Needlework Deirdre Sullivan


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Powerful, poetic and disturbing, Needlework is a girl’s meditation on her efforts to maintain her bodily and spiritual integrity in the face of abuse, violation and neglect.

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‘I would like to make things beautiful, but a tawdry and repulsive kind of beauty. A braver sort than people have from birth. Sexy zombies on a bicep. That sort of thing.’

Ces longs to be a tattoo artist and embroider skin with beautiful images. But for now she’s just trying to reach adulthood without falling apart.

Powerful, poetic and disturbing, Needlework is a girl’s meditation on her efforts to maintain her bodily and spiritual integrity in the face of abuse, violation and neglect.



‘Reading Needlework is similar to getting your first tattoo – it’s searing, often painful, but it is an experience you’ll never forget.’ ​ ​– Louise O’Neill, author of Only Ever Yours and Asking For It

‘Sullivan confronts a difficult subject matter head-on, yet with subtlety and grace … Needlework is a powerful novel that deserves to be read.’ – Sarah Crossan, author of The Weight of Water and One

‘Needlework is the sort of book adults worry about teenagers reading, and the sort of book teenagers need to have written for them.’ – Claire Hennessy, author, editor and reviewer

‘A modern, broken fairy tale that gets under your skin’ – Tara Flynn, author and comedian

‘Little Island has been making waves with its strong fiction list, and looks set to do so again in 2016. First up in February is Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan, for young adults and adults, a novel about child abuse and its aftermath that I read in one sitting. An important and beautifully written book.’ – Sarah Webb, The Sunday Independent

‘Her life is a knotted bundle of hair, and it’s impossible to untangle them without breaking them all… I don’t know if it’s inspiring, but Ces’s strong character definitely gives you strength. I am very sure that this story should be read in order to understand what some people go through… A word of advice: do not read this book after 2am as you might start crying – although it’s definitely worth it.’ – The Guardian

”Needlework is the kind of novel you walk away from wanting to return to. It is the kind of novel that will disturb you, connect with you and leave you thinking about for a very long time after turning the last page. The language and imagery used are so sharp and cutting, the story so harrowing and the protagonist so memorable. I can not express how deeply this novel impacted on me and I will never forget it.’ – Shannon, Adventures of a Teenage Bookworm

‘Needlework is intricately woven with the rhythm and delicacy of a fine tapestry. It is a book that is both difficult to take and impossible to put down. Sullivan is dealing with an extremely sensitive topic here, and she does so with great subtlety and nuance. The writing is exquisite and poetic, the story, a compelling one that ebbs and flows as you follow. It handles its’ subject matter without succumbing to sensationalism and without pushing the reader; a task that is very difficult to achieve. The voice and perception is eloquent, powerful and starkly genuine. The result is a story that needs to be told, needs to be read and considered and felt deeply … Needlework is a rare work among the numbers of young adult fiction titles; honest, forthright, delicate and sincere.’ – Mary Esther Judy, Children’s Buyer for Dubray Books

‘Such is her control of her material that the narrative never slips into mere sensationalism. The balance between Ces’s real worlds of childhood and adolescence and her dream world of creating her own tattoos is beautifully maintained. It is material handled with all the delicacy of touch we would expect from the most talented of tattooists. And, along the way, it is material which provides some fascinating insights into the arcane lore and language of the tattoo world.’ – Robert Dunbar, The Irish Times

‘The most impressive aspect of this book is the depiction of its narrator. Ces is certainly not a victim. Though she keeps herself at a distance from others in order to avoid being thought so, the overall message is one of triumph over adversity in the simplest and most profound way. Ces is an incredibly strong, and eloquent character; and particularly for those struggling with the trials of adolescence, Needlework proves that you can overcome much, or at the very least, survive it.’ – Emily Elphinstone, No More Workhorse

‘The details of the skill, knowledge and painstaking preparation required are as alluring as the descriptions of delicate, powerful and enduring images, while the idea of blemishing the skin in order to create beauty is a metaphor for Ces’s path through life.’ – The Observer

‘Needlework is an often dark portrayal of a childhood scarred by domestic violence. But domestic violence is dark. Relationships are damaged, blame and self-blame are common and for young adults starting out into the world on their own, it can be a confusing, lonely and uncertain place. Women’s Aid hopes that this book helps readers to explore the issues and to recognise that domestic violence can happen in any home. We have worked with survivors for over 40 years. We know that there is hope. There is life after abuse. Women and children can, and do, overcome and be happy, healthy and safe.’ – Margaret Martin, Director, Women’s Aid.

5 Star Review in Books for Keeps
‘For the young reader who is ready for it, Needlework could very well be a landmark book – memorable, disturbing and moving.’ – Books for Keeps, March 2016

‘Powerful, beautifully written and evocative, this is one author in whom we’re very interested’ – Woman’s Way Magazine

Cover design by Irish artist Steve McCarthy

About Deirdre Sullivan

Deirdre Sullivan is a writer from Galway now living in Dublin and working as a teacher. She has established a reputation for herself as a leading Irish YA author following her trilogy on the teenage years of Primrose Leary, which has been widely acclaimed (Ireland’s much-respected YA critic, Robert Dunbar, says it ‘sparkles with authenticity’); two of the Prim books were shortlisted for the CBI awards; and the final one, Primperfect, was also shortlisted for the European Prize for Literature – the only YA novel to be nominated for this award from any European country.

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