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.

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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!

 

A Publishing Fairytale

This month we catch up with Nicola Colton. She tells the story behind the creation of her critically acclaimed picture book, A Dublin Fairytale:

A Dublin Fairytale began as a daydream on the bus; I imagined archetypal fairytale characters inhabiting famous landmarks and places in Dublin. The idea’s first application came in the form of a ‘promotional pack’ comprised of five postcards featuring characters like a troll at the ‘Ha’penny Bridge’ and a dragon at the ‘Spire’. I also created an illustrated map of the city, featuring famous landmarks like Trinity College, which became ‘Trinity College of Sorcery’ and different characters like mermaids inhabiting the River Liffey. I sent the promotional pack off to prospective clients and Emma, the art director from The O’Brien Press, saw potential in the idea as a picture book.

I began to look at bringing the characters together to form a story. I wanted the narrative to follow a fairytale-type structure and also allow the reader to explore Dublin. I worked out a route for Fiona, the main character, to take and began the story from there. Helen, my editor, was very helpful and encouraging during this process. I was really excited to feature Dublin in a picture book and to illustrate places that were familiar to me and to bring them to life in a magical way. I didn’t grow up in Dublin, but I lived there for eleven years and it’s a second home to me. I always found it to be a very vibrant city and no matter how long I’d lived there, there was always something new to discover. I wanted that sense of discovery and enchantment that I felt about Dublin to come through in the book.

Shortly after I signed the contract to write and illustrate the book I moved to Bristol. I began work on the book in a new city; which was strange at first. In hindsight I think it was a good thing as I was really missing Dublin and I put a lot of extra love into the illustrations as it was a way for me to revisit the city. Being away from Dublin meant it now held a sense of nostalgia for me and I reflected this in the muted and dreamy colour tones I used throughout the artwork in A Dublin Fairytale.

I’ve always loved fairytales and Red Riding Hood was a particular favourite as my granny

gave me a storytelling doll based on it when I was six. My granny died shortly after; so reading fairytales always made me feel close to her. It was nice to feature a Red Riding Hood-type character in the book – the main character Fiona, who sets off on the fourth page in her favourite red raincoat. As Fiona is on a journey through the city to her granny’s house via the Witches’ Market on Moore Street. it was also a way for me to visit my granny again through the story. Creating this book was an opportunity to combine my love of fairytales with a city that I love.

Picture 1I felt a responsibility to reflect Dublin and its beautiful buildings and landmarks to the best of my ability so I wanted the artwork in the book to be very detailed and carefully executed. I spent a long time working on the ‘Trinity College’ spread, in particular, as it such an impressive and iconic building and I wanted to get the details right. I enjoyed adding my own fairytale tweaks like turning the statues of Edmund Burke and Oliver Goldsmith into a wizard and witch to reflect the sorcery theme. I also liked adding lots of things happening in the background like a ‘spell cloud’ billowing from one of the chimneys and some sorcery students chatting in the background.

Picture 2I spent a long time on the Witches’ Market spread as well as I wanted to add lots of little details for children to pore over. I loved Halloween as a kid (I still do!) and one of my favourite things around that time was to draw witches with lots of potions and bottles of curious things in the background. My dad used to collect old apothecary glass bottles and they always held a fascination for me and looked like something a practitioner of magic would use. I really enjoyed designing bottles and coming up with silly ingredients and labels for the spread. As Moore Street is full of colourful characters and is Dublin’s oldest food market it seemed like the perfect setting for a Witches’ Market.

Picture 3The spread where Fiona is walking through St Stephen’s Green Forest and mistakes the giant’s legs for trees is based on the perspective I had as a three- to five-year-old. I was very shy back then and remember hiding behind my dad’s legs any time I was introduced to a grown up I didn’t know. I remember thinking they were like trees and feeling very small, but safe behind them.

Adobe Photoshop PDFIt’s been really exciting and surreal to see the book published and out on the shelves in bookshops. When I received my first copies in the post I was very impressed with the printing; the uncoated offset paper really works with the soft colour palette and textures I chose.

I was also excited that it’s a hardback book, which makes it that little bit extra special.

The O’Brien Press team did a fantastic job on the production and design. The book launch in Dubray Books was fantastic and little touches like cookies featuring characters from the book (baked by The Cake Café) really made the event. Geraldine and Ruth in the Marketing Department did an amazing job organizing the launch.

Picture 5Another highlight was being asked to paint a scene from the book in Dublin’s iconic Hodges Figgis bookshop window. It was a wonderful experience and also afforded me the opportunity to meet people who bought the book and to hear their feedback. I was pleasantly surprised that about half the people buying the book that day were tourists. It really made me happy that people from outside of Dublin and Ireland are interested in the book too.

