Why Meeting a Real Live Children's Writer Matters

 The first time I met a ‘real live’ children’s writer was in my early twenties when I was a part-time bookseller in Hodges Figgis bookshop on Dawson Street, Dublin. A bestselling American author called Paula Danziger was visiting and I was drafted in from the academic floor to help manage the signing queue.

She spoke at length to each child, answering their questions and listening carefully to their answers. She signed their books, often mirror writing her signature much to their delight.  She was bubbly and funny and made even the shyest child open up and smile back.

After the signing she thanked all the staff warmly and shook each person’s hand. ‘Thank you so much for all your help, Sarah,’ she said. ‘I didn’t do much,’ I answered. ‘What are you talking about?’ she said.  ‘You chatted to each child in the queue and made them feel welcome.’ I left work that day walking on air, delighted to feel noticed and appreciated.

And that is at the heart of meeting any writer – what makes the experience so important and in some cases transformative – it’s not what they say but how they make you feel.

Paula Danziger and all her enthusiasm and kindness made me want to work in the children’s department. I’m still working in the children’s book world over twenty years later, now as a writer and programmer of children’s and family book festivals like Dubray StoryFest (Saturday 28th September in Airfield).

Nowadays many Irish girls and boys meet a children’s writer in school but this is a fairly recent development. In the 1970s and 80s it certainly didn’t happen in the schools I attended.

I asked the question on social media – when did you first meet a children’s writer – and people responded with glowing memories of meeting Roald Dahl in Kenny’s bookshop, Galway in 1987. Others remembered Don Conroy, Marita Conlon McKenna or Tom McCaughrean coming to their school or local library and the excitement of the visit.

Primary school teacher, Derek Carney said ‘I was in a very small rural primary school and it was such a big deal that they had a few schools come together to draw with Don (Conroy). It was magical and topped off when kids from my own school got to see him a few years ago. Full circle!’

 The Writers in Schools scheme has been running in Ireland since 1977, administrated by Poetry Ireland and funded by the Arts Council. Writers have spoken to over 500,000 children to date and I’m proud to be one of the writers involved.

Anna Boner, Development Officer for Writers in Schools says ‘The experience (of having a writer in the classroom)… can have a profound effect on children in terms of esteem and sense of achievement.  Teachers can find themselves surprised by who responds to the experience of a writer visit most, like a child who rarely speaks in class who then volunteers to read aloud a poem or story they have created. Often the most heartening feedback we receive comes directly from the children.’

One child said: I didn’t think I could write stories but I love my Titanic story and now it is my favourite thing.

Another noted: It made me feel happy and it made me believe in myself.

Elaina Ryan, Director of Children’s Books Ireland says ‘Meeting a writer or illustrator does so many things for a child: it demystifies the process behind a book, which is a powerful thing for children who are not readers and may not come from a culture of reading or being read to.’

There are statistics to back up the importance of school visits from the National Literacy Trust in the UK. They found that pupils who had an author visit were twice as likely to read above the expected level for their age (31% vs 17%) and were more likely to enjoy reading (68% vs 47%) and writing (44% vs 32%).

Outside the classroom there are now arts and literature festivals all over Ireland which bring children and children’s writers together. As the Programme Director of Dubray StoryFest I invite the very best writers and illustrators to our festival, along with scientists, astronauts and storytellers. Joining us this year are Alex T Smith of the Claude books and tv show fame, Shane Hegarty, Judi Curtin and Sarah McIntyre.

Children are naturally creative beings. Seeing illustrators like Peter Donnelly, Niamh Sharkey and Chris Judge create amazing pictures right in front of their eyes at the festival will be hugely inspiring.

Listening to writers like Marita Conlon McKenna and Philip Reeve talk about their process and how writing isn’t always easy will be a real eye-opener for children. It will make them realise that trying again after failure is important for everyone, even multi award-winners!

 And you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be cheered by the very sight of national treasure, Don Conroy drawing his beloved owls and seals and talking about Irish wildlife with such passion. It will be one of the highlights of Dubray StoryFest for both children and parents!

By hosting events for children and teenagers, festivals are showing their commitment to the creative and cultural lives of our young citizens. At Dubray StoryFest we have a whole area dedicated to babies and toddlers where they will stick, collage and crayon with award-winning artists Tarsila Kruse and Niamh Sharkey, plus the new Dlr Writer in Residence, Sadhbh Devlin.

Writers and illustrators also benefit from events. Elaina Ryan explains: ‘The incomes of children’s writers tend to rely heavily on live literature events or teaching in some form. With the festival scene thriving, there are more local and national festivals programming events for children, young people and their families. Here, Children’s Books Ireland’s role is to advocate for artists to be paid appropriately and to lead by doing so ourselves.’

Anna Boner says school visits (and events) can be ‘a lively break from the solitary experience of writing. They can also be hugely rewarding for the writer when they see directly the joy their work can bring to children and the impact their books can have. Finally, the children tend to be honest in their feedback so they can be very useful sounding boards for new ideas!’ So everyone wins!

For more details of Dubray StoryFest see: https://www.dubraybooks.ie/storyfest

This piece first appeared on The Irish Times online edition.

Characters from Head to Toe by Natasha Mac a’Bháird

Natasha Mac a’Bháird is a freelance writer and editor. Her latest novel, Laura’s Spooky Show, the third book in the Star Club series, is out in September 2019.

Characters – From Head to Page

When I signed off on my first novel, Missing Ellen, the sense of achievement at finally finishing it was tinged with sadness that I would no longer have those characters living inside my head. After all the time spent daydreaming, writing, rewriting and editing, they were so real to me I found it hard to let them go.

With my first Star Club book, Hannah in the Spotlight, came a whole new cast of characters, and the best thing about writing a series is not having to leave those characters behind. I get the chance to really develop them over time, seeing how they react to new situations and how the relationships between them change. I’ve chosen to write each book in the series from the point of view of a different member of Star Club, and that’s been an interesting challenge as well – making sure each voice is unique, and looking at a character from the inside out in one book and then as others see her in the next.

Laura is, in many ways, the character I identify with most. She’s a bookworm who spends as much time living in imaginary worlds – her own and other people’s – as she does in the real one. She is seized with ideas for stories and has days where she can hardly write fast enough to keep up with her thoughts – and days when they remain stubbornly elusive, completely refusing to be put down on paper.  So far, we have quite a lot in common. But Laura is a lot tougher than me. She knows her own mind, is grimly determined in the pursuit of what she wants, and is totally unconcerned about what people think of her. Maybe when I grow up, I can be a bit more like her.

And isn’t that the best thing about writing – the chance to live many lives instead of one? To be in someone else’s head, thinking about how they would feel, how they would react – and, sometimes, to do things you wish you were brave enough to do yourself.

What I love about writing too is when characters start to take on a life of their own. When I thought up the character of Ruby, I was mainly thinking of her as someone who was obsessed with ballet, fully focused on her training and supremely confident about making her dreams come true. But other aspects of her character took me by surprise. She became the anxious one of the group, the one who worries about getting into trouble, who panics at being expected to take on too much. I love that I never planned that side of her, she just evolved that way as the story went on.

Having come through some stressful situations in the first two books, the girls’ friendship remained firmly intact – but that all comes under threat in book three. I must admit I felt terribly cruel at some of the situations I was inflicting on them, especially Laura, who begins to feel that the whole world is against her.

Laura’s Spooky Show is my tenth book. Getting that first copy into my hands is every bit as exciting as the first one – and letting it go on its way out into the world is every bit as terrifying. I hope readers will identify with these characters and enjoy their adventures, but it’s out of my hands now. It’s time to pick up my pen again and see what happens next.


I’ll be running a weekend course for anyone interested in writing for children very soon with Grainne Clear, who is a Senior Editor at Walker Books, London.

There are only 15 places so if you are interested email or text me quick!

Grainne Clear and Sarah Webb (with Lucky)

Writing for Children Weekend with Grainne Clear (Editor) and Sarah Webb (Writer)

Focus on Fiction

Sat 31st August and Sun 1st September 

 Everything you need to know about writing for children and getting published!

 Grainne Clear is a Senior Editor with Walker Books and Sarah Webb is an award-winning children's writer

 (look out for our picturebook day in early 2020)

During the weekend they will cover:

Age groups and genres

Creating compelling characters

Plotting and the story arc

Creating authentic dialogue

Rewriting and editing 

The world of agents, editors and children's publishing 

and much more! 

 The weekend will also feature a guest author of MG or YA fiction to speak about the day-to-day of being an Irish writer and share their writing tips

 Before the course begins, Grainne or Sarah will critique your work (or book idea if you are just starting out) so you can concentrate on the areas that need attention over the two days

Max 15 people to guarantee plenty of individual attention 

 Cost - including 1 page manuscript critique and notes, lunch on Saturday and coffee/tea both days: e250 

 Venue: Royal St George Yacht Club, Dun Laoghaire (e5 parking per day to the right of the club on the pier, e6 per day in dlr Lexicon Library car park), 2 mins walk from 46A bus stop and Dun Laoghaire DART station 

Times: Sat 10am to 5pm (coffee/tea and light lunch provided)

Sun 11am to 4pm (coffee/tea provided) 

Booking - sarahsamwebb@gmail.com or text 0866086110

Bologna Children's Book Fair 2019 - Notes for Children's Writers and Illustrators

I had the great fortune to spend three days at this year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair. The last time I visited was many years ago and a lot has changed since then – it’s bigger and far glitzier, with some stunning stands full of outstanding children’s books from around the world.

This year there was a huge emphasis on two areas of children’s books – MG (middle grade – age 8/9+) fiction and creative nonfiction. Many publishers had their own range of history books focusing on remarkable women from their country – that was really interesting to see and my latest book, Blazing a Trail: Irish Women who Changed the World definitely fits this mold. I was thrilled to see O’Brien Press displaying Blazing and also A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea on their stand.

There were also a lot of natural history books on display – all lushly illustrated. The MG fiction ranged from our own Catherine Doyle’s The Stormkeeper’s Island (most notably on the Italian stand, to mystery books and fantasy adventures.

The Bookseller said in their fair magazine: ‘Middle Grade titles have been the hottest properties at this year’s fair.’

Picturebooks were also prominently on display – however I did wonder was this due to the fact that they are ideal for catching people’s attention with their strong, colourful covers.

The lack of YA being displayed really stood out. There were few YA titles on display or in the publisher’s foreign rights catalogues.

Scout Natasha Farrant said (again in The Bookseller): ‘Quite a few of my Northern European clients say that young people are reading YA in English… It’s making the YA market (for translations) more difficult.’

The range of titles on display was breath taking – it made me realise that we only see a fraction of what’s being published in Irish bookshops as so few books are translated from other languages into English.

So kudos must go to publishers like Little Island who are translating children’s titles from other languages (esp German) into English.

After talking to many of the Irish illustrators attending the fair – they were showing their portfolios to editors and art directors – I realised just how hard they work. They make up dummies of many different books in the hope of selling at least one. There were many successes at the fair for Irish illustrators – watch this space for more on that.

Authors were mainly there to connect with their foreign publishers and/or to soak up the atmosphere and to find out about the international market for children’s books. Judi Curtin visited her Serbian publisher’s stand and was given a hero’s welcome – her books are very big in Serbia! There also lots of talks and workshops to attend, and exhibitions to view.

CBI (Children’s Books Ireland) hosted a very attractive Irish stand, designed by Steve McCarthy, to promote Irish talent to the international children’s book world. It also acted as a hub for the children’s writers and illustrators at the fair. Well done to them – it’s an important role.

The Irish Writers and Illustrators (and friends) at the CBI Stand

The Irish Writers and Illustrators (and friends) at the CBI Stand

There were surprisingly few American stands at the fair (unless I missed them) – but a lot of stands from Japan and China which I found fascinating, plus a super one from Taiwan, filled with artwork.

