Posted on: July 31, 2017
By Eileen Moynihan
Photo: (left to right) Ann Gerety Smyth, Eileen Moynihan, Paul Smyth (son of Ann), Dan Flynn, Majella Reid
The summer SCBWI Ireland Midlands Social took place on Saturday, July 22nd, 2017 in the Ardagh Heritage and Creativity Centre. This time, we had a very enjoyable and productive critique morning, with participants bringing samples of their work to read aloud and to get feedback from the rest of the group. We had a wide age range present from 5 years old to 70 years old. The time for reading and response was divided up between the number of people taking part. Some people brought extra copies of their piece so that others could read the text while listening.
Photo: (left to right) Dan Flynn, Majella Reid, Cara Martin, Paul Smyth, Lily-May Smyth, Ann Gerety Smyth, Eileen Moynihan
The pieces shared for critiquing were:
“The Night I Met Pinkus Gonzales Junior” by Dan Flynn
“The Adventures of Tim Jones” by Majella Reid
“A Special Friend” by Sally Martin
“A Poem for Grandad” by Cara Martin
“The Dreamsmith” by Eileen Moynihan
“Albert the Accountant and his Amazing Abacus” by Ann Gerety Smyth
Photo: (left to right) Ann Gerety Smyth, Eileen Moynihan, Lily-May Smyth, Paul Smyth
Here's what people thought about the social event:
“Really enjoyable morning.” Majella Reid
“We really enjoyed this morning. Very productive too.” Sally Martin
“It was a lovely morning.” Ann Gerety Smyth
“Good to have the childrens’ contributions’…they’re the real judges……great experience!” Dan Flynn
Photo: (left) Lily-May Smyth (daughter of Ann Gerety Smyth) and Cara Martin (granddaughter of Sally Martin)
Thanks to everyone who attended and participated in this lively discussion. Special thanks to Sally Martin for the photos. Enjoy the summer break and see you again in the autumn.
Posted on: July 1, 2017
Written by Fiona Griffin
A peculiar title, you might ask, but I started writing in the early 80s, and since that little green frog puppet was the inspiration for much of my childhood writing, I deem it an appropriate introduction to me, my writing, and my love of the community of writers, illustrators, and translators that is the SCBWI.
I started writing at a young age and all manner of occurrences inspired. From eating strawberries with my Granny, I sprouted an entire village of “Berries” who lived in constant fear of the jam jar to poor Mike. The microwave I wrote about in 1987 when they were a new phenomenon took up most of the worktop in many deluxe houses. Microwaves were expensive back then, and I had succeeded in breaking the one that was propped up in the kitchen. Something my mother said got me thinking “what if…” and my pen flowed. What if a microwave could talk? Or had feelings? Don’t humans realise that slamming the door can be rather agonising and that microwaves are not meant to be stuffed with metallic substances?
I had a collection of stories that I wanted to share with the world (and still do), but how do I do it? I just sit down and write, and then post my stories to any publisher? Yes, that’s all it takes. Job done! Indeed, that is precisely how I started my submissions. I subsequently learned that it is far trickier than is perceived, but I didn’t know that when I began.
Finding like-minded literary minds might be a start, and so I set off in search of other children’s writers. I can’t remember how I found my way to the SCBWI Blueboard, originally created by Verla Kay until the Blueboard was merged with the SCBWI Discussion Board on the SCBWI website. I also don’t remember why I chose the user name that I have. “Thunderingelephants” is a bit of a mouthful, but since one of my most popular characters is, indeed, an elephant, it seemed only fitting. I joined that community of children’s writers and illustrators and never looked back.
The SCBWI Blueboard provides an online worldwide message and chat forum for writers, illustrators, and translators. Topics include how-to questions and professional development as well as anything you can imagine that is connected to the intricate world of creating a story for a child or teen. I think you will agree that that is why we create our stories—to provide windows and mirrors to imagined lives and worlds that have a positive impact on our readers. Publication is possible, but the “big bucks” are few and far between, and most of us won’t achieve fame and fortune with our creations.
What you achieve, as a member of the SCBWI Blueboard (and as a SCBWI member, if you are part of the organization) is a sense of belonging. It’s where you can go to let off steam when your character is annoying the living daylights out of you and are you in a rut, or when you want to celebrate the fact that you have finally sorted out what was wrong in the first place.
The SCBWI Blueboard provides release, support, information, and camaraderie. Since joining in 2007, I have racked up almost 3,000 posts on all subject matter, from wittering about my beloved felines to the very intricate pathways to publication. The SCBWI Blueboard provides a virtual shoulder to cry on, a place to celebrate big and small successes, or a way to virtually hang out and see what others are up to. I do that rather a lot. I go there when I’m frustrated, happy, angry, or stuck, and I’m fairly certain many others do the same.
Fiona Griffin is a SCBWI member and volunteer based in Cork in the south of Ireland. She does most of her writing in local cafés and can often be found with coffee in hand talking to a kid about what monsters eat. Fiona will be reporting monthly about the SCBWI Blueboard.
To get started on the SCBWI Blueboard, SCBWI members can log in to the Blueboard using their SCBWI email as their username and their SCBWI password. As soon as they have done this, SCBWI member profiles will be automatically created for them (no need to go through a separate registration process).
You do NOT have to be a member of the SCBWI to register for the Blueboard and participate in the open areas of this message board. Anyone with a true interest in the world of children's literature can register and join our community:
· Blue boards are open to everyone
· Green boards are accessible only to SCBWI members
· Purple boards are only visible and accessible to SCBWI members in their regions
Posted on: June 20, 2017
Written by Colleen Jones, SCBWI Ireland Regional Advisor
Our featured SCBWI Ireland member for summer 2017 is Mallow-based writer Kieran Crowley. Kieran recently joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) but has participated in some of our Cork social events in previous years and was a guest speaker in 2013.
Kieran is a children’s book writer and screenwriter. He is registered with Poetry Ireland’s Writers in Schools program. His target audience for his children’s books tends to be 9 to 12 year olds (middle grade).
Kieran’s first two books, Colm and the Lazarus Key (2009) and Colm and The Ghost's Revenge (2012) were both published by Mercier Press. These stories are full of action and adventure, with a bit of humour, and a supernatural element. I particularly enjoyed the prickly relationship between Colm and his cousin The Brute. Colm and the Lazarus Key was shortlisted for the 2010 Bisto Children's Book of the Year Award.
The Mighty Dynamo (2016) published by Macmillan (UK) and by Feiwel & Friends (US) has sports as the background, but it’s an entertaining story of a group of very different kids who end up on a football team together. It has a plenty of humour and moves at a fast pace. The Mighty Dynamo was shortlisted for the 2017 Hull Children’s Book Award.
The Misfits Club has just been published by Macmillan (UK) and by Feiwel & Friends (US) this month (June 2017). I haven’t read my copy yet, but I’m betting it has Kieran’s trademark humour and great characters.
I asked Kieran a few questions to find out more about his experiences and writing process.
SCBWI: How long have you been writing and what or who was the inspiration for taking this career path? What made you decide on children’s literature?
Kieran: I used to write a lot as a child, but apart from finishing an unsubmitted children’s book in my twenties, I didn’t write as an adult until about 2004 or so. I started off with screenplays as I was a huge film-goer at the time, but nothing really worked out. My wife and my niece both suggested that I should write a book: my wife because she thought that it would be nice to have something anyone could read even if it didn’t get published (most people don’t read unproduced screenplays); and my niece, who was 11 at the time, wanted me to write something she could read herself. I wrote what turned out to be Colm & the Lazarus Key in a few months, around the summer of 2008, and it was published the following year.
SCBWI: How many manuscripts are sitting unpublished in a drawer? How many drafts do you do on average between first draft and submission to an edit? How long does the editing process usually take once you submit to the publisher?
Kieran: I’ve written six books altogether and, of those, two haven’t been published, one which I really liked and was very disappointed when it was rejected, the other just wasn’t good enough. I still believe the idea for the ‘bad’ one is exciting, I think I just executed it badly, so I’m looking at rewriting it. How many drafts? I make changes until the very end of the process, but I’m not sure what percentage of changes constitutes a complete draft. Sometimes I’ll add a chapter, other times maybe a paragraph. I tend not to keep track of it. As long as I’m improving the story each time, I’m happy with that. Then it’s off to my editor (for The Misfits Club it was the brilliant Lucy Pearse). There’s no average time for edits since there’s a lot of back and forth, but roughly a couple of months altogether.
SCBWI: Do you have an agent, and if so, how did you connect?
Kieran: I’m represented by Marianne Gunn O’Connor. She’s an amazing agent, always supportive and enthusiastic. When I started writing, I didn’t know anyone in the industry, so I sent the Colm manuscript to Mercier Press after looking up their submission policy online. Eoin Purcell, now with the publishing arm of Amazon, was the commissioning editor, and he loved the story and really got behind it. Mercier published my first two books, but didn’t think the next one I wrote was quite right for them, so I sent it to a few different agencies and it got picked from the slush pile. It was a lucky break. Although Marianne liked the book I submitted, she didn’t think publishers would go for it and she encouraged me to write something else, something I felt passionate about. That’s how I ended up writing The Mighty Dynamo.
SCBWI: How do you juggle your time between writing and work, travel, and daily life? How much time do you actually have for writing/editing/research?
Kieran: I write in my free time. I used to complain that there wasn’t enough time to write, but as I mentioned to you before, I somehow managed to find time to watch the entire series of Breaking Bad, Deadwood, and programmes like that, so I was fooling myself. I find now that even if I only have a spare half an hour I can get a lot of work done in that short space of time.
SCBWI: What made you join the SCBWI? What other organizations do you belong to and why?
Kieran: There aren’t many children’s writers where I live and sometimes you feel isolated, so organisations like the SCBWI are great as they keep people in touch and also often provide answers to questions that only writers ask. For example, if you explain to a non-writer that one week you hate what you’ve written and think it’s the worst work anyone has ever produced and that the following week that you think it’s fantastic (the truth of course lying somewhere in the middle) they just can’t understand that. Fellow children’s writers get it, and the SCBWI lets you feel like you’re not going crazy when you think things like that. I’m also a member of Children’s Books Ireland (CBI), who do fantastic work and are hugely supportive of all children’s writers in the country.
SCBWI: Do you belong to any peer critique groups? What are the pros and cons of face-to-face versus online critiques? How does the feedback from a peer critique group compare to the feedback from a publishing editor?
Kieran: I don’t belong to any, Colleen, so I can’t really talk about the pros and cons. My wife is my first reader and I trust her feedback implicitly. I suppose if you’re working in groups, you have to be sure that the person giving you the critique understands what you’re trying to achieve with your work and gives you appropriate notes. There’s no point giving your masterpiece with its numerous references to breaking wind and cartoon violence to someone who critiques you as if you’re trying to be the next Elena Ferrante.
SCBWI: Are you comfortable with public speaking and performing for an audience? What did you do to learn those skills and overcome any nervousness?
Kieran: It’s not something that comes naturally to me. I love writing because I’m happy to sit alone in a room working on ideas, so having to get out there and perform is something I would have shied away from throughout my life. Now, I try to embrace it because it’s an essential part of the job for a children’s writer. In my experience, the best way to overcome nervousness is practise and preparation. When I do school events, they are usually about 45 minutes long, so I make sure I have over an hour’s worth of material prepared – just in case. I’m happy for the discussion to wander off into unexpected areas once I know I have that material to rely on if things go wrong. Often though, you just connect with a group, and that’s a wonderful and hugely enjoyable experience you wouldn’t have had if you’d sat at home instead.
SCBWI: You have done some screenwriting. What were the projects you worked on? What was that experience like compared to writing a novel?
Kieran: Unfortunately, nothing that I wrote was ever produced. There was a project called ‘Ellie & Bob’, a children’s feature that was due to be filmed in Australia, but due to a change in the UK tax laws the financing fell apart at the last minute. That was a bit frustrating (by a bit I mean hugely – there may have been tears). For me, screenwriting and novel writing have more similarities than differences – you’re still trying to tell an entertaining story. The biggest difference I found was instead of dealing with notes from just one person such as an editor, you had lots of input from other people – actors, directors, producers. It could get a bit confusing when their opinions contradicted each other.
SCBWI: How did you come up with the idea for the characters of Colm and The Brute in your first two books? Their relationship is hilarious at times and painful at others. Have you always had a strong interest in ghosts, horror, or other types of supernatural stories?
Kieran: The Brute is an amalgam of some people I went to school with. The Brute’s daily dig (punch) is something a couple of classmates and I had to suffer through. Just like character, the people I based him on weren’t actually bad guys. They all had heart and a smidgeon of kindness in them, it’s just that they preferred to express themselves through the medium of specifically targeted violence. As for the supernatural, I used to love it growing up but now, sadly, rationalism has taken over. I like the idea that there’s something else out there, I just don’t really believe in it. I used to love campfire ghost stories and psychological horrors – books and films like The Exorcist, The Omen, Don’t Look Now, some of the Tales of the Unexpected, and some Stephen King.
SCBWI: Did you play football and other sports growing up? What was the inspiration for The Mighty Dynamo and Noah’s obsession with becoming a professional player? How did you come up with the solution for the team to join the other school (no spoilers)?
Kieran: I played a lot of football and was really into long-distance running growing up. The inspiration for The Mighty Dynamo came from the personal experience of matches I played in – a college game where we had an unlikely, some might even say heroic, comeback in torrential rain, a game with my cousins on a green in Tallaght that ended up with what seemed like 50 players on each side, and some riotous games with neighbours when I was still in primary school. Many years ago, I got involved in organising a local Community Games football tournament, and I pushed for a girls’ tournament because a lot of my younger cousins were football fans, but never had the opportunity to play. They lobbied their teachers and ended up playing, so that’s where the idea for having a few strong-minded female characters in the story came from.
SCBWI: There is a great deal of camaraderie in all your stories. Stevie is definitely one of my favourite characters. Nobody crosses the local tough guy in The Mighty Dynamo, and yet he ends up as part of the team and friends with Noah and the gang. Were those relationships always going to be the heart of the story or did you discover that during the editing process?
Kieran: The relationships were the key to the story for me. What I loved about football was the camaraderie. I was a shy child, but playing football freed me – you didn’t have to talk, you just had to play, and when you finished the game you had something to talk about. In the back garden/local green games I played, football had a place for everyone – big, small, clumsy, arrogant – everyone was welcome. I wanted the book to be about that, about how sport can bring people together, and I wanted to try and capture the joy, the pure exhilaration of being young and free and playing and dreaming big.
SCBWI: The Misfits Club involves another group of disparate kids, but this time you’re back in mystery-solving territory. Your stories tend to show strong friendships between kids whom we wouldn’t expect to get along. How did you decide on this particular plot and theme?
Kieran: Macmillan were looking for a standalone story for my second book with them, so I pitched a few ideas and this was the one we both agreed upon. I grew up reading the Famous Five and watching 80s films like The Goonies, and I wanted to create something like that, which I know was ambitious, but you’ve got to try. Again, a lot of it came from personal experience. The characters in The Misfits Club spend a lot of time cycling and exploring and being sarcastic to each other. That was what it was like for me growing up. Also, the club in the book is on the verge of breaking up and I wanted to write about that feeling of transitioning from one phase of life to the next, when your friends are changing and you’re changing, whether you like it or not.
SCBWI: All your books to date are for middle grade? Do you have plans to write in any other age group or genre? Will you do more screenwriting? Have you done any collaborations or have you considered it for a future project?
Kieran: Other than when I wrote The Misfits Club, I haven’t ever set out to write for a particular age group. I just write the story I’m interested in and see what happens. Having written a few books, I know how long it takes from first idea to getting the book on the shelf, so I make sure I only write stories I really care about. Unless I love it, I don’t want to spend a year or two of my life working on it. As for writing for other age groups, my first screenplay was for adults. I pitched it as ‘Reservoir Dogs meets Glenroe’, which I think explains both how long ago it was and why it never got made. I might be collaborating on a book over the summer, but I won’t know for another month or so if that project’s going ahead or not.
SCBWI: I noticed there are several Kieran Crowleys online, including an American writer. I have a similar problem with a curler and a technical writer sharing my name. Does that cause confusion for you?
Kieran: That’s right, there’s a few of us including a New Zealand World Cup winning rugby player, a New York Times bestselling writer (sadly now deceased), and an artist. I got a letter from a child asking me what it felt like to play in a World Cup final and then moving from New Zealand to the U.S. to Italy (as Rugby Kieran has done). Seeing how exciting a life my namesake had made me question what I’ve been doing with my time. Overall, it doesn’t cause a problem, but my first two books came out under the name Kieran Mark Crowley to avoid any confusion, and I really didn’t like it the triple name thing – it just wasn’t me.
SCBWI: What tips do you have for writers who want to improve their craft and get published?
Kieran: I have nothing very original to add to this subject, but that won’t stop me! My tips are: read a lot, write a lot, don’t take rejection or criticism personally (even when it is personal), read Stephen King’s On Writin’, and John Yorke’s Into the Woods, learn from your mistakes, write what you’re passionate about, and don’t submit a manuscript to a publisher or agent until it’s as close to perfect as you can make it.
Photo of Kieran’s book launch in Mallow by Deirdre Leahy
Thanks Kieran! Congratulations on your latest book. I am really looking forward to reading it now.
Kieran Crowley is from Cork, Ireland. He does school and library visits and other events. For more information about Kieran, visit: https://www.facebook.com/mightydynamo. You can find him on Twitter as @KMarkCrowley.
Posted on: May 21, 2017
Written by social liaison and volunteer Eileen Moynihan
I organized the spring SCBWI Ireland Midlands area social, which took place on April 22, 2017 in the Ardagh Heritage and Creativity Centre. The focus for the day was exploring the theme Through the Eyes of a Child: Looking at the world through child characters in children's literature. We looked at historical, cultural, and other viewpoints.
Photo by Lalin Swaris
There was a mixed group ranging from toddlers up to grannies. Participants included Eileen, Ann Gerety Smyth, Cara Martin, Sally Martin, Irene Doran, Eli Doran, and Zack Doran.
Photo by Lalin Swaris
We discussed some of our favourite child characters in children’s books and read some extracts, which revealed insights into these characters. Some of the characters chosen were:
• Heidi from the book Heidi by Swiss author Johanna Spyri, published in 1881
• Jo March from Little Women by American author Louisa May Alcott, which was originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869
• Bobbie, Phyllis, and Peter from The Railway Children by English author Edith Nesbit, originally serialised in the London Magazine in 1905 and first published in book form in 1906
• Lucie from the book Love Lucie by Irish author Marita Conlon McKenna, published in 2012
We explored the traits of the characters, and then invented some new characters. We explored what made them tick, and drew them with the help of a worksheet. Below are a few photos from the day.
Photo by Lalin Swaris
Participants' character worksheets
What participants thought:
“I found the collaboration of mixed ages and the sharing of ideas really enjoyable.” Irene Doran
“The easy, comfortable sharing of creativity between all who attended.” Ann Gerety Smyth
“I enjoyed the different ages in the group and the creative atmosphere of the venue.” Sally Martin
Cara and Sally Martin
Posted on: May 9, 2017
Written by A. Colleen Jones, Regional Advisor
Denise Deegan has been a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) since 2014. Denise won the 2017 SCBWI Spark award for her self-published young adult (YA) novel, Through the Barricades, which she published in 2016. She has written a number of books for young adults and also writes for adults under the pen name Aimee Alexander.
Denise has been traditionally published and has also self-published a couple of her books. Her writing and books are of an incredibly high quality and professional standard, and she is a role model for the excellence that can be achieved in self-publishing. The first book I read was a novella called The Whale, The Goldfish, and Señor Martin, and it really blew me away.
I asked Denise some questions about her writing and editing process. I also wanted to know about what is involved in publishing and running a micro-business for her books versus being traditionally published and having a publisher and agent doing that work.
SCBWI: How many manuscripts (and how many drafts) did you complete before you had your first one published? When did you publish your first novel and what did you learn from that experience, regardless of whether it was traditionally or self published?
Denise: My first manuscript was published. Crazily, I sent it out without editing. That was my first lesson: how naïve I was. Luckily, an agent saw something in my writing, took me aside and gave me tips on editing. I reworked it and sent it out again. Turning Turtle was traditionally published in 2003. Now I edit at least three times before sending to my agent.
SCBWI: What age range you do you usually write for? Are you planning to write for any other age groups? Why did you choose a pen name for your adult writing?
Denise: I write for everyone – adult, young adult, middle-grade and picture books. Stories arrive and I write them. I chose the pen name Aimee Alexander (my children’s names combined) for my adult writing because I was embarking on an adventure (self-publishing) and wanted everything to feel fresh, new and exciting.
SCBWI: What topics do you want to write about now and in the future? Why?
Denise: I like to write about ordinary people who become extraordinary in crisis. Loss is a big theme for me. I don’t set out to write about loss. It seems to bubble up again and again. Maybe I have issues! All of my novels, regardless of genre, strongly feature children as I am their biggest fan.
SCBWI: Your latest young adult novel, Through the Barricades, is historical fiction. How much research did you do and how much did writing about real events impact how you wrote the story?
Denise: I did about two years of research, mainly because I loved every minute of it. My favourite source was a collection of real-life accounts of the revolution that took place in Ireland in 1916, the Easter Rising. It was incredible to read reports by those directly involved.
In terms of writing about real events, it was very important to me that my story be true to history as well as taking readers on a journey with my characters. It was also tremendously fun and challenging to weave fictional characters into real live events, having them interact with historical figures such as the leaders of the revolution. One of my favourite quotes about Through the Barricades, came from author Martina Reilly who compared the story to Forrest Gump in the way that it weaves fiction with real life events and characters.
SCBWI: Writing a novel is a huge undertaking. How do you decide if an idea is worth developing into a novel? Have you ever abandoned a work in progress when it wasn’t working?
Denise: What happens usually is that characters’ voices arrive in my head and take me on a journey. I don’t worry too much about the destination, I just enjoy the journey in the hope that if I do, readers will too. I have abandoned a story. It is a very hard thing to do, just walk away from something you’ve been pouring yourself into. I had been working for months on a manuscript while suffering from chronic, severe back pain. I was taking valium for muscle spasm. I shouldn’t have tried to write under those circumstances but I find it hard not to write. Abandoning it was really the only option and though it felt like a failure, it also felt like a release.
SCBWI: Are you part of a writing or critique group or do you have a writing buddy? How has being part of a peer group helped/hindered your writing?
Denise: A very long time ago I was part of a writing group but it didn’t really suit the way I write. I go with the Stephen King philosophy of just getting the thing down and then picking it apart. If people pick it apart before I’ve finished then I become very tempted to give up. Having said that, many people have helped me in so many ways, for example with research, reading the finished manuscript, proofing, giving feedback on covers, etc. I’m hugely appreciative of all the people who have my back.
SCBWI: You have been traditionally and self published. Did you get traditionally published first? What made you decide to self-publish?
Denise: Yes. I was traditionally published first. I decided to self-publish when my books went out of print and the rights reverted to me. Self-publishing had taken off by then and, attracted by adventure and global markets, I decided to give it a try. The alternative was to just let the rights sit there.
SCBWI: What was the process you used to publish your final manuscript? How long did the entire publishing cycle take?
Denise: I spent two years researching and writing Through the Barricades. There were about five big edits. I hired a freelance editor, who came in on the fourth edit. All of the people who helped me with research read the final manuscript to make sure it was historically accurate. I had at least eight proof readers. I hired a graphic designer and a typesetter. I published the ebook exclusively to Amazon and the paperback via Create Space. I organised a blog tour, did price promotions, Facebook posts, tweets, blog posts, and a Goodreads giveaway. Another first for me with Through the Barricades is that I am testing it with Amazon advertising.
When I won the SCBWI Spark Award it created new excitement for the book. I am incredibly grateful to the number of people who have reviewed the book, blogged about it, tweeted about it, shared news of it. I have received incredible support for Through the Barricades. A U.S. reader who loved it has arranged for her book club to read it, and we'll discuss it together on Skype. I love that. And love how with every book there is some new adventure, something new to learn.
SCBWI: What were the biggest differences you found between traditional publication and self publication?
Denise: The most obvious difference is that with traditional publishing, the book (hopefully!) goes into shops. With self-publishing, it is of course possible, it’s just a bigger hassle. That said, there are many advantages to self-publishing. The author controls everything. They get much bigger royalties. The transparency is incredible – you can see your sales every day in every country – so you know immediately if a promotion works or doesn’t. You get to meet wonderful people. Indie authors are tremendously supportive of each other. You do have to market your books a lot so that they are visible, but traditional publishers expect you market your books too. It’s just the way that publishing has gone and it makes sense.
SCBWI: How did you connect with your agent? How has she helped you with your career? Is she involved with any of the novels you have self published?
Denise: I was introduced to Deborah (Warren, of the East West Literary Agency) by my manager in LA. Deborah has helped shape my books so that they are in a better condition to send to editors and she has put together some incredible pitches. She has also introduced me to editors. She hasn’t represented my adult fiction as that is not her area. She has started to represent Through the Barricades as there has been interest.
SCBWI: Will you continue to self-publish? What tips and warnings would you give to other writers who are considering self-publishing?
Denise: I do see myself continuing. I like the control it gives and the speed of getting my stories out into the world. The number one piece of advice I would give is: Bring the book to its highest level. Hire professional editors, proof readers and cover designers. The other piece of advice would be to view yourself as an entrepreneur. If you’re not committed to marketing, then perhaps self-publishing is not the route for you.
SCBWI: How did you find and hire the editors required to make the novels as polished as they are? How many editing cycles do you normally do in both self-publishing and trad publishing and what are they?
Denise: I use is a freelance editor who was also used by Amazon’s Lake Union Publishing imprint, publisher of my novel, The Accidental Life of Greg Millar. The editor they connected me to was incredible. So now I use her on a freelance basis. I really believe that the connection between an editor and an author can be magical. I find that there are at least three big edits in any book, regardless of how it is published.
SCBWI: How did you find and hire the designer/illustrator for your self-published work? Did you have any say in the cover designs of the traditionally published books?
Denise: The website Bookbub is a great resource for writers (and readers). I found my designer on a list that Bookbub published of good book cover designers. I ADORE her. Thanks, Bookbub. With my traditionally published novels, how much say I had in terms of cover design varied from publisher to publisher. The general wisdom is that the marketing people in the publishing house are the experts and seek feedback from the retailers on covers.
SCBWI: You have attended a couple of conferences as both a participant and a faculty member. What has your experience been and what have you learned from going these events?
Denise: The first time I went to an SCBWI conference, I was blown away by the calibre of the speakers. They were entertaining, motivating and educational. It was also lovely to meet other attendees, like-minded people taking the same journey. Though not an artist, the portfolio showcase, for me, is one of the highlights of SCBWI conferences. There is so much incredible talent out there. In terms of what I have learned – writing skills, presentation skills, life skills. It is always good to climb out of your head once in a while!
SCBWI: How has being a member of the SCBWI helped you as a writer? Do you belong to any other organizations? If so, which ones and why?
Denise: Something magical happened this year. My novel, Through the Barricades, won the 2017 SCBWI Spark award. As someone who has the greatest respect for SCBWI, this seal of approval was hugely motivational and very much appreciated. It has also helped me market the novel. As a result of the award, I will be presenting a breakout session on self-publishing at this year’s summer conference in LA, which is hugely exciting. On a local level, I love the friendliness and support of the SCBWI. Recently, we had the pleasure and honour of spending time with the very lovely and accomplished Linda Sue Park. It was special. I’m also a member of Children’s Books Ireland and the Romantic Novelists Association.
SCBWI: Thank you so much, Denise, for taking the time to answer my questions!
Denise: Thanks so much for having me, Colleen. It is great to have such a warm, friendly, helpful, and supportive person at the helm of SCBWI Ireland. Huge respect.
Denise Deegan lives in Dublin with her family where she regularly dreams of sunshine, a life without cooking and her novels being made into movies. You can follow Denise on Twitter: @denisedeegan or visit her website.
Posted on: February 14, 2017
Written by Martina Cassidy
When are you going to write a proper book? That’s a question that I have been asking myself for near on five years. As I sat in a full-to-capacity theatre in the dlr Lexicon Library in Dun Laoghaire last Saturday (February 4, 2017), I was not alone in my quest for an answer. With a waiting list of over 70 people, I knew that I was one of the lucky ones. The event, organised by Sarah Webb, dlr Writer-in-Residence, together with Children’s Book Ireland and supported by Words Ireland, brought together a veritable feast of talented, well informed, and betimes witty individuals from the four corners of the publishing and writing worlds, all of whom were willing and eager to impart their vast knowledge onto their eager public.
So what was covered in the event? EVERYTHING and ANYTHING is the short answer. Everything that I could think of asking was answered, and anything that could have been of interest to someone wanting “to write a proper book” was covered.
Let’s start at the very beginning with Help I need somebody!, chaired by Sarah Webb and featuring Aoife Murray, Programme and Events Manager at Children’s Book Ireland, and Colleen Jones Regional Advisor from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and Valerie Bistany, Director of the Irish Writers Centre. In a nutshell, the advice given was to join these wonderful organisations. They offer you the opportunity to become part of a nurturing community where, as a writer or illustrator, you can access information, get feedback (an unfortunate but essential part of writing), focus on your professional development, and most importantly become part of the “tribe”. Writing and illustrating can be solitary professions, so seeking your tribe is absolutely essential for staying sane.
Up next was Show Me the Money, which covered what to expect financially when you do get published and need to promote your work and earn additional income by doing events. Chaired by Elaina Ryan, Director at Children’s Book Ireland, the panel of Sinéad Connelly, Dublin City Arts Office and International Literary Festival Dublin (ILFD), Gráinne Clear, Publishing Manager and Art Director at Little Island, Maedhbh Rogan-McGann, Executive Librarian, Meath Co Council Library Service, and Alan Nolan, writer/illustrator, covered many avenues of thought. Gráinne said that a publisher’s job is to publish—most, especially small presses, don’t have the resources to do extensive marketing. There is a huge expectation now for writers and illustrators to be involved in the promotion of their books with launches, school visits, library and book shop readings, and maintaining a visible presence online through social media, blogging, and a website. If you don’t know what to do, go watch a writer/illustrator in action to see what works at a live event. PHEW! Sounds exhausting—I could have done with a wee lie down after all that. But it’s all necessary, because when you look at the breakdown of income only, 40% comes from writing and 60% is from other sources, which might include a day job.
Regarding advances, €1,000 to €2,000 is the norm in Ireland with around 7% royalties paid only after you earn out the advance. Hmm…so the one cast-iron piece of advice I took from this is to have a backup plan. You need to seek financial support, be it through applications for bursaries, grants, or residencies, or through a full- or part-time job, and to create your own opportunities. When asked was there a one-stop shop to access this information, we were told that Words Ireland is trying to do just that, but it is very much in its infancy. The annual Children’s Writers and Illustrators Year Book is a great source of information, and above all, do your research and read, read, read!
After lunch, the next session, My Life in Pie, was with award-winning (and very amusing) writer Sheena Wilkinson. You gotta love the pie! Sheena’s honesty, energy, and general sense of humour was a tonic. She spoke of seeking your “truth” as a writer, of having a work ethic , of finding the time to do it, of investing in yourself, with discipline being paramount. She spoke of having a “healthy regard for being solvent”, and if you see something you might be eligible for (financially) via an arts council to go for it, because the act of “going for it” makes it real and validates it. She’s one busy lady, fitting in an incredible number of school and library visits and other events (festivals, panels, workshops), earning a living, and as she said “getting out and about is good for one’s sanity”. Oh and I have to mention the very beautiful pie chart, which makes for a chilling reality check: 50% earning a living (non-writing), 30% writing, 10% admin and 10% research. Hard truths hitting home.
Moving swiftly on, we listened to the If I could tell you just one thing panel of Oisín McGann, writer/illustrator, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, writer/illustrator, and David O’Callaghan Eason Children’s Book Buyer. Believe me, by this time, the one thing that I didn’t need to be told was that I wasn’t going to be making a lot of money so it had better be my passion!
Oisín spoke of being very deliberate in his approach to work, putting a lot of work into his planning and outline thus the work tended to flow quickly. Marie-Louise spoke of how being a picture-book maker leaves no room for another day job. A picture book is looking for your voice and needs to come alive on the page so you need to put the best you can into it to grab the editor. She spoke also of the SFD (shitty first draft). It’s reassuring to know that great writers have them too. Her advice? Just write—it doesn’t have to be perfect—well not right away! When is a manuscript ready for submission? When has it progressed from the SFD? You need to ask yourself: Is this the best that I could have done? You need to let other people see it. Again, you’ll never know if you don’t put it out there. The highly entertaining David introduced me to another new term PAF (posh as f**k! Look it up. I own a vast collection of these.) and added the reassuring statement: A good book does not mean it will sell; crap sells too!
The last panel, Is it me you’re looking for?, was chaired by writer Patricia Forde with Conor Hackett, Publisher’s Agent, Penny Holroyde, Literary Agent at Holroyde Cartey Limited, Nicki Howard, Publisher at Gill Books, and Ivan O’Brien, Publisher at O’Brien Press. We are very much a visually led society with the picture book being a well-curated, returning market for luxury non-fiction, that is, a book that a parent loves to give and a child loves to read. All well and good, but the bottom line is that an agent or editor needs to be excited by both the story itself and the commercial potential of a proposal from a prospective writer/illustrator. They “want” a book that delivers, a book that has a voice, and a writer or illustrator who can be objective about their “baby” when it’s time for editing. No small order!
After the event, we were invited to the launch of the most amazing illustration exhibition in the library. Curated by Sarah Webb (does this woman ever sleep?), A World of Colour features a feast for the eyes with a collection of the beautiful work of Chris Haughton and Beatrice Alemagna. The exhibition will be shown at the library until the close of the Mountains to Sea Festival at the end of March. This was a wonderful ending to an amazing day.
So what did I learn? Well, if you need to write something, write something brilliant, write a book that delivers and has its voice. Then have a good pitch and have your research and homework done. Go to book launches, meet people, become a member of a professional organization such as CBI, SCBWI, Irish Writer Centre, or Illustrators Ireland. Attend workshops and conferences, which give you the opportunity to engage with like-minded people. Put your work out there (when it’s ready) and present something that will engage. You made it, own it.
Other blog posts about the event
Children’s Books Ireland: http://childrensbooksireland.ie/when-are-you-going-to-write-a-proper-book/
Posted on: February 11, 2017
Written by Eileen Moynihan, SCBWI Ireland member
On Saturday morning, January 28th, 2017, a very mixed group of people met for the SCBWI Ireland Midlands winter social at the Ardagh Heritage and Creativity Centre . The theme of the day was winter in children’s literature. I organized the event. Ann Gerety Smyth, Sally Martin with her granddaughter Cara Martin, Majella Reid, Rose Moran with her grand-nephew Eoghan and Eoghan's friend Adam participated. Thanks to the staff at Ardagh for letting us use their wonderful space again!
To start off, the group heard about the SCBWI and the benefits of being a member. Then with three white card circles of varying sizes, we made snowmen by sticking them onto another piece of card. We drew our snowmen (one snowwoman) and backgrounds, and used different materials to enhance them. We also wrote a poem or piece about them.
Some of us did an exercise in taking one of our favourite literary characters and placing them into a favourite literary winter scene or our own scenario. I chose Worzel Gummidge and put him into the scene from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe where Lucy first discovers Narnia. Sally Martin took the Snow Queen and placed her in with a family. Her granddaughter Cara put my character Rory Gumboots into a trip to Australia.
While we were doing this, we took it in turns to read some of our favourite winter poems or scene from children’s literature.
What did people think of the event?
Sally Martin: “Great time was had by all. We really enjoyed it.”
Cara Martin: “I really enjoyed the day and prefer writing with adults because they have fun but discuss it better and are more serious about the writing.”
Rose Moran: “I loved the workshop, and the boys’ mothers were delighted that they enjoyed the day so much, loved the pictures, and shared them.”
Majella Reid: “Thanks again for facilitating the SCBWI morning in Ardagh. I really enjoyed myself.”
Ann Gerety Smyth: “The SCBWI event hosted by Eileen Moynihan in the Ardagh Heritage and Creativity Centre was a delightful way to spend the morning. Over a nice cuppa and buns, we discussed SCBWI and all that it entails. Some participants came prepared shared their work, and we all had a go at making a snowman to inspire our stories. Overall, it was a very relaxed and happy atmosphere, and I am really looking forward to the next one and spending more time with like-minded people.”
For more photos and to read some of the storie and poems, see Eileen's Midlands 2017 winter event details.
(Most photos are courtesy of Sally Martin.)
Posted on: January 31, 2017
Written by Colleen Jones, Regional Advisor
Our featured SCBWI Ireland member for winter 2017 is award-winning writer Jane Mitchell. Jane, along with Maeve McMahon, established the local chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in 2007. Jane played a major role in our regional team for eight years before stepping down in 2015 to focus on her writing.
Jane received the 2015 SCBWI Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Award Honor Grant, and has been nominated for and won a selection of awards for many of her books, including When Stars Stop Spinning and Chalkline. Her latest book, A Dangerous Crossing, will be published by Little Island Books on February 23, 2017.
I asked Jane a few questions to find out more about her experiences and writing process. Jane writes stunning and evocative books that deal with big subjects in a very personal way. She has a special interest in children’s and women’s rights around the world.
SCBWI: How long have you been writing and what or who was the inspiration for taking this career path?
Jane: I started writing when I was very young: I have a hand-written Book of Poems that I wrote, illustrated, and stapled into a book form when I was six years old. From then on and throughout school, I wrote poems and stories in copy books and loose pages, some of which I still have.
I’m not sure if I would think of it as a career path, considering that I started so young. Writing was something I always did, and it seemed to make perfect sense to me to continue to do it as I grew up.
SCBWI: How do you juggle your time between writing and work, travel, running, and daily life? How much time do you actually have for writing/editing/research?
Jane: I write at home, in the evenings and at weekends. I try to write every day, which is a challenge at times as I am busy with other activities, so I don’t always succeed. I’m satisfied if I get 3-4 good evenings of writing per week.
I work full-time in an NGO providing services to people with disabilities; writing is my after-work passion. Ideas, plots, and what’s going to happen to my characters completely consume my thinking at every opportunity. I use my evenings and my free-time to research, edit and write down the results of my musings.
SCBWI: What made you join SCBWI and set up the local chapter? What other organizations do you belong to and why?
Jane: I think the SCBWI is a great model to bring together people interested in writing and illustrating for children. It is clearly focussed on that single aspect of the children’s book industry and it achieves its aims very effectively. When I joined the SCBWI , it seemed a great shame that there wasn’t a chapter in Ireland, and so I thought the easiest way to address that was to establish a local chapter.
I am also a member of Children’s Books Ireland, Society of Authors (UK), and the Irish Writer’s Centre (professional membership).
SCBWI: You started the first SCBWI Ireland Scribblers online critique group a number of years ago. What are the pros and cons of face-to-face versus online critiques? How does the feedback from the critique groups compare to the feedback from the publisher’s editors?
Jane: Face-to-face is generally a lot easier, because you can see the writer and read their expressions; equally, as the writer, you can see your critiquers and learn so much more from their tone of voice and the context in which they are speaking. However, face-to-face critiques require members with the time and ability to travel to group meetings. Online critiques can lack the personal touch, but are easier if members are busy, geographically scattered, or unable to commit the time to meet personally. It is sometimes more challenging for both the writer and the critiquer to pick up on nuances, tone, and expression during online critiques.
Publishers’ editors aren’t in the business of giving critiques to writers in the same way that critique groups are. Editors are solely focussed on making the manuscript the best that it possibly can before it gets published.
SCBWI: Are you comfortable with public speaking and performing for an audience? What did you do to learn those skills and overcome any nervousness?
Jane: I am generally comfortable with public speaking once I am properly prepared. I like to organise my material and believe that ensuring it is appropriate and suitable for the audience, whether they are adults of children, is key to a successful presentation. I always have additional material ready in case I have extra time at the end. Having previously been a teacher also helps, as I was used to standing up in front of a classroom. It also helps with school visits with lively students!
SCBWI: You wrote and illustrated a picture book in Irish, An Loch Draíochta, which won an award for excellence back in your college days. What else have you written in the Irish language? Do you have any plans to pursue illustration?
Jane: An Loch Draíochta is the only book I’ve written in Irish. I wrote it when I was in college. I don’t have any plans to pursue illustration.
SCBWI: Sarah in Different Lives is someone that a lot of teens can relate to. She is living a comfortable life but isn’t satisfied. She leaves home to seek out new experiences. How are you like Sarah and how are you different? Where does your love of travel come from?
Jane: I think we all have dreams of new experiences, new challenges as we go through life–something different. Some of us are brave enough to follow our dreams and take off to exciting new places—but in Sarah’s case, things don’t go as she plans. My love of travel comes from my love of seeing new places and experiencing different cultures.
SCBWI: When Stars Stop Spinning focuses on two teenage boys with disabilities who both have an interest in music. Where did the idea for this story come from and how did you research it?
Jane: When Stars Stop Spinning is set in a rehabilitation centre and focuses on how young people with disabilities can achieve their dreams.
I worked for many years with young people with disabilities and listened when they said there were no books featuring main characters with a disability. This book was born out of a desire to change that.
SCBWI: In Chalkline, we see the two sides of the story about children being forced to be soldiers. The narrative jumps between Jafiq in the guerrilla camp and his family left behind in the village. How did you research such a completely different world experience and create a beautiful, potent, emotional, and personal account of one boy and his family’s struggles?
Jane: The narrative jumps between the main character Rafiq and the story of his younger sister Jameela. I wrote it after returning from travelling for three months in India, where I was fascinated by the explosions of colour, sights, and smells I experienced in this amazing country. The setting for the book is based on my personal experiences in the villages, towns, and mountains of India. The research took many months of reading about accounts of child soldiers, learning about their damaged lives, and ultimately meeting a rehabilitated child soldier in Amnesty UK.
SCBWI: You have written several short stories, including “There and Here” in Once Upon a Place, an anthology of stories and poems compiled by Eoin Colfer and illustrated by PJ Lynch, and published in 2015 by Little Island Books. How different is it to write a short story compared to a novel (besides the obvious difference in word count)?
Jane: A short story leaves little space for the author to explore deeper emotions and wider issues. It must be concentrated and focussed, and is a perfect exercise in lean writing. The writer has little opportunity to expand on broader ideas. The writing and content must be sparse and to the point, yet still convey meaning and significance.
SCBWI: Your latest book, A Dangerous Crossing, deals with a refugee child fleeing the horrors of war-torn Syria. You seem drawn to depicting an individual struggling under extreme conditions, usually within the threat of a brutal regime. What is it within this theme that speaks to your heart and makes it so compelling to write about?
Jane: I am drawn to and interested by the ability of the human spirit to triumph over adversity. I am drawn to write about children and young people who have the strength of character to overcome their circumstances, and to present a setting or a situation that the typical young reader in Ireland or the UK would be unfamiliar with. It is often tempting to shield children from the harsher realities of life, such as death and war, but children have a remarkable capacity to empathise when something is presented to them in a way they can understand. I believe passionately that words have the power to create empathy and to engender understanding.
SCBWI: You spent time last year volunteering at the refugee camp in Calais, France. How did your time in the camp and interacting with the refugees influence you and impact the final draft of your novel?
Jane: I volunteered for a week in the now-dismantled Jungle Camp in Calais, where I saw first-hand the terrible conditions in which illegal refugees have to survive, with inadequate shelter and appalling sanitation. I spent time with refugees from Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. Apart entirely from the poor physical conditions at the camp, these people are socially isolated from mainstream society, with no access to education or employment. I was in the camp when French police launched a tear-gas attack, which happened frequently.
I was conscious that my brief involvement with the refugees was not based on an equal relationship. These vulnerable people were at a low point in their lives and they deserved their dignity. For this reason, I visited the camp only after the first draft of my book was complete, and then, only drew on what I saw to enrich the narrative of the story: no personal experiences are included. I recreated for my main character in A Dangerous Crossing my own experience of the tear-gas attack, and used the physical environment of the camp to write a more authentic account of a refugee camp.
SCBWI: And finally, what tips do you have for writers who want to improve their craft and get published?
Jane: One of the hardest things for any aspiring writer to do is to finish a complete manuscript. This might sound obvious, but I hear from so many aspiring writers who endlessly start new stories and new manuscripts, who have great new ideas, or who are planning their best new work to date—but the toughest thing to do is to finish that amazing story. To actually get to the end of a book. This is an incredibly difficult thing to do and is such a fantastic achievement. Opening chapters are easy. Setting up the location and introducing the characters are straightforward. The hard graft comes when you are 12 or 15 or 20 chapters into your book. That’s when the tough work starts. When the long hours of commitment start. That is when the real writers rise to the top.
Thanks Jane! Congratulations on your latest book! I look forward to reading it.
Jane Mitchell has published seven books (one in Irish), plus three short stories, and has written articles and reviews for various publications, such as Children's Books Ireland's Inis magazine. Several of Jane's books have won awards and have been published in other languages, such as French, Danish, and German.
Jane taught two Writing for Children courses at the Irish Writers' Centre in Dublin in recent years. For more information about Jane, visit: http://www.janemitchell.ie/ .
Posted on: November 23, 2016
Written by A. Colleen Jones, Regional Advisor
Declan Clarke has been a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) since February 2013. In 2015, he joined the SCBWI Ireland Scribblers, an online critique group of writers submitting sections of their work for feedback and in return providing honest critiques to their peers. Declan also volunteered as the social liaison for the Galway and west coast area for almost two years. Recently, he stepped down from that role because a lot of interesting things are happening that require his focus and attention.
Declan is very much a guy who thinks outside the box. He is not afraid to experiment and try something new and is great at networking with people in different creative fields including film and animation. He also is involved in an innovative coral farm in Connemara, which is just begging to be a field-trip location for a scrawl or sketch crawl!
Similar to Eileen Moynihan, Declan has taken on the challenge of self-publishing his books. I asked him some questions about his writing process, collaborating with his sons, his experiences with self-publishing and crowd funding, and what’s happening on the coral farm.
SCBWI: How long have you been writing? How did collaborating with your sons influence your writing?
Declan: I think I’ve always had a pen or pencil in my hand, scribbling something or other. I guess I started to commit some of the bedtime stories to paper when my sons were younger, and I just opened the door to my imagination. I regularly went to the local school during Arts Week, and instead of reading from books from the shelves, I took my own. I loved the way the characters and the stories came to life in the classroom, and I got the bug. Even though my sons are long past primary school, I still get the invite to go down and read to different ages. We even produced a full-blown comic about two years ago, Double Explosion & Fart Soup. I wrote the words, and the kids did all the graphics and drawings—great fun. We did a print run of 400 and still get asked for copies.
Working with Jack and Liam on different stories is brilliant, and of course my wife, Jane, always has first read and gives me truly insightful feedback.
SCBWI: What age range you do you usually write for? Are you planning to write for any other age groups?
Declan: I think when you have kids your storytelling blends to their ages, particularly when they are younger, hence Vinnie the Mole and the Baby Dragon (illustrated by Kieran Ryan) and Willou Mac Wiggle and the Dive-Dive Birds (illustrated by Rebecca Kane). I don’t really write with an age group in mind. The one I’m finishing now, Shadows of the Second Sun, is definitely for an older group. The one in development, The Abandon, has the potential to be really dark, and I hope scary. Zack Skater and the Immune Response Team, probably hit the 10-14 age range, while the graphic novel, Kane, is for much older teens.
SCBWI: What topics do you want to write about now and in the future? Why?
Declan: For me, it’s always about the bad guys, even in Willou Mac Wiggle, the one for really young kids, there were the dive-dive birds. I had fabulous fun with the utterly evil Dr. Destructo in Zack Skater, a character I’d love to revisit to delve into his back story. Rhino-V became a depiction of the human cold virus in the same story. The inspiration for the litany of evil doers in Zack Skater was drawn from the barrage of diseases our immune system fights on a daily basis. In Vinnie, there’s the pesky hawk, and of course, in Max Stone, it is KRÄÄXOR, darker than Dracula and a villain the world will never forget.
In Shadows of the Second Sun, the Tsarak have been fabulous demons to explore, as much because of the dark forces that drive them as their own demonic fury. The next story started out as a one-page Halloween short posted in the local Centra. I created an effigy and put him out on the road. I got such a huge response that it’s blooming into a full story.
SCBWI: In your blog on your website, you mentioned Liam’s diagnosis of dyslexia as the inspiration or challenge for writing the first Max Stone story, Max Stone and the Lost Star of Zirdon. Can you tell us about that experience for both you?
Declan: It was really cool. Knowing about the dyslexia was a huge relief, and we embraced it. It was probably the most structured approach I’ve had to any story. We went to Inagh and laid out 16 blank sheets of paper representing the story’s journey, and five for each of the main characters. It’s great having a creative mind to co-write with, particularly when you’re creating a new world, full of monsters and challenges, and anchoring it all back to how it might be seen through the eyes of a 13-year old.
We did write a second one, but it wasn’t as much fun, Max Stone and the Invasion of Earth (guess where we were going with that one!). Midway through the editing process, we realized we really wanted to go back to the first story. The characters evolved so much from when we first wrote it that we took a very different approach. We went highly visual in building the characters, drawing on Marvel and others for inspiration to develop who the characters were. KRÄÄXOR became a depiction of Killer Croc with the dark intensity of Dracula in Van Helsing.
This was much more fun and is what ultimately brought us to seeking out a pathway to bring Max Stone to the big screen.
SCBWI: What is your process for coming up with ideas and developing them?
Declan: Not too sure, to be honest. Max Stone was a little out of form, we were standing in a Ryanair check-in queue talking about writing the story when we came across an image on a billboard. It just screamed out to be the Lost Star of Zirdon! Generally, I am inclined to allow a story simply to be for a while. I used to scramble for a pen and paper every time I had an idea or when a dialogue began to form. Now it’s much easier, I think that if it’s good enough I’ll remember it or it will re-form.
So as to a process, I try to keep the stories alive and with me during the day. At night, I conjure the scenes before sleeping and let the characters interact on their own. This can sometimes bring surprising results. In the new one, The Abandon, just a few weeks ago I was dreaming about the awakening of Jake Zanderza, and woke in a sweat. It was so real and so visceral, I actually thought I was in the scene! Almost impossible to capture that on paper, but it’s great fun trying.
SCBWI: How has being part of a critique group impacted your writing?
Declan: Everyone should join one. It’s a group of guys and gals who are on the same wavelength, perhaps equally mad, and are genuine and honest in telling you what they think. We are also very lucky to have Caroline Twomey as our moderator for Scribblers. She strikes a perfect balance between professionalism and camaraderie. When Kieran and myself decided to bring Vinnie the Mole to print, the Scribblers members had a huge role to play. I hadn’t much experience in picture books, and their insights were a huge help.
SCBWI: How has being a member of the SCBWI helped you as a writer?
Declan: I think in anything we do that it’s essential to connect with people who share an interest. With the SCBWI, it’s a hugely supportive environment is a great way to meet others. You also get to travel with other creatives on their journey, and when they get a win or even a step forward, it’s a great lift for everyone.
SCBWI: What made you decide to self- publish? What was your experience with traditional publishers and agents, if any?
Declan: In everything I do, I like to take the most direct route. I don’t have any real aspiration or ambition to hit wide audiences, I’m more of a selfish writer. Writing is something I do because I love when characters start speaking for themselves, when worlds become so real I could be there, or when a bad guy can wake me from my sleep!
SCBWI: What was the process you used to actually publish your text? How did you find an illustrator for each book? How long did the entire publishing cycle take?
Declan: If we take Vinnie the Mole as an example, I initially wrote it as a chapter book. This is how I used to read in the classrooms. When I met Kieran, it was a while before I realized he was such an accomplished illustrator. We began simply with Kieran drawing concept sketches for Vinnie and Spencer (Super Spencer, Super Fly…Super Bunny Super Guy!). When I saw them come to life on the page, I knew I had to take a different direction. The idea of going mainstream didn’t really come into it. The book changed in personality and character, and with a publisher I would have lost that, they would have sought to bring their own illustrator, which for me was to unpick the DNA of the story. So we decided to publish it ourselves.
For Max Stone, we had a very specific idea of the genre and the style of the “story bible” in mind. Film Director Liza Bolton introduced us to the huge Irish talent of graphic artist Gary O’Donnell. This is also where the online critique group really came to the fore. Many of the people in the group had vastly more experience in producing what was becoming a picture book, and their input definitely shaped the outcome.
Illustrating is a skill I really admire. I’ve been really lucky too. Alannah Robins worked with me on the Zack Skater characters such as Rhino–V, and we’re still working together. She has just launched an artist-in-residence programme in Inagh, so I’m really looking forward to that. I also ran some art competitions for the stories and had brilliant feedback. One of my favourites is Boctamus from Max Stone.
SCBWI: You tried crowd funding for one of your books. What was your experience of that system?
Declan: You have to know what you’re getting into, have some understanding of the commercials. The platform itself was functional but in no way supportive, simply a way of channelling the monies you raise yourself (less their commission). Talking to your customers and the booksellers is also essential. Des Kenny was a huge supporter, and his book shop now carries the book very cost effectively online and has even managed to get Vinnie a cameo appearance on this year’s Late Late Toy Show!
Also, when self-publishing, it’s important to do up a full cost analysis, taking into account the printing, a good budget for a designer, and promotion costs, which includes the free samples we like to give out. This helps you determine the sale price to the retailer and ensures the venture at least breaks even, or raises enough revenue to fund a much more cost-effective second run.
SCBWI: Will you continue to self-publish? What tips and warnings would you give to other writers who are considering self-publishing?
Declan: Having a clear idea as to what you want is probably the most important thing. If you truly want to bring your work to a wide audience, then the self-publishing route might not be optimal. But if you want control as to how a story looks and feels, then it’s perfect. Either way, knowing what you want out if it is the first step. There is a risk that the business side can take over and steal precious time away from the actual writing.
SCBWI: What was it like to collaborate with an illustrator for your books?
Declan: Seeing our characters brought to life by an illustrator, whether it’s Ruby the magic dragon from Vinnie or the villainy of DRÄÄGNOS, is exhilarating. In the early work with Max Stone, we teamed up with Gary. As a graphic-novel artist, he really understood the genre, giving just the right mix of villainous intent with creativity.
SCBWI: You have connected with film director Liza Bolton from Room 12 Productions. Can you tell us something about that project and where it might lead?
Declan: Working with Liza has brought a whole different dimension to the story writing. We have been shown how a movie director views stories. We worked with Animation Ireland in producing a story bible, which we brought to the Cannes Film Festival this year as a development project. As a result, we have now teamed up with a UK TV production company and aim to be in Miami in February 2017. Max Stone is now shaping up to be a 13-episode animated TV series. Instead of chapters, we are writing episodes.
SCBWI: You are developing a graphic novel with your older son and an Australian graphic designer, Ellen McCaffrey. Can you tell us something about that process and experience?
Declan: The wonderful combination of Jack’s drawings and Ellen’s design is giving me a chance to explore a whole new way of approaching stories. We started with a graphic novel in mind, but the result might well be something slightly different, more a fusion of words and illustrations. We are still learning what each can bring to the table, and this is really setting the scene for Đark King—Emerge. True to form, it’s about the bad guys, about the age-old battle between Satan and his warlord, Gǿrdham, a battle for ultimate power, a battle drenched in pure evil. So far, some of the results have been amazing, and this is definitely a story I’m looking forward to keeping me awake at night.
SCBWI: You are involved in an interesting selection of research and development projects, including one to help bees! What is going on at the coral farm?
Declan: With Inagh Valley Trust, we have a created a “hatchery of ideas” and have set up a great range of companies. For the bees, with HiveAlive, we developed a food that helps them battle against a major disease, and this is selling in 31 countries. Our Connemara Food Ventures is a seaweed-ingredients company, Nori Bake, specializing in function and wellness. Our blends are used in Ireland and Europe to improve breads and pasta, and I think that business has a really bright future. It is taking the goodness of seaweed into the everyday diet, bringing all of the nutritional value, cutting salt, but it doesn’t affect the taste.
The coral farm is a pleasure to work with, a little like walking onto the set of Finding Nemo. We grow over 30 species of tropical-reef aquarium fish, and the demand is huge. We are struggling to supply 12 countries at the moment and have ambitious plans to greatly upscale.
One of my most recent projects is Zoan BioMed. I’m very excited to be a finalist for the Irish Medtech Excellence Awards this December. We’re using coral as a medical device, as a bone-graft substitute. One of the main contributions on a clinical level is the natural porosity of the coral scaffolds. This helps the formation of bone in a trauma site. Because the coral self-assembles the scaffolds, the porosity is fully functional, meaning human stem cells find them to be ideal to form vibrant communities, which greatly aids the healing process.
Wow! Some amazing projects! Thank you so much, Declan, for taking the time to answer my questions!
Declan Clarke lives in Galway in the west of Ireland with his wife, Jane, and their two sons, Jack and Liam. And oh…their two snakes, Ra and Zia. Declan is a writer of children’s adventure tales and YA novels including Max Stone and the Lost Star of Zirdon, which he co-wrote with his youngest son, Liam, and Shadows of the Second Sun. http://declanclarke.ie/
Posted on: October 18, 2016
Written by Eileen Moynihan (writer and volunteer social liaison)
On the morning of Saturday, October 8th, writers and illustrators came together for the SCBWI Ireland: Midlands social event in the creative ambience of the Ardagh Heritage and Creativity Centre in County Longford.
The theme of the event was the celebration of children’s author Roald Dahl. In September 2016, it was 100 years since the well-loved author was born. We were a mixed bunch with ages ranging from 5 to 60 years.
We started with a quick introduction about SCBWI and its benefits over a cup of tea/coffee and buns. Ann Gerety-Smyth and Annette Corkery (both writers, and Annette is an artist to boot), who run the centre, set up online recordings of all things connected with Roald Dahl. They also provided an assortment of Roald Dahl books to peruse, plus paper, pencils, and so on.
After listening to an excerpt from Matilda, songs from James and the Giant Peach, and how to make a Willy Wonka hat, we turned to writing. Writer Sally Martin brought her granddaughter Cara, who previously suggested that we create a new character by writing or illustrating and put it into a scene from a Roald Dahl book. Before she came to the event, Cara wrote a synopsis of The Witches, which Sally read out for her. We were told about Cara’s new character, who was a good witch, and what she did to save the day. We all set to work.
I created a character called Samantha Batthlewaite to put into a scene in Matilda. Ann Gerety-Smyth’s eldest daughter, Mary, drew the Twit’s son, and Ann’s youngest daughter, Lily-May, drew and used a Roald Dahl sticker book. Annette Corkery used the Twit’s son too. She decided he was the reason they were evil. They found him as a baby, and he played them off each other.
Ann created a chick in the henhouse when The Foxes come to take them. The youngest fox brought the chick with him and became a vegetarian, while the chick had great escape plans for the group.
Sally’s character was a chocolate kingfisher who lived on the banks of the river by the Wonka factory. The kingfisher loved to dive for and eat the different-flavoured chocolate fish. However, every time he came out of the river, he had a new coat of chocolate on him. When it dried, he got so big he could hardly walk, never mind fly. One day, Willie Wonka discovered the Oompa Loompas chipping off layers of chocolate, so he invented a fan that blew off the liquid chocolate before it dried. Valerie Maguire opted to read and listen to everyone’s stories.
We had fun sharing our writing and drawings and discussing ideas for future socials.
The dynamic partnership of Annette Corkery and Ann Gerety-Smyth celebrated their fifth anniversary in the Ardagh Heritage and Creativity Centre in August 2016. They create a place in which people of all ages are encouraged to explore their creativity, be inspired by the beautiful setting, and create their own individual artwork. Creative Ardagh hosts family events, toddler creativity mornings, group classes, and drop-in art days. Curriculum-based school programs are tailored to each class’s needs. Creative Ardagh is accredited as a Discover Primary Maths and Science Centre.
Regular updates on what is happening with Creative Ardagh can be found on www.facebook.com/creativeardagh