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

Events

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.

Booking: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie

16th September (evening)

Print
Print

CULTURE NIGHT – SMASHING STORIES AND DASHING DOODLES

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.

Booking: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie

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

BOOKING: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie

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

BOOKING: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie

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)

BOOKING: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie

 ‘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.

My Writer in Residence Diary: August 2016

In June I was chosen to be the Writer in Residence in my local area, Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown (DLR). I first spotted the ad for the role in the new, state of the art Lexicon library in Dún Laoghaire, an apt place to see it as the Writer in Residence room is on the top level of the very same library. It caught my eye because the residency’s focus is on children, young people and families – one of my favourite audiences to write and to run events for. To apply you had to write about your ‘artistic ideas and approaches’ and suggest some ways that you’d engage with readers in the library. At the top of my application I put this quote from Pablo Picasso:

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.

Something I firmly believe.

Here are some extracts from my application:

I believe that creative children and teens are happy children and teens. I believe the arts and in particular reading and writing for pleasure, play a vital role in every young person’s life.

I believe in the power of story to connect us all to the wider world, to engage our minds and fire our imaginations.

I believe that the act of writing a book, with all its steps – from the very first germ of an idea, to thinking about the characters and plot, to writing the first draft, to re-writing and working on it again and again - helps build resilience in children and teens.

I finished by saying: I’d like this residency to be all about inspiration, creativity, building confidence in young readers and writers, and sharing the joy of books and writing.

I hope I achieve it – I’ll do my very best!

What I’ll Be Up to During My Residency

During my residency I’ll be hosting book clubs for children and writing clubs for children and teens. I’ll be organising book events, reading manuscripts and recommending books. The clubs all start in September – see the What’s On guide in the library or the library website for details: http://libraries.dlrcoco

I’ll also be spending time on my own writing. My writing base for the year will be the Writer in Residence room in the extraordinary Lexicon Library and Cultural Centre. Here’s a photo of my desk - it has a stunning view of the sea:

My Desk
My Desk

My Desk

And here is a family visiting last week:

My First Visitors
My First Visitors

My First Visitors

Here is the Children’s Library which is crammed with thousands of fantastic children’s books:

The Children's Library
The Children's Library

The Children's Library

And here is the Teen area which also has a 3D printer:

The Teen Area
The Teen Area

The Teen Area

There is also a lovely cafe area where you can sit and watch the world go by over a hot chocolate:

Brambles Cafe
Brambles Cafe

Brambles Cafe

So far, I’ve been working on a script for a play for children and families based on an award-winning picture book – more about that soon, and three picture books, two with a library theme, one about a baby whale. I’ve also been planning the year – putting together notes for the various book club and writing clubs.

Watch this space to see what I get up to next!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This blog also appeared on the Girls Heart Books website - an excellent website for readers of age 8 to 14.

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3_qoMY7mf8

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

busy busy world
busy busy world

1/ Richard Scarry’s Busy Busy World

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

2/ Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

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

Image from the Ballet Shoes Television Movie Starring Emma Watson

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

heidi
heidi

3/ Heidi by Johanna Spyri

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

4/ Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery

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

Anne from Anne of Green Gables

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

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

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

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

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

6/ The O’Sullivan Twins by Enid Blyton

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

7/ New Patches for Old by Christobel Mattingley

New Patches for Old
New Patches for Old

New Patches for Old

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

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

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

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

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This blog first appeared on Girls Hearts Books website.

Want to Write? Here's My Secret

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

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

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

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

My Dad
My Dad

My Dad

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

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

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

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

My grandpa reading Gulliver's Travels to his grandchildren

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

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

Me reading at age 11
Me reading at age 11

Me reading comics at age 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This blog first appeared on Girls Heart Books website

Festivals Must Pay Writers - WordCon 2016

WordCon 2016: A Words Ireland conference about festivals and author care

words ireland
words ireland

 Yesterday I attended a conference in the National Library all about book festivals and how festival organisers and programmers can support writers.

Some interesting thoughts and statistics came out of the day. These are some of the most important ones:

1/ Writers must to be able to communicate with an audience to be successful at a festival. (Patrick Cotter, Munster Literature Festival)

For my blog on pitching to book festivals, what festivals are looking for and how to improve your events see here

2/ All writers, artists and moderators MUST be paid a fee

‘Writers are professionals and should be paid a professional fee.’ Bert Wright from Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival (Dun Laoghaire)

ILFD (Irish Literature Festival Dublin) pays a min fee to writers of e300

Joanne Harris, one of the speakers at WordCon
Joanne Harris, one of the speakers at WordCon

Listowel Writers' Week pays a similar fee

Dublin Book Festival (which focuses on Irish writers) pays a min of e100

Mountains to Sea min is e150

Munster Literature Centre min is e250

At the event it was generally agreed that e300 was a fee for festivals to aspire to, although for panel events and smaller festivals this may not be possible.

3/ If a festival cannot afford to pay the writers, it should not go ahead (Bert Wright again)

All agreed with this.

4/ The average earning of a writer in the UK is £11k

Only 10% of writers make a full time living from writing and writing associated work (events etc).

5/ Writers should NOT have to provide and sell their own books at festivals – it is up to the book festival to arrange this. Argosy Wholesale can help provide books. Or ask Poetry Ireland or Children’s Books Ireland for advice.

6/ A good chair or moderator is vital to a successful panel event. Programmers should be inventive when pairing up artists. Joanne Harris suggested pairing up interesting writers – herself, Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman talking about fairy tales would be her dream panel!

Sarah Bannan from the Arts Council spoke about using partnerships and mixing up the different art forms – writers and musicians for eg.

7/ When emailing a writer about an event be clear about the fee, the date and what you’d like them to do – Joanne Harris said.

You can email writers directly or use social media to contact them.

8/ ‘There should be zero tolerance for low or no fees,’ said Sarah Bannan from the Arts Council. ‘We need a change in attitude.’

9/ The Irish government needs to support the arts – book festivals need public funding.

10/ Writers do not make money from book sales at festivals.

Joanne Harris explained that to break event at a festival she would have to sell 100 hardback books at £10 per book. 1 in 10 of an audience might buy a book – which means she’d need a theatre of 1,000 people just to break even.

Well done to Words Ireland for arranging a most interesting and stimulating day. There will be another in the autumn. They will post a document about the conference on their website in a few months’ time they promised.

From the start of this year I have turned down any request that does not pay a fee. If I do not charge for my experience and talent what chance does a young or new writer have of getting paid for their work?

I would encourage you all to do the same. Ask for a fair fee. Value your work, writers!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

Rejection and the Writing Life

sally go
sally go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in writing,

SarahXXX

Rejection Tales

Sarah Webb

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

Philip Ardagh

Philip Ardagh
Philip Ardagh

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

book of learning 1
book of learning 1

ER Murray

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

Oisin McGann

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

Oisin McGann
Oisin McGann

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

Dave Rudden

knights of the borrowed
knights of the borrowed

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

Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

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

Judi Curtin

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

Gordon Smith

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

Liz Nugent

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

Roisin Meaney

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

Jo Cotterill

Jo Cotterill
Jo Cotterill

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

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

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

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

Mary Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Children’s Book Agents 2016

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

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

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

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

Why Do You Need an Agent?

Eoin Colfer
Eoin Colfer

In Ireland we are lucky to have the O’Brien Press whose editors are happy to read unsolicited manuscripts. You can send your book directly to one of their editors. Details of how to do this are here: http://www.obrien.ie/guidelines.cfm

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

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

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

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

What Does an Agent Do Exactly?

1/ An agent can advise you on your manuscript and on how to make it more attractive to a publisher. Some of them will act as unofficial editors to their clients or at the very least can suggest changes or improvements. They are also excellent at coming up with zippy book titles as I’ve discovered.

2/ An agent can find the right editor or publisher for your work – like a book matchmaker. And they can sell your UK, US, digital and foreign rights. They can also look after any film or television rights.

3/ Agents deal with the difficult and technical area of contracts. This is particularly important at the moment as digital rights can be tricky.

4/ Financial back up – they can chase up your royalties and talk to your publishers about outstanding monies owed to you.

These days having potential isn’t enough, your manuscript must be as perfect as you can make it before it goes anywhere near a publisher. A good agent can play a vital role in this process.

Who Represents Some of the Best Children's Writers?

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

Remember to check each agent’s website for submission guidelines before you send anything out. Or ring the agency for details – I know it’s daunting but they are always happy to advise you on how (or if) to submit. Be warned – you may get the agent herself/himself on the phone. Be prepared.

Highly Recommended Children’s Agents:

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

Derek Landy is represented by Michelle Kass, who also represents Patrick Ness. www.michellekass.co.uk

Darren Shan is represented by Christopher Little For general enquiries please email: www.christopherlittle.net

lonely beast 1
lonely beast 1

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

Contact: All submissions should be sent, in hard copy, by post to:

LAW, 14 Vernon Street, London, W14 0RJ www.lawagency.co.uk

Marita Conlon McKenna is represented by Caroline Sheldon www.carolinesheldon.co.uk

Irish Writer, Elizabeth Rose Murray recommends her agent, Sallyanne Sweeney of Mulcahy Associates (London). She says she’s ‘supportive, thorough, creative, knowledgeable & really champions her authors. And she really loves children’s/YA literature too – always a bonus!’ She’s also from Dublin originally.

Let's hear from some other Irish writers:

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

Dave Rudden: I'm with Clare Wallace at Darley Anderson - can't recommend her enough!

Clare also represents Olivia Hope.

Shirley McMillan: My agent is Jenny Savill at Andrew Nurnberg Associates. She is wonderful.

Jenny also represents Nigel Quinlan.

Other Recommended Children’s Agents (UK authors)

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

Cathy Cassidy
Cathy Cassidy

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

Julia Churchill at A M Heath

Eve White, Eve White Literary Agency

Veronique Baxter at David Higham

Catherine Clarke at Felicity Bryan

Robert Kirby at United Agents

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

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

Hilary Delamere at The Agency

Lindsey Fraser at Fraser Ross

Gemma Cooper at The Bent Agency

Penny Holroyde at Holroyde Cartey 

Elizabeth Roy – www.elizabethroy.co.uk

Laura Cecil – www.lauracecil.co.uk

Madeleine Milburn – www.madeleinemilburn.co.uk

Sam Copeland and Claire Wilson at Rogers Coleridge and White – www.rcwlitagency.com

Good luck with finding a great agent!

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

Sing Like a Whale

I’ve always been fascinated by dolphins and whales. When I was nine I tried to teach myself how to speak humpback whale by listening to a plastic record of their amazing song. Strange but true! The record came attached to a copy of National Geographic magazine and it was one of my prized possessions.

My latest book
My latest book

Every day after school I’d shut myself in my room and wail and moan like a humpback. My mum used to rush into my room, thinking I was sick. If you’ve ever heard a humpback whale singing you’ll know what I mean.

There are lots of dolphins in the waters around Ireland, especially the west coast and I’ve been lucky to see them on many occasions. I’ve seen whales too, in both Ireland and New Zealand.

I’ve always wanted to write a book featuring whales or dolphins, so when I started writing The Songbird Café Girls series, set on a small island off West Cork, I knew it was time to unleash my passion for sea mammals.

I had so much fun researching Aurora and the Popcorn Dolphin, book three in the Songbird series (she’s Rory for short) and I learned a lot about sea mammals along the way. I used some of my (and Rory’s) favourite dolphin and whale facts to write the quiz for you below. Do try it!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

Rory’s Dolphin and Whale Quiz

dolphin with blow hole
dolphin with blow hole

How much do you know about dolphins and whales? Try this fun quiz and see! Answers are at the end – but don’t peek!

Question 1: What animals are whales and dolphins most closely related to?

A/ Crocodiles

B/ Hoofed mammals like hippos

C/ Elephants

Question 2: How far can a humpback whale’s song travel?

A/ 100 km

B/ 1,000 Km

C/ 10,000 km

Question 3: What is the largest animal that has ever lived on earth?

A/ Fin Whale

B/ Tyrannosaurus Rex

C/ Blue Whale

Question 4: Can dolphins drown?

A/Yes

B/No

Question 5: How do dolphins sleep?

A/ They curl up on the sea bed

B/ They float on top of the water

C/ They shut down half their brain

Answers:

1/ B A lot of people answer elephants, but they are most closely related to hippos.

2/ C The sound can take 8 hours to travel this distance.

3/ C The Blue whale can weigh up to 170 tonnes or the weight of 30 African elephants. The Tyrannosaurus Rex only weighed 7 tonnes.

4/ A Like all mammals, whales and dolphins have to breathe air. Whales can stay underwater for up to 90 minutes, dolphins need to breathe every 10 or 15 minutes.

5/ C Dolphins have to be conscious to breath. This means that they cannot go into a full deep sleep, so instead they shut down half their brain – this is called unihemispheric sleeping.

Review of Flawed by Cecelia Ahern

Cecelia Ahern

2

Cecelia Ahern

This review was first published in The Irish Independent.

A new book by Cecelia Ahern always creates a stir. She has sold over 4.9 million books worldwide and with two movies based on her work, plus a television series to her name, she is one of Ireland's most prolific writers.

She has now added a YA (young adult) novel to her vast repertoire. Flawed is set in a dystopian future where being perfect is the ultimate goal, and it's aimed firmly at teenagers, although her loyal adult readers may also 'cross over'.

The main character, Celestine North, sees herself as perfect. She comes from a law-abiding family: her mother is a "model in high demand", her father is the head of a television station, News 24. Ruled over by the 'Guild', in this society those who lie, cheat or steal must wear an armband emblazoned with a red letter F, and their skin or tongue (in the case of lying) must be branded with the same letter. So far, so The Scarlett Letter meets Louise O'Neill's Only Ever Yours. At the opening of the book, Bosco Craven, head of the Guild and father of Celestine's boyfriend, Art, is celebrating Earth Day with Celestine and her family. Another family, the Tinders, are late for dinner and as the group sits down without them, sirens rent the air.

On the street outside, the mother of the Tinder family and Celestine's piano teacher, Angelina Tinder, is dragged away by 'Whistleblowers' in front of her friends and neighbours, deemed flawed by the Guild.

Celestine is "a girl of definitions, of logic, of black and white". Shocked by Angelina's arrest for an assisted suicide ("theft from society"), she understands that rules must be enforced; however, a day later, she boards a bus with flawed citizens and her logical and compassionate actions towards an elderly Flawed man land her in a lock up, awaiting trial as a Flawed herself, flipping her perfect life forever.

The jump from old, perfect Celestine to new, questioning Celestine is too sudden. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games (one of the most interesting heroines in YA dystopia) is a fearless, feisty hunter even before the Games commence, but Celestine's character isn't given time to bed in before she starts questioning her world's order. Luckily, this new, sceptical Celestine is worth knowing.

The perfect girl who challenges the status quo is a common theme in YA fiction and Ahern manages to breathe life into an intriguing and original teen character. Yes, Celestine and her love of structure and logic can be irritating and pedantic, but she is real, and her fear, pain and growing sense of outrage leap off the page. Add a love triangle with two handsome yet different boys to the mix - Art, and bad boy Carrick, who Celestine meets in the lock-up - some smart, thoughtful dialogue, and a powerful, heart-stopping torture scene in the Branding Chamber, and the reader will overlook any vagueness or lack of clarity in the world building.

Ahern is to be commended for trying something new. It would have been easy for her to stick to what she's best known for, contemporary novels for adults with a touch of magical realism. Flawed is a fast-paced, brave and compelling teen novel written with passion and heart that will fascinate her loyal fans and bring new readers into the fold. With movie rights already optioned by Warner Brothers, and a second Flawed book in the pipeline, Ahern's star shows no sign of burning out.

Down with the Kids: Writing YA

This piece was originally published in The Irish Independent. These days, children's books are big business with Irish bestsellers Cecelia Ahern and Sheila O'Flanagan about to join the fray. Already having dipped their toe in the YA pool are actors Russell Brand, Chris O'Dowd and Emma Thompson, plus musician-turned-writer Julian Gough, who has just published a charming early reader called Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit's Habits.

flawed
flawed

On March 24, Ahern will publish Flawed, her new novel. With many award-winning novels under her belt, not to mention two movies and a television show, you might be forgiven for presuming Flawed is a contemporary drama for adults set in the world of politics or perhaps modelling. However, you'd be wrong. Flawed is set in a future dystopian world where society values perfection above all else, and it's aimed firmly at teenagers.

A life-long fan of reading, in an interview for Mumsnet Ahern says: "The books that I remember are the books that I read to myself such as Enid Blyton's Famous Five, The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins."

Sheila O'Flanagan's novel for age 10+, The Crystal Run (published in April), is a fantasy novel about a boy named Joe who is bullied at school and one day steps through a portal into a different world.

It's hardly surprising that Ahern and O'Flanagan's agents and publishers have encouraged their interest in writing for youngsters. For the first time since records began, children's book sales have recently surpassed adult fiction sales across Ireland and the UK. With growth of 11pc year-on-year in the UK in 2015, children's sales now account for over 30pc of the market's total value, up from 27pc in 2014.

Children are digital natives who have grown up with computers and the internet, but research shows they love 'real', physical books. They are also avid book collectors, and as any former Enid Blyton or Goosebumps fan will tell you, never underestimate the power of the book collector. My daughter has a manga and Jacqueline Wilson collection that would make any library proud. My neighbour's son collects David Walliams books.

Walliams' comedies, from Awful Auntie to his latest, Grandpa's Great Escape, have been taking the children's literature world by storm, but he never set out to write for them.

In an interview for the BBC Radio 1 website about his first children's book, The Boy in the Dress, Walliams says: "I had the idea of, 'what if a 12-year-old boy went to school dressed as a girl?' Then I thought, 'what's the best medium for this?' And I thought, 'well, it's a story about a child, so maybe it should be a book for children'."

darkmouth 3
darkmouth 3

Former journalist-turned-bestselling-children's-author Shane Hegarty had a similar experience. He hit the headlines in 2013 when news broke of his six-figure children's book deal. The third book in his fantasy adventure, Darkmouth: Chaos Descends, will be published in April. But, like Walliams, he never set out to write a children's book.

"I wasn't really writing for kids," says Hegarty. "I was writing for me. I'd written some adult books and I really wanted to do another book but I wanted to give fiction a go. I wrote the story that I would have liked as a boy. I wrote it for my own enjoyment and entertainment."

If he could give Ahern and O'Flanagan some advice on writing for children, what would that be?

He laughs. "I went to Cecelia for advice and I've met Sheila. I bow to their experience and talent. However, I will say this: the big difference in writing for children is the events.

"It's scary being plonked in front of 500 kids but it's hard to imagine a better audience than a group of 10-year-olds. They are the most excited, excitable, interested, curious and unselfconscious audience. And when they love something, they'll tell you. As a writer, it allows you to be free and to lose your inhibitions. And to act the eejit."

So did O'Flanagan know she was writing a children's book? "I wanted it to be an adventure story," she explains, "and it seemed to me that I could focus on that more with younger characters. Unlike my adult novels, where the characters usually drive the plot, in this case I had a very clear idea of the overall plot first."

Marita Conlon-McKenna also has some advice for Ahern and O'Flanagan. Her famine novel, Under the Hawthorne Tree, is a modern children's classic and she has almost 20 years' experience of writing for both children and adults. "When a child loves your book, they will read it 16 times and know it word for word," says Conlon-McKenna. "They will talk about your book with their friends, play games based on your book. It becomes part of their world, part of their life, part of their family."

Marita Conlon-McKenna
Marita Conlon-McKenna

She gets hundreds of letters every year from young readers all over the world and answers every one. "Children will confide in you," she warns. "Be prepared for this. You have to treat each child with great care and great respect. It's a huge privilege to write for children. Your audience are very special. Never take it for granted."

So who will be next to join the children's arena?

My money's on Sinead Moriarty. When asked about this possibility, she says: "All of my books have children in them so I do constantly think about children and how they behave and think and see the world. I love writing young characters, they are so much fun.

"My kids keep asking me to write a children's book," she adds. "So hopefully I'll get around to it before they are adults."

And she's looking forward to seeing Ahern and O'Flanagan's books on the shelves. "They are very talented ladies. I have no doubt their books for young readers will be fantastic."

Sarah Webb writes for both adults and children. Her latest book for children is The Songbird Café: Aurora and the Popcorn Dolphin (Walker Books)

Riches Galore: New Titles Spring 2016

In 2016 I will be posting regular reviews of children's books and YA novels right here. I'll do a mixture of stand alone reviews and round ups and I'll cover as many titles as I can. I like star systems myself, so I'll be awarding each title between 1 and 5 stars. I'll also be posting some reviews from my friends at Dubray Books and other friends in the children's book tribe. So stay tuned. And do let me know what you think or if there are any children's books that have particularly impressed you.

So far in 2016 it’s been a strong spring, with some stand out titles published for all ages.

Book of the Season

knights of the borrowed
knights of the borrowed

It has to be Knights of the Borrowed Dark (Penguin/Random House) by Dave Rudden. Believe the hype (and there has been a lot). This is a cracking middle grade (age 8 to 12) fantasy-adventure with some genuinely creepy scenes.

The book opens in an old fashioned orphanage called Crosscarper which ‘slouched against the mountainside like it had been dropped there’. Orphan, Denizen Hardwick is whisked away by an aunt he’s never heard of, let alone met. When he reaches Dublin he’s in for a shock. His aunt is head of the Knights of the Borrowed Dark and Denizen is about to find out how just terrifying the world can be when Darkness seeps through the cracks.

Rudden’s writing is suburb. Every sentence is carefully crafted and it’s not often I stop to wonder at the language in a fantasy-adventure novel. On a long drive ‘the road looped round the shoulders of the mountain like a tailor’s measuring tape.’ A woman is ‘tall and thin, with a spine curved like an old coat hanger.’

The female characters are strong and realistic, and you’ll fall in love with the naïve, brave bookworm, Denizen. A joy to read, it’s a must for all readers of 9+, adults most definitely included. (***** 5 stars)

Other strong titles for YA (Young Adults)

Plain Jane by Kim Hood (O’Brien Press)

plain jane
plain jane

I loved Kim Hood’s previous novel, Finding a Voice and this one is even better. Jane’s sister has cancer and Jane has simply become ‘Emma’s sister’ in the small village in Canada where they live. She loves her sister, but she’s tired of what the illness has done to their family.

A complex and highly realistic character, Jane is beautifully drawn and although she’s not always easy to like, the reader walks in her shoes and grows to care about her deeply.

Hood is a gifted writer, and the themes she chooses to tackle – in this book, sisterhood, cancer and teen mental illness - are deeply personal and always fascinating and I can’t wait to see what she does next. (**** 4 stars) Look out for my full review in The Irish Independent

Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan (Little Island)

A storming novel dealing with child abuse and its aftermath. Sullivan has a very distinctive, individual writing voice and her writing reminds me of a bird on a wire, delicately balanced with inner strength and the power to soar at any moment.

needlework
needlework

Not an easy book to read at times, but so worth seeking out.

Along with Louise O’Neill and Kim Hood, Sullivan is one of our most talented and interesting YA writers. A true artist.

Early Readers and Middle Grade novels - age 8 to 12 - to come soon!

Picture Books

Blocks by Irene Dickson (Nosy Crow)

blocks picture book
blocks picture book

A picture book debut, this is a clever and beautifully designed book about a young girl and boy and their favourite blocks. Ruby has red blocks. Benji has blue blocks. What happens when Benji steals one of Ruby’s blocks? Can they learn to share and play together?

The simple yet clever concept, strong writing and eye catching illustrations combine to make this a real winner. Dickson’s colour palette – an attractive warm orange-red, marine blue and Kelly green - is carefully chosen and very pleasing to the eye. Her images are thoughtfully placed on the page and her use of fluid, thick dark brown outlines is unusual and works perfectly. (*** 3 stars)

Bravo Nosy Crow for discovering this exciting new picture book talent.

Tiger in a Tutu by Fabi Santiago (Orchard)

tiger in a tutu
tiger in a tutu

Wonderfully expressive illustrations, gloriously coloured in rose, teal and sunflower yellow make this a real treat to pour over. And the story’s cracking too – the tale of Max, a Parisian tiger with big dreams. Max wants to be a ballerina and when he meets a young girl called Celeste who also loves to dance, his dreams may just come true. (*** 3 stars)

Where are You, Blue Kangaroo? By Emma Chichester Clark (HarperCollins)

It’s great to see new editions of this modern classic. Lily loves Blue Kangaroo but she’s not always very careful with him. But one day she learns her lesson…

Lively illustrations in glorious, happy colours, this is well worth revisiting. (*** 3 stars)

New imprint Two Hoots (Pan Macmillan) has launched with 3 picture books, 1 debut and 2 by established picture book makers.

The debut is the most interesting. Little Red by Bethan Woollvin is a retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood tale, but this Little Red is not taking the wolf’s nonsense lying down. The illustrations are highly distinctive, and the colours are so rich they seem to dig deep into the paper. Wolllvin won the Macmillan Prize for Illustration in 2014 and it’s not hard to see why – her work is bold and confident and will thrill young eyes. I can’t wait to see her next book. (**** 4 stars)

A spread from Little Red
A spread from Little Red
tidy
tidy

Tidy by Emily Gravett is an interesting piece of work. Best known for her award winning picture books, Monkey and Me and Wolves, this book looks and sounds very different. It’s written in rhyme for a start and the illustrations are carefully coloured and the edges of the characters look highly finished, unlike Gravett’s usual lively, sketchy pencil lines. The whole book is a little too clean and polished – from the carefully constructed text to the rather flat illustrations. I’ve always liked the chaos and slightly anarchy in Gravett’s previous books. Wolves is inspired (a 5 star choice).

However parents who enjoy reading Julia Donaldson’s picture books to their children will no doubt love it. (** 2 stars)

The final book from Two Hoots is There is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith, best known for (with John Scieszka) The Stinky  Cheeseman and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. It’s not so much a story as a series of lists. A boy leaves his tribe of kids (young goats) and finds a colony of penguins, a smack of jellyfish, a pod of whales, an unkindness of ravens and so on until he finds his real tribe, a group of actual children.

tribe of kids
tribe of kids

The illustrations look timeless - there is a solidity and grace to them - and the colour palette of greens, browns and teals is attractive. It’s playful, fun and beautifully produced, with glittering gold foil on the cover.  (*** 3 stars)

Congratulations to Two Hoots on their launch. I wish them all the best with their new list.

I also enjoyed Dave’s Cave by Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow), a book full of humour and fun. Written in ‘cave man language’ it tells the story of Dave who is tired of his old cave and goes in search of a new one.

The illustrations are stylish and distinctive. Interestingly Dave’s hair is teal – it seems to be the picture book colour du jour. (*** 3 stars)

I’ll Wait, Mr Panda by Steve Anthony (Hodder) sees the return of Mr Panda. This time he’s making a surprise, but will any of the animals wait to see what it is? Some of the best page turns of any recent picture book, this is a fun book to share with young readers over and over again. (**** 4 stars)

lets see ireland
lets see ireland

And finally, an attractive, quirky new Irish picture book by Sarah Bowie called Let’s See Ireland (O’Brien Press) which I’ll review properly soon. I loved it. **** (4 stars) 

The Pursuit of Awesome

The Pursuit of Awesome - For Web (2)
The Pursuit of Awesome - For Web (2)

Recently I received an email from television presenter, Diana Bunici. I first met Diana when she presented a children’s show on RTE (like the BBC) called Elev8. She’s always been very interested in books and I wasn’t surprised when she told me she was putting together her own book. Her book, The Pursuit of Awesome: Stellar Musings and Advice on Achieving Your Dreams was published this month and is a fantastic read. It’s packed full of advice from writers, actors, sports people, designers, broadcasters and business people, from Derek Landy, to Rory McIllroy, Evanna Lynch (Luna in Harry Potter), Cecelia Ahern and Hozier.

The advice includes:

‘There’s only one way of getting what you want in life and that’s my throwing yourself into what you want to do and making it happen.’ Radio presenter, Rick O’Shea

‘Ignore what’s hot right now. Have fun. Slice off a big piece of yourself with everything you write and put it on the page.’ Derek Landy

‘You are the director of your own life movie, the author of your own autobiography, the artist in control of the paintbrush and indeed, the blank canvas. Splash those colours proudly. Life’s too short to stick to a palette of black and grey.’ Diana Bunici

She even allowed me give teens some advice:

‘You may be young, but you can do whatever you set your mind to. Don’t let anyone put you off, or say you can’t do something – you can. Believe in yourself.’

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? I’d love to know!

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

Aurora and the Popcorn Dolphin is Out!

My new book, Aurora and the Popcorn Dolphin has just come out in Ireland and the UK and features a very special dolphin called Click. I’ve always been fascinated by dolphins and whales. When I was nine I tried to teach myself how to speak humpback whale by listening to a plastic record of their amazing song. Strange but true! The record came attached to a copy of National Geographic magazine and it was one of my prized possessions.

Out now!
Out now!

Every day after school I’d shut myself in my room and wail and moan like a humpback. My mum used to rush into my room, thinking I was sick. If you’ve ever heard a humpback whale singing you’ll know what I mean.

There are lots of dolphins in the waters around Ireland where I live and I’ve been lucky to see them on many occasions. I’ve seen whales too, in both Ireland and New Zealand.

I had so much fun researching this book and I learned a lot about sea mammals along the way. I used some of my (and Rory’s) favourite dolphin and whale facts to write the quiz below. Do try it!

Rory’s Dolphin and Whale Quiz

 How much do you know about dolphins and whales? Try this fun quiz and see!

 Question 1: What animals are whales and dolphins most closely related to?

A/ Crocodiles

B/ Hoofed mammals like hippos

C/ Elephants

Question 2: What is the largest animal that has ever lived on earth?

A/ Fin whale

B/ Tyrannosaurus Rex

C/ Blue whale

Question 3: Can dolphins drown?

A/Yes

B/No

Question 4: How do dolphins sleep?

A/ They curl up on the sea bed

B/ They float on top of the water

C/ They shut down half their brain

Answers:

1/ B A lot of people answer elephants, but they are most closely related to hippos.

2/ C The Blue whale can weigh up to 170 tonnes or the weight of 30 African elephants. The Tyrannosaurus Rex only weighed 7 tonnes.

3/ A Like all mammals, whales and dolphins have to breathe air. Whales can stay underwater for up to 90 minutes, dolphins need to breathe every 10 or 15 minutes.

4/ C Dolphins have to be conscious to breath. This means that they cannot go into a full deep sleep, so instead they shut down half their brain – this is called unihemispheric sleeping.

Children's Book Ireland Awards 2016 - Shortlist

Nine titles will compete for the CBI Book of the Year Awards 2016, the most prestigious awards for children’s books in Ireland.

 The shortlist for the 26th CBI Book of the Year Awards was revealed today, Tuesday 8th March 2016 at the Duncairn Arts Centre, Belfast. Each of the nine titles will compete for the high calibre awards, which includes the innovative Children’s Choice Award, voted for by young readers across the country. The winners will be announced at a ceremony to be held on 23rd May at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre.

The shortlisted titles are:

imaginary fred
imaginary fred

Imaginary Fred written by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

The Day the Crayons Came Home, writtenby Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne

Gulliver, by Jonathan Swift, retold by Mary Webb, illustrated by Lauren O’Neill

asking for it cover
asking for it cover

Asking for It by Louise O’Neill

Ná Gabh ar Scoil writtenby Máire Zepf, illustrated by Tarsila Krüse

Irelandopedia writtenby John Burke, illustrated by Fatti Burke

The Wordsmith by Patricia Forde

One by Sarah Crossan

Founded in 1990, The CBI Book of the Year Awards are the leading children’s book awards in Ireland. They are a celebration of excellence in children’s literature and illustration and are open to books for all ages written in English or Irish by authors and illustrators born or resident in Ireland and published between 1st January and 31st December each year. Previous winners include Oliver Jeffers for Once Upon an Alphabet, John Boyne for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas; Sheena Wilkinson for Grounded, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick for There and Hagwitch and Kate Thompson for The New Policeman, Annan Water and The Alchemist’s Apprentice.

one cover
one cover

Dr Patricia Kennon, chair of the judging panel that read almost 80 titles, said: ‘The nine shortlisted titles take us on a imaginative journey around Ireland and beyond, showcasing the range of excellent books being created by Irish authors and illustrators. These books span a wide range of ages from incredibly engaging picturebooks to hard-hitting, thought-provoking novels for teenagers and young adults, in both languages. The members of the judging panel and I very much enjoyed the opportunity to explore and celebrate the best of contemporary Irish children’s publishing.’

Children’s Books Ireland (CBI), which administers the awards, will again be working closely with reading groups from schools, libraries and bookshops across the island of Ireland. These young readers will choose the winner of the Children’s Choice Award. Reading groups nationwide are invited to sign up for the shadowing scheme to be in with a chance of receiving free copies of all 9 shortlisted titles via www.childrensbooksireland.ie. Five other awards will be made in May also – The Book of the Year Award, Honour Awards for Fiction and Illustration, the Eilís Dillon award for a first children’s book and the Judges’ Special Award.

Jenny Murray, Acting Director at CBI said ‘At Children’s Books Ireland our mission is to make books a part of every child’s life. With this year’s shortlist, CBI is honoured to be able to highlight the very best that Irish authors and illustrators have to offer it is particularly satisfying to note that of the nine shortlisted titles, four are Irish published. This list includes children’s books for all ages covering titles that are challenging, informative, uplifting and funny. They are truly world-class in their quality. We know that young readers nationwide will enjoy this selection’

This year’s shortlist contains three titles from two former CBI Book of the Year Award winners, Oliver Jeffers whose Once Upon an Alphabet took the overall prize in 2015 and John Boyne who won with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in 2007. Five of the authors and illustrators shortlisted are new to the CBI Book of the Year Awards shortlist: Lauren O’Neill for Gulliver, Máire Zepf and Tarsila Krüse forNá Gabh ar Scoil and father-daughter team John and Fatti Burke for Irelandopedia. Shortlistees Louise O’Neill and Sarah Crossan are previous winners of the Éilis Dillon award for a first children’s book.

A summary of each shortlisted title follows:

IMAGINARY FRED written by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers – suitable for all ages

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books

ISBN: 9780008126148 (HBK)

There is only one thing that hurts worse than a headache or a bee sting, and that’s loneliness. Imaginary Fred is a friend to many... but only for a short while. When Fred's companions make real friends, he fades away and returns to the sky to await his next pal. However, things change when Fred meets a boy named Sam, who promises they will be friends always. Things couldn’t be more perfect, this is until Sam gets a real friend and Fred begins to fear the worst: that he may soon be replaced.

THE DAY THE CRAYONS CAME HOME writtenby Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers – suitable for all ages

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books

ISBN: 9780008124434 (HBK)

The hilarious sequel to the prize-winning, international bestseller The Day the Crayons Quit! Watch out - the crayons are back and they're crosser than ever! One day Duncan receives a set of postcards from his crayons who been lost, forgotten, broken - even melted in a clothes dryer and stuck to a pair of underpants!

A hilarious text and joyful illustrations combine to show that crayons have feelings too in this laugh-out-loud sequel.

THE BOY AT THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAINby John Boyne – suitable for 12+

Publisher: Doubleday

ISBN: 9780857534521 (HBK)

When Pierrot becomes an orphan, he must leave his home in Paris for a new life with his aunt Beatrix, a servant in a wealthy Austrian household. But this is no ordinary time, for it is 1935 and the Second World War is fast approaching; and this is no ordinary house, for this is the Berghof,the home of Adolf Hitler. Pierrot is quickly taken under Hitler's wing and thrown into an increasingly dangerous new world: a world of terror, secrets, and betrayal from which he may never be able to escape.

GULLIVERby Jonathan Swift, retold by Mary Webb, illustrated by Lauren O’Neill – suitable for 8+

Publisher: The O’Brien Press

ISBN: 9781847176769 (HBK)

When Gulliver sets sail for the Tropics, the last thing he expects is to find himself stranded in a land of small people- so small, in fact, they are the size of his thumb! Despite their size, the islanders manage to take Gulliver hostage and in order to survive he must learn their ways. A second adventure sees Gulliver arrive in a land of terrifying Giants. The tables turn now that Gulliver himself is as tiny as a mouse. Once again he must fend for his life. Simply falling into bowl of cream could be the end of him! Gulliver is an abundantly illustrated retelling of a favourite classic.

ASKING FOR ITwrittenby Louise O’Neill – suitable for 16+

Publisher: Quercus Books

ISBN: 9781784295868 (HBK)

It’s the beginning of the summer in a small town in Ireland. Emma O’Donovan is eighteen years old, beautiful, happy, confident. One night, there’s a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma. The next morning, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She can’t remember what happened, she doesn’t know how she got there. She doesn’t know why she’s in pain.

But everyone else does. Photographs taken at the party show, in explicit detail, what happened to Emma that night. But sometimes people don’t want to believe what is right in front of them, especially when the truth concerns the town’s heroes…

NÁ GABH AR SCOILwrittenby Máire Zepf, illustrated by Tarsila Krüse – suitable for 4+

Publisher: Futa Fata

ISBN: 9781906907983 (HBK)

Tá sceitiminí ar Cóilín.  Tá sé ag dul ar scoil inniu ach tá fadhb aige.  Ní maith le Mamaí Cóilín dul ar a chéad lá ar scoil.  Tá ar Cóilín rud a dhéanamh faoi sin.

Little Cóilín is very excited about his first day in school.He’s up early and ready to go, but there’s just one problem –Mommy can’t bear the thought of being separated from him!

IRELANDOPEDIA writtenby John Burke, illustrated by Fatti Burke – suitable for all ages

Publisher: Gill & Macmillan

ISBN: 9780717169382 (HBK)

Irelandopedia is an exciting and vibrant compendium of facts, figures and fascinating findings about our little Emerald Isle. From the most southerly point in Cork to the most northerly point in Donegal, follow a tour of the best sights and sounds Ireland has to offer.

THE WORDSMITHby Patricia Forde – suitable for 12+

Publisher: Little Island

ISBN: 9781908195999 (PBK)

On the death of her master, Letta is suddenly promoted from apprentice to wordsmith, charged with collecting and archiving words in post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval Ark. When she uncovers a sinister plan to suppress language and rob the people of Ark of the power of speech, she realises that she has to save not only words, but the culture itself. A beautiful and gripping dystopian story of how words make us who we are.

ONE by Sarah Crossan – suitable for 14+

Publisher: Bloomsbury

ISBN: 9781408863114 (HBK)

Grace and Tippi are twins – conjoined twins. And their lives are about to change. No longer able to afford homeschooling, they must venture into the world – a world of stares, sneers and cruelty. Will they find more than that at school? Can they find real friends? And what about love? But what neither Grace or Tippi realises is that a heart-wrenching decision lies ahead. A decision that could tear them apart. One that will change their lives even more than they ever imagined…

From Carnegie Medal shortlisted author Sarah Crossan, this moving and beautifully crafted novel about identity, sisterhood and love ultimately asks one question: what does it mean to want and have a soulmate?

Children's Books Ireland Book of the Year 2016 Predictions

The CBI Book of the Year Awards Shortlist will be announced later today. Every year I predict what will be on this shortlist. It's a very strong year for teen books. My favourite Irish book of the year was One by Sarah Crossan which I strongly tip as the overall winner. There are usually 10 books on the shortlist. The winners of the various categories are announced in May.

Here are my predictions - let's see how many I get right this year!

Overall Book of the Year Award 2016 (for books published in 2015)

one cover
one cover

One by Sarah Crossan 

Eilis Dillon Award (1st Book)

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

Judge's Special Award

Once Upon a Place edited by Eoin Colfer

Children's Choice Award

As the children will be voting on this in the shadowing scheme, I won't predict this one.

Honour Award for Illustration

Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers or The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (depending on the judges' tastes - both are outstanding)

Shortlisted Titles

I'm a Girl by Yasmeen Ismail

The Seal's Fate by Eoin Colfer

Name Upon Name by Sheena Wilkinson

The Wordsmith by Patricia Forde

Asking for It by Louise O'Neill

Hubert by Caitríona Hastings

And that's our 10 (ok 11 to be strictly accurate)!

If non fiction is included: Irelandopedia

May also be shortlisted:

Behind the Walls by Nicola Pierce

The Butterfly Shell by Maureen White

Resonance by Celine Kiernan

Still Falling by Sheena Wilkinson

The Snow Beast by Chris Judge

Hubert by Caitríona Hastings

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne

A fantastic year for fiction, and teen fiction in particular. Congrats to everyone who had a book published in 2015 - no mean feat in itself. And keep writing!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

Coming Out Fighting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This blog first appeared on the Girls Heart Books blog. 

Diary of a School Event in Words and Pictures

One of my favourite parts of being a writer is talking to young readers about my work. Every week I visit 1 or 2 schools or libraries to talk to students. Here's the diary of one of those trips. 7am Get up and walk dog - I always pack my bag the night before my event. I have all kinds of things in my green event bag - books, photos, toy whales.

My Green Event Bag
My Green Event Bag

My Green Event Bag

IMG_7081[1]
IMG_7081[1]
IMG_7082[1]
IMG_7082[1]

8am Say goodbye to my dog, Lucky and get on the road in my Mini Cooper. Yes, I have the same car as Clover in the Ask Amy Green books! 10.00am Arrive in Loughboy Library in Kilkenny and set up for my first event with the children from St John of God's National School.

IMG_7085[1]
IMG_7085[1]

Can you spot the whale and dolphin models? There's a shark in there too - his tail goes from side to side, as he's a fish. Sea mammals' tails go up and down.

IMG_7083[1]
IMG_7083[1]

10am to 11.30am Talk to the students about growing up (I was late to reading and I talk about this and how having heart and grit are more important than being top of the class), my favourite books, how I became a writer and sea mammals. They ask me some great questions about writing, publishing and whales and dolphins. We do a sea mammal quiz - teachers against the pupils - and the pupils win!

Sarah Webb Visit 2016 004 (2)
Sarah Webb Visit 2016 004 (2)

My latest book (out in March) called Aurora and the Popcorn Dolphin is all about a dolphin and I have a huge love for sea mammals, especially bottlenosed dolphins and humpback whales. I spent 2 years researching it and I'm still reading up about these amazing creatures. I don't think I'll ever know enough about them and new discoveries are made all the time.

My New Book, Out in March
My New Book, Out in March

My New Book, Out in March

Sarah Webb Visit 2016 006 (2)
Sarah Webb Visit 2016 006 (2)

12.00 to 1.15 Here I am talking to the second school, Gael Scoil Osraí about my school days. I'm holding a copy book from when I was 5! Their teachers were pretty smart and when it came to the quiz they drew with the pupils (who are also very smart). This gang were particularly talented at singing humpback whale - it was a beautiful symphony of strange wailing and snorting noises!

1.30pm Hop in the car again after grabbing a sandwich and drive home again.

3.30 Arrive home and say hello to Lucky and the kids.

Writers, do YOU enjoy school visits?

Readers, has a writer visited YOUR school? I'd love to know all about it.

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This blog first appeared on Girls Heart Books website.

New Children's Books To Look Out For in 2016

Eoin Colfer
Eoin Colfer

This year looks set to be another stellar one for children's books, and Irish young adult (YA) in particular will blaze a trail in 2016. There are new titles from brand names such as Julia Donaldson, Eoin Colfer and Derek Landy, plenty of interesting debuts and some intriguing books from 'grown up' bestsellers Cecelia Ahern and Sheila O'Flanagan.

Children's Laureate Eoin Colfer's Iron Man novel for children comes from Marvel in autumn - and according to Colfer, the billionaire playboy Tony Stark is set to get the Dublin treatment. Puffin's lead title this spring is Dave Rudden's The Knights of the Borrowed Dark (March), the first in a trilogy featuring Denizen Hardwick, a boy who doesn't believe in magic until he's ambushed by a monster created from shadows. HarperCollins is very excited about Cecelia Ahern's debut YA novel, Flawed, set in a society where perfection is everything (March); while Hachette will be publishing The Crystal Run, Sheila O'Flanagan's fantasy debut for age 10-plus, in May. Gill and Macmillan presents its first YA novel ever in April, from Eilis Barrett, a writer who is a teenager herself. Her book, Oasis, is set in the future and follows a group of teen outcasts.

Little Island has been making waves with its strong fiction list, and looks set to do so again in 2016. First up in February is Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan, for young adult and adults, a novel about child abuse and its aftermath that I read in one sitting. An important and beautifully written book.

needlework
needlework

Also from Little Island for older teens is Anna Seidl's No Heros (March), the story of a school shooting and its aftermath, a publishing sensation in its native Germany; in May it launches The Best Medicine by Belfast writer Christine Hamill, about a 12-year-old boy whose mother has breast cancer.

Kim Hood's debut YA novel, Finding a Voice was shortlisted for the YA Book Prize in the UK last year and her second novel, Plain Jane, is out in April from O'Brien Press. The story of a 16-year-old girl whose sister has cancer, it's one I'm looking forward to as I love her vibrant writing voice.

The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood (Macmillan, May) follows physics prodigy Gottie Oppenheimer as she navigates a summer of both grief and rips in the space-time continuum; while The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse (Macmillan, April) is a World War II story set in Amsterdam about a girl who gets involved with the resistance. Puffin Ireland editor Claire Hennessy's YA novel, Nothing Tastes as Good, is published by Hot Key in July and is already creating quite a stir. Annabel is a recently deceased anorexic teen who is assigned as a ghostly 'helper' to Julia, another girl with an eating problem. Brian Conaghan's The Bombs That Brought Us Together (Bloomsbury, April), dealing with terrorism and war, sounds very promising; and Derek Landy is back with the second book in his Demon Road trilogy, Desolation (HarperCollins, March).

For readers aged nine-plus, there's book three of Shane Hegarty's Darkmouth series, Chaos Descends (HarperCollins, April); and also the latest novel by Brian Gallagher (O'Brien Press, April) called Arrivals, a Canadian murder mystery set in 1928. Ger Siggins is to publish another book in his popular sport series, Rugby Flyer (O'Brien Press, February); and Matt Griffin tackles a war between humans and fairies in Stormweaver (O'Brien Press, April). It's great to see Corkman Kieran Crowley back with The Mighty Dynamo (Macmillan, May), about a boy who dreams of being a footballer. I'm currently reading the exquisite Anna and the Swallow Man by New York-based Gavriel Savit (Bodley Head, January), set in World War II. And finally for this age group, the US writer Kate DiCamillo returns with Raymie Nightingale, a novel about a friendship which changes lives forever (Walker Books, April).

Poolbeg will add Maebh Banrion na Troda (February) and Sceal Naomh Padraig (March) to their Nutshell library for younger readers; and the ultimate staying-between-the-lines challenge has to be Where's Wally? The Colouring Book, from Walker Books in June. Sarah Bowie's picture book Let's See Ireland (O'Brien Press, April) has striking artwork; and finally, Julia Donaldson's Detective Dog, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie (Macmillan, June), about a dog with an extra keen sense of smell, sounds as if it will make both children and parents smile.

This piece first appeared in the Sunday Independent.