March 21, 2011

The Oisin McGann Travelling Show

I do sessions to promote my books – as well as a few workshops and residencies – throughout the year, but it normally doesn’t get too mad except for round October, when Ireland is overrun by the Children’s Book Festival. Lately though, I’ve taken on a lot of sessions, and with World Book Day (or at least the one we celebrate in Ireland and the UK) just gone past, it’s been a bit mental.

I think the last visit I’d mentioned in a blog was the Royal School in Dungannon in December, and then finishing up before Christmas with Story Spark for the Ark in Temple Bar. I tried to keep January as clear as I could, so I’d get some work done, but still managed to start a residency in Bessbrook, near Newry and an online writing course for Creative Writing Ink.

February was still pretty quiet. I started another residency in Clonee in Meath, visited St Wolstan’s Community School in Celbridge, and Sperrin Integrated College in Magherafelt, Co. Derry. With Poetry Ireland running their ‘Border Crossings’ project with the Northern Ireland Arts Council, I’ve started to get a lot of requests from schools in Northern Ireland. That’s a good thing, as the bureaucracy involved in doing sessions in Northern Ireland can get a bit much, and I had been put off going up there much. I was once registered as an employee and fired on the same day (including receiving a P45) just so I could do two sessions in a library up the north. An employment tribunal then contacted me to see if I wanted to appeal my dismissal. I’m not kidding.

With the Border Crossings Scheme, I only have to deal with Poetry Ireland’s paperwork, and that’s pretty minimal. For anyone who doesn’t know, PI have been running the Writers-in-Schools Scheme in Ireland for decades, and it’s hugely successful.

Speaking of borders – and stupid procedures – here’s a picture I took when I was out and about in February. Your eyes do not deceive you. It is indeed a parking space with a kerb around it. I can think of no better illustration of Ireland’s approach to planning building projects. Perhaps this space was reserved for four-wheel-drives.

Things really kicked off in March, with Tallaght Library for World Book Day, a session in the National Library for the Dublin Book Festival and a short talk and drawing for the ceremony to celebrate the winner of the O’Brien Press’s Design-a-Book-Cover Competition. The aim of the competition was to produce a new cover for Michael Scott’s ‘October Moon’. Congrats to all the runners-up on their excellent work, but particularly to the winner, Adina McNulty from Ballina. Her design is now the cover for the new edition of the book.

Then I attended the Phoenix Sci-Fi and Fantasy Convention in Dublin, before hauling my arse over to London to do two days of sessions for the Irish Literary Festival there, held by the Irish Cultural Centre. While I was there, I also did a visit the following day to Bexleyheath school, in association with Random House and WH Smith.

Last week, I took part in a day of Speculative Fiction workshops for the Big Smoke Writing Factory and visited St Michael’s College on Ailesbury Road. And that brings me just about up to date on the sessions. I took a break over the long weekend, although I spent much of St Patrick’s day in the car (just for the sheer novelty of driving). We attended two parades. Just before one, our two youngest kids fell asleep and I kept driving so that our budding Liverpool striker could take his place in the parade with his GAA club, and Maedhbh could look on proudly, while soaking up the atmosphere.

Small town parades may lack the glamour and splendour of Dublin’s, but they have their own unique character.

Yes, that is a marching accordion band. One of the best in the country, apparently. And on that note, I’m going to sign off. Talk to you again soon.

March 11, 2011

No.1 in Offaly Libraries

I was delighted to hear that, in a recent poll of readers in libraries in County Offaly, I was voted Favourite Irish Author, ahead of some serious stars. The list went like this:

  1. Me!
  2. Marita Conlon-McKenna
  3. David Donohue
  4. Eoin Colfer
  5. Dolores Keaveney
  6. John Boyne
  7. Roddy Doyle
  8. Judy Curtin
  9. (Joint Place) Derek Landy, Maeve Binchy and John Connolly

Of the international authors, Roald Dahl came first, followed by Julia Donaldson and Jacqueline Wilson.

The poll was held as part of the library service’s World Book Day celebrations, and nearly seven hundred people took part. Thanks very much to everyone who voted for me – I’m honoured. And I hope to be getting back to doing a few events in Offaly sometime soon.

Toppling the Government

On election day, I joined the mass of people who turned out to put their stroke of a pencil on the ballot paper and turf our greedy, corrupt, incompetent, hopeless excuse for a government out of Leinster House. It wasn’t what you’d normally consider a revolution, but it got the job done, and got the tossers out.

Even as I made my mark, however, I was conscious of how negative and insulting we are about politicians in general. As the above passage suggests, I’ve been pretty eager to tar them all with the same brush. This is a bad habit for anyone to get into, but particularly for someone who writes for children.

For a start, it’s difficult to see why any young kid would take any interest at all in politics as it is. Let’s be blunt; if you were to form an opinion about the subject based on what you see in the news, you’d have to expect most kids to be bored cross-eyed with it. And who’d blame them?

And then we make it worse by showering abuse on anyone who gets into politics, as if taking an interest in helping run the country is reason enough to attract universal scorn and hatred. That’s a pretty major problem right there.

But for me, democracy doesn’t just mean holding an election every five years to decide which collection of perennial men and women in suits (mostly men) get to have a turn at running things. It means ordinary people taking part in the decision-making on every level – the decisions that affect our lives. It means sticking your oar in, demanding to know what’s going on, standing out on the street to shout when no one seems to be listening, and asking awkward questions of the people in power, and expecting proper answers.

It also means we get to have a peaceful revolution every four or five years. We get to topple the government by putting our pencil mark on a ballot paper – and then sitting and waiting while all those votes get counted. This is a process that’s not unlike watching paint dry (I know, Maedhbh and I took the kids to our local counting centre during the election). Watching votes being counted is as boring as hell, but if it means no one gets arrested, or imprisoned, or shot, or hit by a baton or a bomb blast, or gets tear-gassed or attacked by police dogs, marking that ballot paper is one of the most important things I’ll ever do.

There are people fighting and dying in places like Egypt and Libya for what we’ve got. And though some of our politicians are dishonest, or incompetent, corrupt or cowardly – or just plain boring – there are plenty who deserve our respect. It takes balls to stand up in front of tens of thousands of people and try and persuade them to vote for you, and then, when the media start pulling apart your life and every word you say, you have to stand there and take it.

My stepson knows more about politicians than I ever did at his age. He and his class held a mini-election before the main event, getting to choose from the parties’ leaders. It was a great idea, but I think we need much more of that stuff. I had to learn about the structure of democracy in history class – as if it happened years ago and now we don’t need to do any more about it. Education is better now, but not much better. With the country in the state it’s in, we have to make sure we don’t turn an entire generation of children into cynics before they can even vote. They’re still going to be cleaning up after this mess when they reach that age, so I think we should give them all the help we can, and start equipping them early with the knowledge and skills they’re going to need to run the country.

We can only hope they’ll make a better job of it than we have.