms of how he wanted to present himself to the world. You have to admire that level of self conviction! Also he was a big animal lover, which deserves a big thumbs up. He was a very interesting character both to research and to draw.
The artwork for Blazing a Trail was actually a bit of a departure from my usual style in kids’ books. Generally I’m more focused on linework but for Blazing a Trail I combined line drawings with figures that felt a bit more painterly, which seemed to work well with some of the more historical subject matter. I mostly work digitally but I always use scanned textures in my work on some level. For Blazing a Trail I sketched out lots of small composition thumbnails in pencil for each image, and chose the one that I felt would work best full size. I would then take a photo of it on my phone, send it to my computer and paint over it in photoshop. At the end, I added in scanned paint textures to give everything a more organic and traditional feel.
The O’Brien Press are absolutely delighted to have two of our books shortlisted for three Irish Book Awards.
Blazing a Trail By Sarah Webb and illustrated by Lauren O’Neill has been shortlisted for two awards:
The Journal.ie Best Irish-Published Book Of the Year
The National Book Tokens Children’s Book of the Year – Senior
The Pooka Party by Shona Shirley Macdonald has been shortlisted for the following award:
The National Book Tokens Children’s Book of the Year – Junior
If you haven’t already heard about these amazing books then here is a little bit about them and a sneak peak!
Blazing a Trail is a book for everyone who dreams of changing the world.
‘Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank and buy a revolver.’
– COUNTESS MARKIEVICZ, rebel leader and politician
From daring aviator LADY HEATH to savvy gold prospector NELLIE CASHMAN, fearless sea captain GRANUAILE to world-class dancer DAME NINETTE DE VALOIS,
scene-stealing actor MAUREEN O’HARA to record-breaking runner SONIA O’SULLIVAN, activist MAUD GONNE to President MARY ROBINSON, meet the remarkable Irish women who shaped the world we live in.
Discover their achievements, the ways in which they devoted their whole lives to making a difference, and with each original stunning illustration, feel the essence of these important trailblazers.
‘We are all made of star stuff.’
– DAME JOCELYN BELL BURNELL, astrophysicist
Packed with fun, fascinating facts and stunning, full-page illustrations, this book celebrates the trail blazers who have shaped the world we live in.
Ready to walk in their footsteps? A world of bravery and discovery awaits you.
Made by two remarkable women, author Sarah Webb and illustrator Lauren O’Neill.
Sneak Peak Below!!
The Pooka is a magical shapeshifter who lives in the mountains all alone; fixing things, painting, dancing and singing. Suddenly, none of this seems fun any more, the Pooka realises that its lonely and hasn’t seen its friends in ages!
After having some time to think, the Pooka decides to throw a big party and invite all of its friends. Join the Pooka as it attempts to throw the Pooka party of the century in this fun and beautifully illustrated picture book.
A madcap tale of what to do if you feel sad and lonely, starring one shapeshifting hero with some musical monsters, flying cakes and a guest appearance by the Moon.
Our wonderful Editor, Helen Carr, took some time to talk to me about the her job, the books she’s currently working on, what she loves about her work and advice for aspiring editors!
What is your role in The O’Brien Press?
I’m a senior editor at The O’Brien Press. We’re a small company, 15-20 staff, so all the editors turn their hands to everything – I do managerial tasks, substantive editing, copyediting and proofreading, as well as working on blurbs, handling reprints and doing a certain amount of admin. I edit or manage about twenty books a year – a mix of general and children’s – on subjects ranging from fiction to current affairs, cookery to sport. There’s a great range within the children’s books I edit too; it can be anything from YA fiction, to picture books, to middle-grade non-fiction.
What do you like best about your role?
I love the variety. Some days I might spend mainly copyediting, while other days could be full of administration and planning. In terms of editing, I think my favourite thing is the substantive edit. I love meeting authors, talking about their books and their characters, getting a feel for the book and how we could work on it to shape it. I’ve just had a meeting with one of my authors, Ger Siggins. Ger is the author of the six-book ‘Rugby Spirit’ series about young rugby star, Eoin Madden and the ghosts he encounters. Now we’re discussing the first book in his exciting new ‘Sports Academy’ series, which will be out in early autumn. It’s called Atlantis United and it’s about five sports-mad kids who are selected for a very special and mysterious sports academy where they are trained to become the best in the world – and have many adventures along the way. It was great to talk through the plot and hear what he has planned for the characters in future books.
I also really love the development process on kids’ picture books. I work very closely with our designer, Emma Byrne and we’re currently finalising a beautiful and informative picture book called Island of Adventures; Fun things to do all around Ireland by Jennifer Farley. It’s going to be gorgeous, and I think families will love looking at the fun-filled, full-colour spreads of Irish adventures – everything from surfing to St Patrick’s Day parades features! I love to see the story take shape and see the images develop from roughs to final art. Continue reading “A Chat with Editor Helen Carr”
Conor Kostick, author of the brilliant sci-fi series The Avatar Chronicles, chats about imagination, online gaming and the growing popularity of LitRPG.
In 2003, I had an idea for a novel, which was inspired by a newspaper article claiming that the value of trades of virtual goods was sufficiently large (several billion dollars) that if it were a country it would rank greater than Bulgaria. What, I wondered, if this trend were to grow until your activity in virtual environments really mattered? What if the celebrities of the world were not sports stars and music stars, but gamers…?
I wrote Epicextremely quickly. In all the years and books since, I’ve never experienced anything like the same immersion in the world of my imagination. It was the summer between finishing my degree and starting a PhD and I knew this free time was precious. So every evening I would write until the early hours of the morning and during the day I would edit. So intense was my involvement with the book that my dreams were filled with it and I learned the value of keeping a notebook and pen beside me.
Gerard Siggins, author of the Rugby Spirit series and this year’s World Book Day book Rugby Roar, chats about the coming to the end of a series that began as a one book adventure and turned it to something bigger and better!
BOOK SIX of my ‘Rugby Spirit’ series is just out, and it may just be the last of the set. I never planned it as a series – I suppose most first-time novelists don’t have the sort of confidence that your publishers will want to keep publishing them and your readers will keep reading them.
No, Rugby Spirit was a once-off, a combination of a bedtime story my son kept pestering to write down, and a historical itch that needed scratching. I was chuffed that O’Brien Press said they would like to issue it, and even more delighted that they told me immediately to go off and write a sequel.
The first book concerned a boy coming to a new sport and finding advice and fellowship in the ghost of a long-dead rugby player. That character, Brian Hanrahan, was the only person ever to die playing sport in Lansdowne Road. He helps Eoin to get better at rugby, but also helped him to solve a mystery and understand more about the past.
As I sat down to plan Book 2, I tossed around ideas such as keeping it just to Eoin and Brian again, or taking out the supernatural element. But I realised that I could take it on a bit by keeping Eoin and Brian and adding a new ghost to the story. Rugby Warrior brought in Dave Gallaher, an Irish-born player who was the first captain of New Zealand’s All Blacks and who died in World War One. Continue reading “A Rugby Roar at the End of a Series”
Happy 2018 to everyone! To start of the New Year we at OBP chatted to author and illustrator Sarah Bowie about her upcoming picture book We’re Going to the Zoo!
What inspired you to write We’re Going to the Zoo?
I have very clear memories of going to the zoo myself when I was a little girl and I wanted to remember what it was like when you’re seeing these wild and exotic creatures for the first time in real life
What was your process for creating this book?
I started very simply, with a sketchpad and pencil. I tried to bypass my ‘front brain’ by just doodling and writing as quickly as possible. After a while I started to hear a grumpy little voice saying ‘The zoo is BORING!’, which is not what I’d been aiming for at all. However, I just went with it, kept doodling and writing and listening to what she and the other characters were saying. The important thing at the early stage is not to judge, you can always go back and fix things later. So that was how I got the original proposal written. After that I focused on page layout and pacing. It’s usually at this stage that I finalise the writing too. Once that’s nailed down, I focus on the artwork. Continue reading “We’re Going to…. Chat to Sarah Bowie”