• CBI Laureate LI Laureate na nÓg, Children’s Books Ireland and Little Island Books bring children’s books extravaganza to Electric Picnic

    For the first time ever Children’s Books Ireland and Laureate na nÓg will take part in the celebration of music, arts, food, culture and utter madness that is Electric Picnic! Laureate na nÓg Eoin Colfer and a spectacular line-up of authors, illustrators, storytellers and poets will appear in the Literary Tent in the Mindfield arena on Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th of September, alongside Children’s Books Ireland’s Book Clinic and Epic Monster Doodles.

    The events will feature contributors from the forthcoming Once upon a Place anthology for children, compiled by Eoin Colfer and published by Little Island this October. Once upon A Place features six new poems by Irish poets alongside stories from many of Ireland’s leading children’s writers including Roddy Doyle and former Laureate na nÓg Siobhán Parkinson, as well as new work by Eoin Colfer himself. Exclusive to Electric Picnic, contributors will tell stories, draw and read from the book for the first time, giving families a sneak peek before publication date. The conversations will be led by children’s author and former Director of the Galway Arts Festival, Patricia Forde.

    On Saturday 5th September, see author and Laureate na nÓg Eoin Colfer, former Laureate na nÓg Siobhán Parkinson (2010–2012) and poet Enda Wyley in conversation, with live drawing from author and illustrator P.J. Lynch, twice winner of the Kate Greenaway medal.

    On Sunday 6th September, Man Booker prize winner Roddy Doyle, author-illustrators Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick and Oisín McGann and bestselling author for children and adults Sarah Webb join Patricia Forde in the Literary Tent.

    Children’s Books Ireland will also be bringing fun book events for all families to Mindfield at Electric Picnic, with the Book Doctor seeing patients and recommending great books. Doctors Louise and Olivia will consult with young patients, diagnose their reading complaints and send them off with a book prescription to be filed at their local library or bookshop. The Book Clinic welcomes all families and is perfect for the bookworm who has finished a long series and doesn’t know what to read next as well as the reluctant reader who is yet to find a book to love.

    The Electric Picnic Epic Monster Doodles will also take place in the Mindfield Arena. The Epic Monster Doodle allows families to express themselves and work together to produce a massive piece of art. Meet our resident illustrators, Michael Emberley (Miss Brooks Loves Books!) and Steve McCarthy (Sally Go Round the Stars) to learn how to draw the scariest of monsters and join in a massive communal drawing on a huge roll of paper.

    All activities will take place from 1.00 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Saturday 5th September and Sunday 6th September. Times are subject to change – see www.childrensbooksireland.ie for most up to date information.

    For more information please contact Elaina Ryan, Director, Children’s Books Ireland:
    elaina@childrensbooksireland.ie / 01 8727475



    About Laureate na nÓg
    Eoin Colfer is the current Laureate na nÓg, Ireland’s children’s literature Laureate. Laureate na nÓg is an exciting project, recognising the role and importance of literature for children. Since becoming Laureate in 2014, Eoin has placed the power of storytelling at the heart of his term. His Once upon a Place project sees Eoin and a team of storytellers travelling all over the island of Ireland on a tour that began in autumn 2014 and will run until spring 2016. From Hook Head lighthouse in Wexford to a steam train through Fingal in Dublin, to Donegal’s islands and a stunning church in Belfast, this initiative aims to give young people memorable and extraordinary storytelling experiences in magical or inspiring places, and to bring stories to schools and communities that would not otherwise be visited by writers or storytellers for reasons of resources or location. Eoin Colfer is Ireland’s third laureate na nÓg, following author Siobhán Parkinson and illustrator Niamh Sharkey.

    Laureate na nÓg is an initiative of the Arts Council / an Chomhairle Ealaíon, which established the honour in 2010 to celebrate excellence in Irish children’s writers and illustrators and to raise the profile of children’s literature in Ireland and internationally. It is administered by Children’s Books Ireland with the support of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Poetry Ireland and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

    About Once upon a Place
    In tandem with the Once upon a Place storytelling project Laureate na nÓg Eoin Colfer has compiled a new anthology of stories and poems for children that focuses on the special link between story and place in Ireland. Lavish black-and-white charcoal illustrations by award-winning artist and picturebook illustrator P.J. Lynch make this unique anthology a very beautiful object. Once upon A Place features 6 new poems by Irish poets and 11 stories from Ireland’s leading children’s writers including Roddy Doyle, Derek Landy and Siobhán Parkinson, as well as the first ever story for children by Academy Award nominee, director Jim Sheridan. It also features new work by Eoin Colfer himself, along with Pat Boran, Seamus Cashman, John Connolly, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, Mark Granier, Paula Leyden, Oisín McGann, Geraldine Mills, Jane Mitchell, Kate Newmann, Sarah Webb and Enda Wyley. Once upon a Place is aimed at 9–12 year olds. Any royalties from the book will go towards the Laureate na nÓg project. Once Upon a Place will be published by Little Island Books, available from 19th October 2015. ISBN: 9781910411377, HB, £11.99/€15.99, 224pp.

