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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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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From the Air to Publication

Raymond Fogarty, author and photographer of From the Air – Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, chats with us about his journey along the Wild Atlantic Way, his inspiration behind it and what he found along the way.

Ever since I was a boy, I was enchanted by the Irish landscape with its rich heritage and timeless beauty. To me, Ireland was its own little planet with its ever-changing scenery that beckoned to explore beyond the horizon. When the Wild Atlantic Way touring route was announced, I immediately wanted to travel there. Never before had I seen a definitive compilation of locations along the west coast and, with my new drone hobby and the opportunity to see beyond that Irish horizon, it made for an irresistible proposition. I was already in awe at seeing Cork city from above; and delighted to see the reactions of others at this new perspective. So now, I had a chance to do this – to have the adventure of a lifetime, and to see the places I knew and the places I’d never seen before, from the air.

Kerry- Conor Pass

I gave up smoking in 2013, to improve both my health and my finances. It wasn’t an easy challenge, so I gave myself an additional incentive at the outset: I would use the money saved to embark on a new hobby. My first thought was to invest in a fully featured telescope, and to explore the night sky. But around then I became aware of drones, and was blown away at the aerial photos and videos that were beginning to appear online. Rather than explore the universe, I resolved instead to get a drone and explore Ireland from the air. I was always fascinated by gadgets and technology, and I love photography, so drones ticked all the boxes for me.

I purchased a DJI Phantom 2 drone with a GoPro camera in early 2014. Flying it took a bit of practice, patience and planning, particularly on the west coast where weather conditions can be unpredictable. When flying, a number of factors have to be considered, such as temperature, wind speed and direction, and just making sure that it’s safe to fly. The Irish landscape, however, is hugely rewarding, with its many shades of stunning colours in any season, constantly shifting and changing throughout the day.

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A Giant Blog Post

Author and illustrator Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick tells us the inspiration for The Sleeping Giant and the little girl, Ann.

In 1988, my sister Bernardine and myself were spending a week in the Kingdom of Kerry. Our neighbours, the Kennedys, ­happened to be there at the same time so we dropped around to their holiday rental to say hi. Their cottage faced the sea. Mary pointed out over the wall and said to her little girl, ‘Look, Eva, we can see the Sleeping Giant from here.’

‘The Sleeping Giant?’ I asked. A dozen family holidays in Dingle and I’d only ever heard Inis Tuaisceart referred to as ‘An Fear Marbh’.

‘I don’t want to scare Eva by calling it “The Dead Man”,’ Mary whispered. ‘Not when she can see it from her bedroom window.’

Hmm, I thought. So if the island is a giant, why is he asleep? And what happens when he wakes up?

An unfamiliar name for a familiar landmark caused a shift of perception inside my brain, which, in turn, sparked an idea. I spent the rest of the week imagining the giant waking up and watching him roam around the Dingle Peninsula in my mind’s eye. My sister and I toured and walked and sunned ourselves by day, and I snapped photos with my trusty Olympus OM10 as we went, already thinking of these shots as research. We met the Kennedys at Coumeenole a few times, and I painted them into the beach scene in the book to mark the fact that it was Mary (yes, that Mary Kennedy) who sparked the idea for the story.

Evenings were spent in local pubs. The sessions were mighty, and I captured one of them in the book. In my memory, the pub was Páidi Ó Sé’s in Ventry, but my sister remembers that session being in An Cúinne, Feohanagh. Who knows which of us is remembering the venue correctly, but we do concur on the singers and the craic!

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Alan Nolan on World Book Day, Writing, Illustrating, Animals and Rock Star Grannies

Ahead of World Book Day 2019 on Thursday, 7 March, I chatted with Alan Nolan about his World Book Day book, Sam Hannigan’s Rock Star Granny, and the world of books, writing and illustrating!

What’s your favourite thing about reading?

A good book will put you directly in the shoes of the characters, helping you see the world through their eyes. That’s my favourite thing about reading – understanding and empathising with others.

What’s your favourite thing about writing and illustrating?

I love storytelling, and writing and illustrating are two great ways of telling a story. I enjoy them both equally, and I try to get them to work together and complement each other. I tend to think visually – if a character pops into my head, I have to draw them immediately; if a scene comes into my head, I reach for a pencil and get drawing. Then I’ll write some notes about what I’ve just drawn around the sides of the sketch. It always happens in that order: idea, drawing, writing.

Who is your favourite character to illustrate?

I love drawing Ogg the caveman from Conor’s Caveman and the Sam Hannigan series. I had a lot of trouble getting him right at the design stage – I knew he was huge and that he wore caveman furs and had chunky, hairy arms, but I just couldn’t get his face quite right. His big, stubbly chin worked, but there was something too open and modern about his eyes. Then I hit on it: a huge, bushy monobrow would hide his eyes, making him more enigmatic, and it would also make him look more Neanderthal-like. Ogg is an easy character for kids to draw as well – I can show them how to draw a very convincing caveman with only twelve pencil lines!

