Murals with PJ Lynch

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

As part of his Laureate na n√ďg 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 n√ďg project manager), PJ Lynch – Laureate na n√ďg.

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 Gr√°inne’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.

Once Upon a…

…Place is a collection of stories and poems, all new, all set somewhere in Ireland. I was delighted to be asked to contribute¬†to this book¬†put together by Eoin Colfer as part of his Laureate-ship. That was the brief – that the setting be a real place in Ireland – and here is where I set mine:

Kells, County Kilkenny, is a wee village. It’s on a bend in the King’s River and there’s¬†nothing much there but a garage and a small pub called Shirley’s. And the Priory. Or the Seven Castles as locals also call it – because of the tower houses dotted along the walls.

It’s the nearest¬†village¬†to the farm my granddad was born and¬†grew up on, the farm where my mother spent her childhood summers. She brought us there as kids to visit with our cousins and we all continued to spend weekends over the years. As a child, trundling through Kells in the old blue Beetle meant we were, in fact, Nearly There. As an adult¬†I¬†cork-screwed through Kells at breakneck speed many a night as my madcap cousin drove us¬†into Kilkenny¬†city, to the ‘disco’ at Langtons. Occasionally we’d stop, for¬†a quiet-ish pint in Shirley’s¬†or to walk off a hangover in the Priory of a Sunday morning.

PJ Lynch did an amazing job of bringing Kells Priory and my story, Gren’s Ghost, to life with¬†his atmospheric black and white charcoal images. You¬†can¬†click¬†HERE¬†to see one of them happen¬†(1 min), or HERE to see PJ chat about illustrating the book (2.39). Meanwhile the book will be available from tomorrow, all over the country.

Teeny Tiny Ting



I spotted¬†this tiny handmade book necklace online;¬†I thought it would be nice to wear to book events. When it arrived and I held it in my hand, it¬†occurred to me I could actually draw tiny pictures in it…I drew one and got¬†Michael to draw a couple. When¬†the Emberleys were visiting¬†I asked Ed and Rebecca to add something.¬†Since then I’ve¬†asked several ¬†illustrator friends to draw in it, so now its pages are almost filled with teeny illustrations.

Everyone I ask has the same reaction. They stop – blink – think! It takes a bit of refocusing and mental rescaling to draw something on this tiny canvas.

I was cheeky enough to ask Jim Kay and Mo Willems to draw in it when I attended talks they gave and have every intention of being cheeky a few more times until every page is illustrated –¬†there are a few Irish illustrators I’ve yet to nab. My little necklace has become a¬†favourite treasure – here are some of the¬†images.¬†Look¬†how HUGE my fingers are;¬†these¬†are TINY images!

You can click on any illustration¬†for a larger image, then scroll/click on side to look at the¬†next one, and illustrator’s name¬†should appear too.

All these little illustrations are reproduced with permission and are © of named illustrator.

Falling in Love at the Hotel Gunter

Me, Richard Peck, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Michael - Frostburg 2007

Me, Richard Peck, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Michael – Frostburg 2007

In Maryland, USA, there is a town called Frostburg, and in that town there is a college. And in that college there is a children’s literature department.

The¬†college is twinned with Mary Immaculate College in Limerick and every year a student travels from there¬†to Frostburg to act as an assistant at the children’s lit facility. It was one of these exchange students, Maeve O’ Connell, who suggested to the folks at Frostburg (Dr Bill Bingman and Dr Barbara Ornstein) that they should invite me to speak, so in 2007 I travelled to the USA.

The other children’s authors invited to speak at the conference in 2007 were Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Richard Peck, and a guy called Michael Emberley.

We all hit it off immediately and had a lot of fun chatting at every opportunity. It was a two-day conference and we were kept pretty busy, but on Saturday night we all relaxed at the end-of-conference party at Bill and Karen’s house.

Barbara Ornstein on left, Bill Bingman in pink t-shirt

Barbara on left, Bill in pink t-shirt, Michael, Laura and all the fantastic students at Frostburg

Afterwards myself, Michael and Laura made our way back to our hotel, the gloriously eccentric and historic Hotel Gunter. It was after midnight¬†but we decided to explore the hotel together – we’d all¬†had just enough wine to think we were being quiet as mice.

Our tour began in the basement.

The basement of the Gunter had a bar, a mocked-up coalmine, and many many glass exhibition cases filled with stuffed animals – of both the toy and dead variety. Other cases contained dolls – the kind with eyes that seem to follow you as you move. Another case contained a collection of hats which belonged to a much-loved departed resident of the town.

And there was a prison cell.

A genuine prison cell. The hotel was once an overnight train stop enroute to Washington and a sheriff bringing a prisoner through would lock him/her up and retire to a room upstairs.

We peered through the bars. A life-size body was ‘sleeping’ under a blanket on the bunk, guarded by a life-size stuffed lion who glared out at us.

Up in the lobby we admired the fabulous Gone with the Wind stairs and climbed¬†to the first floor landing where a teddy bears’ picnic was set up on the return. We stuck our noses up against a pair of French doors -locked- which led to the Wedding Room.

Not a room for weddings, a room of weddings. Everything was white. There were hundreds of dolls in wedding dresses but not a groom doll in sight. There were Christmas trees (it was April) smothered in white baubles. In the centre was a table (all white) set for dinner. Basically it was Miss Havisham, without the cobwebs.

We crept up the next flight of stairs passing more doll and teddy bear scenarios, Victorian wall lights, plus some random sinks placed along the corridors. We tiptoed past¬†the ‘Black Room’ – a bedroom dedicated to the memory of a deceased country singer. A Limerick lecturer called Frank was asleep inside now but he had told me that everything in there¬†was black. Black curtains, black bedspread, black four-poster, black shower curtains.

My room on the other hand, was all pink.

Massive four-poster with pink curtains, pink bedspread…you get the picture. Michael, Laura, and myself sat on my pink sofa, had another glass of wine, and talked children’s books for a while more before we called it a night.

Michael, Laura and Richard were leaving for the airport at dawn next morning. I was staying on another two days so I dragged myself out of my pink four-poster to go down to the lobby and¬†say goodbye. Of course there was one person I was particularly sorry to say goodbye to, but I did have this very strong feeling that it wasn’t really goodbye…

Within a week Michael and myself were emailing each other a dozen times a day and within a month I was at Dublin Airport waiting for his plane to land.

Ah, Frostburg and the Hotel Gunter! Where love stories begin…

Fast forward to 2014, and last week we set off for Limerick with Pj Lynch and Siobh√°n Parkinson in the car.¬†We were all speaking at Mary I’s very first Children’s Lit conference –¬†Buzzing with Books. Siobh√°n and Pj are also past veterans of¬†Frostburg (1998) and we all reminisced about the town and the wonderful Hotel Gunter.

Limerick 4

We had a great time in Limerick. Mary I’s conference went off with a BANG; hopefully it’s the first of many. Bill and Barbara came over from Maryland, and Maeve O’Connell was there too – our three cupids and ourselves all gathered in the one place again! Apparently our ¬†story is retold at the Frostburg conference every year and they live in hope of inspiring another romance some¬†year soon…

Us with our 3 cupids – Barbara, Maeve and Bill – in Limerick last week

And the car selfie, just for fun!

Michael, Siobh√°n, Pj, me