The Making of The A to Z of Being Irish

The dynamic author duo, Sarah Cassidy and Kunak McGann, answered my quick fire questions this week on the making of the hilarious and unbelievably accurate The A to Z of Being Irish.

What inspired you to write this book?

The idea for the A–Z came from a conversation about what makes us uniquely Irish. We wanted a book to reflect both the Ireland we grew up in and the Ireland of today: everything from the Angelus to Zig and Zag, really! We thought a dictionary style would work really well, and so The A to Z of Being Irish was born. That’s when the real problems began! For some letters we had no trouble coming up with subjects (B, C and T were full to the brim), but there’s no denying that X, V and Z caused us a few sleepless nights!

How did you decide what to include?

There was A LOT of discussion about which entries made the grade. We aimed to cover a range of topics from all areas of Irish life, everything from what we like to eat (anyone for a black pudding sandwich washed down with a glass of red lemonade?), to how we speak and what we wear.

Continue reading “The Making of The A to Z of Being Irish”

A Rugby Roar at the End of a Series

Gerard Siggins, author of the Rugby Spirit series and this year’s World Book Day book Rugby Roar, chats about the coming to the end of a series that began as a one book adventure and turned it to something bigger and better!

BOOK SIX of my ‘Rugby Spirit’ series is just out, and it may just be the last of the set. I never planned it as a series – I suppose most first-time novelists don’t have the sort of confidence that your publishers will want to keep publishing them and your readers will keep reading them.

No, Rugby Spirit was a once-off, a combination of a bedtime story my son kept pestering to write down, and a historical itch that needed scratching. I was chuffed that O’Brien Press said they would like to issue it, and even more delighted that they told me immediately to go off and write a sequel.

The first book concerned a boy coming to a new sport and finding advice and fellowship in the ghost of a long-dead rugby player. That character, Brian Hanrahan, was the only person ever to die playing sport in Lansdowne Road. He helps Eoin to get better at rugby, but also helped him to solve a mystery and understand more about the past.

As I sat down to plan Book 2, I tossed around ideas such as keeping it just to Eoin and Brian again, or taking out the supernatural element. But I realised that I could take it on a bit by keeping Eoin and Brian and adding a new ghost to the story. Rugby Warrior brought in Dave Gallaher, an Irish-born player who was the first captain of New Zealand’s All Blacks and who died in World War One. Continue reading “A Rugby Roar at the End of a Series”

A Week of Blooming Wisdom

Jamie O’Connell, editor and selector of Best-Loved Joyce, guides us through a week of Joycean quotes in the lead up to Bloomsday. Jamie also chats about James Joyce and what Bloomsday means to him.

A Week of Blooming Wisdom

All moanday, tearsday, wailsday, thumpday, frightday, shatterday…

Finnegans Wake

To celebrate the Bloomsday Festival that runs over the coming days (Bloomsday being Friday 16th), I’ve taken some quotes from Best-Loved Joyce that have inspired me, and I hope they inspire you. Using Joyce’s iconic days of the week in Finnegans Wake, here are seven(ish!) of my favourite Joyce quotes, which showcase some of his profound insights:

Moanday

I want to see everyone… all creeds and classes… having a comfortable tidysized income… I call that patriotism.

Ulysses

Tearsday

The object of the artist is the creation of the beautiful. What is beautiful is another question.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Continue reading “A Week of Blooming Wisdom”

16Lives: Celebrating the Heroes of The Rising

Ivan and Michael O'Brien. Copyright photograph: Richard Mills birdpics@newsguy.com

O’Brien Press Publisher, Michael O’Brien, talks about developing and publishing the 16Lives series over the past eight years.

It’s easy to say yes to a brilliant concept! When Lorcan Collins marched into The O’Brien Press with the great idea of 16 Lives, a series of biographies of the sixteen executed leaders of the 1916 Rising, all to be published in time for the centenary in 2016, our response was, ‘A simple but brilliant idea,’ and ‘Go for it!’. That was in November 2007. Lorcan suggested adding Ruán O’Donnell, senior lecturer in history at the University of Limerick, as series co-editor, bringing his huge historical knowledge and academic credibility to the table.

But it wasn’t simple to anticipate all the challenges involved in a series of this scale. One fear was that some of the less well-known figures, like Thomas Kent and Michael Mallin, were too obscure, without enough known about them to make a book or find an audience. But with 2016 on the horizon, archives were opening and new facts emerging, and our ambition to create a more truthful and less propagandist history was made possible. In the case of Kent in particular, author Meda Ryan was surprised by the depth and range of information available about him and his networks.

We recognised early on the value of adding photographs to each book in the collection – of the people, their lives, their actions. Lorcan helped create a collection of hundreds of photos, which were distributed for reproduction across the 16 Lives series. The book spines are an added treat: when the sixteen books are put together, a picture of O’Connell Bridge c.1916 emerges (buy a set and see for yourself).

The 2016 centenary could have been a cynical damp squib marred by a simple-minded, propagandist approach. Apparently, at one stage the British government proposed the ‘Decade of Remembrance’ model, where we would honour the First World War, the War of Empires, equally with our struggle for independence against the very same imperialists. The Queen of England was offered as part of the 1916 package (of course she had a very successful visit in 2011). Stirring speeches at several 16 Lives launches opposed this formula. In fact, the centenary has inspired and moved young and old, native and visitor, and our friends in the EU and Britain to respect Ireland’s cultural revolution. It has encouraged a renewed look at the values of the Proclamation ‘To the People of Ireland’, all seven signatories of which were executed by the British (as well as the nine other leaders of the Rising).

We conclude the 16 Lives series with a launch by Chief Justice Susan Denham in the GPO, the dramatic HQ and symbol of the Rising (what a strange, inadequate word). We have had eight launches over four years as the books were born, and the audiences have included many descendants of the leaders who organised what in retrospect was Ireland’s cultural revolution: Cumann na mBan, Gaelic League, GAA, Abbey Theatre, Fenians, Sinn Féin, IRB, and other movements in the USA. Many of the sixteen leaders were poets and playwrights, including Pearse, MacDonagh, Plunkett, Casement, Kent, O’Hanrahan and even Connolly.

The 16 Lives project began in 2007 and, over eight years later, is now complete. History will judge its value. Thank you to everyone who made it happen: to Lorcan, Ruan and the individual authors who brought each of the sixteen to life so vividly; to the army of editors, researchers, indexers and designers who ensured the books are attractive, readable, reliable, and above all, fascinating; and to the marketing and sales staff who are working so hard to get the books into the hands of readers.

Michael O’Brien

Publisher

O’Brien Press

 

Under the Spell of the Hawthorn Tree

Earlier this month, Today FM posted on their Facebook page an original copy of Under the Hawthorn Tree, which got a phenomenal response (over 25k likes in a couple of hours!). Michael O’Brien, The O’Brien Press Publisher, talks about how the bestselling book and its iconic cover came to be.

Looking back on 1989, when I introduced artist Donald Teskey to Marita Conlon-McKenna, she was virtually unknown and he was in the early stages of his career as a painter.

Marita had submitted Under the Hawthorn Tree, a brutal yet brilliant story based around the Irish Famine, the question raised was, would parents want their children reading about starvation and death in 1840s Ireland. This made the illustrating of the novel critical, to set the right tone when capturing the tragedy which caused one million deaths and one million to leave Ireland’s shores. It needed an illustrator who could capture the drama and action of the three children fleeing across Ireland to save their lives, yet in a style that would encourage them to read and enjoy the book, rather than be scared by the hardship depicted by Marita.

My first experience of Donald Teskey was through the café his wife Kim Bloom ran in Terenure; on the walls she displayed wonderful drawings by him showing the urban life of Dublin at the time – gritty yet beautiful. I was greatly impressed! This was before Donald’s exhibitions in the early nineties, which launched his stellar career as a landscape painter. When Kim introduced me to Donald and I saw his portfolio, I was blown away and I asked him to illustrate some O’Brien Press children’s books, including Under the Hawthorn Tree.

Recently, I asked Donald about illustrating Marita’s books, and he said he was influenced by Louis Le Brocquy’s Táin illustrations. He said: ‘I wished to give the reader an inkling of what was going to happen – to capture the humanity of the story.’

Donald went on to create similar illustrations for Wildflower Girl and Fields of Home to complete the trilogy.

Since those days, Donald Teskey’s reputation and work has spread internationally to major centres of art: Paris, London and New York. He elected a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy and is represented in major collections including the Arts Council, Irish Museum of Modern Art, AIB, Limerick City Gallery of Art, KPMG, Butler Gallery, The Ulster Bank, OPW and The Ballinglen Arts Foundation.

O’Brien Press is printing a limited edition of Under the Hawthorn Tree with the original cover. Check it out here.

 

Weaving a Spell for World Book Day 2015

Erika McGann catches up with us about what it was like to write her first novella, The Fairytale Trap, for World Book Day 2015, as part of her award-winning magical series.

I had an inkling of an idea for a fourth novel when the possibility TheFairytaleTrapcame up to write a short book especially for World Book Day. I didn’t know yet if a fourth novel was wanted, or if I wanted to write it, but when I was asked to do a novella for WBD in March it seemed the sensible thing to follow it with a new book in September.

So I sat down to write the novella – about 10,000 words – thinking it would take no time at all. But I had a problem with the story almost right away. I liked it, and the more I jotted down notes and possible twists in the plot, the more I thought that this story would do better as a novel. Having my school in Dunbridge engulfed by a real-life fairytale had loads of scope for subplots, character development, funny scenes and scary moments; but I couldn’t do that in 10,000 words. So I switched storylines. The fairytale plot became the fourth novel, and the fourth novel plot became the WBD novella.

So I sat down to write the novella, thinking it would be dead easy. Until I hit a problem with the story. I liked it. A 1930s-style carnival arriving unexpectedly in the dead of night – withered and fading tents, a creaking ferris wheel, a sinister ringmaster, a bearded ballerina, a haunted music box and a wicked hex – had lots of room to take the storyline wherever I felt like taking it. And the more notes and ideas I scrawled in my notebook, the more I realised I couldn’t fit it all into 10,000 words.

So I switched storylines. Again. The fairytale went back to being the novella, the carnival the novel. I won’t bore you with the details but suffice to say I switched again, more than once. I remember sitting outside in the sunshine, the cursor on my laptop flashing impatiently, worried that whichever story I picked to be the shorter, I’d regret it.

In the end, I realised I had to be sensible about it. The carnival was on Dunbridge Green, so the carnival story would feature the town, the school and probably the girls’ homes. The fairytale story trapped the girls in school – although it would take on the appearance of a medieval village, the school grounds would be the only setting. The carnival had to feature an array of new and strange characters. The fairytale plot would include references to Red Riding Hood – the granny, the wolf, Red Riding Hood herself – but it had to be limited in terms of new characters. In the carnival story the girls’ magic lessons would continue, meaning the introduction of new spells and skills. In the fairytale story their powers would be bound, and they would have to escape their predicament without the help of their usual repertoire of magic tricks.

It was obvious the fairytale story lent itself better to a novella.

So I sat down to write this short book, presuming that any challenges were now overcome. I hit the first problem a couple of chapters in. There was a clear opening for a lovely little subplot, so I began writing it and, after a few hundred words, realised it was eating into my word count. So, pained, I deleted the subplot. The next issue arose barely a chapter later, when a new character caught my fancy and I decided to expand on him. Until he started chomping through my word count. I deleted him too.

I determined that writing a short book is constrictive and terrible, and no-one should ever do it ever. Like a sulky teenager I slaved away on this cruel project, adding nothing extra, allowing no superfluous words, sticking only to the main storyline. Embracing my inner angsty teenager, I decided I was a literary martyr.

About halfway through, I began to enjoy my martyrdom. Without distractions and subplots, I had to rocket through the story, my characters leaping from one scene to the next like action heroes. What had been frustrating became a bit like a rollercoaster ride – I moved so quickly through the plot that I was tired but content every time I closed my laptop.

My writing got neater too. Keeping the number of words to a minimum meant my descriptions had to be clear and to the point, no waffling on and getting caught up in the moment when describing a pencil. I abandoned those naughty little adverbs that you know you don’t need, and cut out incidental characters that added nothing to the story.

I’ve since determined that completing a novella is binding and difficult, and everyone should try it. It is excellent practice, and guaranteed to show you where you’re liable to veer off the point and get a little sloppy. In short, it was a great writing experience.

The book was humbling, and took some getting used to, but The Fairytale Trap was a joy to write. And I hope that makes it a joy to read.

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.