Writing for Children

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

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!

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!

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 

April Diary - Writer in Residence

April was full of fun book events for all ages.

Dalkey Baby Book Club ran for four weeks and we made owls, polar bears, caterpillars and lollypops and shared lots of picturebooks, rhymes and songs. The next Dalkey Baby Book Club is on 9th June at 10.30am and we'll be back in September after the summer holidays.

We had a writing workshop in Blackrock Library and I visited Shanganagh House in Shankhill with writer and children's poet, Lucinda Jacob. We created a poem with the children at the centre called I Am Shanganagh House. I also made some dogs and shared dog stories with the younger children. 

I had some exciting news in April - I'll be publishing a new book with O'Brien Press in 2018. More details about that in June. 

On Monday 17th April I took part in Cruinniú na Cásca, the family festival of culture. I told stories in a tent in St Stephen's Green for young children and their families. It was such fun! Here is Paul Timoney, one of the storytellers from the festival who shared my tent. 

The award winning writer and illustrator, Lauren Child visited our library in April to talk to school children and also adults who are interested in art and design. She was inspirational and it was such an honour to meet her. She spoke about her love of cheesy detective shows like Hart to Hart, and mystery books like Nancy Drew. She showed her rough drawings and talked about where she got ideas for characters - many come from real life. What a treat to have her in the Lexicon!  

The Silent Books arrived in the library at the end of April, ready for their exhibition in June, wordless picturebooks from all over the world. The exhibition will be in the library until 29th May, don't miss it if you love picturebooks. There is a set of the books on the Italian island of Lampedusa where they can be read by local and immigrant children, regardless of the language they speak. Here is PJ Lynch launching the exhibition on 8th May and some of the artwork the children produced at the workshop he hosted. It was a wonderful event. 

On 27th April the Lexicon celebrated Poetry Day and there was pavement art outside by some students from Holy Child Killiney. I worked on a poem with my writing club and we read the poems that the library staff and recommended and pinned on the window in the library - a great idea. 

That's it for April and early May. More next month.

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX



Sarah Webb's Top 3 Tips - Writing Picturebooks

1/ Picturebooks are generally short – around 500 words – and are made up of 12 double page spreads. Make every word count and work on the text until it shines.

2/ You do not need to provide artwork. Concentrate on the text, don’t worry about illustrations. An editor’s job is to match text with the right artwork and they are gifted picturebook matchmakers.

3/ Read award winning and best-selling picturbooks. Study Julia Donaldson’s poetry – and it is poetry – every line is carefully worked out. Just because you can rhyme sat with hat doesn’t mean you can write a rhyming picturebook. The whole line has to sing. More about this in another blog soon.

Read Maurice Sendak. Read some of the best Irish picturebook talent: Yasmeen Ismail, Oliver Jeffers and Chris Haughton.

Coo over Helen Oxenbury’s babies and Mem Fox’s outstanding text in the modern classic, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes.

Learn from the greats – and then get back to your own work.

Work at it and keep working at it until you crack it. Don’t give up!

I’ve been teaching creative writing for over 20 years now. Good writers with tenacity and grit, writers who are prepared to work hard at their craft, they are the ones who get published. Good luck!

Yours in writing, Sarah X

When Are You Going to Write a Proper Book? Full Podcast

Photo by Peter Cavanagh from The World of Colour Exhibition in the Lexicon Library    

Photo by Peter Cavanagh from The World of Colour Exhibition in the Lexicon Library 


Here is the Soundcloud podcast from the recent When Are You Going to Write a Proper Book? event. #properbook if you want to check out the posts on Twitter. It's the full day and thanks to dlr Libraries for providing the podcast. A must listen if you are interested in writing or illustrating for children. 

Soundcloud Podcast

The Answer to Your Questions

girl writing
girl writing

I love getting letters from readers in the post. Real letters are far more fun than emails. I love opening the envelopes, unfolding the letter inside, holding the exact piece of paper that a little while ago the sender was writing on. There's something quite magical about letters. This week I answered three letters from young readers. Two of them were from Ireland, one was from the UK. Each contained questions for me. I thought I'd answer some of these questions below. Maybe they are questions that you would also ask me if you could.

Some of the letters from my young readers
Some of the letters from my young readers

Some of the letters from my young readers

If you'd like to write to me, I'd be delighted. The address is: Sarah Webb c/o Walker Books, 87 Vauxhall Walk, London SE11 5HJ, England. I promise to write back to you.

Sarah, how did you get the idea for Amy Green?

My teen diaries. As a teen I wrote in them every day and it was fascinating reading back and seeing what made me happy, upset or angry at 14, 16 or 18.

Who or what inspired you to write?

Judy Blume, Enid Blyton and all the wonderful writers I read as a child. I was and still am a huge, devoted reader. I found friends on the pages of books. Reading inspired me to write.

What is Ireland like (this was from a UK reader) and where do you live?

West Cork
West Cork

West Cork

I live in Dun Laoghaire - below - a town 7 miles from Dublin city which has a large harbour. It has a great cinema, a theatre and the best library in Ireland, the Lexicon. We live on a long street which winds its way up a hill from the sea. In Ireland you are never far from the countryside and if you drive for a little while you'll hit green fields, hills and mountains.

I also spend a lot of time in West Cork - above - which has the most stunning landscape. The people are very special too, warm, friendly and funny.

It's hard to say what Ireland is like. It is a place where books and stories and cherished, which I think makes it very special. What I do know is that for me it's home and although I love to travel, my heart belongs to Ireland.

Dun Laoghaire
Dun Laoghaire

Dun Laoghaire

What was your dream job as a child?

Writer. It just goes to show that sometimes dreams really do come true if you work hard enough and follow your heart.

What is being a writer like?

Do you write all day?

I'll answer these two questions together. I have lots of different kinds of days - writing days, school visit days, festival planning days, reading and reviewing days, teaching days. Most writers don't just write, especially children's writers - they do lots of other things too.

Every week I spend 2 or 3 mornings writing - from 10am to 2pm - and 2 days visiting schools, teaching creative writing, reviewing and doing other bits of work relating to books. I try to write 2k words every time I sit down at my desk, that's my aim. I often don't hit this target, but sometimes I do.

At the moment I am Writer in Residence in Dún Laoghaire so from September I will be hosting book clubs for young readers and writing workshops, that will be fun.

What job would you do if you weren't a writer?

A children's bookseller. One day I hope to own my own children's bookshop. Watch this space!

This post first appeared on the Girls Heart Books website.

A Girl Made of Books by Sarah Webb

I’m a big fan of Oliver Jeffers who is a Northern Irish designer, artist, writer and illustrator who is best known for his picture books. My favourite is an early book called Lost and Found about a boy and a lost penguin who become friends. His new book is called A Child of Books and it’s out in September. Written and illustrated by both Sam Winston and Oliver, it’s an ode to childhood books.

A Child Made of Books
A Child Made of Books

A Child of Books

Here’s the trailer, do check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3_qoMY7mf8

 Inspired by this book, I thought I’d list some of the books that made ME:

busy busy world
busy busy world

1/ Richard Scarry’s Busy Busy World

I loved this book and used to pour over the details in the pictures. It’s full of funny stories set all over the world, from Italy to Ireland, and I loved it so much I used to sleep with it under my pillow.

2/ Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

Image from the Ballet Shoes Television Movie Starring Emma Watson
Image from the Ballet Shoes Television Movie Starring Emma Watson

Image from the Ballet Shoes Television Movie Starring Emma Watson

I took ballet classes for years and always dreamed of one day being a ballerina. It was not to be, but reading about ballet and watching ballet is the next best thing. I even wrote about ballet in Ask Amy Green: Dancing Daze.


3/ Heidi by Johanna Spyri

How I wanted to live in the Swiss Alps with a kind grandfather after this story was read to me. It’s such a wonderful tale, of friendship, overcoming hardship and being yourself.

4/ Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery

Anne from Anne of Green Gables
Anne from Anne of Green Gables

Anne from Anne of Green Gables

I’ve always admired Anne ‘with an e’ – she’s one of my favourite characters of all time. I like to think we’d be kindred spirits if we ever met. She has such a fun, feisty and true nature. This book left a lasting impression on me as a young reader.

5/ Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret

I re-read this every year to remind myself what it feels like to be thirteen. It’s over 40 years old now but is still as fresh and funny as the day it was published. I first read it as a teenager, adored her honesty and humour, and Judy has been one of my favourite writers ever since.

6/ The O’Sullivan Twins by Enid Blyton

And pretty much all Enid Blyton’s books! I read my through them and adored their ‘Englishness’.

7/ New Patches for Old by Christobel Mattingley

New Patches for Old
New Patches for Old

New Patches for Old

This book was a real eye opener and I’ve never forgotten it. Patricia or ‘Patches’ is an English girl who has moved to Australia with her family. She has to deal with making new friends, adapting to a new life and growing up. Her new life isn’t always easy, but she deals with everything that is thrown at her with good humour and honesty. I was about twelve when I read this book and it was the first time I’d come across a girl getting her period for the first time in any book – and I was so grateful that someone had written about this (I was anxious about the whole thing, as many teens were in those days as it wasn’t talked about much – things are a lot more open now, thank goodness), a subject that is also dealt with in Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.

Both these books inspired me to write Ask Amy Green: Summer Secrets. Amy gets her period during her summer holidays and rings her aunt, Clover (who is 17 and also her great friend) to ask for advice.

Often people say there were no teenage books in the 1970s but there were - including this one. I’m so glad I read it, it really did make a difference to my life.

These are some of the books that made me. What books made YOU? I’d love to know!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This blog first appeared on Girls Hearts Books website.

Want to Write? Here's My Secret

Mum reading to me and my sisters when we were little - I'm on the far right
Mum reading to me and my sisters when we were little - I'm on the far right

Mum reading to me and my sisters, Kate and Emma (I'm on the far right)

I could live without many things – radio, newspapers, television, even ice-cream – but I couldn’t live without books.

We all read every single day. We read without even knowing we’re doing it – street signs, Facebook, text messages, corn flake boxes, recipes. It would be very difficult to navigate the world without reading. But that’s functional reading, the reading I’m talking about is far more important. It’s the kind of reading that keeps me alive.

My Dad
My Dad

My Dad

It all started a long time ago – when I was a very small girl. I was lucky, I grew up in a family who loved books.

My dad was a quantity surveyor and loves history books and biographies. My mum was a primary school teacher and loves short stories and novels.

My sisters, Kate and Emma also love novels. Emma is a Montessori teacher and cares for people with disabilities and Kate thinks up cool ways of marketing things. My brother, Richard is also a teacher and my grandpa was a professor.

My Grandpa Reading Gulliver's Travels to his Grandchildren!
My Grandpa Reading Gulliver's Travels to his Grandchildren!

My grandpa reading Gulliver's Travels to his grandchildren

(We're looking at the illustrations in this shot)

He and my granny were big readers too – my granny loved Mills and Boon books and used to hide them down the back of the sofa, and my grandpa read and wrote books about ancient Greece. He used to read us all kinds of books, from Gulliver’s Travels to Jason and the Argonauts, and my personal favourite, Pandora’s box.

Me reading at age 11
Me reading at age 11

Me reading comics at age 11

I didn’t find reading easy and I was almost ten before I read fluently, although I hid this from my teachers and family (I’m still the worst speller!). But I was lucky – I had parents and grandparents who loved books and who read to me and that made all the difference.

I fell in love with Posy, the amazing dancer in Ballet Shoes, with difficult Mary in The Secret Garden, with Sara Crewe in The Little Princess – she even had my name! I loved escaping into fictional worlds and I found new friends on the pages of my books.

Books did something else very special for me – they made me want to write, like my heroes Noel Streatfeild, Enid Blyton and Frances Hodgson Burnett.

The Magic Sofa - a book by me inspired by Enid Blyton! (Age 12)
The Magic Sofa - a book by me inspired by Enid Blyton! (Age 12)

The Magic Sofa - a book by me (age 12) inspired by Enid Blyton

I’m proud to be a reader AND a writer. These days I still find great friends in books and love getting lost in amazing fictional worlds. I hope you do too.

Do you want to be a writer? I'll let you in on a secret - read! Immerse yourself in story. Most of the writers I know, from Judi Curtin to John Boyne and Cathy Cassidy were big readers as children and teens. Drop everything and read, read, read! It certainly worked for me.

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This blog first appeared on Girls Heart Books website

The Best Children’s Book Agents 2016

This is the most popular blog on my website and I update it every year with agents recommended by their writers. Thank you to all the children's writers who responded to my 2016 call out.

I’d like to pay tribute to Philip Ardagh who first posted the question on Facebook in 2015: ‘Who is your agent and would you recommend them?’ which inspired me to continue his work.

I’ve had the good luck to work with one of the best agents in the business, the wonderful Philippa Milnes Smith from LAW (details below). Good luck in finding someone as clever, kind and supportive as Philippa.

Who represents Eoin Colfer? Who helped Derek Landy climb to the top? Who represents Cathy Cassidy? Read on and find out!

Why Do You Need an Agent?

Eoin Colfer
Eoin Colfer

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. Details of how to do this are here: http://www.obrien.ie/guidelines.cfm

Little Island are also happy to read unsolicited manuscripts – www.littleisland.ie (they have excellent submission guidelines)

Penguin Ireland - experienced writer and teacher, Claire Hennessy is their Children’s and YA Editor – Claire will read unsolicited manuscripts and will accept them by email.

Gill Books has recently started publishing children’s fiction, Mercier also publish children’s books and Poolbeg are also back in the game after a strong season of 1916 related children’s books

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

What Does an Agent Do Exactly?

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.

Who Represents Some of the Best Children's Writers?

The Agents Who Represent Some of the Most Successful Irish Children’s Writers (with Contact Details) and Children’s Agents Highly Recommended by UK Writers

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.

Highly Recommended Children’s Agents:

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

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 please email: www.christopherlittle.net

lonely beast 1
lonely beast 1

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

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

Irish Writer, 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!’ She’s also from Dublin originally.

Let's hear from some other Irish writers:

Sheena Wilkinson: My agent is Faith O'Grady who's lovely.

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.

Other Recommended Children’s Agents (UK authors)

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

Cathy Cassidy
Cathy Cassidy

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

Julia Churchill at A M Heath

Eve White, Eve White Literary Agency

Veronique Baxter at David Higham

Catherine Clarke at Felicity Bryan

Robert Kirby at United Agents

Jodie Hodges at United Agents; Catherine Mary Summerhayes, Jo Unwin and Clare Conville at United Agents

Polly Nolan at Green House (Polly is from Galway, now based in the UK and is a highly experienced editor as well as an agent.)

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!

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

Coming Out Fighting

The Irish Hockey Women's Hockey Team (photo c/o hockey.ie)
The Irish Hockey Women's Hockey Team (photo c/o hockey.ie)

The Irish Hockey Women's Hockey Team(photo c/o hockey.ie)

I was watching one of my daughter’s hockey matches recently and it reminded me of the importance of fighting to the end.

The girls from the school they were playing were HUGE, the goalie was hitting on six foot. My daughter, Amy is in 6th class in Ireland, so the girls are mainly age 11 or 12, with some of them going on 13. However Amy’s school has 5th class girls on its team (age 10 and 11) and they looked so small compared to the giant 6th class girls from the other team.

At half time Amy’s team was 2-0 down. Their coach – a wonderfully engaged woman called Carole who is an Olympic hockey ref and mum to two of the girls on the team - talked to them. She told them they were playing brilliantly (they were), and if they went out fighting in the second half she had no doubt they would win. No doubt at all.

So the girls went back on the pitch and scored not just one or two, but three goals! They were throwing themselves into the game, running after every ball, while the mums and dads cheered on from the side line. When they won the match, we were so proud of them, they’d put everything they had into the game and flopped down beside us to rest.

I learnt a lot from watching my daughter and her team that evening. Sometimes talent alone isn’t enough. You can be taller and stronger but that’s not enough either. Spirit and grit and tenacity will win every time. As their hockey coach said, you want to win, you have to come out fighting.

Life as a writer isn’t always easy. At the moment I’m struggling with a plot gnarl in my new book that just won’t unknot itself. I’ve rewritten a particular scene over and over and it's still not quite working. I think I may have to go in and change a good chunk of the start of the book to fix it.

But tomorrow I’m  going to go back to my desk using my daughter’s tenacious spirit to guide me. I’m going to attack that old plot gnarl – I’m going to come out fighting! I’ll let you know how I get on!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This blog first appeared on the Girls Heart Books blog. 

The Story of You – Keeping a Diary

My Diary Collection 1986 to 2015
My Diary Collection 1986 to 2015

Today is Christmas Eve. In many parts of the world children will wake up tomorrow morning and find presents at the end of their bed, or in stockings at the fireplace. Maybe they will get a much wanted bike, books, or even a puppy.

A Photo of Me and My Sisters and My Grandparents - I'm the taller girl in the red!
A Photo of Me and My Sisters and My Grandparents - I'm the taller girl in the red!

Christmas is full of magical memories. One way of saving those memories is by taking a photo. This is a photo of me and my sisters with my grandparents when I was about 8 or 9 – I’m the taller girl in the red!

Another way of saving memories is by writing them down in a diary or a journal. I’ve been keeping a diary since I was a teenager and I’ve amassed quite a stack of them at this stage. They are are carefully locked away as they are full of secrets!

I’ve always found that writing things down helps me work through my feelings and helps me make sense of particularly difficult or upsetting days. They say a worry shared is a worry halved, and for me keeping a diary is like telling a trusted friend my problems.

As a young teenager I had many worries:

Do my friends actually like me? The answer to this one was yes, but teenagers don’t always act kindly towards each other – hang in there, it will get easier.

Does everyone feel as alone as I do sometimes? Yes – even as an adult, I think everyone feels alone now and again.

Does everyone notice my spots as much as I do? No, they are far too busy worrying about their own spots!

Who am I supposed to be? How am I supposed to act? I’m in my 40s now and I know who I am – a mum, a writer, a friend, a partner, a sister, a daughter, and a reader. I’m still not sure how to act sometimes, but as you get older you care less and less. You realise that people like you for who you are, not what you are. And if you don’t click with someone, you spend less time worrying about it.

Me at 17
Me at 17

I also kept a ‘boy list’ as the back of my diary of boys I liked. I didn’t actually know many of them, they were boys I’d spotted at a bus stop or working in a shop. I also kept a book list and a movie list and these are fascinating to read back over (far more interesting than the boy lists!). See my 1987 movie list below with the scores out of 10 I gave each film that year.

In some ways I haven’t changed much from my teen years: I’m still mad about books, worry about things, and can be full of energy some days and exhausted and grumpy the next, but one thing that hasn’t changed is my diary keeping. I still do that, 30 years on.

From a young age I’ve always had the urge to write things down, it’s how I make sense of the world. I guess that’s what drove me to write books. This is a photo of me at 17.

In 2016 why don’t YOU try keeping a diary? In 30 year’s time they may give you something truly fascinating to read – the story of YOU.

Happy Christmas to all the Girls Heart Books readers and writers, and most especially to Jo who keeps the whole show on the road. Talk to you again in 2016!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

My Movie List - 1987
My Movie List - 1987

Writing Tips - Getting it Right - the Importance of Research

My New Book
My New Book

My new book, Sunny Days and Moon Cakes is out next week – exciting. It was great fun to write and even more fun to research. Sunny, the main character in the book, has a condition called selective mutism which means she finds it difficult to speak. In order to write her story I needed to do a lot of research. I was lucky to meet a mum early on who has daughters with the condition and she was really helpful, reading my manuscript and talking to me about her daughters’ lives. She was really kind to share her family's stories with me.

Research Tip No. 1:

Nothing beats talking someone with specialist or personal knowledge of a subject.

I also watched a lot of documentaries about selective mutism and read academic books. An expert in the field, a UK speech therapist called Maggie Johnson was also a great help. I read her wonderfully clear and well written book on the topic and also emailed her. It’s amazing how kind people are if you ask them for help with research.

Research Tip No.2:

Ask for help. Don't be afraid to go to the top. People who are fascinated by their work and love their subject are generally delighted to talk about their work.

In the book, Sunny's little sister, Min has a terrible accident and has to be airlifted to hospital in a helicopter. Now, I've never been airlifted, thank goodness, so I had to do more research. I wrote to the Irish Coast Guard at Waterford and they arranged for me to fly in their rescue helicopter with my daughter, Amy. It was a remarkable experience and made the cliff rescue scene in the book truly come alive.

Research Tip No.3:

Never say never.

Never think 'I'll never find someone to take me up in a helicopter/out on a super yacht/meet a lion'. Ask around - you'll be surprised how willing other people are to help you track someone useful down. My contact in the Irish Coast Guards came from an old school friend who is now a fireman. I put a call out on Facebook and he stepped in to help connect us.

I'm working on book three in the series now and it's all about dolphins and sea mammals. That has been a lot of fun to research too. I can't wait to share all my newly found animal knowledge with young readers. This photo of a Humpback Whale breaching was taken by Simon Duggan, an old school friend of mine who lives in West Cork - isn't it brilliant? My research is throwing up all sorts of ideas for this and future books.

A Humpback Whale
A Humpback Whale

Research Tip No.4:

Research can play an important part in the writing process.

It can trigger plot ideas and inform your knowledge or feel for a character. If your book is set in the past, research is a vital part of the process. The adult novel I am working on at present is set in the 1930s and I found reading novels set in this period particularly helpful, as well as newspapers and magazines from the time.

Research Tip No.5:

Don't let the research slow down or stop your writing.

It's important to get your book finished. So no matter how interesting the research is, you must know when to stop. If you've started coming across facts you already know it's time to get back to the writing. You can always go back and check details after you've finished your first draft.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

A version of this blog first appeared on Girls Heart Books.

Picture Books: To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme?

Some of My Picture Book Collection
Some of My Picture Book Collection

I was doing some intense thinking about picture books last night. My writing class asked me why I'm not keen on rhyming picture books and I didn't have a coherent answer for them. But I do now!

When I got home I read dozens of rhyming and non rhyming pictures books. Every month I am sent review copies of all the new titles (and proofs or early reading copies) by the various Irish and UK publishers, and I read ALL the picture books and as many of the novels as I can. So I get a great overview of what's going on in the world of children's books. (Aside - when I was the children's book buyer at Waterstone's and then Eason's I saw the covers and titles of up to 8k children's books a year. Booksellers are a font of knowledge when it comes to children's books, trends, titles, covers etc. I'm proud to say I still work with booksellers, as a consultant with Dubray Books.)

So what conclusion did I come to after my late night read? A large number of rhyming picture books are all about concept (love, ABC, 123, colour) and it's hard to get emotion and conflict into even the best of them.Yes, yes I know Julia Donaldson manages to pack her books with emotion (and others do too - Madeline, Millions of Cats, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes etc) but she is one in a million. Non-rhyming picture books are all about story, character and emotion.

Spread from Owl Babies
Spread from Owl Babies
monster mamma
monster mamma

I like books that squeeze my heart, books full of emotion and power. Owl Babies, Where the Wild Things Are, Lost and Found, The Heart and the Bottle, Monster Mama (see below for details).

I hate insipid, badly rhyming picture books about loving your mummy (who is also a teddy dressed in human clothing). Managing to make the last words on each line rhyme does not magically turn a writer into a poet. The whole line has to sing.

And for the record here are my all time top 10 favourite picture books (not the best books, or the ones that have won the most awards, the ones I love the most). Books I could not live without:

1/ Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

Is there a better picture book?

2/ Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson

Love it - and it has my name in it!

3/ Lost and Found - Oliver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers
Oliver Jeffers

Oliver is exceptional. One of the greatest picture book talents Ireland has ever produced.

4/ Busy Busy World - Richard Scarry

My childhood is embedded in this book.

5/ The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont, illustrated by Raymond Briggs

Loved it as a child, love it now.

6/ The Red Tree -  Shaun Tan

From The Red Tree
From The Red Tree

The illustrations make me shiver, they're so good. I also love Rules of Summer. All his work in fact.

7/ Monster Mama by Liz Rosenberg, illustrated by Stephen Gammell

Incredible book about a mother and her son, bullying and the power of love.

8/ Alfie Gets in First - Shirley Hughes

Best writer for toddlers ever. Her domestic scenes sing with love.

9/ Peter's Chair - Ezra Jack Keats

Exceptional picture book from 1967 about sibling rivalry. I was read it first when my sister was born and it's stayed with me all that time.

10/ Fighting it out for the last slot - I can't choose. There so many amazing picture book makers. Jon Klassen is my pick for today. I Want My Hat Back. But I also adore Dr Suess (who doesn't?), although may of his books are more illustrated books than picture books (maybe Richard Scarry's too?). A topic for another day. And for pure illustration, Lizbeth Zwerger all the way. Journey by Aaron Becker is pretty special too (wordless picture book). So many pretty books ...

A Spread from Journey
A Spread from Journey

Better get back to the writing! I'll leave you with this: award winning picture book maker, Marie Louise Fitzpatrick talking a lot of sense about picture books that rhyme:

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

Mollie Teachers' Notes - All Chapters

The Songbird Cafe Girls: Mollie Cinnamon is Not a Cupcake

Detailed Teachers’ Notes Written by Liz Morris 

Chapter 1

 1. They say you should never judge a book by its cover. But what about its title? Do you like this title? Can you say why/ why not? Have a look around the nearest bookshelves. What do you think of the titles? With a friend, think of amusing and/ or unusual titles for some of the books eg How Cheese and Crackers Brought About My Downfall, or The Many Vicissitudes of Apollyon O’Shaughnessy. You might choose your favourite and design a book jacket that would reflect your new title.

2.  Read the opening two paragraphs again, two or three times, then close the book and visualise! When you can picture the island in your mind, see if you can represent it in paints or charcoals or pastels. Write the date on the back of your work. When you have finished the book, paint the opening paragraphs again. Display the paintings and compare the first with that you painted previously. Discuss the differences, if any, with the class.

3. The author uses words creatively to add richness to the descriptive details in the book eg seasidey colours (p9), forty lumpy minutes (p10), all sing-songy (p11). Can you think of any word-pictures or word-paintings of your own that might convey the feeling or the perception of something?

4. Mollie probably had watched the children’s educational programme Sesame Street (p9) and the film ET (p13) with her Granny Ellen. If you are not familiar with these, you will easily find them online (if your parents/school permit use of the internet). What TV programmes or film might the author use as detail if she were writing about 2015?  What other details can you find in the book that definitely locate events in the twentieth century?

5. Mollie misses home (p13). She misses Dublin and Flora, and she doesn’t feel like talking to her nan. With a partner, think about what Mollie might have said in answer to her nan’s questions. Record the answers and play them back for the class. Do your Mollie-answers match those given by the other groups?

 Chapter 2

 1. Granny Ellen had never talked about Nan, and Mollie had never been allowed to ask about it (page 17). Now she guesses that her family background has been discussed by Nan and Alanna, and this irritates her (page 18). It is healthy for us all to develop an appreciation for our family background and a realisation of how it shapes identity, but it is sometimes difficult for us to talk about significant events in our lives.

With a friend, can you discuss how Mollie felt and how you might feel if you knew that others had been discussing your family background? Close your eyes for a moment and think about the things about your family that you don’t want to share with others. Now think about the things about your family that you are happy to share with others. Would you like to share some of the latter with your partner/group/class?

2. Click is the name of the dolphin living in the bay and Mollie is excited to see him as she has never seen a real-life dolphin before. Many people love to swim with dolphins – but dolphins are wild animals and there are safety implications that must be evaluated and assessed before we jump into the water with a dolphin! Discuss the risks/ possible dangers and the best way of dealing with a situation where your friend might want to get in and swim (with or without a dolphin) in an unsupervised area. What could you say or do to persuade your friend to make a good decision? What might you do if your friend made a decision that might lead them in to danger?

3. Nan has to tell Mollie something about St Brigid when she explains that the little straw dolls dressed in white cotton skirts and green cloaks are called Brideogs (page 24). Strangely, it was traditional for the man of the house to twist straw or rushes to form these little dolls. Can you think of a reason for this?

The children of the house would have gathered the first buds or flowers of spring, pretty stones and green leaves to decorate the Brideogs. Can you find some other folk customs practised on the feast of Brigit/ Brigid? Which is your favourite? Try to write at least five interesting facts about Bríd and the ancient celebration of Imbolc. You might write these facts in the shape of a Brigid’s cross.

4. Have you ever heard anyone recite the first line or two of this poem on Lá ‘le Bríde? Generations of Irish people learned ‘Cill Aodáin’ when they were at school. It was written by Antoine Ó Raifteirí (Raifteiri).

‘Anois teacht an Earraigh beidh an lá ag dul chun síneadh/ Is tar éis na Féile Bríde ardóidh mé mo sheol…’ (‘Now with the coming of Spring, the day will be lengthening /stretching/ And after the feast of Brigid I’ll rise up my sail…’)

Many believe he also wrote the well-known ‘Mise Raifteirí an File’, though others say Seán Ó Ceallaigh wrote it as a tribute to the blind poet. Here are the first few lines. What do you feel as you read?

Mise Raifteirí an file,/ Lán dóchas is grá,/ Le súile gan solas, /Le ciúnas gan chrá….’

(I am Raftery the poet, Full of hope and of love, With eyes that don’t see, With peace without trouble.)

The first four lines of this poem appeared on the old Irish £5 note. Can you find an image of this note?

5. Do some research on the life of the poet. He had a sad life but his poems are still read and appreciated to this day. Imagine you can inform him of his continued relevance in the 21st century. Visualise his reaction. Can you write the dialogue you and he might have if you were to meet him/his ghost?

6. Granny Ellen is very superstitious, always saluting single magpies to ward off bad luck. She avoided walking under ladders and stepping on cracks in the pavement and picked up pins and “lucky pennies” all the time. She also made wishes on all kinds of things: shooting stars, rainbows, engagement rings. Many people make a wish as they stir a Christmas pudding, or when they eat the first new potato of the year though it is best not to expect too much from wishes as you might well be disappointed! Some religions frown on making wishes /practising superstitions – can you think why? Make a list of other occasions that might cause Granny Ellen to make a wish/ and/or make a list of other superstitions commonly practised by people today.

7. ‘If wishes were horses, beggars would ride’ is a saying or a proverb that may date back to the 16th century

Your wish: Take a day to think about something you really wish for. You might write it in your secret diary, or on a slip of paper that you could roll or fold and hide in a safe place. Or you might type and then print your wish in class, and when everyone has done this, you could create a collage of wishes, or hang them on a branch of a tree and create a wishing tree.

Chapter 3

1.     With partners, represent your image Nan’s home using a diorama. When finished, you might take photographs and send these to the author – you’d never know, she might credit them and put them up on her website. (You can email her: sarahsamwebb@gmail.com)

2.     Mollie thinks Nan’s photos are very good, like ‘images you’d see in a magazine.’ Your teacher might provide a disposable camera for the class so that each child can take a photo of something in the school corridors or grounds. Remember not to take photos of any pupils and try to choose interesting and amusing angles for your photo. Stick the photographs on the display board and write humorous captions for each.

3.     Red Moll used to command her crew ‘to howl like banshees’. The bean sí or bean sidhe is said to wail to warn of impending death in a neighbourhood family, and sometimes she is said to sit combing her long hair, weeping and wailing eerily. Can you suggest other [allegedly!] mythical creatures which are commonly referred to in everyday speech? What meaning are they used to convey? (eg an inscrutable or enigmatic person might be described as sphinx-like, someone who is very faithful or loyal might be called Penelope after the wife who waited ten years for Odysseus to return from his adventures, someone forever looking for good fortune at the end of a rainbow or even someone stereotypically Irish might invoke mention of leprechauns etc). See how many you and your partner/ group can list.

4.     Mollie really misses her Granny Ellen, misses her ‘so much it hurts’, but she doesn’t know Nan well enough to talk about this so she hides her tears. It can be very difficult to speak about someone who has died, or to speak to someone who has experienced the death of a close friend or family member. We want to say something, we are afraid of saying the ‘wrong’ thing and may just decide to cross the street, to say nothing at all. But sometimes the bereaved person would get comfort from a quick hello or a friendly greeting. Close your eyes and think about Mollie and how she feels when she thinks of Granny Ellen, or think for a moment about someone or some pet you have lost. Remember that it is perfectly natural and normal to feel sad when we lose someone or something we love.

5.     They say we can never understand how someone feels until we put ourselves in their shoes. Put yourself in Mollie’s shoes and try to understand how she feels as she sits on the window seat, in a silence she’s unused to, with only a grandmother she’s unused to for company. Picture her big yellow notebook – can you express how she’s feeling in words and/ or pictures? Don’t share your thoughts unless you feel comfortable doing so.

 Chapter 4

1.     Mollie has been having nightmares that keep waking her in the middle of the night. Have you ever had bad dreams? Can you share a real or imagined nightmare with your partner, describing how you felt on waking up from the dream?

2.     Nan dressed the table nicely with tiny daffodils, sparkling glasses and cutlery and gave Mollie a big bowl of beef and Guinness stew with mashed potatoes followed by chocolate pots for dessert. The next morning, they had buttermilk pancakes for breakfast. Would you prefer Flora’s meal-time routines or Nan’s? Can you say why? With a partner, write menus for one day’s meals – first list the meals Nan and Mollie would have eaten together and then those that Flora and Mollie would have eaten in their home in Dublin.

3.     Are you surprised that Mollie is nervous at the thought of meeting so many strangers? Can you think of any advice you might give her so she could prepare herself to meet the girls with more confidence and enthusiasm?

4.     Granny Ellen and Nan liked film stars like Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Maureen O’Hara, and Mollie’s favourite film is Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland. Find photographs or film-stills of these and other actors of that era, and compare their hair, dress, make-up and size with those of your favourite actors of the 21st century.

5.     At one point, Mollie felt her ‘ears burning’ and Alanna ‘borrows Nan’s brain’. These are idioms that use names of body parts. If you used these expressions to people for whom English is an additional language, or even to people who hear things very literally, they’d get the fire extinguisher or call a doctor! Can you think of other idioms would confuse someone unfamiliar with spoken English? eg my heart is in my mouth. It might be fun to illustrate the idioms and see if others can guess to which idiom each illustration refers.

6.     Sunny is a very talented artist and draws little cartoons to explain herself when she doesn’t feel able to speak. Her anxiety and extreme shyness has probably helped to bring about her selective mutism. Can you do some research on this disorder and write a few lines of Sunny’s diary, explaining how she felt on first meeting Mollie. Or you could take a leaf out of Sunny’s book and describe the meeting in a cartoon strip.

Chapter 5

 1. We realise from the first chapter that Flora is often less responsible than her daughter is and now we see that Flora doesn’t tell Mollie that she can’t meet her as they’d planned. Flora allows her own mother to break the unpleasant news to Mollie. Take a moment to think quietly about what might have caused Flora to shirk the unpleasant task. Can you understand why she might have done so? Can you empathise with her? (Try not to be too hard on her – grown-ups make mistakes too!)

2. Mollie is deeply disappointed that she can’t go to Paris, but there may be other emotions at play in her reaction to the news. Can you name some of these, and say if you think her reaction is understandable? How do you think you’d have reacted to the news? Can you suggest a different and better way to deal with unexpected emotions?

3. Have you ever been away from your family for a long period? Can you imagine what it would feel like to leave your home even for a month? Draw a large heart on an A4 page. Draw a line down the middle to split the heart in two. On one side, write a list of all the things you’d miss about your home if you had to leave. On the other, write a list of the ten things you’d most like to take with you. As you work, think about the choices that refugee children have to make when they are forced to leave their homes, perhaps for ever.

4. Draw some paper dolls, the sort that Mollie used to make with Granny Ellen. [You will find printable dolls and even some clothes with tabs online if drawing isn’t your favourite subject!] Draw or print one for each character you’ve met so far. In each doll-shape, write as many descriptive words and phrases as you can think of for each of the characters. So, Flora’s doll might say ‘disorganised’ ‘irresponsible’ and Mollie’s might say ‘perceptive’ ‘hot-headed’ etc Add more adjectives to the characters as you read through the book.

5. What do you think will happen between Lauren’s twin, Landy and Mollie? Do you think they will get on and become friends? Write your predictions in your notebook and see if you were right when you get to the end. In fact, now might be a good time to write your predictions for all the characters – see if you have the same ideas as the author!

6. Slí an Atlantaigh: Little Bird is a small island off the coast of Ireland and Mollie thinks there it’s boring, boring, boring, with nothing to do and nothing to see, except maybe some tractor-spotting! As you read, make a note of all the attractions on the island, and design a brochure to encourage tourists to visit. And/or choose some part of the Wild Atlantic Way and design a brochure that Fáilte Ireland might use to attract more visitors to our western coast.

Chapter 6

1. Once again, Mollie has had trouble sleeping. Can you list the reasons she might be finding it difficult to sleep? Have you ever found it difficult to sleep? Were you worried /excited about something? Can you recall your thoughts as you lay awake? If you’re lucky enough to sleep soundly every night, close your eyes and try to picture yourself lying awake – what might you be thinking?

2. Mollie treasures the gloves her granny had knitted for her eighth birthday. Did you ever get a present that meant a great deal to you? If not, visualise something that you would love to receive on your birthday – no cars or swimming pools, please, try to think of something you might be likely to get from an older relative! Describe this present to your partner/group. Don’t tell them what it is, but let them draw or paint as you describe the colour, texture, shape etc. Do your recognise your present in the painting(s)? Can you draw the present more accurately? What might the variety of interpretations tell you about the way we see things?

3. There’s ‘an awkward silence’ after Mollie mentions Alanna’s parents and discovers that they’re ‘not around.’ Have you ever said /asked something that caused embarrassment or awkwardness? Think about some awkward or embarrassing moment and reflect on what gave rise to it. Do such moments teach young people to recognise the importance of care, courtesy and consideration with others?

4. Alanna gives Mollie a potion to help her sleep, but what she really wants is something to make her feel less lonely. Many primary schools use Buddy Stops for the junior classes, others train senior pupils to make sure no-one looks lonely or friendless in the yard. Can you write a formula or magic potion that might help Mollie/ any child feel less lonely in school? Be creative!

5. Flora has always liked to move around a lot and so Mollie has been enrolled in many schools. People react to change with varying degrees of excitement, anticipation, fear, anxiety etc Do you view change as an opportunity or as a problem, or might you have mixed feelings depending on the change involved? Take a few minutes to discuss with your partner/ group.

6. The school uniform Nan brings back is scratchy and beetroot-coloured – but Mollie isn’t used to wearing a full uniform. What is your opinion of school uniforms? You might do a survey on the opinion of your class/ school and/or have a class debate to tease out the advantages and disadvantages of being dressed exactly like all your fellow pupils. You could address your findings to the Students’ Union/Council and/or the Board of Management of your school.

 Chapter 7

1.     We all need to be able to understand the feelings of others and Mollie is very ‘other-aware’: she has a very good understanding of others, especially of Flora. Although she is always happy with the situation in which she finds herself, she is generally capable of empathising with Flora/with the other person. Would you say that Nan shares this trait? Do you think Nan’s funny stories about school help to make Mollie feel better? Can you recount/ invent some funny school stories of your own?

2.     Flora’s emails are quite funny, though they are mostly about herself and her own life. Can you write her email in a different tone, making sure that in the new and improved version she actually shows more care and consideration for the feelings of her daughter? Or you might write an email from Mollie to Shannon in which she tells that she won’t be going to Paris – try to capture the disappointment and Mollie’s determination to put a brave face on it.

3.     Nan often uses food to comfort and cheer, and her apple crumble certainly seems to make Mollie feel better. What are the foods that you would choose to eat when you’re feeling low? Design a menu to lift the spirits of even the most downhearted - think chocolate and sticky puddings and … You get the picture!

4.     Do you usually understand or empathise with what other people may be feeling? eg Do you understand what’s happening for a classmate when someone calls them a name; do you have a sense of how your shy friend/ classmate feels when asked to answer /stand up in front of the class? Discuss with your partner/ group how safe others feel in your school and if you can think of ways you might improve the atmosphere for the school community. Suggestions could be brought to the Students’ Union/ Council, and/or to the BOM.

5.     The cores and peels from the apples used in Nan’s crumble do not go to waste as Nan feeds these to her tiger worms. Composting is an excellent way to observe the life cycle - life, decay/death, re-use/re-birth. Any organic waste, anything that can decompose is biodegradable. Biodegradable materials include eggshells, paper, small pieces of fruit, vegetable peelings, twigs, straw, leaves. All of these materials can be composted at home and at school. Have you ever tried to make a composter? All you need is an old plastic storage bucket/ bin with plenty of holes drilled in sides and a lid (with more air-holes) that fastens securely so that you can shake the container regularly – this will help the compost to mature more quickly. You will find a recipe for compost and helpful hints on http://www.askaboutireland.ie/learning-zone/primary-students/5th-+-6th-class/5th-+-6th-class-environme/caring-for-the-environmen/how-to-compost/index.xml

6.     Mollie is the victim of both mental and physical bullying. She doesn’t seem to be handling the problem well because she reacts badly to friendly overtures from both Bonny and Landy and immediately regrets this. Do you/ you and your group think it’s important for young people to be able to recognise what influences how they feel and how they react towards others? Do you have strategies to deal with potential problems that may arise in friendships and other relationships? Take a few moments to think about these – it might be useful to list some strategies and add to these as other strategies occur to you.

