Back To Basics

I was working on an illustration today – a private job – fiddling around with pen, brush, ink and white paint trying to nail down the likenesses of two people’s faces.  It’s a simple black and white pic, but because I change styles a lot, it can take time for me to get back in gear when I’m working on something new. But it felt good to get back to basics – just me and the materials at a drawing desk. Clever image software is all very well, but there’s no feeling like having original artwork under your fingertips.

I had to do it in a bit of  a rush too, as things have been backing up lately. I had to send in a written interview for the Sci-Fi London website (an annual film festival), to go with an article I wrote for them. I had another article to do for Flipside Magazine in the UK. Both were about how to survive at science fiction conventions – aimed at people who would normally run a mile from such things. I’ll put both pieces in the Articles section when I get a chance. I also have to do some editing on two stories tomorrow and hopefully some writing too.

I’ll be starting on the pencil rough of the new Mad Grandad book in the next couple of days. Looking forward to seeing old Grandad again.

Disney Books Go Digital Big-Time

An interesting piece I found on Eoin Purcell’s blog. He’s been keeping a close eye on digital developments and posted this announcement from the New York Times recently:

‘In what it bills as an industry-defining moment — though rivals are sure to be skeptical about that — Disney Publishing plans to introduce a new subscription-based Web site. For $79.95 a year, families can access electronic replicas of hundreds of Disney books, from “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too” to “Hannah Montana: Crush-tastic!”

‘, which is aimed at children ages 3 to 12, is organized by reading level. In the “look and listen” section for beginning readers, the books will be read aloud by voice actors to accompanying music (with each word highlighted on the screen as it is spoken). Another area is dedicated to children who read on their own. Find an unfamiliar word? Click on it and a voice says it aloud. Chapter books for teenagers and trivia features round out the service.’

Our Lives On Record

Bought a new phone today – I won’t say which one – and for the first time, I changed from a pay-as-you-go phone to a tariff system. The type and level of information they demanded from me, in order to register, was unreal. My wife and I had to supply less information to register the birth of our child.

It often occurs to me – as it did in the queue, waiting to buy my phone – that we spend a disproportionate amount of our time dealing with these petty little things that fill our daily lives. Buying new technology, registering it so we can use it, learning HOW to use it, finding more uses for it, realizing we need something else so we can improve our lives, upgrading to a more useful model or a newer version. We should be able to step off this ride from time to time.

But we can’t, at least not yet. Technology is changing constantly and it hasn’t yet found a level at which we can settle, where we can say ‘this is a graceful, efficient system that works in harmony with our lives, so let’s stick with it until we can change it for the better in a seamless and comprehensive way’. We have to keep up with technology, not only for the sake of keeping in touch with the stuff itself, but also to keep up with the thinking that goes with it. For those of us, in particular, who need to use this technology for our work, we have to stay literate in the language of our brave new world.

But part of me still objects. I object to having to give out details of my life that aren’t relevant, to people I will never meet and cannot hold accountable. People who may do things with that information that I might never be aware of.

I object to the fact that I have to download different types of software for different ‘makes’ of file. Every piece of word processing software should be able to read every type of text file – text just doesn’t change that much. The same goes for image, video and music files. This is entirely possible with existing technology – it’s only the manufacturers who stop it from happening. We should not tolerate manufacturers who force us to restrict ourselves to a particular file type or format. We pay their wages.

We are trained to be good, obedient consumers who pay to serve ourselves, rather than be served by the person we’re handing our money to. And to help them even further, our lives are becoming every easier to observe and record. But we don’t have to be so docile. Technology informs us, enables us and empowers us. I want technology to fit my life, rather than having to build my life around the technology I have to keep paying for. We can enable human beings to survive in outer space and we can use nanotechnology inside the human body – if we were as clever as we thought we were, this stuff would be making our lives simpler, not more complicated. That’s my thought for the day.

It’s a Long way to Tipperary . . . But Further To Dingle.

Last weekend saw me running a workshop from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon on the beautiful, craggy coast of Dingle. I maintain that I ran the course with the usual airy grace one would expect from someone with my sunny disposition. Dingle Pic for BlogBut the eleven wordsmiths doing the course assured me it was more akin to a creative boot camp, groaning as they clutched their aching brains (better them than me, I say). We agreed to differ. They produced some excellent work over the three days and came up with some fantastic ideas. I hope each came away from it inspired to write their opus . . . and not severely disillusioned with the fickle and lunatic-strewn world of children’s publishing.

On Wednesday and Thursday I was in Tipperary, doing a session in the library in Nenagh and a school in Roscrea on the first day and then a school in Borrisokane (sounds like an Irish 1960’s horror actor, doesn’t it?) and the spanking new library in Templemore on the second day. The kids were good craic and the staff in all four venues were friendly and welcoming. In Templemore, I also purchased some of the best grapes I have ever tasted (not in the library obviously, I bought those in a shop).

On Monday, I’ll be spectating at a conference on the importance of the arts to society, attended by big noises such as Director of the Arts Council and the Minister for Transport. It’s entitled ‘Féach’ (the Irish for ‘Look’, for all you non-Irish bods), although given the way the arts are about to have all their money taken off them, ‘Oh Feck’ might be more appropriate.

On Thursday, I’ll be in Dundrum and Stillorgan Libraries where I’ll be doing my usual to audiences who hopefully haven’t heard my tired old jokes before – there have to be a few people still left out there.

Work has sort of ground to a halt, as it so often does during Children’s Book Festival (I can get tired just THINKING about October sometimes), but I’m getting bits done here and there. Writing ‘The Vile Desire to Scream’, editing the first two books in the ‘The Top Secret Can’t-Tell-You-Or-I’d-Have-To-Kill-You Project’ (need a shorter name for that) and will soon start editing and illustrating ‘Mad Grandad’s Doppelganger’. I’m working on a couple of new articles too.

On Friday (tomorrow) I’ll be voting on the Lisbon Treaty. If you’re too young to vote, you’re lucky – enjoy your youth. But bear in mind that someday people your age will be in charge. Some of them will be complete prats, but others will be okay. I’m sure you’d like to have a say in who takes charge and what they do.

If you don’t care about the Lisbon Treaty because it bores or confuses you, I can’t really blame you – the arguments certainly confound me. If you can vote, you should, whichever side you take. I’m voting yes because the treaty will make the EU more democratic, it means more of the politicians’ decisions will have to be made out in the open and it keeps a growing Europe workable. That’s all I have to say about that, because it’s politics and it bores most young people to death (which is a problem if they’re going to be taking over, isn’t it?).

Away I Went To The Pictures

I mentioned the film ‘District 9’ in an earlier post, but I’ve just started creating categories, so I’m going to mention it again here; an offbeat, riveting sci-fi thriller set in South Africa. It’s one third social commentary to two thirds violent bio-tech-charged chase sequence. Giant Under The Snow CoverGot to the cinema again recently – rare for me to get out twice in as many weeks – and saw ‘Away We Go’, directed by Sam Mendes and written by Dave Eggers. Definitely for mature viewers (you know who you are), it’s a slow-paced, almost aimless film that revels in character and dialogue rather than plot, but it’s well worth a watch.

If you haven’t read Dave Eggers’ ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’, then you’re missing out on a true literary treat.

I recently read ‘The Giant Under The Snow’ again, and was delighted to find it every bit as atmospheric and spellbinding as I did when I was a kid. A great book for readers young and old.

Let’s Get Digital

I was chair at a talk on digital publishing today, in Navan Library. It was part of their Readers and Writers Day and I was joined by Georgina Byrne from South  Dublin County Libraries (who are running Ireland’s first online library service), Robert Hughes from Ulverscroft (publishers who specialize in Large Print and Audio Books) and Samantha Holman from the Irish Copyright and Licensing Agency, (possibly the only person in Ireland who really understands what Google are trying to do to the publishing world). Due to highly ironic technology difficulties, we started late. My laptop wouldn’t connect to their web, their laptop couldn’t read my USB key and my laptop couldn’t read another key that we tried. A perfect illustration of why books aren’t going anywhere just yet.

I made things worse by starting off speaking like a DVD on fast forward because I was conscious of the lost time, resulting in some very bemused faces in the audience. It ended up being a very interesting discussion in the end though. For those who don’t know much about the panic caused by the Google Library Project and the digital publishing revolution in general, see the pieces I’ve written in the Articles Section of my website, or my article in the upcoming issue of Inis magazine. Suffice to say that storytelling text is going the same way as music and films and we need to be ready for it.

Libraries are a perfect place for this to start happening. Kids come in to use the computers as much as they do the books, audio books have been available there for ages, you have helpful staff on hand to guide you through what’s there and libraries offer the only places in most towns and cities where a comfortable social space can be combined with facilities and expertise and all with a community ethic. And you don’t have to BUY anything to sit down.

This is a time to transform our libraries, not starve them of funding. They can be used to show how serious this country is about investing in our kids’ futures and the ‘smart economy’ the government keeps harping on about.

Got to hear a frank and entertaining talk by Trish Wylie, a writer for Mills & Boon. Yes, Mills & Boon. If ever there was a publisher that knew how to sell books, it’s them. And they’re investing heavily in ebooks – most of their range will be available online soon. And if my other genres ever stop providing me with a living, you might see me going all ‘Love Actually’ and starting to write romances for a living. It’s the biggest selling genre in the world. Lads, that says a lot about our lack of appetite for reading. Mind you, we do like instruction manuals and they normally don’t get sold on their own, so they don’t get counted. Maybe if we read more romances, we’d figure out how women’s minds were put together. RTFM and all that. But probably not.

On Friday, I’m off to Dingle to teach a writing course for the weekend. Suppose I’d better go an figure out what I’m going to say to them . . .

Back In The World

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.

‘The Wisdom of Dead Men’ and Other Stories

I’m working on a few different things at the moment.

I’ve just finished writing the latest novel, entitled ‘From His Cold Dead Hands’. It’s a hard-boiled mystery story with a supernatural undercurrent, featuring a street-gang member turned private investigator and his enigmatic, arthritic boss, as well as a girl on a mission from God, a gun-nut, a Harley-riding pale-skinned cowboy, a group of Satanists, an arms manufacturer and a Jamaican gangster, most of whom are looking for a quantum physicist, a missing gun – or both.

I’m also working on a series of stories for a franchise aimed at younger readers that’s still on the QT at the moment. So that’s all I can say about that right now. I’m about to start editing the latest Mad Grandad story – ‘Mad Grandad’s Doppelganger’ – due to be published next year by the O’Brien Press.

TWODM Cover-faderAs part of the promotion for ‘The Wisdom of Dead Men’ (my latest release, now available wherever you buy your books) I’ve decided to try something new. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been spending my time on an ebook novella I intend to make available for free on my website. It’s a short story about the Wildenstern family, as featured in ‘Ancient Appetites’ and ‘The Wisdom of Dead Men’. It’s entitled ‘The Vile Desire to Scream’. I’m currently wrestling it into a fit state to appear in public and will have it on the site as soon as it’s ready. I intend to do a few of these in different styles – a series I’m calling the Mini Myster-Ebooks.

October is almost upon me (well, all of us, I suppose, but I can only speak for myself) and with it comes Children’s Book Festival and all it entails. Check out the BookFest Recommended Reading Guide, which is stuffed with loads of short sharp snappy book reviews. Anyway, with a bucket-load of events and workshops over the next six to eight weeks, it’ll be hard to get any writing or illustration work done. Pay attention all ye who hope to break into this bizarre industry. Making your living from writing can often mean you spend a lot of time doing everything but. Those books won’t sell themselves.

I’ll be looking back at the previous week of events in my next post. Catch you then.

Why Would Anyone Read This?

Okay, does the world really need another blog?

If you already know me, you’ll probably think this is coming quite late in the day. You’ll know that I’m rarely short of something to say, but given my interest in publishing in general, children’s publishing in particular and digital publishing as one of my many hobby horses, I should really have done this earlier. These are the reasons I didn’t: Number 1. It’s time-consuming, and I never have enough time as it is. Number 2. There’s no point in doing it if you’re not going to post regularly (see Reason Number 1). Number 3. (And this is the humdinger) We live in a world full of blogs – why would somebody want to read mine?

Answers: You might be interested in my work – perhaps you came here through my website and stumbled across this blog by accident. Or you might be one of those blog connoisseurs who loves the medium for its own sake, in which case, I hope you like what you find here, you weirdo. Or you might be a compulsive web gossiper who just wants a look over my garden hedge.

Or you might be looking for a blog that has a unique combination of features. If you’ve been searching for insights into Oisin McGann’s life and his outlook from within that life; if you want a blog that is fed by an obsession with the art of storytelling and an interest in matters ranging from apples to social justice, from intriguing t-shirts to environmental conservation, from regional slang to children’s publishing, you need look no further. This is your lucky day.

I write and illustrate for an audience, for a living. But this online journal will be entirely for my own amusement and those with a similar outlook. Or . . . well, anyone who wants to read it, really . . .

Now, where do I start?