A Chat with Editor Helen Carr

Our wonderful Editor, Helen Carr, took some time to talk to me about the her job, the books she’s currently working on, what she loves about her work and advice for aspiring editors!

What is your role in The O’Brien Press?

I’m a senior editor at The O’Brien Press. We’re a small company, 15-20 staff, so all the editors turn their hands to everything – I do managerial tasks, substantive editing, copyediting and proofreading, as well as working on blurbs, handling reprints and doing a certain amount of admin. I edit or manage about twenty books a year – a mix of general and children’s – on subjects ranging from fiction to current affairs, cookery to sport. There’s a great range within the children’s books I edit too; it can be anything from YA fiction, to picture books, to middle-grade non-fiction.

What do you like best about your role?

I love the variety. Some days I might spend mainly copyediting, while other days could be full of administration and planning. In terms of editing, I think my favourite thing is the substantive edit. I love meeting authors, talking about their books and their characters, getting a feel for the book and how we could work on it to shape it. I’ve just had a meeting with one of my authors, Ger Siggins. Ger is the author of the six-book ‘Rugby Spirit’ series about young rugby star, Eoin Madden and the ghosts he encounters. Now we’re discussing the first book in his exciting new ‘Sports Academy’ series, which will be out in early autumn. It’s called Atlantis United and it’s about five sports-mad kids who are selected for a very special and mysterious sports academy where they are trained to become the best in the world – and have many adventures along the way. It was great to talk through the plot and hear what he has planned for the characters in future books.

Helen with one our our children’s authors, Anna Carey at a tea party to celebrate the launch of Mollie on the March.

I also really love the development process on kids’ picture books. I work very closely with our designer, Emma Byrne and we’re currently finalising a beautiful and informative picture book called Island of Adventures; Fun things to do all around Ireland by Jennifer Farley. It’s going to be gorgeous, and I think families will love looking at the fun-filled, full-colour spreads of Irish adventures – everything from surfing to St Patrick’s Day parades features! I love to see the story take shape and see the images develop from roughs to final art. Continue reading “A Chat with Editor Helen Carr”

An Interview with Judi

This week The O’Brien Press chatted with the wonderful Judi Curtin about her forthcoming book Time After Time. We got down to the good stuff like time travel and friendship!

Where did you get the idea for this new book?Judi Curtin 1

It started when I thought about the regret a young girl would feel at never having the chance to know her mum. Then I had to find a way for them to be together, even though the mum had died many years earlier.

Time travel is such a cool concept, what was your inspiration for this?

Time travel has always fascinated me. Who wouldn’t want the chance to revisit the past? Who wouldn’t want to experience historical events? Who wouldn’t want to see their parents as teenagers?

If you could travel through a porthole to any decade/period in history, when would it be?

I think I’d go back to the 1920’s, when my grandparents were young. It’s an interesting era, and I’d love to see the lives my grandparents had, many years before I came along.

Is Molly based on someone in particular?

No. Except for Domino the cat, all of my characters are completely fictional. (But that doesn’t stop people saying they recognize themselves in my books!)

Did you have fun writing about the 80s?

I loved it. I know it’s ancient history to my readers, but for me I’m writing about my youth.

What is your favourite thing about the 80s?

The fashions might seem gross now, but they were wonderful too. Everything was big and loud and colourful.

When you were writing Time After Time did you miss your other characters from the Alice series or the Eva series?

I always miss my old characters, and more than once I’ve sneaked a few from one series into another.

What was your favourite part of writing Time after Time?

I loved writing the part where Beth meets her mother – the first time I’ve made myself cry. Sad, but very rewarding.

Do you read children’s books yourself?

Only rarely (which might be controversial). I read voraciously when I was a child, and as a teacher and parent, I continued that for many years. Now though, I mostly read books written for people like me.

When you write, how much do you think about the reader?

In the first draft I’m very much writing what I want to write. In later drafts, with the help of my wonderful editor, Helen, I do try to consider how the reader is going to engage with my characters and story.

How does your interaction with real children affect the way you write and what you write about?

I do very many events with young people, who can be quite transparent. They seem to like my stories about families and friendship, and as I like writing these, it’s easy to continue.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read everything you can get your hands on. Keep a diary. Enter competitions – not necessarily to win, but so you get practice at polishing your work.

Time for the mean question: What is your favourite book in the entire world?

Today I’m going to say The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis. It’s the only Narnia book I read as a child, and I’ve always loved it. (But if you ask me again next week, it could be Heidi, First Term at Malory Towers, The Great Gatsby, or even whatever book I read tonight!)

What one item would you like to banish into history and is there anything you’d like to bring back from the past?

The thing I’d like to banish into history is internet shopping – who really needs to buy a pair of shoes at three in the morning?

The thing I’d like to bring back from the past is Angel Delight dessert. The wonderful name completely made up for the fact that it tasted so terrible. It evokes such happy memories from my childhood that I had to mention it in Time After Time.

Judi Curtin, August 2016.

We will be having a launch for Time After Time at Eason O’Connell Street on Thursday 8th September. Come back in time with Judi and get ready to party 80s style this September! See your invite below:
Come to the launch of Time After Time
Time After Time is available to pre-order here and will be available in all good bookshops from 5th September 2016!

Viva Judi Curtin!

This month we catch up with the bestselling children’s author on all her latest projects.

1)          You’re the author of the ‘Alice & Megan’ series and the ‘Eva’ series (among other books). After a break from writing about Alice & Megan (during which you wrote four books about Eva and her friends), you returned to the world of Alice & Megan this year with Viva Alice. How did it feel to return to these characters after a break, and what inspired you to do so?

Alice and Megan were my first child characters, so they will always be special to me. I know this sounds sad, but I returned to them because I missed them. I felt as if their lives were suspended, while they waited for me to return. Writing about them again was like spending time with old friends.

2)          Though each of your books stand alone and can be read independently of each other, the characters grow and develop from book to book, and there are threads that run through the whole series. One of them is Megan’s relationship with ‘mean girl’ Melissa. Tell us a bit about how that relationship develops in this book.

In Alice Next Door, I created Melissa to show how vulnerable Megan was when Alice moved away. As time went on though, I found myself wondering about Melissa and her motivation. Does she have any good points? Why is she so mean to Megan? In Viva Alice, I tried to answer both of these questions.

3)          Viva Alice is your eighth novel about Alice & Megan. Has the experience of writing them changed over the years? From meeting readers, do you think the interest and preoccupations of your readers have changed in this time?

The writing experience hasn’t changed in any big ways. I think young people still enjoy reading about school, family and friendship. The only changes are minor ones – especially anything related to technology, which has changed greatly over the years.

4)          The ‘Alice & Megan’ series has always had a very distinctive ‘look’. With the release of Viva Alice, the whole series has been repackaged with new covers by Nicola Colton. Do you have a favourite cover from the new-look series?

In the older versions, Alice in the Middle was my definite favourite. This time around, I love them all, with maybe a slight preference for Don’t Ask Alice. (The squirrel is very cute.)

5)          I know writers can’t choose favourites from their books – but do you have any favourite characters from your two series? Who are your favourite major and minor characters from each series and why?

This is a cruel question, and I’m not sure how to answer it. I definitely can’t choose a favourite major character, as that would be like choosing between my children. Some minor characters I particularly like are Maggie from the Eva series and Kellie from the Alice series.

6      Have you ever created a character who started out with a minor role, but ended up taking on a life of their own and playing a bigger part in the series than you’d planned?

Domino is probably the best example of this. She strayed into Megan’s life when she was very sad and upset, and she never left. In Alice to the Rescue, she is a huge part of the story.

8)      What are you working on at the moment? Any new books planned?

At the moment I am working on a new Eva book, which hasn’t got a title yet. As always, Eva works hard to help people who are in trouble. This time, with Ella’s help, she has to sort things out for Ella’s granny, and a Nigerian girl called Aretta.

Judi Curtin is the best-selling author of the ‘Alice and Megan’ series. She is also the author of the smash-hit Eva series: Eva’s Journey, Eva’s Holiday, Leave it to Eva and Eva and the Hidden Diary. With Roisin Meaney she has written See If I Care. Judi has also written three novels, Sorry, Walter, From Claire to Here and Almost Perfect.

Alice and Megan have their own website!

Things are happening thick and fast — it must be mid-September!

We are delighted to announce the launch of a new website for Alice and Megan, Ireland’s favourite best friends: Judi Curtin’s bestselling series has now reached seven books with the release of Alice to the Rescue.

Featuring chapters from all the books, a castlist from the books, information about the author and illustrator and much more, it’s our first heavily-featured, added-value microsite, and was developed almost exclusively in-house. In addition, we are going to publish the whole of Alice Next Door, the first book in the series, on a rolling basis on the site, to encourage fans to visit and revisit the site which we plan to continue developing over time.

Ivan

Books appear in the strangest places!

It’s been a week of Bookspotting in The O’Brien Press. Firstly, there was Bono and The Stolen Village (not the bizarre new title of a U2 album, just check out the post below for an explanation!)

Then a staff member (who chooses to remain anonymous!) was watching the movie Shrooms where the doomed hapless tourists are using our Golden Book of Ireland as their guidebook. Given their grisly fate, I’m not sure how many people would take it as a recommendation, but maybe it’s one for thrillseekers!

Finally, we saw a post on David Maybury’s Blog — he was just in Hong Kong where he saw Judi Curtin‘s books on the shelves, reminding me of the lovely glow I felt when on holidays in France I saw a copy of the French edition of The Leprechaun Who Wished He Wasn’t on the shelves in FNAC!

Presentation Season

Publishing is a seasonal business, based around tourists and kids in the spring, holiday reading in the summer and (hopefully!) gift purchases in Autumn and Winter. 2008 was an exception to the rule that the Christmas gift market is where it’s at for general book publishers like us, and Christmas starts this week (for the Sales department: for editorial much of Christmas is over, and the rest of it in frenzied development)!

For a period of about ten days, we meet, greet and show our autumn wares to all the major retailers, wholesalers and chains in Ireland and do our best to ensure that our pitch — enthusiasm, belief, marketing plans etc — will convince them that ours are the must-have titles for the season. Naturally, every other publisher is pitching their books at the same time, and the retail buyers must get punch-drunk from the whole thing.

So what happens? Well, we show them advance information (AI: not to be confused with Artificial Insemination!) sheets and talk about forthcoming titles and the feedback is collated and fed back into our system and we make a call on which comments to take seriously and which ones to leave aside.

Many books fit into boxes (In The Blood is the next Grand National, Alice to the Rescue is Judi Curtin’s next sure-fire winner, …) but where it gets really interesting is where there is something that just doesn’t fit: is Blood Upon the Rose a kid’s book or a general book? Is it a graphic novel or a history book?

So who is right and who is wrong? We can’t know until the readers have had their say: we use our years of experience to make the best guesses we can on what it is that people want to buy, read and enjoy: and to make those books as readable and attractive as they can be: and ensure that they are all on the tables at the front of the shops, of course … Place your bets!

Ivan

Irish Book Awards

Well, the Irish Book Awards were last night, and a fierce glittering occasion it was too. Famous Seamus (Heaney) held the whole room enthralled as he presented Edna O’Brien with the Lifetime Achievement Award, while Ronan O’Gara walked up to the podium with a video of his drop-goal against Wales playing in slow-motion from five angles with epic celtic music behind it, before saying that, after last weekend’s match (Leinster vs Munster), he didn’t think he’d be back in this ******* city so soon again!

We were delighted that both Judi Curtin and Celine Kiernan were short-listed for awards: and we were all crossing our fingers when the envelopes were opened. Neither picked up a gong, which was disappointing for them and us, but they enjoyed the occasion and all the winners were worthy of the awards, so we won’t hold grudges for too long on that score …

The mood among the industry was very much “don’t mention the war” and it is clear that everybody is hurting badly in the Current Economic Environment. Still, we must all be doing SOMETHING right when you consider the quality and class of the nominees and the great spirit of cooperation and friendship that is undeniable on a night like that.

Ivan

O’Brien Press Success on Irish Book Awards Shortlist

irishbookawardsheader

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!

Alice goes to Portugal

Portuguese cover for Alice Again

One of the very best bits about this publishing game is when a foreign edition of one of our books hits the desk. It is the culmination of a process that starts with meeting an editor or scout at a bookfair (or, as often happens, the tenth meeting with the same person on successive years, waiting to get a hit!) and plugging everything from your list that you think might stick! After that there’s the sample copies to send, the agents to keep in the loop, the negotiation over price, terms, territories etc and then things go quiet: at our end.

For the foreign publisher, that’s the point where the rest of the company gets to hear about it — they have to translate, check difficult bits with the author, get our image files (if they are using them) and combine them with their text, build a publicity plan and (and this is the best bit) design a new cover.

The next we hear about it is when a copy of the translated edition arrived in the door, which is always great fun. The great bit about foreign covers is that the show clearly just how each nation has its own artistic sensibility, and there have been loads of times when a new edition has come in where our reaction has been “that’s a beautiful cover: but it wouldn’t work here”. What’s particularly striking for kid’s books is that the age-level implied in the graphics can vary so much: my favourite example is comparing the German, French and Italian covers for our book Sisters … No Way! And then the Slovenian edition came in and rewrote the rules.

Estonian cover

What brought this to mind today was a new Portuguese edition of Alice Again by Judi Curtin that hit the office today. Entitled As Melhores Amigas sao Inseparáveis (which translates roughly as Best Friends are Inseparable) , it is the second book in the series and shows that they have developed a lovely series look (see their cover for Alice Next Door) that is lovely, and utterly different to ours! I also adore the fact that they have a footnote explaining what hummus is (In the story, Megan’s mum is a health-food fanatic)!

I have to say that my favourite foreign cover of one of our books that really made me think “now why the hell didn’t we think of that?” is for The Wish List by the amazing Eoin Colfer in (wait for it) Estonian. Partly because meetings with Toomas Toorma, the publisher, are one of the highlights of any bookfair, but also because their elegant and beautiful cover is the perfect solution to the endless effort we put into finding a suitable cover for what is a great book.
Do take a wander through our cover gallery: there are lots of weird and wonderful things to discover …
Ivan

Notes from the Editorial Department …

I’m very excited and pleased that we’re going to be publishing a seventh book in the popular ‘Alice & Megan’ series by Judi Curtin this autumn. I’ve been Judi’s editor since 2005, and it’s really, really enjoyable to work on a series like this where the  characters (best friends Alice and Megan, plus their families, friends, teachers, etc.) develop from book to book and deal with new things as they make the transition from primary to secondary school.

I’m just beginning work on the as-yet-unnamed seventh book, and it’s a great read. I’m really looking forward to taking it towards publication and working with Judi on it, and to commissioning more illustrations from the brilliant Woody Fox!

Helen, Editor