Ten-minute Chat with Úna Woods

Una Woods – Photography by Ruth Medjber @ruthlessimagery

On Culture Night 2018, Úna Woods asked for a ten-minute slot with the O’Brien Press team at our Pitch Perfect event. Two years later, I asked Una for ten minutes of her time for a quick chat about her debut picture book, Have You Seen the Dublin Vampire?

How does it feel to have your first book published?

I have always dreamed of writing and illustrating my own picture book. To finally see it printed is so exciting. I can’t wait to see it in bookshops!

What made you sign up for Culture Night in 2018?

My Friend Paula Moen persuaded me to go along to the Culture Night pitching event, as I was always talking about writing and illustrating my own book. It was great to finally have the goal of pitching my book to somebody and it was such a great opportunity to meet a publisher face to face.

Tell us about your Culture Night Pitch Perfect experience.

I was so nervous when I knocked on the door, as I didn’t really know what to expect. I pitched my idea to Emma Byrne,  the Design Manager in O Brien Press. At this point I didn’t really have a full story, but I knew that my story was going to be based around a friendly Dublin Vampire. I brought along some sketches and I had done up some colour samples, so she could see what style I intended for the book. She really liked what I had brought along. It was so great to be able to show someone my ideas and chat to them face to face. I felt really lucky to have met Emma, as she mentioned she liked vampires too. And so the adventure of making my picture book began!

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Virtual Interview with Carol Ann Treacy

This week, I had a virtual interview with the wonderful Carol Ann Treacy, author and illustrator of Barney Goose – A Wild Atlantic Way Adventure. Carol tells us about her inspiration for Barney Goose, her writing and illustrating processes and more!

What inspired you to write and illustrate Barney GooseA Wild Atlantic Way Adventure?
A few years ago we took a trip along the Wild Atlantic Way coastline. It was such a fun holiday, and I was struck by the beauty of marine and bird life there. I really wanted to capture that in some way, so I started thinking about creating an illustrated journey book. I am fascinated by wildlife and in particular birds (mostly because they can fly). I’m kind of in awe of how geese fly in formations and on such incredibly long journeys across vast oceans every year. I thought it might be interesting to tell a tale of a barnacle goose who starts his life as a displaced egg, away from other geese, but through instinct, determination and a little help from other animals he meets along the Wild Atlantic Way, finds his way back on track. And then he makes that unbelievable journey, thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean, for the first time.

What was your creative process with this book? What came first – the illustrations or the words?

I start my process with notebooks, which are usually a mess that no one could decipher apart from myself! Initially, I worked on both the storyline and illustrations for Barney Goose in tandem. Whenever I got stuck, I could switch over, and one kind of informed the other. I worked on my main character, Barney the barnacle goose, first – they are such striking geese, with long, black necks and white-feathered faces.

After doing my research on the life and character of these geese, I started teasing out the story of Barney’s journey from West Cork to Donegal, and drawing some of the other characters Barney meets along the way. When I had my storyline in place, I submitted the text to my editor, Eoin O’Brien, for refinement. At this stage, Eoin suggested creating some ‘scamps’ – very rough sketches. Using a roll of parchment paper, I sketched out every double page spread as one long, continuous storyboard. This was my favourite part of the process, where everything started to come together. I love using a scrollable storyboard – it’s a great way to see just how all the scenes interact, and at this stage you can correct or change anything, before any detail is added.

Once everyone was happy with the sketched layout, I photographed my storyboard and started to work over my drawing in digital format. I used Adobe Illustrator and a Wacom tablet for drawing and painting.

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I wrote Queen of Coin and Whispers for me: the teenager who loved fantasy and was searching for a mirror amid the magic, the dragons, and the werewolves.

by City Headshots Dublin

Helen Corcoran, author of Queen of Coin and Whispers, tells us about why she wrote her amazing debut novel. 

I’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember. I can’t pinpoint when reading became a need on par with breathing, but I know when I realised I wanted to be a writer. I was eight, reading one of Enid Blyton’s Amelia Jane books, and it clicked in my brain that someone had put all these words and sentences into chapters, and had made a book that I couldn’t put down until I reached the end. More than anything, I wanted to be that kind of person.

Like most readers, I devoured books, tore through them like they’d all disappear if I didn’t read fast enough. My library loan limit went up and up, as my parents and the local librarian tried to keep up with me. I still wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know what I wanted to write about. So, I read and read, as if hoping what to write would present itself in the words.

And it finally did.

A bookseller suspected I might like a book called Alanna: the First Adventure by Tamora Pierce. They were right.

My world was blown wide open. I’d dabbled around fantasy and magic, but now I flung myself into the genre and didn’t look back. Dragons, wizards, monarchs, vampires, werewolves, mages; Tamora Pierce, Michael Scott, Philip Pullman, Christopher Pike, Mervyn Peake. I worked through them all. I’d found my genre: I loved reading in a way I hadn’t before. I was living in a village in Cork, but books presented me with a window to different worlds.

But they weren’t giving me a mirror: characters in which to see myself reflected. I wasn’t searching just for characters to empathise with and look up to, but also for ones who were queer. Because—like many teenagers before me, and many more after me—I’d realised I wasn’t straight.

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Eoin Madden Returns… in Gaelic Spirit

The wonderful Gerard Siggins tells us about his return to the brilliant and popular Rugby Spirit series with his latest book, Gaelic Spirit.

Eoin Madden had a verrrrrry long rugby season. The previous summer was spent helping Ireland win the mini-World Cup in London, and without much break he had a busy winter solving the mystery of the stolen World Cup and saving Lansdowne Road from disaster. To cap it all, he was flown off to New Zealand to play for the Lion Cubs…

So you might think he would need a rest?

That’s just not Eoin’s way!

No, our hero gets home to his parents in Co Tipperary and throws himself into action with his local GAA club, Ormondstown Gaels.

Gaelic and hurling were Eoin’s original passions but he had to lay them aside when he went to boarding school in Dublin. His rugby successes have been chronicled in the Rugby Spirit series but his return to his first love kicks off a new run of Eoin Madden adventures.

In Gaelic Spirit, Eoin gets up to his usual range of mischief, attracting trouble and solving mysteries. He also has some encounters with ghosts of long-dead sporting heroes and rediscovers his talent as a footballer and hurler. I love the idea of what sports coaches call ‘transferrable skills’ and how Eoin brings things he has learnt in rugby into Gaelic football. His skill as a hurler might make him a decent cricketer some day!

In a heart-stopping climax to Gaelic Spirit he visits Croke Park for the All-Ireland final and is shocked to watch the terrible events that happened there exactly one hundred years ago as if he had been there.

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A Virtual Interview with Ann Murtagh

This week, I had a virtual chat with Ann Murtagh about her amazing debut children’s book, The Sound of Freedom. Ann tells us all about her inspiration, writing process, and more! 

What inspired you to write The Sound of Freedom?

In 2016, I had been commissioned by Barnstorm Theatre Company in Kilkenny to design classroom resources for their 1916-themed play, The Messenger. Reading the play, I was very impressed by how it conveyed all the important historical aspects of the 1916 Rising, but when I actually sat in the audience with the children and witnessed its impact on them, it made me want to have a go at writing a story myself.

What drew you to writing about Ireland’s War of Independence?

As a teacher/historian, I was drawn to the next phase of the revolutionary period. For the 1916 class resources, I had accessed primary sources in the Bureau of Military History and was aware of the rich pickings the Bureau held relating to the War of Independence. In the 1940s and 1950s, men and women active during the revolutionary period were asked to provide written statements about their involvement. Among the Westmeath witness statements, two men referred to an account of an aeraíocht (open-air entertainment) that was planned to happen in 1919 in the town of Castlepollard, but was banned by the RIC. However, the event went ahead in a secret location up in the hills, and none other than Hanna Sheehy Skeffington spoke at it. In the meantime, a woman pretending to be Hanna Sheehy Skeffington was walking around Castlepollard, with the police observing her every move. This made me think of a story. What about a boy who was in the crowd that day? Although the aeraíocht is quite far on in the story, it was the event that got me started.

Describe The Sound of Freedom in five words.

Exciting War of Independence Adventure.

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Dare to Dream of Favourites

This week we chatted with the wonderful author Sarah Webb and the amazing illustrator Graham Corcoran about their book Dare to Dream. We asked them to choose their favourite three people who dared to dream …

Sarah Webb’s favourite dreamers…

In Dare to Dream, I wanted to shine a light on Irish dreamers from all walks of life: sports people, activists, scientists, adventurers, creators, writers and even rock stars! Irish people who have achieved great things, often overcoming great obstacles along the way.

I thoroughly enjoyed the months spent researching remarkable Irish people, and it’s hard to select just three as ‘favourites’. However, I really admire Maude Delap, who spent a lifetime studying jellyfish and working out their life cycles.

Maude was born in 1866, and as a child moved to Valentia Island, County Kerry, with her family. She spent most of her time outside, searching the island and the sea around it for unusual creatures. As I was mad about whales and dolphins as a child (and still am), this really spoke to me.

In the 1890s, a group of scientists visited the island, and Maude and her sister Connie helped them catch sea creatures in nets and also took the temperature of the sea. It was the start of Maude’s passion for jellyfish.

She designed and made her own jellyfish aquarium, which she called ‘the department’, and became the first person in the world to successfully raise them in captivity. She published her work in 1901, and scientists still use her research to this day.

I was really taken by Maude’s passion and tenacity – it took great care and hard work to raise jellyfish, but she never gave up. She dedicated her life to her work and will be remembered as a brilliant citizen scientist.

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10 Minutes Chat with Megan Wynne

At Culture Night 2017, Megan Wynne asked for a 10 minute slot with the O’Brien Press team at our Pitch Perfect event. Two years later, I asked Megan for 10 minutes of her time for a quick chat about her forthcoming debut novel. The House on Hawthorn road is a wonderful story about two children, from different centuries who time travel through the walls of a magical house in Dublin. Here’s what Megan had to say about her Culture Night experience and her new book – in 10 minutes. 

What made you sign up for Culture Night 2017?

I signed up for Culture Night because I thought it would be fun. Also, I had recently done a workshop on ‘Pitching the Novel’ with Richard Skinner (from Faber & Faber Academy) at Listowel Writers’ Week. I had my fifty word pitch ready to send in, so I felt like it was worth a shot.

How did it feel to pitch your book directly to the O’Brien Press team?

I loved pitching my book directly to the O’Brien Press team. Kunak and Aoife listened attentively and asked really insightful questions. It was a pleasure to speak about my characters with people who understand children’s fiction and know the market so well.

Describe your Culture Night experience in five words.

Unexpectedly exciting, fun and successful!

What is the number one piece of advice you tell your Creative Writing students?

Write what excites you, and to forget about whether anyone else might like it (including parents or teachers).

What inspired you to write The House on Hawthorn Road?

I was inspired to write The House on Hawthorn Road by an extraordinary coincidence that happened when I asked my very first creative writing student for her address. I wanted to send her a Christmas card. When she told me I nearly dropped the phone. She was living in the very house that my father grew up in. I had visited my grandparents in that house when I was a child. Her mother heard this and kindly invited me over for afternoon tea. When they moved in they had built an extension onto the back of the house and while I was sitting in their new kitchen, the idea came to me: what if the extension had caused cracks in the walls that allowed Beth (my student) to travel back in time to when my Dad lived there with his brother Robin. I became very excited by this idea, as my Uncle Robin was an outrageous character and I knew he’d be brilliant in a novel. I loved the idea of the two families getting squashed together in the same time zone.

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My Little Blog Post of Dublin

This week Juliette Saumande, Tarsila Krüse and Helen Carr tell us all about the making of My Little Album of Dublin and their favourite places in the Fair City! 

Juliette Saumande 

Juliette Saumande is a French writer based in Dublin. She has published over 40 books in French and English. When she’s not writing, she can be found translating books, reading books, recommending books, talking about books and building forts with books. She enjoys things like tapdancing and liquorice, but hates Crunchies with a passion. Come and say ‘hi’ at  juliettesaumande.blogspot.ie 

 

 

The Wheels of Fortune (on a Dublin Bus)

Between Dublin and thirteen-year-old me it was love at first sight. Coming from the suburbs of Paris, where the French capital felt like a limitless maze packed-full of numberless strangers, I was struck by how small, how homely and friendly Dublin was. You couldn’t get lost! You couldn’t set half a toe in town without meeting someone you knew! It was great. I knew straight away that I wanted to come back and spend longer than the few days I had that first time. So I did. As a dedicated tourist initially (brownie points to my family for humouring me, then becoming Emerald Isle enthusiasts), then as an Erasmus student, and eventually as a Dubliner.

So I’ve been here for well over ten years, reading, writing, translating, chatting, making friends and making it even harder to feel lost or lonely. And after all that time, I still feel quite excited about the city, the new bits, the old bits, the eating places, the meeting places. My favourite haunts, if you can call it that, are Dublin buses. I’ve had some of my best ideas on the number 78 (as was), some of my best rants on the 7 and the elusive 68, some of my strangest conversations with total strangers on the 13 or 40 (about the weather, food, books, kids… or what the Irish use their churches for these days).

And I’ve had some of the best views over the city, just above pedestrian level (because, obviously, the whole point of a double-decker bus is to sit upstairs, right at the front where possible). From up there you can see beyond fancy hedges and building site fences, into first-floor shops and balconies, on top of people’s heads and bus stops (where you sometimes make interesting discoveries)…

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An Amazing New Children’s Sports Series Begins….

 

We at the O’Brien  Press are delighted to be publishing the first two books in the all new Great Irish Sports Stars series: Cora Staunton and Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper. Ivan O’Brien, Eimear Ryan and Donny Mahoney chatted with me about this new series. 

Ivan O’Brien

Sport is becoming an ever-increasing part of the lives of many children, and it really gets them excited. We have published quite a few novels for young readers with sporting themes (you can see them here: http://www.obrien.ie/childrens/sport-childrens) and seen the way young readers devour them! Fiction is great, but it’s not real life, and role models are hugely important, so we had an idea: why not create a series of books about Ireland’s greatest sporting heroes, written for children? Unlike sports biographies for adults they would focus on the hero’s childhood and the key moments in their lives that made them a success. We approached some writers who we knew would do a great job, and Great Irish Sports Stars was born!

Eimear Ryan

As a young GAA-mad girl growing up in Tipperary, most of my idols were men. When I was pucking out the back, I’d pretend to be Nicky English or DJ Carey – or, if I was playing football for a change, Charlie Redmond or Maurice Fitzgerald. I knew of female GAA players, of course – the Downey sisters of Kilkenny, Laois footballer Sue Ramsbottom, and legendary Tipp camogie forward Deirdre Hughes. But you would only really hear about these players in September, when RTE broadcast the women’s All-Ireland finals. Unlike the men, they didn’t often get featured on The Sunday Game or turned into pull-out posters.

Then along came Cora.

Cora Staunton was one of the first crossover stars of women’s GAA. Crucially, Cora’s breakthrough in the early 2000s coincided with TG4’s sponsorship of the ladies football championship, so her career was televised from early on. Her undeniable prowess was there for everyone to see, and soon enough, she started popping up in Lucozade ads and in in-depth interviews in the sports pages. Not only was she a brilliant female player, she was a highly visible one.

In my research for the book, I took great inspiration from Game Changer, Cora’s aptly-named autobiography written with Mary White. It gives very honest insights not just into Cora’s football career, but into the personal tragedies she has lived through, such as losing her mother when she was sixteen. Later, she lost a teammate and friend, Aisling McGing, when Aisling was just eighteen. Time and time again, when faced with personal loss, Cora turned to football for solace. Her story demonstrates the importance of sport not just as a physical outlet, but as a mental and emotional outlet as well.

Cora is inspiring because of her swagger – her total belief in her own ability and the very high standards she set for herself. She is by no means a ‘safe’ player – she takes risks, and is rewarded more often than not. For most players, scoring an outlandish tally of 2-10 would be a career highlight; for Cora, it’s just another day at the office. At the same time, she’s genuine and down-to-earth off the pitch. Her unapologetic ambition, coupled with her down-to-earth attitude, is what makes her such an exciting player to watch.

Donny Mahoney

What makes a genius? Are they born or made?

Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper was a human highlight reel during his Gaelic football career for Kerry, a magician with the ball in his hand. But unlike many contemporary sporting phenoms who seem anointed for greatness from childhood, Cooper’s success was never a sure thing.

This was what drew me to the story of the Gooch for my book in the Great Irish Sport Stars series. I thought young readers would be drawn to the story of how a good footballer became one of the game’s greats.

From a young age, Cooper loved sport and was incredibly driven. He brought a Gaelic football with him everywhere he went. But in his teenage years, he was doubted and overlooked by coaches and selectors because of his size.

The book tells the story of Cooper’s GAA journey from his estate in Killarney to the steps of the Hogan Stand. It also tries to convey the mystique of Kerry football. For as long as I’ve been watching Gaelic football, I’ve been fascinated by Kerry football, and the Gooch has been central to that.

From researching and writing the book, what I found most striking was the enduring power of the club for Cooper. The Gooch experienced more famous days in Croke Park than the vast majority of GAA players, but what truly mattered most to him were the experiences with his club, Dr Crokes.

In a way, Colm Cooper’s GAA story is bookended by two experiences with his club: acting as a mascot when they won the 1992 club All-Ireland and winning the club All-Ireland with Dr Crokes in 2017. The story of the club is the story of so many Irish communities.

It was a privilege to tell Cooper’s GAA journey for young readers. Books about sport were so important to my own youth. They fostered not just a lifelong love of sport, but of storytelling too. All good sports books – no matter what age group they’re aimed at – touch on universal themes: hope, failure and glory.

These themes run across the great career of Colm Cooper, and hopefully young readers who may have never seen the Gooch in full flight will be fascinated by his story.

 

Cora Staunton and Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper will be published 12 August 2019 and will be available in all good bookshops and on www.obrien.ie 

Ivan O’Brien, Eimear Ryan and Donny Mahoney August 2019

The Children of Lir

So much work, thought and creativity go in to making a book. This autumn we are publishing an illustrated edition of the Children of Lir written in verse. Laura Ruth Maher submitted her wonderful rhyming version of everyone’s favourite Irish myth. Once accepted, Emma, our designer, set out to commission an illustrator. Three weeks ago, our wonderful illustrator, Conor Busuttil flew from his home in the UK to hand-deliver the stunning art work. I spoke with Laura, Conor and Emma about the exciting process of making a book.

Laura

While working as a Montessori teacher I have always tried hard to incorporate Irish myths and legends into the curriculum; they’ve always been a favourite of mine. From a young age they sparked a love for all things magical and enchanted, something I have always tried to instil in the children in my care whether through storytelling or art, the development of imagination, wonder and curiosity knows no bounds. Our lovely myths and legends, however, can be quite difficult to simplify for pre-school children, especially when the only books available have few illustrations to accompany a text that has beautiful big Irish words such as Tuatha de Danann, Emain Macha and Mochaomhóg.

While researching the importance of storytelling for the dissertation of my degree in early education, I was reminded of how crucial rhyming stories are for the development of literacy skills in children. Rhyme gives children the confidence to participate in the storytelling process, as well as the ability to predict what might come next. I had a pure lightbulb moment of how a rhyming version of the Children of Lir might just hold their attention and interest as their favourite rhyming books have done over the years.

The Children of Lir felt like a perfect story to begin with as it tells how love and bravery can give you the determination to keep going no matter how hard things get – a little lesson that you are never too young to learn. So, you can imagine my excitement when O’Brien Press felt the same and accepted my submission for publication.

I was slightly apprehensive when I was told that the illustrator would be chosen by O’Brien Press as through the whole process of writing, I knew where the characters lived, their faces and what the magic looked like around them so it was important to me that the illustrator chosen would be able to see the same. When I was sent Conor Busuttil’s work as a prospective illustrator for the book I was overwhelmed by his imagination and talent. I knew instantly that he would work wonders on the illustrations for this book and he has surpassed all my expectations and then some! He has such a wonderful style of drawing which has managed to capture the love, fear, panic and magic throughout the entire story, truly making it come alive.

The Children of Lir is one of my favourite legends and I couldn’t be happier to know that this early introduction into the magical world of Irish myths and legends is keeping our traditional stories alive for children of all ages to love and retell!

Conor

From the mention of this project I was excited to get started. It was after pulling out books I have had since a was little based on the old Celtic myths and legend, rummaging through my dad’s (keen metal detectorist) history books on jewellery and buildings to the point I was told to go get my own, to going out in the field and drawing bits first that I slowly started to compose the basis for the proper direction I wanted to go.

From the get go, I felt I wanted Fionnuala to be the natural leader of the group. Being the eldest and the mother figure to her brothers, in a few scenes I have tried to make her the focus of the others’ attentions. In terms of how the children looked as human, I did try and give them individual personalities through their mannerisms, but the ideas for how they looked came from watching nieces/nephews and a few sketch attempts. While reading Laura’s script I had my sketch book beside me and drew whatever popped into my head. I think the first image was the children grouped together as swans. Fionnuala standing stern while the brothers nervously huddle around her looking for direction as they look out at this new version of their lives and the challenges they might face.

I think the main challenge was with it being a naturally sad tale: these children have been bewitched for hundreds of years, but I needed to keep the images child friendly. So there was a little back and forth with ideas on that, but just as important were the colours. We naturally associate certain colours with certain characteristics, like a bold dark red as danger or a light washy blue as healing and soft. Just choosing the colour of the magic on the cover took a few attempts; hopefully the reader will get that warm, happy welcome when picking up the book.

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