Picture 6The most important thing for me, though, has been the response from children. I’m really thrilled when parents tell me that the book is now part of their bedtime routine and when I hear about children’s favourite characters or parts of the book. I created the book with young children in mind so it’s wonderful to hear when it resonates with them.

Picture 7Nicola Colton is an illustrator based in Dublin. Her style is playful and colourful and very much influenced by folktales/folk art, scenes in nature and children’s picture books.

Her website is www.nicolacolton.com.

Under the Spell of the Hawthorn Tree

Earlier this month, Today FM posted on their Facebook page an original copy of Under the Hawthorn Tree, which got a phenomenal response (over 25k likes in a couple of hours!). Michael O’Brien, The O’Brien Press Publisher, talks about how the bestselling book and its iconic cover came to be.

Looking back on 1989, when I introduced artist Donald Teskey to Marita Conlon-McKenna, she was virtually unknown and he was in the early stages of his career as a painter.

Marita had submitted Under the Hawthorn Tree, a brutal yet brilliant story based around the Irish Famine, the question raised was, would parents want their children reading about starvation and death in 1840s Ireland. This made the illustrating of the novel critical, to set the right tone when capturing the tragedy which caused one million deaths and one million to leave Ireland’s shores. It needed an illustrator who could capture the drama and action of the three children fleeing across Ireland to save their lives, yet in a style that would encourage them to read and enjoy the book, rather than be scared by the hardship depicted by Marita.

My first experience of Donald Teskey was through the café his wife Kim Bloom ran in Terenure; on the walls she displayed wonderful drawings by him showing the urban life of Dublin at the time – gritty yet beautiful. I was greatly impressed! This was before Donald’s exhibitions in the early nineties, which launched his stellar career as a landscape painter. When Kim introduced me to Donald and I saw his portfolio, I was blown away and I asked him to illustrate some O’Brien Press children’s books, including Under the Hawthorn Tree.

Recently, I asked Donald about illustrating Marita’s books, and he said he was influenced by Louis Le Brocquy’s Táin illustrations. He said: ‘I wished to give the reader an inkling of what was going to happen – to capture the humanity of the story.’

Donald went on to create similar illustrations for Wildflower Girl and Fields of Home to complete the trilogy.

Since those days, Donald Teskey’s reputation and work has spread internationally to major centres of art: Paris, London and New York. He elected a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy and is represented in major collections including the Arts Council, Irish Museum of Modern Art, AIB, Limerick City Gallery of Art, KPMG, Butler Gallery, The Ulster Bank, OPW and The Ballinglen Arts Foundation.

O’Brien Press is printing a limited edition of Under the Hawthorn Tree with the original cover. Check it out here.

 

The 2015 CBI Design-a-Cover Competition Winners

Congratulations to the 2015 Children’s Books Ireland Design-a-Cover Competition Winners!

Back in October 2014 we teamed up with CBI for the annual Design-a-Cover Competition. The book chosen was The Lost Fairy by Marian Broderick – it’s a story about a very vain Christmas tree fairy who falls off her perch!

We asked school children across Ireland to send us their designs for a new cover and wow, the caliber of the entries was amazing! It was tough, but we chose a Winner, 2nd place and 4 Runners Up.

In first place is Shelagh Jessica Gilbourne from Cork, whose artwork will appear on the cover of the book!

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In second place is Jasmine Carroll from Ardee, Co. Louth whose work will appear on the back cover.

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Runners up, Kayla Brady, Saibh Scorr, Orla Fitzpatrick and Sarah O’Beirne will see their artwork used on the inner back cover page of the new edition of The Lost Fairy!

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Well done to everyone and thank you for entering!

The new edition of The Lost Fairy will be out in April.

Our take on ‘Dubliners’ by James Joyce

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

 

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

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

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

There I had my two design elements:

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

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

What did you think of our cover?

For more information on Dubliners click here.

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

Happy Bloomsday!

 

Interview with Alfonso Zapico author of the graphic novel ‘James Joyce, Portrait of a Dubliner’

JamesJoyce-PortraitofaDublinerDid you miss the interview with author and illustrator Alfonso Zapico in the Irish Independent last week? Well don’t worry because we have all the inside information on his fantastic graphic novel James Joyce, Portrait of a Dubliner here! Read on to find out more about his fascinating project!

Alfonso, how did you come up with the idea to create a graphic novel about the life of James Joyce?

There are a lot of reasons I decided to write the book, no one reason alone. It was a test in a way, to see if I could actually do it. I like to try to build a life with all the elements around a character: the scenery, the places, the other characters, and to recreate the atmosphere of the time through my drawings. I suppose it’s similar to making a film, but with paper and ink. It was a very interesting experiment! The other reasons were more philosophical: James Joyce was a pioneer in 20th century literature: he changed people’s view of the world and society, he rejected the big heroic characters and gave prominence to ordinary men and women, real life, the little details of human existence. And the third reason, and maybe the most important one for me, is the rebelliousness of Joyce, his optimism, and the way he overcame so many challenges during his life. Perhaps this is an Irish trait, I think you can see it throughout Irish history.

