A #Bold Girl Learns to read

I was a slow reader. I couldn’t learn the ABC and my progress through the Peter and Jane readers was painful. I dreaded when my turn came to read in class; I stuttered and stumbled trying to make out those little black marks. My teacher thought I was lazy but even when I learnt the letters they stayed stubbornly separate; they would not form words inside my head. I remember the shame and panic, frowning and frowning at my allotted sentence as the whole class – fifty kids – waited. Once, I thought I recognised something.

‘Peter… saw, ’ I said triumphantly. I was sent straight to the corner to face the wall.

Not saw, bold girl! Was.

Towards the end of the school year I’d turned seven and was still making no progress. One day Miss Farrelly held up a book. It was thick, like a novel. It was dark blue. There was a wizard on the cover. A wizard!

‘This,’ Miss Farrelly said, ‘is a book for advanced readers. Those of you who find Peter and Jane too easy may buy it. If your parents wish you to have it they should send in three shillings and sixpence tomorrow.’

I wanted that book. I wanted it badly. I went home and told my mother there was a book to buy and I needed 3/6.

‘But you can’t read,’ Mam said.

‘Please, please,’ I said. ‘I’ll read it, I promise.’

‘If you don’t read it, it will be a waste of money,’ Mam said.

Now, my parents were book people. They saw books as necessities, like food and shoes. My sisters and I grew up surrounded by books. Here are some of the beautiful picturebooks we had as children:

But Mam hated waste. It took some persuading but the next day I marched up to Miss Farrelly, coins in hand.

‘This book is for advanced readers,’ she snapped. ‘You can’t even read.’

‘Mammy said I was to get it,’ I said.

Miss Farrelly rolled her eyes and tut-tutted but she handed over the book.

At home that afternoon I pulled the precious thing from my schoolbag and opened it. The letters sat there, black and unyielding. My joy turned to horror. Mammy would kill me! Mrs Farrelly would say she told me so. I looked at the first page. There was a lovely illustration of a dog and a fisherman. I was full of terror but also full of longing. I wanted in, wanted into the story.

Sandy… the… Sailor… Dog… said the title. A half hour later I realised I was three stories into the book. I was reading, reading fluently, gobbling words, turning pages. Something magical had happened; some switch inside my head had flipped. I was a reader.




This is a piece I wrote for #BOLD GIRLS. BOLD GIRLS is a Children’s Books Ireland initiative to mark the centenary of women’s suffrage in Ireland. It’s a celebration of brave, adventurous, curious and feisty girls and women in children’s literature, past and present. You can find info on the FEATURED AUTHORS AND ILLUSTRATORS, the BOLD GIRL READING GUIDE and the SCHOOL RESOURCE PACK HERE.



NOTE: Miss Farrelly was a stern teacher but who wouldn’t be, faced with 50 kids? She lived nearby and always had a hello and a smile for me as I passed from child to teen to adult. In ‘real life’ she had a twinkle in her eye and a hearty chuckle.

Murals with PJ Lynch

Photo PJ took just as Niamh and myself began to work on our walls.

As part of his Laureate na nÓg Big Picture project, my good pal and birthday bud, PJ Lynch took on the task of organising SIX permanent murals (or muriels, as we say in Dublin) for a school in Cork, the very lovely Gaelscoil Mhainistir na Corann in Midleton. He invited Niamh Sharkey, Chris Judge, Lauren O’Neill, Michael and myself to join him and each take on a wall. Here are some photos of each mural as it happened, from blank to finished – click on the first photo to get larger images and some notes on what’s happening. Then keep clicking right.

PJ’s wall; The Children of Lir

Niamh’s wall; the King of Ireland

Lauren’s wall; Gulliver in Lilliput

Chris’s wall; Irish Creatures, Past & Present

My wall; image from The Long March

The school requested an image from my book The Long March (see two previous blogposts) as Midleton is home to the Feathers sculpture which commemorates the Choctaw gift to Ireland in 1847.

The whole team -Niamh Sharkey, Chris Judge, Jenny Murray (CBI), Lauren O’Neill, me, Aingeala (L na nÓg project manager), PJ Lynch – Laureate na nÓg.