    About Children’s Books Ireland (CBI)
    CBI is the national children’s book organisation of Ireland. Our vision is an Ireland in which books are a part of every child’s life and where meaningful engagement with books is supported by passionate and informed adults in families, schools, libraries and communities all across the country. CBI’s core projects include the CBI Book of the Year Awards and Shadowing Scheme, Inis magazine, the Inis Reading Guide, an annual reading promotion campaign and annual conference. For more information see www.childrensbooksireland.ie

    By Little Island

  • IMG_2078 Not Nothing – Sheena Wilkinson

    It’s publication day for Sheena Wilkinson’s new novel Name upon Name. Set in Belfast in 1916, Name upon Name deals with cultural identity. Here Sheena writes about her own experiences of being caught between two separate identities while growing up in Belfast in the 1980s. This article is part of Sheena’s Name upon Name blog tour, where she has also written posts for Writing.ie,  Gobblefunked, The History Girls, Girls Heart Books and Author Allsorts.



    I don’t know where the news team came from: Australia, perhaps, or America. It wasn’t unusual for overseas reporters to be out on the streets of Belfast in the 1980s, eager for local reactions to the latest atrocity/peace initiative/ political development. What was unusual was my reaction when they asked me for a vox pop.

    ‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘It’s nothing to do with me.’

    I was sixteen. I’d debated competitively for my school, and represented Northern Ireland at the UK final of a public speaking competition. I was bright and politically engaged. I was a member of CND and had tried to join the Labour Party Young Socialists only to discover that membership wasn’t extended to Northern Ireland. I was a committed feminist. I never didn’t have an opinion to voice.

    The news team was incredulous. ‘But you live here?’ they insisted. ‘You can’t say it’s none of your business.’

    I shrugged, and they let me go, thinking, I suppose, that I was just an airhead schoolgirl.

    I couldn’t tell the truth. That this was the one subject I was scared to speak out on, and that if they knew what I was – or wasn’t – they wouldn’t want my opinion, because I’d learned that it didn’t count. Easier just to shrug and walk away.

    Because all the rhetoric I ever heard growing up in Belfast was about two communities, two religions, two points of view, two identities. Opposed and at war. I come from what in Northern Ireland is still quaintly termed a mixed marriage. My parents were married in a Catholic church, but without the blessing of my father’s family, who didn’t even attend. When I was born, his family insisted on my being christened and brought up in their church, while my mum went alone to mass and my dad – an atheist, anyway – went nowhere. (You won’t be surprised that the marriage didn’t survive.) I got rosary beads and holy pictures from one granny; gospel choruses and bibles from the other. I instinctively pronounced the letter H as ‘aitch’ in some company, and ‘haitch’ in other. I was as adaptable as a chameleon.

    But I didn’t know how to answer the inevitable question from other kids: What are you? My parents advised me, ‘Tell them you’re nothing – neither one nor the other – and they’ll leave you alone.’

    It was kindly-meant. Clearly they thought it safer than saying, ‘I’m both.’ And it would have been too complicated to say, ‘I come from two traditions and there are things I like about both of them. And much that I don’t. I feel sort of Irish but not entirely. And sort of British but not entirely.’ I knew this wasn’t allowed. You had to be one or the other: you had to choose. But you can’t choose the identity you’re born into. You can reject it; you can choose other beliefs and follow other traditions, but you can’t deny where you come from.

    Unless, of course, you’ve been taught to describe yourself as nothing.

    When Little Island asked me to write a novel dealing with The Easter Rising, at first I felt the same instinct to shrug and walk away that I had that day on the Belfast street. Even though I love writing historical fiction and the early twentieth century is my favourite period. The old fear came back – that someone from my mixed-up background didn’t have a right to write about Irish affairs. That people in the south would think, Who the hell does she think she is? That people in the north would think, Who the hell does she think she is?

    And I then I realised – that’s the story I needed to tell. That’s the story that would have helped me realise, as a child, that I wasn’t nothing; I was both. And that was a fine thing to be.

    Helen, the main character in Name upon Name, has rural, Catholic Irish influences from her mother’s family, and urban, Protestant Ulster ones from her father. Just as I did. And Belfast 1916 is no easier a place than Belfast in the seventies and eighties to deal with that kind of confusion. Like me, the teenage Helen struggles to find out what exactly she’s allowed to be, determined not to be nothing. And though the book is set 99 years ago, in many ways it’s my most autobiographical novel so far, though unlike me Helen is forced into action. She doesn’t shrug and walk away.

    I’ve never before told anyone about the day I shrugged and walked away from the foreign news team on the streets of Belfast in 1985. I was so ashamed of myself, because deep down I knew I had something to say. I just didn’t think I’d be allowed to say it.

