It’s All About the Socks for Mr Wolf

Tatyana Feeney, author and illustrator of the wonderful picture book Socks for Mr Wolf, shares her story about where this quirky character came from and shows us the awesomeness of socks!

Poor Mr. Wolf, he is so often mistaken for a fox! And although ‘socks’ and ‘fox’ rhyme, Mr Wolf was always going to be a wolf even before he had his lovely socks …

My stories usually start with a character. I like to draw the character and think about a story that might develop around them. I had been drawing a wolf character for a while; he actually started life when I was a student at art college, and I was always hoping that he would have a story, but there was never one that seemed exactly right.

I liked the idea of the wolf being a friendly character, rather than the typical ‘big, bad wolf’, but I wasn’t able to think of something that seemed like a great, original story for him.

So, I put him aside and started thinking about other stories.


I am originally from North Carolina, where the weather is usually pretty warm, so the Irish climate was a bit of a shock. My parents, my Dad in particular, worried that I would be cold here, so every year at Christmas he sent me a pair of wool socks.

The first socks he sent were pretty normal looking, but then he found socks that were warm, woolly, soft AND colourful! My Dad is colour blind, so sometimes the socks he sent weren’t ones I would have picked for myself, but I always loved them because he had gone to the trouble to choose them.

But, because I really liked the socks, over time and with lots of wear, they started to get holes and I was at a loss about what to do. I have very basic darning skills, so my repair jobs weren’t very satisfactory – even though I watched a few You Tube videos on the subject and Googled ‘sock repair’.

So my socks weren’t too fixable, but then I looked at my wolf and it suddenly occurred to me that maybe his long legs needed socks and that maybe his socks also got a hole.

Lucky for him, he is better at knitting than I am!

And that’s how his story was born. Now that the book is out in the world I am really enjoying creating new socks for him to wear on various occasions – so far he has had breast cancer awareness socks, spooky socks and Halloween socks and many, many amazing socks of all kinds created by the school children I have visited during Bookfest.

I am really looking forward to the socks that come next…


Tatyana Feeney, November 2017

Socks for Mr Wolf, is available here and in all good bookshops!

Watch out for Erika McGann!

We catch up with the award-winning children’s author on all her latest projects.

This autumn sees the publication of the third book in your supernatural series, The Watching Wood. This time Grace and the girls get caught up in the Witch Trials. Tell us a bit about their adventure.

In the new book the girls get sucked into a magical world full of witches, faeries and creepy ghost children. Grace and her friends are forced to take part in the Witch Trials, a kind of supernatural Community Games, and unwittingly make enemies of a rival team. They soon discover that there are more dangerous things in this new world then a spiteful team of witch apprentices – the woods nearby are filled with faeries, magical creatures of all shapes and sizes, banished by witches and hell-bent on revenge. With the little magic they’ve learned so far, the girls must survive the Witch Trials, navigate through the faery-filled woods and pay the mysterious Ferryman’s price to make it back home.

Your next book after The Watching Wood will be a mini-adventure with Grace and her friends, The Fairytale Trap, a 2015 World Book Day Book (you can pick it up for FREE with a WBD voucher). What were the challenges you had in writing this adventure, compared to writing The Demon Notebook, or your other full-length novels?

This was a fun one to write – a little magical mishap to drop into the girls’ school year – but keeping it short was a bit of a struggle. You’re always tempted to elaborate, build up the atmosphere slowly and add a few subplots, but this was a novella, not a novel, so it had to be quick and to the point. I enjoyed that though, there was no lull in the pace. The girls leap from one scene to the next without stopping. It kept me on my toes!

So what’s next for Grace and the girls? Are there more magical adventures to come?

Yes, there’s a fourth novel in the series due out in autumn next year. I haven’t really started on the text yet (I need to get a move on!), but it’ll centre on an old-style carnival that arrives unexpectedly in Dunbridge. I love the idea of a carnival – it’s fun and exciting, with just a little bit of creepy.