Aingeala and Jenny looked after us so well (of course) and the school laid on a constant supply of sandwiches and scones and smiles and encouragement plus a laughter-filled night with the teachers at Muinteoir Gráinne’s on Saturday night. Unfortunately Michael was sick – whooping cough – and missed the trip, but he will tackle a wall for the school in May or June. We’ll add photos then.

Top photo of Niamh and myself beginning our murals is one PJ quietly snapped from the return of the stairs.

Canada – the Ottawa Album

Our last gig – a Q&A session with Neil Wilson

Our last stop in Canada was the Ottawa International Writers Festival. They have had many Irish writers take part over the years and last year brought writers and illustrators to Dublin for the CBI conference. The sun came out in the capital!

We saw wonderful Inuit art in Ottawa and also the fabulous Maman by Louise Bourgeios which deserves its own album! There is a lovely picturebook about Louise and her Maman, who was a weaver, illustrated by Canadian illustrator, Isabelle Arsenault

Canada – the Montreal Album

With Dr Susan Cahill at the Irish Studies’ Centre in Concordia University, Montreal

Next stop on our tour of Canada was the Blue Met Festival, Montreal. Click on images to go large/get info/scroll

Then it was off on a train to the capital, writing as we went…

Canada – the Moncton Album

The first of three photo albums from my trip to Canada representing Irish children’s lit with Deirdre Sullivan, Óisín McGann and Dave Rudden. First CBI sent us to the Frye Festival in Moncton, New Brunswick  (for more info, roll over or click on an image)

We spent four lovely days with the folk at the Frye Festival but then we made the mistake of going to Magnetic Hill…

Magnetic Hill is drawing us away…

The Inevitable Electric Picnic Post




Children’s Books Ireland and our Laureate na nÓg went to Electric Picnic this year and they invited us along. Eoin Colfer’s laureate project is a fab new collection of short stories and poems, all set in Ireland and called Once Upon a Place. I was thrilled to be asked to contribute a story and excited to be invited along to Electric Picnic (Ireland’s biggest arts & music fest) to chat about it with a load of other contributors. PJ Lynch, Enda Wyley, Siobhán Parkinson (who edited/published), Patricia Forde, and Eoin Colfer, are all in the top photo, and Oisín McGann, Sarah Webb, myself, Roddy Doyle, and Patricia again, are in the second shot.

Two days equalled two morning gigs inside the Literary Stage tent. Meanwhile outside Michael and Steve McCarthy were busy running Monster Doodles…

Inbetween gigs ourselves and our friend and fellow author, Sarah (Sarah Webb, author of Amy Green, The Songbird Cafe Girls), were free to roam and people watch…

…check out the art installations…

…Michael and myself had our vows blessed by Elvis at the Electric Chapel, with Sarah as witness/photographer…

…oh, and we did catch a little music.

Once Upon a Place is due out in October 2015:http://littleisland.ie/once-upon-a-place-an-anthology-compiled-by-laureate-na-nog-published-by-little-island/

Click for info on Children’s Books Ireland and Laureate na nÓg

Towers and Tales



Monstrous poster for Towers and Tales © Niamh Sharkey

Fancy spending Saturday in a castle? Lismore Castle, Co. Waterford, Ireland, to be exact. This Saturday (18/4/15) at the Towers and Tales Festival there is literally something literary for everyone. Loads of stuff for the little ones, the bigger ones, and and the teens, plus two sessions aimed at adults. Niamh Sharkey, Shane Hegarty, Darren Shan, Philip Ardagh, Chris Riddell, Sarah McIntyre, Sarah Webb, Brown Bag, all in this amazing venue for one day. I’m joining a panel discussion on ‘How to Get Published’ for adults and running an afternoon writing workshop for teens.

There’s a cafe, the CBI book doctors, animation, comic-making, monster doodling, mad hat-making, story-telling, an illustration exhibition….all in this fantastic setting, a castle not usually open to the public. Get booking and spend the whole day. You just need to do a wee bit of clicking to download the programme for full details…http://www.towersandtales.ie/programme/

A glimpse of the authors and illustrators taking part:
Top image Niamh Sharkey’s fab festival poster monster! Image of Lismore castle is grabbed from the festival site. These and photos of authors/illustrators (also grabbed from festival site) all © individual authors and illustrators and Lismore Castle.