Sarah Webb's Top 3 Tips - Writing Picturebooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in writing, Sarah X

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.

Mammoth March!

My Writer in Residence Diary for March 

March was a manic but wonderful month, full of book events and book fun. The picturebook art exhibition, A World of Colour featuring the work of Beatrice Alemagna and Chris Haughton -  images above - ran from 4th  February to the end of March and it was such a joy passing it daily on the way to my Writer in Residence room on the 5th floor. A world of colour it certainly was!

On 10th March I attended a conference about Mental Health and the Written Word in the Lexicon Studio which was most interesting and I also spoke on a panel called Happy Kids: Raising Children in the Digital Age with some experts in the area of children and safely online. The podcast is available here

I attended two talks by international writers for adults, Mohsin Hamid and George Saunders which were excellent (preview Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival events).

I took part in a World Book Day event for schools with Marita Conlon-McKenna and Chris Judge and my book clubs and writing clubs continued during the month. We had a very well attended Drop in Writing Clinic with over 15 young writers and also a clinic for adults writing for children which was also very well attended. Our teen creatives had workshops in Vlogging with Dave Lordan and Comic Books with Alan Nolan and on 1st April were visited by Dave Rudden who gave them tips for their Junior Cert which went down a treat!

I also continued with the Baby Book Clubs in Deansgrange library (last Tues of every month at 10am and Dalkey (31st March, 7, 21 + 28th April 10.30am), Kids Create Workshops in Stillorgan for age 7+ (next ones are 4th May + 15th June booking required with the library) and a writing workshop in Blackrock Library all about creating realistic characters.

The Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival also took place in March. I programmed the children's and school's events and the highlight for me was meeting two of my book heroes, Judith Kerr (The Tiger Who Came to Tea) and Beatrice Alemagna.

It was a fantastic five days of book fun and here are some of my favourite photos from the week. Enjoy! 

Robin Stevens, Katherine Woodfine and Jo Cotterill start the slide show from the festival - click on their image to see the other photos.

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

Review - A Dangerous Crossing by Jane Mitchell

There has long been a tradition in children’s books of tackling difficult periods in history through the medium of fiction. John Boyne’s powerful Holocaust tale, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas won numerous awards and was made into a successful film, and more recently Zana Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow, set in a modern-day Australian detention centre was shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.

While the settings are important, where these stories really succeed is in the characterisation. Jane Mitchell’s new book for age 11+, A Dangerous Crossing (Little Island) joins these novels as an exemplary example of how to tell a difficult story through fiction by making us care deeply about the main character.

Ghalib and his family live in Kobani, a town in Syria near Aleppo. After daily attacks by ISIS they are nervous and exhausted, their future uncertain. The book opens at a souq in Freedom Square in Kobani. Egged on by his cousin, Hamza, Ghalib and his little brother, Aylan are raiding the blown-out shops and stalls for clothes and shoes to sell on to a ‘buyer’. When they get home they realise they are one pair of shoes short and Hamza decides they must go back to the souq without Aylan, but Freedom Square is a very different place at night. ‘The streets reek … the stench of rotting rubbish mixes with smoke and pulverised concrete, smashed-up sewers and rot.  The night bloats its evil.’

While they are scavenging, a bomb hits the square. Ghalib escapes with burns to his feet but Hamza is badly injured. After much persuading from his wife, Ghalib’s father, Baba agrees to leave Kobani to find somewhere safer to live.

The family travel by minibus to Aleppo and from here they start the long and arduous walk towards the border with Turkey. Ghalib accidentally crosses the border without his family and finds himself alone in a Turkish refugee camp. The writer spent a week volunteering at the Jungle Camp at Calais and her descriptions of the Turkish camp ring with authenticity and truth.

As the title suggests and as is explained on the back cover of the book, Ghalib eventually makes it to a boat bound for Greece. Mitchell leaves the story open-ended but in an afterward explains what might have happened next to a boy like Ghalib. Mitchell is at all times mindful of her young audience and while she does not shy away from the despair of Ghalib’s situation, there is always hope for the boy and his family.

