Mountains to Sea 2015 Round Up

This was my fifth year volunteering at the Mountains to Sea Book Festival in Dún Laoghaire, and as always it was a lot of fun. I was working with the Family and Schools Programme, and this is a round up of the events I helped out at.

Cakes in Space Show – Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve


Dynamic duo Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve put on a great show for the school groups who came to the Pavilion Theatre. With readings, a demo of how to draw a robot, a message from aliens about spoons and the Cakes in Space theme song this was a jam-packed and fun-filled event.

Tips from the Top – Steve Cole, Judi Curtin, Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve


This panel discussion was chaired by Tom Donegan (of the Story Museum in Oxford) and offered much insight into the careers of these writers and illustrators. Steve Cole started out as an editor, Judi Curtin as a teacher, Philip Reeve as an illustrator and Sarah McIntyre worked in fine art rather than illustration and comics. Events like this are great for inspiring you to get back into writing, and the panelists offered good advice for emerging writers and illustrators – Sarah McIntyre advised setting small, achievable goals and not being afraid of creating bad books. Steve Cole said to write what you enjoy, and create for the love of it. One of the questions from the q&a was what careers the panelists would have if they weren’t writers or illustrators. Steve Cole would be a chat show host, Judi Curtin would still be teaching, Philip Reeve would still be a bookseller and Sarah McIntyre would be a milliner (she wore many of her fantastic hats and fascinators at the festival).

How to Catch a Star Workshops with Deirdre Sullivan


These workshops were a highlight of the festival for me, it was wonderful to see how much the kids enjoyed themselves. These multi-sensory workshops were designed for children with autism, and run by author and teacher Deirdre Sullivan. Based around Oliver Jeffers’ picture book How to Catch a Star, the workshops took place in a room decorated with stars, sails and lights. Deirdre read the book to the kids, and there were stars to find in buckets of sand, water and shaving foam. Best of all, there was a real starfish! I would love to see more events like this at the festival in future.

Sam McBratney in conversation with Robert Dunbar


Sam McBratney is best known as the writer of best-selling picture book Guess How Much I Love You, but this event really brought out the breadth of his work. His novel, The Chieftain’s Daughter, has the high praise of being children’s books critic Robert Dunbar’s favourite Irish children’s book. It was an engaging and entertaining discussion, I particularly enjoyed McBratney’s moving reading of Guess How Much I Love You. 

Being in my final year of college, I wasn’t as involved in the festival as I have been in previous years, but as always I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and am already excited for next year!

Author Interview: Deirdre Sullivan

Last month, I reviewed Deirdre Sullivan’s latest book Primperfect, the third and final book in the Primrose Leary trilogy. It was a book that made me laugh and cry, and I was delighted when Deirdre agreed to do an interview with me for the blog. Read on to find out about Deirdre Sullivan’s teenage diaries, some new definitions, the antics of her first guinea pig and more!

