#PULPstories tour Robin Talley Q&A

I am loving Robin Talley’s latest book Pulp, and was delighted to be asked to take part in the #PULPstories tour. I will be reviewing the book on the blog next week, for now, here’s a Q&A with wonderful author Robin Talley.


What inspired you to write PULP?

I first learned about lesbian pulp fiction — a genre of books popular in the 1950s and 1960s that were published as cheap paperbacks and marketed to men, but that focused on romances between women — several years ago. When I first read one of these books, Marijane Meaker’s groundbreaking Spring Fire, published in 1952, I was mesmerized, both by the story itself and by the world it presented. It focused on the relationship between two deeply closeted lesbians living in a time when being who they were meant having to go to extreme lengths to keep their sexuality a secret, and facing horrific consequences if they slipped up (which of course they did). There was an entire wave of these novels, some of which sold millions of copies, all during a time and place when anyone who didn’t conform to expected norms faced terrible oppression. I wanted to explore that culture, and I thought it would be interesting to look at it through the lens of a teenage character in the present day — someone to whom all of this would seem like irrelevant ancient history, until she probes a little deeper and finds out it’s anything but.


Why do you think it’s important to feature LGBT characters in YA novels?

In the decades since young adult books became a publishing phenomenon, there have been only a small percentage of YA books published with lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender characters in central roles. That number is starting to increase at last, but we’ve still got many years’ worth of catching up to do. LGBT teenagers deserve to see characters like themselves in the books they read, and they, as well as teens who don’t fall under the LGBT umbrella, both want and need to see characters who reflect the real world they live in — a world that’s diverse in terms of sexual orientation and gender as well as race and ethnicity, religion, and disability status.


What do you hope readers will take away from Pulp?

That the social justice struggles of the twentieth century might seem like the distant past, but the truth is, we’re still fighting the same battles now that we confronted then. The movement for equality has been going on for many, many generations, and there’s no question that we’ve got a long way to go. We have to be mindful of what came before us so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past, and so we can fight back against the political leaders and others in power who are trying to take us there on purpose.

Check out the rest of the stops on the #PULPStories tour below:

PULP_BlogTour V2



Author Interview: Sophie Cameron (Out of the Blue)

I loved Sophie Cameron’s debut Out of the Blue, which explores grief and loss through magical realism, as well as featuring a beautifully-told love story. I was delighted to get the opportunity to interview Sophie Cameron and ask her about her writing process and LGBTQ+ representation in YA.

Sophie CameronOut of the Blue 9781509853168.jpg

Jenny Duffy: The title Out of the Blue fits the book so well – in terms of grief, the suddenness of the Beings’ falls. Did you have this title all along, or did it come later in the process?

Sophie Cameron: I actually had a really hard time finding a title! I tried out lots (including some really cheesy ones) but nothing really fit. I was thinking about it on my walk to work one morning when I spotted a sticker for a community/arts centre in Edinburgh called Out of the Blue – I figured that worked pretty well, and it stuck!

JD: Which part of the story came first – the magical elements, the characters or the themes?

SC: The idea of the angels falling to earth came first (from a Lynx Deodorant advert, randomly enough) and then the characters. I never really think about the themes I want to include in a book at first; I try to focus on the characters and the story and let them arise naturally, then work on bringing the themes out later.

JD: I loved the scene in which Teacake is shown paintings of angels, were there particular images you used for reference when imagining the Beings?

SC: Their colouring was inspired by street artists in Barcelona: I used to walk past golden and silver angels every day on my way to work, which gave me the idea of making them different metallic colours. Otherwise I just invisioned them as looking like people with wings, but all the paintings mentioned in the book are based on real works of art. It was really fun to research!

JD: What are some of your favourite LGBTQ+ YA books?

SC: More Than This by Patrick Ness, You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan, History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, Girlhood by Cat Clarke, Noah Can’t Even by Simon James Green, It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura, The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding… and I’m really looking forward to Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro, Running With Lions by Julian Winters and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, which are all out this year.

JD: In the book Jaya says ‘There were all those words – labels that we didn’t need, but that wrapped themselves around us, suffocating whatever it was that we had.’ What are you own feelings on labels? Do you see them as helpful or damaging, or both?

SC: I think they can be restrictive for some, but empowering for others. Finding the right label was important for me when I was younger as it helped me work out who I was, but I don’t find them quite so important (for myself) now, and I know some people who have never wanted or needed them – either position is totally valid, so I think it’s good to show characters who both do and don’t identify with labels in books.

JD: Different characters in Out of the Blue have very different responses to their sexuality, in terms of acceptance and coming out. Were you very conscious of the importance of showing a range of experiences?

SC: Actually, not really… it just happened naturally as it fit the story. Obviously different people will have hugely different experiences with regards to coming out or being accepted for their sexuality, and if books reflect that then that’s great. But I don’t think authors should necessarily feel they have to show that variety, either. It can be too much to fit into one story, for one thing, and I also think we need more stories with LGBTQ+ characters that don’t touch on issues at all.

JD: The relationship between Jaya and Allie has a beautifully slow build – what do you think is the most important ingredient in writing a romance?

SC: For me, I think it’s that the characters’ relationship feels quite balanced and that they both have their own arcs outside of the other person – my favourite romance in YA is The Sun is Also a Star, where both characters have their own storylines that become intertwined. Romance isn’t usually the main draw to a book for me, though, so it may be totally different for other readers!

JD: What would you like to see more of in YA?

SC: I think the most pressing issue in YA is a lack of books by authors of colour – there are only a handful published in the UK every year, so I want to see many more of those and lots of support for those that are published. I’d also like to see more diversity in general, and more stories that are focused on friendship or sibling relationships.

JD: What’s next for you writing wise?

SC: I’ve just finished the second draft of my second book, which will be out in 2019. I’m having a wee break to catch up on reading and then I’ll get started on what will hopefully be Book 3!

JD: Finally, a piece of writing advice you would pass on?

SC: The author Kirsty Logan mentioned in a talk a few years ago that she aims to write just 100 words a day, so I tried that and it worked really well for me: it’s short enough as a goal that even if I’m feeling totally uninspired (or lazy) I can usually manage a few sentences, and quite often I end up writing way more than I’d intended anyway.


Author Interview: Claire Hennessy (Like Other Girls)

I reviewed Claire Hennessy’s powerful new YA novel Like Other Girls recently, and was delighted to get the chance to chat to Claire about the book, her writing process, being an editor, and the joy of musicals.

