Mad Grandad Goes to Cologne

I’m just catching back up on work after returning from Germany last Sunday, so I finally have some time to do a post on the trip. I was in Cologne for the annual Children’s Literature Festival run by Uschi Schröter and her fantastic team at SK Stiftung Kultur. Every year, they feature writers from a different country and this time it was Ireland’s turn.

I was in good company, with PJ Lynch, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick (accompanied by hubbie and children’s author and illustrator Michael Emberley), Sheena Wilkinson, John Boyne and Judi Curtin. The week before, the city had played host to our Children’s Laureate, Niamh Sharkey, Siobhan Parkinson, Terry McDonagh and John Connolly.

The photo above shows PJ, Uschi, my translator Ulrike, and me at an exhibition featuring the work of PJ, Marie-Louise and Niamh’s paintings (I nicked the picture off PJ’s blog – thanks PJ). But for most of us, it was all about the libraries and schools we were brought out to, to do events for the festival.

In my case, I’d been asked to do five events centred around Mad Grandad, for ages of 8-11 years. Given my complete lack of German, I’d have to be translated for the kids, a task that interpreter Ulrike Sawicki performed with relish and expertise. She was great fun to work with. This was a new experience for me – I’ve been translated before for panels and interviews, but never during one of my sessions (unless you count sign language at a school for the deaf). But with Ulrike’s help it went down really well, and I had a brilliant time. It also forced me to talk a little slower, which was good, because it’s a discipline I have yet to master in my sessions.

I had three sessions in libraries and two in schools, and the people of Cologne were nothing if not welcoming and enthusiastic. At one school, I was treated to a cup of Lyons tea (the first cup of tea I’ve probably had in years). They’d done a whole project on Ireland because their teacher had spent a lot of time there. I was asked if I wanted some Guinness, which I regretfully declined, having seen all the kids being given tea (many for the first time ever) and proceeding to go haywire.

Two of the libraries I visited were Catholic libraries – I suppose in the same way that schools were originally run by the church in Ireland. They’re staffed by volunteers and also act as community support centres. The first one I visited was actually part of a brand new church building. It had a dedicated area downstairs devoted to community projects like free meals, fixing up bicycles to give to kids who don’t have them, taking in donations of things such as clothes, and even training people up on a forklift and one of those street-sweeper trucks. Imagine St Vincent de Paul, but working out of a brand new, purpose-built headquarters.

Wherever I went, I was given a warm welcome and all the events were run with energy and efficiency. it’s funny how kids in different countries are all the same when you get right down to it, but then you pay all the more attention to the little differences. In Ireland or Britain, the most common questions are ‘Where do you get your ideas?’; ‘What’s your favourite book?’ and ‘How much money do you make?’. In Cologne, the first two questions still got asked, but I was only asked once about the money. Instead, one of the most common questions was if I had children and what their names and ages were. One kid asked if I smoked, which was a first (I don’t, and never have). I also got asked why we spoke English in Ireland (a tricky one to answer briefly) and did I write my books in Irish too (no, and after thirteen years of learning the language, I’m barely capable of composing a coherent sentence in it).

All in all, I had a brilliant time over there. I brought the family over too (you pay for that part of it yourself, but Uschi and the others were a great help), but I’ll cover some of the things we did in the city in a separate post. My thanks to Uschi, Ulrike, Monica and everyone involved, and congratulations on a fantastic festival.

Flying the Flag in Germany

I’ll make this quick – it’s been a long day and the whole family’s got to be up at 4am to catch a plane to Germany. And I’m already a bit knackered. I’m taking part in Irischen Kinder- und Jugendbuchwochen 2012 (don’t ask me to pronounce that), a big children’s book festival in Cologne.

It celebrates the writing of a different country every year, and this year it’s Ireland’s turn. It stretches over two weeks, this being the second one. Last week, Niamh Sharkey (our new Children’s Laureate), PJ Lynch, Siobhan Parkinson, Malachy Doyle, Terry McDonagh and John Connolly flew the flag for Ireland.

On Monday, I join Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, Judi Curtin, Sheena Wilkinson and John Boyne as we take Irish storytelling and illustration to the kids of Cologne.

I don’t get asked to events abroad (or beyond the UK anyway) too often, so this is a bit of a treat, and Maedhbh and I decided to upgrade it to a family holiday.

Don’t forget, the deadline for entries for the ‘Merciless Reason’ competition is the end of next week! Thanks to all those who’ve entered already, and for anybody else who’s planning to take part – time’s almost up!

Ireland’s New Children’s Laureate

Congratulations to Niamh Sharkey, on becoming our new Children’s Laureate. The announcement was made by President Michael D Higgins at a ceremony in the headquarters of the Arts Council this morning. To my great disappointment, I couldn’t attend because I knackered my back over the weekend, and am currently walking around like some lop-sided zombie, but I wish Niamh lots of success in the role. She will be a great ambassador for children’s books, while having a very different approach to Siobhan Parkinson, our first Laureate.

Niamh is the author and illustrator of numerous beautiful picture books, including ‘The Ravenous Beast’, ‘Santasaurus’ and ‘I’m a Happy Hugglewug’. The Hugglewugs are soon to star in their own new animated series, produced by Brown Bag Films and broadcasted worldwide on the Disney Channel, so Niamh’s going to be run off her feet for the next couple of years, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what she does as Laureate, and in what new directions she chooses to take it. One can assume that some focus on illustration will be on the cards, but beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.

Congratulations again, Niamh.

Book design is one of Niamh’s passions, so I thought I’d post this link to an excellent TED talk I found recently on David Maybury’s blog. Here’s book designer Chip Kidd discussing his art. Enjoy.

Hugglewugs Go Global

Great news from (and for) Niamh Sharkey. She’s teamed up with Brown Bag Films and Disney to create a series about her characters, the Hugglewugs, entitled ‘The Happy Hugglemonsters’. And it’s going to be broadcast on Disney Junior in over 150 countries worldwide. Cathal Gaffney of Brown Bag said, “We are delighted to announce the production of this series, it is great to work with home grown talent like Niamh Sharkey and to bring an original idea like this to a global Disney Junior audience is hugely satisfying for all involved.”

Niamh’s been pretty tight-lipped about this; we both had work in the recent ‘Enchanted’ exhibition that toured the country – including a show in her home-town of Skerries – so I would have been in contact with her a fair bit . . . and she didn’t mention a word of this. Congrats to her on her fantastic and well-deserved success. Methinks she and her family will be having a very Happy Christmas this year.

Enchanted in Skerries

I was in the lovely setting of Skerries last night, for the opening of the Enchanted Exhibition in Skerries Mills. This is the fifth and last venue to host this collection of work by Irish illustrators, and it’s only on until the 25th of September, so if you haven’t seen it yet, and you’re interested in this kind of thing, go check it out now.

The exhibition features work from myself and four other illustrators:  Niamh Sharkey (that’s her in the picture), Adrienne Geoghan, Annie West and Bruce Ingman (an honorary Irishman, having married his way into the country from abroad).

So far, the exhibition has been hosted in Waterford, Galway, Abbeyleix, Newbridge, Drogheda and now it’s reached its last stop in Skerries. My thanks to Niamh and everyone else involved in bringing the show to the Mills, and the folks in Garter Lane Arts Centre who started things off, and then oversaw the move from each location to the next – it’s no easy task to organize and manage something like this.

The launch was the first event in the Soundwaves Music and Arts Festival in Skerries, and was officially opened by Robert Dunbar – reviewer, editor, advocate and arguably the grandaddy of the children’s books community in Ireland. Also joining the Skerries crowd for the opening was Polly Dunbar (no relation, as far as I know). Polly is a friend of Niamh’s and another excellent picture book author/illustrator. She’s based in the UK, but has been over here for a few months doing some design work for an animation company. Like most illustrators, she has more than one hat (and I’m sure she’d insist on all of hers being very pretty ones).

Remember, the show only runs until the 25th of September, and this is your last chance to see it. Get out there, look at some original artwork, check out Skerries Mills, maybe take in some of the other events during the festival, or even just go for a walk by the sea and make a whole day of it.

On the Box

I’m going to be appearing on Elev8, on RTE 2 at around midday on Monday (the show is airing earlier than normal because of Easter). It’s part of the promotion for the Drogheda Arts Festival. The Enchanted Exhibition, which started out in the Garter Lane Arts Centre in Waterford, has now moved to the arts centre in Drogheda, and is being launched at the same time as the festival there. I’ll be doing a session there too, at 10am on Saturday the 30th of April.

The exhibition features work from myself and four other illustrators: Niamh Sharkey, Adrienne Geoghan, Annie West and Bruce Ingman.

So far, it’s been shown in Waterford, Galway, Abbeyleix and Newbridge . . . and now it’s reached Drogheda. If you get the chance, you should go and check it out.

Obviously, it’s always great to get a spot on the telly, so I’m really looking forward to the show on Monday, but with only about three and a half minutes to talk, and no telling what questions will get thrown at me, the pressure’s on get the right stuff said!