    But I’ve said it now.



    Name upon Name is now available in bookshops and here on the Little Island website.



    By Little Island

  • Siobhán Parkinson Under no circumstances write (merely) what you know

    Is the age-old adage of ‘Write what you know’ really the best advice to give to new writers? Author and editor Siobhán Parkinson shares her thoughts.


    Let’s say your name is Amy and you have lived in a three-bedroomed semi-detached house in a nice estate on the outskirts of a medium-sized town in the midlands with two parents, two siblings – one older and one younger than you – and a dog for all of your eleven blameless years and your granny lives half a mile away and she makes apple tarts and you don’t much like apple tarts but they are a good excuse for whipped cream, which you do like, so you never let on about not liking apple tarts. Imagine your dad drives you to school every day on his way to work, and you have a teacher who is strict but fair and a bestie and two other nearly besties and there is also a bully in your class but you and your friends don’t get much trouble from him. Your favourite day of the week is Friday and your favourite colour is sky-blue and you love dolphins and Ed Sheeran and you hate homework and you go on camping holidays every year and your family is not all that well-off but is not very badly-off either and you all love camping and next year you are going to France. In other words, you are a very lucky and probably fairly typical eleven-year-old and you have a lovely life and this is what you know, along with a certain amount of maths and geography and spelling.

    Now along comes an adult and tells you to write a story and they say, ‘No vampires, no fairies, no blood, no explosions, no winning the lottery, no magic – write what you know.’ So you write a very, very, very dull story about a girl who lives in a three-bedroomed semi-detached house in a nice estate on the outskirts of a medium-sized town in the midlands and nothing much happens in the story, except maybe an apple tart gets burned, and it’s all properly punctuated the way your teacher likes it and you never ever ever want to write a story again. One dead imagination. One satisfied adult. One more victim of the advice to ‘write what you know’.

    Now, as it happens, what Amy knows is far, far more than what I have described above. She knows, for example, how to handle a bully; she very likely knows how to hold her own in her place as the middle child of the family; if she doesn’t actually know how to pitch a tent, she probably knows how to make sure not to annoy her dad while he is pitching it; she knows how to keep her teacher off her back; she certainly knows how not insulting her granny’s apple tarts gets her the cream; and, though she may or may not articulate it, she very probably knows that her parents love her.

    She has all this emotional knowledge, but she doesn’t know she knows it, because it is a hidden kind of knowledge. When she is, say, 45, she might have reached a point where she knows what she knows, but at eleven, the knowledge is pretty inaccessible to her as material for writing. So when an adult tells her to write what you know, she writes superficially, because the deep stuff is so deep she’s hardly even aware of it.

    That is why we do imaginative work – whether it’s writing or singing or painting or whatever. It is a way of accessing our hidden emotional knowledge so that we can use it to shape an artefact – a song or a story or a picture, for example. We are all ‘writing what we know’ when we do that, drawing on our hidden inner selves, but what comes out of this exercise very often does not, to an outsider, look like what they think we know. So if Amy writes a story about a fairy princess who transforms into a dolphin and marries the dolphin king, she may well be writing out of her own deepest desires, but to the teacher, she is not writing what she knows – she is not writing about loving Ed Sheeran and hating homework and going camping.

    This advice is of course also given to novice adult writers, and if the novices take the advice and banish their dragons, monsters and fairy godmothers, we get eccentric uncles and pen-portraits of poets or patriots; we get picnics on the beach and trips in Morris Minors; we get tributes to favourite places or people or objects; and a lot of this is very delightful and it’s mostly also very slight.

    Much better advice than ‘Write what you know,’ is ‘Know what you write.’ In other words, if you’re writing, say, historical fiction, do your research, steep yourself in the knowledge you need to write about your subject, and avoid (oh, classic error!) projecting 21st-century ways of thinking onto 19th-century characters and situations. This is good advice, but it’s technical advice. It’s the kind of advice any halfway decent editor or creative-writing teacher can give to any halfway good writer.

    What the more thoughtful and sophisticated members of the write-what-you-know brigade are really trying to get novice writers to do is to write with authenticity. In their better moments, what they are trying to get you to do is to write from your deepest self; write out of your own lived experience – not the superficial facts of your life, but your own inner emotional experience; and use details of your actual lived experience – the colour of the sky where you grew up, the taste of honey from your grandmother’s beehive, all that sort of stuff – because these things are your authentic personal experience and when you write them, you will do so with authority. But if that is all you do – write about your own sensuous experience and your own memories – your writing may have colour and texture but it may very well not have depth. Your writing will only gain depth if you give yourself over to the craft of making it and allow your imagination to expand your personal experience. In other words, begin with the known but allow your imagination to bring you into the unknown – because that’s where the good stuff is.







    By Little Island