Getting Published

What Publishers Want - Picturebooks

Image by Alan O'Rourke

Image by Alan O'Rourke

Today I hosted a day in the dlr Lexicon Library all about picturebooks. It was the second in a series of events focused on different areas of writing for children and teenagers, called When Are You Going to Write a Proper Book? Or #ProperBook for short. The events were held in association with the wonderful Children's Books Ireland and this one also had the support of IBBY Ireland

Here is a roundup of the day. Thanks to all the speakers and to everyone who attended. The next #properbook day will focus on writing fiction for children and teenagers and will be held next spring.

Thanks to CBI and various attendees for the photos and Alan O'Rourke for his great #properbook graphic above.

First Valerie Coughlan and Lucinda Jacob talked about the visual narrative in picturebooks (how the pictures help tell the story), and rhyming versus prose picture books. Both agreed that all picturebooks need rhythm but not necessarily rhyme. Valerie quoted American picturebook critic Barbara Bader who said:

As an art form it [the picturebook] hinges on the interdependence of pictures and words, on the simultaneous display of two facing pages, and on the drama of the turning of the page.
On its own terms its possibilities are limitless.

Valerie shared some of her favourite picturebooks including Rosie's Walk and Where the Wild Things Are and recommended Illustrating  Children's Books by Martin Salisbury (see full book list below for details). 

Lucinda spoke about rhyming picturebooks and explained that the rhyme had to form a pattern, like a song. Her favourite picturebooks include Hairy Maclary and Each Peach, Pear Plum. 

Next up was our illustrators' panel: Michael Emberley, Mary Murphy and Chris Judge. They talked about the genesis of an idea, which was largely different for each book. Michael gets an idea first, then works on that idea, for Chris and Mary the character comes first. Once they have a character, they start working on the story.

They had some great advice for new writers:

Research - read modern picturebooks. Mary explained how important this is. She talked about her work, which mainly focuses on young children and has deceptively simple text and vibrant, beautifully designed artwork. 


Be yourself. Michael spoke with passion about being yourself on the page and not trying to be someone that you are not. He explained how publishers were pushing the costs (of producing a picturebook) 'downstream' towards the author. He said that these days you need to make your book as good as possible before sending it off to a publisher. The days of sending off an 'idea' or a rough, unfinished text are gone. (Interestingly on a later panel, Deirdre McDermott from Walker said she doesn't like to see artwork that is too finished, as there is no space for it to change and grow - see below for more from Deirdre.)

Chris talked about not giving up (it took him several years to get his first picturebook published). He also said to take your time and to produce something you are proud of - don't be in a rush to get published. 'It takes a long time to make a great book,' he said. 

The image below is of his Beast character. 

Jane O'Hanlon and Debbie  Thomas from IBBY spoke about their Silent Books exhibition which is in the Lexicon library until the 29th May. A matching set of the books are on the Italian island of Lampedusa where refugees from Africa and the Middle East often land on their way to Europe. The books are shared with the refugee children. Teachers and students from St Laurence College spoke about their recent trip to the island, which was a lovely addition to the day. It made me think about the importance of picturebooks as a form of communication as well as an art form. 

Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick gave us a brilliant insight into the work of a picturebook maker, showing lots of her rough sketches, dummy books and even the colour chart she created for Owl Bat Bat Owl, her latest picturebook.

Marie-Louise shared her tips on one clever slide

Marie-Louise shared her tips on one clever slide

So - the burning question - what are publishers looking for when it comes to picturebooks? Deirdre McDermott from Walker Books is interested in working with new Irish illustrators. She loves warm graphics - she mentioned Lucy Cousins and Mary Murphy in this regard. 'I want to feel the blood in their (the artists') veins. I want to feel they have a heartbeat.' She loves Chris Haughton's work for its sense of humour and she loves his brilliant use of colour.

Interestingly she's not looking for highly polished, finished work. She's looking for something different and exciting, and often finds her illustrators in unusual ways, not always though an agent. 

For picturebook texts Deirdre said she's looking for something that instantly grabs her attention: 'You read the first four sentences and it just gets you.' 

Emma Byrne from O'Brien Press is looking for Irish content and Irish creators. She says Ireland is a small market and she makes an effort to give Irish illustrators a chance. Like Deirdre, she doesn't use agents to find illustrators (although some do come this way). She looks at magazines - she mentioned Totally Dublin - flyers and posters for images that make her react. She's also looking for a sense of humour in the work and is drawn to unusual colour.

Tadhg MacDhonnagáin from Futa Fata is looking for narrative picturebooks for age 3 to 6. He's looking for books that are not based in Ireland but that have a strong story, with a main character that goes on a journey and changes. He's looking again for humour and for a writer with great enthusiasm. He would love to find an illustrator or picturebook maker who can speak Irish and can do events in schools and at festivals, but has yet to discover one

Margaret Anne Suggs from Illustrators Ireland gave this advice:

1/ Have something worth submitting.

2/ Do your research - look at what the publisher or agent likes and see if you are a fit.

3/ Follow the submission guidelines carefully.

And the publishers' pet hates? Letters addressed 'Dear Sir' (to Emma or Deirdre). 

Elaborate packages of artwork with no return address.

Rhyming picturebooks with no story. 

Margaret Anne said that illustrators are often told to write their own text. She described this as being bisexual. 'It doubles your chance of a date,' she said. 

Other information shared was:

Writers and illustrators rarely meet.

If you are a writer you do not need to find an illustrator. You submit your text without pictures. The editor will match your story with the right illustrator. Do not provide illustrations yourself (unless you are also an artist) or pay someone to illustrate your book. 

Don't put grown ups in your book if you can help it.

If you are an illustrator, apply to Illustrators Ireland who can help you with contracts and professional advice. 

Always get a contract if you are an illustrator and ask for royalties, not just a set fee (esp for picturebooks). 

Walker split the writer/illustrator royalty 50/50.

Illustrators' agents take 25 to 35% of a contract and literary agents 15 to 20% (for writers or illustrators).

It was a really enjoyable, informative day and thanks to all the speakers, to Marian Keyes at the library and Artscope for their help. 

Watch out for the podcast of the day which I'll post here soon. 

I'll leave you with this list of recommended books about writing and illustrating picturebooks which I put together for the event. 

Books about Writing and Illustrating Picturebooks

Recommended by Sarah Webb

riting Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul – especially good on how to write a rhyming picturebook and how to check your rhythm and rhyme. Highly recommended.

Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books by Uri Shulevitz – excellent book, well worth reading. Especially good on format.

Illustrating Children’s Books by Martin Salisbury – a must have for illustrators. Full colour hardback with lots about technique.

Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles – excellent book about the history of picturebooks, publishing, process + much more. Highly recommended.

100 Great Children’s Picture Books by Martin Salisbury – a gem – treat yourself!

How to Write a Children’s Picture Book by Andrea Shavick – a good beginner’s guide to writing picturebooks.

Writing Children’s Books for Dummies by Lisa Rojany Buccieri – don’t let the title put you off, this is a useful, sensible book. Especially good on the different age groups and genres.

Sarah Webb mentors new and emerging writers and critiques picturebooks and novels for children. Contact me for details about how to book (now taking bookings for Sept)


The Writing Process by Cecelia Ahern

This week's guest blog is from bestselling Irish writer, Cecelia Ahern. Her new book, Perfect has just been published. Take it away, Cecelia! 

I’m a big reader and fan of YA novels but I never had a specific plan to write a YA series. I knew that I had younger readers but I never plan what kind of stories I’m going to write, I just write whichever story comes to me in the strongest way, the story that keeps growing and growing and won’t leave my mind. Flawed arrived in my mind, kicking and screaming, demanding to be heard and written.

When I came up with the idea for Flawed and Perfect, I knew I wanted to tell the story from the perspective of a 17 year old. Although we’re constantly learning about ourselves throughout our life, teenage years are the years when you first really start to question authority and society, and start figuring out how you really feel about things, instead of what you’re being told to feel. I wanted to take Celestine from being that logical, obedient girl who thinks in black and white, and transform her into somebody who questions, who doubts, and who finds her own voice. She suddenly realizes she has to follow her own instincts, and her heart. We do this at different stages of our lives when life throws us dilemmas but I wanted this to be the first big lesson in my character’s life, and also a surprising voice and character that could teach society a thing or two.

I always encourage finding and using your own voice. Celestine is not an obvious leader, she doesn’t realize her own strengths, she is not a leader because she wants to be but because she naturally makes the right choices. She brings compassion and logic to a society that has lost its humanity and I don’t think that shouting the loudest is necessarily what causes people to be heard, it’s the strength of the character with quiet confidence that can truly gain a following. It’s not about shouting, it’s about leading by example, it’s about action, your own behaviour, who you can influence in a positive way.

I didn’t have to alter my style of writing for the YA audience, I just told the story through the eyes of a seventeen year old Celestine. But there is one enormous difference between this series and my other novels, which is that this has a thriller feel. I wrote Flawed in 6 weeks, the fastest I’ve ever written a novel and while it took me a long time to edit, the first draft flowed out so effortlessly. My heart was pounding, my body was trembling, I felt I had so much to say about society, about how history keeps repeating itself. We have tortured each other for race, sex and religious reasons in the past and still today, I wanted to examine what it would be like to punish and segregate people for their behavior, their personal life decisions. We already label each other, public shaming is almost a sport in society, and so I took that idea of labeling literal. To mention just a few examples: The flawed rules mimic the anti-jewish decrees of World war 2, Celestine’s decision on the bus mirrors Rosa Parks defiance during the civil rights movement in the US. Flawed children who are removed from their parents mirrors what happened to children in Ireland born to unmarried mothers, and aboriginal children in Australia who were taken from their parents to dilute the gene pool. Everything in Flawed and Perfect mirrors what has happened and happens in reality.  

I got completely lost in Celestine’s world. At first I thought the books would be a trilogy, mainly because it felt like the natural familiar decision, but when I was developing the story, I felt that the best way for me to tell the stories was in two novels. When I sent the outline of Perfect to my editor, he wondered if it would all fit into one book and questioned whether there should be a third, but I knew that I wanted a meaty, jam-packed novel filled with surprises and twists and turns, with plenty of content, and a conclusion to Celestine’s journey.

I’m so proud of Flawed and Perfect and hope they entertain, and inspire readers of all ages.

When Are You Going to Write a Proper Book? The Lowdown!

When Are You Going to Write a Proper Book? A Day for Children’s Writers and Illustrators

Sarah Webb, Writer in Residence, Dún Laoghaire Rathdown in association with Children’s Books Ireland and supported by Words Ireland

Publishers Panel
Publishers Panel

This is a short overview of the day with facts, figures and highlights. A podcast of the day will be available within the next few weeks – stay tuned to this blog and my social media for further details. Apologies for any typos or wild sentences – it’s Sunday morning and I need to bring my daughter to a hockey match very soon. Better done than perfect!

On Saturday 4th February the Lexicon Studio Theatre was packed with writers, illustrators, publishers, agents and children’s writers in various stages of their careers. There was a focus on telling our ‘truths’ and being honest and open about writing and publishing. Grainne Clear gave some really useful info about advances and royalties. She explained that the average writer’s advance in Ireland is e1,000 and in the UK is a similar figure, which elicited a gasp from the audience. Surely that’s wrong, one man tweeted using our hashtag for the day #properbook. But Grainne had done her homework – asking publishers, writers and agents for their input. And e1k it stands.

Sheena Wilkinson told us about her healthy regard for being solvent and confirmed that she had received e5,875 in advances for her 7 books, backing up Grainne’s figures. Alan Nolan gave his advice, have another income stream and marry up! Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick told us about her SFDs – shitty first drafts and David O’Callaghan explained that he just couldn’t sell PAF books in Eason – Posh As F*** (hardback picture books) and boy had he tried. He said his customers panic and grab the nearest Julia Donaldson.

It was a most thought-provoking and stimulating day. More details below.

The 1st panel which I chaired  – Aoife Murray from Children’s Books Ireland, Colleen Jones from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (or ‘Scooby’ as they call themselves) and Valerie Bistany from the Irish Writers Centre talked about their organisations and how they helped writers.

Aoife explained how important events are to a children’s writer and said that Dave Rudden had done 52 events in October 2016, quite an achievement! She explained how they try to lobby for children’s writers and illustrators and be a voice for children’s books in the media.

Colleen explained how ‘Scooby’ could help self-published writers and told us about their award for self-published books, the Spark Award, won recently by Irish woman, Denise Deegan.

Valerie talked about the Irish Writers Centre classes and workshops, residencies. I teach at the Irish Writers Centre and also work as a mentor for new writers through the centre.

The 2nd panel talked about money – earning a living as a writer. The chair, Ryan from CBI asked writer, Alan Nolan should writers be expected to do events for free. He said no. He quoted Celine Kiernan: ‘If I wanted exposure, I’d run naked down O’Connell Street.’

Grainne Clear from Little Island explained that smaller publishers focus on festivals rather than author tours. She said that an author may need to arrange a tour or a launch themselves.

Elaina Ryan and Sinead Connelly
Elaina Ryan and Sinead Connelly

Grainne said that for big UK publishers that doing events and having a profile could be a deal breaker for a publisher (when looking to take a writer on). She noted that it wasn’t the case for Little Island who are all about strong writing.

Librarian, Maeve Rogan McGann said she was very open to good pitches from writers and quoted ER Murray and Alan Early as an example – they had approached her directly and did several events together and workshops for her.

Sinead Connelly from the International Literature Festival, Dublin said she was interested in pitches for events from writers but she wanted something really interesting, something that told her about the writer and who they were as a person. She gave the example of the Friendship event that I did at the festival with my writer friend, Judi Curtin as an event that gave insight into writers’ lives and was something a bit different. Thank you, Sinead!

Alan explained that 60% of his income came from design work, 40% from his books and his events and school visits. He gets paid e150 for a 1 hour school or library event.

Maeve said she pays e100 per 45 minute event or short workshop, or e300 for three events. Sinead pays her festival writers e300 per event for a standard event.

All agreed that you should say no if asked to do an event for free. Elaina quoted Jane O’Hanlon from Poetry Ireland’s Writers in Schools scheme who explained that writers who work for free undercut their colleagues.

And then to the topic of royalties. I’d already shared some of my own ‘truths’ about royalties. That I’d been paid from nothing to e2,000 advances from Irish publishers. That yes, I’d received a couple of the mythical ‘six figure’ book deals for my children’s books but that was the exception, not the rule.

Grainne 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 – 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. Average advance for a 1st book is 1k and average yearly income for a writer is e10k to 12k. The average Irish print run is 2.5k copies she said.

Alan Nolan and Maeve Rogan McGann
Alan Nolan and Maeve Rogan McGann

Alan’s advice was to marry up – he was only joking! He explained how important it is to have a second income stream.

Maeve gave some great advice – clear some time in March and October for school and library visits, she said. Keep some days free as these are the times we are most looking for writers.

We broke for lunch here – I think the audience needed to mull over the facts and figures. The people I spoke to were surprisingly chipper about the lack of money in children’s books. ‘Just as well I love writing if I’m not going to be a millionaire,’ one woman told me with a smile. With that attitude she will go far!

After lunch Sheena Wilkinson hit us with what Alan Nolan described as ‘Wisdom Bombs’. She said that only 10% of her income comes from book sales. She has never been in the news for her big advances, but she has been in the news for winning a lot of book awards.

She has received e5,875 in advances for 7 books. She said writers can’t create if they are anxious about having a roof over their heads.

In 2016 she did 26 school visits, 18 library visits and spent 143 days doing events and teaching.

She said to ‘Seek out the rest of your tribe’ – the children’s book tribe. She admitted that 2 years ago she feared that her career was over. She had no new contract and she was genuinely worried. But a few months later things had changed and she’s been publishing steadily ever since.

Sheena was open and honest and many people’s highlight of the day, mine included. Sheena is a strong, intelligent woman who is not afraid of letting people see her vulnerabilities, which made this a really special talk indeed.

Next up David O’Callaghan from Eason, Oisin McGann and Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick told us some of their truths.

David O'Callaghan
David O'Callaghan

David explained how important a good cover is to make a book stand out. He said what makes him buy a book for his stores is:

Word of mouth – the buzz around a book and early reviews and info from people he trusts

Originality – something different

He said if you want to know what trend to follow (when it comes to writing), you’re already too late. He will always push something original that may catch readers’ imaginations. But he can’t seem to sell PAF books – Posh As F*** hardback picture books.

Oisin Mc Gann said ‘You’re not going to make much money writing for children so you may as well have a good time doing it.’ He explained that modern children’s (and adults’) reading stamina is reduced and all writers need to think about this. He described reading stamina as ‘the time bomb in children’s books.’

David O’Callaghan gave great advice for writers:

For age 0 to 4 pitch (your marketing and publicity) at the parents and the bookselling community

Age 5 to 12 – work hard

Do school events

Your audience is kids and their parents

YA – get on social media and use it

Tumblr, Snapchat, blogging

Put in the work. He name checked Louise O’Neill and Deirdre Sullivan as writers who do this well.

Finally he said ‘Writing a book sounds like too much work to me. I’ll stick to selling them!’ And we’re lucky he’s such a passionate and devoted bookseller!

The final panel was called ‘Is It Me You’re Looking For?’ and featured Conor Hackett from Walker Books, Ivan O’Brien from O’Brien Press, Nicki Howard from Gill Books and UK agent, Penny Holroyde.

Penny said that picture books are the hardest place for a new writer to start. Many of the submissions she receives have no beginning, middle or end, are too long and are patronising.

She said it’s best not to try and write a rhyming picture book and noted the luxury non-fiction as a nice trend, books like Gill Books Irelandopedia with well curated content.

Nicki Howard admitted that she was surprised by the success of Irelandopedia. She explained how the idea came from Gill Books and how they commissioned Fatti Burke to illustrate it, after seeing her work in Cara magazine. Fatti brought her father, John on board as the writer, which Nicki explained was a great backstory for promotion.

Word Count

Penny said the ideal word count for a picture book is 500 to 800 words.

Think of the book as 12 double page spreads, she said.

Conor said that Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton is only 90 words.

Early Readers – 2 to 3k words. Penny explained that publishers tended to have armies of set writers for this age group and rights were hard to sell.

Middle Grade – age 9 to 12

Publishers Panel
Publishers Panel

Are you the type of author who will put in the time and work to be successful? Penny asked. A successful author (for this age) is a hard working one all agreed.

Ivan said that he looks for how hard a writer will work on events and promotions when considering taking on a new writer.

New writers – need to blog, be on social media and also be part of the children’s book ‘tribe’.

Ivan said – we are not interested in doing 1 book with a writer, we’re looking to build up backlist.

Nicki is interested in writers who are enthusiastic about what they are doing.

Conor is looking for books that really deliver.

Penny joked that her ideal writer was a bestseller. When working at another agency her boss told her: ‘Normal people don’t write books’.

American YA has an ambition that UK YA doesn’t, Penny said.

Ivan said that O’Brien Press is not actively looking for picture books. They are looking for good fiction for age 10+. Great novels.

He said to make the first book as good as it can be and maybe think of a sequel (or a series) after that. Alice Next Door by Judi Curtin came in as a stand-alone book he said. Word count – he suggested not more than 50K but make every word count.

Nicki Howard is looking for Irish focused books and illustrators.

Penny is looking for great age 10+ books like Beetle Boy of 40k words and is always interested in looking at illustrators.

Conor gave writers this advice:

Go to book launches

Engage with the industry

Meet people

The opportunities are there, he said. Take them!

A great way to end the day. Afterwards we launched the World of Colour Exhibition which is in the Lexicon from now until the end of March and features the work of Beatrice Alemanga and Chris Haughton.

Speaking at the Launch of a World of Colour
Speaking at the Launch of a World of Colour

Thanks to everyone at Children’s Books Ireland – Elaina, Jenny, Ciara and especially Aoife who helped with programming advice and support, Marian Keyes, Susan Lynch and all at the Lexicon Library for their help and Words Ireland for their support.

me - exhit
me - exhit

Writing for Children - Writing Tips by Sarah Webb


1/ If you want to write for children you must read children’s books – read picture books, early readers, middle grade novels (age 9+), teen books (age 11+) and YA novels (young adult). Ask a bookseller or librarian to recommend some award winning books in each age category.

Children’s books are not a genre, they are an age group. Within each age group there are books in every genre: fantasy, comedy, science fiction, history etc, yes, even picture books. You cannot write a book for age 4 to 14 – you need to narrow it down a little. Different age groups like different things from a book.

Once you have decided on an age group and/or settled on an age for your main character or characters, it’s time to start writing. Children like to read up an age – they want to read about characters that are older than they are.

Read Children's Books
Read Children's Books

2/ Write as often as you can and keep the story in your head. Think about your characters and your plot as you walk the dog, commute, wash up. Your subconscious will take over and unknot plot problems if you let it. Make time to write but also make time to think. If you want to write badly enough, you will find the time.

Take your head out of your phone – allow your mind time to mull over your story. Think deeply about your characters and what they WANT, what motivates them to live, what drives them.

3/ Carry a notebook. Whenever you think of an idea, jot it down. Keep another notebook beside your bed. It’s amazing how quickly ideas can disappear into the ether.

4/ Some writers like to plot, others don’t. Planners in life are often story plotters; people who crave spontaneity might be best not to plot too carefully. If you are starting out I’d suggest you put some plot notes in place to keep you writing.

5/ Don’t give up – stick your bottom to your chair and keep going. To finish a book you need bum glue. Whatever you do, finish your book. It’s a huge accomplishment and very satisfying. Most writers feel like giving up at some stage – a shiny new idea seduces them away from their novel – but keep going. Most people don’t finish their book – be the exception.

Allow your first draft to be messy and full of mistakes. You can clean it all up later. Just keep moving forwards. Finish your first draft. Finish!

E.L. Doctorow said: ‘Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ He’s right, just keep going.

Keep Going - Writers Sharing Lunch and Supporting Each Other - Who Can You Spot?
Keep Going - Writers Sharing Lunch and Supporting Each Other - Who Can You Spot?

6/ The difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer is tenacity, resilience, grit. Give me a naturally talented, outstanding writer with no drive and a good writer with the energy and enthusiasm to work on a book with all their heart and soul and I’ll bet on the good writer every time.

7/ Write from the heart. Write because you have a burning desire to tell your story. Write the book you’d write if you only had a few months to live. Write with your heart. Rewrite with your head. The first draft is only the beginning of the journey. Good luck!

These tips were prepared for TV3 by Sarah Webb.

Lexicon dlr Writer in Residence Events + Workshops

Writer in Residence: Events, Book Clubs and Writing Clubs

All events and clubs are in the Lexicon Library, Dun Laoghaire

I'm delighted to be hosting a wide range of events, clubs and workshops for children, teens and adults during my residency. Here are the events from now until the end of the year.

I hope to see you at the dlr Lexicon very soon!

Yours in writing,

sarah reading to a child
sarah reading to a child

Sarah XXX


13th September (school day)

Roald Dahl Day for Schools – Celebrating 100 Years of a Master Storyteller

Events and workshops inspired by the work of Roald Dahl with Oisin McGann, Alan Nolan, Grainne Clear and Enda Reilly.


16th September (evening)



5pm to 7pm Story and art fun for all the family with Sarah Webb and Alan Nolan – no booking required.

Friday 16th September (school day)

Schools Events – Canada Day with Children’s Books Ireland

School events with award winning Canadian writers and illustrators, JonArno Lawson, Sydney Smith and Katherena Vernette. Find out how a book is made with our international guests.


Children’s Book Club

Age 9+

Max number: 15

1st Wed of every month: 7th Sept, 5th Oct, 9th Nov, 7th Dec

3.15pm to 4.30pm – Level 3 Meeting Room


Do you love reading? Would you like to chat about stories and characters with fellow young book lovers?  Whether you’re a Harry Potter fan, or eat up Judi Curtin or David Walliams books, this is the club for you! For our first meeting we’ll be talking about our favourite Roald Dahl book, in honour of his centenary on 13th September.

Children’sWriting Club

Age 9+

Max number: 15

Thursday 15th Sept, 29th Sept, 13th Oct, 10th Nov, 24th Nov, 8th Dec (last of the year)

3.15pm to 4.30pm

3.15pm to 4.30pm – Level 3 Meeting Room


Do you love writing stories and poems? Would you like to find out more about creating fantastic characters and gripping plots? Then this is the club for you!

Teen Creatives

Age 12+ (1st year students upwards)

Max – number 15

10am to 12pm       

Venue: Lexicon Lab on Level 3

17th Sept, 1st Oct, 22nd Oct, 12th Nov, 26th Nov, 10th Dec (last of the year)


 ‘To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.’ Joseph Chilton Pearce

Teen Creatives is for all teenagers who love to write and draw, and would like to learn how to create video blogs and edit movie clips. We will be talking about how stories work, writing, drawing, cartooning, making short movies and vlogs, and exploring the practical, behind the scenes side of the arts world, from hanging an art exhibition to curating a book festival.

Artists, writers and arts curators will be invited to talk to the group about their work, such as writer and cartoonist, Alan Nolan and award winning writer, Sheena Wilkinson.

Drop in Writing Clinic for Children and Teenagers 

Age: 8 to 18 years

Wednesday 28th Sept, 26th Oct, 30th Nov

3pm to 4pm

Writer in Residence Room, Level 5

Are you a young writer?Would you like our writer in residence, Sarah Webb to read your work and offer advice? Drop in to her writing clinic. No need to book.

Please bring a copy of your work for Sarah to read. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

Drop in Writing Clinic for Adults

Writer in Residence Room, Level 5

Wednesday 28th Sept, 26th Oct, 30th Nov

4pm to 5pm

Are you an adult who is writing for children or teenagers? Would you like some help and advice? Our writer in residence, Sarah Webb is hosting writing clinics for emerging children’s writers. No need to book.

Sarah is happy to read short extracts from manuscripts during the clinic. Please bring a print out of your work.

Rejection and the Writing Life

sally go
sally go

I’ve been writing full time for over twelve years now. In that time I’ve published number one bestselling novels for adults (Always the Bridesmaid) and children’s books that have been shortlisted for awards (Ask Amy Green series, Sally Go Round the Stars) but I’ve had book ideas turned down by my publishers and have started several novels that will never (and should never in most cases!) see the light of day.

When books are turned down –rejected – it can be a real blow to your confidence but it’s part of every writer’s job to dream up new books. Some will work and others won’t. Other times the idea is good but the market isn’t strong enough to make it worthwhile for the publisher to take it on.

Award winning author, Sheena Wilkinson says the ‘standard story is of rejections and then the magic yes. But another story is after that. When you keep writing better books, have a track record of awards and good reviews, but not great sales, and then get rejections. I think people are less willing to talk about that. And perhaps less prepared for it.’ I agree, it can be tough and all professional writers experience it.

Sometimes we have to ‘reject’ our own work, and it takes guts to admit that the book we have been working on for months or even years isn’t good enough. About ten years ago I wrote a long 100k adult novel and I was gutted when I realised – after some honest feedback from a trusted industry friend – that I’d have to start again with a different idea.

Recently I’ve been asked am I still writing for adults (my last novel, The Memory Box came out in 2013) and the answer is a resounding yes, absolutely. I’ve been working on a new novel for almost three years now. I’ve rewritten it many, many times (seven? eight? nine? I’ve lost count!).

The working title is The Boathouse at Summercove and it’s partly set in 1934 and is quite different to my previous novels. I’ve never worked so hard or enjoyed writing for adults so much. It’s been a fantastic challenge. And kudos to my amazing agent, Peta who has been tirelessly working on it with me and cheering me on from the sidelines. I’m determined to repay all her time, energy and expertise by putting my heart and soul into the rewriting.

I’ve also been teaching creative writing in the Irish Writers Centre which I adore. I can tell instantly which writers will make it to publication and is not always the best writers (although beautiful writing is of course a bonus). It’s the women and men who are determined to see the book through, who take feedback on board, who are happy to rewrite and who will keep rewriting with the dogged determination you need to get a book up to scratch for submission.

I’m working with one particular writer at the moment who is good humoured, hard working and incredibly funny, on paper and in person. And I know her book will be published as she is determined to make it happen and is willing to put the work in. She has that vital quality, resilience, the ability to bounce back.

To have a successful writing career you need self-belief, energy, dedication and above all, resilience. The skin of a rhino also helps!

If you have been turned down, if you’ve faced rejection after rejection, remember this – you only need to find one person who loves your work, one editor who believes in you. One.

There will be many speed bumps along the way but you are not alone. Every writer has faced rejection. All writers get turned down. Don’t believe me? Read on, my friend. And a huge thank you to all the writers who shared their stories with me via Facebook.

Yours in writing,


Rejection Tales

Sarah Webb

My first book, Kids Can Cook was turned down by most of the Irish publishers – O’Brien Press, Gill and Macmillan, Mercier, Poolbeg – before finding a home at the small but wonderful Children’s Press. Sadly they are no longer in existence but it paved the way for future books and I will always be grateful to the editor, Reena Dardis for taking a chance on me.

Philip Ardagh

Philip Ardagh
Philip Ardagh

When I was in my early twenties, I sent many an unsolicited manuscript or sample chapters to publishers. On most occasions, I received variations on the standard rejection letter but it was much harder when they asked to see more, which I then sent them, and THEN they rejected it. And, in the pre-e-mail era, when sending a manuscript involved brown envelopes and trips to the Post Office, the time between sending in work and receiving a response seemed unbearably long. I received most encouragement from Joanna Goldsworthy at Gollancz who, over the years, wrote me a number of encouraging letters on a manual typewriter and surprising small pieces of headed paper. She praised what I'd written, explained why it wasn't quite working for her, and always asked to see what I came up with next. Looking back, I wish I'd been more profuse in my thanks for her time. And what did I learn from all this rejection? Not to be in a hurry to send out a new piece of writing; to let it ferment, even when I thought it done, and to come back to it with a new set of eyes. But what I learned most of all was that I wasn't going to let rejection stop me on my path to publication. I'm pretty sure I was born a writer and that, over years of writing, I've become a better one, but rejection showed me that I was determined to become a published one. Over 100 books later, I'm still going.

book of learning 1
book of learning 1

ER Murray

The Book of Learning was rejected so many times I shelved it and wrote something else, believing it was the book that got me my agent. After finishing Caramel Hearts, I reread TBOL & still believed in it. Both books went on submission, and both books got signed. Belief, timing, and determination are key.

Oisin McGann

I was turned down by eight or nine agents in the UK at the start (I didn't even get as far as the publishers), but as an illustrator, I was already used to hearing 'no' and just moving on to the next job. As Philip says, most of them were standard rejection letters. One woman in Curtis Brown took an early interest in the first draft of 'The Harvest Tide Project', which to be fair, was in a very unrefined state, and gave me some helpful advice, but then turned it down after I'd refined it.

Oisin McGann
Oisin McGann

I finally signed five contracts with the O'Brien Press without an agent – two Mad Grandad books and three novels – after pitching for some illustration work from them and then writing the MG books because they had nothing for me to illustrate - they liked one of the styles I worked in. Thirty-five books later, written and illustrated, with numerous publishers and I still get rejections sometimes. I never take it personally.

Dave Rudden

knights of the borrowed
knights of the borrowed

Twenty five agents said no to Knights of the Borrowed Dark (now a bestseller  in Ireland - Sarah) before one said yes! I was actually rereading the letters this morning. No horror stories - most were form, with a couple more in-depth. Actually still waiting for a couple to respond but that was three years ago so... I think it was probably a no...

Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

Back in the day when you sent physical mock-ups of picture book manuscripts to publishers I remember the postman brought me four parcels in three days. He thought it was my birthday and wondered why I had such a puss on me... I had just spent an encouraging two weeks visiting publishers in London with 4 different book ideas and now they were arriving back, no after no after no. 4 parcels returned = 16 rejections in 3 days... Three of the books did eventually get published years (and many more rewrites and rejections) later. And, yes, I still get rejections.

Judi Curtin

This all sounds so familiar. My first novel was rejected multiple times, and was only published after I'd written and published another one. Even after the success of Alice and Eva, I've had a number of rejections . Still hurts but not at all as bad as when I was starting out.

Gordon Smith

I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen, a really gory horror novel called Asylum, about angels that ate people. I was so utterly convinced that this novel was going to make me a millionaire that I stopped working on my A-levels, and consequently failed them (I had to stay in school an extra year). At the same time I was doing my exams, I sent this novel to three publishers, because I knew that one of them would offer me a million pounds to publish my book. I mean, I was so sure of it that I didn't even really check to see if they even published horror. Anyway, at the same time I got my exam results back I started to get rejection letters that were actually pretty harsh ("what is wrong with you?"). It was a pretty gruesome book... I was so devastated that I actually stopped writing for SEVEN YEARS. It never occurred to me to send it to another publisher, to keep trying, or maybe to just write something else. I thought I had failed. It taught me the most important lesson in life, never give up–a lesson I sadly only learned at the end of those seven years. It also taught me that even your failures are vital, because that book that I thought was a failure was a hugely important part of my writing life. It was the first novel I'd ever completed, it taught me that I had it in me to actually finish a story. I learned so much from the experience, even if I didn't acknowledge it at the time. I know now that those stories I wrote as a teenager, the ones that never got published, which I thought had failed me, were actually the building blocks of the success I have today. If I hadn't laid the foundations as a teenager, I wouldn't be able to write the books I do now!

Liz Nugent

After the first 19 rejections of Unravelling Oliver, I asked my agent not to tell me until she sold it. My mum stopped reading books in protest. (Liz’s book went on to be a huge bestseller in Ireland – Sarah)

Roisin Meaney

My first two books were published without a single rejection: the first won a write a bestseller competition that Tivoli was running and the prize was a two book deal. I then wrote a third book, feeling like God's gift to readers - and just as I got to the end of it, Tivoli (who had verbally agreed to take it) went out of business. My agent then did the rounds of Irish publishers, and to a man (and woman) they rejected it. I was gutted: rejection feels like a vicious thump in the belly - but it was a very valuable lesson, and it put manners on me. After my wounds had been thoroughly licked I chanced writing another book, and this was picked up by Hachette, who were Hodder Headline at the time. But I've never taken publishing deals for granted since. And the rejected book? It was years before I was able to press the delete key and consign it to a literary grave!

Jo Cotterill

Jo Cotterill
Jo Cotterill

Back before I was published, I wrote a story about a knight. It was 6000 words long and, I thought, aimed at the 6-9 market. I'd done my research, you see, read the Writer's & Artist's Yearbook cover to cover, and I knew enough to know I needed to age band my own submissions. I was very, very fond of this story. It made me laugh and it made my family laugh, and so I had high hopes that it might find a home. It was turned down everywhere - with one exception. An editor at Bloomsbury thought it might work better as a picture book. Of course I was prepared to try to do this, even though I wasn't sure it would work. I cut down the story to just over 1000 words and sent it off to the editor. It took a long time for her to reply - perhaps four months. And then she wasn't sure. I tried pruning it still further (back then, picture books could be longer than publishers like now) and re-sent. Again, I waited for a response. I can't remember how many times I re-wrote and re-submitted. After a year of doing this, I finally got up the courage to ask the editor if she was actually going to accept the book or not. She still 'wasn't sure'. But by now I'd been working on it for over a year, with no contract, and I was fed up. I said if she couldn't offer a contract, I would withdraw and try my luck elsewhere. My bluff was called. She apologised for not being able to offer a contract, but said she still didn't think it was 'strong enough'.

It's about fifteen years later and I still haven't sold the book. I'd love to one day. I submitted it to a publisher of early readers last year and although they liked it, they 'already had a book about knights'.

But I learned a lot about the publishing process, about how authors sometimes bend over backwards to please a publisher in order to get that desperately-wanted contract and about the awful feeling of nausea when it doesn't come. I also learned that books often have a particular 'shape': I don't think this story would ever work as a picture book and as a more experienced writer now, I can see why. The humour comes from the language and the context, which would have been too pruned in a picture book.

I am very grateful to that editor, even though I felt I'd been left dangling for months on end, and she finally rejected the story. The whole experience taught me that patience was going to be the most valuable asset in my publishing career - and it still is!

Mary Murphy

I don't mind straightforward rejection, when a publisher says 'This is nice, but not for us'. (And I don't even try to read between the lines on that.)

But I had two rejections that stand out for me as having more impact. Both were rejected at the acquisitions stage. Both happened within the last four years.

Both were with publishers that showed interest in my work, and who asked for specific developments on an idea I had sent them. We co-operated over months. In both cases the design/editorial team invested a lot in the project, and so did I.

One rejection was because the publisher was publishing a similar title by a better-known author. The other was because the editorial team felt the book would only work if I did a series of about 4 (and I agreed). The acquisitions felt that was too big a risk, as I had not worked with them before - but also saw it would not work to do a one-off title.

I think what was difficult about these rejections was the exhaustion. I felt unable to go further with the ideas, or to approach another publisher - I had spent my energy/creative budget already.

My approach now is to say no to development work without a development fee. Publishing is changing, it's common for editors not to have acquisitions power. So I protect myself from acquisitions and sales by asking for a development fee, which means the editorial team need to investigate the reality more thoroughly because they have to do some accounts and form-filling. So far, so good.

What Lies Beneath Readers' Day - Timetable


What Lies Beneath: A Readers’ Day

Saturday 7th November 10am to 4.00pm

Kate Beaufoy
Kate Beaufoy

Lexicon Studio Theatre, Dun Laoghaire

Cost: e15 (includes coffee and lunch)


On site bookshop with thanks to Dubray Books

If you’re passionate about books and love talking to other book lovers, this is the day for you. Find out how bestselling UK author, Freya North and Irish bestseller, Patricia Scanlan got their first breaks; hear how Kate Beaufoy and Kate Kerrigan researched their latest historic novels; listen to Sinead Moriarty and Claudia Carroll talk about their favourite books; discover the inspiration behind Sinead Crowley, Martina Devlin and Marita Conlon McKenna’s new novels; and hear Sinead Gleeson talk about the wealth of short story talent in Ireland, past and present, with Lia Mills and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne. A stimulating and thought provoking day for all readers and writers.

Martina Devlin
Martina Devlin


9.30am – 10.00am Registration

10.00am – 10.50am   This is How it Begins . . .

Martina Devlin, Sinead Crowley and Marita Conlon McKenna will read from their new novels and talk to RTE’s Evelyn O’Rourke about the inspiration behind their stories and characters.

10.50am – 11.10am  Coffee and bookshop signing

11.10pm – 12.00pm  The Long Gaze Back: Ireland and the Short Story, Past and Present

Broadcaster and Editor, Sinead Gleeson will talk about putting together her new short story collection, The Long Gaze Back: An Anthology of Irish Women Writers. She will be joined by Lia Mills and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne who both have short stories in the collection.

Sinead Gleeson
Sinead Gleeson

12.05pm – 1.05pm This Writer’s Life: UK bestseller, Freya North and Irish bestseller, Patricia Scanlan in conversation with RTE’s Sinead Crowley.

1.05pm – 2.00pm Lunch and bookshop signing – meet the authors and get your book signed at our dedicated bookshop, kindly provided by Dubray Books.

2.00pm – 2.50pm  What Lies Beneath:  researching a novel set in the past

Kate Beaufoy and Kate Kerrigan both write historic novels and will talk to fellow novelist and journalist, Martina Devlin about their research.

2.50pm - 3.10pm  – Break and bookshop signing

3.10pm – 4.00pm  My Favourite Books

Sinead Moriarty and Claudia Carroll share their favourite books of all time and talk about how reading has inspired their own work. Discover new ideas for your own reading or your book club and share your own favourite reads with the audience. Chaired by Mary Burnham of Dubray Books.

Claudia Carroll
Claudia Carroll

#YAieDay - Timetable of the Day - Sat Oct 3rd

Having the Chats with Judi Curtin - It's Good to Talk!
Having the Chats with Judi Curtin - It's Good to Talk!

Well done to Shelly for putting it all together - Ireland's 1st YA Day on Twitter - tune in and chat!

When: Oct 3rd

Oisin McGann
Oisin McGann

Where: #YAieDay will be an online festival taking place on the hashtag #YAieDay on Twitter.

The authors, bloggers, and publishing peeps will be chatting about topics and having the LOLs throughout the day. Anyone can join in and chat to their favourite author.

Also, lots of very cool publishers will be holding competitions where you could win books.


Remember to use the hashtag #YAieDay on Twitter

10:10  –  10:50am  Lack  of  parents in  YA  –  thoughts?

Sheena  Wilkinson and Helen Falconer

11:10  –  11:50am  Food  in  literature  –  how  do you  write  it and  is it important to have lashings of  ginger  beer?  

Lucy  Coats and Oisin McGann

11:50  –  12:10  Readers please  tweet your  thoughts to #YAieDay   on  your towering TBR pile.

12:10pm  –  1:00pm  –  Please  tell  us about your next book  –  inspiration, drafting,  editing, marketing.

Lauren James, Sarah Crossan, Sarah Webb and Brian Conaghan

Sarah Crossan
Sarah Crossan

1:10  –  1:50pm  Bad  language  in  books  with young protagonists  –  thoughts? 

Sally  Nicholls, Kim Hood and R. F. Long

2:00  –  2:40pm  All  YA  need  is love  –  thoughts? 

Jennifer Niven and Catherynne  M. Valente and Sarah Rees Brennan

Readers, tweet your shelfies.

2:50  –  3:30 pm  –  Debut  authors. Please tell  us  about your  new  world  of  being  a  published author.

Simon P. Clark, Martin Stewart, Dave  Rudden

3:40  –  4:20pm  The  publishing  world- tweet your questions to these publishing peeps.

Vanessa O  Loughlin and Gráinne Clear

4.30  –  4:55 Children’s Books  Ireland  –  Book  Doctor Clinic  –  ask  the book doctor, Claire Hennessy for book recommendations.

5:00  –  5:40pm  Hosted  by book  blogger  –  Christopher  Moore,  Co-founder of  @YAfictionados  –  He  will be  asking the  authors about writing  in  the  age  of  the internet. 

Brenna  Yovanoff and Samantha Shannon

5:45  –  6:15pm Hosted  by book  blogger  –   Jenny Duffy  of  The  Books, the Art, and  Me.  Let’s talk writing practises  –  how  to ‘get it  down.’ 

Tatum  Flynn, Judi  Curtin, Nigel Quinlan, Elizabeth R. Murray and Deirdre Sullivan

The End

How to Get Published by Louise O'Neill

Louise O'Neill
Louise O'Neill

Louise O’Neill

Upon hearing that I’ve written a novel, some people want to know where I get my ideas from, as if there’s an idea-shop you can just pop in to on your way home from work. Lidl will probably start offering ‘Idee’s’ soon. They’re basically the same thing as ideas but far cheaper.  Others ask about the storyline. ‘It’s a dystopian tale exploring the contemporary obsession with the female body. Think The Handmaid’s Tale for teenagers.’  I answer, watching as every man in a two mile radius backs away. No wonder I’m still single. And then, of course, there are the frustrated writers, lips tightening with barely concealed envy when they hear my good news. I know these people. I was one of them, poring over a newspaper article about some child of fifteen who has sold their first novel for half a million euro, trying to ignore the hatred threatening to suck me under, as greedy as a slurry pit. There is nothing more disheartening than seeing someone else realising your dreams.

So, here are my top tips on how to finally write that novel.

  • Read voraciously. Stephen King said ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time to write.’ A badly written book will demonstrate what not to do and a well written book will inspire you. Be warned, a masterpiece will merely leave you with a general sense of hopelessness as your novel will never be anywhere as good. I had to take to my bed for a few days after finishing ‘Cloud Atlas’ like a Victorian maiden with a case of the vapours.
  • Think of your writing skills as a muscle. The more you use them, the stronger they will become. The thought of completing an entire manuscript can seem so insurmountable we find ourselves unable to take the first step. Set yourself smaller tasks to begin with. Write an article for your local newspaper. Write a short story. Write five hundred words on your first holy communion. Julia Cameron, in her excellent book The Artist’s Way, recommends ‘morning pages’ and I’ve found freehand writing to be an effective tool of unblocking creativity.
  • When you do decide to start your novel, make sure you’re passionate about your idea. This might sound obvious but you’ll be working on this project for the next nine to twelve months, or more. There will be days when you hate your book, you hate your brain for generating the original idea and you hate your laptop for having the audacity to record all these stupid words. If you don’t adore the idea at the beginning, you will likely ever reach the end.
  • Set yourself a deadline. When I first moved back to Ireland from New York on September 1st, 2011, I decided to take a year out to work on the novel that I had spent the last ten years threatening to write. I finished the first draft on August 31st, 2012.
  • I remember phoning my father from New York, complaining that my job in fashion ‘didn’t make my heart sing.’ I know. Oprah has a lot to answer for. He told me if I wanted to write so badly I should take any opportunity that I had to do so. Bring a notebook with you and write on the subway, he advised, unaware that I spent my subway journey gawking surreptitiously at barefoot crack heads or avoiding eye contact with anyone I might feel compelled to offer my seat to. (Apologies to that pregnant lady on crutches. My bad.) Once back in Clonakilty, I made myself sit at my desk from 7am to noon every day, whether I felt like it or not. Some days, the words came. Other days, I sat there, staring at the blank page. It didn’t matter. I still sat at my desk at the same time every day. Of course, I was lucky enough to have parents who provided a room ‘of one’s own’ and, more importantly, a new laptop to put in that room.  I don’t have children or a tyrannical boss or a crippling mortgage to pay and I’m aware that these must feel like truly impossible obstacles. But you owe to yourself to at least try to carve out some time every week that you can use to write.
  • Social media, while beneficial for ‘research’, is really only a method of distraction. When asked how one of the authors on his roster managed to maintain such a prolific work rate, Jonny Geller, an agent with Curtis Brown, replied ‘He doesn’t have twitter.’ Until novels come in a 140 character size, it’s not helping you.
  • Be prepared to make sacrifices. In my case, the first casualty was an active social life. Jodi Picoult describes writing as ‘successful schizophrenia’ and I found it very difficult at times to interact normally with other people when all I could think about was this world I had created in my head. Personal aesthetic standards also suffered. When I worked in fashion, I didn’t own any items of clothing that could ever be described as ‘practical’. Or, indeed, anyway comfortable. Things are so bad that when I wash my hair, my father asks if I’m going anywhere special and my mother claps her hands in glee, like I’m a toddler learning to use the potty.
  • Some authors edit their work as they go along but I saved all my editing for the end, like the crappy pink and brown Roses at the bottom of the tin that no one wants at Christmas. There is a peculiar type of shame in reading ‘Slowly, she walked slowly down the corridor slowly.’ In case you don’t comprehend the subtlety of my brilliance, I was trying to convey that the character was very, very, very slow.
  •  Once you finish the first draft, edit, edit and then edit some more. As Faulkner said, ‘…kill all your darlings.’ You’re just showing off anyway. Ask a friend who is an avid reader to take a look at your manuscript. Choose someone you trust to be both honest and gentle with you.
  • When you have a finished manuscript in fairly good nick, you need to find an agent. An agent will take a proportion of your earnings (generally around 15%) but they are essential, as most publishing companies don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. When submitting to an agency, they usually want to see the first three chapters, a covering letter and your CV but check their websites for individual guidelines. Choose an agent that has authors you admire on their roster or who represents authors who are writing in similar genre to you. Make your covering letter engaging. If you’re someone’s love child, now is the time to mention it. Unless it’s someone embarrassing, like Mick Hucknell. Keep that to yourself. Forever.
  • Be prepared for rejection and don’t take it personally. JK Rowling famously received twelve rejection letters and I think she’s managing to pay her electricity bill these days. You want your agent to fight for your book when they’re trying to sell it to a publisher. If they don’t ‘get’ it, then they’re not the right agent for you anyway.
Louise's new book, Asking for It, will be out in September
Louise's new book, Asking for It, will be out in September
only ever yours
only ever yours

How to Attract a Top Children's Literary Agent

Chatting to Judi Curtin at the West Cork Literary Festival
Chatting to Judi Curtin at the West Cork Literary Festival

I'm at the West Cork Literary Festival this week, teaching a workshop for adults - Writing for Children - and talking to children. At festivals I always make the time to listen to other writers read and also to attend a masterclass or talk about something that interests me.

On Monday I listened to Julia Churchill speak and I was very taken with her honest, direct and open manner. She talked about her role as an agent and what she's looking for in a new writer. She spoke real sense and is a gifted communicator. I took lots of notes so that I could share her words of wisdom with you.

Julia Churchill
Julia Churchill

Julia is a children's agent at AM Heath after cutting her literary teeth at Darley Anderson, where she was one of the first readers to discover Cathy Cassidy in the slush pile. She says Cathy's manuscript made her cry and was one of the few manuscripts (along with Sarah Lean's) that needed little or no work before being sent out to editors at publishing houses.

This is how Julia sees her job:

- to spot talent

- to develop talent

- to sell her clients' books

- to create a career for her writers.

It's refreshing that Julia puts so much emphasis on building a career for her writers and not just selling rights. I listened to another agent speak recently and she talked largely about selling rights and not about helping her writers.

Her core 'day job' is taking care of the authors on her books. However 95% of her writers come from unsolicited manuscripts so she reads submissions in the evenings and at weekends.

First she has a quick look at the submissions and sees if there is anything really exciting in there that she needs to act on immediately, before other agents pounce on it. She wants to be the first person on the phone to this kind of author. I was impressed by her competitive nature - this is the kind of agent I'd want representing me - quick, smart and ready for action! If my own agent wasn't such a superwoman, Julia would definitely be on my list.

She said all submissions get read - which is heartening for debut writers. She reads 'Until a point that I want to stop reading' but did point out that this may be at the (bad) covering letter.

She wants 'a voice that transports me'.

She said 'most debuts will need work'. The most common problems are: too much going on - strip out anything that isn't needed.

The market is tough at the moment she explained. There are more agents than ever before, more books out on submission and less books being published. Writers have to appeal to the marketing and sales team as well as editors.

In 2014 A M Heath took on 4 new writers but new agents will take on more writers.

Julia deals with a core group of 25 editors in the various children's publishers. An important part of her job is contracts and getting the best deal for her writers.

How To Find an Agent

Julia explained that this is a marketing job. Finish your book and make it as strong as you can. There are approx 40 children's agencies - look at the Writers and Artists' Yearbook for details - the most up to date one. Find each agency's submission details and follow them. Be professional from the start. Submit to 7/8 agents and take your time. Act on any feedback you get, rewriting your manuscript.

She says the secret of a good covering letter is simplicity and a good book pitch (the paragraph about your book). You can follow up (your submission) politely after 2/3 months.

Do not follow trends - you will be launching into an overcrowded marketplace. A book can take up to 2 years to get to market, the trend may already be over.

What Julia is Looking for in a Book:

- concept

- character

- setting

- theme

- story

- voice

A book has to work on all these different levels. A book also needs high stakes - the reader needs to care about the characters.


She said 'Publishers can be heroic. They can take risks.' She cited Sarah Crossan's The Weight of Water as an example of this, a book in verse that went on to win many awards. 'If a book is fabulous, it will sell,' she said. 

Chatting to Judi Curtin at the West Cork Literary Festival

If you are looking for a strong, wise children's agent it would be worth seeking her out.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

Writing Historical Fiction for Children

Going Back in Time by Brian Gallagher

What’s the worst part of writing historical fiction?  That’s easy - facing the blank page each morning.  (Just like it’s the worst part of writing any kind of fiction.)  And what’s the best part?  That’s easy too – the sheer fun of stepping into a time machine every working day, and going back to a point in history that you find fascinating.

Brian Gallagher
Brian Gallagher

How many jobs are there where you get paid to imagine that you’re present as dramatic events from the past unfold?  Not many, I suspect.  But that’s what a writer of historical fiction does.  Which isn’t to say that it’s an easy job – far from it – but it is an interesting one, where no two days are the same.  And few things beat the thrill of sitting down to plan a new book and wondering what exciting period from the past you’re going to pick..

Readers often ask me was I good at history at school, and - shocking admission – I hated history at school.  Looking back now I can see that it  wasn’t actually history that I disliked, but rather the boring way that it was taught back then.  It seemed to be all about learning off lists of dates, whereas now I love history, but regard it as being about people, great and small, and what they did, and why.  And people, unlike lists of dates, are fascinating.

So when I sit down to write a new book the first thing I do is pick an exciting, action- packed period in which to set my story.  But my next priority is to populate the story with interesting, credible characters that the reader can care about.  So when writing about the past I want to know what people really cared about, but also what songs they were singing then, what kind of food they were eating, what were the hit films and books of the day.  I want to immerse myself in that world so that the reader too can travel back in time, and see things through the eyes of my fictional characters.

Writers have always used libraries to do this sort of research in the past, and today we have the internet to check up on all those tricky little facts and figures that can trip up an author.  For me though, the best research source is always people.  If I can find someone who has lived through the era I’m writing about, I know I’m likely to get the kind of telling detail that really brings a story to life.  And so, having done my research, created my characters, and worked out my plot, all that remains is to travel back in time - and start writing the book…

Brian's New Book
Brian's New Book

Why I Love History by Nicola Pierce

Well, I think it is that when I research subjects and events from the past, like the sinking of the Titanic or the most important battle of World War II, or the fearlessness of a walled city stubbornly locking out a king’s army I’m on the lookout for the story within the story. Perhaps I’m actually looking for my story within the story, the history.

Nicola's New Book
Nicola's New Book

For example:

What would I have done on the sinking ship, would I have tried to save anyone or would I have jumped into the first lifeboat available? Why do I think Titanic sank?

Would I have stood up to Nazi soldiers? I believe in peace but Hitler and his followers had to be stopped and there was no other way – was there? Would I have joined the army or would I have simply done my best to exist as quietly as possible?

How important is my religion? Would I have fought for it back in 1689/90? Would it have occurred to me that others should be free to practice the religion of their choice? If I had shut the gates of Derry against King James’ army, would I have continued to stand by my decision when children began to starve to death? Would I have gone for the soft option, anything for a quiet life? What is religion worth to me?

Ultimately, as I read my history books, I am constantly asking myself what I would have done had I been there.

As a subject history has always been my favourite, along with English, because it is crammed with great stories, great characters and lots and lots of gossip.

And I don’t care what year it is, people are people.

For instance when I read about King James, who fought King William at the Battle of the Boyne, I can empathise with the fact that, when he was sixteen, his father, King Charles I, was murdered by an angry mob. That must have been terrifying for a boy who was following in his footsteps to be both his father’s son and a king.

Then, in his later years, James converts to Catholicism, his mother’s religion, and thereby loses the love and respect of his two daughters. In fact William of Orange was his son-in-law so his family was ripped apart when James was obliged to leave England after William was invited by Protestant noblemen to invade. Now, that has got to mess with your head. As far as I’m concerned it explains why James’ heart wasn’t in the fight at the Boyne, he decided to retreat almost as soon as the battle was begun.

The story goes that King William didn’t put up a great chase when James took off back to Dublin. It would appear that William did not want to capture his wife’s father which probably would have proved mortifying for all involved.

And so on and so on. Really – I could go on!

When Sarah Met Judi

Judi Curtin
Judi Curtin

I can’t remember when I first met Judi Curtin. It was almost certainly at a book event. It could have been a festival or a launch or a reading drive. I knew her writing of course, I’d read and enjoyed her first book, Alice Next Door when I was a children’s bookseller and I’ve loved every book since. She has a way of drawing the reader in and a lovely warmth to her writing, and her characters are so real they almost jump off the page. But I can pinpoint when we started to become not just fellow writers, but proper friends. A few years ago myself, Judi and Sophia Bennett went on tour together around Ireland with Children’s Books Ireland. We talked to hundreds of girls about our books and about reading and writing. We had a wonderful tour manager, Tom Donegan, who now works in The Story Museum in Oxford.

Here’s Judi

Every evening we had dinner together. We chatted about all kinds of things – books, writing and our lives – and it was terrific fun.

Then I went on another tour with Judi, this time with the Irish library service. We took Oisin McGann along with us to join in the fun. And he even did ballet with us! That cemented my friendship with Judi (and Oisin in fact, who is a brilliant man and a wonderful writer).

Judi and I are very different – she’s practical, patient and kind. I’m impulsive, passionate and stubborn. She’s calm and I can be a bit manic at times. It’s great to be able to compare writing and publishing experiences with her. We both write for girls of age 8/9+ and love talking about our work.

Judi has helped me more than she knows and I like to think that I have helped her too. Myself and Oisin even helped her pick a title for one of her books – Viva Alice!

viva alice - judi curtin event book cover
viva alice - judi curtin event book cover

Judi made me this little fellow – Greg from the Wimpy Kid books – as she knows I like him. When I go to school events, I love showing him to the children and telling them that Judi made it. They are always very impressed that I know Judi.


This year Judi and I are doing some special events together at festivals, talking about our friendship. The first one is on Saturday March 21st and is called When Judi Met Sarah and it’s part of theMountains to Sea Book Festival in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, Ireland. If you would like to book tickets you can do so on the website here.

Songbird Cafe_Mollie final cover
Songbird Cafe_Mollie final cover

March is a busy time for me as I also have a new book out called Mollie Cinnamon is Not a Cupcake in The Songbird Cafe Girls series. It’s set on an island called Little Bird and it even has its own map. I love maps in books! Judi knows all about the characters and plot at this stage and she also helped me with the cover.

Writer friends really are great.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

This blog first appeared on the Girls Heart Books website.

All About Covers + a Sneak Peek - Songbird Cafe Girls Cover

Songbird Cafe_Mollie final cover
Songbird Cafe_Mollie final cover

The first book in my new series, The Songbird Cafe Girls: Mollie Cinnamon is Not a Cupcake is out in March next year. Here's a sneak peek of the cover:

The book is about Mollie Cinnamon, who's 12 going on 13. While her tv-presenter mum films a new travel show, Mollie has to stay with her great-granny on a tiny island called Little Bird. Mollie is bored, bored, bored until she starts to make new friends in the Songbird Cafe. But disaster strikes and the Songbird is threatened with closure. Can Mollie and her new friends save the cafe?

