Debut Writer Sadhbh Devlin Shares Her Writing Life
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!
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: