Wee Donkey, Big Personality

This week, author Erika McGann and illustrator Gerry Daly tell us all about their latest picture book, Wee Donkey’s Treasure Hunt, particularly, how this mischievous and cheeky donkey came to life and how her adventure developed.

Erika McGann

When I began working on my first picture book, I was very tempted to write it in rhyme. I grew up loving Each Peach Pear Plum and everything Dr. Seuss, and there really isn’t anything as musical or joyful as a well-written story for children in verse. But as it was my first attempt at writing a book for that age group, the added pressure of doing it in rhyme was too intimidating. I had to consider language level, structure, and content for an audience that was new to me, not to mention jamming a full and fun story into such a tiny word count. I could see myself getting close to the deadline, sweating, frantically searching for something to rhyme with ‘orange’. Although my first drafts had occasional, accidental rhyming phrases (which gave me a silly amount of glee), I knew I should wait until I had a little more experience with the age level to do it properly.

A couple of years later I was finishing up a series for older kids and looking to submit a new project to O’Brien Press. I was dying to do something just for the fun of it, and it finally seemed time to give the rhyming children’s book a go. I’d recently worked on Where Are You, Puffling? with Ger, and I thought another adorable animal protagonist would be great craic to write. I searched images of cute animals for a bit of inspiration and came across a brilliant photo of a wide-smiling wee donkey with her nose pressed up against the camera lens. She made me laugh, and I figured I’d found the right character to work with – cheeky, loveable, and great for a giggle.

Continue reading “Wee Donkey, Big Personality”

Hedgehogs, Hoglets and Hibernation

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

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

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

Continue reading “Hedgehogs, Hoglets and Hibernation”

Ten-minute Chat with Úna Woods

Una Woods – Photography by Ruth Medjber @ruthlessimagery

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

How does it feel to have your first book published?

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

What made you sign up for Culture Night in 2018?

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

Tell us about your Culture Night Pitch Perfect experience.

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

Continue reading “Ten-minute Chat with Úna Woods”

Virtual Interview with Carol Ann Treacy

This week, I had a virtual interview with the wonderful Carol Ann Treacy, author and illustrator of Barney Goose – A Wild Atlantic Way Adventure. Carol tells us about her inspiration for Barney Goose, her writing and illustrating processes and more!

What inspired you to write and illustrate Barney GooseA Wild Atlantic Way Adventure?
A few years ago we took a trip along the Wild Atlantic Way coastline. It was such a fun holiday, and I was struck by the beauty of marine and bird life there. I really wanted to capture that in some way, so I started thinking about creating an illustrated journey book. I am fascinated by wildlife and in particular birds (mostly because they can fly). I’m kind of in awe of how geese fly in formations and on such incredibly long journeys across vast oceans every year. I thought it might be interesting to tell a tale of a barnacle goose who starts his life as a displaced egg, away from other geese, but through instinct, determination and a little help from other animals he meets along the Wild Atlantic Way, finds his way back on track. And then he makes that unbelievable journey, thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean, for the first time.

What was your creative process with this book? What came first – the illustrations or the words?

I start my process with notebooks, which are usually a mess that no one could decipher apart from myself! Initially, I worked on both the storyline and illustrations for Barney Goose in tandem. Whenever I got stuck, I could switch over, and one kind of informed the other. I worked on my main character, Barney the barnacle goose, first – they are such striking geese, with long, black necks and white-feathered faces.

After doing my research on the life and character of these geese, I started teasing out the story of Barney’s journey from West Cork to Donegal, and drawing some of the other characters Barney meets along the way. When I had my storyline in place, I submitted the text to my editor, Eoin O’Brien, for refinement. At this stage, Eoin suggested creating some ‘scamps’ – very rough sketches. Using a roll of parchment paper, I sketched out every double page spread as one long, continuous storyboard. This was my favourite part of the process, where everything started to come together. I love using a scrollable storyboard – it’s a great way to see just how all the scenes interact, and at this stage you can correct or change anything, before any detail is added.

Once everyone was happy with the sketched layout, I photographed my storyboard and started to work over my drawing in digital format. I used Adobe Illustrator and a Wacom tablet for drawing and painting.

Continue reading “Virtual Interview with Carol Ann Treacy”

Dare to Dream of Favourites

This week we chatted with the wonderful author Sarah Webb and the amazing illustrator Graham Corcoran about their book Dare to Dream. We asked them to choose their favourite three people who dared to dream …

Sarah Webb’s favourite dreamers…

In Dare to Dream, I wanted to shine a light on Irish dreamers from all walks of life: sports people, activists, scientists, adventurers, creators, writers and even rock stars! Irish people who have achieved great things, often overcoming great obstacles along the way.

I thoroughly enjoyed the months spent researching remarkable Irish people, and it’s hard to select just three as ‘favourites’. However, I really admire Maude Delap, who spent a lifetime studying jellyfish and working out their life cycles.

Maude was born in 1866, and as a child moved to Valentia Island, County Kerry, with her family. She spent most of her time outside, searching the island and the sea around it for unusual creatures. As I was mad about whales and dolphins as a child (and still am), this really spoke to me.

In the 1890s, a group of scientists visited the island, and Maude and her sister Connie helped them catch sea creatures in nets and also took the temperature of the sea. It was the start of Maude’s passion for jellyfish.

She designed and made her own jellyfish aquarium, which she called ‘the department’, and became the first person in the world to successfully raise them in captivity. She published her work in 1901, and scientists still use her research to this day.

I was really taken by Maude’s passion and tenacity – it took great care and hard work to raise jellyfish, but she never gave up. She dedicated her life to her work and will be remembered as a brilliant citizen scientist.

Continue reading “Dare to Dream of Favourites”

My Little Blog Post of Dublin

This week Juliette Saumande, Tarsila Krüse and Helen Carr tell us all about the making of My Little Album of Dublin and their favourite places in the Fair City! 

Juliette Saumande 

Juliette Saumande is a French writer based in Dublin. She has published over 40 books in French and English. When she’s not writing, she can be found translating books, reading books, recommending books, talking about books and building forts with books. She enjoys things like tapdancing and liquorice, but hates Crunchies with a passion. Come and say ‘hi’ at  juliettesaumande.blogspot.ie 

 

 

The Wheels of Fortune (on a Dublin Bus)

Between Dublin and thirteen-year-old me it was love at first sight. Coming from the suburbs of Paris, where the French capital felt like a limitless maze packed-full of numberless strangers, I was struck by how small, how homely and friendly Dublin was. You couldn’t get lost! You couldn’t set half a toe in town without meeting someone you knew! It was great. I knew straight away that I wanted to come back and spend longer than the few days I had that first time. So I did. As a dedicated tourist initially (brownie points to my family for humouring me, then becoming Emerald Isle enthusiasts), then as an Erasmus student, and eventually as a Dubliner.

So I’ve been here for well over ten years, reading, writing, translating, chatting, making friends and making it even harder to feel lost or lonely. And after all that time, I still feel quite excited about the city, the new bits, the old bits, the eating places, the meeting places. My favourite haunts, if you can call it that, are Dublin buses. I’ve had some of my best ideas on the number 78 (as was), some of my best rants on the 7 and the elusive 68, some of my strangest conversations with total strangers on the 13 or 40 (about the weather, food, books, kids… or what the Irish use their churches for these days).

And I’ve had some of the best views over the city, just above pedestrian level (because, obviously, the whole point of a double-decker bus is to sit upstairs, right at the front where possible). From up there you can see beyond fancy hedges and building site fences, into first-floor shops and balconies, on top of people’s heads and bus stops (where you sometimes make interesting discoveries)…

Continue reading “My Little Blog Post of Dublin”

The Children of Lir

So much work, thought and creativity go in to making a book. This autumn we are publishing an illustrated edition of the Children of Lir written in verse. Laura Ruth Maher submitted her wonderful rhyming version of everyone’s favourite Irish myth. Once accepted, Emma, our designer, set out to commission an illustrator. Three weeks ago, our wonderful illustrator, Conor Busuttil flew from his home in the UK to hand-deliver the stunning art work. I spoke with Laura, Conor and Emma about the exciting process of making a book.

Laura

While working as a Montessori teacher I have always tried hard to incorporate Irish myths and legends into the curriculum; they’ve always been a favourite of mine. From a young age they sparked a love for all things magical and enchanted, something I have always tried to instil in the children in my care whether through storytelling or art, the development of imagination, wonder and curiosity knows no bounds. Our lovely myths and legends, however, can be quite difficult to simplify for pre-school children, especially when the only books available have few illustrations to accompany a text that has beautiful big Irish words such as Tuatha de Danann, Emain Macha and Mochaomhóg.

While researching the importance of storytelling for the dissertation of my degree in early education, I was reminded of how crucial rhyming stories are for the development of literacy skills in children. Rhyme gives children the confidence to participate in the storytelling process, as well as the ability to predict what might come next. I had a pure lightbulb moment of how a rhyming version of the Children of Lir might just hold their attention and interest as their favourite rhyming books have done over the years.

The Children of Lir felt like a perfect story to begin with as it tells how love and bravery can give you the determination to keep going no matter how hard things get – a little lesson that you are never too young to learn. So, you can imagine my excitement when O’Brien Press felt the same and accepted my submission for publication.

I was slightly apprehensive when I was told that the illustrator would be chosen by O’Brien Press as through the whole process of writing, I knew where the characters lived, their faces and what the magic looked like around them so it was important to me that the illustrator chosen would be able to see the same. When I was sent Conor Busuttil’s work as a prospective illustrator for the book I was overwhelmed by his imagination and talent. I knew instantly that he would work wonders on the illustrations for this book and he has surpassed all my expectations and then some! He has such a wonderful style of drawing which has managed to capture the love, fear, panic and magic throughout the entire story, truly making it come alive.

The Children of Lir is one of my favourite legends and I couldn’t be happier to know that this early introduction into the magical world of Irish myths and legends is keeping our traditional stories alive for children of all ages to love and retell!

Conor

From the mention of this project I was excited to get started. It was after pulling out books I have had since a was little based on the old Celtic myths and legend, rummaging through my dad’s (keen metal detectorist) history books on jewellery and buildings to the point I was told to go get my own, to going out in the field and drawing bits first that I slowly started to compose the basis for the proper direction I wanted to go.

From the get go, I felt I wanted Fionnuala to be the natural leader of the group. Being the eldest and the mother figure to her brothers, in a few scenes I have tried to make her the focus of the others’ attentions. In terms of how the children looked as human, I did try and give them individual personalities through their mannerisms, but the ideas for how they looked came from watching nieces/nephews and a few sketch attempts. While reading Laura’s script I had my sketch book beside me and drew whatever popped into my head. I think the first image was the children grouped together as swans. Fionnuala standing stern while the brothers nervously huddle around her looking for direction as they look out at this new version of their lives and the challenges they might face.

I think the main challenge was with it being a naturally sad tale: these children have been bewitched for hundreds of years, but I needed to keep the images child friendly. So there was a little back and forth with ideas on that, but just as important were the colours. We naturally associate certain colours with certain characteristics, like a bold dark red as danger or a light washy blue as healing and soft. Just choosing the colour of the magic on the cover took a few attempts; hopefully the reader will get that warm, happy welcome when picking up the book.

Continue reading “The Children of Lir”

A Giant Blog Post

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!

Continue reading “A Giant Blog Post”

Alan Nolan on World Book Day, Writing, Illustrating, Animals and Rock Star Grannies

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.

Continue reading “Alan Nolan on World Book Day, Writing, Illustrating, Animals and Rock Star Grannies”

Where Are You, Puffling? and Where Did You Come From?

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.

Continue reading “Where Are You, Puffling? and Where Did You Come From?”