Chapter 8

 1.     There are many strong female characters in this book. Alanna runs her own business, Nan lives alone, Flora is a lone parent and TV star/presenter, Mattie Finn is captain of the ferry. Are there any other clues in the book that would lead you to believe that the author is a feminist and believes in equal rights for all?

2.     Anything that humiliates you or makes you feel small is bullying. No one has the right to make you feel like this. Bullying includes teasing and name-calling, as well as threatening or harassing behaviour. Ignoring and/ or excluding a child/children from friendship groups is also a form of bullying. Bullies are usually people who want attention, or who are dealing with problems of their own. The way a ‘victim’ responds could show the bully different and more positive ways of coping. Make an anti-bullying poster to display in your school. Include pictures and advice about whom to contact if bullied.

Remember to always tell a teacher, parent or adult if you or a classmate are being bullied. Or you can contact Childline if you need someone to talk to on 0800 1111 (Ireland).

3.     Mrs Joseph, the head teacher is ‘… wearing a frown you could plant potatoes in’ (page 83), Granny Ellen used to say that Flora had ‘champagne taste on a lemonade budget.’ Can you think of other interesting and unusual turns of phrase that are sometimes used to let us know more about personality, character and/ or behaviour? See how many you and your partner can think of. Try and use some next time you’re writing!

4.     In this chapter, Mollie, Bonny and Lauren experience a range of emotions. Take a few moments to think about these and how the girls might have handled jealousy, uncertainty, feeling left out, anger, pressure to belong and conform to friends’ expectations/demands. Could you rewrite the scene in the head’s office (pp83, 84) and this time have Mollie tell Mrs Joseph the truth. Make sure your chapter ends on an exciting note so that readers will want to continue.

5.     Red Moll is a fictional character, but is inspired by Gráinne Ní Mháille or Granuaile, the warrior chieftain who ruled the seas and large areas of land around Co Mayo in the sixteenth century. With a large army and a fleet of ships, this unconventional woman lived by trading and raiding, and her captains demanded payment for safe passage from all who sailed her waters around Clew Bay off the west coast of Ireland. In your group, read more about the ‘Pirate Queen’ and write five of the facts you find most interesting about her life and times. Share these with the class.

6.     A very well-known traditional Irish folk song, ‘Óró sé do bheatha abhaile’, celebrates Grace O’Malley and calls on her to help the Irish, though the song may first have been written with Bonnie Prince Charlie in mind! Ask your teacher to play one of the many versions of the song to be found on YouTube. Can you and your class learn and perform the song as the students from Coláiste Lurgan might, in a modern ‘pop’ version? Here are the words of the chorus in case you can’t remember them!

Tá Gráinne Mhaol ag teacht thar sáile, (Gráinne Mhaol is coming across the sea)

Óglaigh armtha léi mar gharda, (armed youths with her as her guard)

Gaeil iad féin is ní Gaill ná Spáinnigh (They are Gaels and not foreigners or Spaniards)

'S cuirfidh siad ruaig ar Ghallaibh (and they will put put the foreigners to flight).

Chapters 9 and 10

1. Mollie feels sick with worry as she prepares to face Nan, and all sorts of wild and irrational fears enter her mind (p85). Finding coping strategies for the management of change is important in helping all of us to manage our fears. Have you ever heard the WW1 marching song ‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag’? Some classrooms have a worry bag, an opaque bag suitable for holding up to forty folded strips of paper or post-its. All members of the classroom, grown-ups included, type or print their concern or fear (so that writers cannot be identified) and these are then read to the class for problem-solving suggestions/ advice. When a worry has been alleviated, the relevant piece of paper is screwed up and placed in a Worry Jar with a lid so that everyone can see how well they are dealing with their concerns, and the strategies they are developing. How does your class/group deal with fears and worries?

 2. Mollie is very aware of Flora’s shortcomings, yet she sees the many good and positive aspects of Flora’s character (p86). Draw two columns –and at the top label them: Five Things You Need to Know About Me   And  Why You Need to Know This and think about, then list, the things that make you the person you are eg in the first column: I can speak Spanish and Arabic and in the second: You might need to ask me to translate something

Then draw another two columns and in these write the five things Lauren needs to know about Flora

3. Nan says that Ellen and Mollie are similar to Red Moll in that they ‘battle the whole world’ by themselves (p88). Elizabeth I of England was another strong and powerful woman. She was determined that no Gaelic chieftain would demand tribute in territory belonging to the crown of England and that no one else, including Gráinne Ní Mháille/ Granuaile, would rule over any part of Ireland while she was queen. The two women met at Elizabeth’s palace at Greenwich and each recognised in the other born rulers. Elizabeth even granted Granuaile permission to support herself as she had always done. The west coast of Ireland is full of places with links to both women. Take a leaf out of Mollie’s book and investigate the history and stories of one county/ area on the west coast and record the results of your findings to share with the class.

4. Mollie is going to study at home until Flora comes back to collect her (p91). Many people chose to home educate or home school, for many reasons. Some families teach the school curriculum at home, others allow learning to be child/student-led. Think about the reasons children might be home educated, then hold a class debate on the motion ‘School is the best place to learn’ or ‘Critical thinking is best learned anywhere other than at school’.

5. Mollie says that, at twelve, she’s too young to work (p91) yet in many countries parents are forced by economic circumstances to send their children to work when they are only five or six years old. Do some research on the SCL ‘Stop Child Labour – School is the best place to work’ campaign coordinated by Hivos, an international development that wants to contribute to a fair and sustainable world. Concern Ireland posted news of the action taken by a primary school in west Dublin. https://www.concern.net/news-blogs/concern-blog/kite-march Have a look – could your school write a play or a song about life for children forced to work as these children in Griffeen Valley Educate Together did?

6. Nan suggests that Mollie keeps a diary about her time on the island just as Tomás Ó Criomhthain did in An tOileánach and as Peig Sayers did in her classic autobiography. Arranmore, off the coast of Donegal, is the second largest inhabited island in the country. A four-part series, Bliain ar Árainn Mhór, filmed over twelve months and broadcast in Spring 2013, followed life on the island for the 500+ inhabitants, and some video clips from the programme are available on Vimeo. If you haven’t actually visited an island off the west coast of Ireland, have a look at a few minutes of this programme and then write your own, imaginary, diary of a week spent on a small island.

7. People lived on Oileán Ghabhla till the mid-1960s and every Irish child has heard about Feilimí ‘a d’imigh to Gabhla’ in the traditional children’s song. Listen to Sinéad O’Connor or some other artist/s singing this song (available on You Tube), or sing it yourselves – see if you can remember the words. Here they are in case you need a bit of help!

Báidín Fheilimí, d’imigh go Gabhla     Phelim's little boat went to Gola

Báidín Fheilimí is Feilimí ann.          Phelim’s little boat and Phelim in it

Báidín Fheilimí d’imigh go Gabhla, Báidín Fheilimí is Feilimí ann.

Curfá                                                Chorus Báidín bídeach, báidín beosach,              A tiny little boat, a lively little boat Báidín bóidheach, báidín Fheilimí            A buoyant little boat, Phelim’s little boat Báidín díreach, báidín deontach              A straight little boat, a willing little boat Báidín Fheilimí is Feilimí ann.          Phelim’s little boat and Phelim in it

Báidín Fheilimí d’imigh go Toraí,     Phelim’s little boat went to Tory

Báidín Fheilimí ‘s Feilimí ann.

Báidín Fheilimí d’imigh go Toraí,

Báidín Fheilimí ‘s Feilimí ann.


Báidín Fheilimí, briseadh i dToraí    Phelim’s little boat broke in (crashed on) Tory

Báidín Fheilimí ‘s Feilimí ann

Báidín Fheilimí, briseadh i dToraí

Báidín Fheilimí ‘s Feilimí ann

8. Nan and Mollie watch old films together. What movies would you watch with your grandparents/elderly relative? Draw a large tub/container with popped corn coming out the top. In the ‘tub’, describe your perfect afternoon at the pictures, and in the ‘corn’ name the films you’d most love to watch with some older people.

Chapters 11 and 12

 1. ‘When they realised I was filming them, they both started doing this really silly dance, swaying from side to side and doing crazy air guitar and leg kicks.’ (p102) Some classes video/ record themselves doing crazy dances at the end of the school year. What might be the advantages/ disadvantages of recording class memories in such a fashion? Can you and your friends think of a song which might inspire you all to use the classroom/ playground space in a way that might express the range of emotions at the end of a school year (joy tinged with sadness perhaps)? Remember to ask and obtain permission before you start!

2. ‘Mollie was dying to email Flora and tell her all about …’ (p102). In Norse mythology, Odin (the father of the gods) sends his ravens, Huginn and Muginn, to fly over the world at dawn, with the instruction to observe everything and report back to him. At dinner-time they return and whisper in his ear all the news, all they have seen, Huginn telling only the sad stories and Muginn only the cheerful ones. Choose two stories Mollie might have told Flora had she written the email she was dying to send, and write these in a way that might have entertained and interested the mighty Odin.

3. Flora mentions some tourist ‘must-sees’ of Australia eg Sydney Opera House, aboriginal rock drawings etc. Do you think that Flora would have known much about indigenous Australian culture before her trip? Help her out – research the background information she might have needed for a piece-to-camera, then write the report she might make. Make sure to include some information on the “Dreamtime” and on the traditional ‘walkabout’. [James Vance Marshall’s classic book Walkabout (re-issued July 2015) is the story of an aboriginal boy who guides the only survivors of an air crash, Mary and her young brother, on a long journey across the Australian desert. A DVD (rated 15+) is available online.]

Chapter 12

  1. Stress and anxiety often prevent a good night’s sleep. Alanna’s sleep remedy didn’t help Mollie to sleep after Flora’s email (p107). What does this suggest about the medicinal power of the potion? Ask your grandparents/ older people what they consider helpful for a good night’s sleep – you may find that high on the list of their suggestions is the turning off of all appliances eg TV, laptop, mobile phone!
  2. At first Nan says that Flora’s news isn’t hers to tell (p108) but reluctantly reveals that Flora has a new boyfriend. Do you think Nan was right to share news that Flora had chosen, for whatever reason, not to tell Mollie? Discuss with a partner or in your group the many rights and wrongs involved in sharing news of this nature and in this type of situation.
  3. It is important to know how to tell what a person is feeling, even when they don’t verbalise their emotions. Both Nan and Alanna seem to be very good at picking up on what Mollie is feeling. Using interesting words to describe people makes us more knowledgeable about them, more engaged in them, perhaps more curious. Draw word-portraits of a character from this chapter eg you might use words like ‘empathetic’ or ‘creative’ when describing Alanna.
  4. The ‘love potion’ made with orange blossom and apple sounds far more appealing than some of the potions Alanna describes (p112). Can you invent a dish that would combine some ingredients traditional to both Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day and Valentine’s Day, perhaps a pancake with a chocolate and raspberry filling, or a heart-shaped crepe with rose petals. Design a menu for Alanna suitable for use on both days.
  5. Alanna says that Molly is smart and loyal like a sparrow and that Sunny is a ‘little nightingale’ (p115). A dove is said to be peaceful and confrontation-averse, an owl might be said to be wise and analytical.  What birds best reflect your personality type? In your group, democratically pick birds that best represent your personalities – remember to be kind and positive and never to say anything that might hurt another member of the group.
  6. Building on/ in/ near an area of natural beauty or proposed mining of natural resources often divides the community of the area in which the ‘development’ is first proposed. Some people will be pleased that jobs will come of the development, while others will be fearful that the development will destroy the area in which they live. Consider the reasons why a community might welcome/ object to some proposed ‘development’ eg golf course with hotel, fracking, or mining, or offshore gas/oil refinery etc – can you list the reasons which might influence their opinions and say which side you might take in local debates?

Chapters 13 and 14

1.     Teddy’s grandparents donate ten euro and, with that, the Save the Songbird Café Campaign has begun. If you were Mollie, what would you do, how might you organise the campaign? Would you write letters of protest to a newspaper or magazine? Would you use social media as she intends doing? Would you contact RTÉ and TV3, and/or some radio stations? Write a Plan of Action for Mollie, remembering to delegate the work so that she doesn’t end up doing everything!

2.     ‘Women’s lives weren’t seen as important in those days’ (p123). Can you think of instances where one woman’s actions altered the course of history? You might consider activists like Rosa Parks or Eleanor Roosevelt, politicians like Mary Robinson, educationalists/ academics like Professor Kathleen Lynch (UCD) or Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington (NUIG), scientists like Marie Curie etc, or you might consider a woman who never became famous but who nevertheless had a positive (or negative!) effect on her community/ country. Write a paragraph, discussing the long-term effect of her actions.

3.     Red Moll’s castle was cleverly designed: built to give her ‘a brilliant view of Dolphin Bay from the top’. Draw a plan of it and include an illustration to show what you think the castle might look like if you were approaching from the sea. Choose what you think is its most important design feature and explain why you picked it.

4.     Sunny does beautiful lettering for the words in the campaign logo, and surrounding the letters ‘with tiny birds, dolphins and butterflies’ (p132). With your class, democratically decide on some local projects/ initiatives or activities that might benefit from a new logo. Ask the local library or community hall if you could display the logos – ask the mayor/ local dignitaries to choose the most effective logo: it might be used to promote the local area and the work being done at a local level.

5.     Flora’s piece-to-camera from the lock bridge near Notre Dame probably leaves viewers with a positive impression of Paris as a romantic destination. Can you and your friends choose some local place of interest and work on a three-/four-minute presentation that would attract visitors to your area? Make sure you practise the piece several times before you record it – you can’t afford to make mistakes if you’re ‘live’ on air!

6.     Mollie suspects that Lucas is interested in Flora in a romantic way – do you agree? Can you visualise the scene where Lucas is compiling the clips from the newspapers and setting them to music? What is he thinking? What is he thinking? (What is he hoping??)

7.     The email Mollie sends to her mother is very friendly and chatty, it’s very informal, as if she were writing to a close friend – though she finishes on a rather sad and wistful note. How might you write to your parent/ guardian/ carer if you were in the same position as Mollie? Try to write the letter or email that you might send.

 Mollie Chapters 15 and 16

1.     Mollie is quick to anger but also quick to forgive and to calm down. Though hurt, she feels bad that she has shouted at Nan and returns to apologise. Mollie has previously shown her ability to see situations from another person’s point of view – you might try to divide the characters in to those with /without this quality.

2.     Why did Mollie ring Landy instead of 999/ 911? What does this tell you about her friendship with Landy? What words might you use to describe the characters of Landy and his dad? Can you compare and contrast their characters with either Julian or Lucas?

3.     Would you be able to answer the medical questions asked by the paramedics? (p145) Do you know the procedures you should you follow in an emergency? Or if you find someone having what you suspect is a heart attack? Nan is unconscious (p143) and this is one of several symptoms that strongly suggest heart attack. Find other symptoms on www.irishheart.ie and learn what to do if you think someone may be having a heart attack.

4.     When Mollie realises that she is not on her own any more, she begins to understand just what good friends she now has on Little Bird (p146). Read this chapter again and discuss with your partner/group the many ways in which Alanna, Bat, Landy and others prove their friendship when Mollie most needs it.

5.     Though ‘No news is good news (p148), we all know that waiting – for anything – can be ‘excruciating’. What could you do when forced to wait for a long time, whether it be for a plane, to see a GP, for your parents/guardians to come home from a party/trip? How might you occupy the time? Discuss strategies for passing the time with your partner.

6.     When Flora gets the news that her mother is ill, she immediately makes her way to the airport and Mollie feels that Flora has ‘finally come through for [her]’ (p150). Are you surprised by (a) Flora’s reaction and/or (b) Mollie’s reaction?

 Chapters 17 and 18

1.     At first Mollie is ‘relieved’ to see Flora, but remembers ‘that it’s taken a heart attack to get her back’ and draws away (p152). Can you imagine how many different emotions Mollie is experiencing simultaneously? With your partner/group, describe her feelings on seeing her mother.

2.     Even though she has not seen her daughter for weeks, Flora still talks about herself and her problems (p152) whereas Nan, just out of the Resuscitation Unit, immediately expresses concern for Mollie. We know that Flora can be very self-absorbed so send her down Conscience Alley! (One student, ‘Flora’, walks down a corridor or alley made up of the other students who take the roles of Mollie and Nan. Flora must walk slowly between the two rows of students, listening to them express their feelings about the way she has treated them at different times.)

3.     Finally, Mollie gets to hear the family history and learns about the ‘big fight’, about the lack of communication and stubbornness that led to what Nan describes as ‘the biggest regret of her life’ (p155). Try to put yourself in Nan’s shoes – can you imagine how she has felt all these years?

4.     Represent the view of the harbour with its pastel-coloured pink and yellow houses, as Flora and Mollie must have seen it from the ferry. Use fabric and fibre – whatever is to hand – for a collage effect. When you have finished, but not before, go back and have a look at the painting you did earlier, way back in Chapter 1 when Mollie first came to the island. Has your visual image of the island/of the harbour changed much?

5.     Can you ‘freeze frame’ the first paragraph p160, either physically, in a group, or as a mental/imaginary –photograph, and then use speech-bubbles to fill in what Flora and Mollie are thinking as they walk down to the café? If you like, you could include Alanna, who might be watching the two from the door of her café; or Mattie, who might be watching from the ferry.

6.     “What on earth’s wrong?” - ‘If you can’t guess, I’m not telling you’ (p161). Is this a good way to resolve conflict? Are you surprised that Mollie reacts in such a manner? With your friend, take on the roles of Flora and Mollie, and see if you can express the different feelings of both characters in a way that might lead each to see the other’s viewpoint.

7.     Flora says that Mollie should have told her how badly she wanted to see her. Do you think she has a point? What, if anything, does this tell you about Flora and Mollie and their ability/ inability to make themselves/their wishes understood to others?

8.     With your partner, write two letters to newspapers - one national, one local – and express your thoughts on the imminent closure of the café. Be succinct – newspapers generally only publish short letters. When you are both finished, compare and contrast. Are the letters very different in content? Can you think of reasons why this might be so?

9.     There are two chapters left – two chapters and an epilogue. Don’t read any further – write your own ending to this book! You don’t need to write two chapters, just tie up some loose ends. Sarah, re-word this, maybe I shouldn’t be using that term. You know what I mean!!

Chapters 19 and 20 and Epilogue

1.     We all experience nervousness – whether it’s about a history test or a party or opening a school report – but Mollie’s heart is pounding and her palms feel sticky (p169). Discuss in your group various feelings and emotions eg what makes you happy/ sad/ worried/ excited. Write a mood poem about feeling less than confident/ not relaxed / not sure – nervous. You might like to practice reading it aloud for pace/ volume/ pitch/ expression and then read your poems to the group or to partners – after all, great poets must have great audiences, as Walt Whitman said (in so many words)!

2.     Is there a special place or thing that really matters to you, that you feel is threatened by development or neglect, some monument or building that you feel needs protection? With a friend, prepare your ‘ptc’ (piece-to-camera) – consider your intended audience, is it the local council or property owner, or the landlord of some neglected property? When you’ve edited everything you want to say back to three minutes, practise your delivery before filming your speech in some appropriate space. If you do an ‘ob’ (outside broadcast), remember that there may be background noise eg traffic, children playing, dogs barking and that you may need to edit the sound afterwards.

3.     Why does Mollie realise that Lauren’s mean comments no longer bother her and that Lauren has ‘no power’ over her? What has Mollie learned about making (and losing) friends? Do you have any qualities that you feel are Friend-Makers or Friend-Breakers? Think carefully about the qualities you feel are non-negotiable/ absolutely necessary in a friend, and also about those things that are ‘friend-breakers’ eg bullying behaviour, disloyalty. Wanted: a friend for me … You have just placed an ad in a local paper to find yourself a friend. What qualities would you want this friend to have? What type of person would suit you best? Write a brief description, stating types of things you like to do with your friends. Before you start, try to think how classmates see you, why your friends like you – make a list of words you think describe you and what your friends think of you.

4.     Landy and Flora use Facebook to promote the campaign and to raise funds. Does your school use social media to highlight all the work you do? Does your school have a website /Twitter account? You might seek permission to film some of your fellow students – is there a fun way you might highlight all the work done by your class this term/year?

5.     The card Mollie makes for Nan is ‘a real one’ while that which she sends to Flora is an e-card. What does this tell you about the way she regards her mother/ her great-grandmother?

6.     Mothering Sunday falls on the fourth Sunday during Lent. In the past this was often the only time children who had left their homes to work ‘in service’ were given a holiday, a day on which to visit their mothers. The children traditionally carried small gifts for families – the eldest son took wheaten cake, and sugar-plums with caraway seed or sweet spice hidden in the centre. Daughters would bake special dinners for the family while the mother went to church with younger children. The children would often have gathered wild flowers for their mother on the way home and the mother would be waiting for her children with a bowl of frumenty. Find out more about the traditions behind Mothering Sunday now Mothers’ Day.

7.     If you were sponsoring the Songbird Café, what dish or cake would you like Alanna to dedicate to you? Help her out, design your own cupcake - What does it look like? What do you call it? Can you draw it and maybe post it to the school site /noticeboard? If each person in your class designed their own cupcake you could make a very colourful display for the entrance hall.

8.     Finally, Sarah loves hearing from her readers. Your class can drop her a line – sarah@sarahwebb.ie

 The Granny Project/ Third Age Project/ Mary Robinson

 Grandmothers are very important in Mollie Cinnamon. There’s Granny Ellen whom Mollie loved very much, and of course there’s Flora’s grandmother, Nan; and it was Teddy’s grandparents who kick-started the Save the Songbird Café Campaign with their donation of ten euro.

National Grandparents’ Day is celebrated in Ireland in September/early October every year. Grandparents’ Day celebrates the important role that grandparents play not only in their families but in the wider community.

Does your school invite grandparents in to tell stories from their own schooldays? That’s just what many schools are doing now. The grandparents don’t have to bring books, or bags, or lunch – just stories from their own schooldays.

Your class might work with grandparents on a project that would focus on changes in technology over the past fifty years, based on information learned from the older people eg the development of the Walkman into Discman into MP3 player to iPod to Android, or the development of the public phone kiosks to home landline phones to personal mobile phones to Skype or video players to video recorders to DVD players to laptop DVD etc.

Or ask your grandparents about clothes, transport, schools and education - invite them in to your hall or classroom and let them talk on whichever topic you choose as a class or group. They will probably be only too delighted to tell you, but remember that some people may have had very sad changes in their lives and that they may share something of these changes when talking. Listening and being listened to is particularly important when people are experiencing change in their lives.

And then why not organise an Intergeneration Day in the classroom? Make and send/deliver special and personalised invitations, and prepare foods from the countries of origin of the pupils in the class/ school, and serve these to all the visitors. One of you might give a short talk to those assembled on what the class has learned about life in the late twentieth century and what the exercise has taught you all about the life-experiences of older people and how these experiences compare and contrast with your class’s experiences in the early twenty-first century.

Questions you might explore with your grandparents might include (make sure that everyone knows that no student (or older person) has to ask or answer anything or discuss anything with which they feel uncomfortable):

- Can you remember when you first used /owned a … (phone, radio, TV etc)? Will you tell us about this and about how you felt when you first saw/ used/ owned … ?

- How old were you when you first went on holiday? Can you tell me about this? Did you stay in the house of a relative? Did you travel to another county? Another country? How did you get there? Can you tell me about this?

- How did you travel to school when you were my age? When you were older?

Make sure that everyone knows that no student (or older person) has to ask or answer anything or discuss anything with which they feel uncomfortable.

Happy reading, writing and discovery!

Third Age is a national organisation that began in Co Meath, Ireland. Read more about the work it does here http://www.thirdageireland.ie

Can you think of other organisations that support older persons to enrich their local communities?

Mary Robinson

‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Is the Hand That Rules the World’ is the title of a poem that praises motherhood for being a force for change in the world. In her inaugural speech as Ireland’s first woman president, Mary Robinson said that the hand that rocked the cradle could rock the system, and she praised ‘mná na hÉireann’, the women of Ireland, for having contributed in no small way to her election. Do some research on the presidential campaign that saw Mary Robinson elected as the first woman president of Ireland. Do you think that her election would have been particularly significant for women?