Have you any other plans for books outside the magical series you’ve created?

I’d love to have a go at a few other things if I could find the time! At the moment, the Dunbridge books are keeping me busy, but maybe in a year or two …

You do lots of events up and down the country – what’s your favourite part of these readings and visits?

The Q&A that comes at the end of each session (or in the middle of the session if I’ve got a chatty group!). I like talking about books and writing and how I got started, but it’s really the conversation with the kids that’s the fun part. I’m happy to talk at a group, but talking with them is much more enjoyable.

This summer you travelled to the UK to pick up the Waverton Good Read Children’s Award 2014. How did it feel to win the award? And what did you get up to while there?

It was a wonderful couple of days in a beautiful part of England. The organisers were lovely and made sure I saw plenty of the country while I was there. I got to watch the vote for the Waverton Award for adults, which was really interesting (plenty of rivalry between the advocates of each shortlisted title!), and I did a short talk with them. I met some of the kids, of course, and they were a fantastic bunch; full of chat and enthusiasm and a real love of reading. It was a great trip and I was so delighted to win the award.

You are pretty active on Twitter and Facebook – it seems like social media is a part of a modern-day writer’s life. Is it a part of ‘the job’ you enjoy?

It’s a part of ‘the job’ I still have to master. I try to keep up-to-date as much as possible on both, but I should be posting more often. It is definitely compulsory for the modern-day writer – social media is the quickest and easiest way to reach people, and being good at it can make all the difference to your writing career. I vow to become more proficient this year!

The Demon Notebook was recently published in the USA and it is to be translated into Spanish for the Mexican market. What was it like to see the USA version of the book? Would you be worried how the book will change when it is translated?

I adore the USA edition, it’s absolutely gorgeous. And I had great fun during the edit, learning what Irish phrases mean absolutely nothing outside of Ireland and why I had to change them. I actually wrote a piece for recently about that and what happens when your work is translated (this was before the Mexican deal was signed). I considered that a translator is like a co-author you never get to meet – someone who rewrites and arranges your text for a brand new audience. I’ll never get to appreciate how the book reads in Spanish, but I still can’t wait to see it.

What advice would you give to emerging authors who’d love to write a book for children?

Write what you love and what got you excited about reading as a kid. I think when you write for children you regress a bit and experience it as you would have back then. And that’s when it works best – when you read your own text and know you would have gobbled it up when you were young.

Erika McGann was the winner of the Waverton Good Read Children’s Prize 2014 for The Demon Notebook, the first in her magical series about Grace and her four friends.

O’Brien Press author is named first ever Laureate na nÓg

Siobhan ParkinsonIrish children’s author Siobhán Parkinson was named the first ever Laureate na nÓg in a ceremony in Dublin yesterday. A new initiative by the Arts Council, with the support of Children’s Books Ireland, the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and Poetry Ireland, the honour was awarded to Siobhán by President Mary McAleese. A multi-award-winning children’s author, Siobhán has published many books for children and her work has been translated into many languages. Among her most popular and award-winning books are Four Kids, Three Cats, Two Cows, One Witch (maybe), which was described by Robert Dunbar as ‘one of the best Irish children’s books we’ve ever had’, Sisters … no way! and Amelia among others. Congratulations to Siobhán from all at The O’Brien Press!

Guinness is good for us!

As a lovely Valentine’s Day Present we are delighted to announce that The Guinness Story by Edward J Bourke has won the Best Drinks History Book Award at the prestigious Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, held at the Paris Cookbook Fair last week.

The world of cookbooks has been growing rapidly in the last few years — a good cookbook is something that people are happy to pay for, and the production standards have been rising all the time. I have about two metres of shelving in my kitchen full of these wonderful items, which are almost as comforting as the food they show you how to make!

The Gourmand stand and associated cookery area at the Frankfurt Book Fair last year was stunning: from celebrity cookbooks to single-ingredient titles (there was a whole shelf of books about chocolate, you won’t be surprised to hear) to extremely high-end titles, the range is vast.

So we were delighted to hear that The Guinness Story had been shortlisted, and immensely chuffed to have won! It is particularly gratifying as we put a huge amount of thought into the packaging of the book — a lovely design job by Emma Byrne, and a cover that uses printed cloth with the oval on the front cover stuck on — which makes the book feel lovely in the hand. But not QUITE a good as a pint of plain, I have to admit.

So raise a glass to author Edward J Bourke, and join us in celebrating our first award of 2010!


30 editions on, it’s as fresh as ever

In 1990 a very unusual manuscript from a new author arrived in The O’Brien Press. It was a story about the Great Irish Famine and involved the desperate journey of three starving children across the country to find their relatives: it involved death, danger and a faint hope of safety — and it was aimed at children. Nobody had read or heard of anything like this before, and we realised that this was an opportunity to show Irish children their own history in a unique way.

We had been publishing children’s books for a few years at that point, convinced that there was a need for Irish material for Irish children, rather than continuing to rely on books from Britain: lashings of ginger ale drunk on the White Cliffs of Dover simply did not reflect the experience of Irish people! This book, Under the Hawthorn Tree, was exactly what we were looking for.

We commissioned fine artist Donald Teskey to paint the cover and do chapter-head illustrations, and we published the book, which was a sensation: within three years an incredible 45,000 copies were in print. Author Marita Conlon-McKenna was a celebrated writer and wrote two more books, Wildflower Girl and Fields of Home, which completed what became known as the Children of the Famine trilogy.

Ten years later the book was selling as strongly as ever and, in 2000, we felt that a new look was in order. We commissioned Anne Yvonne Gilbert to produce new cover artwork for the trilogy. By this stage the international success of the book was well-established: in 1991 it won the Reading Association of Ireland Award and International Reading Association Award in 1991 in America, and was available in many translations: there have been 14 at the last count!

An amazing 20 years after first publication, the book continues to build: last year we decided it was long past time for us to work with Ireland’s premier children’s illustrator, PJ Lynch, and he created fabulous new covers for the trilogy. A new US edition was published last April by Jabberwocky, an imprint of Sourcebooks, one of the most imaginative independent presses anywhere. And now we have just received stock in for the 30th printing of this book: 30 printings in 20 years, and life sales of over quarter of a million copies sold of our editions alone: which all goes to show that a great story, in the hands of a gifted storyteller, can transcend the fascination with the new that the book world is often accused of.

So congratulations to Marita on this great achievement and for keeping history alive for children the world over.


O’Brien Press Success on Irish Book Awards Shortlist


The Irish Book Awards Shortlist was announced in Dublin yesterday and not one but two O’Brien Press books have been nominated!  There were nominations for Judi Curtin‘s Alice & Megan Forever and The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan in the DAA Children’s Book of the Year Award (Senior Selection),  and The Poison Throne has also been nominated for the International Education Services Newcomer of the Year Award.

Celine Kiernan, author of The Poison Throne, is one of only two authors to be nominated in two categories (she is in great company — the other one is Sebastian Barry!), and The O’Brien Press is the only publisher to have two authors nominated in the DAA Children’s Book of the Year Award (Senior Selection).

The Shortlist announcement was covered by TV3’s Ireland AM and you can watch it here.

What makes the Irish Book Awards extra special this year is that for the first time ever, award winners will be chosen by a public vote on the Irish Book Awards website. Vote for your favourite today!

The Poison Throne gets a White Raven

This just in from the International Youth Library: The Poison Throne has been selected for a White Ravens award for 2009: these awards are for newly published books from around the world that are considered to be especially noteworthy.

It’s a great honour for Celine Kiernan to get one for her first novel, and we’re thrilled for her. 33 titles from Ireland have made the list over the years, according to their online database: happily, this includes a good few of ours!