Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Tip top Tipp

The Inis reading guide in company at Thurles super cool library.
Another October, another bit of wandering, this time through Tipperary where the creative juices flow high.
They got it right in Tipp!
In Roscrea, Templemore, Killenaule, Carrick and Cashel, they know all about evil babies with laser eyes, granny wrestling champions, dentist superheroes who blast their way around with a toothpaste gun, cheese-flavoured chewing-gums, dinner ladies who must cook chicken for 80 days around the world, nasty Mr Pineapple and Acrobanea, the planet at the back of the closet where acrobats are born.
There was laughing, there was reading, there was shouting, there was writing and there was miaowing.
Also, there was some singing in French. For those who missed it, it was a 5-a-day version of Frère Jacques:
Frère Jacques, des tomates
Dormez-vous? dans les choux
Sonnez-les matines, dans les aubergines
Ding ding dong, des citrons.

Thanks so much to everybody who came along for the ride (and indeed provided the ride in the first place!), t'was tremendous!

Friday, 24 April 2015


Today marks the centenary of the Armenian genocide and I still haven't written that book. The one with the horrible stories linked together by a forceful sense of survival, hope and legacy.
Every two years or so I go back to it, I rewrite it in my head, change the angle, add a new structure, plan on more research. But it's still nothing more than notes.
I have, however, written another book. One with a forceful hero full stop. He lives in the land of Sassoon and has survived to this day through many Armenian legends. His name is David, Disaster David and he is exactly what it says on the tin. I would love, today of all days, to share with you his charming but catastrophic antics, but I can't just yet. All going well, you will hear from David very soon.
What I can share, however, is a piece of story from a while ago. A story of joyful voyages, curiosity and, yes, hope too. The story of a little boy called Manoug in the French original, not Alexander or Gabriel as in the first US edition and the Brazilian one. Manoug is no conqueror, no angel. He is just a child, which is what his name means in Armenian.

Manoug had been traveling for almost a year now. He traveled to many new countries, and in each new place, he thought he discovered the Land of Happiness.
But each time the songbird would tell him, "It's true and it's not true."
More and more, the little traveler thought about Grandpa.
He began to wonder if the Land of Happiness really existed.
And how important it was to find it.

I leave you to decide that for yourselves...
(In Search of Happiness, translated by Rebecca Frazer, illustrated by Eric Puybaret, Auzou Publishing 2013)
(NB: in this second US edition, Manoug has been renamed Kalim; I'm giving him his birth-cert name just for this occasion)

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Bilingual book signing!

If you happen to be in my neck of the French woods on Saturday 4th April between 10am-12noon and 3pm-5pm, why not pop into the one and only bookshop of the little town of Excideuil in the Dordogne?
I will be signing my books in both languages and, sure, it'll be fun!
If you need more convincing, note that said bookshop is called De la Pomme à la Plume, that is Apples and Quills, because yes, they sell books, but also fruit, wine and all manner of fine foods...
Check out the shop window!

Monday, 30 March 2015


The things you spot when you look up from your ice-cream!
I was in Cahir last week, enjoying the (intermittent) lovely Irish spring and eating ice-cream by the massive castle and generally putting my feet up when suddenly...
Two groups of ladies from Our Lady of Mercy's 4th and 5th classes descended upon me. So there was nothing for it, but to have a proper session, and by "session" I mean the full works: authorial chat, collective reading, deliriously creative writing and cat-related Q&A-ing.
From Glitzy Girl (whose secret weapon is a sparkle cannon) to PopCorn Man (who is evil!), via the mysterious Burping Bubble Gum (who lives in a kettle), we had some pretty crazy moments. Not to mention all the brilliant acting out. Oh, and the murder of black rabbits that somehow involved a chainsaw and the Tooth Fairy.
Thanks to all the ladies who came along and made it such fun, and that includes Ann and Ann Marie, librarians extraordinaire who looked after me so well!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Mountains to Sea Ahoy!

This week sees the beginning of the fabulous Mountains to Sea festival in Dun Laoghaire, with, as always, an impressive line-up of writers, illustrators, storytellers, workshops and what-have-yous... and that's "only" the family and school programme!
This year, I will be doing a reading for pre-schoolers in the equally fabulous venue of the new LexIcon library. Dinos, dinos, and more dinos are on the menu, so please do join us for this free and hopefully very loud event.
Just follow the roars!

Thursday 19th March 11am-11.30am Free!

LexIcon At Eleven – Storytime Dinosaur Tales with Juliette Saumande
*If you are a preschool or group, please pre-book your children at the booking office)
Eleven o'clock means story time in the LexIcon children's library during the festival. A host of local authors will be on hand to share tales with the youngest readers. Babies and toddlers welcome. Drop in and join the fun.
Juliette Saumande is a writer and translator of children's books with over thirty picture books published in her native France. In English, she is the author of a novel, Chop-Chop, Mad Cap!, several picture books and an app, SOS Dinos in Distress. 

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Happy World Book Day!

This week, myself and co-conspirator Sadie Cramer invaded Dubray Galway Branch with our antics and it was jolly good fun, if we say so ourselves. We chatted character development, writer-illustrator collaboration, creative process, Ribena-shampooed oldies, mad cats, scruffy cats, fat cats and rude cats with a total of 97 children over the course of the day.
I have to say their artistic knowledge and abilities were pretty impressive, and I was amazed at the variety of styles and approaches that one common brief produced. From cute fluffy kittens, to psychedelic felines via zombie-type cats,  these kids gave Scrum, our hitherto portrait-less puss, a lot more than the 9 lives the proverb would have entitled him to.
So let's hear it for the 1st/2nd class from St. Nicholas Parochial School (plus one junior that the snow blew in!), the 3rd class lads from St Patrick's School (because who doesn't love a farting cat?) and the 3rd class from Scoil Iognaid (keep up the art, team!).

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Music to write to

Most people, I would imagine, like to work to music. Obviously, there are exceptions (such as Kevin Crossley-Holland who once told me he couldn't listen to a piece of music without giving it his full attention). 
Certainly, I can't stand the silence while I'm typing away or racking my brain for a new best-seller idea. But I can't listen to just anything. Lyrics in a language I know will invariably distract me. So that rules out French music in general (including this awesome kids radio) and a fair bit of English-language tunes. That said, if the music is really atmospheric, I can have it play in the background and just feel comforted by it, rather than distracted. 
The best kind, however, is from soundtracks (from film, TV series or anime) and dramatic music: that is, music that is full of happenings and begs to tell a story (as in the Greek work "drama": action). Those I find fantastically uplifting and energising. They might even give you a mini-workout as you bounce along the songs on your office chair...

So, in no particular order, my current favourite musics to write to:

Music from the anime Fairy Tail (which I can't recommend highly enough) such as this compilation.

Music from Doctor Who (ditto); 2 hours of excitement in musical form.

Nearly anything by Philip Glass, but especially his Heroes symphony.

Music from Grey's Anatomy, for a more relaxed approach. (And also for Get Set Go's  highly relatable Sleep, because, you know, I need my sleep, I need it right now.)

And then, there's always Bollywood. Now don't watch the videos, those can be really distracting.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Winning dinos

Just last week, my one and only book app (so far!), SOS Dinos in Distress, illustrated by Claire Chavenaud and developed by Audois&Alleuil, won the first Prix du Livre Numérique Jeunesse (Digital Children's Book award), run by the public librairies of the city of Grenoble in France. Needless to say we are all chuffed!

If you haven't come across this crazy detective story involving dinosaurs and Rubik's cubes (among other things), here's a little taste of it.

As well as getting a Starred Review from Kirkus, SOS Dinos in Distress has been really well received in other e-places.
"Fun, engaging, and a wonderful story." BestAppsForKids "highly recommends" the silly antics of Thaddeus Getsit-Wright in their splendid review over here

Meanwhile, GeeksWithJuniors concludes that "SOS Dinos in Distress is a beautifully illustrated storybook, complete with playful interactive features and sound effects on every page. Starring a prideful young detective on an imaginative dinosaur hunt, the story is every bit hilarious and engaging."

Enough to make one blush, frankly!

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

A Day in the Life

Last Saturday saw the one-day conference organised by Children's Books Ireland in the brand-new Lexicon library in Dun Laoighaire: A Day in the Life.
As one has come to expect of such events, it was a inspiring day, with enough food for thought, communicative enthusiasm and friendly chats to shake off the January gloom and properly kick off the new year.
Laureate na n'Og Eoin Colfer started off the proceedings by making a passionate case for "a farmers' market of stories": books that have a deep and precise sense of place, that are rooted in a unique location and yet resonate with readers from near and far.
Next up was Alan Nolan, illustrator in residence in the Church of Ireland College of Education. Alan introduced some of the methods he uses with future teachers to get them to engage with children's books so that, when they get to the classroom, they will in turn get the kids to engage with said books. Putting texts into pictures, such as song lyrics into comics, was one of the intriguing project he had the students work on.
After that, Colm Keegan (performance poet writer in residence in Lexicon) was in conversation with Sarah Crossan and had an enlightened and enlightening chat about poetry and the verse novel ("I like the verse novel" said Crossan " because I only have to write 50% of it and the reader can write the rest. I can leave space on the page"). For Crossan, "poetry belongs to us, it's not out there"; and Keegan adds: "poetry belongs to the body, not on the page".
After a Book Clinic and a Monster Doodle over lunch time, the delegates were treated to extracts from books by 11 new Irish writers. Let me tell you people, 2015 is going to be dark, scary and will potentially contain bears.
The final session was a one-woman-show which had the audience totally enthralled: Julia Eccleshare, children's books ed for The Guardian. She (who "never go[es] anywhere without thinking about a story") wowed the delegates with her aplomb, her knowledge of kids books and her passion for them. Why are books important in this day and age? "Because you never get lost any more. Getting lost in a powerful experience. Where will you find that? In fiction."

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Looking back

Back in December, I was invited in our local school to tackle the intimidating task of entertaining 24 Senior Infants three days before the trip to the panto, one week before the school play and two before Christmas.

I wanted to do a writing workshop that would be fun and not too much like work. I also wanted it to be a collective event, involving not only them (as a class) and me, but also all 24 kids individually.
Usually, I meet older groups, where pretty much every one is able to come up with a story and write it themselves in a quite a short period of time. But with Senior Infants, no matter how bright (and these were, of course, fabulous), writing is still physically difficult and takes time. We only had an hour, which was not enough to do anybody's creativity justice.

So, I cheated. Let me repeat that: I CHEATED.

I came up with a hybrid solution where I did most of the writing and they filled in the blanks.
I wrote a story (a Christmas one, of course) about a character who had to go looking for baubles to put on their tree. I put the text on big colourful sheets of paper, made up pictures with wrapping-paper cut-outs and print-outs from some of my own books, and left a few blanks on each page: the protagonist had no name; there was no picture of him/her; the night sky was lacking stars, etc.

I had selected 3 possible heroes (a dino, a princess and a cat), all from my published stories. For each spread, I had prepared an envelope with what was going to be needed to complete it: stickers, cotton wool for snow, a hat for our hero, a home-made bauble...
When we got to business, I asked one boy to take a paper out of a hat. The lucky dip gave us our heroine whom we named (after a collective brainstorming and a vote) Pixie. Pixie's pic was duly and expertly glued by a team of kids on that first page, as well as the "shiny things" the text said she loved. Pixie was later joined by Rex the dinosaur and Jack the cat.

On every page, there was something for the audience to do and comment on.

Icing on the cake (but it was only fair), the cover had their name on it:
I hear they spent some time reading it together snuggled under the class Christmas tree...

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

What do we tell the children?

I kept mine out of the Charlie loop as much as possible. I did it because at 6 and very-nearly 3, they were just too young. Also, I did it because I could. I could avoid dreary images on the telly by not turning it on. I didn't have to hide the front cover of a newspaper as we don't buy one. I just spent a few days frantically checking news websites for more updates, more info, more analysis. More guidance, perhaps.
But for those of you who feel they must explain the events to the children in their lives and don't know how, here are a few links that might help.

Here is how some Parisian parents dealt with it (article in English, on

French-speaking parents have the option of downloading for free the special editions produced by the teams behind a series of newspapers aimed at children from the age of 6 onwards (pictured). With clear text and infographics, these give a lot of background information that is key to understanding the events in context. They also provide a lot of testimonials from children themselves about how they felt in the aftermath of the attacks and of the march.

You can find out more about these special editions here (in English). This article also features a handy check-list on "How to talk about it" which I reproduce here:

Based on his 20 years of providing news to youth of all ages in France, Play Bac chief editor François Dufour offers six tips for discussing tough news events with children :

1. First, make sure the child really wants to to talk about it at all!
2. If the child wants to talk about it, begin with the questions they have : encourage them to talk, taking all the time they need to ask their own questions.
3. Adapt your speaking: Keep your answers simple, understandable and intelligible.
4. If you need to use difficult words (terrorist, Islamist ...), explain them. If necessary, check in the dictionary together
5. Explain the difference between events (facts) and opinons: children often confuse the two.
6. In some ways, there is no difference by age groups: The reality is the same for all. If reality is shocking, it is normal for your child to be shocked. Like you!
7.  That said, parents must adapt to the issues of children according to their ages,  giving more detail to the oldest and more explanation of words to the youngest. The younger the child is, the more you have to offer ‘small talk,’ making even shorter sentences and even simpler words. Give even more attention to vocabulary. For example, while the the words "Republican values" may be understandable to a 16-year-old, they will need explaining to an eight-year-old.”

Finally, here's how they did it elsewhere in Europe and further afield.

It's about living together

The excellent Zoe Toft at Playing by the Book put together a list of children's and YA titles that promote understanding and reaching out between communities. Here she's looking specifically at books "which might help spread understanding of what life can be like for Muslims living in the west". You can find the list here.

The Guardian also ran a feature by Sita Brahmachari titled "Books to breed tolerance where she has a compilation of "stories for children that explore our differences and common humanity". As a follow-up, the Guardian asked its readers to send word of "books that had helped them see the world differently". Those are listed at the bottom of Brahmachari's article.In addition to the many, many great recommendations these two links offer (with the likes of Marjane Satrapi, Eva Ibbotson, Deborah Ellis or Jamila Gavin), I'd like  to add a couple from my own reading pile:A Bus Called Heaven and Vanilla Ice Cream, by Bob Graham. Two picture books from age 4+ where the warmth, softness and inclusiveness of the illustration is perfectly matched by those of the story.

A Hen in the Wardrobe, by Wendy Meddour. A fun family caper with more serious undercurrents of belonging and acceptance. 7+

Benny and Omar, by Eoin Colfer. As hilarious as you might expect, with added GAA bits. 9+

Chalk Line, by Jane Mitchell. Freedom fighters, children soldiers and the ravages wreaked by war make up the backdrop of this powerful read. YA

Just Like Tomorrow, by Faiza Guène, a story set in a drab Parisian suburb but led by a strong, imaginative and very funny narrator. A tale about opening up and growing up, and growing stronger, not tougher. (I reviewed this one for Inis a long time ago).

Made on Earth, by Wolfgang Korn. In this fictional but extremely well documented account, Korn retraces  the "life" of a red fleece jacket from the oil rig where the petrol needed for its fabrication is extracted to the shop where it is sold and onwards to a second-hand market in Africa and finally a refugee boat drifting out at sea. Very accessible, this shows how globalisation connects people from all sorts of places, its impact on so many lives and on the environment. 10+

Now enjoy those, and share them!

I am Juliette

In France, Wally/Waldo is called Charlie
Devastated, powerless and angry was how the recent events in Paris left me. Seen from the comfort and the distance of my island, they seemed incomprehensible. And strangely personal. I didn't know any of the victims personally, I had never read Charlie Hebdo or shopped in that particular supermarket. But I had grown up with the cartoons artist Cabu did on children's TV; I used to live in Paris; I am, whatever that means, French. And "we" don't do "that sort of thing". Except we did.

The shockwave this started (and, here, I am speaking for myself) is truly unprecedented and will resonate and keep shifting things for a long time to come. Devastated, powerless, angry... But also very worried and confused. What was it all about?

The solidarity march that took place in Dublin on 11 January was the first I ever attended on my own and the quietest one I ever joined. Being alone in a mass of 5,000 strong gives you time to think a bit.

Who and what did I go march for? For freedom of speech? In memory for the victims? Against the use of senseless violence as  a solution to anything? Did I march because I was Charlie? Jewish? A cop? Ahmed? And what about the others, all the others that die at the hands of that senseless violence and that we don't (want to) hear about so much?

The only satisfying answer I have is: all of the above. The best line I heard about the Paris march (which gathered a bit more than 5,000) was that it was "about living together". Instead of "Je suis Charlie", my sign should have read "I am human".

Now that that's established, what do I do? Do I turn on the 24-hour news channels, become super aware of all the evil in the world and make myself sick with worry and suspicion? Striking a balance between awareness and fear is not an easy thing.

So I suppose I'll do what I've always done. I'll read a good book and pass it on. Not just "any" good book, one that is, precisely, "about living together". In Paris, in Inchicore, on planet Earth.
It may not be much, but it's a start.