Deirdre Sullivan author pic

 Did you keep a diary as a teenager?
I did- from when I was thirteen till around twenty. I used to fill it full or poetry in different coloured ink. Purple was for woe. Pink for less woe. There was a lot of woe in my diary. Not in my life, though. That was pretty grand. I wrote a vampire screenplay in it as well, where this character, Dubh, who was basically an avatar for me, got recruited to be soul mates and assassins with a Cool Vampire. There were a lot of fight scenes and sketches of medieval-inspired crop tops. It was pretty aspirational. 
Prim grows up a lot throughout the trilogy, what was it like writing her at these different ages?
I think the older she got, the easier it was because I could turn off my filter a little and give her more awareness and experience. I enjoyed maturing her, like a fine cheese, and there was enough of a gap between the books that when I came back my voice was a little different as well. I wrote two books, between Prim Improper and Improper Order, and one book between Improper Order and Primperfect. They’re languishing on my computer now. But everything you write teaches you something. Improper Order has more dialogue than Prim Improper, because I was worried I was bad at writing dialogue. Primperfect has more scene setting for exactly the same reason. When I’m writing, I play to my strengths and the more you write, the stronger you become. Or something. 
You deal with some sensitive topics in the books, such as coming out and self harm, how do you deal with tailoring these for a younger audience?
I don’t really tailor to them at all. I assume that children can take it. A lot of them have to because they’re living it. I think the first person narrative helps as well, because you kind of see it through her eyes as you write it, and so her opinions and reactions aren’t always clever or sensitive. Which is kind of true to the world we live in. I don’t have a moral agenda when I write. I think that’s dangerous and also not as fun. 
There is a lot of humour in the books, which part was the most fun to write?
Every book has a little bit I’m extra fond of. It’s not necessarily the best bit, but the day I wrote it, I was probably extra smug. I like the balloon-popping bit in Improper Order, for example, and the rat funeral in Primperfect. In Prim Improper, it’s the list of things about her mother and the ghost story. I did like writing about Marcus also, particularly in his robot phase. I kind of dampened him down in Primperfect, because I didn’t want to make him always have an amusing trick. He’s a little person,  with his own stuff going on. 
I like writing the animal stuff a lot though too, because animals are amazing and ridiculous. 
Deirdre reading from Primperfect at the launch in Dublin. (Photo by Diarmuid O'Brien)

Deirdre Sullivan reading from Primperfect at the launch in Dublin. (Photo by Diarmuid O’Brien)

How did you manage the balance between humour and serious issues in the books?
The humour comes quite naturally to me, I use it as a coping mechanism when stuff goes wrong all the time. I think a lot of people do. And people who are sad, aren’t, like, steadily sad forever. there’s always a little bit of funny or happy to balance out.
Was how the series ended what you had envisioned when writing Prim Improper, or did things change as the books progressed?
Things absolutely changed as I was writing. I’d always have a couple of notes I wanted to hit. Like, a basic beginning, middle and end but I wouldn’t always hit them, like sometimes the characters would surprise me. I realised Karen was gay halfway through Improper Order, and that was a bit of a surprise, because she is very evil and terrible and I wasn’t sure she was entitled to be going through her own drama after all the nonsense she has pulled. With the third book, I wanted to give her a happy(ish) ending. If I was going to leave Prim, I wanted it to be in a good place. 
Would you think about returning to Prim’s story, or is Primperfect the last we will see of her?
I think Primperfect probably is the last Prim book. Although, if I got a very good idea for her journey and was excited to write it, I wouldn’t discount it. I do know a bit about what happens to her after Primperfect. The baby is a boy, and they call him Leary after her Mum. 
Is there a character in the Prim books who you would like to write more about?
I think Ciara’s family dynamic is really interesting. I think if I was to write a book where they were all grown up, it would be a big thick beach read about Ciara and her millinery empire. And Syzmon would be glowering in the wings, having become a footballer slash robber baron. He might even have purchased the CONTROLLING SHARE in her company. She’s hate that. She always said it was a mistake to go public. 
I love the design of the books – the illustrations and typography really give a diary feel. Is this something you had envisioned for the books?
The typography was the brain child of an amazing designer called Fidelma Slattery, and it made me so happy how thoroughly she understood the books and the characters. Like the little cast list in book three and the page that’s all cut up were her idea. Nothing to do with me, but so completely perfect and delightful. One of the great things about the Prim books was waiting and seeing what she had done with the text and it was always amazing. 
Prim’s definitions are always entertaining – was there a particular one you liked best?
I had some written for Primperfect that I took out because it was a bit unrealistic that she’d still be at her first year homework thing. I can’t decide, so going to give you some new definitions if that’s okay. Quite fond of stimuli.
Keep: The strongest or central tower of a medieval castle. 
Where handsome Vikings like to hole up with their initially unwilling lady sex-hostages. 
Stimuli:Things that make things do things.
Were your guinea pigs, Theo and William, an inspiration for Roderick, Prim’s dashing rat friend?
It was my first guinea pig, Sisyphus (2006-2010) who was the inspiration for Roderick. He was quite dashing, and used to escape from his cage by standing on top of a tunnel and head butting the door until it opened. This is not typical guinea-pig behaviour at all. I actually have a picture one of my friends drew of him as a Victorian gentleman, wearing a top hat. I treasure it a lot. 
In Primperfect, Prim gets to read her mother’s diaries (at last!). How did you find bringing this new voice into the books?
In the first draft it was half and half and made the narrative messy, because the two books were kind of different genres, YA for Prim, more NA for Bláthnaid. I cut down Bláthnaid’s parts a lot and decided to make them chapter headings instead, that took some of the pressure off and it flowed more easily. 
What’s next for you, writing wise?
I’m working on a YA book that’s a bit darker than Prim at the moment. It has a bit of crime in it and things. So, I’m finishing that. I’ve also got a new book coming out with little Island in 2016. It’s one of the books I wrote between Prim Improper and Improper Order and it’s very different from them, but still about teenage girls coping with difficult circumstances. Because teenagers are magnificent and inspiring and have a lot to put up with. 
Photo by Diarmuid O'Brien

