Children's Books

Characters from Head to Toe by Natasha Mac a’Bháird

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

Characters – From Head to Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Grainne Clear and Sarah Webb (with Lucky)

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

Focus on Fiction

Sat 31st August and Sun 1st September 

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

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

 (look out for our picturebook day in early 2020)

During the weekend they will cover:

Age groups and genres

Creating compelling characters

Plotting and the story arc

Creating authentic dialogue

Rewriting and editing 

The world of agents, editors and children's publishing 

and much more! 

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

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

Max 15 people to guarantee plenty of individual attention 

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

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

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

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

Booking - or text 0866086110

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It made me realise a couple of really important things:

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

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

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

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

See you at the fair in 2020!

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

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

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

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

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

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

As well as writing I also:

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

Write children’s book reviews for the Irish Independent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full piece is here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for Events:

If You Have No Experience – Go and Get Some.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more on this see this piece:

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

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

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

BlazingATrail FINAL COVER.jpg

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

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

Children's Books Ireland Book of the Year Awards 2018

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

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

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

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


the presidents glasses.jpg

1/ The President’s Glasses by Peter Donnolly 

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

2/ Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers

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


Early Readers

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

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

Age 9+

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

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

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

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

Age 12+

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

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

7/ A Dangerous Crossing by Jane Mitchell                      POSSIBLE OVERALL WINNER

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

8/ Star by Star by Sheena Wilkinson

Suffragette tale by one of our most talented writers.


9/ Moonrise by Sarah Crossan                  POSSIBLE OVERALL WINNER

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

10/ The Space Between by Meg Grehan

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

11/ Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan

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

Other outstanding books from 2017 that might make the shortlist

Like Other Girls by Claire Hennessy

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

The Girl in Between by Sarah Carroll

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

Stand by Me by Judi Curtin

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

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

Brilliant fantasy adventure with heart.

The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue

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

Good luck everyone!

Interview with Children's Writer, Helena Duggan

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

a place helena.jpg


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

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

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

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

a place new cover.jpg


How long did it take you to write?

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

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

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

Self-published cover for A Place Called Perfect 

Self-published cover for A Place Called Perfect 


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

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

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

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

What did you find surprising about being traditionally published?

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

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

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

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

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

Do you use a computer or write long hand?

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

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

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

Do you find rewriting difficult?

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

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

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

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

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

What is the best thing about being a writer?

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

The worst?

Time. I'm bad at managing time!

What are you working on next?

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

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

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

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

Friendship and Writing Buddies by Judi Curtin

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

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

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

Judi and Sarah at Listowel Writers' Week 

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

Judi and Sarah at Electric Picnic 

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

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

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)


April Diary - Writer in Residence

April was full of fun book events for all ages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX



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.

Lessons I've Learnt from Writing Geek Girl - Guest Post by Holly Smale

To celebrate the launch of my new look website - with thanks to Martin Reilly for the design and hard work - I have a very special blog post for you from bestselling UK writer, Holly Smale. The brand new book in her hugely popular Geek Girl series has just been published. Take it away, Holly! 

hollu 2.jpg

1.        Trust in your own sense of humour.

I’ve never considered myself to be particularly funny, and I certainly never thought I’d end up writing a comedy series: my sense of humour tends to be quite off-the-wall, weird and obscure, as well as extremely dry (in real life people frequently don’t even realise I’m joking when I actually am). If I’d thought about it too much, I’d have worried that what I found funny other people wouldn’t (and sometimes they still don’t). But in relaxing, having fun and making myself laugh as often as possible I discovered that we each have our own way of seeing the world, and that there’s room for all kinds of comedy: even the weird stuff. There will always be people out there with the same sense of humour as you. So think about what you find funny, and write that: don’t worry about who you’re writing for of if they’ll laugh too.

2. Be yourself.

 Obviously if you’re writing a character then you don’t have to be you - at least not all of the time - but your voice, your quirks and your flaws are what make you different to everybody else: that’s what makes a character feel real and relatable. So don’t try to write like any other writer. Just write the truth of your story as you feel it, be as honest as you can, and your uniqueness will shine through.

3. Plot well

This one is tricky, because every writer has different ways of doing things: I know many great writers who have no idea what’s going to happen before they sit down to write a book. But, for me (and maybe for you), I realised quite quickly that I really need to know the bigger points of what’s going to happen - the overall structure, the point of the story, key scenes, how my characters are going to develop - before I start. It means I can relax more when I’m writing, because I understand what the story is I’m trying to tell.

 4. But also leave room for imagination and playfulness

 And here’s the caveat: plan and structure away, but always give yourself plenty of opportunity to have fun, change your mind, go off on tangents and have those brilliant moments of “aha!” Your characters will often misbehave, and that’s okay: it means they’re alive, and you should listen to what they want and what it is they’re trying to do. It doesn’t always mean they’re right, but you should use the plot as a pencil-outline rather than trying to stick to it religiously. Honestly, the inspiration that comes without being planned or plotted is my favourite part of writing: there’s nothing more exciting than realising that the story is developing in a bit of your brain you’re not aware of!

5. Remember that all your characters are important

Especially when you’re writing a first-person narrative, it can be easy to make the mistake of thinking that your hero or heroine is the only character you need to focus on: that their story, their humour, their voice, is the point of the book. It’s not. Just as in real life, everyone is the hero of their own story and your writing needs to reflect that. Every single person - whether they’re the parent, or the best friend, or a random receptionist who only gets one line - needs to feel real, and interesting, and three-dimensional. Otherwise your book is going to feel flat, boring and unrealistic..

 6. Get weird

 This is harder than you’d think: so many times at the beginning, I’d try something new and then worry that my readers would find it off-putting. They almost definitely won’t: in fact, frequently the passages I write that feel a little bonkers are usually the bits my readers love the best. So be as brave as you can when you’re writing, and if that means going off on a weird thought-train then enjoy it and go for it.

7. Be honest. Always.

This doesn’t mean “write your real life”, because nobody’s interested in that: you’re probably not a celebrity, and you’re not scribing an autobiography. But when you’ve put your character in a situation, ask yourself how you’d really feel: not how you’d like to feel, or how you would hope to feel, or what would look nice on the page. Usually, our emotions aren’t always pretty and they’re not always “cool”: real people can be selfish, or embarrassing, or bad-tempered, or wrong, and it’s far too easy to try and make your character ridiculously ‘good’ all of the time. So be as brutal as you can with your character and their reactions: that’s exactly what’s going to make them feel like a real person.

8. It’s not a race and it doesn’t have to be perfect

Writing a book is not a speedy process: you’re very unlikely to sit down and get it down in a week. And you’re even less likely to get it right, first time. My first drafts are generally terrible: I frequently have to go back and change huge plot points, or even whole characters. For a perfectionist, that’s a hard lesson, and it took a long time to give myself permission to write a bad novel, first time round. It’s in the re-writing that the real story comes through, so don’t rush it, don’t get impatient and don’t beat yourself up if it isn’t what you’d hoped for, straight off the bat.

9. Writer’s Block is normal

 Frankly, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I get asked “do you ever get writers block?” The answer - for every writer I’ve ever met - is absolutely. I get stuck frequently, in every single book I’ve ever written. It’s a part of the process, and I’ve slowly learnt to stop panicking and thinking my writing career is over, every single time. For me, getting stuck usually means I’m out of creative juice and I need a break and some space, I’m tired (so I need to sleep) or I’ve simply taken a wrong path. It’s my brain’s way of saying ‘hold up, something doesn’t feel right’, so I’ll stop, look over what I’ve done and work out at what point the story took a wrong direction. But it’s going to happen, so see it as a sign that your story has a life of its own, and that’s a good thing.

10. Don’t limit yourself

 Okay, so maybe you want to write “for” younger children, or for younger teens, or for adults, or for little green aliens. Maybe you think there are some topics or subjects you can’t tackle or write about as a result. It’s not true: as long as it’s done sensitively, you can include everything. There may be no swearing in my books, but - if you look carefully - there are many occasions where someone swears: you just don’t hear it, because Harriet doesn’t relate it to you. Stick to the truth of who your character is, and they will inform what you write about and who you’re writing for: not the other way round.

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.

Nov/Dec Writer in Residence Diary

Me and My Niece, Rosie in the dlr Lexicon Library
Me and My Niece, Rosie in the dlr Lexicon Library

November and December have been busy months in Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown Writer in Residence land!

 Reader and Writers’ Day 5th November (Adult Event)

We kicked off the month with a Readers and Writers’ Day in the Lexicon Studio. Bestselling UK author, Lucy Diamond joined a host of Irish writers and readers for a fantastic day of book chat and fun. I also attended Deadly Openings with Sam Blake, Liz Nugent and Catherine Ryan Howard

Children’s Book Club

We discussed Beyond the Stars and Imaginary Fred in Book Club. Both scored high scores from our discerning young readers. However the biggest hit of the season was The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. They loved the way the story was told with both words and pictures and we watched some of the old French silent movies that inspired the story.

hugo cabret cover
hugo cabret cover
hugo interior
hugo interior

Children’s Writing Club

We had a lovely time at writing club. We celebrated Emma’s birthday with cup cakes and had hot chocolate in the café to celebrate the end of the year. The young writers will be working on a new project called I Am Dun Laoghaire next year. Watch out for the group exhibition of their work in June.

 Writers in Schools Conference

I went to the Poetry Ireland Writers in Schools conference in the lovely new Poetry Ireland building. It was great to chat to other writers who visit schools and to exchange ideas.

 Teen Creatives

We had two teen creatives workshops in November – one with a film maker and the other with writer, Deirdre Sullivan. In December award winning author, Sheena Wilkinson visited from Northern Ireland. We look forward to workshops with Alan Nolan and Dave Lordan in the New Year. Independent Publishing Day (Adult Event)

I attended this day organised by my friend, Vanessa O’Loughlin from It was interesting and I found out a lot about self-publishing. I have self-published several guides to children’s books, along with Dubray books and Eason and it’s an interesting process. It also reminded how much I enjoy working with traditional publishers – self-publishing is a lot of hard work and I cherish the input my editors and marketing and publicity teams put in to getting my books into the hands of readers.

 Irish Writers Centre

I continued teaching my Writing for Children and Teenagers course for adults at the Irish Writers Centre. We celebrated our final class with a reading from the students and a Christmas party.

Danger is Everywhere Show

My Dangerology Uniform
My Dangerology Uniform

I love the Danger books so I was thrilled to bring David O’Doherty and Chris Judge to the Pavilion. Here I am in my Dangerologist's uniform. David and Chris approved.

 Baby Book Club in Dalkey (and soon to be Deansgrange in 2017)


Breaking News - I’ll be hosting a new Baby Book Club Deansgrange in the New Year – I can’t wait! I love hosting Dalkey Baby Book Club and this month we made hedgehogs and talked about hibernation.

 Launch of the 1916 Exhibition by Jon Berkeley


I attended the launch of a wonderful exhibition in the Lexicon – well worth checking out. It was launched by Children’s Laureate, PJ Lynch.

 Swing of the 60s Exhibition Launch

The Swing of the Sixties Project Room
The Swing of the Sixties Project Room

Do catch it if you can – it’s on until 6th January and is a riot of colour. Fantastic for children and grown ups alike. My writing club and book club wrote some fantastic stories and poems inspired by the work.

 The Harold School Christmas Fair

My Son the Christmas Tree!
My Son the Christmas Tree!

I spoke to the children and their parents about books and reading at this lovely school fair.

 Drop in Writing Clinics for Children and Adults

I had a record 14 children at the drop in writing clinic on Wed 30th November. We all squeezed in to my writer in residence room and had great fun talking about writing. The young writers read from their work and got feedback from their peers.

It was followed by a clinic with adults who are writing for young people, all very talented individuals.


I also worked on a new age 9+ idea, some picture books and continued researching the 1940s for a new adult book.

Plus I programmed lots of AMAZING events for Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival in March, including a very special event with one of my heroes. More on that very, very soon.

That’s it for November and December! Look out for the new What’s On before Christmas which will list all the Writer in Residence workshops and events in Jan/Feb/March. HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!

Check out my December Books of the Month Video here:

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

My Favourite Books of the Year 2016 by Sarah Webb

It's been an outstanding year for books and there is something for every age group this Christmas, from tiny tots to teens. Here's a round up of my favourite titles of the year. Watch out for my full round up with longer reviews in the Irish Independent.

Sarah Webb's latest book for children is The Songbird Café: Aurora and the Popcorn Dolphin. She is the Writer in Residence for Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown.

 Picture Books

My picture book of the year is the brilliant Oi Dog! by Kes and Claire Gray and Jim Field (Hodder £11.99) – funny, funny, funny! Age 3+

oi dog
oi dog

Other favourites include:

goodnight everyone
goodnight everyone

Chris Haughton’s Goodnight Everyone (Walker £12.99)- bright and vibrant – Age 2+

Nothing by Yasmeen Ismail (Bloomsbury £6.99) – funny and clever – Age 3+

nothing yasmeen
nothing yasmeen

Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick’s Owl Bat Bat Owl (Walker Books £11.99) – a treat for the eyes – wordless – Age 3+

owl bat
owl bat

This is Not a Book by Jean Jullien (Phaidon £6.95) – clever and funny – Age 4+

this is not a book
this is not a book
Interior from This is Not A Book
Interior from This is Not A Book

The Storm Whale in Winter by Benji Davies (Simon and Schuster £6.99) – charming with outstanding illustrations – age 3+

storm whale in winter
storm whale in winter

Odd Dog Out by Rob Buddulp (Harpercollins £12.99) – beautifully designed with glowing illustrations – age 4+

odd dog
odd dog

King Baby by Kate Beaton (Walker £6.99)- quirky and a bit bonkers – age4+

king baby
king baby

A Child of Books (Walker £12.99) written, illustrated and designed with Sam Winston – thoughtful and original – age 5+

child of books
child of books

Illustrated Fact Books

Historopedia (Gill Books e24.99)- history brought to life in glowing colour – Age 6+


Outside: a Guide to Discovering Nature by Maria Ana Peixe Dias (Frances Lincoln £18.99)- age 6+


Age 7+

Danger Really is Everywhere by David O’Doherty and Chris Judge (Puffin Books e9.99)  - Hilarious look at ‘danger’ – perfect for Wimpy Kid fans

danger 1
danger 1
wolves of currump
wolves of currump

The Wolves of Currumpaw by William Grill  Flying Eye Books £14.99

The tale of a remarkable real life wolf, set on the plains of New Mexico and illustrated in glowing coloured pencils, this is a stunning book which would make the perfect gift for any fact loving child of age 7+.

miraulour miranda
miraulour miranda

Miraculous Miranda by Siobhan Parkinson (Hodder £6.99)

Beautifully written story about Miranda whose sister is in hospital and how she copes with her situation. Clever, funny and great for reading aloud. Age 8+

Age 9+

Dave Rudden’s Knights of the Borrowed Dark (Penguin £6.99) – exceptional debut fantasy adventure novel


Judi Curtin’s Time After Time (O’Brien e12.99) – sweet, charming family/friendship tale

time after time
time after time

Novel of the Year Age 9+

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (Walker £9.99)- stand out novel about friendship, families and adventure


 Age 10+

Ironman: The Gauntlet by Eoin Colfer (Marvel £6.99)- Ironman adventure set in Ireland


Anna Carey’s The Making of Mollie (O’Brien e8.99)- smart, sassy book about the suffragettes in Ireland in 1918

making of mollie
making of mollie

Robin Stevens Murder Most Unladylike series – fantastic – funny and full of strong girl characters and adventure - her latest in the series is Mistletoe and Murder

mistletow and murder
mistletow and murder

Age 13+

Nothing Tastes as Good by Claire Hennessy (Hot Key £7.99) – well written, compelling look at teen life and eating disorders with a dark, witty touch - well worth seeking out

nothing tastes
nothing tastes
the call
the call

The Call by Peadar Ó’Guilín (David Fickling £10.99) - the fairy book I’ve been waiting for – smart, fast and furious (and a bit gruesome)

Other Recommended Picture Books

For Art Lovers and Children Who Like Quirky Books:

The Liszts by Kyo Maclear and Julia Sarda  Andersen Press £12.99

‘The Liszts made lists. Scritch, scratch. They made lists most usual. And lists most unusual.’ So begins this striking picture book about a family who love to make lists. The story is strong but it’s the clever, detailed illustrations and clever design that set this book apart and the 1920 inspired cover is truly sumptuous. A feast for the eyes. Age 5+

NY is For New York by Paul Thurlby  Hodder £14.99

From Brooklyn Bridge to Times Square, this beautifully designed picture book highlights some of the most iconic landmarks in New York. The richly coloured illustrations are outstanding. Age 5+

Tiger in a Tutu by Fabi Santiago Orchard £6.99

Max is a tiger who wants to be a ballet dancer – will he ever get his moment in the spotlight? Fantastic illustrations in glowing colour – a great book for sharing with younger children. Age 3+

We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen  Walker Books £12.99

Two tortoises find a hat but only one can wear it. More deadpan humour and outstanding illustrations from this picture book master. Age 4+

The Museum of Me by Emma Lewis  Tate Publishing e17

Glorious picture book about museums and imagination. Age 5+

Young Science Fans

The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield, Illustrated by The Fan Brothers  Macmillan £11.99

A surprisingly good picture book about a young boy who dreams of being an astronaut. Inspired by his own life, Hadfield’s writing is strong and the illustrations by Terry and Eric Fan bring this story to vivid life.

Other Favourite Picture Books This Year

Pass it On by Sophy Henn  Penguin £6.99

Charming illustrations and a sweet tale about passing it on. Uplifting picture book. Age 3+

Little Monkey by Marta Altés  Macmillan £11.99

A little monkey has all kinds of adventures in this adorable picture book with cheeky illustrations. Well worth seeking out.

Three Little Monkeys by Quentin Blake and Emma Chichester Clark  Harpercollins £12.99

Staying on the monkey theme, two super talents of the children’s book world combine to produce a lively, funny story about naughty apes who cause havoc every time Hilda Snibbs leaves her house.

The Building Boy by Ross Montgomery and David Litchfield (Faber and Faber £6.99) about a boy who builds a grandmother

The Snow Beast by Chris Haughton (Andersen Press £6.99) sees the return of the kindly Beast

Gift Titles

A Treasury of Songs by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler  Macmillan £14.99

A splendid hardback containing 23 of Donaldson’s favourite songs, plus a CD with the music to sing along to.

Changed the World by Kate Pankhurst (Bloomsbury £6.99) which is bursting with remarkable women, from Marie Curie to Frida Kahlo and is illustrated with humour and verve.

Age 8/9+

Philippa Pearse’s classic time slip novel for age 8+, Tom’s Midnight Garden has been given a graphic novel make over by Edith (Oxford University Press £12.99) and Michael Morpurgo’s Greatest Animal Stories (Oxford University Press e21.30) brings together tales of hungry wolves and mischievous spiders in one handsome collection.

Bright, thoughtful nine year olds will love the new edition of Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery, with exquisite, gently coloured illustrations by Sophie Allsopp.

Fans of animal tales will enjoy Michael Morpurgo’s The Fox and the Ghost King (Harpercollins £9.99), illustrated by Michael Foreman. Age 7+.

 More Fiction Age 9+

Animalcolm by David Baddiel (Harpercollins £10.99) is perfect for David Walliams fans. Funny with great illustrations by Jim Field.

Pax by Sarah Pennypacker with illustrations by Jon Klassan Harpercollins £12.99

Perfect for Kate DiCamillo fans, story of a boy and his fox who are separated and the boy’s journey to find him. Beautifully written and moving story.

Cogheart by Peter Bunzl – great action adventure novel with clockwork creatures and a fast plot

Young Teens

Cover of Mighty Dynamo
Cover of Mighty Dynamo

The Mighty Dynamo by Kieran Crowley (Macmillan £6.99)

Noah wants to be a professional footballer but he gets banned from his school football team. But he finds his own way to enter the competition. Great underdog story for football fans.

thing about jelly
thing about jelly

The Thing About JellyFish by Ali Benjamin

Now in paperback, a wonderful story of friendship, loss and jellyfish. Beautifully written – ideal for fans of Wonder.

Happy reading!

dlr Writer in Residence Diary September 2016


From now until June 2017 I have the great privilege of being the dlr Writer in Residence. I have a lovely room on the top floor of the Lexicon Library in Dun Laoghaire and I'm hosting lots of fun book clubs, writing clubs and events. Here is my September diary:

September was a very busy month in the Lexicon library. Our Children's Book Club kicked off and we talked about the work of Roald Dahl in honour of his 100th birthday on 13th September. This month we are reading Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan and looking at its wonderful artwork. This is one of the images from the book:

Image result for shaun tan tales from

I also hosted Baby Book Clubs in both Blackrock and Dalkey libraries. We read Farmer Duck (and made some wonderful farm animal noises) and glued and drew some great ice lollies to celebrate the lovely September weather.