Each child character in the book is named after a real Syrian child. Most poignantly of all, Ghalib’s little brother, Aylan was named after the three-year-old whose photograph made global headlines when his body was washed up on the Mediterranean coast. He too was trying to cross to Greece with his family.

Endorsed by Amnesty International, this is an important book that deserves to be read in every home and classroom in Ireland.

Little Island e9.00

This review first appeared in The Irish Independent 

The Best Children's Book Agents 2017

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 2017 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 wise, 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!


Eoin Colfer - Represented by Sophie Hicks 

Eoin Colfer - Represented by Sophie Hicks 

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

Little Island are also happy to read unsolicited manuscripts – they have excellent submission guidelines here

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, details here.

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.


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.


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

Recommended Children’s Agents:

Eoin Colfer is represented by Sophie Hicks. Sophie is a very experienced agent and her writers rate her highly. She also represents Oisín McGann.

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

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

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

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

LAW, 14 Vernon Street, London, W14 0RJ

Marita Conlon McKenna is represented by Caroline Sheldon

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

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.

Sinéad O'Hart is represented by Polly Nolan who is also recommended by Louis Stowell.

Celine Kiernan says 'I changed agencies late 2015. Am with Sallyanne Sweeney now, of Mulcahy Literary Agency. Have worked with her on two books now and find her wonderful.'

Marianne Gunn O'Connor represents Shane Hegarty and Cecelia Ahern.  Read about her here.

Other Recommended Agents - UK and International Writers 

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

Cathy Cassidy with Judi Curtin and Sarah Webb at the Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival 

Cathy Cassidy with Judi Curtin and Sarah Webb at the Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival 

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

Russell Sanderson and Lu Hersey recommend their agent, Ben Illis

Zana Fraillon recommends her agent, Claire Wilson

Julia Churchill at A M Heath who says 'my speciality is checking if people need to go to loo before meetings.' I have met Julia and she is a funny and smart woman who knows her onions. Well worth sending your manuscript to. Nikki Sheehan says Julia 'would win against 100 horse sized ducks.' Clearly a woman to have on your side. 

Mark Burgess: 'Im represented by excellent & wonderful Nancy Miles of Miles Stott Children's Literary Agency. She also represents Gill Lewis & Frances Hardinge.'

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 (recommended by William Bee); Catherine Mary Summerhayes, Jo Unwin and Clare Conville at United Agents

Hilary Delamere at The Agency

Lindsey Fraser at Fraser Ross

Gemma Cooper at The Bent Agency

Penny Holroyde at Holroyde Cartey

Elizabeth Roy –

Laura Cecil –

Madeleine Milburn –

Sam Copeland and Claire Wilson at Rogers Coleridge and White –

Good luck with finding a great agent!

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

Some of the Irish Children's Book Tribe - Yasmeen Ismail, Elaina Ryan from Children's Books Ireland, Chris Judge

Some of the Irish Children's Book Tribe - Yasmeen Ismail, Elaina Ryan from Children's Books Ireland, Chris Judge

Start Writing for Children - Last Course of the Season

sarah at exhibition longer file.jpg

I'll be teaching my last writing for children course of the season at the Irish Writers Centre in May. Do book quickly, places are limited. I'll be back in the autumn with new courses. 

Sat 13 & Sat 20 May 2017 (2 days)
10.30am – 4.30pm
Cost: €150/€135 Members (Irish Writers Centre)

Book here

Want to write a book for children but don’t know where to start? In this practical, hands-on workshop, participants will look at the different age groups and genres that make up the children’s book world, before embarking on their own writing journey. The classes will include lecturing, in-class exercises, ‘homework’, book industry and publishing advice, and plenty of personal experience. Plus there will be a whole lot of book and story sharing.

Sarah Webb writes for both children and adults. The Songbird Café Girls: Aurora and the Popcorn Dolphin is her most recent book. Sarah is the Children's Curator of the Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival and a Literary Advisor to Listowel Writers' Week. 

When Are You Going to Write a Proper Book? Focus on Picturebooks

Beast from The Brave Beast by Chris Judge 

When Are You Going To Write A Proper Book? Focus on Picturebooks

A Day for Picturebook Writers and Illustrators

Saturday 27th May 10.00am to 3.45pm Venue: dlr Lexicon Studio, Dún Laoghaire 

Programmed and hosted by dlr Writer in Residence, Sarah Webb with support from dlr Lexicon Library

Presented in association with Children’s Books Ireland and IBBY Ireland


Cost: e25 (plus booking fee - includes coffee and lunch) e15 concessions

After the sell-out success of our last day for children’s writers and illustrators we are back with another event packed with information and facts about all aspects of picturebooks. If you’ve ever wanted to write or illustrate a picturebook, it’s a must. Hear a host of award-winning picturebook makers talk about their work and find out what publishers and agents are looking for.

9.30am Registration

10.00am Welcome - Sarah Webb, dlr Writer in Residence

10.00am to 11.00am  What Makes a Brilliant Picturebook and Do They Have to Rhyme?

The answer is no! Hear the case for rhythm and rhyme by poet Lucinda Jacobs who will also conduct a quick workshop on rhyme scheme, and the case for prose by Valerie Coghlan. They will also talk about their favourite picture books and why they work. 

11.00am – 11.20am Coffee Break

11.20am to 12.20pm  What Comes First, the Words or the Pictures?

An introduction to the world of picture books with award-winning picturebook writers and illustrators Michael Emberley, Chris Judge, Marie Louise Fitzpatick and Mary Murphy. They will talk about the different stages of producing a picturebook, from idea to dummy to printed book and will discusses the ups and downs of life as a full time writer/illustrator.

12.20pm – 1.00pm Shhh! Silent Books

IBBY Ireland present their Silent Books Exhibition and talk about the importance of wordless picture books.

1.00pm to 2.00pm Lunch and a chance to look at the picturebooks from the Silent Books Exhibition

2.00pm to 2.40pm  If I Could Tell You Just One Thing

Picture Book Boot Camp’s Adrienne Geoghegan shares the most common mistakes writers and illustrators make and gives her tips for writing and illustrating a great picture book

2.40pm to 3.45pm  Is It Me You're Looking For?

Chair: Aoife Murray, Children’s Books Ireland  

Walker Picturebook Publisher and Creative Director, Deirdre McDermott, Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin, Publisher at Futa Fata and O’Brien Press Design Manager, Emma Byrne talk about what they are looking for in illustrators and from picture book texts. Plus Margaret Anne Suggs from Illustrators Ireland will talk about agents and the pros and cons of illustration agents vs literary agents. The panel will also discuss fees, advances and royalties for illustrators and picturebook writers.

Choose Kindness

My daughter is thirteen. Last week she came home from school upset because her group of close friends were having a party and hadn’t invited her and one other girl. They had lied about what they were doing that afternoon (they had a half day) and then proceeded to post photos and videos of the party on Snapchat, for my daughter and the other non-invited girl to see.

When my daughter called them on it – asking them on Snapchat why she wasn’t invited and saying she could see all their online interaction – they ignored her and continued to post.

This behaviour bothered me. It showed a lack of kindness. I gathered my daughter up and we went to the cinema together to see Lion. While her friends partied, we learnt about one young man’s determination and bravery as he searched for his Indian birth mother.

The incident got me thinking about kindness. How we treat our friends matters. How we treat strangers matters. It says everything about who we are and what we believe in.

I run a Book Club for young readers - that's a photo of them above. Last month we read Wonder by R J Palacio. If you haven’t read it, please do. It’s about August, a ten year old boy with a severe facial abnormality, and what happens when he goes to school for the first time. It’s a remarkable book that really makes you think about how we treat people who look different. It’s also about choosing kindness.

I love blogging. I love chatting to my book friends on Twitter. I like catching up on my friends’ activities on Facebook and seeing their photos on Instagram. However sometimes I find myself thinking: Hey, why wasn’t I at that party? or They look like they’re having way more fun than I am, or I wish I was in Tokyo/Sydney/London. It’s only natural to feel left out sometimes. When I’m posting myself I try to remember this.  I aim to be mindful of others and kind.

As the writer, Henry James once said: 'Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.'

Kind regards,

Sarah XXX

CBI Book Awards Shortlist 2017 - So How Did I Do With My Predictions?

Below is the CBI Book Awards Shortlist - and congratulations to all the shortlisted writers and illustrators. How did I do? 6 out of 10. Not as well as last year (9 out of 10 predicted) but not bad! How about you? 

Anna Liza and the Happy Practice written by Eoin Colfer - Yes, got this one right! Brilliant book - delighted to see it on the shortlist. 

Billy Button, Telegram Boy illustrated by Sheena Dempsey - Yes, and great to see Sheena on the shortlist! I love her work. 

Bliain na nAmhrán scrIofa ag Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin, maisithe ag Jennifer Farley, Brian Fitzgerald, Tarsila Krüse agus Christina O’Donovan - No (my Irish is average so I don't comment on the Irish language books) 

Goodnight Everyone by Chris Haughton - delighted to see this one included as Chris is at the Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival on 25/25th March and is a remarkable illustrator. 

Historopedia by Fatti Burke and John Burke - I didn't get this one. I liked it a lot but thought it would be overshadowed by its predecessor, Irelandopedia. 

Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan - Yes and YES! So deserving of an award. 

Óró na Circíní agus Scéalta Eile Ón Afraic athinste ag Gabriel Rosenstock, maisithe ag Brian Fitzgerald - No, see above.

Plain Jane by Kim Hood - Yes and hurrah - delighted for Kim. It's a super book. 

The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín - Yes and YES, YES, YES! An amazing book. 

The Ministry of Strange, Unusual and Impossible Things by Paul Gamble - Yes

I'm very disappointed not to see Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden on the shortlist - as it's a brilliant book. Next year, Dave. It took Derek Landy several years to get a Skulduggery book on the shortlist and those books didn't take off at all. Nope, not at all! 

CBI Book of the Year Awards 2017 My Predictions

The CBI Book of the Year Awards shortlist will be announced today, March 13th and every year I predict which books will be on this list.

The author or illustrator must be Irish or live in Ireland, and this year’s awards are for books published in 2016. There are usually 6 awards given: the Eilís Dillon Award for 1st book, the Judge’s Special Award, the Honour Award for Illustration, the Honour Award for Fiction, the Children’s Choice Award and the Overall CBI Book of the Year.

Last year’s overall winner was Sarah Crossan for One. It will be interesting to see how many I get right!

The books I think will be on the 2017 shortlist are (in age order, picture books first – there are usually 10 books shortlisted and 6 awards given):

Let’s See Ireland by Sarah Bowie

Owl Bat Bat Owl by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

Anna Liza and the Happy Practice by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by Matt Robertson

Rabbit and Bear by Julian Gough and Jim Field

Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden (will win the Eilís Dillon Award)

The Bombs That Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan

Plain Jane by Kim Hood

Nothing Tastes as Good by Claire Hennessy

The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín (my choice for Book of the Year)

Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan

+ An Irish language book

May be shortlisted:

Miraculous Miranda by Siobhán Parkinson

A Very Good Chance by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

The Best Medicine by Christine Hamill

The Ministry of Strange, Unusual and Impossible Things by Paul Gamble

Sheena Dempsey may be shortlisted for her illustrations for Billy Button or Dave Pigeon

The Making of Mollie by Anna Carey.

Time After Time by Judi Curtin

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? Full Podcast

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

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


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

Soundcloud Podcast

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.

New Titles for 2017 – Children and Teenagers


There are some fantastic books for children and teenagers on the way in 2017, including a picture book from the dream team of Julia Donaldson and Helen Oxenbury and the second in Dave Rudden’s exceptional Knights of the Borrowed Dark fantasy adventure series. The Bookseller magazine, the bible for the book trade sees ‘Middle Grade’ (age 9+) books as a big trend for 2017 and there are certainly some strong books for this age group coming through, including See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng (Penguin Random House Children’s, March) the story of an eleven year old boy who wants to launch his iPod into space to talk to other lifeforms; and Fish Boy by Chloe Daykin (Faber, also March), a beautifully written debut about a lonely boy who is obsessed with swimming.

January sees the publication of Wing Jones by Katherine Webber (Walker Books), a novel about identity, family and running for age 12+; and Julian Gough and Jim Field are back with Rabbit and Bear: The Pest in the Nest (Hodder), another funny, noisy adventure for early readers.

There’s been a lot of talk about Wed Rabbit by Lissa Evans (David Fickling), the story of ten year old Fidge and her spoilt cousin, Grahame who find themselves in a magical world that looks strangely like the picture book Fidge reads to her little sister at bedtime. Also January.

one memory
one memory

Adult writer, Emily Barr’s first YA novel, The One Memory of Flora Banks (Penguin Random House Children’s) is gripping. Seventeen year old Flora has anterograde amnesia and can’t recall day to day things. But when she wakes up the morning after her first kiss, she remembers it and sets off for the Arctic in search of the boy and her memories. (Mid-January)

Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan’s We Come Apart (Bloomsbury) is a key title in February, a novel in free verse about Romanian teen, Nicu and English girl, Jess. For younger children, Lucy Cousins is back with a vibrant new picture book, A Busy Day for Birds (Walker Books); and Cass and The Bubble Street Gang: The Clubhouse Mystery by Erika McGann (O’Brien Press) sounds fun for young readers of age 7+. Also from an Irish publisher, this time Little Island Books, is A Dangerous Crossing by Jane Mitchell, the story of a boy fleeing from Syria. Age 11+.

Fast Forward by Judi Curtin (O’Brien Press) is being published for World Book Day on the 2nd March for age 8+; and also in March, The Space Between by Meg Grehan (Little Island) is a love story in verse for teenagers about friendship and mental health. Grehan is only twenty-four and this is her first book. Gill Books have the Naturama Nature Journal for budding naturalists, by Michael Fewer and illustrated by Melissa Doran.

forever court
forever court

The Forever Court, book 2 in the Knights of the Borrowed Dark series by Dave Rudden, (Penguin Random House Children’s) is coming in April featuring battles in ‘quiet Dublin bookshops’.

Also in April, We’re All Wonders by RJ Palacio (Penguin Random House Children’s) sees the return of Auggie from the original novel, Wonder which has sold over five million copies worldwide. There is a movie of Wonder coming in 2017 so expect a lot of noise around this new book too.

The Giant Jumperee (Penguin Random House Children’s) is a new picture book by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by the multi award-winning Helen Oxenbury. Rabbit is in his burrow when he hears a voice outside: ‘I’m the Giant Jumperee and I’m as scary as can be.’ (April again.)

And finally in April, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Walker Books) is getting a lot of pre-publication attention both here and in the US. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s a YA novel about prejudice in the 21st century.

In May we have Keepsake by Paula Leyden (Little Island), about two children and their race to save their beloved horse, Storm. Age 8+.

June sees the return of Derek Landy’s hugely popular Skulduggery Pleasant series with book ten in the series (Harpercollins); and Moira Fowley-Doyle’s new book, Spellbook of the Lost and Found, about six Irish teenagers who find a sinister book.

In August we have The Guggenheim Mystery by Robin Stevens (Penguin Random House Children’s), the sequel to the London Eye Mystery by the late Siobhan Dowd, a clever way of keeping Dowd’s work alive.

Robin Stevens
Robin Stevens

September sees the return of feisty heroine, Ebony Smart in The Book of Revenge, the last book in the Nine Lives trilogy by E R Murray (Mercier); and Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan and illustrated by Karen Vaughan (Little Island) takes Cinderella and other tales and gives them a ‘dark, witchy makeover’. Perfect for the lead up to Hallowe’en.

Sarah Webb writes for both adults and children. Her new poetry and rhyme collection for children, A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea, illustrated by Steve McCarthy will be published by O’Brien Press in the autumn. She is currently Writer in Residence for Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown.

This article first appeared in The Irish Independent

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!

If by Rudyard Kipling

If by Rudyard Kipling


If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:


If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:


If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’


If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!


From: A Choice of Kipling's Verse (1943)

Lexicon Reader and Writers' Day 5th Nov - Timetable and Details

Lexicon Reader and Writers’ Day – Saturday 5th November 

reader and writers day poster
reader and writers day poster

After the success of last year’s event, we are back with another packed day of readings, interviews and chat. Hear thriller writers, Liz Nugent and Sam Blake discuss dark psychology with journalist and writer, Dave Kenny; bestselling UK writer, Lucy Diamond and historical novelist, Hazel Gaynor will talk to broadcaster and writer, Sinead Crowley about their paths to publication; and find out how the book industry works and what agents and publishers are looking for in 2017. Plus enjoy lots of book chat with fellow readers over coffee and lunch. Bring your book club or come and make new friends – see you there! Bookshop on site with thanks to Dubray Books, Dun Laoghaire


Cost: e20 (includes coffee and light lunch)

Venue: Lexicon Studio, Dun Laoghaire   Registration from 9.30am

10.00am Welcome by Sarah Webb, dlr Writer in Residence

10.10am to 11.00am Dark Psychology: Research and the Writers’ Psyche

Bestselling authors, Sam Blake (Vanessa O’Loughlin) and Liz Nugent talk to writer and journalist, Dave Kenny about the research behind their crime and thriller novels.

11.00am to 11.20am Coffee and Signing

11.20am to 12.10pm In Another Man’s Shoes: Creating Characters

Award winning writers, Catherine Dunne and Adrian White talk to journalist and writer, Sue Leonard about creating realistic characters.

12.10pm to 1.00pm The Glass Shore: A Celebration of Short Stories from Women Writers from the North of Ireland

Writer and columnist, Martina Devlin and writer, Evelyn Conlon talk to fellow writer, Lia Mills about their stories in The Glass Shore collection, edited by Sinead Gleeson.

1.00pm to 2.00 Lunch and Signing

2.00pm to 3.00pm Paths to Publication  

UK bestseller, Lucy Diamond and historical novelist, Hazel Gaynor talk to broadcaster and writer, Sinead Crowley about their journey to publication, and share some of their writing secrets.

3.00pm to 3.15pm Break and Signing

3.15pm to 4.15pm The Business of Books:  An Insider’s Guide

Martina Devlin hosts our panel of publishing experts: Vanessa O’Loughlin from The Inkwell Group and; Peta Nightingale, UK Agent with Lucas Alexander Whitley (LAW); and Michael McLoughlin, MD at Penguin Random House Ireland and Publisher at Penguin Ireland.

4.30pm Close

Writer in Residence Diary Oct 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, Dublin and I’m hosting lots of book clubs, writing clubs and book events. October has been such a fun month.

Teen Creatives with Dave Rudden

Dave in Action
Dave in Action

We kicked off our Teen Creatives series with a writing workshop with the wonderful Dave Rudden. Dave’s first book, Knights of the Borrowed Dark came out in March this year and is a stunning piece of work – a fantasy-adventure with lots of twists. (I mentioned this event briefly in the September blog.)

Dave explained that his book is basically a ‘Kid Discovers Magic’ story – but he made it different to all the other books based on a similar premise (including a certain young wizard) by asking himself questions about the plot and the main character.

Who is the kid? Denizen Hardwick

When does his discover his magic? In an orphanage on the day he turns 13

What happens next?

‘On a particularly dark night, the gates of Crosscaper Orphanage open to a car that almost growls with power. The car and the man in it retrieve Denizen with the promise of introducing him to a long-lost aunt. But on the ride into the city, they are attacked. Denizen soon learns that monsters can grow out of the shadows. And there is an ancient order of knights who keep them at bay. Denizen has a unique connection to these knights, but everything they tell him feels like a half-truth. If Denizen joins the order, is he fulfilling his destiny, or turning his back on everything his family did to keep him alive?’

He gave a fantastic workshop – thanks, Dave! Up next is Oisin McGann – more about that session next month.

Roald Dahl Family Day

The Lexicon Library hosted a Roald Dahl themed Family Day on 8th October and over two thousand children and adults enjoyed workshops, comedy shows and the Great Big Dahl Show with Grainne Clear, Dave Rudden, Stephen James Smith and Enda Reilly.

The Dahl Gang
The Dahl Gang

Book Club

The Book Club gave Boy by Roald Dahl the thumbs up and also loved Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan. Everyone agreed that the artwork was amazing.

Next month’s books are Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers and Beyond the Stars, edited by me!

Writing Club

The young writers visited the Municipal Gallery in the Lexicon and wrote short pieces about some of the art works. We talked about the art and how it made us feel. It’s a wonderful exhibition called Lines of Negotiation and is all about our relationship with the landscape. It runs until 5th November and is well worth seeing.

One of the Artworks from the Exhibition
One of the Artworks from the Exhibition

Library Voices

I managed to catch Library Voices with Margaret Atwood in the Pavilion on Sunday 9th October. My friend, Bert Wright (also my co-curator on the Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival) programmes these wonderful events.

The Patrick Kavanagh one man play in the Studio in the Lexicon was also most interesting.

St Michan’s Crypt

I also visited our family crypt under St Michan’s Church in Dublin. It was quite the experience. If you’ve never been down there, do go – it’s fascinating and full of history.

St Michan's Crypt
St Michan's Crypt

Dalkey Library Baby Book Club

I was back in Dalkey for Baby Book Club and we made these spooky ghosts with cotton wool. Our theme: Hallowe’en of course! Next Baby Book Club is Monday 21st November at 10.30am in Dalkey Library.

writer in res 2
writer in res 2

 Drop In Writing Clinics

The drop in writing clinics are proving very popular and I talked to many writers, young and old this month about their work. It’s great to see so much creativity happening in Dun Laoghaire!

We are now taking bookings for the clinic on Wednesday 30th November. Email to book a place.

Writer in Residence Podcasts

The Writer in Residence podcasts are now up on the dlr libraries website – do take a look! Watch me talk to Eoin Colfer and Marita Conlon McKenna about their work, and recommend some of my favourite children’s books.

Meet the Author - Eoin Colfer

Bualadh Bos Children’s Festival in Limerick

I spent a few days in Limerick helping run the literature strand of this great children’s festival. We held talks and workshops by Margaret Ann Suggs, Shane Hegarty, Grainne Clear, Derek Landy, Patricia Forde, Dave Rudden and local writer, Judi Curtin. It was a fantastic trip.

Grainne Clear Interviewing Derek Landy at Bualadh Bos
Grainne Clear Interviewing Derek Landy at Bualadh Bos


In 2017 my poetry and rhyme collection, A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea will be published by O’Brien Press. It will be illustrated by Steve McCarthy and I will be working on the final selection and the edits during my time as Writer in Residence.

And finally, I wrote a picture book this month all about puddles. It was inspired by gazing out my Writer in Residence window one very rainy day!

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX