Shane Hegarty

Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty - Review

It's about to get Legendary all over Ireland

Sarah Webb on the first in a new fantasy series by the arts journalist, Shane Hegarty (review first published in the Irish Independent)

shane hegarty
shane hegarty

Shane Hegarty, a well-known arts journalist, made his own headlines in 2013 when news broke of his six-figure children's book deal following a frenzied auction at the Bologna Book Fair. His debut children's novel, Darkmouth, the book that caused all the excitement and cheque waving, is published next week. So does it live up to the hype?

The answer, in a word, is yes. I haven't been this excited about a fantasy adventure novel since I read Derek Landy's first Skulduggery Pleasant book in 2007. Interestingly, Hegarty and Landy share the same publishing house, HarperCollins, and the same publicist, Mary Byrne, one of the best in the business. (Not that Mary Byrne, although she is Irish!) If anyone can make Darkmouth a successful international brand, she can.

The book opens in the rather Dickensian, mist-swirling town of Darkmouth, the last 'Blighted Village' in Ireland that still has 'Legends' or monsters, terrifying man-eating creatures from myths and fables. Enter 12-year-old Finn, the youngest of generations of Legend Hunters. The future of Darkmouth rests on his shoulders, but there's one major problem: Finn is more likely to run away from a Minotaur rather than successfully shoot one with his Ghostbusters-nod Desiccator gun.

His father, the Rambo of Legend Hunters, is determined to change this and his son's gruelling training begins. But when the village is threatened with the worst attack of Legends ever encountered , will Finn rise to the challenge?

It's hard to believe that this is Hegarty's first children's book. His characters, including Finn's mysterious and plucky new friend, Emmie and the 'Hogboon' from the 'Infected Side', Broonie, are beautifully crafted and utterly believable. There are hilarious scenes and brilliant wise cracks that reminded me of Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl, balanced with gentle family scenes between Finn and his hilarious and hard-working dentist mum, a character who will have bedtime-story reading mums cheering out loud. Kudos to Hegarty for making an adult woman in a fantasy-adventure novel not only super smart but witty too. The difficult relationship between Finn and his ambitious and testosterone-driven father is also touching and real.

Darkmouth_Front_RGB2 (1)
Darkmouth_Front_RGB2 (1)

Hegarty's writing has an attractive lightness of touch which is spot on for the nine-plus age group and now and then his character's clever life observations make you sit up and take notice. It's slightly slow to get going, as Hegarty has a lot of world-building to do, but once the action kicks in, it's a rollercoaster of a read.

The story is enhanced by the magnificent black and white line drawings by James de la Rue. Illustrations in children's novels are making a comeback and it's a brave and savvy move, one that will make this book stand out in the international fantasy-adventure fray.

Book two in the series, Into the Infested Side, will be published in July, so readers don't have too long to wait for their second Darkmouth fix. With a cracking story, eye-catching cover design and catchy but simple tag line: 'It's about to get Legendary', I think the clever folk at HarperCollins may have another superstar writer on their hands. Watch out, Landy, there's a new kid in town!

Darkmouth; Shane Hegarty; HarperCollins, hdbk, 416pp, £9.99

Sarah Webb's new book for younger readers, The Songbird Café: Mollie Cinnamon is Not a Cupcake, will be published in March

A Day in the Life - the CBI Conference and Thoughts for Writers

eoin-colfer.jpg

Right, because I love you all and I know many of you could not make the Children’s Books Ireland Conference today in the Lexicon Library in Dun Laoghaire, here are some notes and thoughts on the day. The title was: A Day in the Life

Eoin Colfer

Eoin Colfer and Friends
Eoin Colfer and Friends

Eoin Colfer kicked off the proceedings in a lively manner with a funny and thought provoking talk about writing, his love of Ireland, how ‘place’ informs writers’ books and how his Laureate-ship is shaping up so far.

On writing he said: ‘It starts with character for me. My criminal mastermind, Artemis is based on my brother, Donal.’

‘People often say don’t write a local story. I think write a local story with universal themes.’

He said for him, having a new book out never gets old and he never takes it for granted:

‘It’s amazing to be published – to hold a new book in your hands – it’s always fantastic. Whatever else happens in your life, you’ll always have that.’

His aim with the Laureate events is to visit ‘tiny schools on remote islands who don’t normally get author visits… As a child I didn’t realise that writers were real people.’

He said: ‘Reaching that one kid, planting the seed of story in their head, that’s what the Laureate’s all about.’

On why Irish people are such good storytellers and writers:

Eoin explained that it’s in our blood. We grow up hearing stories.

‘Myths and legends are on the curriculum in Ireland. I was surprised to find this wasn’t the case in other countries.’

Alan Nolan

Next up was Alan Nolan who talked about the books he had written and the comics that had influenced him as a child.

‘The way to get children reading is to get them hooked on a series,’ he said. His job as Illustrator in Residence in the Church of Ireland College of Education is to ‘remind trainee teachers how much fun children’s books are.’

Monster Doodle

During lunch there was a wonderful Monster Doodle for adults – where everyone got stuck in.

Sarah Crossan

Sarah Crossan
Sarah Crossan

Next up was Sarah Crossan in conversation with the wonderful Colm Keegan, Writer in Residence at dlr Libraries.

She spoke passionately about engaging teens with poetry and why she writes novels in verse for teens. Her new novel in verse, One (and not Won as she pointed out) will be published in August and is about conjoined twins. It sounds great.

Next up where the New Writers – many new writers took to the stage to share their books with the audience in 5 minute sessions.

This was an interesting insight into the way people approached being asked to do this. Some gave some background to the book, others gave a straight reading without any intro. The ones that worked the best I think did a little of both. The ones that stood out for me were Dave Rudden who is an excellent reader of his own work and gave a short intro which set the scene well and Moira Fowley-Doyle. She read with a lot of passion and it’s my kind of book – a family/friendship drama with a clever and fresh premise. It’s called The Accident Season and it’s about a family who for one month a year are horribly and tragically accident prone. She read the perfect section (from the start of the book so it didn’t need an intro) and I really enjoyed her reading.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed them all (other writers included Patricia Forde, Kim Hood, Shane Hegarty and a lovely picture book guy), but it did make me ponder the importance of professional development for writers and how new writers need help preparing for readings and events. I am going to write a series of blogs on events/readings and how to write and deliver them when I get a chance as I think it might be helpful to newer writers.

I was a nervous wreck when I started out doing events! I love doing them now, as long as I am well prepared. You can throw me in front of any age group from babies and toddlers to teens and I'll have something to say, but it wasn't always the case. It's taken me years to be confident in front of an audience. I would have loved to shadow a writer before I started doing events. And I would have loved some guidance on how to put a good talk together. So I'll share what I can soon, I promise!

I'll also post some publicity and marketing tips and interviews with publishing pr people this year - remind me if I forget!

Julia Eccleshare

Julia Eccleshare
Julia Eccleshare

Finally after a very nice coffee break – with biscuits – was the inspiring Julia Eccleshare, Children’s Books Editor for the Guardian. I thought she was FANTASTIC and spoke such sense. Of course, she did say that writers made extra-good reviewers as they understood things like a writer’s intent and theme, so I may be slightly biased.

She spoke lyrically about her job – how she has to sift through over 10k children’s books a year to select the 45 books she can review in the Guardian.

She is passionate about books and stories. She said ‘I never go anywhere without thinking about a story.’

And ‘Everything in my life is coloured by the stories I read.’

She explained how these days writers have to be advocates for their books. Gone are the days where you could write a book and sit back on your laurels. You have to get out there and do events. ‘You cannot sit at home and be shy.’

She told us how JK Rowling’s books were game changers – how after the Harry Potter series, children’s books became cool and people started talking about stories and children’s books like never before. She mentioned Philip Pullman winning the overall Whitbread Award with The Amber Spyglass and quoted him: ‘Children’s books are the home of the story.’

She spoke about the importance of children’s books: ‘Children learn things from children’s books that their parents don’t want them to know… There is no serendipity for children anymore. They are the most watched children ever. How do they learn that things go wrong (if they are always being watched)?’

Books help them explore dangerous worlds and allow them have adventures and decide what kind of people they would like to be, she explained.

It was a wonderful talk and she’s a powerhouse.

The day ended with a drinks reception where I talked to Julia and many writers and readers and ate some very fine finger food.

So ended the CBI Day – thanks to all the speakers, to Marian Keyes who provided the wonderful venue and to the girls at CBI, Elaina, Jenny and Aoife for a cracking event.

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

PS If you read my blog and find it useful, do let me know via the comments or on Facebook or Twitter. :)

sarah crossan book cover
sarah crossan book cover

Spring 2016 Children's and Teen Highlights

This piece originally appeared in the Sunday Independent. This year looks all set to be a stellar one for children’s books and Irish YA in particular will blaze a trail in 2016. There are new titles from ‘brand names’ such as Julia Donaldson, Eoin Colfer and Derek Landy, plenty of interesting debuts, and some intriguing books from ‘grown up’ bestsellers, Cecelia Ahern and Sheila O’Flanagan.

crystal run
crystal run

The current Children’s Laureate, Eoin Colfer’s Ironman novel for children is due in the autumn from Marvel. According to Colfer, the billionaire playboy Tony Stark is all set to get the ‘Dublin treatment’. Penguin Random House Children’s lead title this spring is Dave Rudden’s The Knights of the Borrowed Dark (March), the first in a trilogy featuring Denizen Hardwick, a boy who doesn't believe in magic until he's ambushed by a monster created from shadows.

HarperCollins is very excited about Cecelia Ahern’s  debut YA (Young Adult) novel, Flawed, set in a society where perfection is everything (March); and Hachette is publishing Sheila O’Flanagan’s fantasy debut for age 10+, The Crystal Run (May). Gill and Macmillan has their first YA novel ever in April, from a writer who is only a teenager herself, sixteen-year-old Eilís Barrett. Her book, Oasis is set in the future and follows a group of teen outcasts turned freedom fighters.

needlework
needlework

Little Island, the children’s answer to Tramp Press, has been making waves with their strong fiction list, and 2016 is no exception. First up in February is Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan for young adult and adult readers, a novel about child abuse and its aftermath which I read in one sitting. It’s not an easy read for obvious reasons, but like Louise O’Neill’s Asking for It, it’s an important and beautifully written book.

Also from Little Island for older teen readers is Anna Seidl’s No Heros (March), the story of a school shooting and its aftermath, a publishing sensation in its native Germany; and in May they launch The Best Medicine by Belfast woman, Christine Hamill. Twelve-year-old Philip’s mum has breast cancer and he writes to Harry Hill for advice.

Kim Hood’s debut YA novel, Finding a Voice was shortlisted for the prestigious YA Book Prize in the UK last year and her second novel, Plain Jane is out in April from O’Brien Press. The story of a sixteen-year-old girl whose sister has cancer, it’s one I’m particularly looking forward to as I love her fresh, vibrant writing voice.

The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood (Macmillan, May) follows 17-year-old physics prodigy Gottie Oppenheimer as she navigates a summer of both grief and rips in the space-time continuum; and The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse (Macmillan, April) is a World War II story set in Amsterdam about a young woman who gets involved with the resistance.

Puffin Ireland Editor, Claire Hennessy’s YA novel, Nothing Tastes as Good is published by Hot Key in July and is already creating quite a stir. Annabel is a recently deceased anorexic teen who finds herself assigned as a ghostly 'helper' to Julia, another girl with an eating problem. Brian Conaghan’s The Bombs That Brought Us Together (Bloomsbury, April), dealing with terrorism and war, also sounds promising; and Derek Landy is back with the second book in his Demon Road fantasy-horror trilogy, Desolation (HarperCollins).

darkmouth 3
darkmouth 3

For readers of age 9+, there’s book three of Shane Hegarty’s Darkmouth series, Chaos Descends (HarperCollins, April);  and the latest novel by Brian Gallagher (O’Brien Press, April) called Arrivals, about a Canadian murder mystery in 1928. Ger Siggins is back with another book in his popular sport series, Rugby Flyer (O’Brien Press, February); and Matt Griffin tackles a war between the humans and the ancient fairy race in Stormweaver (O’Brien Press, April).

It’s great to see Cork man, Kieran Crowley back with The Mighty Dynamo (Macmillan, May), about a boy who dreams of being a professional footballer;      and I’m currently reading the exquisitely written Anna and the Swallow Man by New York based actor and writer, Gavriel Savit (Penguin Random House Children’s, 28th January), set during World War II.

And finally for this age group, the outstanding American writer, Kate DiCamillo returns with Raymie Nightingale, a novel about three girls and a friendship that will change their lives (Walker Books).

Poolbeg will add Maebh Banrion na Troda (February) and Sceal Naomh Padraig  (March) to their Nutshell library for younger readers; and the ultimate staying-between-the-lines challenge has to be the Where’s Wally? Colouring Book coming from Walker Books in June.

Sarah Bowie’s picture book, Let’s See Ireland (O’Brien Press, April) has striking artwork; and finally Julia Donaldson’s Detective Dog, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie (Macmillan, June) about Nell, a dog with an extra keen sense of smell sounds just the book to make both children and parents smile.

A Spread from Let's See Ireland
A Spread from Let's See Ireland

Sarah Webb’s next book for children, The Songbird Cafe Girls: Aurora and the Popcorn Dolphin (Walker Books) will be published in March. 

Aurora Book Cover
Aurora Book Cover

2015 - Children's Books To Look Forward To

I had a neck injury last week which meant I could only type for short amounts of time. As I have a novel for adults to finish before Christmas this was not the idea situation, although said novel is the very reason I was spending so long every day at my computer. The Catch 22 of a writer’s life. I had to rest my neck at regular intervals. Yes, this does mean I had to lie in bed and for those of you who know me, yes, I was very cranky. I’m not a good patient! However it did mean I got lots and lots of reading done.

Not only did I catch up on books published in 2014, I also read lots of books out in 2015. I’m now pretty much on top of my to-be-read pile for the first time in a year. I have a few yet to be published books to read next (writers looking for feedback) and then my 2014 reading will be complete.

So what goodies should you be looking out for in 2015?

Some Strong YA Titles

captive a j
captive a j

Captive by AJ Grainger (Jan 29th)

Annalie Grainger is my editor at Walker so I was predisposed to like this one but also worried that I wouldn’t. I needn’t have stressed – it’s super. A smart, gripping thriller about a girl called Robyn Knollys-Green who is the daughter of the British Prime Minister. She’s kidnapped by a radical group but one of her captors is not all that he seems.

Annalie has a wonderful voice and Robyn is a flawed yet highly likable heroine. The moral questions in the book are handled deftly and I flew through this one. 8/10

Vendetta by Catherine Doyle (Jan)

Sophie Gracewell’s life changes forever when a family of five boys moves into a house in her neighbourhood. Her father is in jail and her life is not exactly easy. But it’s about to get even more complicated.

Set in Chicago, this is a compelling romance set in the Mafia underworld. Another strong debut, this time by an Irish author. 8/10

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Another debut, with one of the strongest opening pages I’ve read in a long time:

‘One afternoon, when I was eight years old, my class was told to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up . . . This is what I wrote: I want to be a girl.’

I haven’t finished this one yet, but I love the voice and it’s another gripping read. 8/10 so far

All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (Jan)

A wonderful book, funny and heartbreaking and real. The main character, Theodore Finch holds the reader’s attention (and heart) right through the book. I love American YA and this is right up there with John Green and Sarah Dessen. 8/10

Next on the to-be-read pile is:

Still Falling by Sheena Wilkinson (Feb)

I’ve just started this one and I love it so far. Sheena is such a strong writer and her dialogue sings. 8/10 so far

Age 9+ (Middle Grade)

Darkmouth_Front_RGB2 (1)
Darkmouth_Front_RGB2 (1)

Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty (29th Jan)

Believe the hype. This fantasy adventure yarn is a stunning debut. The relationship between the young hero (anti-hero in fact as the clumsy lad isn’t exactly equipped to save the world), Finn and his father, a famous Legend (monster) hunter, is touching and real, and I adored Finn’s hard-working dentist mum, one of the funniest characters in the book. There are touches of Ghostbusters in the mix, along with some Bond-like gadgets, plus a rather Dickensian setting (the mist-swirling town of Darkmouth).

It’s for slightly younger readers than Skulduggery Pleasant, there’s more family drama and less horror. Hegarty’s writing has an attractive lightness to it, and now and then his clever life observations make you sit up and take notice. It’s slightly slow to get going as there’s a lot of world-building to do, but I can’t wait to read the second book in the series. With a super cover design and a catchy but simple tag line – ‘They’re coming and only Finn can save us. Shame he’s a bit rubbish’, not to mention a cracking first book, I think those clever folk at HarperCollins have another top brand on their hands. 9/10

The 13-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton (29th Jan)

Andy and Terry live in the world’s best treehouse according to the blurb on the back of this book. And after reading the book, I have to agree.

Already a huge hit in their native Australia (360,000 copies sold), this series will make any Wimpy Kid fan happy with its blend of humor and zany illustration. 7/10

The Astounding Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce (March) is also on the to-be-read pile, along with Sarah Bannan’s adult novel, Weightless (March). I'm also looking forward to reading Phil Earle's Demolition Dad.

Plenty to look forward to in 2015 already!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

The Kids are All Write - the Irish Children's Book World

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Divergent - the movie

Sarah Webb – Published 18 May 2014 in the Sunday Independent

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THERE has been a lot of doom and gloom about the state of the Irish book trade in the press recently. Happily, however, children's books are holding their own and now account for up to 25 per cent of overall book sales, a figure which is increasing year on year.

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Irish writers are in great demand internationally, and rising star of the Irish children's publishing world David Maybury has just been appointed to the important post of Commissioning Editor of Scholastic Children's Books, UK.

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Watching Back to the Future with my children last week, I was amused to see the flying cars and insane clothes predicted to be all the rage in 2015. Books were also a thing of the past, with all children reading electronically. Many thought this would indeed be the case, that children would be the first to switch over to e-readers. However, we underestimated children's love of physical books.

The supremely talented Eoin Colfer, who was inaugurated as Children's Laureate na nOg last week, put it perfectly when he said: "Every 50 years something comes along and people say 'That's the end of books'. We'll have to adapt, but physical books will definitely endure... Books will never die."

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"Books are tactile," he told me. "You can hug a book. You can sit down with your dad or mum and read a book together. Books are a badge of honour. A way to be identified. What is on your shelf says a lot about you. I had The Lord of the Rings and all my Batman comics (on my shelves). If anyone came into my room they knew who I was."

Colfer is right – books define who children and teenagers are. My own daughter is an avid fantasy reader and her shelves are crammed with Skulduggery Pleasant and Manga books. She has never expressed an interest for an electronic reader. Many of her friends own them and use them only when travelling. The statistics are there to prove that children love physical books: less than eight per cent of children's books are read electronically.

"Only four per cent of our children's book sales are electronic sales," says Ivan O'Brien, MD of O'Brien Press. "There's still a huge appetite for good, strong children's titles and potential for books to break out." O'Brien has had great success with its translation sales and has sold books by Irish authors like Judi Curtin and Marita Conlon-McKenna into many different territories.

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Books for our younger readers now account for 22-25 per cent of the overall book market, according to David O'Callaghan, Children's Book Buyer at Eason. "They've really entered the mainstream," he says.

"The big trends for us at the moment are Minecraft and Divergent. I think reality based YA (young adult) novels like John Green's The Fault in Our Stars are definitely going to be the next big thing. And the new Irish writers coming through the ranks, like Shane Hegarty are worth watching."

The spotlight was on Hegarty recently when the news of his "substantial six figure deal" hit the headlines. Darkmouth, his first book for children with HarperCollins, will be published next year.

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Last month, 26-year-old Cavan man Dave Rudden signed a deal with Puffin for his YA fantasy adventure trilogy, The Borrowed Dark, due in 2016; and journalist Darragh McManus's debut YA novel, Shiver the Whole Night Through, will be published by Hot Key Books in November.

And it won't just be little people reading their work. Adults are reading YA and crossover books like never before, and many authors are reaching rock star status.

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US writer John Green filled the RDS last year with more than 800 screaming fans. Who says teenagers don't read? Titles like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, the Harry Potter books, Twilight, The Hunger Games and most recently, the Divergent series are openly read by adults on the DART, and discussed at book clubs.

Colfer is an inspired choice for the third Children's Laureate. A brilliantly funny speaker, his love of words is infectious. He says, "I want to tell a story to every child in Ireland." He has exciting plans to put together a show based around stories and books and to tour it internationally.

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"Ireland's history is story," he says. "We've always been a nation of storytellers. It's in our blood."

Previous Laureates Siobhan Parkinson and Niamh Sharkey are tough acts to follow. Parkinson set up a Laureate Library which still travels the country, introducing books from all over the world to Irish children.

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Niamh curated the Pictiur exhibition, work from 21 Irish illustrators which has travelled to Bologna and Brussels and was recently seen by more than 45,000 people at IMMA. You can catch it in Lismore Castle Arts, Waterford, in September, the Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar, in October and finally in the new Library and Cultural Centre in Dun Laoghaire at the end of the year.

Children's Books Ireland is also behind the prestigious Children's Books Ireland Award (previously the Bisto Award), which was announced last Tuesday. The overall winner of this year's Award was Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick for Hagwitch, a novel about theatre, puppets and magic, set partly in 16th-Century London. Oliver Jeffers won the Children's Choice Award for The Day the Crayons Quit; and Honour Awards went to Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, P J Lynch and Paula Leyden.

The next big event on the calender is the Children Books Ireland Conference, where our newly minted Laureate will be joined by fashion illustrator and milliner turned book guru David Roberts (Dirty Bertie), spoken word darling and best friend of Adele (yes, that Adele), Laura Dockrill, and US picture book maker, Leslie Patricelli.

Taking place at the cool Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield, Dublin, next Saturday and Sunday, it's a must for anyone who wants to find out more about children's books.

For further info about the world of children's books visit www.childrensbooksireland.ie

Sarah Webb is a writer and a children's book commentator. She is the Children's Curator for the Mountains to Sea DLR Book Festival