On Sunday, Maedhbh and I drove down to Waterford with our stubbornly independent toddler to attend the launch of ‘Enchanted’, an exhibition of children’s illustrations in the Garter Lane Arts Centre that was taking place the following day. The exhibition is part of the Sprog Children’s Festival, which runs in advance of Spraoi, the main Waterford arts festival.

On the way down there on the Sunday, we stopped in at the Rathwood Centre outside Tullow. It’s a huge garden centre where you can buy all sorts of (expensive) designer clothes, homeware stuff and souvenirs, but it also has a lovely restaurant where we had a delicious lunch. Falcon at RathwoodThere are walks through the woods, or you can take a ride on the little train that goes around the estate. It’s like the Avoca centre in Wicklow – not quite as picturesque, but much bigger.

Apart from the few animals we could see in one of the paddocks, there’s a falconry on the grounds, and we happened to show up at the right time to catch the falcon display, watching the hawk swooping low over our heads to snatch ‘prey’ thrown into the air. If you’re ever down that way, particularly if you’re taking a break from a long drive, Rathwood’s well worth checking out.

On Monday, we made our way over to Garter Lane for the launch. Broken into two parts of the centre, the show features work by Niamh Sharkey, Annie West, Adrienne Geoghan and Bruce Ingman, as well as a few of mine. Garter Lane Launch 1Adrienne ran a couple of workshops in the morning, leaving a room full of books and drawing materials that became a hive of creative and messy activity.

Then there was much mayhem as the kids ran around fuelled by orange and biscuits, marshmallows and buns. Some local VIP’s did their meeting and greeting and some of the gang from CBI ‘facilitated’ (which I think means they stood around chatting, having a good time and being influential – like God, they move in mysterious ways). Garter Lane Launch 2In the midst of this, Bruce, Adrienne and I did some readings and a bit of drawing for a very mixed audience, while Maedhbh tried to stop our little girl either eating the crayons, or drawing on everything that wasn’t paper.

Thanks to Kathleen and everyone at Garter Lane for setting up the exhibition, I hope both festivals go well for them. And thanks to Jenny in CBI for the two photos of the launch. The show will be up until the end of August, when it moves to Galway for the Babaro Festival.

Oisin Opens His Heart and His Home to ‘Hello’ Magazine

Well . . .  no, not quite.

But I was recently interviewed by Olive O’Brien for her new children’s book blog, Lilliput Library, on the Hello Magazine’s website.

Hello Magazine LogoOne question that came up during the interview with Jackie Hayden in the Riverbank Arts Centre on Saturday was how one goes about getting interviews in the media. There is no easy answer to that: sometimes you can get attention on radio or in the newspapers (hardly ever television) because you’re a new writer breaking in; sometimes you can be asked your opinion if you have an informed view on a particular issue, and then once you’ve become established enough as an author or illustrator – and you’ve shown any kind of ability to formulate coherent sentences – interviews come up pretty regularly.

The interview on Saturday was the first time I was able to answer questions without being rushed. On radio, you’ve got to keep your answers short and snappy, and television’s even worse. There’s a real skill to that, and I’m only starting to get my head around it. It does help if, like many questions authors get asked, you’ve been asked it a hundred times before.

One good thing about being interviewed for a blog or website is you can have time to answer properly – the kinds of answers people actually want to hear or read.

On the Riverbank

On Saturday the 24th, I’m being interviewed by Jackie Hayden, of Hot Press, in the Riverbank Arts Centre in Newbridge, Co. Kildare. It’ll be about an hour and a half long, including time for questions from the audience.

Riverbank TheatreIt’s happening at 3pm, as part of the centre’s new In Conversation With … series. Jackie will also be interviewing Hugo Hamilton at 8pm on the same day. This’ll be the first time I’ve done a session in this format; I’ve been interviewed as part of a panel numerous times, done plenty of media interviews – which are necessarily pretty short – and loads of kids’ sessions and workshops, but this’ll be my first really in-depth interview, and I’m looking forward to it. It should be an interesting experience (for me, at least – hopefully for the audience too).

Please do come along – the more the merrier!

To Celebrate a Mockingbird

Every author dreams of producing the kind of book that can maintain its freshness, its sheer entertainment value for fifty years. One such book  is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, by Harper Lee. Irish Publishing News featured an article from The Guardian last week, discussing the book’s enduring popularity (that’s another phrase authors dream of: enduring popularity).

It is the story of lawyer Atticus Finch’s defence of a black man charged with the rape of a white girl, told through the eyes of his children Scout and Jem. The novel takes its title from Finch’s advice to his children: ‘Shoot all the Bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird.’

To Kill a MockingbirdI only read this book for the first time a few years ago, and I loved it. Its age doesn’t show, and its laid-back tone, homegrown wisdom and easy wit make it a cracking read, while the story holds onto you from beginning to end. This is a great book.

But it is an example of that strange phenomenon of a writer producing one book and then giving up writing – or publishing, at least. On one level, this is something I can understand. Sometimes you have one story to tell and you tell it. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ isn’t claimed to be autobiographical, but does apparently draw a lot from Lee’s childhood.

There are some writers who turn out books all their working lives, but only one, for whatever reason, really seizes the public’s imagination. There is a smaller number, however, who sit down and write one novel, achieve commercial and critical success, and are never heard from again. Harper Lee is one example, and can count herself alongside people like JD Salinger (‘Catcher in the Rye’), Anna Sewell (‘Black Beauty’), Margaret Mitchell (‘Gone with the Wind’) and Emily Bronte (‘Wuthering Heights’).

Though in some cases, these people died before they could write another book. Goddamn it.

In some cases, when a writer just gives up, I suppose they’ve been overwhelmed by their success, and either retire from the glare of publicity and everything it brings with it, or can’t replicate the magic of the first book and become disillusioned. This must be an absolute curse for anyone who wants to spend their life writing. In other cases, perhaps the writing of the book has been an experience that brought the author closure, and once completed, they felt they’d achieved what they set out to do.

It’s never really been my ambition to write a classic (although, naturally, I wouldn’t deprive the world of it, if I produced an utter masterpiece). For me it’s always been about living and working as a writer – and illustrator. I like telling stories, and I don’t see this as a job one retires from. I wonder sometimes, what it’s like for someone to still be referred to, discussed and judged, based on one piece of work they might have finished years, even decades, earlier. Is it still something they can take pleasure from, or does it turn sour after a while? Is it a bitter twist on what must have been their dream, or can they still appreciate what they’ve achieved, and savour the pleasure of it? What’s it like, living in the present, knowing you’ll be remembered in the future for something you’ve already left behind you?

According to the article in ‘The Guardian’, fifty years on, Harper Lee’s interests, apart from writing, are: “19th-century literature and 18th-century music, watching politicians and cats, travelling and being alone”.

Sounds like a woman who enjoys her privacy. Happy fiftieth anniversary, Ms Lee, and thanks for the story.

Kilkenny Cats

Wired Teeth CoverI was down in Kilkenny on Monday, for a session in Stone House Books in the MacDonagh Junction shopping centre. It’s a lovely bookshop, independently owned, and I had a really good time chatting to the kids there. The shop is running a book club over the summer – with discounts on the books they discuss – and their first featured book was ‘Wired Teeth’.

Since I was visiting the home of the Cats, on a whim, I decided to check out where the connection between cats and Kilkenny came from (for those who don’t know, it’s the nickname for Kilkenny’s indomitable hurling team). The possible background stories are actually pretty gruesome . . . but interesting. I particularly like the limerick:

There once were two cats of Kilkenny
Each thought there was one cat too many
So they fought and they fit
And they scratched and they bit
Til (excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails)
Instead of two cats there weren’t any!

During the session, a new news site called 32.ie dropped in to check things out. You can check out their report and (a somewhat abbreviated) interview on their website.

Blu’s Big Bang, Big Boom

Blu's Big BangI found this piece of video – ‘Big Bang Big Boom’ by Blu – on David Maybury’s blog. It’s a really clever combination of live action film taken in some inner city sites, along with animation using all sorts of different techniques, to describe the birth of the universe and the evolution of mankind (sort of). It’s full of great images, inventiveness and humour and I thought it was brilliant, so I’m posting it here too . . .

A Childish Exhibition

From today, until the 28th of August, you can see some of my original artwork at the Garter Lane Arts Centre on O’Connell Street in Waterford. 10 Reasons Pic 3-ThumbI’m taking part in a children’s book illustration exhibition, entitled ‘Enchanted’, along with Niamh Sharkey, Adrienne Geoghan, Annie West and Bruce Ingman. Adrienne is also doing a couple of workshops there on the 26th of July, the day of the official launch, and a couple of us will be doing readings on the day as well.

This is an excellent chance to see illustration work in the flesh (so to speak), and even buy one or two, if the urge takes you (and I hope it does). Once it finishes in Waterford, the exhibition will then move on to Galway, for the Babaro Festival.

Runaway Animals

I mentioned missing llamas in a post a while back, but it seems some other wild creatures have been let loose on the world over the last few days.

Monkey EnclosureYou’ve got to love this first one. A group of fifteen monkeys being used by a lab in Japan, escaped the other day from a high-security research center at Kyoto University. They had figured out how to use tree limbs to catapult themselves over a seventeen-foot-high electric fence.

They have since been caught – lured back using peanuts, goddammit – and returned to the facility. And the handy tree limbs have been trimmed back. See if you can spot the dejected-looking monkey sitting among the cut branches in the bottom right-hand corner of the picture.

This is not the first time monkeys have made a break for it. In a similar incident back in 2008, fifteen Patas monkeys escaped from a zoo in Florida. They didn’t use trees this that time. They were put on an island, surrounded by a fifty-foot-wide, eight-foot-deep moat. Humbolt PenguinsApparently, this breed of monkey can’t swim . . . but nobody told the monkeys. They swam across the moat and did a runner.

Closer to home this time, a penguin went AWOL in Dublin city yesterday. According to the Irish Times, the female Humboldt penguin, named Kelli, was stolen from Dublin Zoo by some sad gits. But with typical penguin cunning, she escaped her penguin-nappers. She was found wandering the streets of Dublin, thanks to the electronic tag that all of the zoo’s animals are fitted with (though you would think some member of the public might have spotted her – flightless aquatic birds are not a common sight on the streets of Ireland’s capital).

Most people think penguins are cute, but I’ve never trusted them since watching the Wallace & Gromit film, ‘The Wrong Trousers’. That was one creepy penguin. I tell ya, you just can’t tell what’s going on behind those beady eyes.

A Brave New World of Wellies

Clearly, I need to get out more.

I was in my local Super Valu today, and I noticed a high concentration of teenagers hanging around. Designer WelliesIt is not normally a teenage hang-out, it being a supermarket, so I wondered what had attracted them in. I also noticed that a lot of the girls were wearing wellies. Colourful, designery wellies, but wellies nonetheless. I had never seen their like before – some had patterns, or high heels, one pair even looked like biker boots. Was this the new thing? Were they taking over from Ugg boots? I would have imagined they were a bit smelly to be fashionable. Still, I thought, those’d go down a bomb at a muddy music festival.

That’s how slow I was.

Outside was a bus loading up with young wellie-wearers, many hauling camping equipment with them. They were, of course, going to Oxegen, the HUGE festival which is taking place over this weekend down in Punchestown Racecourse in Naas, County Kildare. I suddenly felt a few years older.

Oxegen is supposed to be brilliant, and it’s on my ‘To Do’ list. But that list has been getting pretty long lately. Still, I hope it’s brilliant for them, they looked like they were buzzing already. They’ll have to keep their fancy wellies inside their tents at night, of course (they probably won’t smell any worse than their feet). I don’t know what the facilities are like at the festival – I’m sure they’re as good as they can be when you’ve got tens of thousands of people out in a field – but don’t forget the bog roll, guys.

La Saga des Wildenstern

The Wildenstern Saga is being published in France by Mango Jeunesse, translated by Patrick Imbert. They’ve just sent me the cover for ‘Ancient Appetites’, or ‘Voraces’, and I have to say, it’s pretty cool. AA-French CoverI saw an earlier version last week and asked for a minor change to the back cover and they actually took that on board, which is unusual. Often, an author doesn’t get any say in the covers of foreign editions.

This is because when you sell the rights into a foreign country, you’re selling a finished product, rather than working closely with a publisher to create a book, as you would do in your own market. The foreign publisher’s task (in this case, Mango), is not just to translate the words that you’ve already edited in your own language. They must also tweak the style of the narrative, the dialogue and the overall look of the book for their, often very different, market.

All that clever wordplay in ‘Asterix’ would not have worked if it was translated slavishly from the French. That took some serious writing ability.

This cover is also an excellent example of how a different publisher, working in a different market can produce a different vision of a book, while still staying true to the essential nature of the thing. City of Lost ChildrenAs I’ve mentioned on the blog before, I’m a big fan of the films of Jeunet et Caro (‘Delicatessen’, ‘Amelie,’ ‘The City of Lost Children’) and the front cover definitely has a similar feel about it. Although the velocycle on the back looks more like something you’d see in one of David Cronenberg’s ‘body horror’ films like ‘eXistenZ’ (another director I like).

I’d have very firm views on covers – I’ve had worse arguments with publishers over the designs of my books than I’ve ever had over the text. It goes without saying that the cover’s one of the most important elements in selling a book – it’s often listed as the second most common reason for choosing a book (a recommendation from a friend normally being the first). And I have a very clear idea of how I want my books to look. But I also have to recognize that a style that works in my market, might not work in another country, so there comes a time when you just have to let it go. Even so, I’d hate to see a badly executed design on the cover of one of my books, and so far I’ve been pretty lucky in the designers who’ve plied their trade on my titles. The cover of ‘Voraces’ is no exception.

Mango have already published ‘Small-Minded Giants’ as ‘Liberté Surveillée’. You can check out the cover of that and other foreign editions (there are more in the works) at my Cover Gallery.