Photo by Aisling Finn

Could you tell me about your writing routine? When and where do you write? Do you have any writing rituals?

I yearn for a proper writing routine but it really depends on what else I’m doing or working on at the time. For example, during the summer I teach on summer camps for teenagers, which means I might write in the evenings, whereas if I’m teaching a lot of evening classes then the writing tends to get done in the morning. It really depends on the stage the manuscript is at, too – when I’m in the middle of a first draft, getting new words down as often as possible (every weekday, hopefully) is really important, whereas when I’m revising I might think over things for weeks and then go and attack the manuscript again.

How do you find writing for teens as an adult, compared to writing for teens as a teen yourself?

I’m an adult? When did that happen?! I’m more wary of getting details wrong now, because I know that being a teenager today is different in certain ways – the endless encroaching presence of social media, for example – and I also try not to be preachy.

Do you think your work as an editor has changed how you approach your writing?

I am incredibly aware now of the importance of opening chapters, in a way that I wasn’t before – there are so many clichéd and tired ways to begin a story, and as an editor you really start to notice all the recurring and worn-out tropes. I actually overdid it slightly with Like Other Girls and had a scene that really belonged much later at the start, for dramatic purposes, but it didn’t quite work, so it got moved.

When in the process of writing Like Other Girls did you come up with the title?

It was when I was close to finishing the manuscript, and we already had a synopsis for the book before that, so it was quite late. But we agreed on it very quickly, which was brilliant.

Like Other Girls is a book that makes readers angry (to quote the wonderful Marian Keyes, it is a book that ‘all but quivers with righteous anger’), which books make you angry?

Oooh. Anything about feminism makes me angry at the world, for obvious reasons, and then I get angry at books for pulling cheap stunts or having twists that don’t quite work.

To my delight, musicals play a big role in Like Other Girls. What is your favourite musical, and your favourite song from a musical?

WICKED! And ‘For Good’. I just love the fact that it has two female leads, and that the love story isn’t everything, and that it’s basically set in a magical boarding school at the start. It’s very different from the book, of course, which is much darker and twistier.

I feel that the inclusion of newspaper articles and other media references really reflected what it is like being a young woman in Ireland at the moment, and also showed how Lauren’s story is one that happens every day, to many women. Was this aspect of the book there from the start?

I  didn’t necessarily know I was going to include newspaper articles but I was conscious that I’d probably be addressing what the narrative is around reproductive rights in Ireland, as well as how such issues are handled in popular culture. And then as it went on, it seemed to make sense to include actual articles (and sadly the media continues to offer up many examples to work with…)

Like Other Girls is a book that confronts and explores real experiences and problems without turning into the dreaded ‘issue novel.’ What do you think is the importance of books and other art forms in exploring issues we are facing today?

Thank you, that is very kind of you to say! I did worry hugely about this turning into a big rant, which a novel shouldn’t be, and I was aware in certain chapters that I needed to go back and make things about the characters rather than The Issues. What stories are wonderful for is creating empathy – seeing the world through someone else’s eyes and learning to understand each other a little bit better. So much cruelty and ugliness in the world comes from a capacity to dehumanise certain groups of people, and empathy is the cure for that.

As both an editor and a reader, what would you like to see more of in YA?

More funny books for teenagers that still manage to deal with serious issues. More books set outside of the UK and the USA. More books featuring protagonists with disabilities, chronic illness, etc. And, as ever, more boarding school novels.

What are your favourite YA reads of 2017 so far?

Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer completely blew me away. I absolutely adored Moira Fowley-Doyle’s The Spellbook of the Lost and Found. We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan & Brian Conaghan was, predictably, brilliant. Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give lived up to the hype. And Sara Zarr’s Gem & Dixie is amazing.

Author Interview: Ruth Frances Long (Dubh Linn trilogy)

I interviewed the fabulous Ruth Frances Long when A Hollow in the Hills, the second book in her Dubh Linn trilogy, was released last year. Now that the final volume, A Darkness at the End, is out in the world I caught up with Ruth to chat fantasy, trilogies, mythology, YA and more…

Image result for ruth frances long

1)   A Darkness at the End, the finale of the Dubh Linn trilogy, was published this autumn. What was it like to finish the series?

A bit of a rollercoaster, to be honest. I had a difficult time with the second book, A Hollow in the Hills, so I thought book three, A Darkness at the End might kill me. But as it happened, the story came together quite easily and the characters behaved themselves for once. Even the ones who did not want to die. It is actually incredibly fulfilling to know the complete story is out there now and I’m really pleased with the way it worked out.


2)    There were some fantastic locations in the third book – was there one that stood out for you? I loved the scene in the National Gallery.

So difficult to choose just one so I’ll cheat a little. There’s a sequence where three characters go through the tunnels carrying the River Poddle until they reach St. Patrick’s Cathedral and then go to Marsh’s Library which is one of my favourite parts of A Darkness at the End. There’s a lot going on with the characters at this point, especially with Clodagh and there’s a certain symbolism tied in with this underground journey. Usually when researching a location I would go there, but with the Poddle, being a subterranean river, I couldn’t do that. Luckily I was able to find some documentary footage and photos online of the route and used that for reference.


3)      Which of your characters are you most like?

If I say Brí will it frighten everyone?

In reality, there is probably a bit of me in all of them, and a bit of all of them in me.


4)    Did you have a favourite character to write, or one whose head you found difficult to get into?

The Magpies became my favourites to write over the course of the three books. They were minor characters to begin with, hired thugs who didn’t have that much to do, but they grew into something much more and I was so sorry to say goodbye to them at the end. Not that I’d want to hang out with them or anything!

As for difficult to pin down, I was very worried about including the Morrigan in the final book because she’s such a huge and important character in so much literature and I wanted to do her justice.


5)    Do you prefer the first draft stage, or the editing stage?

A mixture of both. There are moments in the first draft when the story is flowing and it all just feels like magic. However, the editing stage often feels more solid and rewarding to me.


6)    Could you tell me a bit about the Morrigan in the third book – when did she come into your mind, and what did the research process for this character involve?

I always wondered if she would show up in the books. She’s a very difficult character to pin down and I didn’t want to make mistakes. I read a lot, of course and winnowed through various legends where she appears. I also spoke to a friend dedicated to the Morrigan, and we discussed her various aspects at length which was really eye opening and fulfilling. She’s often portrayed as a goddess of death, but she’s more like a goddess of life lived to the full on the edge of death. She’s a war goddess, and there’s a tremendous amount of energy in that. I see her and Brigid (who I portrayed as Brí) as being two sides of a coin, intricately linked together and immensely powerful for that.


7)    You have really strong female characters in the trilogy, particularly with the matriarchs. Was creating a female power structure in the books something you did consciously?

When you look at Irish legends there are incredibly strong and determined women running all the way through them. Because of the Christianisation of these stories when they were written down they are often given a very bad ending. But we still remember the likes of Maeve and Gráinne as the key character in the tale.  I really wanted hierarchy in Dubh Linn to reflect that, so the matriarchs came about quite naturally. They’re also very strong characters so it’s hard to imagine them being told to sit down and be quiet and putting up with that.


8)    There are some dramatic (and devastating!) moments in A Darkness at the End. What have reader reactions been like?

Throughout the series I’ve tried to confront dark moments head on. The biggest reactions I had from readers were from the end of A Hollow in the Hills and a certain death in A Darkness at the End. My husband is still only tentatively speaking to me about it.


9)    I love how you bring figures and creatures from Irish mythology into the Dubh Linn books. Are there other legends or mythologies you would like to explore in your writing?

I’ve always been fascinated with legends and folklore so there are many. I’m currently thinking quite a bit about Arthurian legends so I’d love to explore them some more.


10)  What are your favourite YA books you have read this year?

In no particular order… Caramel Hearts by Elizabeth Rose Murray, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín and Nothing Tastes as Good by Claire Hennessy.


Thanks to Ruth for her fascinating answers, I can’t wait to read more of her books! If you are a fan of fantasy, romance or mythology (or all three!) be sure to check out the Dubh Linn trilogy (A Crack in Everything, A Hollow in the Hills, A Darkness at the End)

Ruth Frances Long’s website

Author Interview: Natasha Farrant

I loved Natasha Farrant’s book Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride & Prejudice and was delighted to get to ask some questions about her research, her writing and all things Austen.


Who is your favourite Bennet sister, and why?

Lydia, always, because she has so much energy and is so much fun. I know she can be awful, but the way I see her, she is driven by her determination not to get left behind by her perfect older sisters, and I find that touching.  I also love Mary: there’s a lot of both Mary and Lydia in me, I think.  Lydia is the teenage rebel, and Mary is the book geek!

Which Jane Austen novel is your favourite?

Emma. I think it’s her most polished work. It has more fully rounded characters than earlier novels, and the decision to have such a thoroughly unreliable main character is clever, funny and thought-provoking.

What inspired you to write about Lydia Bennet?

Actually, I was invited to do it by my publishers, following a conversation about Pride and Prejudice.  The moment they suggested it, I just knew I had to.  Lydia’s story is so pivotal to Pride and Prejudice, and yet we know so little about her, or what happens to her. When Chicken House (my publishers) suggested it, it honestly felt like Lydia herself was inside my head, saying “At LAST! MY side of things!” From then on, she wouldn’t let me go.

What did the research process for Lydia involve?

Re-reading ALL of Austen. Re-reading Clare Tomalin’s amazing biography of Austen, as well as lots of learned and interested books about Austen’s times – the politics, the fashion, the mores.  Spending time in Brighton museums, reading up about the early history of Brighton as a resort.  Lying on Brighton beach, picturing to myself what it must have been like…

Do you have any fascinating facts about the Regency period that you could share with us?

They were crazy about fashion, and this fashion occasionally took strange forms.  For example, they (briefly) had a sort of corset which lifted the breasts, then divided them so that they pointed outwards! I still laugh every time I think of that..

How did you find the process of weaving your own characters and ideas into Austen’s original story?

Fascinating.  The first part of the book takes place entirely in “Austen time and place”, referring to events that happen in Pride and Prejudice.  The temptation to adapt Austen’s novel to my purposes was always there, but I wanted to be very respectful of the original, and so I had to adapt my story instead.  It felt easier once Lydia was away in Brighton.  Even though there was a timeline to respect, I could be freer with my own story. As to Lydia herself, there were a few difficult moments: she felt like she was my character from the beginning, and I loved her from the very start, but there are a couple of moments in Pride and Prejudice where she is really obnoxious, and I had to work quite hard to reconcile that with my Lydia.

What is your favourite Pride & Prejudice adaptation? (I am a BBC fan myself, but I also love more experimental adaptations like the Lizzie Bennet Diaries)

The BBC adaptation, every time.

You wrote diary entries for this book, and film scripts for After Iris. Do you enjoy writing in different formats, and is there a particular format you would like to explore?

I actually don’t want to write a diary again for a very long time… It’s a really interesting format, but it’s difficult too, because you are limited not only to one character’s viewpoint, but also to what they might say about themselves.  That said, I’m currently working on a third person narrative, and I’ve grown so used to the first person that I find myself longing for that narrower viewpoint!

Sibling dynamics are very important in your books, is this something that has always interested you? Do you have siblings yourself?

I have three siblings, two sisters and a brother. I’m fascinated by the dynamics of big families, how the position within the family affects personality development.  And I like feeling part of a tribe.  I have lots of cousins too.  We’re in touch all the time, even though we live across different countries and continents.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I write long-hand, in Moleskine notebooks. I’ve tried other notebooks, as part of cost-cutting exercises, but they’re a false economy because if it’s not Moleskine, I can’t write.  I tend to write best in cafes, in the mornings, and I always listen to the same music: Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no3 and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

What are you working on at the moment?

A children’s adventure story I describe as Pippi Longstocking meets Enid Blyton’s Adventure series.

Many thanks to Natasha Farrant for her brilliant answers, and to Nina Douglas for arranging the interview.

Interview: Alice Oseman (Solitaire, Radio Silence)

I was delighted to interview Alice Oseman, author of Solitaire and Radio Silence. Her two YA novels have been praised for their authentic teenage characters, she was a teenager herself when Solitaire was published. I loved Radio Silence (review here) and was particularly impressed by the diversity of the cast, the focus on friendship, and the way the podcast was integrated into the novel.
We chatted about fandoms, the internet, Alice’s writing process and more…
Alice Oseman
When writing, do you begin with a character, a scene or a plot idea?
Definitely with character! My plots change all the time but as soon as I have an idea for a character, they stay with me the whole way through.
Do you plan a lot, or dive straight into the story?
I plan in extreme detail! I need to know precisely what I’m doing and where I’m going before I start to write.
What was the main thing you learned from writing Solitaire?
That’s such a difficult question – I learnt so much! One of the main things was probably how to use subtext.

Cover image from Goodreads

You have written a couple of Solitaire novellas. Who would you revisit from Radio Silence?
I would LOVE to write some Radio Silence novellas. I’d most like to write one about Daniel.
The internet plays a big role in both of your books and you also use a lot of pop culture references. Often writers are warned off putting in too many contemporary references as it ages the book, however it can make a book very much of its time. Where do you stand on this?
I don’t try to hide from the idea that my books are very much ‘of their time’. I aim for as much realism as I can in my writing – I love trying to completely represent the world that I live in right now. And I very much enjoy reading books that are ‘of their time’ – books written in the eighties and nineties and early 2000s. Hopefully, in the future, people will enjoy reading what the world was like in 2016!
There is a huge YA community on the internet now. Was has been your experience of this?
I’ve been a big part of the YA community on Twitter for quite a while! I find it a little stressful and intense, but ultimately, it’s amazing to see such a huge community of people all coming together in their love of books. That can only be a good thing.
Radio Silence has a really diverse cast of characters. When did you become aware of a need for diversity in YA at the moment?
Some time between Solitaire’s publication and starting to write Radio Silence. I read loads about it online and started to understand how important it was that I use my privileged position to do some good for others. Nowadays, it’s very very important to me, and although I’m nowhere near perfect and still learning so much more, I will always want to have diverse casts in my books.

Cover image from Goodreads

You’ve spoken about the We Need Diverse Books campaign in interviews, and I was wondering which diverse YA books you would recommend?
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is one of my personal all-time favourites.
Fan culture is also important in your work. What fandoms are you part of? What has it been like seeing fanart/fanfiction for Solitaire and Radio Silence?
I’m very aware of fandoms, though I’m not sure how many I can really say I’m a part of! I know a huge amount about fandom simply from being on the internet for so long and being immersed in fandom spaces, but despite being a huge lurker online, I’m not a very active participant in many fandom spaces. I will say that I’m very knowledgable about the YouTube fandom, and lived through the huge uprising of the Glee fandom and the Sherlock fandom. And seeing fanart/fanfic for my books is one of the most exciting things I see as an author! It’s an honour that someone enjoyed my works so much that they were inspired to create something of their own.
You’re an artist, and I was wondering if you draw/use a lot of visuals when you write?
I do! I draw my characters a lot – it really helps me to visualise them and understand them better.
One of my favourite things about Radio Silence was that it had friendship at its core. Do you feel there is too much ‘insta love’ in YA at the moment (particularly heterosexual insta love)?
Absolutely, and I find it very frustrating, undoubtedly because it’s quite unrealistic. I understand why people enjoy reading insta-love – people want to believe in true love, after all! – but I’m tired of it, and I enjoy writing something different. I think friendships and other types of relationships are just as important as romances.
The characters in Radio Silence are about to go to university. I feel that characters approaching/in university are underrepresented in YA (Fangirl is a brilliant book and an exception to this). Why did you choose to have older protagonists in this Radio Silence?
I specifically wanted to write about the process of leaving school and going to university in Radio Silence, and I felt the best way to do this would be through characters about to make that change. It’s a time of great emotional upheaval, and I wish it was written about more!
Can you tell us anything about your next book?
My next book is about boyband fandoms, fame, obsession, and, as usual, the existential pain of being alive.
A big thank you to Alice Oseman for her wonderful answers, and I am looking forward to her next book!

Poetry Interview: Alicia Byrne Keane


How did you first come across spoken word poetry? Was there a particular poem/poet that made you want to join the scene yourself?
I guess I would have first been exposed to spoken word poetry, or to people giving public readings in which there was a performance element, at the ‘Speakeasies’ held by the Trinity College Literary Society, maybe about four or five years ago at this stage. They’re basically open mic nights where people can read either original work or a poem or short story they like. Then, a few years later, one of my friends introduced me to the Monday Echo, a weekly spoken word and music night in Dublin, and I instantly became a regular there because they have a lovely atmosphere and they’re very welcoming to new poets. The poets performing around that time would have been for instance Stephen Clare, Ailish Kerr, and John Cummins, among many others. And I think I was trying to write like them a bit.
Could you discuss some of the poets who’ve influenced you? With your spoken word work rhythm is so important that music and rap must have an impact too.
I know really embarrassingly little about music aside from literally the most famous bands, so maybe I got the idea of having really rhymey poems from listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers when I was eleven or something like that. (LOL) I would say poetry-wise, Patti Smith and John Cooper Clarke would be influences, the former because of her dreamlike imagery, and the latter for his funny rhymes and insults.
Who are your favourite poets at the moment?
I know she’s sort of the go-to famous spoken word poet, but I’d really have to say Kate Tempest for performance poetry. Her stuff is so original that even though she’s been around for years but I’ve never really seen anyone successfully emulate her style. And in terms of page-poetry, I’ve got really into Paul Muldoon in the last few years. I have a bunch of his books but I saw him do a reading in a church in Oxford recently which was really great. He does such odd things with words.
You have lived and studied in both Dublin and Oxford, what are the respective poetry scenes like?
The Dublin poetry scene continues to amaze me, there’s so much on. This year was particularly packed I think because there were so many 1916 centenary-themed events. The publicity around 1916 stuff was so everpresent in Ireland, but what I noticed was that loads of poetry events found really original takes on the centenary celebrations so it never really seemed overdone, and I think that’s a good indicator of the huge creative diversity the city is currently experiencing. Oxford was different and in part I still feel unqualified to comment on its scene because I lived there for so short a time. When you think about it, in comparison I’ve been living in Dublin pretty much my entire life! But my sense was that since it’s a smaller place, there are fewer events on, which is inevitable. But I saw – and participated in – some really interesting nights where the standard was very high, particularly a night called Gin & Phonics that’s run by the Oxford Poetry Society. They have a huge interdisciplinary range of performers – DJ’s, poets, comedians, acoustic musicians – and this sounds like a cliché but no two acts are the same, it’s really varied.

Did you write much poetry as a teenager? I really hope you wrote bad angsty poetry too, although in your case it was probably good angsty poetry!
I actually didn’t write poetry at all during that time! I wish I had though, for the cringe value. I was really uncool and terrified of having unusual hobbies that would surely further confirm the depths of my uncoolness. That was the logic. But when I was a kid I did the thing of trying to write fantasy novels about people who lived in forests and horses who could talk and stuff.
How did your poetry develop in college, through studying English Literature and through involvement with literary journals or events such as Cave Writings?
That’s a really interesting question, English Literature-wise I think I got influenced at first by Romanticism, which we had a module in in First Year, and with my sort of oversimplified understanding as an eighteen-year-old I thought ‘great! I can write all this poetry that is really aesthetically pretty and completely irrational and illogical’, and I tried to write these big eloquent rants that make no sense in retrospect. But that was still a good grounding, I think. Also getting a knowledge of things like postcolonial and feminist theory has given me a good background in social justice issues which would obviously help the poetry. College poetry events played a huge role because I basically didn’t write poetry at all before, and I started writing because a certain journal was looking for submissions, or a certain open mic night was on. So that was a big creative motivator. Cave Writings are brilliant, they started around my final year of college when I had got very set in my poetry ways, and they were doing all this mad stuff like pairing poetry with visual art or with factual talks about rugby and zoology and things. So that was a very refreshing perspective, I think what they do is really original.
Your poetry is very honest, and I think you tackle a lot of relatable topics from bad relationships/dating woes (‘Hey Hey Hi Hey Hi How Are You’), to anxiety (‘Plastic Cups’), and loneliness (‘Sometimes I Am Sad Here’). Do you find poetry therapeutic, and how do you feel about being so open in your work?
That is a really scary bit actually. There’s a level of distance when something’s written on a page because you can’t immediately picture the author and you sort of view the piece of writing in isolation. But the thing that’s quite bizarre about performance poetry, when you think about it, is that you are being seen and judged and there’s an implicit consensus that the poem is autobiographical, because you’re up there saying it. But it is really therapeutic, especially if a load of poets are performing together, because there’s a sense you’re all in the same boat. It does get a bit like a support group at times, which is sort of funny.

I’ve noticed a lot of your poems have ghosts, or creepy houses that seem alive. Would you say this is an interest in the supernatural, a sense of unease, or is it more a connection to the past?
I went through a phase when I was living in Oxford that definitely translated into there being a lot of spooky ghosts in the poetry. I was living in an old creaky attic room with a weird ancient wardrobe, and I was very isolated at times just studying up there so I’d be thinking over my whole past basically, so I guess there were both kinds of unease. I think I’m partially messing about the supernatural stuff (only partially) but not so much about the past stuff.
What role does place play in your poetry? You often write about rooms or houses and I love this image of Dublin: ‘could we count the lights in the office blocks still lit and watch the Liffey black and slow moving and thick like a void that reflects in a technicolour yawn all the neon and the litter and the lights left on and the tarmac glitter in the bruising dawn and the stuff that’s bitter and the stuff that’s gone.’
Place has such a role, and it’s generally Dublin, and it’s generally either Dublin in the early hours of the morning when everything’s a bit horrible and you’ve had an argument with someone, or the sort of mystical view of Dublin that arises when you’re walking around at night on wet streets remembering all the places where various things happened. But I do also write about other places I’ve temporarily lived, both in Ireland and abroad, so there is a definite recurrence of weird apartment rooms, and I think that signifies a different thing, a sort of alienation.
When you’re starting a poem, do you work it out on the page or verbally? And what do you think makes a poem more suited to the page, or to performance?
It usually starts because I get an idea for a pair of lines or something, going around in my head, but I’d do most of the actual composing of the poem on paper because my memory is terrible. I would say that performance poetry is generally more colloquial, sort of messier and more stream-of-consciousness or something, and that page poetry is more condensed and implicit. I know I write either long rhymey poems for spoken word, or very short minimal poems for the page, but that’s perhaps a needlessly black-and-white distinction. I think a lot of the poets I see performing, Niamh Beirne for instance or Lewis Kenny, write stuff that would be equally striking whether it’s performed or written down. I was at a Poetry Ireland talk recently where a bunch of these really good poets like Doireann Ní Ghríofa were all debating about spoken word, and they were saying that any poem that’s performed aloud should also be equally readable on the page. I agree there, now I’m not so sure my poems achieve that, but I definitely know some people whose spoken word poetry is really succinct and rhythmically precise, and you get the sense that it would be equally suited to the page and to performance.
How do you develop poems for spoken word? How do you learn them off, how have you grown as a performer?
I think the only poems I ever successfully finish are the ones that I write fully formed, all in the one go, like a sort of rant. Sometimes I’ll have an idea for a poem and I’ll be trying to make it work for ages, adding little bits here and there, but that’s usually a sign that it’ll eventually get abandoned. So I think maybe the most solid poems happen when I feel strongly about something on a particular moment. I honestly think my poems are easier to learn off than most because they rhyme like a song. I find non-rhyming poems almost impossible to memorise. I think I’ve grown since doing spoken word stuff because I think, as a performer, you have to view the entire night as a cohesive show that you’re participating in with all the other performers. I think you have to adapt and tailor your poems to what other people have done. That doesn’t necessarily mean pandering to a certain atmosphere or aesthetic, like going, ‘oh everyone’s been doing comedy stuff so I can’t do my serious poems, I’ll be a buzz kill’, or thinking ‘everything so far’s been really serious, will my poems seem too silly?’ But I DO think it teaches you to view yourself in relation to other performers, and calibrate your work to theirs. Like to refrain from doing a set that’s too similar to someone else’s if they’re on right before you, or to provide variety by dramatically changing the mood from that established by the previous poet.
Recently you have been writing poemlets ( I love ‘You’re Really Something’ and ‘Hypochondria’). What draws you to shorter poems, and how has your style developed?
My friend Saul Philbin-Bowman writes the shortest poems imaginable and I guess that’s where I got the idea, that and from things like the Scottish poet Edwin Morgan’s ‘One Word Poems.’ I just think there’s something really cheeky about poemlets. I had previously only written very long poems and I think I got very anxious that maybe I was incapable of being minimal, but I think now I’ve gone to the opposite extreme. I think I was studying loads of Beckett when I started writing poemlets, and I found his idea of trying to write less and less really attractive.

Alicia poemlet
Your first collection We Could Be in the Sky is being launched next week. Congratulations! How did you decide which poems to include and where did the title come from?
Thank you! I’m actually launching it with the help of the same friend, Saul, and we sort of came up with a structure where we’d include three poemlets, three medium poems, three long poems, and a short fiction piece. So it’s very structured, it’s all about the threes. Saul actually suggested the title since it’s the final line of one of my poems. It’s a reference to being on an aircoach bus on the way back from Cork when it’s completely dark outside, and you feel like you could be anywhere, like in the sky. I think it’s a nice sentence anyway.

We Could Be in the Sky will be launched in The Workman’s Club, Wellington Quay, Dublin at 8pm on Thursday June 23rd.

For more of Alicia’s poetry check out her website: https://aliciabyrnekeane.wordpress.com/



Interview with Cathy Cassidy

I have been a fan of Cathy Cassidy and her brilliant books for years, and I was delighted to get the chance to interview her ahead of her appearance at the Mountains to Sea book festival next month.

Cathy Cassidy

Cathy Cassidy

What is your writing routine? When and where do you write? Do you write longhand or on the computer?

I write directly onto a laptop, starting in the mornings at half-nine or ten; this gives me time to get things straight and make sure the dogs have been walked, and I can settle in and focus. I have a writing room filled with all my favourite things – books, vintage toys, postcards, fairylights and more. I write at an old desk, a junk-shop find, and occasionally do some writing standing up too. I might take my bike for a spin around the park at lunchtime, then back to work. I try to get 1000 words or one chapter done, as a minimum.

How much planning do you do before you start writing one of your books?

It can be years of planning, but you will rarely find much evidence of this in my notebooks! I often draw my main characters and make a moodboard to help me step into their world, but planning a story – even a series – on paper is not something that works well for me. I prefer to gather up the ideas, inspirations and research and allow them to unfurl in daydream form. This helps me get a grip of the story and once I am happy that I’ve got enough to work with, I start writing.

Which chocolate box girl (or boy!) was your favourite to write?

I find it very hard to pick! I loved writing Cherry Crush as it was the book that helped to create the world of Tanglewood and introduced the sisters, but each book has been special to me in different ways. Marshmallow Skye was my first attempt at a ‘ghost’ story and Summer’s Dream was important to me as it looked at such a hugely important topic, one my readers had been asking me to tackle. Coco Caramel felt quite personal, as some of the minor details came from my own childhood, and Sweet Honey was a joy to write because it was fab to step into the shoes of such a fiery, dramatic character and see the world from their viewpoint! Fortune Cookie was without a doubt the toughest one of all to write, but as I knew it was the last in the series it had great emotional impact for me.

Which chocolate box girl were you most like as a teenager?

I was pretty much a straight split between Skye with her shy, quiet, daydreamy personality and her love of vintage and history, and Coco, with her animal-crazy, want-to-change-the-world ambitions. I think I’m still a good mix of those two personality types even now!

Did one of the sisters come to you at first, or was it always a group of sisters? Was one character’s voice particularly strong?

It was always a group of sisters, but to begin with Cherry and Honey were the key characters. Coco, Skye and Summer’s voices developed more gradually, and Jake’s character was a surprise even to me – he hadn’t been in the original plan at all, but as the series evolved I knew that the last book would have to be told by a Chocolate Box Boy!

How did you find writing short stories for Life is Sweet compared to writing novels? Was there a particular character whose perspective you were keen to explore?

I started off writing short stories for teen magazines in my teens and twenties, and even spent a while as Fiction editor for the legendary Jackie magazine, so the short story format is one I am quite comfortable with. I loved writing all of the stories, but I was especially interested to explore the thinking and motives of characters like Shay, Finch and Ash.

What is your favourite chocolate?

Milk chocolate truffles of all kinds are just heaven… it’s research, right?

Does your past work as an agony aunt affect how you approach dealing with different issues in your books?

I would say no, it’s more that my work as a teen agony aunt kept me informed of the things that young people were worrying about. In the books, I don’t try to solve problems in the way an agony aunt does… but exploring a problem in the pages of a novel is perhaps even more effective and helpful for readers than my work as an agony aunt was. I certainly get more letters and emails now asking for help than I ever did as an official agony aunt – I think kids see themselves in the stories, or feel that perhaps I might understand them and not judge.

As you studied art, who are your favourite artists and illustrators?

Love this question! My favourite artists are the expressionist Egon Schiele, The pre-Rahaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo… they all awesome. Favourite illustrators include Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and Kay Nielsen, and contemporary illustrators Jane Ray, Jackie Morris, PJ Lynch and the wonderful new talent Erin Keen I’ve been lucky enough to work with on Looking Glass Girl, Chocolate Box Secrets and Broken Heart Club.

Do you draw your characters or use visual references when you are writing?

Yes, I do both… my notebooks are always full of cartoon sketches of characters and scrapbook patchwork pictures which help me imagine a particular place or thing.

What is your favourite thing about appearing at book festivals?

Book festivals are a great way of meeting readers and getting feedback and a sense of how your books are connecting with people. It’s a great balance for any author who spends most of their time alone with a laptop and a head full of daydreams!

Cathy Cassidy M2S

Cathy’s event at the Mountains to Sea book festival in March.

You run writing competitions and have been very encouraging to young writers. What is your best writing advice?

Write as much as you can, outside school as well as in, and write ‘from the heart’ as this passion will show in your work. And remember – it takes a lot of practice to get good at anything you’re trying to achieve, so keep at it and be patient if you can!

Who are the writers you most admire at the moment?

My new writing hero is Jandy Nelson, whose books I’ll Give You The Sun and The Sky is Everywhere are stunningly original and beautifully written.

What were your favourite books when you were growing up?

All of my books came from libraries when I was growing up, and because of this I was privileged to be able to read very widely. I read classics, fantasies, sci-fi, adventures, picture books and more… some favourites were Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, the Narnia series by CS Lewis and Watership Down by Richard Adams.

Looking Glass Girl is based on Alice in Wonderland. If you could enter the world of any book, which would you choose?

Probably not Wonderland, as I always found it slightly menacing and dark… I think you can probably see that from Looking Glass Girl! It sounds cheesy, but I’d happily step into the world of the Chocolate Box Girls series, as it’s my ideal fantasy world and my ideal fantasy family, based on a place I once lived briefly and loved very much. If I can’t pick that, I’d go for the wild Welsh hills of the Mabinogian stories or the magical mythological landscape of the old Irish Celtic tales.

 A big thank you to Cathy for her wonderful answers! She will be at the Mountains to Sea book festival in Dun Laoghaire on Saturday March 12th. Check http://www.mountainstosea.ie for more details.

Review and Author Interview: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy


I really enjoyed Julie Murphy’s YA novel Dumplin’, and was delighted to get the chance to take part in the blog tour. Read on for my review, and a Q&A with Julie Murphy.

My review:

Willowdean is a self-proclaimed fat girl, confident in her own skin.  Dumplin’ is a nickname given to her by her mother, a former beauty queen who still runs the Clover City beauty pageant. Will’s relationship with her mother has always been rocky, her recently Aunt Lucy was the real nurturing figure in her life. She has a deep connection with her best friend Ellen founded on shared memories and Dolly Parton songs. Will is generally happy with her life and with herself, but when she discovers Bo, the guy at work she has a crush on, likes her back; things begin to change. Being with Bo doesn’t give her more self-assurance, it makes her self-confidence crumble. She is growing apart from Ellen, her relationship with her mother is getting more strained and she misses her Aunt Lucy terribly. To try and regain her confidence, Will decides to take drastic action. She will enter the Clover City beauty pageant, and shock the narrow minded people at school and in her town. But she’s not alone. Will unwittingly becomes the leader of a group of misfits who are determined to show Clover City that there is more than one version of beauty.

Dumplin' 8

The reader goes on a real journey with Willowdean and her motley crew of unlikely pageant contestants in this book. There are many great quotes from the book about self-confidence, and it has been promoted for its body positive attitude. However, Murphy also shows us Will’s insecurities and anxieties. Her self doubt is so powerfully written that it can be quite painful to read, as is her longing for the comforting presence of her Aunt Lucy. I am not a fan of love triangles, so I wasn’t very interested in that aspect of the book, but I enjoyed the focus on friendship. There are some very touching scenes with Willowdean’s fellow beauty pageant contestants, and Murphy also examines how friendships must shift and change as we grow. Most of all, I enjoyed seeing Will’s journey of self discovery. She matures a lot throughout the book, seeing how she had judged other girls in school, making new friends, and finding her inner strength.

The main reason I wanted to review Dumplin’ was that I am a big fan of Dolly Parton, and has heard that her songs were an important part of the book. I loved the quotes from Dolly and the references to her songs. The Dolly Parson impersonator night was one of my favourite scenes in the book. Thus, I thought it would be fitting to end the review with a quote from the woman herself which I feel sums up the spirit of the book:

The magic is in you. There ain’t no crystal ball. – Dolly Parton

Q&A with Julie Murphy

Julie Murphy

1) What is your favourite Dolly Parton song?

I will always love Jolene, but I think Little Sparrow might be my all time favorite.

2) What would your pageant show talent be?

I grew up doing lots of local theater or ballet. Unfortunately my body isn’t nearly as graceful as it used to be, so I think I would go with a dramatic monologue. Or online shopping–is that a talent?

3) Willowdean is a beautiful name – where did it come from?

It’s actually a very traditional Southern name here in the US, but the first time I saw it was on the nametag of an older grocery store clerk. She was grouchy and rude, but her name was so cheerful and unique. Soon after Dumplin’ was published in the US, I learned that Dolly Parton has a sister named Willadeene. If that’s not fate, I don’t know what is!

4) Which scene in Dumplin’ is your favourite, and which was most difficult to write?

I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a mini roadtrip where the girls believe they’re headed to a Dolly Parton impersonator competition, and what that scene evolved into was definitely my favorite thing to write. I had the most trouble with Aunt Lucy scenes, because I definitely had a figure like Aunt Lucy in my life growing, so it was hard not to feel like I was constantly rehashing my own grief. Also, all the moments when Willowdean was really doubting herself.

5) There are so many great quotes from Dumplin’ about self confidence and following your dreams. What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

My favorite piece of advice has always been that no one is going to treat you like you’re worthy of anything until you start treating yourself that way. So no matter what it is–whether you want to fall in love or pursue the career of your dreams or just have people treat you better in general, you’ve got to make that first move and decide you are worthy and present yourself that way.

6) What YA books would you recommend to fans of Dumplin‘?

I think Beauty Queens by Libba Bray would be an excellent book to pick up after!

7) Can you tell us any more about the companion novel to Dumplin‘? Will you use multiple POVs? Which characters will you focus on?

I can’t say much, but it will be two points of view and readers should already be familiar with both characters. Unfortunately, I can’t divulge just who those two characters are at the moment.

8) What is your writing routine? Do you plan a lot before you write, do you use a notebook or a laptop etc.?

I’m a creature of the night, so all my best work happens long after everyone has gone to sleep. I most often write on my laptop, but if I’m feeling especially stuck I’ll turn to pen and paper. I rely heavily on music and my Pinterest boards, too.

Thank you so much to Julie Murphy for her excellent answers, and to HarperCollins 360 for arranging the blog tour. Check out the poster for details of the blog tour, there are plenty of great posts about Dumplin’!

Dumplin Blog tour poster





Interview with author/illustrator Nicola Colton


Nicola Colton has recently released her first book, A Dublin Fairytale, a picturebook retelling of Little Red Riding Hood featuring familiar landmarks such as The Spire and the Ha’penny Bridge. The book has had a great reception, and has been shortlisted for an Irish Book Award. I was delighted to talk to Nicola about the process of writing and illustrating the book, her influences, her future projects and more!

ADF Invite

A Dublin Fairytale is such a clever book, where did the idea come from?

I’ve always loved fairytales and was avid reader of them as a child. The idea for the book began as a daydream on the bus in which I began to imagine fairytale characters inhabiting Dublin and pondering who they might be and where they might live. I chose to use archetypal fairytale characters such a troll, a witch and a dragon to work with initially. The idea’s first application was in the form of a ‘promotional pack’ to send out to potential clients and comprised of a set of postcards with a fairytale character and a Dublin landmark on each one and accompanied by an illustrated map of ‘Fairytale Dublin’. As an illustrator finding new ways to promote yourself and get your work seen is essential. I sent one to The O’Brien Press and Emma the Art Director saw the potential in the idea for a picture book. I had no story in mind as such, just some character ideas but with encouragement from Emma and Helen the editor I wrote a draft story. I wanted the book to allow the reader to explore Dublin through the narrative and pictures but with a fairytale twist. Creating the book was a chance to combine my love of Dublin, which was my home for 11 years, with my love of fairytales.

What is your favourite spread in A Dublin Fairytale?  

My favourite spread is probably the one with the Ha’penny Bridge in which you are first introduced to the character of the Troll. The Ha’penny Bridge is wonderful and it was great to get the opportunity to draw it. I also loved drawing and painting the troll as designing and conjuring up creatures is one of my favourite things. I discovered through the process of making this book that I really like drawing buildings and scenery. I realised that backgrounds are very important to me, especially when I was depicting a city that I know very well and love.

Hapenny Bridge.jpg

There are a lot of fun details in the illustrations, is there one you particularly enjoyed working on?

I really enjoyed working on the spread which featured Trinity College as it is such an iconic and impressive building. It was really fun to add my own fairytale twists on the college by changing the name to ‘Trinity College of Sorcery’ and turning the statues of Edmund Burke and Oliver Goldsmith into a wizard and witch to reflect the sorcery theme. I also liked adding lots of things happening in the background like a ‘spell cloud’ billowing from one of the chimneys, a witch on a broomstick in the sky and some sorcery students chatting. I like illustrations that I can spend a lot of time on and get lost in the detail  and drawing Trinity afforded me that opportunity. It was also important to me that while I added my own fairytale tweaks that the building was still very much recognizable as Trinity College; as it is such a beloved landmark.


What are the influences on your illustrative style?

I love folk art with it’s use of motifs and patterns, clean lines and it’s naïve yet often elegant quality. I also love muted and limited colour palettes, so vintage picture books like ‘Rosies Walk’ by Pat Hutchins and ‘Snowy Day’ by Ezra Jack Keats appeal to me and I love Miroslav’s Sasek’s series of picture books that explore different cities like London,New york and Paris. Sasek’s style is restrained and elegant and he captures the spirit and enchantments of each city beautifully. I also love Michel Delacroix paintings of buildings, shops and street scenes; they are so charming and full of life.

I also have a 1960’s edition of ‘Uncle Remus stories’ featuring some of the ‘Brer Rabbit’ tales that I love and it is illustrated beautifully by William Backhouse.

Influences 1

Influences 2

Can you tell me about your technique and what media you work in?

I always start with pencil and paper sketches initially and then colour using a combination of acrylic painting and digital techniques.

What is your least favourite thing to draw?

My least favourite things to draw are horses and bicycles, both of which I had to draw this year. It’s all the components to a bike that throws me off and the anatomy and proportions of a horse that I find difficult. To draw the for projects this year I drew them over and over again until I reached a rendering that I was happy with. I usually start with detailed drawings and then pare then back more and more until the end result is in my more simplified style.

How did you get into illustration?

I studied Graphic Design in IADT Dun Laoghaire and I worked in design for a couple of years after college. Even though we didn’t do much drawing in our course it gave me a really solid foundation for illustration as I learned a lot about composition, typography, colour and very practical skills like scanning and using design software which has proved invaluable in my everyday work as an illustrator. I was always interested in illustration but back when I was choosing a college course the two choices that I had were either Fine Art or Graphic Design and I had no idea how to begin pursuing a career as an illustrator. I enjoyed college but I didn’t feel creatively fulfilled when it came to  working as a graphic designer. I was lucky enough to come across a poster for Adrienne Geoghegan’s ‘Illustration Boot Camp’ in a coffee shop and I got in touch with her straight away and booked a place on her course. During her first class I felt very nervous as I was completely out of practice with drawing but as I went through the warm up creative exercises she set for us, I felt as though a light had been turned on inside of me and I knew that I wanted to be an illustrator and I’ve been drawing ever since.

Who are the illustrators you admire most at the moment?

I love Yasmeen Ismail’s work as it has a lovely spontaneous feel to it and it’s so full of energy, colour and happiness. I also recently purchased Briony May Smith’s book ‘The Goblin King’ which is beautifully illustrated and a fantastic story. I also love Chris Judge’s work, he comes up with brilliant characters and there’s great humour to his illustrations; his new book ‘The Snow Beast’ looks like his best work yet.

What books did you enjoy as a child?

I vividly remember my very first trip to the library with my ‘Ma’ when I was five and checking out  Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl. I read and re-read it for an afternoon and then asked if I could go back to the library for more books. That was the beginning of my love of Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake, other favourites include George’s Magic Medicine (and I remember spending a day trying to concoct my own ‘medicine’ by mixing things together that I found in the house) The Twits and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I also went through a big Enid Blyton phase and I loved The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S Lewis. I  had an edition of The Brothers Grimm Fairytales which I continually returned to as well.

What are your favourite fairytales and fairytale retellings?

Revolting Rhymes contains some amazing fairytale retellings and Roald’s version of Red Riding Hood is absolutely hilarious. Red Riding Hood has always been a favourite of mine as my granny gave me a Red Riding Hood storytelling doll shortly before she died when I was 6. I was very close to her so reading that fairytale always made me feel a connection with her, which was why I included a Red Riding Hood type character in A Dublin Fairytale.

Storytelling doll

You have illustrated a number of projects before – such as the Alice and Megan covers and Castaways – but A Dublin Fairytale was the first book you have written. How did you find the writing process? Do you plan to write more books?

To be honest writing was something that I loved in school and in college but I felt rusty and out of practice with it when I came to writing this book. I had written a couple of picture book story drafts previously, one was even shortlisted for the ‘AM Heath Children’s Prize’ last year but was still in need of further development and another one that I never quite finished as I had lost interest in the idea is gathering dust in a drawer. As writing a picture book was a pretty new venture for me I was intimidated by the thoughts of  writing the first draft and also getting the pictures to work with the story. In the end I knew the best way to overcome my fear was to just write it and do the work. I had overcome a similar block with drawing using the same process. There were a few years where I held myself back from drawing and creativity in general by overthinking things. I would draw something and if it didn’t look like what I had imagined or came out ‘wrong’ I would get frustrated and give up easily. The breakthrough for me came in realising that drawing is a process and it may take lots of drawings before you get it ‘right’ and you just need to be patient and keep practicing and I think writing is a similar. Whenever I have the opportunity to do a workshop with children I always encourage them to get stuck in and not to be afraid to make ‘mistakes’. I tell them that there is no right or wrong way and that everyone has a different style of drawing and that is what is so great about illustration. I don’t want children to get ‘stuck’ in the process like I did for so many years because I was aiming for perfection each time. Writing seems to be the same process, you just have to be patient and keep working on it and I would love to write and illustrate more picture books.

Could you tell us about any projects you are working on at the moment? 

I just finished working on a poetry picture book that will be released next year. It was really fun to work on as each spread offered a chance to work a new theme.The poems included were about everything from rockets and monsters to farm animals and pirates. I got to illustrate a wide range of characters and backgrounds which was a very enjoyable and at times challenging experience. I’m also working on a new idea for a picture book and I am at the writing and thumbnailing stage. It’s a story that I started last year and want to develop now that I have some time.

Hodges Figgis 1

Nicola Colton painting in the window of Hodges Figgis bookshop, Dublin

A big thank you to Nicola Colton for her wonderful answers, and for the images I have used with this interview. A Dublin Fairytale was published this year by the O’Brien Press – check it out!