The Cover Design of The Woodcutter and his Family

Emma Byrne takes us through the fascinating design process that created the eye-catching cover of Frank McGuinness’s upcoming novel.

This is a novel that chronicles James Joyce as he lies on his death bed. A writer’s thoughts on his life, his children’s thoughts on their famous father, and a final story to defy them all.

Given the breadth of James Joyce’s life, and more importantly his work – a bridge, as it were, from an older tradition to a newer one – I felt that a cover inspired by the old technique of letterpress had an intriguing potential.

Letterpress was the normal way of printing text in Europe, from its invention in the mid-15th century by Gutenburg, until the late-19th century.  (The Chinese had invented ceramic moveable type in the 11th century.) Much like our digital revolution and the huge opportunities brought about by social media, Gutenburg’s moveable type changed the dissemination of information forever. Texts were no longer written by specialist scribes for the select few. Words, knowledge and ideas, could be printed and seen by many. It was an invention that brought great power.

I had used a letterpress in college, and as a budding typographer was impressed by the sheer discipline, patience and respect it gave me for letterform. Today, anyone can type an essay on their phone, if they wish, but creating something in letterpress is a game of control and endurance. Fitting letters – wood or metal type – into a chase (a metal frame) is sometimes like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. So, we use furniture (metal, wood or resin spacing tools) various em-spaced leading in different lengths –to fit the letters into the chase.

Wood type is cut and this fact tied in nicely with the title of Frank McGuinness’s second novel, The Woodcutter and His Family. I mocked up a cover approach using images of wooden type that I found online. Again, thinking about how Joyce’s work continues to connect us to an older literary tradition, I mixed a serif and a sans serif typeface. For me, the serif represents a traditional letterform and the sans serif evokes a modernist typeface. I wanted the title to fill the entire cover, so it meant breaking the word ‘woodcutter’ over three lines.

 

I presented the cover draft and my approach was liked by The O’Brien Press team, especially the sales team. Most importantly for us, the author himself loved the resonance that the image creates. This was progress; my next thought was when the danger loomed … I wondered if I could recreate this cover approach using only letterpress!

I contacted the National Print Museum and, to our delight, the museum’s education officer, Gretta Halpin, loved the idea too. We arranged for us to visit the museum early one morning to recreate the cover with wooden letterform, and the artisan compositor Mary Plunkett was to be our printer for the day.

The first thing to do was look for type. I noticed (with great relief) that there was plenty of wooden type. The museum had several drawers or ‘cabinets’ of wooden Caslon (a serifed font) and Frutiger (a sans serif font).

The next step was to pull out the type case of our chosen letterforms and see how they might work together.

Once we had the type together in galleys we began the slow task of fitting it to the chase. The challenge here was fitting the two fonts together. This process alone took about two hours. With the type finally placed snugly in the chase, the furniture was held in place by tightening a quoin key or a locking device.

The type was now ‘set’ (hence the term ‘typesetting’) and we then prepared the paper by cutting it to size and brought it to the Vandercook press.

 

 

 

 

Before Mary inked up the press, she ran a sheet of paper through it to see how the type might sit, that is, where it would land on the page.

A few adjustments later and the press was inked and ready for the first proof!

This way we could see the position of the type, and see if anything needed nudging or moving.

After a few further adjustments, we started the run.

And so the print that appears on the book cover, under the dust jacket was born. The image on the dust jacket shows the serif and sans serif wooden type set in their chase. Something that might take 10 minutes on a computer had taken us a number of hours. These disciplined and patient hours, immersed in the letterpress process, have given me a new appreciation of letterform, and its many iterations.

 

 

With thanks to Arts Council Ireland,  Mary Plunkett and the National Print Museum.

Emma Byrne, August 2017

The Woodcutter and his Family by Frank McGuinness will be published in September 2017 and will available here and in all good bookshops!

Red Rover, Red Rover!

“England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Inside, Outside, Donkeys’ Tails!” Kunak McGann, author of Red Rover, Red Rover! Games From an Irish Childhood, shares her memories of playing games as a child with her family and neighbours!