Other interesting areas – there are lots of books featuring and for children with extra needs being published. There is still a demand for books featuring inspirational women and men – popular history books with a creative edge.

Would I advise attending? 100%. It’s an expensive enough trip but the direct flights from Dublin (Ryanair) make it easier. Go with an open mind and bring a bag with you for catalogues and postcards. Wear comfy shoes. Bring food and water. And ask Jenny from CBI about the ‘secret toilets’!

It made me realise a couple of really important things:

1/ The world is a lot bigger but also a lot smaller than you think – walk the aisles with an open mind, try not to get overwhelmed by the talent on show and you will be hugely inspired.

2/ Talent combined with tenacity and a LOT of hard work will get you places.

3/ You can be ‘reborn’ at any stage of your career – age doesn’t matter if you’ve produced something really original and exciting.

4/ The children’s book world is vibrant, exciting and really, really matters to a whole heap of people from all over the world – this is so heartening.

See you at the fair in 2020!

Children's Books Ireland Book of the Year Awards 2019

The CBI Book of the Year Awards shortlist has just been unveiled. The winners will be announced at a ceremony to be held on 22nd May at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre as part of International Literature Festival Dublin. Tickets will be available for the event if you’d like attend. Stay tuned to http://ilfdublin.com/ for details.

Well done to all the shortlisted writers and illustrators!

Mucking About by John Chambers

 The Weight of a Thousand Feathers by Brian Conaghan

 Beag Bídeach scríofa ag Sadhbh Devlin, maisithe ag Róisín Hahessy

 The Great Irish Weather Book written by Joanna Donnelly, illustrated by Fuchsia MacAree

 Between Tick and Tock written by Louise Greig, illustrated by Ashling Lindsay

 Tin by Pádraig Kenny

 Tuesdays are Just as Bad by Cethan Leahy

 The Pooka Party by Shona Shirley Macdonald

 Dr Hibernica Finch’s Compelling Compendium of Irish Animals written by Rob Maguire,

illustrated by Aga Grandowicz

 Flying Tips for Flightless Birds by Kelly McCaughrain

Life as a Professional Children's Writer - the Low Down

This evening I am the guest on #MGiechat on Twitter, run by the wonderful E.R. Murray. To prepare I’ve been thinking about the questions she has set and I have posted some answers below in case they are useful to other writers.

Q1: What’s your definition of a professional writer?

Interesting question. A professional children’s writer is someone who makes their living from writing or activities linked to their writing. Most professional writers do not earn their living solely from advances and royalties. And royalties and advances go up and down, so it’s a good idea to have a second (or third!) income stream.

I’m not sure relying on your creativity to earn you a crust is the best way to encourage and nurture it either. Elizabeth Gilbert is very good on this in her book Big Magic. She explains putting demands on your writing can scare it away.

Personally I cherish my creative life more and more as I get older. I spend 2 to 3 days a week writing, and 3 to 4 days doing other work. Yes, that adds up to 7 days sometimes!

As well as writing I also:

Programme book festivals (ILFD, Dubray StoryFest – 29th Sept in Airfield, Dundrum – do go!).

Write children’s book reviews for the Irish Independent

Mentor Children’s Writers for the Irish Writers Centre and teach adults for them also (writing for children and teenagers)

Give training days for librarians and charity workers who are interested in children and creativity (I recently did one for Trocaire)

Work as a consultant for Dubray Books – at the moment I am working on a new Dubray recommended reading guide for 2019 (and StoryFest)

Run writing clubs and a drawing club for children in Dún Laoghaire

Do some voluntary work – I’m currently helping CBI and Poetry Ireland with a project

Visit schools and libraries and do workshops and events at book festivals (and other creative festivals)

The common thread to all of this – CHILDREN’S BOOKS!

Roughly 1/3 of my income comes from book advances and royalties, 1/3 from teaching, schools visits and other events (I’ll come back to this later as it’s important), 1/3 from programming and other work.

Q2: People believe the holy grail is to be getting paid for just writing - but how realistic is that? How does a professional writer really make a living?

See above! For about 8 years I wrote full time, my income came from advances and royalties. But the books I want to write and work on now are not series books and are not as commercial as my previous books.

My latest two - Blazing a Trail which is out in October and A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea (with Lauren O’Neill and Steve McCarthy) - are books that are mainly for an Irish audience. I have adored working on them both with the team at O'Brien press. But it does mean I need to work on other projects to pay the bills. But that is my choice.  

And the next two are similar – passion projects. I’m lucky to have that choice.

Most of my children’s writer friends are similar – they have some years where they are writing full time, other years when they are doing other work too. That is normal. In my case it suits me, it keeps me engaged and interested. I’m not sure I’d be able to go back to just writing. I’m having too much fun!

Q3: How much should a writer charge for their time? And how do writers go about having this conversation?

Writers should always charge for their time when it comes to events. If you have a new book out your publisher may ask you do to some promotional events, that is of course fine and I always support my publishers in this way. But schools, libraries, festivals – you must charge for your time.

There is an excellent piece on the Words Ireland website about fees for events which includes this from Children’s Books Ireland:

‘For our annual conference, we cover travel, accommodation and meals for speakers and offer a fee of €250 for someone speaking alone, €200 each for a duo, €150 each for a panel unless the author/illustrator in question is including the event in a promotional tour.* For our education work, we pay a €200 fee plus travel and accommodation for a schools workshop, which runs usually for up to 2.5 hours.’

* It is standard practice that writers do promotional events to publicise a book and don’t receive a fee, though they are earning their usual royalty on sales generated by such events. This should occur in the weeks or months ahead of, and just after, publication of that book.

The full piece is here:


When a school or library approaches you to do an event – quote these recommended fees. Then prepare your event meticulously. Make sure you give your all at the event. Arrive punctually and be professional at all times. I often give the school a copy of one of my books for the school library.

I have also pasted a link below to a blog about approaching or pitching to festivals. The ones I programme are curator led, so I don’t generally take many proposals (1 out of 25 events might come from a proposal and it’s usually a workshop), but some other festivals do.

More on this here: How to Pitch to Book Festivals - Practical Tips for Children's Writers


And here is a piece from The Bookseller about why writers should not do free school visits:

Authors Aloud, an organisation that helps schools to find authors to visit them, said writers should only do “two or three” free events at the start of their career as a learning exercise and ask for feedback from the school in return.

(Clara) Vulliamy said all authors should charge a similar rate because “one of the worst things you can do is offer yourself at a lower price. That muddies the water and makes it harder for the rest of us”.


Q4: People need practice, but working for free undermines other writers. What advice do you have for writers starting out with events?

Tips for Events:

If You Have No Experience – Go and Get Some.

Prepare an event and deliver it on a trial basis in creches, schools, libraries, retirement homes. Anywhere that will have you. Make your mistakes early and learn from them. Ask for feedback.

Ask an experienced writer if you can shadow them. Or go to events at festivals and see how other writers do it. Learn from them and then come up with your own event.

Ask the teachers to give you an event ‘reference’ eg ‘Mandy Bloggs was wonderful. She kept JI and SI highly entertained with her stories about African animals and they learned a lot in a fun and innovative way.’

Prepare a script for your event and practice it until it’s perfect. Most events are 60 mins. Break this down: 20/30 minutes talking is perfect. Add  1 or 2 x 5 min readings within or after the talk (never more) + 20 mins for questions at the end.

Your event is not a hard sell for your book. In fact some of the best talks I’ve ever heard are not about the artist’s book at all. Eoin Colfer is one of the best in the business (watch him in action on You Tube) and he rarely mentions his books.

Think about using props, music, dance, theatre, images (although powerpoint presentations can go wrong so always be prepared to deliver your event without it).

Think about using costumes or at the very least looking visually appealing to children (see Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve’s costumes).

Q5: You wanted to talk about the reality of book advances @sarahwebbishere – fire away!

At one of the #ProperBook events for writers recently Grainne Clear from Little Island was open and honest about advances:

She explained that advances are paid to a writer based on how many books the publisher thinks they can sell and the price of the book.

Little Island pay a standard advance to all writers, both new and established of e1k this was something I hadn’t realised and useful to know. Authors usually get 7.5% royalty of the recommended retail price of the book. The average Irish print run is 2.5k copies Grainne said.

For more on this see this piece:


And finally an article from the Irish Times about Writers’ Pay in Ireland by Martin Doyle and Freya McClements which includes quotes from Donal Ryan and Liz Nugent.

“Maybe now people will stop asking me why I’m driving a 13 year old car,” says Liz Nugent.

The article says: ‘The most recent survey of Irish authors’ incomes – published by the Irish Copyright Licencing Agency in 2010 – found that in 2008-09 over half the writers consulted (58.7 per cent) earned less than €5,000 from writing-related income. Indeed, the commonest response – given by more than a quarter, or 27.9 per cent of respondents – was that they earned less than €500 a year.’


BlazingATrail FINAL COVER.jpg

Now go write! Write the book of your heart and enjoy the writing journey!

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

The Best Children's Book Agents 2018 - Recommended by their Writers

Every year I update this post - one of the most popular posts on my blog. I hope it's helpful. If you are a published writer and would like to recommend your agent, please contact me. I'd be delighted to add your agent to the list. 

All the agents on this list are recommended by people in the know - their writers and illustrators. Thank you to all the writers and illustrators who responded to my call out for recommendations. 


In Ireland we are lucky to have the O’Brien Press whose editors are happy to read unsolicited manuscripts. You can send your book directly to one of their editors.

Little Island are also happy to read unsolicited manuscripts – they have excellent submission guidelines.

Gill Books has recently started publishing children’s fiction, Mercier and Poolbeg also publish children’s books and accept unsolicited manuscripts.

But most UK publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts so you will need to submit your work through an agent.


1/ An agent can advise you on your manuscript and on how to make it more attractive to a publisher. Some of them will act as unofficial editors to their clients or at the very least can suggest changes or improvements. They are also excellent at coming up with zippy book titles as I’ve discovered.

2/ An agent can find the right editor or publisher for your work – like a book matchmaker. And they can sell your UK, US, digital and foreign rights. They can also look after any film or television rights.

3/ Agents deal with the difficult and technical area of contracts. This is particularly important at the moment as digital rights can be tricky.

4/ Financial back up – they can chase up your royalties and talk to your publishers about outstanding monies owed to you.

These days having potential isn’t enough,  your manuscript must be as perfect as you can make it before it goes anywhere near a publisher. A good agent can play a vital role in this process.


Remember to check each agent’s website for submission guidelines before you send anything out. Or ring the agency for details – I know it’s daunting but they are always happy to advise you on how (or if) to submit. Be warned – you may get the agent herself/himself on the phone. Be prepared.


Eoin Colfer is represented by Sophie Hicks. Sophie is a very experienced agent and her writers rate her highly. She also represents Oisín McGann. www.sophiehicksagency.com

Lucy Coats adds ‘Sophie Hicks of SHA is, of course, the best agent in the world! Sympathetic and positive in adversity, great sense of humour and fights her authors’ corner like a tigress on speed. Highly recommended.’

Derek Landy is represented by Michelle Kass, who also represents Patrick Ness. www.michellekass.co.uk

Darren Shan is represented by Christopher Little   For general enquiries email: www.christopherlittle.net

Sarah Webb and Chris Judge are represented by the wonderful Philippa Milnes Smith at LAW

Steve McCarthy says: ‘I'll second that for Philippa! I can attest to her kindness, wise-ness and hilarity.’

Contact: All submissions should be sent, in hard copy, by post to: LAW, 14 Vernon Street, London, W14 0RJ www.lawagency.co.uk

Marita Conlon McKenna is represented by Caroline Sheldon www.carolinesheldon.co.uk

Elizabeth Rose Murray recommends her agent, Sallyanne Sweeney of Mulcahy Associates (London). She says she’s ‘supportive, thorough, creative, knowledgeable & really champions her authors. And she really loves children’s/YA literature too – always a bonus!’

Let's hear from some other Irish writers:

Dave Rudden: 'I'm with Clare Wallace at Darley Anderson - can't recommend her enough!'

Clare also represents Olivia Hope.

Shirley McMillan: 'My agent is Jenny Savill at Andrew Nurnberg Associates. She is wonderful.'

Jenny also represents Nigel Quinlan.

Sinéad O'Hart is represented by Polly Nolan who is also recommended by Louis Stowell.

Celine Kiernan says: 'I changed agencies late 2015. I am with Sallyanne Sweeney now, of Mulcahy Literary Agency. Have worked with her on two books now and find her wonderful.'

Sheena Wilkinson: ‘Faith O'Grady. Not a children's specialist -- handy as I am writing adult now, but very supportive and approachable. Based in Dublin.’

Sheena Dempsey says:  ‘Felicity Trew is absolutely brilliant, a determined bulldog but with a lovely manner and thorough to the last where contracts are concerned. Incredibly supportive where editorial and art direction are concerned. Always pushes for better terms. Top marks.’

Marianne Gunn O'Connor represents Shane Hegarty and Cecelia Ahern. 


Cathy Cassidy is represented by Darley Anderson and highly recommends him.

Eve Ainsworth:  'I'm with Stephanie Thwaites at Curtis Brown, she's fab.'

Russell Sanderson and Lu Hersey recommend their agent, Ben Illis.

Zana Fraillon recommends her agent, Claire Wilson.

Julia Churchill at A M Heath who says 'my speciality is checking if people need to go to loo before meetings.' I have met Julia and she is a funny and smart woman who knows her onions. Well worth sending your manuscript to. Nikki Sheehan says Julia 'would win against 100 horse sized ducks.' 

Jo Nadin says: ‘I love Julia Churchill without reservation. She’s quietly kickass, clever, kind, and, best of all, listens.’

Mark Burgess: 'Im represented by excellent & wonderful Nancy Miles of Miles Stott Children's Literary Agency. She also represents Gill Lewis & Frances Hardinge.'

Sarah McIntyre: ‘ I'm represented by Jodie Hodges at United Agents, she's brilliant! I couldn't do without her, she keeps my life in order.’

Catherine MacPhail says: ‘Caroline Sheldon. Always keeps in touch. Great agent.’

Cathy Brett says ‘And Felicity Trew, Caroline's co-agent. A little terrier!’

Mary Hoffman: ‘ It was Pat White and, since her retirement, is now Claire Wilson, both of Rogers, Coleridge and White.’

Eve White, Eve White Literary Agency

Catherine Clarke at Felicity Bryan

Robert Kirby at United Agents

Jodie Hodges at United Agents (recommended by William Bee); Catherine Mary Summerhayes, Jo Unwin and Clare Conville at United Agents

Hilary Delamere at The Agency

Lindsey Fraser at Fraser Ross

Gemma Cooper at The Bent Agency

Penny Holroyde at Holroyde Cartey

Elizabeth Roy – www.elizabethroy.co.uk

Laura Cecil – www.lauracecil.co.uk

Madeleine Milburn – www.madeleinemilburn.co.uk

Sam Copeland and Claire Wilson at Rogers Coleridge and White – www.rcwlitagency.com

Good luck with finding a great agent!

Raising a Child Who Loves to Read - Recommended Books

Babies and Toddlers

Say Goodnight by Helen Oxenbury

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury

A good nursery rhyme book – with art work you love eg

Sally Go Round the Stars by Sarah Webb and Steve McCarthy


Oliver Jeffers – Lost and Found

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen

Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell

Julia Donaldson

I Say Ooh, You Say Aah by John Kane

The President’s Glasses by Peter Donnelly

A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton (good for babies and toddlers also)

 A good fairy tale collection with your favourite tales and some of the more unusual ones. Fables and myths and legends also. Eg Yummy by Lucy Cousins


Early Readers – age 6+

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World by Kate Pankhurst

Rabbit and Bear by Julian Gough and Jim Field

Claude Books by Alex T Smith

Age 9+

Katherine Rundell

Begone the Raggedy Witches by Celine Kiernan

Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens

Eoin Colfer

Derek Landy

Judi Curtin

Anthony Horowitz

Dave Rudden

Tom Gates

Wimpy Kid

Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend (new)

The Making of Mollie by Anna Carey


Sarah Crossan

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

Star by Star by Sheena Wilkinson

Dave Rudden

Patrick Ness

And finally - Books for Tired Parents

That’s Not My Dinosaur etc – published by Usborne

Hug by Jez Alborough

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

Books for Parents who want to know more

Mad About Books: Dubray Guide to Children’s Books

Bold Girls recommended reading guide from Children’s Books Ireland

How to Pitch to Book Festivals - Practical Tips for Children's Writers

These notes were prepared for Mindshift at Irish Writers Centre March 2018

 Notes by Sarah Webb, Family and Schools’ Curator, ILFD, Literary Advisor to Listowel Writers’ Week

One of my festival events with Alan Nolan for age 7+ 

One of my festival events with Alan Nolan for age 7+ 


Schedule of Programming

Many book festivals start programming six months to a year in advance. Many key names would be in place 6 to 10 months in advance for the children’s programme: ie Francesca Simon, Judith Kerr (or sometimes more).

If you are thinking about approaching a festival (and more on how to do this in a moment), make sure you don’t leave it too late. I would suggest at least 4 months before the festival is on.

What I Am Looking For:

1/ International names who will attract a large audience and fill a theatre (300+ seats) eg Francesca Simon, Eoin Colfer, Julia Donaldson, Michael Rosen.

2/ Strong, award-winning names for individual events and panels – esp writers who have written outstanding books (anything from 120 seats to 300+ seats depending on the artist) eg David Almond, Louise O’Neill, Patrick Ness, Katherine Rundell. Most festivals like to vary the writers they invite every year (although in the children’s world, the audience changes every 2 or 3 years – as they grow up!)

3/ Writers who are excellent at performing for school audiences and who have a strong body of work behind them. Experience is key for school events in a theatre (or in any venue). Ex-actors are particularly good, people who can also draw are useful. Eg Guy Bass, Steve Cole, Niamh Sharkey, Marita Conlon McKenna, Oisin McGann, Judi Curtin, Alan Nolan, Nicola Pierce.

4/ Exceptional storytellers eg Dave Rudden and Grainne Clear.

5/ Exceptional workshop leaders eg Dave Lordan, Celine Kiernan, Niamh Sharkey, Claire Hennessy, Sarah Crossan. The best ones engage 100% with the young writers/illustrators and bring something unique to their workshops.

6/ Exceptional new/newish writers for panel events featuring new voices – eg Catherine Doyle (for her MG book, coming in July) would be on my wish list for autumn 2018, Bethan Woollvin, John Kane – new picturebook makers. 

I am lucky to be sent early proofs which I read eagerly. If you have written a brilliant, original and exciting book you have a good chance of being invited to a book festival. FOR ME IT ALL STARTS WITH THE BOOK.

7/ Exceptional picture book makers to give talks/workshops to children and also masterclasses to adults eg Yasmeen Ismail, Oliver Jeffers, Chris Judge, Chris Haughton, Niamh Sharkey.

8/ Unusual and original book related events. Esp non-fiction events in fact – history, natural history, science, maths. Come up with a unique and inspiring event and practice, practice, practice.

9/ Artists who are willing to work hard and go the extra mile. Artists who will muck in. Artists who offer to fill in for other artists when there’s a last minute illness or delay. Artists who are fun to work with and above all, professional. I’ll never forget Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve mucking in at one of the festivals I programmed when one of speaker’s children was rushed to hospital. They did his events for him.

10/ Strong local talent – writers, poets, storytellers, illustrators, picture book makers and more. Experienced and debut writers alike.

What I Am Not Looking For:

1/ People with no experience. Get out there. Start with your local school or library and build up your experience. See below for some ideas.

2/ Writers of books I have not read or heard of (if you’re a new writer, ask your publisher to send me your book). If you’ve written an amazing book, you have a great chance of being invited to a festival on that basis alone.

3/ People who think a book event means standing and reading your book for 40 mins and then taking some questions. Unless you are Judy Blume or Jacqueline Wilson, this will not work. Not that Judy or Jackie would ever dream of doing this!

I’m a Self-Published Writer, Can I Apply to Appear at a Festival?

Most festivals are curated festivals. This means the curators select the artists. Yes, you can apply to appear, if you think you can offer something original and exceptional (and your book is professionally produced and an excellent read – children deserve the best literature we can give them). But please note that very few artists who apply directly are selected; most artists are invited. This goes for all writers, not just self-published writers.

What I’d Love to See More Of:

1/ Non-fiction events – science, natural history, history. If your book is fiction, you can still offer a festival a non-fiction event. I have put together an event called ‘Talk Like a Dolphin, Sing Like a Whale’ for festivals/schools – based on whale and dolphin communication. I have some Blazing a Trail events coming in the autumn based around remarkable Irish women.

I’d love to see some interesting suffragette events offered to me, workshops around diversity or equality. Think outside the box.  

2/ Innovative workshops – offer me something different and put time and passion into developing your idea. Again, you need experience. Offer to present your workshop at a local school. Ask the students and teachers for feedback.

For eg I have created a Book of Kells workshop for Hay Festival in Kells, with real vellum and swan quills; a Jane Austen workshop for mothers and daughters and I do a rhyme, song and craft event around A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea. Be inventive! The more prep work you put in, the better a workshop or event will be.

3/ Innovative pairings – dancers, musicians, artists, puppeteers, other writers. For eg  in 2016 I teamed up with Judi Curtin and we talked about our friendship at lots of the major festivals. It was our ‘Friendship Tour’. Previously we have toured with Oisin McGann (The Ideas Shop) and Sophia Bennett (Your Wildest Dreams Tour). Team up with someone interesting and put together a cracking event. It’s also a lot of fun!

4/ Events for children with special needs. In previous years I put together a How to Catch a Star workshop with Deirdre Sullivan for children on the autistic spectrum.

5/ Early years events and workshops – age 0 to 5. There is a growing demand for quality, creative events for very young children and their associated grown up/s.

How to Apply to a Book Festival:

Before you do – research the festival and make sure it actually programmes the kind of event you are thinking of offering. Start local.

1/ It’s best to apply thorough your publisher. Tell your publisher you are interested in appearing at (X) festival and ask them for their opinion. They will either a/ say yes, great idea or b/ suggest you might need a little more experience. If their answer is b – go off and get that experience and go back to them.

2/ Be a festival supporter - it’s important to attend and support festivals if you’d like to appear at them. You also learn a lot by watching and listening to other artists doing events. Take a notebook along and jot down things that work and things that don’t work.

3/ Make a demo video of yourself in action and upload it to You Tube. Nothing fancy – you can take it on your phone. Let programmers see you in action.

4/ If you don’t have a publisher, you can apply yourself. Email the children’s curator/programmer - outlining your book, the events you’ve done and what you can offer them: workshops, events etc.

It is vital to have a professional photo to send festivals for their brochure. It must be high res, clear and should show something of your personality. No frowns, please. Ask someone to come along to one of your events and take an in-action photo if possible.

The blurb for your event and your biog should be short, well written and relevant. I rarely get sent interesting titles for events – be the one who sends me something unusual and clever!

If the programmer says no, do not hound them under any circumstances. That is not going to make them change their mind.

Tips for Events:

If You Have No Experience – Go and Get Some.

Prepare an event and deliver it (yes, free) in creches, schools, libraries, retirement homes. Anywhere that will have you. Make your mistakes early and learn from them.

Ask an experienced writer if you can shadow them. Or go to events at festivals and see how other writers do it. Learn from them and then come up with your own event.