Readers often ask how a cover is designed. And do writers have much say in the process? What happens in Walker (all publishers work slightly differently) is this: ideas for a possible cover are sent to me and my agent by the designer and we have a look at the various suggestions and feed back our thoughts. Booksellers are also asked for their opinion, people in the other departments in Walker (editorial, sales and marketing etc), and also the target market (girls age 9+). Then the designer takes all this on board and produces a cover.

The designer who worked on the Mollie Cinnamon is Not a Cupcake cover is called Maria and she's wonderful. It took her a long time to find the right girl for the cover but she's just perfect.

Maria and my editor, Annalie (who has a book out in January called Captive) also commissioned a map for the book. I love maps in books so I'm over the moon about the map of Little Bird, the island where my series is set.

The Map of Little Bird
The Map of Little Bird

The Map of Little Bird

Book covers are so important. You've heard the expression 'Never judge a book by its cover'? Readers do exactly that. Judge a book by the cover. The cover has to say so much about a novel: the age group (for children's books), the genre - is it an action/adventure book, a horror novel, or it is about friendship and family (like Mollie Cinnamon) - and it also has to set the tone for the book. It's a very hard thing to get right. But I think Maria has captured my story perfectly.

Do YOU have a favourite book cover? I'd love to know.

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This post first appeared on the Girls Heart Books website.

The Best Children's Book Agents in Ireland + the UK

Who represents Eoin Colfer? Who helped Derek Landy climb to the top? Who represents Cathy Cassidy? A few years ago I wrote a blog about the best children’s agents – my most popular blog ever. So here is a brand new, updated version. I’d like to pay tribute to Philip Ardagh who posted a question on Facebook recently – ‘Who is your agent and would you recommend them?’ Lots of writers responded (myself included) and it was useful for this blog. Thank you to Philip and all the writers who answered his question.

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.

So firstly I’m often asked ‘Why do you need an agent? Can’t you just go it alone?’

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:

Little Island (Ireland) will also read unsolicited manuscripts –

Penguin Ireland have just appointed highly experienced writer and teacher, Claire Hennessy as their Children's and YA Editor - Claire will read unsolicited manuscripts and will accept them by email. Submission guidelines here.

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 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 Who?

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. She has just set up her own agency and is currently taking submissions (2014).

Derek Landy is represented by Michelle Kass, who also represents Patrick Ness.

Darren Shan is represented by Christopher Little For general enquiries please email:

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

Marita Conlon McKenna is represented by Caroline Sheldon

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.

Other Recommended Children’s Agents:

(Check their websites for submission details)

Cathy Cassidy is represented by Darley Anderson.

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; also 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 Caroline Sheldon

Elizabeth Roy –

Laura Cecil –

Madeleine Milburn –

Sam Copeland and Claire Wilson at Rogers Coleridge and White -


Behind The Memory Box - Q and A with Sarah Webb

I did this Q and A recently for a UK website, I hope you like it. 1. Tell us about your new book The Memory Box.

Just published
Just published

My latest novel, ‘The Memory Box’ is the story of an Irish woman, Pandora Schuster who on the eve of her thirtieth birthday discovers that she may have her mum’s heredity cancer gene, Breast Cancer Gene 1. This sends her into a complete tail spin, and makes her question her life and also the future of her nine-year-old daughter, Iris. Pandora is a single mum and she has never told Olivier, her ex-boyfriend that he has a daughter. So she travels to Paris to find him, with disastrous consequences.

2.       Why did you decide to take the book over to Paris?

Pandora is passionate about clothes and it made sense for her to study fashion in Paris. Plus it’s one of my favourite cities in the world.

3.       Did you spend any time there to write about your surroundings?

Yes, I spent four months in Paris during college, working in McDonald’s, so that was helpful. I’ve been back a few times since then, most recently for my 40th birthday.

4.       Do you have a memory box in your life?

No, but I do have a large chest full of my children’s school books, drawings, craft, photographs. I’m very much a hoarder.

5.       Why was a memory box such a good device for story telling for this book?

The Memory Box was a way of unfolding Pandora’s past life for the reader without using an excessive amount of flashbacks. The letters Pandora writes to her daughter, Iris and puts in the box give the reader glimpses of Pandora’s life in Paris and her deep love for Olivier.

And then the box is accidentally discovered. I won’t say any more in case you'd like to read it.


6.       You have recently published another book in the Amy Green series, so what can you tell us about this?

Yes, Wedding Belles has just been published. It’s the 6th book in the Ask Amy Green series, about a 13 year old Irish girl and her 17 year old crazy aunt, Clover who works as an agony aunt for a teen magazine. Together they are planning Amy’s mum’s second marriage in this book, but things start to go horribly wrong …

7.       How much do you have to look into Pandora’s hereditary illness for the book?

I took the research very seriously. I read cancer memoirs, including Emma Hannigan’s excellent ‘Talk to the Headscarf’. I read blogs and forums about cancer and most especially Breast Cancer Gene 1, the gene that Pandora may have (she’s waiting for the test results during the book). I also spoke to a breast cancer specialist, an amazing woman consultant surgeon called Sarah Rastell, who very kindly read my manuscript for accuracy.

I also tried to ‘feel’ how Pandora would feel while waiting for her test results – anxious, scared, alone, but yet determined to fight. Emotional truth is also vital and a character’s reactions must be honest and believable.

8.       Tell us about your inspiration behind the story.

I’m not sure where the story came from to be honest. I’d read about the breast cancer gene and it just fitted this story. The characters grew and developed as I wrote the book and some of their passions are also my passions – art, family, Paris.

9.       What is your writing process?

I plan a little to start with, then I think about the characters and their motivation obsessively. I do some early research at this stage also – but I often don’t know what I need to know, so I don’t spend too long on this at the early stages of writing. Once I’m happy that I know my characters well I start to write, leaving gaps where I need to do some more detailed research – I add that in later. I write several drafts – between 5 and 8 – and learn a lot more about my plot and characters during this stage of writing.

10. What is next for you?

I’m currently working on the first book in a new children’s series for age 9+ and I’m also writing a new book for adults. Both will be published in 2015, all being well.

Behind The Memory Box - Q and A with Sarah Webb

I did this Q and A recently for a UK website, I hope you like it. 1. Tell us about your new book The Memory Box.

Just published
Just published

My latest novel, ‘The Memory Box’ is the story of an Irish woman, Pandora Schuster who on the eve of her thirtieth birthday discovers that she may have her mum’s heredity cancer gene, Breast Cancer Gene 1. This sends her into a complete tail spin, and makes her question her life and also the future of her nine-year-old daughter, Iris. Pandora is a single mum and she has never told Olivier, her ex-boyfriend that he has a daughter. So she travels to Paris to find him, with disastrous consequences.

2.       Why did you decide to take the book over to Paris?

Pandora is passionate about clothes and it made sense for her to study fashion in Paris. Plus it’s one of my favourite cities in the world.

3.       Did you spend any time there to write about your surroundings?

Yes, I spent four months in Paris during college, working in McDonald’s, so that was helpful. I’ve been back a few times since then, most recently for my 40th birthday.

4.       Do you have a memory box in your life?

No, but I do have a large chest full of my children’s school books, drawings, craft, photographs. I’m very much a hoarder.

5.       Why was a memory box such a good device for story telling for this book?

The Memory Box was a way of unfolding Pandora’s past life for the reader without using an excessive amount of flashbacks. The letters Pandora writes to her daughter, Iris and puts in the box give the reader glimpses of Pandora’s life in Paris and her deep love for Olivier.

And then the box is accidentally discovered. I won’t say any more in case you'd like to read it.


6.       You have recently published another book in the Amy Green series, so what can you tell us about this?

Yes, Wedding Belles has just been published. It’s the 6th book in the Ask Amy Green series, about a 13 year old Irish girl and her 17 year old crazy aunt, Clover who works as an agony aunt for a teen magazine. Together they are planning Amy’s mum’s second marriage in this book, but things start to go horribly wrong …

7.       How much do you have to look into Pandora’s hereditary illness for the book?

I took the research very seriously. I read cancer memoirs, including Emma Hannigan’s excellent ‘Talk to the Headscarf’. I read blogs and forums about cancer and most especially Breast Cancer Gene 1, the gene that Pandora may have (she’s waiting for the test results during the book). I also spoke to a breast cancer specialist, an amazing woman consultant surgeon called Sarah Rastell, who very kindly read my manuscript for accuracy.

I also tried to ‘feel’ how Pandora would feel while waiting for her test results – anxious, scared, alone, but yet determined to fight. Emotional truth is also vital and a character’s reactions must be honest and believable.

8.       Tell us about your inspiration behind the story.

I’m not sure where the story came from to be honest. I’d read about the breast cancer gene and it just fitted this story. The characters grew and developed as I wrote the book and some of their passions are also my passions – art, family, Paris.

9.       What is your writing process?

I plan a little to start with, then I think about the characters and their motivation obsessively. I do some early research at this stage also – but I often don’t know what I need to know, so I don’t spend too long on this at the early stages of writing. Once I’m happy that I know my characters well I start to write, leaving gaps where I need to do some more detailed research – I add that in later. I write several drafts – between 5 and 8 – and learn a lot more about my plot and characters during this stage of writing.

10. What is next for you?

I’m currently working on the first book in a new children’s series for age 9+ and I’m also writing a new book for adults. Both will be published in 2015, all being well.

Why the Future of Books is Safe with Our Hungry Young Readers

Me Reading to a Child
Me Reading to a Child

CHILDREN are still reading. That's a fact. Children and teenagers have not fallen into a technological black hole – they still want and need books.

Irish and UK sales figures for the first half of the year show a healthy rise in sales of novelty books (6pc), picture books (2pc) and, if you strip out the phenomena that is 'The Hunger Games', a whopping 12pc rise in sales of teenage fiction. Publishers are putting money behind children's books like never before and Dubray Books has just invested in 'Mad About Books', a full-colour guide to more than 400 books for children and teenagers.As a parent, a bookseller and a writer, this is all very reassuring. Yes, reading fluently has been proven to give children an advantage in all areas of their education, but books have a far more important role to play in young people's lives.

Books make children think – they make them engage their brain. Readers are not passive vessels, watching images flicker across a screen; they are recreating the story in their heads. They are fighting alongside Skulduggery Pleasant, lolloping across the hills with Sophie and the Big Friendly Giant.

Books are quiet. There are no bangs or crashes. While you are reading, virtual zombies do not point guns in your face and threaten to blow your brains out. Other gamers are not shouting obscenities into your ears through your headset. Yes, there is violence in fiction. What happens in 'The Hunger Games' is not pretty. Harry Potter has to battle pure evil. But there is cause and consequence. Lives are lost, but we care about those who are now dead. The reader can pause and reflect on the loss of characters who have become very real to them. Charlotte the spider, Dobby, Sirius Black. There is no 'kill/die', then step over the bodies.

Children learn from picture books without even knowing they are learning. My kids know all about the life-cycle of the butterfly from 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar'. They also learn more subtle things, like how a good plot is constructed, or how rhyme scheme works.

Books encourage empathy. While reading, children walk in other children's shoes. They travel to Africa with Michael Morpurgo and his Butterfly Lion; to the concentration camps of World War II with John Boyne ('The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas'); and to Ireland during the Famine with Marita Conlon-McKenna ('Under the Hawthorne Tree'). They learn how it feels to be hungry or terrified; to come up against enormous obstacles and to win.

Children's books feature plucky, brave characters, both male and female. Especially female. The characters in Judi Curtin's tales (aimed at pre-teen readers) stand up for themselves. My own character, Amy Green, is a kind and loyal friend. These girls are not covered in make-up or fake tan; they do not aspire to be 'famous', or if they do, it is for a talent they have worked hard at. In Anna Carey's new book, 'Rebecca Rocks', 14-year-old Rebecca and her friends have an all-girl rock band and work hard to improve their skills.

They do not speak like vacuous American teenagers. They are interested in boys, but their love lives do not define them. They call a boy out when he tries to show them porn on his mobile phone. In a world of premature sexualisation, Rebecca and her friends are strong role models for girls.

Teenage boys also need strong role models. I was at an event in the RDS in the spring with more than 800 screaming teenagers, at least half of them boys. What was making them so hysterical? An American writer called John Green and his brother, Hank. John's bestselling teenage book, 'The Fault in Our Stars', is about 16-year-old Hazel, who has thyroid cancer, and Augustus, a boy she meets at her cancer support group. It's real, touching and full of emotion. It's just the kind of novel I'd love my 19-year-old son to identify with. And guess what? Teenagers, both female and male, love it, including my son.

The future of books is in good hands.

'Mad About Books: The Dubray Guide to Children's Books', edited by Sarah Webb, is available for €2 from all Dubray bookshops or at

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

More Than This and Other Brilliant New YA Books

Over the last few weeks I’ve finally had a chance to catch up on some reading. There’s a bumper crop of children’s and YA novels out now and in the autumn to satisfy all kinds of readers. Here is a whistle stop tour of some of them. I’ve scored them out of ten. 1/ More Than This by Patrick Ness (out 5th September Walker Books, £12.99)

More Than This
More Than This

In a word – WOW. This book is something really special. It’s long – almost 500 pages – but once I got stuck in I couldn’t stop. It’s YA science fiction at its ground breaking best. One of the most original books I’ve read in years, it’s simply mind blowing.

In the opening chapter Seth drowns and wakes up in the suburban English town where he grew up. As he begins to explore his surroundings slowly things start to make sense.

Wickedly clever, utterly convincing, this book is brilliant, don’t miss it.


2/ Have a Little Faith by Candy Harper (Simon and Schuster £6.99)

Written in diary format, this book for young teens is nothing ground breaking but the main character, Faith is feisty and fun. There’s lots of clever use of language and the usual teen angst. A good read for Louise Rennison or Anna Carey fans.


after iris
after iris

3/ After Iris by Natasha Farrant (Faber)

I loved this book. Bluebell and her family are all trying to get on with their lives after Bluebell’s twin sister, Iris’ death. But life is never easy in this crazy, emotional household. There are pet rats who drive cars, a lovely male au pair from Eastern Europe, a cute but damaged boy, film scripts and more in this brilliant, multi-layered book about families, loss and love. Do read it!


4/ Severed Heads, Broken Hearts (Simon and Schuster £6.99)

A wonderful American YA novel with definite echoes of John Green. After an accident which has left popular jock Ezra Faulkner scarred and unable to walk without a stick, he finds new friends in the debate team. But what happens when his old friends (and girlfriend) claim him back? Will he walk or will he stick by his new friends?


rebecca rocks
rebecca rocks

5/ My review of Rebecca Rocks by Anna Carey (O’Brien e7.99) will be in the Irish Independent soon and here is a sneak preview:

Inspired by Carey’s days as a singer in the band El Diablo, Rebecca Rocks is set in a summer music camp and the writer’s hands-on experience shines through in this charming, uplifting story. Fourteen-year-old Dubliner, Rebecca has a mother who writes embarrassing romantic sagas, a father who fancies himself as a musical theatre star and an annoying older sister, Rachel who is always teasing her.

Rebecca’s band, Hey Dollface, decide to attend a summer music camp where they come up against the Crack Parrots and their lead singer, Charlie. Charlie likes to embarrass girls by showing them porn on his mobile phone and picks on boys who look different by calling them ‘gay’. But when he pushes things too far, Rebecca and her friends learn that sometimes you have to stand up for other people and fight back.

Carey doesn’t shy away from dealing with highly topical issues such as bullying, sexuality and internet porn. She never preaches and deals with her subjects in an honest, straight-forward manner. Being a novel, there is of course a happy ending but it’s not a conventional one. The friendship between Rebecca and her band mates is loyal and genuine and although they do worry about having a boy (or in Cass’s case a girl) friend, their love lives do not define them. At the end of the book Rebecca is alone yet happy, which is unusual for a young adult book, yet this works perfectly with the theme of the novel – acceptance.

For the full review, see the Irish Independent next Saturday (or the following one).


I also read Wormwood by Katherine Farmer (Little Island) an urban fantasy adventure for teens set in Ireland 6/10; One Moment by Kristina McBride (Usborne) a solid but predictable American YA novel about friendship and betrayal 5/10; Split Second by Sophie McKenzie (Simon and Schuster), a fast-paced book set in the future about the aftermath of a bomb in London. 6/10

This month’s to read pile includes new books by Meg Rosoff, John Boyne, Judi Curtin, Anthony Horowitz and Siobhan Parkinson. I can’t wait!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

Learning From Oliver Jeffers

I’ve always liked Oliver Jeffers – both the man and his wonderful picture books. I first met him almost ten years ago, just after his first book, How to Catch a Star was published. It was at a Children’s Books Ireland conference in Dublin and from the start I loved his passion and his enthusiasm for his work.

The weekend before last I had the good luck to catch him not once but twice at Offset, a wonderful conference held in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin which celebrates design and illustration. He spoke to a crowd of thousands about his painting and his picture books. Afterwards he gave a very honest and inspiring public interview to one of the Offset organisers.

During this he spoke about ‘people who do things and people who talk about doing things’. Oliver works on a huge amount of different projects – often simultaneously – exhibitions of his paintings, exhibitions of his drawings, picture books, illustrating other people’s novels, book covers. He only takes on projects that he truly loves and he works HARD. His work has to mean something – to him. If it means something to him, then he figures that maybe it will mean something to other people too.

There is no secret to his success – yes, he’s talented and driven but most of all he simply ‘does things’.

He believes in his work. He believes that his work is important, yet approaches it with a sense of fun and play. Are YOU a doer or a talker? Do you believe in your work? Do you approach it with a sense of fun and play? It’s worth thinking about. We all have a lot to learn from Oliver Jeffers.

Yours in writing,


Write the Book That You Want to Write

magic book
magic book

I’ve just finished writing the first draft of my new book for children in The Wishing Girls series. It doesn’t have an official title yet, but I’m calling it Mollie after the main character. It’s a book that I really wanted to write, and luckily my agent and editor were keen on it too. But sadly this isn’t always the case in the publishing world. Sometimes you may be gently nudged (or blatantly asked) to write a book that is outside your comfort zone.

Depending on the market you may be asked to consider trying a vampire romance, issue based romance/popular fiction (think Jojo Moyes or Sinead Moriarty), ‘mummy porn’, a misery memoir . . . And even though your heart may not be in it, you might be tempted to give it a go. And if you do, and you can make it work, and even enjoy the experience then good on you. And let’s be honest here, maybe you really need the money and that can be a strong enough motivation in itself - many fine authors have written to pay the bills, nothing wrong with that.

But my honest opinion is this – life is too short to spend months/a year/years of your life on something that doesn’t make your heart sing. And by the time your book hits the shelves, the market may have changed.

Every book has its difficult scenes. No book is easy to write. But it’s hell of a lot easier if you actually adore the book you’re working on. If you love (or detest) the characters with a passion, if you think about the plot every waking moment of the day, if you can’t get the damn thing out of your mind, if you’re itching to get back to your desk every day to continue telling the story.

Write the book that YOU to write. If you put enough passion and enthusiasm into your writing, if you write the book your heart begs you to write, it will work. And it will get published. It’s as simple (or as difficult) as that.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX