So much work, thought and creativity go in to making a book. This autumn we are publishing an illustrated edition of the Children of Lir written in verse. Laura Ruth Maher submitted her wonderful rhyming version of everyone’s favourite Irish myth. Once accepted, Emma, our designer, set out to commission an illustrator. Three weeks ago, our wonderful illustrator, Conor Busuttil flew from his home in the UK to hand-deliver the stunning art work. I spoke with Laura, Conor and Emma about the exciting process of making a book.
While working as a Montessori teacher I have always tried hard to incorporate Irish myths and legends into the curriculum; they’ve always been a favourite of mine. From a young age they sparked a love for all things magical and enchanted, something I have always tried to instil in the children in my care whether through storytelling or art, the development of imagination, wonder and curiosity knows no bounds. Our lovely myths and legends, however, can be quite difficult to simplify for pre-school children, especially when the only books available have few illustrations to accompany a text that has beautiful big Irish words such as Tuatha de Danann, Emain Macha and Mochaomhóg.
While researching the importance of storytelling for the dissertation of my degree in early education, I was reminded of how crucial rhyming stories are for the development of literacy skills in children. Rhyme gives children the confidence to participate in the storytelling process, as well as the ability to predict what might come next. I had a pure lightbulb moment of how a rhyming version of the Children of Lir might just hold their attention and interest as their favourite rhyming books have done over the years.
The Children of Lir felt like a perfect story to begin with as it tells how love and bravery can give you the determination to keep going no matter how hard things get – a little lesson that you are never too young to learn. So, you can imagine my excitement when O’Brien Press felt the same and accepted my submission for publication.
I was slightly apprehensive when I was told that the illustrator would be chosen by O’Brien Press as through the whole process of writing, I knew where the characters lived, their faces and what the magic looked like around them so it was important to me that the illustrator chosen would be able to see the same. When I was sent Conor Busuttil’s work as a prospective illustrator for the book I was overwhelmed by his imagination and talent. I knew instantly that he would work wonders on the illustrations for this book and he has surpassed all my expectations and then some! He has such a wonderful style of drawing which has managed to capture the love, fear, panic and magic throughout the entire story, truly making it come alive.
The Children of Lir is one of my favourite legends and I couldn’t be happier to know that this early introduction into the magical world of Irish myths and legends is keeping our traditional stories alive for children of all ages to love and retell!
From the mention of this project I was excited to get started. It was after pulling out books I have had since a was little based on the old Celtic myths and legend, rummaging through my dad’s (keen metal detectorist) history books on jewellery and buildings to the point I was told to go get my own, to going out in the ﬁeld and drawing bits ﬁrst that I slowly started to compose the basis for the proper direction I wanted to go.
From the get go, I felt I wanted Fionnuala to be the natural leader of the group. Being the eldest and the mother ﬁgure to her brothers, in a few scenes I have tried to make her the focus of the others’ attentions. In terms of how the children looked as human, I did try and give them individual personalities through their mannerisms, but the ideas for how they looked came from watching nieces/nephews and a few sketch attempts. While reading Laura’s script I had my sketch book beside me and drew whatever popped into my head. I think the ﬁrst image was the children grouped together as swans. Fionnuala standing stern while the brothers nervously huddle around her looking for direction as they look out at this new version of their lives and the challenges they might face.
I think the main challenge was with it being a naturally sad tale: these children have been bewitched for hundreds of years, but I needed to keep the images child friendly. So there was a little back and forth with ideas on that, but just as important were the colours. We naturally associate certain colours with certain characteristics, like a bold dark red as danger or a light washy blue as healing and soft. Just choosing the colour of the magic on the cover took a few attempts; hopefully the reader will get that warm, happy welcome when picking up the book.