Sam Hannigan is a great character. What was your inspiration for her?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a dog. My granny, Lizzie Bunn, lived with us (as did her mum, my great-granny), and she helped me achieve my doggy dreams. She made me a pair of doggy ears out of stuffed brown socks that she stitched onto a Healy-Rae flat cap, and a furry tail that I tucked into the back of my trousers. Sometimes when she’d call us down for dinner, I’d insist that she put mine on the floor. I would eat it on my hands and knees, my ‘tail’ (actually, my bum) wagging happily as I chowed down without the aid of a fork, knife or spoon, my doting granny looking on. Of course, this only happened when my mother was at work. She would have marmalised me and my poor granny if she knew these canine capers were going on every second day. So I think Sam Hannigan was based partly on me – a dreamer with a lightly loopy grandmother.

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Top Five Tips For Bridesmaids

Ahead of the publication of the Irish Bridesmaid’s Guide, Natasha Mac a’Bháird, author of Irish Bride’s Survival Guide, chats about her bridesmaid experience and lists her top five tips for bridesmaids. 

It wasn’t exactly a surprise when my sister asked me to be her chief bridesmaid. She had been mine a few years earlier, I had already been a witness to her civil marriage ceremony, and quite frankly she’d have been in big trouble if she’d asked anyone else. But it was still a huge honour. Knowing someone is planning one of the most important days of their lives, and that they want you to be an essential part of it, is a special feeling. I’d be there for the hairdos, the make-up, helping her get dressed in her beautiful wedding gown. I’d be walking down the aisle ahead of her and holding her bouquet while she made her vows. I’d be at her side while she made a speech, and have tissues on hand for when she inevitably burst into tears.

Bridesmaid Sarah, Bridesmaid Natasha, Bride Áine.

After my own wedding I felt I had built up a whole store of knowledge that I wanted to share with other brides-to-be just starting out – so my first book, The Irish Bride’s Survival Guide, was born. With my new book, The Irish Bridesmaid’s Guide, I’m hoping to do the same for the bride’s right-hand woman. The bridesmaid’s role can be as big or as small as you (or more to the point, the bride) want to make it, but what all bridesmaids have in common is wanting to be there for the bride as she starts her married life, whether she needs a friendly ear to listen when she’s stressed, a party planner extraordinaire, or just someone to tell her she’s got lipstick on her teeth.

So if your sister or friend has popped the question, here are a few tips to get you started.

  1. Want to avoid having to wear the bridesmaid dress from hell? Sound out the bride to find out the general style and colour she has in mind, then go off and search for some ideas yourself. You’ll save the bride some work and improve the chances of her choosing something you’d love to wear! Win-win!
  2. Going dress shopping? Wear comfy clothes (it’s going to be a long day!), but do bring heels with you so you can try them on with the dress. Put your hair up (a simple ponytail will do) to get a better idea of necklines, and don’t forget to take lots of photos!
  3. Planning the most spectacular hen party of all time? Make sure it’s what the bride wants! There’s no point in organising a wild night of cocktails and clubbing if she’s more the afternoon tea sort (or vice versa!). And don’t forget to take the rest of the hens into consideration too.
  4. Want to ensure the hen party is one to remember? Make it truly personal to the bride. Come up with a theme based on something she loves; create your own games or quizzes based on how well you know her; or simply make a photo collage of special memories from throughout her life.
  5. Make it all fun! Don’t get so caught up in finding the perfect dress or hen party venue that you forget to enjoy what is a very special time. Combine dress shopping with cake and coffee, hen party planning with a trip to the pub, or just invite the bride around to your place to watch Say Yes to the Dress. Ten years from now, when you’re both at different stages in your lives, these are the moments you’ll look back on as the things that really matter.

Natasha Mac a’Bháird, January 2019

The Irish Bridesmaid’s Guide will be published 11th February 2019 and will be available to buy here and in all good bookshops then.

It’s cold out there … but there’s still plenty to see

Juanita Browne, author of the wonderful The Great Big Book of Irish Wildlife, chats about her inspiration for the book and how we can help wildlife in our garden this Christmas.

I have loved nature, for as long as I can remember. My family always had at least one pet dog. There was Brandy when I was a toddler, then Fozzie, Sooty, Lady, and then Teddy, most of them mongrels, and each one a truly loved member of the family. I think it was probably these dogs that began my love of animals and nature.

I was always amazed that you could build this relationship with another species, that you found a way of overcoming barriers of speech, never mind language. That they understood your ways, your moods, and you learned their traits and their individual personalities. These four-legged hairy beasts opened up another world for me and led me out into it, following their wagging tails.

One of my earliest memories is lying in the long grass in the field behind our house with Fozzie, and hearing the buzzing of insects in the grass. That field was my playground and was full of wildflowers and grasses. I would lie hidden in the long grass, while Fozzie bounced up and down, trying to find me. I would pull my fingernail up along a grass stem, scattering its seeds to the wind. We made daisy chains, and made wishes as we blew hard on dandelion clocks and and watch the seeds float off into the sky. We held buttercups under our chins to see if we liked butter. Simple games, which even in the 1980s were still played.

There was a small, wet ditch at the bottom of the field that was home to frogspawn. Every spring I duly collected it and kept it in the bucket of my builder Dad’s old broken dump-truck, which was full of rainwater, to watch it grow. Little did I know back then that feeding the tadpoles plants only kept them happy for a while. When their legs develop, tadpoles became carnivorous — I don’t want to think too much about what happened when they were forced to start looking at each other in a new light in the bucket of that dump-truck! The Hunger Games comes to mind.

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