After a fairly productive but public-free summer, I’m back doing events again. And it’s been a busy start to the season. Things kicked off on Sunday the 13th with the Mountains to the Sea Festival in Dun Laoghaire, a lovely gathering in a park there, with loads of food stalls offering everything from Lebanese to fudge. I’m a fool for exotic junk food and this didn’t help at all. Other children’s writers there over the weekend included Sarah Webb, Joe O’Brien, Justin Somper, David Maybury, Judy Curtin and Derek Landy. It was a great crowd and a rare day of sunshine to crown it all. Seriously, was that our summer that pissed on us for three straight months?
Next, I had the Aspects Festival in Bangor on the Monday and Tuesday. Four sessions in schools in Bangor and Hollywood, all of whom gave me a great welcome and were good craic. Bangor’s a nice place to hang around and I got to treat myself to a film at the cinema – ‘District 9’, an absolutely brilliant sci-fi thriller set in South Africa. Though I’ll never look at a prawn the same way again. Plus I’ve been wandering around aimlessly listening to Ian Rankin’s ‘Fleshmarket Close’ on audio book as well as reading George MacDonald Fraser’s ‘Flashman and the Redskins’ in paperback. That’s a weird combination of images to have in your head, I can tell you.
On Friday the 18th, I was on ICE, the children’s TV magazine show on RTE to promote the MS Readathon. As well as the Readathon, I got to talk (quickly) about my books and some of my artwork, and give away four signed copies of ‘The Wisdom of Dead Men’.
I’m gradually learning how to handle television – you really need to be ready with what you want to say and look for the opportunity to say it. . . fast! That way you stand less chance of looking like a tongue-tied eejit. Notice how politicians often ignore interviewers’ questions and annoy you by delivering their set lines no matter what? Like that. There’s hardly any rehearsing on ICE, it’s a live show, and everything gets said in a rush. Mind you, I’ve been on with Dustin the Turkey a couple of times – at least on ICE they let you answer the questions instead of belching and telling you to shut up.
On Saturday, I gave a talk at a seminar entitled ‘Paths to Publication’ for up and coming writers. The children’s books industry is a great environment to work in and the spirit in Pearse Street Library that day was a good example of it. Other speakers included editors Sine Quinn and Eoin Purcell, and agents Faith O’Grady and Julia Churchill. These four probably gave the eager audience a bit of a wake-up call (but in a nice way) with regard to life in the publishing world – and I’m sure my talk set a few nerves jangling too.
Niamh Sharkey and her designer at Walker Books, Deirdre McDermott, gave an enlightening talk on how picture books are made and Sarah Webb stepped up to the pulpit in a very pretty dress and delivered a blunt and entertaining sermon on the importance of hard work, persistence and imagination when it came to marketing and publicity. She challenged the audience on their choice of outfits and demanded they show more character if they hoped to succeed. Paddy O’Doherty was there early on in the day too, a long-serving member of CBI . . . and now the new head of Puffin Ireland (Congrats Paddy!), in danger of being buried by a barrage of hopeful kid’s books. Children’s Books Ireland and the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators deserve a pat on the back for a positive, bracing and colourful seminar.
For more information on how to get published, visit cb info on the CBI website.
One group from the day that I should especially mention were Naoise, Lauren, Ryan, Amy, Keelan, Sarah and Lucy, a willful gaggle of young readers from Celbridge and Leixlip Libraries, who sat in front of a room of adults and gave us the lowdown on WHAT YOUNG PEOPLE ACTUALLY WANT TO READ AND HOW. Which included the fact that they hate being told what to read in school and would rather choose themselves. David Maybury and I had lunch with them during the seminar and they were a lively and opinionated bunch. And they probably read far more than I do now.
That brings us up to speed on my events diary – sorry, there was something of a backlog. Tomorrow, I’m chairing a panel (which sort of sounds like I’m doing some kind of misguided DIY) discussing digital publishing. It’s taking place in Navan Library. There’s a new world out there. Kids are now reading more off screens than they do off paper. I think things are changing in a big way in publishing and it’ll be the kids who steer that change. I hope us old farts can keep up.