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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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I wrote Queen of Coin and Whispers for me: the teenager who loved fantasy and was searching for a mirror amid the magic, the dragons, and the werewolves.

by City Headshots Dublin

Helen Corcoran, author of Queen of Coin and Whispers, tells us about why she wrote her amazing debut novel. 

I’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember. I can’t pinpoint when reading became a need on par with breathing, but I know when I realised I wanted to be a writer. I was eight, reading one of Enid Blyton’s Amelia Jane books, and it clicked in my brain that someone had put all these words and sentences into chapters, and had made a book that I couldn’t put down until I reached the end. More than anything, I wanted to be that kind of person.

Like most readers, I devoured books, tore through them like they’d all disappear if I didn’t read fast enough. My library loan limit went up and up, as my parents and the local librarian tried to keep up with me. I still wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know what I wanted to write about. So, I read and read, as if hoping what to write would present itself in the words.

And it finally did.

A bookseller suspected I might like a book called Alanna: the First Adventure by Tamora Pierce. They were right.

My world was blown wide open. I’d dabbled around fantasy and magic, but now I flung myself into the genre and didn’t look back. Dragons, wizards, monarchs, vampires, werewolves, mages; Tamora Pierce, Michael Scott, Philip Pullman, Christopher Pike, Mervyn Peake. I worked through them all. I’d found my genre: I loved reading in a way I hadn’t before. I was living in a village in Cork, but books presented me with a window to different worlds.

But they weren’t giving me a mirror: characters in which to see myself reflected. I wasn’t searching just for characters to empathise with and look up to, but also for ones who were queer. Because—like many teenagers before me, and many more after me—I’d realised I wasn’t straight.

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Eoin Madden Returns… in Gaelic Spirit

The wonderful Gerard Siggins tells us about his return to the brilliant and popular Rugby Spirit series with his latest book, Gaelic Spirit.

Eoin Madden had a verrrrrry long rugby season. The previous summer was spent helping Ireland win the mini-World Cup in London, and without much break he had a busy winter solving the mystery of the stolen World Cup and saving Lansdowne Road from disaster. To cap it all, he was flown off to New Zealand to play for the Lion Cubs…

So you might think he would need a rest?

That’s just not Eoin’s way!

No, our hero gets home to his parents in Co Tipperary and throws himself into action with his local GAA club, Ormondstown Gaels.

Gaelic and hurling were Eoin’s original passions but he had to lay them aside when he went to boarding school in Dublin. His rugby successes have been chronicled in the Rugby Spirit series but his return to his first love kicks off a new run of Eoin Madden adventures.

In Gaelic Spirit, Eoin gets up to his usual range of mischief, attracting trouble and solving mysteries. He also has some encounters with ghosts of long-dead sporting heroes and rediscovers his talent as a footballer and hurler. I love the idea of what sports coaches call ‘transferrable skills’ and how Eoin brings things he has learnt in rugby into Gaelic football. His skill as a hurler might make him a decent cricketer some day!

In a heart-stopping climax to Gaelic Spirit he visits Croke Park for the All-Ireland final and is shocked to watch the terrible events that happened there exactly one hundred years ago as if he had been there.

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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)…

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From the Air to Publication

Raymond Fogarty, author and photographer of From the Air – Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, chats with us about his journey along the Wild Atlantic Way, his inspiration behind it and what he found along the way.

Ever since I was a boy, I was enchanted by the Irish landscape with its rich heritage and timeless beauty. To me, Ireland was its own little planet with its ever-changing scenery that beckoned to explore beyond the horizon. When the Wild Atlantic Way touring route was announced, I immediately wanted to travel there. Never before had I seen a definitive compilation of locations along the west coast and, with my new drone hobby and the opportunity to see beyond that Irish horizon, it made for an irresistible proposition. I was already in awe at seeing Cork city from above; and delighted to see the reactions of others at this new perspective. So now, I had a chance to do this – to have the adventure of a lifetime, and to see the places I knew and the places I’d never seen before, from the air.

Kerry- Conor Pass

I gave up smoking in 2013, to improve both my health and my finances. It wasn’t an easy challenge, so I gave myself an additional incentive at the outset: I would use the money saved to embark on a new hobby. My first thought was to invest in a fully featured telescope, and to explore the night sky. But around then I became aware of drones, and was blown away at the aerial photos and videos that were beginning to appear online. Rather than explore the universe, I resolved instead to get a drone and explore Ireland from the air. I was always fascinated by gadgets and technology, and I love photography, so drones ticked all the boxes for me.

I purchased a DJI Phantom 2 drone with a GoPro camera in early 2014. Flying it took a bit of practice, patience and planning, particularly on the west coast where weather conditions can be unpredictable. When flying, a number of factors have to be considered, such as temperature, wind speed and direction, and just making sure that it’s safe to fly. The Irish landscape, however, is hugely rewarding, with its many shades of stunning colours in any season, constantly shifting and changing throughout the day.

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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!

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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.

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