How was your experience of researching the book and the life of James Joyce?

The most important thing for me was to try to get across to the reader the spirit of Joyce, this great artist and his world, his vision of life. When I was researching the life of James Joyce, two essential books for me were the biography of Joyce by Richard Ellmann and ‘Joyce for Beginners’ by David Norris & Carl Flint. Also, of course, Joyce’s books: in ‘Ulysses’, ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ and ‘Dubliners’, I found lots of small details that helped me to build Joyce’s Dublin.

You also did some research for the book in Dublin, how was that?

I spent many months doing research for the book in Dublin and the experience was fantastic! I didn’t just want to create my drawings from old photos in books. In order to get across the essence of a place, you have to visit that place. I walked the Dublin streets, I saw the colour of the sky, I drank beer in the pubs, I ate fish and chips, I talked to Dubliners. Old photos are all very well, but Dublin is a magical city, and you have to go to the heart of Dublin to try to understand Joyce. Maybe this special atmosphere is not always visible to people who live in Dublin, but for me as a visitor, it was a joy the first time, the second time and every time I return to this wonderful city.

Thanks very much for the chat Alfonso!

Click here for more information on James Joyce, Portrait of a Dubliner

Plus head to www.obrien.ie where you can get 20% off all our James Joyce books for the month of June!

Happy Bloomsday!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Where's Larry? by Phillip Barrett, Image: The O'Brien Press

As a St. Patrick’s Day gift from O’Brien Press, we’ve given you a very special sneak peek of our forthcoming book Where’s Larry by Phillip Barrett!

You can follow Larry the Leprechaun around Ireland, and see if you can find him in Newgrange, at The Rock of Cashel and at The Cliffs of Moher! But it won’t be easy: he is hiding in the middle of Irish dancers, traditional musicians, climbers, tourists, hurlers and many others.

See if you can you spot Larry in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on O’Connell Street!
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Keep your eyes peeled for Where’s Larry? in shops in June!

Sally Launches to the Stars!

In celebration of the publication of the beautiful Sally Go Round the Stars, first-time author Claire Ranson shares her 10-year journey through rhyme and her experience of working with co-author Sarah Webb and illustrator Steve McCarthy to create this timeless collection…

As a first time author, I am thrilled beyond measure that my first book Sally Go Round the Stars, has finally made it into print in such a beautiful form. This book has been a long time labour of love for my co-editor, Sarah Webb and I, as we first came up with the idea of creating a collection of nursery rhymes about ten years ago. We gathered street rhymes, lullabies, songs and jingles from many sources, from dusty library books to the older generations of our families, but mostly from children and our own memories of the rhymes and poems that were important to us when we were children. It wasn’t possible for the book to be published at that stage, but when the O’Brien Press approached us last year to see if we would be interested in talking about a nursery rhyme book again, we leapt at the chance!

Interestingly enough, despite both having busy lives, and Sarah having published many books in the meantime, we both still had all the research that we had done, and had each added to it since the project had been shelved. Over the years, I would always jot down any new rhymes or versions that I heard and Sarah had done the same. Our only problem was in choosing which rhymes would make it into the book, as we had enough material for three or four books! The selection and editing process was very enjoyable, and although we mostly agreed on which rhymes should go into the book, at other times we were trading backwards and forwards to make sure our favourites were included. Ide, our editor at O’BP, was referee when the discussions got heated!

For a nursery rhyme book, the illustrations are, of course, all important, and we had very particular requirements for the illustrations. We were enormously lucky to get Steve as our illustrator, and I am just blown away by his fantastic illustrations. I love the quirky inventiveness of his pictures and they bring a fresh vision of the familiar rhymes.

As the book is published, it is a very exciting time, and we hope that readers, both young and old, will enjoy sharing the book as much as we enjoyed creating it.

Sally Go Round the Stars is available now from all good bookshops and www.obrien.ie priced €14.99!

Australian editions of The Moorehawke Trilogy win coveted Australian Design Award

Back at my desk this morning after a smidgen of annual leave to the delightful news that the covers of the Australian editions of The Moorehawke Trilogy by Celine Kiernan have won Best Designed Children’s Series at the 59th Annual Book Design Awards in Australia! The fantastic covers are the creation of Designer Bruno Herfst and Illustrator Elise Hurst and we send our heartiest congratulations down under to them! Celine was equally as thrilled and has blogged about their win, as well as other interesting developments in the many foreign editions of her O’Brien Press titles, and you can read more about all of this on her blog.