Displaying IMG_1588.JPG
Displaying IMG_1658.JPG

We had a very successful Dahl Day for schools, with a show and workshops. Thanks to all the teachers for bringing their students.

Here's Grainne Clear as Little Red Riding Hood and below are Enda Reilly and Erin Fornoff as The Twits.

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Three Canadian writers visited us in September and spoke to local school children about their work, JonArno Lawson, Sydney Smith and  Katherena Vermette.

Image result for footpath flowers

Here's the cover of JonArno and Sydney's book, Footpath Flowers

I also took part in Culture Night with Alan Nolan and we created a story with lots of families who were visiting the library for the night.

Me and Alan on Culture Night
Me and Alan on Culture Night

Writing Club also started in September and our young writers are working on some great stories already.

Towards the end of September we had a very special day for Irish children's writers - our Lexicon Lunch for Children's Writers. I invited children's writers from all  over the country to join me in the Lexicon and I was delighted that so many turned up to talk about books and writing and to see my Writer in Residence room. I got the chance to interview Eoin Colfer, Judi Curtin and Marita Conlon-McKenna on camera - watch out for those videos soon. Pictured below are Sheena Wilkinson, Judi Curtin, Siobhan Parkinson, Erika McGann, Natasha Mac a'Bhaird, Marita Conlon-McKenna, Alan Nolan and Ruth Long.

Displaying IMG_1862.JPG

The Teen Creatives had a visit from the amazing Dave Rudden who told them all about writing, creating characters and plotting a brilliant book.

Displaying IMG_1890.JPG

And finally I launched two books, one by Judi Curtin, the other by ER Murray and I hosted the first of my Drop In sessions for writers and was delighted to meet some wonderful young writers, and some adults who are writing for children.

Displaying IMG_1721.JPG

ER Murray at her launch in Eason

Displaying IMG_1606.JPG

Judi and I comparing our 1980s debs dresses at her Eason launch

During September I wrote the first draft of a picture book for very young children in my Writer in Residence room, worked on two other picture book ideas, and did some research on a new novel. The library is an ace place for research as I'm surrounded by wonderful reference books and ultra helpful librarians.

October is busy too - stay tuned for my next diary in early November and for the first of the Writer in Residence video blogs. To find out more about any of the book or writing clubs email: To book a Writing Clinic slot email me: sarahsamwebb at - next clinic is Wed 26th October between 3pm and 5pm.

Yours in writing,

Sarah X

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.

The Answer to Your Questions

girl writing
girl writing

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

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

Some of the letters from my young readers

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

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

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

Who or what inspired you to write?

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

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

West Cork
West Cork

West Cork

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

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

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

Dun Laoghaire
Dun Laoghaire

Dun Laoghaire

What was your dream job as a child?

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

What is being a writer like?

Do you write all day?

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

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

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

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

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

This post first appeared on the Girls Heart Books website.

The Answer to Your Questions

girl writing
girl writing

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

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

Some of the letters from my young readers

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

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

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

Who or what inspired you to write?

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

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

West Cork
West Cork

West Cork

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

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

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

Dun Laoghaire
Dun Laoghaire

Dun Laoghaire

What was your dream job as a child?

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

What is being a writer like?

Do you write all day?

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

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

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

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

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

This post first appeared on the Girls Heart Books website.

A Girl Made of Books by Sarah Webb

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

A Child Made of Books
A Child Made of Books

A Child of Books

Here’s the trailer, do check it out:

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

busy busy world
busy busy world

1/ Richard Scarry’s Busy Busy World

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

2/ Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

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

Image from the Ballet Shoes Television Movie Starring Emma Watson

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


3/ Heidi by Johanna Spyri

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

4/ Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery

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

Anne from Anne of Green Gables

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

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

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

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

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

6/ The O’Sullivan Twins by Enid Blyton

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

7/ New Patches for Old by Christobel Mattingley

New Patches for Old
New Patches for Old

New Patches for Old

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

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

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

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

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This blog first appeared on Girls Hearts Books website.