Ask the teachers to give you an event ‘reference’ eg ‘Mandy Bloggs was wonderful. She kept JI and SI highly entertained with her stories about African animals and they learned a lot in a fun and innovative way.’

Prepare a script for your event and practice it until it’s perfect. Most events are 60 mins. Break this down: 20/30 minutes talking is perfect. Add  1 or 2 x 5 min readings within or after the talk (never more) + 20 mins for questions at the end.

Your event is not a hard sell for your book. In fact some of the best talks I’ve ever heard are not about the artist’s book at all. Eoin Colfer is one of the best in the business (watch him in action on You Tube) and he rarely mentions his books.

Think about using props, music, dance, theatre, images (although powerpoint presentations can go wrong so always be prepared to deliver your event without it).

Think about using costumes or at the very least looking visually appealing to children (see Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve’s costumes).

Growth Areas:

Events for the under 7s

Family events that the parents will enjoy as much as the children – eg Monster Doodles, innovative storytelling, book-related puppet shows

Events that combine yoga/fitness with books; music with books; dance with books

Events for children on the autistic spectrum

Drama workshops for children; screen writing workshops for children; animation workshops for children – also the same for teens.

What the Festivals Are Looking For:

Writers’ Week, Listowel:

We would love any writers to contact us either through their publisher or directly themselves, but we would like a brief biog about themselves and their writing included.

The events that we are looking for are fun, interactive events, and creative writing workshops.

Aoife Murray, Children’s Books Ireland

How to approach a festival: For me I don’t mind if it’s via agent/publisher or on your own bat as long as the contact is respectful, informative and useful to my purposes eg: I want to know what age you do events for, what type of events you prefer and how much you want to charge. I feel it’s essential to research the festival to see if you suit it, otherwise you are banging on a closed door and it’s important to remember that the programmer has a vision and if you don’t fit it, that’s unfortunately just how it is on this occasion.

Events we’re looking for: Something more than the standard reading and signing, as this doesn’t generally work for younger audiences. In demand at the moment are events for 0-2 and 5-8.

Sample Pitch

1/ A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea:  Family Rhyme and Art Fun with Sarah Webb and Steve McCarthy                   Age 5+ and the whole family    30 minutes

 Join writer, Sarah Webb and illustrator, Steve McCarthy for this interactive event for the whole family. Revisit favourite childhood rhymes and songs such as She’ll Be Coming ‘round the Mountain (an American song with a very interesting Irish link), A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea and The Owl and the Pussycat, and discover new ones from Ireland and beyond. Join in the skipping (jump rope). Watch Steve draw owls, pussycats, boats and sailors, and draw along; and create your own colourful sailing ship. Sea-filled fun for everyone!

Workshop Details:

This workshop is designed to give children a playful and engaging creative experience. Songs, rhymes and poems are part of every child’s literary heritage and we will share them with the audience in a novel, interactive way. Most importantly we aim to make the event dynamic, playful and inspiring for the audience.

Step by Step Guide to the Workshop:

Sarah and Steve will welcome the children and associated adults as they arrive and give each of them a personalised name sticker. When all the participants have arrived Sarah will share some favourite rhymes and songs from A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea with the audience and Steve will draw along.

Steve will then show the audience how to a sea creature and the audience will draw along.

Sarah will then turn a skipping rope and encourage the children and adults to join in some Irish skipping games – including Cross the Crocodile River and Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear.

Finally they will help the children create their own sailing ship using collage materials – felt, coloured card, scraps of material, metallic paper, lollypop sticks and straws.

Watch the experts in action:

Sarah McIntyre and Philip


Katherine Rundell


Michael Rosen


Eoin Colfer


Children's Books Ireland Book of the Year Awards 2018

The 2018 Children’s Books Ireland Award is given to books published in 2017. There were some outstanding titles last year for all ages, from Rabbit and Bear for young readers of five plus (Julian McGough and Jim Field), to Sarah Crossan’s searing YA novel in verse, Moonlight.

Every year I predict the titles that will be on the shortlist and the overall winner. This year I have a book in the mix, A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea, illustrated by the hugely talented Steve McCarthy. Obviously I’d love it to be shortlisted. I believe Steve’s illustrations are outstanding and if it is shortlisted we will both be over the moon. Let's wait and see!

The shortlist will be announced on the 12th March and the awards are on 23rd March (tbc).

So here goes – my predictions for the CBI Awards 2018:


the presidents glasses.jpg

1/ The President’s Glasses by Peter Donnolly 

A wonderfully funny tale about what happens when the president of Ireland forgets his glasses. Striking illustrations in luscious colour.

2/ Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers

A heartfelt ode to the world for his new baby son. Glorious illustrations in a more painterly style. A treat for the eye.


Early Readers

3/ Rabbit and Bear: The Pest in the Nest by Julian Gough, illustrated by Jim Field

I am a huge fan of Rabbit and Bear – what brilliant characters. Funny and thoughtful, a super book for reading aloud. 

Age 9+

4/ Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano

Moving graphic novel about two refugee brothers who are making their way from North Africa to Europe by boat. Not to be missed.

5/ Hopscotch in the Sky by Lucinda Jacobs, illustrated by Lauren O’Neill

Moving and thought-provoking poems for children about subjects that fascinate children. A brilliant collection from one of our most important children’s poets. (Disclaimer – I worked with Lucinda at the early stages of this book.)

Age 12+

6/ Pavee and the Buffer Girl by Siobhan Down, illustrated by Emma Shoard

Graphic novel about a traveller girl. Siobhan write it before she died and her writing as always is lyrical and powerful.

7/ A Dangerous Crossing by Jane Mitchell                      POSSIBLE OVERALL WINNER

Excellent novel about a refugee boy from Kobani, Syria. Strong and powerful.

8/ Star by Star by Sheena Wilkinson

Suffragette tale by one of our most talented writers.


9/ Moonrise by Sarah Crossan                  POSSIBLE OVERALL WINNER

Powerful novel in verse about death row that deserves to be read.

10/ The Space Between by Meg Grehan

Debut novel in verse about an Irish teenager with mental health problems. Brave and moving.

11/ Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan

Lyrical, sinuous writing make these feminist retellings of fairy tales leap off the page. Not to be missed.

Other outstanding books from 2017 that might make the shortlist

Like Other Girls by Claire Hennessy

Claire is an outstanding YA writer and this book about gender politics and identity pulls you in from the first page.

The Girl in Between by Sarah Carroll

Debut about a homeless girl and her mother from a writer to watch.

Stand by Me by Judi Curtin

Judi’s books are beautifully written and are much loved by readers. This one goes back time to the 1960s.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark: The Forever Court by Dave Rudden

Brilliant fantasy adventure with heart.

The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue

A tale of a family with two dads, two moms and seven children.

Good luck everyone!

Interview with Children's Writer, Helena Duggan

Children's writer, Helena Duggan has made the transition from self-published writer to traditionally published writer this year. She tells us about her writing and publishing journey. 

a place helena.jpg


Helena, can you tell us about your latest book,  A Place Called Perfect and where the idea came from?

A Place Called Perfect is a children's middle grade book about a girl named Violet who moves to a town called Perfect because her Dad, the worlds finest Opthamologist is offered a job by the Archer Brothers Edward and George. He's been tasked with fixing the only problem this perfect little place has. After only a short time in the town anyone who visits goes blind...

That's the main background to the story and, of course, not all is as it seems in Perfect.

The idea came from a pair of glasses I picked up while backpacking in Australia. I bought them in an antique shop with the intention of changing the lenses to suit my sight. The more I carried them however, the more I began to think about their past owner and how their memories might have become locked inside the lenses. That's how Perfect began.

a place new cover.jpg


How long did it take you to write?

About 6 months for the first draft and then a very long time to edit! There were a few different editing versions as I self published first after rounds of edits. Then I found a home with Usborne and had to edit further!

You originally self-published the book in 2012. Why did you decide to go that route first?

I had been following the self publishing revolution and had written a previous book title "A Load of Rubbish" that had been through the publishing mill without much luck. I'm a graphic designer by day so I decided self publishing would be easy for me to do. I thought I'd gather together some reviews and sales figures and then look for a publisher. That's exactly how it turned out!

Self-published cover for A Place Called Perfect 

Self-published cover for A Place Called Perfect 


How did it come to be published by Usborne (a UK publisher)?

I had decided that I wanted to try for a UK publisher after taking advice from other authors and booksellers. The local bookshops in Kilkenny were amazing support and Khan Kiely from Khans books offered me a ticket to the London book fair and told me to arrange meetings with agents. I contacted a few that had shown interest in my work first time round and secured some meeting. Of the back of that I was taken on by Bell Lomax Moreton in London and they found a home for Perfect with Usborne.

Did you have to do much editing for the Usborne edition?

Yes it was a really good learning curve actually. I had an initial meeting with Anne my editor and she asked me lots of questions about the story. I remember answering all of them but thinking she couldn't have read the book if she had these questions, they are all answered in it! Then I expressed this sentiment and discovered that, while all of the answers were in my head, I hadn't committed them to the page. I also learned quiet alot about timelines and technicalities like when do the characters eat or sleep etc... the process was hard but well worth it.

What did you find surprising about being traditionally published?

How nice Usborne are. I had thought I'd be in the big bad world of publishers and I'd be a number on a list of other numbers but with Usborne it is not like that at all. I don't know if I'm just lucky or if it's because Usborne is family run or because that's just the way publishers are but my experience has been amazing. Everyone is so nice to deal with and they are all really just people who love books.

Would you recommend self-publishing? And if so, why?

Well yes because if it wasn't for self publishing Perfect would never have been traditionally published. It is difficult though as you have to be everything, the writer, designer, editor, sales person, accounts etc. It can be draining. The hardest part was sales, a book is personal and for this reason I found it extremely hard to sell, luckily I have a mother who would sell her soul for her kids so she did it for me. I also would also strongly advise getting your book professionally designed and edited, a self published book has to almost be produced better than a traditional book to get into a shop. There is still a stigma around self publishing.

How do you organise your writing day? For example, where do you write? And when?

At the moment it's very disorganised. I'm on maternity leave with a four month old baby. I go to my Mam and she minds Jo while I write but the days and times vary. I will be heading back to work in 6 weeks so it'll be scary to figure out how to balance a baby and writing with all of that...if anyone has any tips I'd gladly take them!

Do you use a computer or write long hand?

Even though I'd love to say long hand I don't, I write onto a computer. I wrote my first book long hand and then typed it all up but it's much quicker I find now to type everything straight in.

Do you edit as you go along? Or at the end of the first draft?

I do small edits as I go and then larger ones at the end of the first draft. I'm writing the sequel to Perfect at the moment and trying to remember what I did the first time round. It's all a learning process I think, and I'm forever learning.

Do you find rewriting difficult?

Yes and no, sometimes if I get a little stuck I remind myself that it's my world and therefore I can really do whatever I want. That makes the whole process a little easier!

Do you use the internet for research? What research tips can you give writers?

Yes I do, I love to research actually and take names etc from real people or places if they fit the story. My only tip with researching is to remember your meant to be writing and get of the internet in a reasonible amount of time! I still struggle with that one and can find myself trawling through pages hours later.

What type of books do you like to read? Do you have a favourite book?

I read all sorts of books really. I like crime thrillers and childrens books but I can be found dipping in and out of anything. My favourite books are all childrens really. I love Roald Dahl and all the Harry Potters, I also love All The Light You Cannot See, for some reason that book has stuck with me lately. I will never forget how I felt reading Under the Hawthorn Tree as a kid either.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

Finding yourself lost in a world you created and getting so deep into writing that when you come out and read back you don't believe you've written it and can't for the life of you remember where the story came from!

The worst?

Time. I'm bad at managing time!

What are you working on next?

The sequel to Perfect. I'm about 40,000 words in and trying to juggle it with a small baby, a bit more difficult than the first time round. The story is all plotted though so it makes it easier.

And finally, do you have any advice or tips for writers?

I'm not sure really if I should give any advice. I'm new to all this myself and everybody has their own way of doing things. What worked for me was persistence, I believed in my story and was lucky to have an amazing family who believed in it too so I kept going. Also when I write I try not to think of an audience and just go with the story that comes into my head, I feel if I write for an audience then I won't enjoy myself in the process and that misses the point.

Thank you, Helena, for sharing your writing life with us.

Books for Christmas 2017

This piece originally appeared in the Irish Independent.

Books make stand out Christmas presents. They are gifts that outlast fad games or toys that need dozens of batteries to keep them chirping. Children are spending increasing amounts of time on screens and books are a way of counteracting that, they feed the soul and ignite the imagination.

It’s important to introduce books early in a child’s life, pop a board book in your baby’s pram, leave them on the floor with your toddler’s toys and always carry a favourite picturebook in your bag to share when you’re delayed in a queue. The greatest gift you can give a child is the gift of reading.

But with bookshop shelves a-groaning with titles, what books should you give them this Christmas? Every year I read hundreds of children’s titles, discovering outstanding picturebook gems and novels so good they make me stop and wonder. I’ve selected my favourite titles in each age group.

If you’re looking for a personal recommendation for your child, check out #bookelves17 on Twitter or Facebook, run by a team of children’s book experts including myself.

Happy reading this Christmas season!

Age 0 to 4   

Top Choice

Here We Are cover.jpg

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers (HarperCollins)

Oliver Jeffers wrote this ode to kindness for his baby son, Harland. ‘Well, hello,’ it begins. ‘Welcome to this planet. We call it Earth… It looks big, Earth. But there are lots of us here so be kind.’ He walks the reader through space, land, sea, people, animals and so much more. Each double page spread is carefully designed and majestically coloured, with a sweeping New York city scene, complete with the Brooklyn Bridge (Jeffers lives in Brooklyn), and a spread showing all the different kinds of people who live on our planet. Outstanding, don’t miss it. 

Owl Bat Bat Owl by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick (Walker)

If you buy one board book for a tiny tot this season, make it this beauty by an award-winning Irish picturebook maker. The owl family and the bat family share the same branch but they never mix. When a gust of wind blows everyone into the air, things start to change and both families find that having new friends makes life better. There are no words in this book, the expressive illustrations, full of gentle humour tell the story.

The President’s Glasses by Peter Donnelly (Gill Books)

This handsome hardback is beautifully crafted with vibrant illustrations and a cracking story that will make you smile. The President of Ireland (who with his dapper suit, bow tie and glasses bears a striking resemblance) is on his away across Dublin city to sign a very important document but he’s forgotten his glasses. Luckily the President’s pigeon is on hand to save the day. It’s hard to believe this is Donnelly’s first picturebook, it’s full of confidence and visual swagger and would make the perfect present to send to Irish families living around the globe.

Kevin by Rob Biddulph (HarperCollins)

Move over Julia Donaldson, there’s a new picturebook poet in town. ‘This is Sid Gibbons. And this is his mum. And this is the reason they’re looking so glum.’ So begins this tale of one boy and his imaginary friend, Kevin. Written in highly infectious rhyme, Biddulph is also an accomplished artist, and this hardback picturebook is a treat for the eye. The perfect book to read (and re-read over and over) at bedtime.

Oi Cat! By Kes Gray and Jim Field (Hodder Children’s Books)

The third in the hugely popular Oi! series, this bright, lively picturebook combines hilarious rhyme with a whacky story which follows different animals and what they are ‘supposed’ to sit on: the pony on macaroni and dingoes on flamingos. Ideal for reading aloud and bound to make any child laugh.

Yoga Babies by Fearne Cotton and Sheena Dempsey (Andersen Press)

Sheena Dempsey is an award-winning Irish illustrator and her artwork makes this sweet picturebook featuring young children doing different yoga poses come alive. The rhyming text is easy to follow and if there’s a yoga loving mum or dad in the family, this is the perfect book for the whole household. Sheena Dempsey also illustrated Irish author, Jane Landy’s debut, Ginger the Whinger (Golden Key), a rhyming picturebook about an annoying dragon and the family he visits.

Luna Loves Library Day by Joseph Coelho and Fiona Lumbers (Andersen Press)

Luna loves library day as she gets to spend time with her dad. Together they pick books about dinosaurs, mini monsters and magic for Luna to take home. They also read fairy tales together, Luna snuggled on her dad’s knee. An ode to different kinds of families, with lyrical text and richly coloured, warm illustrations. 

A Busy Day for Birds by Lucy Cousins (Walker)

A joyful whirlwind of a book about birds of all shapes and sizes which begs to be shared with young eyes. The jaunty rhyming text is brought vividly alive by the outstanding illustrations which zing with delicious colour.

Age 5 to 8

Top Choice


Rabbit and Bear: The Pest in the Nest by Julian Gough, illustrated by Jim Field (Hodder Children’s Books)

Rabbit is having a ‘lovely sleep’ when a terrible noise wakes him. He discovers a woodpecker banging holes in a nearby tree and, buzzing with anger, he ropes in his friend, Bear, to deal with the disturbance. Bear is a kind, clever fellow who manages to find a happy solution for all. ‘Maybe you could just think about the world differently,’ he tells Rabbit. ‘Maybe you could … accept it … Not try to change it.’ With engaging illustrations by Jim Field, this warm, funny friendship tale has the philosophical wisdom of Winnie the Pooh. An outstanding book that has all the hallmarks of a modern classic.


Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith (Walker Books)

‘From my house I can see the sea… And deep down under that sea, my father is digging for coal.’ I haven’t read such a deeply affecting picturebook in years, it moved me to tears. Set in Canada, it’s the story of a miner’s son, his town and his dad. The pitch perfect text and the outstanding illustrations which play with light and dark, summer sun and coal-seam black, combine to produce a masterpiece. I can’t recommend it highly enough for older children and adults who are looking for something a little different. Age 7+

Safari Pug by Laura James, illustrated by Églantine Ceuelemans (Bloomsbury)

When Pug’s owner, Lady Miranda sets off on safari, in a sedan chair carried by her Running Footmen, she brings Pug with her. But they have to settle for a trip to Animal Adventure Land. Here they have all kinds of fun adventures of their own. Full of gentle humour and cracking illustrations with lots of vibrant green and yellow, this book makes a fantastic read aloud or is perfect for children just starting to read for themselves.

The Clubhouse Mystery by Erika McGann, illustrated by Vince Reid (O’Brien Press)

Irish author, Erika McGann captures the spirit of the Secret Seven in this good natured mystery for young readers. The Bubble Street Gang set up a new clubhouse but someone has discovered its secret location. It’s up to the gang to find out who the interloper is.

There’s a Bug on My Arm That Won’t Let Go by David Mackintosh (HarperCollins Children’s Books)

If you’re looking for a picturebook that combines clever design and illustrations with a cracking story, this is it. David Mackintosh designs Lauren Child’s books and his eye for detail is exceptional. A stink bug has attached itself to a girl’s arm and refuses to let go. But sometimes even bugs need a friend.

Hopscotch in the Sky: Poems for Children by Lucinda Jacob, Illustrated by Lauren O’Neill (Little Island)

‘Every year we get the decorations down from the attic – ooh, look! Remember him!’ This is a charming, accessible collection from one of Ireland’s best poets for children. Jacob covers all kinds of topics from friendship to school and her work cries out to be read aloud. The classy, expressive illustrations by Lauren O’Neill make this a pocket treasure. Age 7+

Toto: The Dog-Gone Amazing Story of The Wizard of Oz by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark (HarperCollins)

‘I was lying right there, deep in my dreams in this very basket, when I was woken up by the sound of wind roaring.’ The narrator of this clever version of the Wizard of Oz is Dorothy’s dog, Toto, who is telling the story to a basketful of his own puppies. The illustrations are gently coloured, bringing this adventure tale to vivid life for younger readers. Ideal for reading aloud at bedtime or for a young reader to gobble up for themselves.

All Aboard the Discovery Express by Emily Hawkins, Tom Adams and Tom Clohoshy-Cole (Wide Eye Editions)

Train lovers will adore this smash up of mystery story, train facts and history. It’s 1937 and a famous professor is missing. Can you find him using the clues in the book? This interactive, immersive hardback is sumptuously illustrated and produced, with letters to read and over fifty flaps to lift, and will keep a child occupied for hours. If you want to get your youngster off their screen, this is the book to do it. Age 7+

Age 9 to 11

Top Choice

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Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll (Faber)

Twelve-year-old Olive and her little brother, Cliff have been evacuated from London to the coast of Devon, much to Olive’s disgust. She wants to help the war effort, not be stuck in the countryside. But when she finds a mysterious note in the pocket of the coat she has borrowed from her sister, who has disappeared, slowly she starts to piece together an important war related mystery. A wonderful book, full of heart, with some cracking characters and a gripping plot. I’ve read lots of World War II books for children and this is one of the best – don’t miss it.

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell (Bloomsbury)

When a group of children find themselves in the Amazon rainforest after a terrifying plane crash, they come across signs in the jungle that someone or something has been there before. Rundell’s research – she travelled to the Amazon and swam with pink river dolphins – shines out and this is a beautifully written novel, filled with vivid descriptions and plucky, clever children.

And for younger children of age five plus, her illustrated book, One Christmas Wish, illustrated by Emily Sutton is also a must.

The Guggenheim Mystery by Robin Stevens (Penguin)

Ted has a unique way of looking at the world which enables him to work out mysteries and puzzles like no other boy. When his aunt is accused of stealing a priceless painting from the Guggenheim Museum in New York, it’s up to Ted and his sister and cousin to figure out who really stole it. I read this warm, smart book in one sitting, it’s truly gripping. It’s the sequel to The London Eye Mystery by the late Siobhan Dowd but can be read as a stand-alone too.

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd, illustrated by Levi Pinfold (Walker)

This gem of a book is something very different, magical realism for children with outstanding black and white illustrations by Levi Pinfold. Set during World War II, Emmaline is living in Briar Hill, a hospital for children with TB or ‘stillwaters’ as she calls her condition. When she starts seeing winged horses in the hospital’s mirrors, she is determined to find out where they come from. Shepherd’s writing is flowing and lyrical and this story utterly gripped me from start to finish. Ideal for a thoughtful reader who loves Michael Morpurgo.

Nevermore: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Orion Children’s Books)

Eleven-year-old Morrigan Crow is a cursed child, blamed for everything bad that happens in her town and destined to die at Eventide. A strange man called Jupiter North whisks her away to Nevermoor, saving her life. But she can only join the Wundrous Society, a place of magic and protection, if she passes four impossible trials. A ‘wunderful’ book, full of imagination, ideal for Harry Potter fans.

The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Ashley King (Scholastic)

As a former bookseller, I love novels set in bookshops. This one is the story of Property Jones whose family win the Montgomery’s Book Emporium. They are thrilled and set about running this huge, sprawling bookshop. But something is very wrong in the Emporium and soon their livelihood is in danger. Although Property can’t read – a secret she has kept from her loves ones – she is super smart and works out how to save the emporium. A warm and magical story, ideal for young bookworms.

Sam Hannigan’s Woof Week by Alan Nolan (O’Brien Press)

When animal lover and champion Irish dancer, Sam, gets stuck inside the body of her neighbour’s dog, no-one could predict the consequences. How will she cope with school and take part in an Irish dancing competition when she’s stuck inside a big hairy dog’s body? Nolan has a light touch and this funny book is full of heart. Perfect for David Walliams fans.

Also recommended: Bad Dad by David Walliams; Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway; Hetty Feather’s Christmas by Jacqueline Wilson; The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell; Darkmouth: Hero Rising by Shane Hegarty; Stand by Me by Judi Curtin.

Age 12+ and Young Teen

Top Choice


Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, Illustrated by Giovanni Rigano  (Hodder Children’s Books)

At the opening of this graphic novel, Ebo and his brother are in a small rubber dinghy, making the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa to Italy, hoping to start a new life together in Europe. Colfer cleverly weaves in Ebo’s backstory – from leaving his village alone and crossing the desert to find his brother - telling a tale of bravery and tenacity. Beautifully illustrated by Giovanni Rigano in rich shades of blue (for the sea) and red (for the desert), this is an outstanding book, told with honestly and heart.

The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman (David Fickling Books)

Eagerly awaited by fans of Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’, this book is a must for fans of that trilogy and is also an excellent introduction to this richly imagined world for new readers. The hero of The Book of Dust is eleven-year-old Malcolm who works in his parents’ pub and this new book explains how Lyra, the hero of the original books, came to be saved from her enemies and to live at an Oxford college. An immersive, old-fashioned fantasy adventure, full of drama and magic.

Star by Star by Sheena Wilkinson (Little Island)

I read this book in one heady gulp, captivated by its teenager narrator, Stella and her longing to be someone and do something important, something young teens will deeply relate to. Set in 1918, women have recently won the vote and Stella’s mother, a loyal suffragette, has just died from the flu pandemic, before she gets the chance to vote herself. Stella wants to mark her mother’s life in some special way but is frustrated by her small, quiet life. Can she make a different, no matter how small?

The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius  (Pushkin)

A joy from start to finish, this book is narrated by the remarkable Sally Jones, an ape with profound insights and ability. Sally and her friend and saviour, Henry Koskela, the ‘Chief’,  run a cargo ship and when one of the enterprises goes badly wrong, the Chief is falsely convicted of murder. Against all odds, Sally must fight to clear his name. An adventure tale like no other, a story to get truly lost in.

Satellite by Nick Lake (Hodder)

Pitched as ‘The Martian’ for teenagers, this epic space adventure is gripping. Born on Moon 2 Space Station to an astronaut mother, Leo has never been to Earth. Now he and fellow space baby twins, Orion and Libra are preparing for their first trip home. But their journey has far reaching consequences. A heady blend of science fiction and mystery, written with confidence and verve.

A Dangerous Crossing by Jane Mitchell (Little Island)

Ghalib and his family live in Kobani, a town in Syria near Aleppo. After daily attacks by ISIS his family decide to flee the bombings and travel by minibus to Aleppo where they start the long and arduous walk towards the border with Turkey. Mitchell spent a week volunteering at the Jungle Camp at Calais and her descriptions of the camp ring with authenticity and truth. A striking, honest book with real heart.

Young Adult

Top Choice


Moonrise by Sarah Crossan (Bloomsbury)

Winner of many prestigious awards for her previous young adult novels, Sarah Crossan is one of our most accomplished writers. This book packs a devastating punch. Joe hasn’t seen his brother for ten years. There’s a good reason for this, Ed is on death row. With the execution date set, Joe travels to be with his brother, against everyone’s advice. What he hears and learns will change his life forever. Written in free verse, this compelling, thought-provoking novel is a book I will never forget.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Walker Books)

When sixteen-year-old Starr’s unarmed best friend, Khalil is murdered in front of her by a US police officer, she’s thrown into turmoil. What she knows could get her killed but is she brave enough to speak out? A powerful and moving novel written with urgency and passion, with some of the most vividly real characters in any YA book I’ve ever read, it’s a must read.

Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan (Little Island Books)

 A beautifully produced collection of dark, feminist fairy tale retellings with sinuous line drawings by Karen Vaughan. Many of the tales are written in the second person, which is a hard voice to pull off but Sullivan does it with aplomb. From The Frog Prince (‘Doing Well’), to Cinderella (‘Slippershod’), her sinuous, lyrical writing will have you transfixed.

Turtles all the Way Down by John Green (Puffin)

John Green is best known for his previous bestseller, The Fault in Our Stars which was made into a successful movie. This book features a mystery at its heart, missing millionaire, Russell Pickett and the scramble to find him and receive the $100k reward. The story is told by Aza, Holmes, a sixteen-year-old with anxiety. Aza knew Russell’s son, Davies as a child and when they are reunited she falls for him. Although it can be a little slow in places, Green really understands teenagers and Aza is beautifully drawn.

Knock Back by Pauline Burgess (Poolbeg Press)

Don’t be put off by the sombre cover, this is a strong mystery story set in Belfast by an experienced Northern Irish teacher who certainly knows her teens, her main character’s voice is spot on. Ben is determined to uncover a family secret so he gets himself sent to a centre for troubled youth, Knockmore Farm. Here he finds out more than he bargained for.

Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nichols (Andersen Press)

I adored this bright, sparky book with its strong characters and knock out plot. It’s the tale of three young women whose lives are changed by the suffrage movement in England. Each is very different and two of them fall in love (with each other). There’s May, a Quaker and pacifist, factory worker, Nell, and Evelyn, who has a devoted and largely supportive boyfriend, Teddy. Nicholls deftly handles a wide range of topics – empowerment of women, poverty, sexuality – in this warm, wise novel.

Non Fiction

Age 0 to 4

William Bee’s Wonderful World of Trains and Boats and Planes (Pavilion)

If the child in your life loves trains, this quirky picturebook is perfect. It’s packed with simple facts and vibrant illustrations that leap off the page.


Lots by Marc Martin (Big Picture Press)

This large format book is a celebration of the wonder of the world, both natural and man-made, from oceans to rainforests, cities to villages. Each vibrantly coloured spread is packed with detail and it’s a book my son and I come back to time after time. Magical. Age 4+

 Age 5 to 8

The Variety of Life by Nicola Davies and Lorna Scobie (Hodder Children’s Books)

If your child loves animals, this is the perfect gift, a generously sized hardback featuring all manner of life, from beetles and spiders, fish and whales. The delicious watercolour and ink illustrations by newcomer, Lorna Scobie are a joy to share.

Foclóiropedia by Fatti and John Burke (Gill Books)

The award-winning father/daughter team behind Irelandopedia and Historopedia which have sold over 100,000 copies is back, this time with a romp through the world of the Irish language from arán to zú. Suitable for all levels of Irish, it covers topics like the weather, clothes and sport in glowing colour.

The Boole Sisters by Anne Carroll, illustrated by Derry Dillon (Poolbeg)

If your child is interested in history, this charming story of one remarkable family is ideal. Born in Cork, the Boole sisters went on to become novelists and scientists, defying conventions of the time. Jaunty writing combined with fun illustrations make this a great introduction to women’s history of ‘herstory’. See below for more great ‘herstory’ books.

Age 9 to 12

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo (Particular Books), various illustrators

Originally produced using crowdfunding of more than a million dollars – the most funded original book ever – this illustrated book has become a phenomenon, inspiring dozens of women’s history  (or ‘herstory’) books for children. Our own Grace O’Malley is in the mix, along with well-known pioneers and activists such as Helen Keller, Malala, Rosa Parks and many other women who may be new to readers.

Watch out for Good Night Stories 2 in early 2018, plus some Irish ‘herstory’ books from Little Island and O’Brien Press, published to celebrate the centenary of Votes for Women in Ireland.

The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (Hamish Hamilton)

‘For adder is as adder basks.’ A fascinating book of ‘spell-poems’ designed to ‘re-wild the language of children’. The illustrations alone are a work of art. Both Mcfarlane and Morris see nature as strange, beautiful and magical and these lyrical poems and accompanying watercolours are ideal for reading aloud and sharing with children (and adults) who still have wonder in their hearts.

 Age 11+

 Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Saved the World by Rachel Ignotofsky (Wren & Rook)

This striking book brings together fifty women from the world of science, from Marie Curie to Jane Goodall. Although the book is quite text heavy, there are lots of quotes and snippets of information on the pages, and the biographical information never seems overwhelming. What makes the book a real winner is the distinctive design. Each spread has a saturated black background and Ignotofsky uses one bright colour to highlight the women’s portraits and the text.

A Galaxy of Her Own: Amazing Stories of Women in Space by Libby Jackson (Century)

‘The whole universe is out there. And it’s waiting for you.’ This attractive hardback chronicles the lives of the women behind the Apollo space missions, from Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space (June 1963) to Peggy Whitson, who has completed ten moon walks and holds the record for the most days in space by an American astronaut. Jackson is a space expert and the exuberant illustrations by students from the London College of Communication send this fascinating book into orbit.

Sarah Webb is a children’s writer and creative writing teacher. She is also the Children’s Programmer of the ILFD (International Literary Festival Dublin) and her latest book is A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea: Favourite Rhymes from an Irish Childhood, illustrated by Steve McCarthy.

Make Writing Your Priority

Image c/o https://cocooninginwords.com

Image c/o https://cocooninginwords.com

I was at a lunch party last week. It was being held to celebrate the end of the sailing season so many of the people there spend their weekends and free time sailing competitively.

So I was sitting with this man and he asked me what I did – I said I was a professional writer. Now I’ve learned to say this rather than just writer as otherwise the next question is always ‘Oh, what a lovely hobby, have you had anything published? Anything I might have heard of?’

I haven’t spent 20 years busting a gut writing over 30 books to be told it’s a lovely little hobby.

Imagine asking an architect has she designed any buildings recently. Any buildings I might have heard about? Or 'Oh you’re an accountant, how interesting. Have you done any sums recently?'

But then he said the one thing that’s like a red rag to a bull for me: ‘I’d write a book if I had the time’.

I didn’t snarl at him. It was a very polite party. I took a deep breath and said ‘It may not be a priority in that case.’

He looked a little confused so I continued. ‘If you really wanted to write a book you’d find the time. You spend your weekends sailing, I spend most of my free time writing.’

And to give him credit he didn’t excuse himself and run away quickly, he said ‘Actually, you’re probably right. Maybe it’s not top of my list at the moment.’ And he told me about a TED clip about time and using it wisely. Nice man in fact, very engaging to talk to. 

After the party I watched it and it makes so much sense – it’s by Laura Vanderkam and she’s written a book about time management and using your time wisely. You can find the clip at the end of this blog post. 

Laura and I both believe the same thing – that if you want something badly enough, you’ll make the time.

For many years now I’ve been teaching and mentoring children’s writers and many of them have packed lives – they are pilots, librarians, teachers, business women; they are minding children with extra needs or caring for parents. Yet they make the time to write and attend classes or mentoring sessions.

They make writing their top priority.

If you meet me at a party and tell me you’d love to write if you had the time – and yet you find the time to sail, or watch tv, or hang out on Facebook – good luck to you!

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX




Oh, My! This World - CBI Conference 2017

Last weekend I attended the CBI (Children’s Books Ireland) conference in the Lighthouse cinema in Smithfield, Dublin.

The conference is always well attended by writers, illustrators, teachers, librarians, booksellers, publishers and children’s book lovers and one of the great pleasures of the weekend is talking to fellow book fans.

Lucy Cousins in Conversation with Mags Walsh

Lucy Cousins and a Young Friend 

Lucy Cousins and a Young Friend 

Lucy spoke about her love of art from a very early age and showed us some of her childhood drawings. She said ‘Don’t think about (your ideas and art) too much, be spontaneous. I’ve never felt I have to stick to any rules.’

She also feels strongly that Maisy is just Maisy, not a boy and not a girl and spoke about gender in children’s books and how we should just let children be children. Hear, hear!

She likes painting animals as ‘People seem limited in their scope to me. I like to use bold, bright colours.’

It took her 5 years at art college to find her style and to be confident with colour. A project designing cups and plates for a children’s party led to her discovering that she should use the colours she liked.

Lucy has a set routine. ‘If I didn’t have a routine I wouldn’t work, I’d potter around all day,’ she said. She works on her creative projects in the morning and does her admin in the afternoons.

Rod Biddulph's Work 

Rod Biddulph's Work 

It took both Rob Biddulph and Chris Judge over five years to get their first books published. Rob said ‘People think writing for children is easy, but it’s not.’

Rob likes picturebooks as he gets control over his work. He likes rhyme as it’s ‘mathematical’ and follows a pattern. It helps children join in, he explains.

It takes Chris between 1 day and 2/3 weeks to do a picturebook spread. He has been known to complete a book in 3 weeks.

Anna Carey and Lucy Adlington spoke about writing historical novels.

the making of mollie.jpg

‘Research is endlessly seductive but writing’s hard work,’ Lucy said.

The details ground your story but you don’t have to put all your research in, she explained. Her new book, The Red Ribbon sounds fascinating, a World War II book about clothes and the Jewish seamstresses who created them.

Anna spoke about her Irish suffragette books set in the early 20th century, which she wrote because she wanted to read about teen suffragettes herself. She tries to make history interesting for modern readers by using a light hand with her research and plenty of humour. Her book, The Making of Mollie is well worth seeking out.

John Boyne, Cecelia Ahern and Shane Hegarty talked about writing for different age groups.

‘I don’t write books for adults or children,’ John said. ‘I write books about adults or children.’

He also said ‘I’m always open to story.’ And he finds the balance between writing children’s books and books for adults works well for him.

Kate DiCamillo 

Kate DiCamillo 

Kate DiCamillo gave a stirring talk about the wonders of the world. She spoke about a childhood trip on an glass bottomed boat and the secret world under her feet, of fish and turtles. A woman on the boat took her arm and said ‘Oh my, this world!’ and it’s always stayed with her, she explained.

She’s a big fan of Charlotte’s Web by EB White, a book that can bring people together.

Kate writes 6/7/8 drafts before sending her work to her editor. Then she gets a 10 editorial letter back. She spends the day sulking: ‘If you know so much why don’t you write a book?’ and then she gets to work.

Kate DiCamillo's Writing Advice

She gave the following advice:

Read as much as you can

Find a way to make a deal with yourself – work out how you are going to do the writing you need to do

There is a mistaken notion that writing should be easy or it should come out right the first time

If you do anything in the arts you need to be prepared to pay attention all the time, keep your eyes and ears open, your mind and your heart

Do not give up – the race goes to the idiot who will not give up.

Joseph Coehlo 

Joseph Coehlo 

Poet and picturebook writer, Joseph Coelho attended a comic writing workshop at ITV when he was a child and was told he was a really good writer – this was the 1st time someone had seen him as a writer.

He is passionate about libraries and how they can change children’s lives. They certainly changed my life, he said.

The New Voices panel featured nine different new children’s writers who read their work with gusto.

Debi Gliori says she ‘creates words and pictures that help make sense of the world for our smallest people.’

She shared her journey with the audience – a journey from darkness into light – and talked about how books can help children make sense of the world and be seen.

‘Books are not a link in the chain of life,’ she said. ‘They are the clasp.’

James Mayhew gave a fascinating talk about flying carpets, the Arabian Nights and other traditional tales and finally Sally Gardner talked about living with dyslexia and how she wants to help dyslexic children navigate the world. She said ‘We accept diversity in gender but we do not accept diversity of the brain.’

It was a most stimulating and though-provoking weekend and thanks to all at CBI for their hard work in putting the conference together.

Friendship and Writing Buddies by Judi Curtin

I'm delighted to welcome Judi Curtin to my blog. Judi's new book, Stand by Me, is out this week and a brilliant read it is too, a wise and funny novel for readers aged 8+ about friendship. As well as being a bestselling writer, Judi is also one of my dearest friends. We go back a long way as Judi explains below. Check out the visual record of our friendship - including Judi's stunning green 1980s dress and one of my own 1980s outfits, and watch me interview Judi about her writing at the end of the blog.

Thanks to Judi for her lovely piece. I wish her all the very best with her new book, Stand By Me!

Writing can be a lonely job, and that’s why we authors need our writing buddies. When my first book was published in 2002, my old friends were suitably supportive and enthusiastic, but none of them really understood the new world I’d stepped into. Then I got an e-mail from Sarah Webb (who I’d never met), inviting me to a writers' lunch. With some trepidation, I joined a large group of warm and welcoming women - and I haven’t looked back since!
Judi and Sarah at Listowel Writers' Week 

Judi and Sarah at Listowel Writers' Week 

Sarah and I have been friends since that day. She’s a fount of knowledge on the writing world, and is incredibly generous with her time. We bounce new ideas off each other, share the pain when our writing’s not going the way we’d like and (look away publishers) gripe about some of the terms in our contracts.  Mostly though, when we meet, we have a laugh, both well aware of how lucky we are to have such a great job.
Judi and Sarah at Electric Picnic 

Judi and Sarah at Electric Picnic 

Sarah and I have even made a career out of our friendship, visiting schools and libraries with our ‘Friendship Tour.’ This involves a fun and interactive talk for children (with weird props, including Sarah’s firebrush costume). I love to talk about writing and being friends with Sarah, but for me these events are mostly a chance to hang out with one of my best friends!
Judi and Sarah at their friendship event - sketch by Sarah McIntyre 

Judi and Sarah at their friendship event - sketch by Sarah McIntyre 

Sharing Books With Little Ones by Sarah Webb

A very wise New Zealand writer and bookseller called Dorothy Butler once said ‘Babies are never too little to look’ and she’s right. And they are never too little to listen. From birth they can distinguish between different sounds, and as they grow, they will try to replicate the sounds they hear and begin to make sounds of their own.

There are three times as many words in a children’s book than we use in everyday language. Reading aloud to your child is a brilliant way of teaching them new words, and it’s also deeply soothing for them to hear your voice. A good nursery rhyme collection is a great place to start.

My New Nursery Rhyme Collection with Steve McCarthy 

My New Nursery Rhyme Collection with Steve McCarthy 

When I went looking for a collection that contained the rhymes and songs that I had heard as a child in Ireland I couldn’t find one, so I decided to put one together myself. That book, Sally Go Round the Stars: Rhymes and Songs from an Irish Childhood (with Claire Ranson and Steve McCarthy), was a bestseller, and this autumn sees a second collection published, A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea, with lots more Irish and international favourites, from She’ll be Coming ‘round the Mountain to The Owl and the Pussycat .

Nursery rhymes and songs are part of a baby’s literary heritage, passed down from generation to generation. Dr Susan Kennedy says ‘Part of the power of the nursery rhyme is that children learn them from the significant adults in their lives. The children are held, tickled and snuggled. Physical contact is very important for healthy emotional and physical growth.’

So when you’re sharing nursery rhymes and songs with your baby or toddler, as well as having fun, you’re also helping them learn and develop. Happy reading!

What to look for in a book for a baby or toddler:

Small, baby-sized books that little hands can hold

Strong, well-designed books that can withstand a biting – board books are ideal

Clear, uncluttered pages with bright colours, or striking black and white illustrations. Avoid fussy books with too much action on the page.

Illustrations and images that a baby will recognise from everyday life – pets, people, cars.

Sarah Webb is an award-winning champion of children’s books and a writer for both children and adults. Her latest book for children is A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea: Rhymes and Songs from an Irish Childhood (O’Brien Press) with Steve McCarthy.

This piece first appeared on www.magicmum.ie

This Writer's Life - Interview with Sadhbh Devlin


Debut Writer Sadhbh Devlin Shares Her Writing Life

Headshot Sadhbh Devlin.jpg

All About Sadhbh 

 Sadhbh Devlin is an award-winning blogger, a television researcher for Irish language television channel TG4 and the craft contributor to Easy Parenting magazine. She also reviews Irish language children’s books for Inis magazine. You can find her making crafts and playing with her young twins on her award-winning blog: www.wherewishescomefrom.com or writing about her adventures in children’s literature here: www.sadhbhdevlin.ie. Bí ag Spraoi Liom! is her first Irish-language picture book for children.

Can you tell us about your latest book, Bi ag Spraoi Liom and where the idea came from?

Bí ag Spraoi Liom! is a story about Lúna, a keen inventor with one big problem; Mom is too busy to play with her in her new time machine. Luckily, Lúna is very clever and creative and hatches a plan to entice Mom to play with her. It’s a story that reminds us to make time for the important things in life.

I was inspired to write it after a conversation with one of my twin daughters - who also happens to be something of an inventor - about the games I used to play as a child. Also, the fact that I always seem to be in the same position as Lúna’s ‘busy Mom’ definitely helped me to develop the concept!

Bí ag Spraoi Liom.jpg

How long did it take you to write?

That’s actually a difficult one to answer. The story was originally created during a year-long mentorship scheme I had been accepted onto. I was lucky to have been assigned Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin from Futa Fata as my mentor. Tadhg is not only a publisher, but also an award-winning writer, so I really hit the jackpot in terms of learning everything there is to know about the picture book genre from the master!

However, taking part in the scheme did not guarantee having anything actually published by Futa Fata. Tadhg was under no obligation to publish anything that was created during our sessions - but luck was on my side again, and at our last meeting on the scheme, Tadhg announced that he’d like to publish one of my stories - which was Bí ag Spraoi Liom! I was over the moon, not only to have had the opportunity in the first place but to have managed to find a publisher without having to go through the agony of the submissions process. After it had been accepted, it took another few drafts and a few edits during the illustration process to complete the story. In reality, it probably took a full year to go from concept to finished product.

How do you organise your writing day? For example, where do you write? And when?

I mostly write when my children are in school but I always have a notebook with me. You never know when inspiration will strike. I had a home office until recently, when I was evicted by a child looking for a bedroom of her own, so I’m currently a bit of a nomad. I write at my kitchen table, on the sofa, at the library, or in various cafés.  I should have a more permanent solution very soon though and I can’t wait!

Do you use a computer or write long hand?

For picture books I write long hand at first. The idea or concept usually starts as a vague scribble in one of the many notebooks I carry around with me. I then flesh it out a bit before using note cards or post-its to work out the plot and to see where the holes are.

Once I have a good idea of the structure and the concept I’ll get the text onto the computer. Then I’ll make a (very basic and terribly drawn) ‘dummy’ of the book to see if it will fit the picture book model. My stories are usually way too long at first so, after that it’s editing, editing, editing!

Do you edit as you go along? Or at the end of the first draft?

One of the reasons I write long hand for picture books is that I have a terrible habit of editing as I go along when I’m typing - the result of years of blogging. Blogging is ‘publishing’ at its fastest and I have a tendency to write a blog-post, editing and correcting as I go and hit publish pretty much immediately. Creative writing needs a completely different approach. For a picture book, where every, single word counts - you might need to write a sentence many, many different ways before you get it just right. For me, that habit of editing as I go, means I’d either never finish a first draft because I’d start fixating on everything that was ‘wrong’ in the first sentences or else I’d race to the end of the story without thinking about all of the different possibilities for developing the concept. For those reasons, editing comes quite late in my process. I prefer to get the ‘story’ down first and then start tweaking things.

Picturebooks are notoriously difficult to write – did you find it tricky?

They are tricky! I think people really underestimate how difficult writing for young children can be. It can be surprisingly technical - getting the pacing right, making sure there are ‘hooks’ to keep readers turning the pages, keeping the word count as low as possible - all while telling a story about a ‘hero’ who is relatable yet age appropriate and creating a world that children will want to visit again and again and that parents won’t mind reading about again and again! 

I definitely found it difficult in the beginning and made some extremely clunky attempts before I started to understand more about how picturebooks work, but like anything, with practice it gets easier. Although - that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped making clunky attempts!

Do you have any advice or tips for people who would like to write a picturebook?

My advice would be to read picturebooks. Read them for pleasure, of course, but also study them to learn about their structure and style and also about what kinds of things get published!

I also found ‘How to Write a Children’s Picture Book and get it Published’ by Andrea Shavick very useful when I was starting out.

What type of books do you like to read? Do you have a favourite book?

I do read a lot of picture books, of course, but literary fiction is usually what I’m drawn to when reading for pleasure. I currently have quite an eclectic stack on my bedside table. The complete works of Truman Capote, Annie Proulx’s Barkskins, June Caldwell’s Room Little Darker, Daniel Clowes graphic novel ‘Patience’ and Emma Donoghue’s new children’s book The Lotterys Plus One.

I think my favourite novel might be Postcards by Annie Proulx and my favourite book from childhood is A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

What are you working on next?

I’m very excited to have been commissioned to write another book ‘as Gaeilge’ so I’m working on producing something special for that. I have one story written about a girl who wishes she was very small, but I have a few other ideas too and I’m using the opportunity to develop as many of them as possible!

Thank you, Sadhbh, for sharing your writing life with us.

Sadhbh's book is available at all good bookshops and also via the publisher, Futa Fata. 

Find out more about Sadhbh here:

Website: www.sadhbhdevlin.ie




It Takes a Library to Raise a Child: My Final dlr Writer in Residence Post

For the past year I have been Writer in Residence for Dún Laoghaire Rathdown, based in the stunning Lexicon Library beside the sea. During this time I've been hosting book clubs, writing clubs, events and drop in writing clinics for children of all ages, from babies and toddlers up to teens. My term has now finished so this is my farewell post. 

With my niece, Rosie at the Lexicon Library 

With my niece, Rosie at the Lexicon Library 

The Highlights of My Year 

My Writing 

 I finished a book, A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea, out on 11th September, wrote a second book, Blazing a Trail: Remarkable Irish Women Who Changed the World (out in 2018), came up with 3 further book ideas - 1 is about to be signed by O'Brien Press, I'm still working on the other two, and I also write a children's play. So plenty of writing! 

ASailorWenttoSeaSeaSea (1).jpg


Young Writers' Club 

 I also worked with some inspirational young writers in the dlr Lexicon Young Writers' Club and in the Drop in Writing Clinics. Amazing children with such imaginations! I especially enjoyed watching helping one young writer achieve the target we set at the first Drop in Clinic - to finish her first book. Over the year she wrote two and proudly read from one at our end of season young writers' prize giving and reading. I've always loved this Picasso quote - he's so right!

picasso quote.jpg

The young writers in the Writing Club are fearless, the pieces they write are honest, moving, original, and in many cases also extremely funny. They know they can write and write they do! They pick up their pencils and as Seamus Heaney once said, they dig. 

Events and Exhibitions 

I also organised events with Lauren Child - the current UK Children's Laureate, Judith Kerr - the author of The Tiger Who Came to Tea, who at 94 is still writing, Chris Riddell - ex UK Children's Laureate, Eoin Colfer and Marita Conlon-McKenna. 

I adored curating The World of Colour exhibition - the work of Beatrice Alemagna and Chris Haughton, two of my favourite picturebook makers of all time. Marian Keyes helped me put together the exhibition and we had a wonderful launch after an event we held with Children's Books Ireland, When are You Going to Write a Proper Book?.

Here's me at the launch of The World of Colour Exhibition, with Rosie again!

Here's me at the launch of The World of Colour Exhibition, with Rosie again!

I'm proud of all the different projects we managed to squeeze into one year 

My Thanks To

I'd like to thank the people who made the year possible: Mairead Owens, Marian Keyes and Susan Lynch at the Lexicon who did so much to help me feel at home and to support my activities. Susan put a huge amount of work into the year and special thanks for all her input and ideas. When I came to her or Marian with a plan, they rarely said no. Thank you for having faith in me!

To the Lexicon library staff, especially Lisa, Vita, Helen and Shelley, fellow children's book fanatics. It was a pleasure talking to you all about children's books. The librarians, security guards, cleaners, staff at Brambles, to a person they were all so nice to me and so helpful. Nothing was ever too much trouble. One of the librarians, Nigel, helped me source books for Blazing a Trail which was invaluable. 

I'd also like to thank all the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends who brought their charges to the library to meet me. They say it takes a village to raise a child, well I think it takes a library to raise a creative child. And creative children who get the chance to express themselves, their authentic selves - and that's what I tried to encourage in the Writing Club, for the young writers to use their own unique voice in their work - they are lucky children indeed. 

A Poem for the President

Another highlight was writing a poem for the President of Ireland with the children at Shanganagh Park House in Shankhill - he was visiting to celebrate their work over the years. It's called I am Shanganagh and the President read from it during his speech. Lucinda Jacob helped greatly with this poem and also the I am Dún Laoghaire poem below. Thanks to Lucinda for all her hard work. 

I am Dún Laoghaire - written by the dlr Lexicon Young Writers' Club 

I am Dún Laoghaire - written by the dlr Lexicon Young Writers' Club 

What I Have Learned During the Year

It's been a wonderful year, full of discovery. I really enjoy working with the dlr Lexicon Young Writers, they are so full of optimism and wonder, and have such brilliant ideas. I will continue to work with young writers independently in the future. I have recently set up my own organisation, Story Crew: Write, Draw, Create, to provide writing clubs and creative workshops for children. We will also provide courses and workshops for adults who love writing for children. More details here. 

I loved working in my special room in the library - what a privilege - and got lots of work done. I found the evenings, when the library was quiet highly productive and spent many happy hours working on new ideas.

I greatly enjoyed working with colleagues who love children's books as much as I do. I was a bookseller for many years and still work as a consultant to an independent book chain and I've always enjoyed working with other people. Being a writer is a lonely old job and it was so nice to be surrounded by interesting, engaging people. (Sorry if I asked you all too many questions!) I will miss that daily interaction. 

Overall it has been a highly positive and enriching experience for me. Would I do it all again? In a heartbeat! But it's time for the 'adult' writers to get a look in now. I hope I served the children and children's writers of Dún Laoghaire well. 

Here are some of the events I organised during my dlr Writer in Residence year:

Roald Dahl Day Show 

Culture Night with myself and Alan Nolan - Smashing Stories and Dashing Doodles

Canada Day with Children's Books Ireland - JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith

Children's Book Clubs, Writing Clubs, Teen Creative Clubs with a host of teen writer + a writing workshop for Junior Cert students with Dave Rudden, Drop in Writing Clinics for Children, Teens and Adults

When are You Going to Write a Proper Book? with Children's Books Ireland - it was such a success we ran a second day, devoted to picturebooks

World Book Day Show with Chris Judge and Marita Conlon-McKenna

Lauren Child event for children and a second event for adults and older children

Bookworms for Bumbleance event for schools with Siobhan Parkinson

Outreach events for schools in Loughlinstown and Shankhill

A Photo Diary of the Year - Click on the photo to move to the next one

Goodbye, Lexicon. I won't be a stranger!



Writers - Call for Mentors from Words Ireland

Words Ireland are looking for writers to mentor emerging writers - see below. I really enjoy mentoring and you might just too. 

If you would like some help they are also looking for 'mentees'.  Details here for both schemes. 

Words Ireland – a collective of seven Irish literature organisations – is initiating a total of eleven literature mentoring relationships in 2017, six of which are offered in partnership with the Arts Offices of Leitrim, Limerick, Kilkenny, Wexford, Wicklow, and the Arts Office and Libraries of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown.
Words Ireland are seeking expressions of interest from experienced and established writer-mentors working in the areas of adult fiction, children’s/YA fiction and/or poetry to undertake the mentoring of writers of promise who are working in the same forms.
We are also are also seeking writers of adult fiction, YA fiction, children’s fiction and poetry to apply for mentoring support under our National Mentoring Programme.
There are a total of 11 mentee opportunities open to writers resident in any county in Ireland, north or south of the border.
Deadline 10 July 2017.


Open Call for dlr Libraries 2017 to 2019

Open Call for facilitation in dlr Libraries 2017-2019

Call for authors, artists, lecturers, facilitators, workshop leaders and enthusiasts



dlr Libraries are delighted to announce an opportunity for authors, artists, lecturers, facilitators, workshop leaders and enthusiasts to submit proposals for events in dlr Libraries during the period 2017-2019. Events encompass workshops, talks, courses, shows, productions, classes, exhibitions and any other creative enterprises envisioned as a possibility within a public library context.  As well as proposals suitable for festivals such as Bealtaine, Children's Book Festival, Science Week, we invite proposals for a wide range of one-off events, a series of themed talks/events or more long-term projects. Projects can include artistic, cultural and educational forms and target user groups can be children, young people, adults, users with special needs and intergenerational audiences. Proposals will be selected both from artistic/cultural and educational areas of interest, highlighting the demand for both kinds of events in dlr Libraries. Creative practitioners and facilitators that are successful in their application will be selected for a panel for use and events will be programmed accordingly from Autumn 2017 – Autumn 2019.

Closing Date: Friday 9th June 2017 at 12 noon



dlr County has eight branch libraries serving the educational, recreational and cultural needs of all who live, work, study or visit the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area. The 8 library branches are:

Blackrock, Cabinteely, Dalkey, Deansgrange, Dundrum, dlr LexIcon, Shankill and Stillorgan.

dlr Libraries have a tradition of providing high quality cultural programming that complements our collection and enlivens our spaces, both physical and virtual. dlr Libraries’ mission is: ‘to connect and empower people, inspire ideas and support community potential’. dlr Libraries support lifelong learning and seek to develop a culture of creativity and innovation. Libraries have no boundaries and stimulate the imagination through the provision of a rich and relevant collection and an active, engaging culture and technology programme.


Areas of interest

Examples are by no means comprehensive


Architecture, circus, dance, film, literature, music, opera, theatre, traditional arts, visual arts and crafts.


Books & literature, literacy & numeracy, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art & maths), creating in the digital space, using information technology, e-learning, health and wellbeing, local history & genealogy, general knowledge, sustainability & environment, exhibitions.

The user groups include the following:

-Children (0 -11yrs) 
-Young Adults (12 - 17yrs) 

-Special needs groups

-Intergenerational audience







  • Delivery of all proposals will be remunerated in accordance with our current fee schedules for facilitators.  If successful, dlr Libraries commit to hosting you during the time frame outlined, at a time that is mutually convenient.


  • Interested applicants may apply for both areas of interest (artistic/cultural and educational) and all user groups. Evidence of experience with different user groups is an advantage.
  • We request facilitators be flexible in their approach and responsive to the needs of participants.
  • Selection will be based on the written submission and any additional supplementary material supplied only.
  • Emailed applications will be deemed ineligible.
  • Proposal(s) should be no longer than 300 words. (1 A4 page max per proposal)
  • Please submit 3 x hard copies of your proposal(s) along with 3 x hard copies of your curriculum vitae.
  • Applications received after Friday 9th June at 12.00 noon will not be accepted under any circumstances.


Applications to:


*please mark clearly: ‘OPEN CALL’


Shelley Healy

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council Public Libraries HQ, 

dlr LexIcon,

Haigh Terrace, Moran Park,

Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin


All queries to: Shelley Healy at ahealy@dlrcoco.ie or (01) 2362707


Child Protection

In accordance with the national Child Protection Guidelines “Children First”, the selected candidate will be required to follow child protection procedures as specified by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. The successful candidate will be required to undergo Garda Vetting.


There may be a requirement under certain circumstances for personal insurance.

Freedom of Information

The provisions of the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Act 2003 apply to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. Applicants should state if any of the information supplied by them is confidential or sensitive and should not be disclosed to a request for information under the aforementioned Act. Applicants should state why they consider the information to be confidential or commercially sensitive.


Facilitators may be paid via the payroll system. They will not become employees of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and are treated as employees solely for taxation purposes. Standard deductions will apply.