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!

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?’

Aha! I thought. He’s completely right. But the child I wanted to write for was the child I was when I was ten. So the main character in the book became Sam Hannigan. She’s an animal lover (just like the ten-year-old me), who lives in a ramshackle house with a crackers-crazy granny (also just like the ten-year-old me). Actually, my granny, Lizzie-Bun, wasn’t that bad; she was only lightly loopy. It was her mother, Nanny Gigg, who was the certifiable one, and I ended up working some of Gigg’s true-life fruitcake antics into the story. When I was ten, and wasn’t busy reading comics or Roald Dahl or Agaton Sax adventures or Tintin books, I’d spend hours imagining what it would be like to suddenly and without warning be turned into a dog – to arrive into class one morning ignoring the stares and cat-calls of my classmates; to answer the teacher with a woof instead of an anseo when she called the roll. To aid my imagination, I’d spend hours walking around the house and scrubby garden on all fours. I’d sneak dog biscuits out from under the sink, and then, at dinner times, demand that my granny put my spuds and fish fingers in a bowl on the lino-covered floor. So I suppose I’ve been preparing to tell the story of Sam Hannigan, the human dog, for my whole life.

The revised storyline, once I started listening to my inner, female, ginger ten-year-old self, flowed quite easily. Brianna Buckley became Sam Hannigan, named after my beloved Third Class school teacher Miss Hannigan, who read Anne Holm’s I Am David aloud in class and made all of the thirty-two hardy boys under her care cry. Sam’s BFF became Ajay Patel and her arch-enemy became ‘Jolly’ Roger Fitzmaurice, the dog biscuit king. Much simpler.

To maintain style continuity with my other books, Fintan’s Fifteen and Conor’s Caveman, I added several pages of comic strip. These illustrated pages help to break up the text, as well as adding background and an extra narrative voice, which I find enhances the storytelling. Plus, I’m a huge comic nerd. For story continuity, I set the story of Woof Week in Clobberstown, the same fictional suburb of Dublin 24 that features in Conor’s Caveman. On the prompting of one of my lovely editors at The O’Brien Press, Nicola Reddy, Conor’s Caveman himself, Ogg, makes a cameo appearance. (Aoife Walsh, my other editor, also made some sterling observations!)

 

As I not only write, but also illustrate and design the books myself, a new book can be a mammoth task. But working on this book really was a labour of love: I love the town of Clobberstown, and I love the Nolan family stories that have now become Hannigan family stories too. But most of all, I love the chirpy, feisty, fearless figment of my imagination, Sam Hannigan. I hope you enjoy her story, and I can’t wait to take her on more adventures.

Alan Nolan, September 2017

Sam Hannigan’s Woof Week is available here and in all good bookshops!

 

 

What It’s Like To Finish A Trilogy

Matt Griffin, author of The Ayla Trilogy, chats about his experience of writing a trilogy: the inspiration, the method and his three central thoughts!

Ayla’s adventure was always envisioned as a trilogy. The sacrosanct Three Acts; beginning, middle and end; the ‘monomyth’ of the hero’s journey. Three books in which to take a character from normality to abnormality and back again, nicely tied off at the end, with everything as it should be.

But I wanted to put my own stamp on that, the same way I wanted to filter the mysticism of ancient Ireland through my own (somewhat macabre) imagination. So my first thought was:

I’m going to start with my hero already in trouble.

So on the very first page of the first book, Ayla (our hero) is trapped underground, far from home (very, very far – not in terms of distance, but in terms of time) and she has no idea how she got there. She will have to work it out herself, and while she does that, the reader does too. You will learn about the how and why just as she does, and her three best friends do too. Which brings me to my second thought:

 I want this whole thing to be about loyalty. 

The bonds of loyalty between a person and their friends and family is something I consider myself well-versed in, being blessed as I am with abundance of both. And so I wanted to see what happens to the bonds between friends when those friends are placed in lethal levels of danger, in an environment that has no relation to what they think of as reality. And what happens to the bonds of family when you realise that they are not who they say they are. Or worse, they are behaving unlike themselves – in a very unsettling way. With these ties tested under severe stress, the characters learn about themselves, and surprise themselves (and hopefully the reader) with what they are capable of. When the world you know is swiped from under your feet, and you are faced with an 80-foot ogre who wants to eat you, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your true nature comes to the surface.

My final thought was:

I do not want to tie this off neatly at the end.

Ok, the whole thing was not just based on three thoughts. There was a lot more I wanted to explore thematically – like what happens when fantasy meets reality head-on, and is ‘magic’ necessarily super- or preternatural (maybe our mundane reality is magic. I certainly like to think so). But sticking to the tidy three-acts trope, my last major consideration was that everything would not go back to normal at the end of the adventure. No story ends with everything as it was at the start –  – characters have to undergo change. Ending a story with a ‘their-lives-will-never-be-the-same-again’ sunset is hardly a first – I’m not claiming otherwise. But it was important to me that when you finish this trilogy you, the reader, might find yourself imagining what happens next, and wonder: do they all really live happily ever after? I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice to say the characters are equipped for more adventure.

And so that brings me to the question I was meant to address at the start: what is it like to finish it?

Before I wrote books, I admit I used to cringe slightly at authors who referred to their characters as if they were real people. How misguided I was. When you start to create these characters, they are just that: characters. They have names, some personality traits, a bit of family background. And then you throw these barely-known characters into the wringer of high adventure and they become people. You actually get to know them as you write. That may sound slightly cheesy, but it’s true. And I bet if you read a story where the writer didn’t believe his characters were real people, you didn’t like it. If the writer doesn’t believe them, why would they expect anyone else to? As the story unfolds while you write, the cast of your story reacts just as they should because you believe in them. And, I don’t mind telling you, you love them. And I don’t mind telling you more: as I wrote the last lines of The Ayla Trilogy, I had tears rolling down my cheeks because I knew I was saying goodbye to them forever. Finishing their story was both happy (the sense of achievement) and sad (the sense of loss). Bittersweet, like releasing a bird you nurtured back to health over weeks and months with a blubbering cry of: ‘Fly! Be free!’; missing it terribly, but knowing you are doing the right thing.

Of course, the hope is that they are strong enough to live on in the imagination of the reader. And in that sense, they can go on indefinitely. That is a warming thought.

Now, it’s on to the next adventure, and new characters to write and love and let fly. But I will certainly never forget Ayla, Benvy, Sean and Finny. And I hope that if you (or a young reader belonging to you) loved them too, they’ll linger a while in that vast expansive imagination of yours.

Matt Griffin, May 2017

The Ayla Trilogy 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.

fiddler-of-dooney-progression_higher-resto-a-squirrel_progression

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!

 

Notes from the Design Desk … Best-Loved Irish Legends

BestLovedIrishLegendsWe are just putting the finishing touches to our exciting new Best-Loved Irish Legends with some fantastic illustration by Lisa Jackson.

Lisa has done a great job and really enlivened these great time honoured stories freshly interpreted by Eithne Massey.

The process started with the text which I put into layout, wrote a brief and then sent to Lisa. She then gave us roughs for the whole book such as those below.

Even though they are mythological tales it was important that they had some historical reference, so you will see celtic clothing, crannogs, torcs and celtic knot designs, ogham inscription, and an ancient Irish feast. Continue reading