The idea for a book of childhood games has been percolating in my mind for years. Every time I had one of those ‘Remember when…?’ conversations with friends or family, I thought to myself, I really must get a move on. So it was with much excitement and no small relief that Red Rover, Red Rover – Games from an Irish Childhood has become a reality.

I grew up in Drogheda, on an estate of about forty houses, and with families of four or five children not uncommon back in the heady days of the 1980s, playmates were never in short supply. I was lucky enough to have four of the best in the form of brothers and a sister. One thing you need to know about my family is that, like most 80s kids, we were particularly snappy dressers and had fabulous haircuts (with the photographic evidence to prove it). The other is that we were nearly always up for a game of something or other.

One of our favourites was Kerbs – there was a period of a few years where the irregular thump of the ball off a kerb was to be heard most days, up and down our road. I was never really gifted with the skill set required for that game, but that never stopped me. My brothers proved more skilful, although I did eventually make up for my lack of natural ability with sheer volume of practice. My abiding memories of Kerbs, though, will always be either waiting patiently as my opponent hit kerb after kerb after kerb (how long could they keep going??), or the sheer joy on my younger brother’s face when he tried the high-scoring backward, over-the-head throw yet again and actually managed to hit the kerb. I’m pretty sure that he would have consistently scored higher if he just threw normally each time, but I was always delighted with his high-stakes gambling approach to the game.

Another surefire favourite was Elastics. Like skipping, while definitely more favoured by the girls on the street than the boys, it was by no means a unisex game. All it took was a good length of elastic, some accurate jumping, and knowledge of an appropriate song – our go-to was ‘England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Inside, Outside, Donkeys’ Tails’. We started with the elastics at ankle height, then up to knees, then thighs, bums – and on to waists, under-arms and necks for when we were feeling particularly dare-devilish. It was often easier jumping in stocking feet (without buckles or laces to catch on the elastic), and my mother will happily remind me that I ruined many a pair of socks that way. And back then, socks and sandals was a perfectly acceptable look (I swear) – so holey socks really were a problem.

And then there was that day when everyone seemed to be out on the street at the same time, kicking around and looking for something to do, and someone suggested Red Rover or Bulldog, or Rounders or a mammoth game of Forty Forty (Tip the Can). And it didn’t matter that some kids were thirteen years old and others were only five or six – hordes of us would spend the afternoon tearing about the place breaking chains, or getting home runs, or tipping the can and saving all. And when we all started getting called in for dinner, despite the hunger we went back home reluctantly, knowing that there wouldn’t be another day quite like this. Not for a while at least.

For me, Red Rover, Red Rover is a salute to those rose-tinted days, a reminder of simpler times. And it’s a thank you to all of those playmates – whether they were fellow Relievo team members, or What Time Is It, Mr Wolf? competitors, or companion Hopscotchers. I hope that they can look back and say ‘Hey, my fashion sense may have been an assault on the eyes, but at least I know for sure that we had the best fun’. I know I can, and I know my brothers and sister can. On both counts.

Kunak McGann, October 2017

Red Rover, Red Rover! is available here and in all good bookshops!

Marketing & Publicity Internship

Irish publishing house The O’Brien Press is seeking a Marketing & Publicity Intern.

The position involves providing administrative assistance to the department across all areas of marketing, publicity and events and offers the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge and experience in marketing & publicity as well as other aspects of the publishing environment.

The successful candidate will be energetic, enthusiastic, highly organised and will be able to work well on their own and as part of a team. They will be able to work well under pressure. They will be proficient in MS Office (Word, Excel) and Outlook. Experience with InDesign and/or an interest in social media would be a bonus. This position would be ideally suited to graduates who are seeking to gain experience in publishing, and in the area of marketing and publicity, in particular.

This is a paid internship starting in July, finishing in November 2017, 5 days a week.

Please apply with CV to The O’Brien Press at publicity@obrien.ie

Closing date for receipt of applications is 5pm on Friday 23rd June 2017.

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

Wailsday

If Socrates leave his house today he will find the sage seated on his doorstep. If Judas go forth tonight it is to Judas his steps will tend. Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-law, but always meeting ourselves

Ulysses

Thumpday

One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.

‘The Dead’, Dubliners

Frightday

She respected her husband in the same way as she respected the General Post Office, as something large, secure and fixed

‘A Mother’, Dubliners

Shatterday

To learn one must be humble. But life is the great teacher

Ulysses

What is it about James Joyce that you love? Is it the man himself or his work or both?

For me, Joyce is the epitome of the Oscar Wilde quote, ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’. Many of the personal choices he made in his life would not have been choices I would’ve made; in fact, some of them were extremely destructive (he put his poor wife Nora Barnacle, along with other members of his family, through the wringer!). However, he had great integrity and vision when it came to his art. Out of the ‘lumps of earth’ (as he called it) he created work of great beauty and integrity, unflinching in it’s descriptions of human nature. His commitment and courage when it came to his craft/art is a inspiration for any writer.

If you could meet James Joyce today what would you ask him?

You took the ‘road less traveled’. What gave you the courage to do this?

What is your favourite James Joyce book or piece of literature?

My favourite work has shifted throughout the years. It is as Marcel Proust says (I paraphrase): we don’t read books, we read ourselves. As someone who was brought up in an extremely religious environment, in my twenties I could see myself in the struggles of Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Of course, Dubliners was the most accessible of his work – it’s a cliché, I know, but ‘The Dead’ is definitely a favourite! Right now, I think Ulysses is my favourite work – it’s the work that I found the most wisdom and riches in when I was compiling Best-Loved Joyce.

Do you think Bloomsday is an important celebration and if so, why?

I think anything that highlights great literature can only be a good thing. Studies have repeatedly show that people who read regularly have higher levels of empathy and, in a world where it seems like empathy is vanishing and being replaced by fear of ‘the other’, literary festivals like Bloomsday, which encourage people to pick up a book, are not simply ‘entertainment’ or a form of ‘distraction’, they are part of the movement that keeps human nature from being drawn towards it’s more dangerous instincts.

Do you celebrate Bloomsday every year and if so what do you do?

For the last couple of years, while working on this text, I’ve had a ‘Bloomsday’ experience on a regular basis! This year I’m actually delighted to be giving a talk on Bloomsday (Friday 16th June) in Rathgar on ‘How Joyce can Change Your Life.’ (giving my event a little plug there!). Ten years ago, I avoided Joyce like the plague – now I have great admiration for him as a fan – I’m no academic. I’d like to contribute to the Bloomsday celebrations by offering people like myself, non-academics, a chance to understand some of the beauty and wisdom of Joyce’s work.

Jamie O’Connell, June 2017

Best-Loved Joyce is a beautiful and accessible introduction to the writings of James Joyce. Short, entertaining quotes from his major works: Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, with more from his poetry & letters, and some family anecdotes handed down to grand-nephew Bob Joyce.
Best-Loved Joyce was published in May 2017 and is available here and in all good bookshops!
To celebrate Bloomsday we are offering 20% discount on all James Joyce related titles if you buy online at www.obrien.ie until Friday 23rd June –  Blooming Marvellous!

Erika McGann on Forts, Childhood Rebellion, and the Legend of Farmer Hearty

Erika McGann, author of the Demon Notebook Series, chats to us about her new Cass and the Bubble Street Gang series. The Clubhouse Mystery is the first book in this new series!

The greatest fort I’ve ever seen was one I didn’t help to build. It was built by the big kids. And it was probably a crime.

Nicknamed ‘The Tunnel’, it was a huge crater dug in the middle of a field; the crater was covered by aluminium sheeting, which was covered by soil, which was covered by branches, leaves and grass. It was entirely underground and it was awesome.

I wasn’t allowed into the Tunnel. None of the small kids were. We had to watch enviously, hidden in the hedgerows, while the big kids crawled in and out through a narrow trapdoor on one side. I’d forgotten about that bit – it had a freakin’ trapdoor.

The forts me and my friends made (or acquired) were much less impressive, but I remember the kick we got out of naming a secret camp and vowing to stash a bin bag full of sweets there (to be bought with months of saved pocket money … if we could just get around to actually saving it). That seemed to be the main function of a secret fort – somewhere to stash the loot. A limitless supply of chocolate, crisps and penny sweets was the dream. For the sake of our local shopkeeper, it’s a good thing that never came true. Spending 30p could easily take twenty minutes or more of careful consideration at the sweet counter. Choosing a bagful would have taken weeks.

There were secret forts and camps dotted all over the fields that stretched beyond the housing estate where I lived, and they were made all the more exciting and dangerous by the legend of Farmer Hearty.

Farmer Hearty was a huge man who wore a flat cap and a tweed jacket, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, and a shotgun over one shoulder. At his heel followed a hound of horrible ferocity – it was, depending on who told the story, a cross between a Rottweiler, an Alsatian, a pit bull and a wolf.

I’d never seen Farmer Hearty – none of my friends had seen him either – but we had heard wild tales from the older kids about being chased across the fields, bullets whizzing past their ears, the Baskerville Hound snapping at their heels as they ran, and we knew to be afraid. Because, like any good cartoon villain, Farmer Hearty hated kids. And he would shoot any he caught trespassing on his lands.

I remember sunny days, playing by the stream, crossing by the log that didn’t quite make it all the way to the other side, when my blood would suddenly run cold at the sound of the word ‘Hearty!’ echoing through the trees. I could have outrun an Olympian then. Nothing powers sprinting legs like sheer terror.

And I must have run that fast because Farmer Hearty never got me. I never so much as caught a glimpse of that huge man’s towering shadow spilling over the waves of wheat as he gave chase.

In all the years I lived there, fleeing under electric fences, through holes in hedges, wading through waist-deep water, suffering scrapes and bruises and humiliating face-plants in shallow, muddy pools, I never once saw Farmer Hearty in the flesh. None of my friends ever saw him either. Throughout those summers, the big kids taught us a valuable lesson … and the meaning of the word gullible. Thank you, big kids.

All of this stuff has been coming back to me more and more as I write the Cass and the Bubble Street Gang books; a series about a group of friends with a secret club, a secret clubhouse, and a longing for adventure.

I can still feel that spark of excitement in my belly that Cass and her friends get as they make their covert plans for a hidden fortress. Me and my friends were obsessed with having something secret, something that was just our own. I guess that comes from being a kid, and everything about your life being someone else’s business all of the time. You want your own space, your own stuff, your own adventures. Maybe it’s the very beginning of growing up – your first little rebellion. And it is a little rebellion.

A secret fort is like your very own house, and in your house you’re the boss. You decide what time you go to bed (though you’ll never actually be there at night-time), you decide what you’re going to eat (which will be junk food for as long as your pocket money lasts, but let’s face it, you’re going to go home for dinner when you’re properly hungry), and you decide who comes in and who doesn’t (through the clever use of a password, changed fortnightly – a security system that’s totally unenforceable, and you all know it, but nobody says anything).

Cass, Lex and Nicholas are in the middle of their little rebellion. They risk climbing the fence into Mr McCall’s field, braving the snorting threats of angry bulls (never that scary in cartoons but terrifying in real life) and leaping over ditches into bramble-filled hedges just to find the perfect spot for their secret clubhouse. With the hidden hideout built and packed to the paddling pool roof with muffins and cookies, they go looking for adventure. It finds them first; something I lived in very great fear of as a child – a clubhouse intruder.

In the second book they move on to entrepreneurial adventures, determined to make millions through jumble sales, ghost tours and virtual holidays. That’s also inspired by my own childhood efforts, but it would take an entire other blog post to list all the money-making ideas that never made us a bean. The dream of the bottomless bag of chocolate, crisps and penny sweets remained forever beyond our reach.

I’ve lost the desire for it anyway. I am a fan of junk food, but a black plastic bag stashed in the corner seems ridiculous. And I haven’t built a fort in years, not even a temporary indoor one with chairs and cushions and blankets (and a mop for height; it was always a killer getting height). I have grown-up adventures instead. I’ve travelled a bit, I’ve had some quirky hobbies, I’ve been scuba diving and abseiling and white water rafting, and I once slept through a hurricane. But nothing’s ever quite matched the thrill of watching someone dig a big hole in the ground and cover it up with soil and twigs.

It felt like the Tunnel existed for months – an entire summer at least – but it probably only lasted a week or two. It was a foot that did it. One single careless foot that slipped between the sheets of aluminium and ploughed right through the roof of the tunnel below. I can remember one corner of aluminium sheeting poking skywards through the soil – the beginning of the end. The big kids hadn’t the motivation to fix it, and we hadn’t the know-how. The Tunnel collapsed like a bad soufflé, but what it lacked in structural integrity it more than made up for in wow factor. It is, ironically, cemented in my mind as the greatest fort that has ever been.

Erika McGann, April 2017

The Clubhouse Mystery is available here and in all good bookshops!

Eric Luke Looks Back

Upon the release of his photographic collection, Eric Luke looks back over forty years capturing the changing faces of Ireland.

The Garda put his two hands together to form a stirrup. I placed my foot in the hold and he hoisted me over the high wall. Shimmying down the other side, I looked for a gap in the crowd of protesters, then landed squarely on Lansdowne Road. Not a glamorous exit from the oldest rugby ground in the world, but I was on a mission. I barged my way through the mass of people and headed for Jury’s Hotel, Ballsbridge. There, a telex-operator took the Press Association copy and transmitted the breaking news directly to London.

The occasion was an international rugby match between Ireland and South Africa in 1970. A large group of anti-apartheid protesters had gathered outside Lansdowne Road, and I was delivering copy for my brother, a news reporter with the Press Association in London’s famous Fleet Street. This was my first time to experience the excitement of a hot news story, breaking before my very own eyes, and I was a part of it. A small link in the chain from eyewitness to reader. While I didn’t own a camera to capture this bit of history, I believe it was here I got my love for a great news story.

Moving from being a press messenger for one day off school to being a staff photographer with the largest newspaper group in Ireland proved as big a jump as over that stadium wall. Yet in 1973 I was offered the position of staff photographer with the Irish Press Group. Shooting pictures for the morning daily and The Evening Press, alongside excursions for The Sunday Press, saw the start of a forty-three-year journey that culminated with my current position on The Irish Times. A four-decade whirlwind, and a bit of a blur.

I photographed presidential inaugurations and state funerals, rioting on the streets and peaceful protests, everyday life in rural Ireland and a vastly changing capital city; the job was never predictable. But what was predictable was the necessity to put ‘my old negatives’ in some form of order. And so when I was invited by The O’Brien Press to publish a selection of my work, I jumped at the opportunity.

Poitín-making in Mayo shot on colour transparency film in the 1980s, Tory Island life in black & white in the 1970s, rock music by Rory Gallagher, Thin Lizzy and U2 over three decades – it all fell into place. With a good editor and a great layout, all that was required of me was to assemble a selection of work and write some copy to accompany the images.

Everybody at The O’Brien Press came on board, and with their guidance and encouragement I managed to put my photographs in order. In many ways the experience was as much fun as taking the original pictures.

Dalkey barber Dom McClure:

Photograph: Eric Luke

It’s funny how we overlook what’s sitting on our own doorstep. Growing up in Dalkey, County Dublin, the local barber, Dom McClure, featured regularly, providing a short-back-and-sides to satisfy the demands of the local school principal. Years later in the 1980s, I went back to photograph his barber shop, and spending the day observing him at work helped to produce a small piece of local history which I now look back fondly on. The interior of his establishment looking somewhat like a theatre set, with Dom on stage in the spotlight. These pictures provided a neat selection for the chapter on Dalkey in Looking Back.

 

Photograph: Eric Luke

Martin Sheen on Main Street:

Sifting back over ‘my old negatives’ I also came across a photograph of local man Des O’Brien with the actor Martin Sheen. This was not a Hollywood-style photo shoot but a pint interrupted and a favour for a friend, recording the movie star’s appearance on Dalkey’s Main Street to film the Hugh Leonard film Da.

 

Photograph: Eric Luke

Tory Island, Donegal:

My first visit to photograph Tory Island in the 1970s was not as simple as planned. Without transport to the island, I worked my passage by helping to load a boat with turf. On arrival I was surprised to find the island didn’t support a hotel or pub, and I was eventually accommodated in a local cottage. With great hospitality the islanders welcomed me, and the selection of photographs taken over the following ten days provided the bones for a chapter in the book on Tory. Many trips since have brought this work up to date.

Looking Back has given me a platform to show photographs that otherwise would be gathering dust in my attic; the archive of forty years has now got a new lease of life. Working for newspapers, I’m used to a photograph getting great exposure on the front page only to be replaced twenty-four hours later by a new front page and a new accompanying photograph. This lovely hardback presentation by The O’Brien Press is here to stay, and I look forward to leafing through the pages for years to come.

Eric Luke, December 2016

Looking Back – The Changing Faces of Ireland is available here and in all good bookshops!

Three Things About a Trilogy by Ruth Frances Long

ruthfranceslong

“When I finished A Crack in Everything, I thought that was that, to be honest. I had finished the story. But the story hadn’t finished with me.”

With the recent release of A Darkness at the End, the third and final instalment in her contemporary fantasy series, Ruth Frances Long chats to us about beginning, continuing and completing a trilogy.

I started A Crack in Everything, the first in my series of Dubh Linn books, after seeing a piece of graffiti on a door in Dublin. It was like the first breadcrumb in a trail that led me a very long way, down some unexpected paths, and took up several years altogether. Of course it didn’t all happen at once. Stories sometimes tease themselves out of the writer’s brain; they are tricky like that, waiting for the writer to discover the relevant pieces that will slot into place.

Dublin is an amazing place in which to set an urban fantasy. It’s been here for over a thousand years, and the oldest parts still peek through the various modernisations. It has been home to so many writers, it seems to be made of stories. Every street, every building, every corner … You never know what might be embedded in those stones. It is easy to trace the original Black Pool after which Dublin (and indeed Dubh Linn) is named, to walk around the park where it is said to have been. We can climb the hills surrounding the city, wander down alleyways that could lead anywhere, visit libraries that are like slices of another time. Research comes easy when the stories are right there, waiting to be read. It’s not just the big important buildings either: it’s the streets, the lanes, the public parks, even the basement of a coffee shop. They’re all in there. Even the fantastical elements of Dubh Linn, while fictional creations, are composed of elements found in the city and surrounding hills. Perhaps the stories seep up from the land itself.

The second thing was the legend of how the Sídhe – angels who refused to take part in the war in heaven and were expelled to earth, to Ireland, instead – came to be. The blend of Celtic and Judeo-Christian stories shouldn’t have really worked. But somehow it did. I’m always amazed at the wealth of stories in the Irish Celtic tradition. From the earliest to the medieval, from un-dateable folklore to its descendants, the modern urban legends we all know so well, the stories link together. Sometimes I didn’t even expect them to, but on some fundamental level I found links, similarities and shared themes, a way for stories to just lock together and work.

And finally: Izzy and Jinx. And Dylan and Silver. Clodagh, Ash and Marianne … All of these characters who started off as ideas and became something more, people that seem so very real to me now that they have a habit of wandering around elsewhere when I try to make them follow what I laughingly call ‘the plot’.

Setting, folklore and characters: three things which came together to make a story of three parts. It was an exhilarating and exciting adventure, telling this story. When I finished A Crack in Everything, I thought that was that, to be honest. I had finished the story.

But the story hadn’t finished with me. When the idea of a trilogy was suggested, my poor brain immediately started coming up with ideas, with myths that would work, monsters that would slot into that world. Places in Dublin suddenly jumped to mind, places that would make wonderful, eerie settings. New characters started to form, ready to help continue the tale.

Of course it wasn’t that easy, because my characters were my characters and my brain doesn’t work that way. I had a plan. I was going to take them all over Ireland this time. We were going to visit ancient sites and wonderful, different locations. If A Crack in Everything had explored Dublin, I wanted A Hollow in the Hills and A Darkness at the End to do the same thing with Ireland. I started into the research – the Giant’s Causeway, the Dunmore Caves, the Poulnabrón Dolmen and Newgrange.

But no. Not my characters. They were not going to leave their city, no matter what I thought. The furthest I could get them was Bray Head. A Hollow in the Hills turned out to be hard work. At one point I cut over 30,000 words, leaving me with only 8,000 – but those 8,000 words were still the beginning. They were solid. Once I gave up trying to explore further afield, I decided to go deeper into the city, just like before, and suddenly it all clicked. It worked. Once that happened, the book just flowed.

I approached the third book with a bit more trepidation. I thought, well, if book two was hard, book three might actually kill me. And with my characters, anything was possible.

In another twist of fate, this didn’t happen at all. I spent a wonderful summer and autumn writing A Darkness at the End. Things just slotted into place. The story took on a life of its own, and those characters who had been so stubborn and difficult the year before just let the story unfold for me. Things I had never planned fitted into place and made the story so much stronger.

I’d love to say I had intricately mapped it all out after the beginning, with charts and spreadsheets … I didn’t. I was as surprised as anyone.

This is part of the real magic of writing, the way stories wind themselves around the places and the people we create. The way they draw in all the unexpected items that you come across – the stories, the places, the little details – and use them to create a whole new world. The way the mind keeps track of all those threads, subconsciously of course (no, I don’t really believe that my characters have minds of their own, honestly).

I never meant to write a trilogy. It just kind of happened.

Ruth Frances Long, October 2016

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

 

A Publishing Fairytale

This month we catch up with Nicola Colton. She tells the story behind the creation of her critically acclaimed picture book, A Dublin Fairytale:

A Dublin Fairytale began as a daydream on the bus; I imagined archetypal fairytale characters inhabiting famous landmarks and places in Dublin. The idea’s first application came in the form of a ‘promotional pack’ comprised of five postcards featuring characters like a troll at the ‘Ha’penny Bridge’ and a dragon at the ‘Spire’. I also created an illustrated map of the city, featuring famous landmarks like Trinity College, which became ‘Trinity College of Sorcery’ and different characters like mermaids inhabiting the River Liffey. I sent the promotional pack off to prospective clients and Emma, the art director from The O’Brien Press, saw potential in the idea as a picture book.

I began to look at bringing the characters together to form a story. I wanted the narrative to follow a fairytale-type structure and also allow the reader to explore Dublin. I worked out a route for Fiona, the main character, to take and began the story from there. Helen, my editor, was very helpful and encouraging during this process. I was really excited to feature Dublin in a picture book and to illustrate places that were familiar to me and to bring them to life in a magical way. I didn’t grow up in Dublin, but I lived there for eleven years and it’s a second home to me. I always found it to be a very vibrant city and no matter how long I’d lived there, there was always something new to discover. I wanted that sense of discovery and enchantment that I felt about Dublin to come through in the book.

Shortly after I signed the contract to write and illustrate the book I moved to Bristol. I began work on the book in a new city; which was strange at first. In hindsight I think it was a good thing as I was really missing Dublin and I put a lot of extra love into the illustrations as it was a way for me to revisit the city. Being away from Dublin meant it now held a sense of nostalgia for me and I reflected this in the muted and dreamy colour tones I used throughout the artwork in A Dublin Fairytale.

I’ve always loved fairytales and Red Riding Hood was a particular favourite as my granny

gave me a storytelling doll based on it when I was six. My granny died shortly after; so reading fairytales always made me feel close to her. It was nice to feature a Red Riding Hood-type character in the book – the main character Fiona, who sets off on the fourth page in her favourite red raincoat. As Fiona is on a journey through the city to her granny’s house via the Witches’ Market on Moore Street. it was also a way for me to visit my granny again through the story. Creating this book was an opportunity to combine my love of fairytales with a city that I love.

Picture 1I felt a responsibility to reflect Dublin and its beautiful buildings and landmarks to the best of my ability so I wanted the artwork in the book to be very detailed and carefully executed. I spent a long time working on the ‘Trinity College’ spread, in particular, as it such an impressive and iconic building and I wanted to get the details right. I enjoyed adding my own fairytale tweaks like turning the statues of Edmund Burke and Oliver Goldsmith into a wizard and witch to reflect the sorcery theme. I also liked adding lots of things happening in the background like a ‘spell cloud’ billowing from one of the chimneys and some sorcery students chatting in the background.

Picture 2I spent a long time on the Witches’ Market spread as well as I wanted to add lots of little details for children to pore over. I loved Halloween as a kid (I still do!) and one of my favourite things around that time was to draw witches with lots of potions and bottles of curious things in the background. My dad used to collect old apothecary glass bottles and they always held a fascination for me and looked like something a practitioner of magic would use. I really enjoyed designing bottles and coming up with silly ingredients and labels for the spread. As Moore Street is full of colourful characters and is Dublin’s oldest food market it seemed like the perfect setting for a Witches’ Market.

Picture 3The spread where Fiona is walking through St Stephen’s Green Forest and mistakes the giant’s legs for trees is based on the perspective I had as a three- to five-year-old. I was very shy back then and remember hiding behind my dad’s legs any time I was introduced to a grown up I didn’t know. I remember thinking they were like trees and feeling very small, but safe behind them.

Adobe Photoshop PDFIt’s been really exciting and surreal to see the book published and out on the shelves in bookshops. When I received my first copies in the post I was very impressed with the printing; the uncoated offset paper really works with the soft colour palette and textures I chose.

I was also excited that it’s a hardback book, which makes it that little bit extra special.

The O’Brien Press team did a fantastic job on the production and design. The book launch in Dubray Books was fantastic and little touches like cookies featuring characters from the book (baked by The Cake Café) really made the event. Geraldine and Ruth in the Marketing Department did an amazing job organizing the launch.

Picture 5Another highlight was being asked to paint a scene from the book in Dublin’s iconic Hodges Figgis bookshop window. It was a wonderful experience and also afforded me the opportunity to meet people who bought the book and to hear their feedback. I was pleasantly surprised that about half the people buying the book that day were tourists. It really made me happy that people from outside of Dublin and Ireland are interested in the book too.

Picture 6The most important thing for me, though, has been the response from children. I’m really thrilled when parents tell me that the book is now part of their bedtime routine and when I hear about children’s favourite characters or parts of the book. I created the book with young children in mind so it’s wonderful to hear when it resonates with them.

Picture 7Nicola Colton is an illustrator based in Dublin. Her style is playful and colourful and very much influenced by folktales/folk art, scenes in nature and children’s picture books.

Her website is www.nicolacolton.com.

Thank You!

Ivan O’Brien talking at the recent O’Brien Press 40th Anniversary party. Michael O’Brien, Frank McGuinness, Alice Taylor and Robert Dunbar also spoke.

We would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone for all of the messages of support we have received since the news broke about O’Brien Press being singled out for a dramatic 84% cut in our Arts Council funding for 2015. We have been inundated with emails and letters from the writing community, both here and abroad. We greatly appreciate your offers of support and were especially heartened by two Letters to the Editor published in the Irish Times and the Irish Examiner in the last week.

Arts Council funding has been crucial in our ability to build and grow our children’s publishing programme and, more recently, our acclaimed general fiction list. The impact of that support being withdrawn would have devastating consequences for Irish writers and writing. The O’Brien Press has always sought to develop new writing talent, and we are delighted to have published the first novels of authors such as Eoin Colfer, Marita Conlon-McKenna and Frank McGuinness, and hundreds of other talents. Commercial success is, however, far from guaranteed, which is why Arts Council funding is so important for both our children’s fiction and Brandon Fiction programmes: without it, we cannot imagine the long-term impact on Irish writers. In particular, Irish children’s literature is being blatantly downgraded, while other areas of literature are not. The entire sector is jeopardized by this funding cut, and it is far too important for us to stand by and let that happen.

We’ll keep you updated on our campaign to have our funding restored to an annual category. Words of support from the writing community have been a huge help.

If you’d like to add your voice, you can contact both Arts Council Director, Orlaith McBride, and Chair, Sheila Pratschke, at bernie.oleary@artscouncil.ie, and you can find email addresses for your TDs here, and Ministers here. It would also be useful to get in touch with any contacts you may have in local or national media.

We greatly appreciate your support.

#Supportirishwriting