Photo by Diarmuid O’Brien

A big thank you to Deirdre Sullivan for her wonderful answers, I cannot wait to read more of her books! If you haven’t already, check out the Prim trilogy (Prim Improper, Improper Order and Primperfect) they are hilarious, moving and quirky, and definitely among my favourite YA books.


Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far in 2013

This is my first Top Ten Tuesday, as hosted by and I’m very excited! So here we go, in the order I read them, my top ten YA reads of 2013 (so far!) Apologies for the lack of images!

1. Divergent – Veronica Roth

I loved this fast-paced dystopian novel, especially the idea of a society divided into factions. Tris  was a very strong lead character, and I can’t wait to see what happens in Insurgent. Also looking forward to the film!

2. Paper Towns – John Green

My favourite John Green book, I thought it was beautifully written. I loved the metaphor of the strings, and Margo was a really vivid character. It made me think about how I view other people, and I loved the use of Walt Whitman throughout. Also, some beautiful quotes – ‘A paper town for a paper girl.’

3. By Any Other Name – Laura Jarratt

This was a really enjoyable read, that mixed thriller, romance and family elements well. Strong characters, and an exciting yet plausible plot. Holly’s character developed really well during the book, as she learnt who she wanted to be. I definitely want to read Skin Deep, Jarratt’s first novel.

4. An Abundance of Katherines – John Green

I loved Colin, anagramming child prodigy extraordinaire, and his best friend Hassan. Plenty of laughs, a road trip, and a journey of self discovery. I also loved the idea of trying to find an equation for love!

5. The Weight of Water – Sarah Crossan

I had doubts about the poetry format of this novel, but I was wrong. It worked beautifully, and was a very moving tale. Innovative, fresh and touching – I loved it!

6. Seraphina – Rachel Hartman

A brilliantly atmospheric fantasy novel, which also has a strong mystery plot. The world building was incredible, and I loved the strong female lead and the descriptions of music.

7. Prim Improper & Improper Order – Deirdre Sullivan

Cheating slightly as this is a series, but still! Prim is one of my new favourite fictional characters, and I love how distinctive her voice is. Prim is both wonderfully snarky and witty, and very sad. Deirdre Sullivan handles both elements brilliantly, resulting in books that are both laugh-out-loud funny and moving.

8. Rose Under Fire – Elizabeth Wein

This was a brilliant historical novel, telling the tale of a female ATA pilot during World War Two. It uses a diary format, and there are some beautiful poems throughout the account. A haunting tale, this is definitely worth a read!

9. Poison Study, Magic Study and Fire Study – Maria V Snyder

A trilogy, but I couldn’t pick just one! Brilliant fantasy/adventure tales with lots of magic, adventure, romance and intrigue. They are also quite dark, and deal with some difficult issues. I loved the lead character Yelena – brave, intelligent and resourceful, she is definitely a strong female lead!

10. Picture Me Gone – Meg Rosoff

This was a really unusual read, and I loved Mila. Her skill at reading people and atmosphere made for a compelling mystery read, but also a touching coming of age story as she sees the darker side of life. I loved the strong relationship with her parents, particularly her father. A memorable read.

So that’s my top ten of 2013 so far, in order of reading. Looking forward to lots more great reads! If you’ve taken part in Top Ten Tuesday leave a link to your list below, I’d love to check it out! 🙂



CBI Conference Round-Up

This year’s CBI Conference was held on the 18th and 19th of May, in the Lighthouse Cinema. The theme was Rebels and Rulebreakers.

Cool goodie bag and name tag!

Cool goodie bag and name tag!

I was helping out at the conference with a friend, and was lucky enough to get into every talk but one. Here is my round up of the talks, and the things I learnt:


Hervé Tullet:

Hervé Tullet’s talk was great, really interactive. He engaged with the audience, reading the books with us (I Am Blop was particularly fun, and I love Game of Shadows). He said the audience weren’t as good at performing his books as kids are though! There was also a baby on hand who he read the World of Mirrors book to! He also got Sarah Webb ( up to help him demonstrate Press Here. I hadn’t encountered Hervé’s work before, but his talk definitely converted me! His books are fun, and kids would love them. Hervé spoke about books as making noise and singing, and that definitely came across in his talk!

John Boyne:

This was a very interesting interview; I thought Robert Dunbar asked some great questions. John Boyne said he didn’t prefer writing for adults or children (‘I enjoy just writing’), he writes one book for adults, one for children etc. In terms of children’s books, he tends to focus on 8 or 9 year old books as protagonists, and he intends to continue with this in the future. He sees children’s literature as being defined by having a child at the centre, but beyond that he sees little difference from literature for adults. He tends to write in first person for adults, third for children. We also got a sneak peak of John Boyne’s upcoming book for children Stay Where You Are, And Then Leave, set in WWI. It sounds brilliant!

Comics Panel: Superheroes Eclipsed


This was an interesting panel, about how comics are about more than just superheroes. The panellists (Sarah McIntyre, Alan Nolan and Rory McConville) talked about their influences, and their own work. It was all about pushing boundaries, and expanding the comic form to encompass different genres. I’m a big fan of Sarah McIntyre’s work, and really want to read Nelson, a collaborative graphic novel with several other artists dealing with the life of one girl over 43 years. Alan Nolan’s graphic novels for kids – The Big Break Detectives, and the Murder Can be Fatal Series (with titles such as Death by Chocolate) – sound like great fun, and Rory McConville’s use of the graphic novel to reinvigorate Irish history is similar to what Colmán O Raghallaigh is doing for Irish myths. (see below)

Alex T Smith:

As a child, Alex T Smith wanted to be a writer/illustrator, a chef or a rabbit. This was a fun talk! The Claude books sound fab, especially Mr Bobblysock, and the cheeky bits that he managed to slip into the books! Alex spoke beautifully about how his grandfather inspired him to write. He showed us some of the stories his grandfather had written for him, and some of his own work as a child. He told us that ‘A good book needs heart in it, and sometimes soul.’ We got a sneak peek of some of his upcoming work, including a picture book Hector and the Big Red Knight. In the spirit of the Conference, he encouraged aspiring authors or illustrators to take risks with their work. And then he taught us all to draw Claude!

My Claude

My Claude

Alex T Smith's Claude

Alex T Smith’s Claude

DAY 2:

Sarah Crossan:


Yay! Sarah Crossan was the speaker I was most excited to hear, and I loved her talk. She gave us a lot of insight into her writing process, and also about how her own experiences as a child had subconsciously influenced The Weight of Water (read my review here: I was really interested in how she wrote this novel – she said all the poems were written in a notebook first, in a non-linear order, and then she rearranged them and filled in the gaps. She showed pictures of her plans and notebooks. Despite the fact it is quite a personal book, Sarah Crossan said she doesn’t think good art can be therapy. Her latest novel, Breathe, is very different to The Weight of Water. It is a dystopian YA prose novel. She  said writing in prose was necessary to cleanse her palette after all the poetry, and that Breathe was much more plot-driven. She spoke about issues with genre constraints, and a little about writing Resist, the sequel to Breathe. She spoke about possibly writing a YA poetry novel in the future (yay!). She wants her writing to say “I hear you” to her readers. Also, Sarah was really lovely when I spoke to her after her talk, and got my books signed.


Edge of the Page:

In this slot, speakers discussed books by Irish authors/illustrators that they thought had been forgotten about. The selection included Spooky Irish Tales for Children by Eddie Lenihan which features a creepy face-stealing druid (!), The Second Best Children in the World, a charming picture book about 3 children who take off on a trip around the world to give their parents a break, the Whoosh series by Bernard Shane and William Bolger, with Irish themes and beautiful hand screen printed illustrations. The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea, a precursor of the contemporary trend of fantasy in children’s literature ‘All this, because a boy was about to try to buy a book in the second-hand bookshop, in the small grey city of Galway.’

Sheena Wilkinson & Deirdre Sullivan

Deirdre signed this for me!

Deirdre signed this for me!

Unfortunately due to flight difficulties Ana Maria Machado couldn’t make the conference, but Deirdre Sullivan and Sheena Wilkinson, and their publisher Elaina O’Neill stepped in with a very interesting discussion on breaking taboos in YA. Deirdre spoke about how she writes what she wants in her first draft, and later cuts out the ‘bold bits’! They both deal with tough topics (such as grief, suicide and self-harm) and agreed on the importance of not turning their novels into ‘issue books.’ Elaina O’Neill noted that, as a genre, YA allows rule breaking. Their conversation was illuminating and entertaining (ponies in space (!!!), Deirdre ‘cheating’ on one idea with another, or Sheena’s declaration ‘we have no morals!’)

Colmán O’Raghallaigh

Irish language publishing is a very important area, and Colmán O’Raghallaigh gave a very interesting discussion of how it has developed over time. He showed how many different books, age-groups and genres have been tackled, and how exciting the world of Irish language publishing is. I was particularly interested in his graphic novels, which are bringing ancient Irish myths to a new audience.

Jon Klassen

Extra Yarn

Extra Yarn

Another great talk, and a worthy close to the conference! Jon Klassen is very popular, and the signing was huge! He spoke about his background in animation, and his issues with drawing characters/emotion. A lot of his early work was based more on ‘things’, stories around inanimate objects. He went through his picture books, explaining the processes and the stories. I loved Extra Yarn, it is a really sweet story and I love how he uses the pattern of the stitches throughout. He also spoke about his work on birthday cards with animals who couldn’t care less about your birthday. The deadpan look appears again in I Want My Hat Back, in which he described the animals as bad actors, just reading their lines, going through the motions. It was fascinating to get an insight into the process of making picture books – Jon also discussed This Is Not My Hat, House Held Up By Trees, The Dark (which also looks brilliant!) and some projects that never made it. He doesn’t like outlines, which gives his work a cut-out feel, and is trying to get a more traditional in his work. Beautiful books, that parents and children will love.

Phew! I had a very busy, but great weekend at the Conference, and learnt a lot.

Having fun at the CBI Conference!

Having fun at the CBI Conference!

Here are some more round ups you can check out:

Claire Hennessy:

Sarah McIntyre: and

And lots of pictures here: