An Amazing New Children’s Sports Series Begins….

 

We at the O’Brien  Press are delighted to be publishing the first two books in the all new Great Irish Sports Stars series: Cora Staunton and Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper. Ivan O’Brien, Eimear Ryan and Donny Mahoney chatted with me about this new series. 

Ivan O’Brien

Sport is becoming an ever-increasing part of the lives of many children, and it really gets them excited. We have published quite a few novels for young readers with sporting themes (you can see them here: http://www.obrien.ie/childrens/sport-childrens) and seen the way young readers devour them! Fiction is great, but it’s not real life, and role models are hugely important, so we had an idea: why not create a series of books about Ireland’s greatest sporting heroes, written for children? Unlike sports biographies for adults they would focus on the hero’s childhood and the key moments in their lives that made them a success. We approached some writers who we knew would do a great job, and Great Irish Sports Stars was born!

Eimear Ryan

As a young GAA-mad girl growing up in Tipperary, most of my idols were men. When I was pucking out the back, I’d pretend to be Nicky English or DJ Carey – or, if I was playing football for a change, Charlie Redmond or Maurice Fitzgerald. I knew of female GAA players, of course – the Downey sisters of Kilkenny, Laois footballer Sue Ramsbottom, and legendary Tipp camogie forward Deirdre Hughes. But you would only really hear about these players in September, when RTE broadcast the women’s All-Ireland finals. Unlike the men, they didn’t often get featured on The Sunday Game or turned into pull-out posters.

Then along came Cora.

Cora Staunton was one of the first crossover stars of women’s GAA. Crucially, Cora’s breakthrough in the early 2000s coincided with TG4’s sponsorship of the ladies football championship, so her career was televised from early on. Her undeniable prowess was there for everyone to see, and soon enough, she started popping up in Lucozade ads and in in-depth interviews in the sports pages. Not only was she a brilliant female player, she was a highly visible one.

In my research for the book, I took great inspiration from Game Changer, Cora’s aptly-named autobiography written with Mary White. It gives very honest insights not just into Cora’s football career, but into the personal tragedies she has lived through, such as losing her mother when she was sixteen. Later, she lost a teammate and friend, Aisling McGing, when Aisling was just eighteen. Time and time again, when faced with personal loss, Cora turned to football for solace. Her story demonstrates the importance of sport not just as a physical outlet, but as a mental and emotional outlet as well.

Cora is inspiring because of her swagger – her total belief in her own ability and the very high standards she set for herself. She is by no means a ‘safe’ player – she takes risks, and is rewarded more often than not. For most players, scoring an outlandish tally of 2-10 would be a career highlight; for Cora, it’s just another day at the office. At the same time, she’s genuine and down-to-earth off the pitch. Her unapologetic ambition, coupled with her down-to-earth attitude, is what makes her such an exciting player to watch.

Donny Mahoney

What makes a genius? Are they born or made?

Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper was a human highlight reel during his Gaelic football career for Kerry, a magician with the ball in his hand. But unlike many contemporary sporting phenoms who seem anointed for greatness from childhood, Cooper’s success was never a sure thing.

This was what drew me to the story of the Gooch for my book in the Great Irish Sport Stars series. I thought young readers would be drawn to the story of how a good footballer became one of the game’s greats.

From a young age, Cooper loved sport and was incredibly driven. He brought a Gaelic football with him everywhere he went. But in his teenage years, he was doubted and overlooked by coaches and selectors because of his size.

The book tells the story of Cooper’s GAA journey from his estate in Killarney to the steps of the Hogan Stand. It also tries to convey the mystique of Kerry football. For as long as I’ve been watching Gaelic football, I’ve been fascinated by Kerry football, and the Gooch has been central to that.

From researching and writing the book, what I found most striking was the enduring power of the club for Cooper. The Gooch experienced more famous days in Croke Park than the vast majority of GAA players, but what truly mattered most to him were the experiences with his club, Dr Crokes.

In a way, Colm Cooper’s GAA story is bookended by two experiences with his club: acting as a mascot when they won the 1992 club All-Ireland and winning the club All-Ireland with Dr Crokes in 2017. The story of the club is the story of so many Irish communities.

It was a privilege to tell Cooper’s GAA journey for young readers. Books about sport were so important to my own youth. They fostered not just a lifelong love of sport, but of storytelling too. All good sports books – no matter what age group they’re aimed at – touch on universal themes: hope, failure and glory.

These themes run across the great career of Colm Cooper, and hopefully young readers who may have never seen the Gooch in full flight will be fascinated by his story.

 

Cora Staunton and Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper will be published 12 August 2019 and will be available in all good bookshops and on www.obrien.ie 

Ivan O’Brien, Eimear Ryan and Donny Mahoney August 2019

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”

It’s cold out there … but there’s still plenty to see

Juanita Browne, author of the wonderful The Great Big Book of Irish Wildlife, chats about her inspiration for the book and how we can help wildlife in our garden this Christmas.

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.

Continue reading “It’s cold out there … but there’s still plenty to see”

Red Rover, Red Rover!

“England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Inside, Outside, Donkeys’ Tails!” Kunak McGann, author of Red Rover, Red Rover! Games From an Irish Childhood, shares her memories of playing games as a child with her family and neighbours!

The idea for a book of childhood games has been percolating in my mind for years. Every time I had one of those ‘Remember when…?’ conversations with friends or family, I thought to myself, I really must get a move on. So it was with much excitement and no small relief that Red Rover, Red Rover – Games from an Irish Childhood has become a reality.

I grew up in Drogheda, on an estate of about forty houses, and with families of four or five children not uncommon back in the heady days of the 1980s, playmates were never in short supply. I was lucky enough to have four of the best in the form of brothers and a sister. One thing you need to know about my family is that, like most 80s kids, we were particularly snappy dressers and had fabulous haircuts (with the photographic evidence to prove it). The other is that we were nearly always up for a game of something or other.

One of our favourites was Kerbs – there was a period of a few years where the irregular thump of the ball off a kerb was to be heard most days, up and down our road. I was never really gifted with the skill set required for that game, but that never stopped me. My brothers proved more skilful, although I did eventually make up for my lack of natural ability with sheer volume of practice. My abiding memories of Kerbs, though, will always be either waiting patiently as my opponent hit kerb after kerb after kerb (how long could they keep going??), or the sheer joy on my younger brother’s face when he tried the high-scoring backward, over-the-head throw yet again and actually managed to hit the kerb. I’m pretty sure that he would have consistently scored higher if he just threw normally each time, but I was always delighted with his high-stakes gambling approach to the game. Continue reading “Red Rover, Red Rover!”

Alan Nolan on Sam Hannigan’s Woof Week

Author and illustrator Alan Nolan chats about writing, illustrating and the inspiration for Sam Hannigan’s Woof Week!

Sam Hannigan began life in one of my battered sketchbooks as a sketch of a young girl with freckles, playing an oversized guitar and wearing a cowboy hat. As with most of my characters, she came into my head in the middle of the night, cowboy hat and all, and I scrambled at the side of my bed for a sketchpad and a pencil to get her down on paper before she pulled up the bedroom window blind and escaped. As usual, to avoid waking my wife, this was drawn almost completely in the dark – when I woke up in the morning I had to make sense of the manic, spidery scribble, which I’d jammed into my shoe so I’d remember I’d done it in the first place.

Beside the sketch I had written ‘Brianna Buckley, plays guitar, eats dog biscuits, best friend is a boy, bully brother, parents country music fans = Dolly and Kenny, big dog, brain swap’.

I pitched the idea to The O’Brien Press. They loved the character of Brianna Buckley, but didn’t much like the name Brianna. They also thought the storyline – with Brianna as an X-Factor-like contestant brain-swapping with a dog and competing in the TV programme against her parents, Derek and Dodo, whilst trying to save (a) her house from being repossessed and (b) an international Russian supermodel and an emperor penguin from the clutches of a gangster called Terry the Thump ­– was a little convoluted and not overly child-friendly. ‘Think about who you are writing for,’ said Ivan. ‘Are you writing for children or for yourself?’ Continue reading “Alan Nolan on Sam Hannigan’s Woof Week”

Our visitors from the East!

Russian visitors
Our visitors from Khabarovsk with author Nicola Pierce (centre) and Peter Heaney (second from left)

On Monday we had a truly original set of visitors to the office: a school group from the Russian city of Khabarovsk. These students, growing up a stone’s throw from China and about as far east as you can go before hitting the Pacific Ocean, have struck up a remarkable interest in Ireland and all things Irish. One of them is even learning Irish dancing. So how did this happen?

Peter Heaney, a wonderful (former) teacher and great friend to The O’Brien Press, has been working on clever multinational education projects for years: he also set up a collaboration between schools in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and South Africa to explore Aubrey Flegg‘s book The Cinnamon Tree. This work has all been supported by The Pushkin Trust, which has been promoting all-Ireland collaboration through the arts for children for twenty-five years. The Russian connection was a remote one until the growth of the internet: there are now nine schools from Northern Ireland, eight from Russia and two from the Republic of Ireland involved in regular online collaboration. Modern technology can facilitate so much that would have been a dream previously!

Peter has been working with the Polytechnical Lyceum Khabarovsk for three years now, from his home in Derry. A year ago he called me and told me that the class were particularly interested in Nicola Pierce‘s remarkable novel Spirit of the Titanic – they had even translated chapters into Russian and entered these translations into Russian national competitions! Of course, at that point Peter did not know that our next book with Nicola, City of Fate, was set during the Battle of Stalingrad in World War II (or The Great Patriotic War, as it is known in Russia). The coincidence of their favourite author writing a novel that was set in their own country was simply too much; they had to visit!

CityofFateAnd so today a tour of the office, interspersed with many questions, was followed by a presentation by Nicola about City of Fate; she undertook a huge amount of research when writing the book and now spends a lot of time in schools and libraries showing children the world of Stalingrad that inspired it. We also showed our visitors the wide range of our books that have been translated into other languages. They were impressed, but much more interested in reading books in the original English, a result of their inspirational teacher Olga’s belief that no translation (and particularly not dumbed-down educational adaptations) can capture the spirit of a real book!

Clearly all book lovers to their fingertips, these remarkable young people are an example of how children’s books truly can unite people across the world.

Thanks to Peter Heaney, author Nicola Pierce, teacher Olga Ilina and all the students for an amazing day!

A War Story

Best-selling author Nicola Pierce, talks about her time researching and writing City of Fate.

I am addicted to reading and have spent a lot of money on my book-buying habit, one book always leading on to another. For years, I limited myself to fiction until somewhere along the way, I began to buy and read books about writers: biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, essays, diaries and letters. At one point, I bought a second-hand book about the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, Anna of all the Russias by Elaine Feinstein. As much as I’d like to admit to a deep appreciation for poetry, it just wouldn’t be true. However, I love to read about poets and their writing, even if I don’t ‘get’ their work.

Halfway through the biography, it struck me that I was revelling in reading about Russia. I was unaware of what the Russians had endured, before, during and after World War II. I’d no idea Stalin behaved as he did, killing more of his own people than anyone else.

Next I discovered A Writer’s War, a biography about Russian journalist and writer Vasily Grossman. This book not only introduced me to Grossman but also to the British historian, Anthony Beevoir, who wrote it. Grossman joined the Red Army to behold the fight against the invading Germans. This is where I first read about the Battle of Stalingrad. After finishing this biography, I read Grossman’s novel, Life and Fate about the battle and civilian life under Stalin. Inevitably, I bought Beevoir’s best-selling Stalingrad and by this stage was hooked on history and war. My library was expanding, as any decent library should.

There were two stories in Beevoir’s book that jumped out at me. Firstly, how a Russian teacher was ordered by the NKVD to enrol his class of thirty sixteen-year-old boys in the army to fight at Stalingrad. By the time he reached the registry office, half the class had vanished. Beevoir could not confirm the teacher’s fate but thought it highly probable that the man paid for this ‘infraction’ with his life. The second story concerned a massacre of a small Jewish village in rural Russia. The parents were shot first and then, following some debate, so were the children, aged seven right down to toddlers … even babies. This second story also appeared in William Craig’s book, Enemy at the Gates (much, much better than the film) and in a documentary I watched on The History Channel. It’s not the sort of thing one can easily forget. I’d absolutely no idea how I would incorporate it into a children’s novel but I was determined to include it somehow, though even now I can’t explain why. Perhaps I will be criticised for this because, well, I won’t make it too easy! In any case, it’s just a small mention but I stand by it.

From the very beginning, I had two boys in mind. I didn’t know who they were but they kept turning up in my mind’s eye, walking through the ruined streets of Stalingrad, mostly oblivious to the two warring armies around them.

I wanted the story of the teacher and the fifteen pupils who stood by him. What is it like to be a schoolboy one minute and then an inexperienced soldier in the midst of a deadly battle? I tried to imagine the fear and confusion, especially when it came to actually having to kill another human being who was trying to kill you.

The story grew thanks to the characters. I don’t plan my books and generally have little or no idea what I will write, from day to day. This can be quite scary but I can’t seem to break the habit.

All I knew was that I wanted to include as much fact as I could, as I did in Spirit of the Titanic. Also, I wanted to show that there could still be beauty in wartime, whether it’s a solo rendition of Beethoven or a charcoal drawing of Mary and baby Jesus. Art might not change your life in such situations but it can help, even momentarily, to lift your spirits.

I wanted to explore what motivates a person to fight and keep fighting when all seems lost. I think I managed to work it out: I think it’s about the importance of “home”.

Just before City of Fate went to the printers, I unexpectedly received the new sixth edition of Spirit of the Titanic. I am writing this essay a month before City of Fate reaches the book shelves and – there’s no denying it – I am nervous. Recent sleepless nights have been spent trying to distract myself from visions of readers finishing the new book and finding it inferior to my Titanic story.

However, I have to remind myself that no matter what the reception is or what anyone else says about City of Fate, I did it. I wrote a second novel. And it’s a book that I would like to read.

I simply have to accept that I have no control over what happens next!

Nicola Pierce

City of Fate is now available at www.obrien.ie and most good bookshops.

One Book One Community

One Book One Community is a community reading project based on the successful One City One Book project that take place ever year in Dublin and in cities across the world. As part of One Book One Community projects, children and their families are encouraged to read and discuss a particular book, along with supporting activities held in schools, libraries and in the community. Here at O’Brien Press we’re proud to support lots of One Book One Community projects across Ireland, with libraries and schools all working together to promote a love of reading. O’Brien Press books chosen for projects include Spirit of the Titanic, Taking Sides, Faraway Home and Across the Divide.

I had the chance to chat to Mary Collins a Home School Liaison Officer and ask her a few questions about her experiences of the many One Book One Community projects that she has organised. The answers she gave are on behalf of the Dublin North Inner City Cluster of Home School Community Liaison Teachers. The Home School Community Scheme is part of the DEIS programme which is targeted at school which are designated disadvantage. One of the aims of the scheme includes fostering positive relations between the home and school, and between the community and the school. Other aims include promoting parental involvement in their child’s education and promoting literacy in the home.

1. Hi Mary, when and how did you first get involved in a One Book One Community project? And where did you hear about it?

Two years ago, some of our newly appointed HSCL teachers attended induction/training days. On these days, HSCL teachers who have been in the position a number of years usually speak to the new HSCL teacher on best practise and schemes they have run successfully. One of the sessions was given by a HSCL teacher who had run the project successfully. The newly appointed HSCL teachers came back from induction and informed our cluster about the project. They spoke enthusiastically about the project and all the possibilities. We decided that the following September (2010) that we would undertake the project.

2. How did you find the experience of arranging and being involved in these projects?

A lot of hard work went into the arranging. In our cluster there are 12 HSCL teachers. We decided to form a sub-committee of 4 people. Each HSCL teacher had to link with their school principal and staff, inform them about the project and look for their support. We had to decide which agencies in the community we were going to involve. We had to design posters and contact numerous printers to get the best price. We contacted Easons and asked how much of a discount they could give us and they recommended that we contacted O’Brien Press to get the best deal. We had also decided that in order to make the project more appealing to class teachers that we would design some activities that could be done with the class therefore reducing the burden of work for the teacher. As our cluster of schools is made up of primary and second level schools, we realised that we couldn’t choose a book that would suit everyone from ages 4 – 18 years. Therefore we decided to aim the project at the 6th classes in the primary schools and 1st year groups in our second level schools.

3. How do you decide what books to feature in the projects?

Deciding on the book was a long and thought-out process. Firstly, we consulted with teachers in our schools and asked them for suggestions. We brought these suggestions back to the cluster group. We went through the list of 20 books and through a process of elimination ended up with 3 books. We had eliminated books that were classics e.g. I Am David (by Anne Holm) as we thought that classes would have most likely read by them already. We eliminated books that would only be suitable for either primary or post-primary. We eliminated books that we thought would be only suitable for either boys or girls. We were also conscious of trying in so far as possible to pick a book by an Irish publisher. That Halloween midterm each of the HSCL teachers took the 3 books and agreed to read them all over the break. When we returned we judged each of the books using the following criteria:
a) The reading level must be suitable for 6th class pupils, 1st year students and parents who may have reading difficulties
b) The book must appeal equally to boys and girls
c) The book must have friendship as a central theme
d) The topic matter of the book must be of relevance to the lives of the pupils reading the book
e) The topic matter must be suitable for the age group of pupils.
Whichever book fulfilled most of the criteria would be the chosen book.

4. What would you say to schools/communities thinking of setting up their own One Book, One Community projects?

I would say to other groups who are thinking of setting up their own One Book One Community project to definitely do it. It entails a lot of hard work, time and effort, but for the children involved their families and communities it had a great unifying effect. Initially when we undertook the project last year, we envisaged to do it every 2 years. However, by the end of the project last year, teachers and pupils were asking us what book had been chosen for the following year. Because the response to the project was so positive from everyone, we decided to run it again this year. We decided to focus on the same class groups this year. This resulted in the 6th class pupils doing it again in secondary and many of them were excited about doing it.

5. What do you think are the benefits to the schools and communities that participate in the projects?

Firstly, it got people reading. Every child who got a copy of the book was allowed to keep it when the project was finished. Children were encouraged to take the book home and see if anyone at home wanted to read it. Secondly, it gave pupils from different schools something in common. We have found that the pupils who would have been in different primary schools last year and now are first years in the same second level school now have something that unifies them.
The project also creates a buzz around the school. They say it takes 5 years to create a tradition – we the home school liaison teachers would hope that One Book one Community would become a tradition in the schools, that it would get to a stage where teachers and pupils would be approaching the HSCL teacher and ask “what book are we doing this year?” or “when will we be starting the One Book project?”
We included local youth clubs and local adult literacy groups in the project. With the local youth club it was great that the pupils were talking about the book outside of school as well as within school.

6. How have you found the experience of working with O’Brien Press on the projects you have organised?

O’Brien Press have been 110% on board from the first time we contacted them. They were instantly available. They gave us a compeitive price on the books and made this price available to other groups that wished to be part of the project e.g. the youth clubs and adult literacy groups. O’Brien’s provided posters and also permission to use the image on the cover of the book for our own posters and bookmarks etc. More importantly, O’Brien’s put us in contact with the author which for the pupils brought the book to life. The author made himself unselfishly available to us and the schools. We could not have made the project as successful as we did without the help and support of O’Brien Press.

If you are considering runnning a One Book One Community project click here for more information about our books. You can also check out our One Book, One Community Pinterest board here.

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the opening ceremony of the One Book One Community project organised by Mary and her colleagues which was held in the school hall of O’Connells CBS on North Richmond Street. Across the Divide by Brian Gallagher was the book of their choice for the project and during the ceremony Brian spoke about his writing and how he came up with idea for the story. There was also lots of activites going on, students were playing music, acting out scenes from the book and everyone received goodie bags!