2016 Wrap Up!

2016 was an incredibly mixed year. Professionally, things couldn’t have been better, but there were some personal lows that certainly kept my feet on the ground and made me question many aspects of my life.

The year began with The Book of Learning – Nine Lives Trilogy 1 being chosen as the 2016 Dublin UNESCO City of Literature Citywide Read for Children. An initiative that encourages reading for fun, this is very close to my heart because if it wasn’t for books, my life would be very different indeed. Books were my childhood sanctuary and I can’t extol the value of reading enough – books really can change lives.

As for the UNESCO events from January to April, words can’t explain how amazing an experience this was. Walking into a room where all the children have read and enjoyed your book is just incredible, as was reading in the beautiful National Library of Ireland and the grand finale – a St Patrick’s Big Day Out event in a Georgian house based on 23 Mercury Lane in my book (with real pet rats).

The UNESCO team – particularly Jackie Lynam who has now become a true and valued friend – was incredible to work with; both professional and human. It was during this time that I lost two close friends and they were so incredibly supportive, I can’t thank them enough – so a huge thank you goes out to everyone involved. (Look out for Dave Rudden’s Knights of the Borrowed Dark events from January to March as the 2017 Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read kicks into action – they’re going to be amazing).

Publication wise, my first young adult book, Caramel Hearts, was released in Ireland and Australia in June, and I was honoured to have Sinead Gleeson launch the book for me. Sinead is an incredible woman whom I admire very much because of her kindness, her honesty and her integrity. Sinead’s writing and interviews always have a profound effect on me and I’m looking forward to more in 2017.

img_6895Later in the year, The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 was published, and this went on to be shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards! This was a wonderful night, shared with many great friends who were also shortlisted and I also got to see my husband in a tux! In addition, The Book of Learning was optioned for dramatic rights by the lovely and enthusiastic Ripple World Pictures – watch this space!

There have been over 100 events in schools and libraries this year, including a rather busy October, spent touring for joint events with Alan Early. The Children’s Book Festival is exciting yet hectic, but Alan really made the month fly by with plenty of laughs – if you haven’t already, you should check out his Arthur Quinn series. It’s brilliant.

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Festivals have been kind to me also this year, including West Cork Literary Festival, Doolin Writers Weekend, Ryedale Book Festival, Mountains to Sea, Belfast Book Festival and Listowel Writers Week – each was a pleasure and a joy and I can’t wait to return.

Festivals provide so much for writers; the chance to get in front of an audience, some income, time to meet with other writers and also attend their events to keep the whole writing side fresh and interesting. Writing festivals are a highlight in any writers’ calendar, so thank you to everyone who works tirelessly to keep them going!

However, on the flip side, some very close friends died this year, and the loss of their smiles, their chat, their talent, is keenly felt. In addition, with so much success comes lots of hard work and I have to admit, even though I’m a born grafter, I found the workload crushing at times. I’ve had to sometimes neglect those close to me and have struggled to maintain friendships without any free time. My husband, my friends and my village have all been so understanding – it’s an incredible thing to have finally found a home.

And so, what has 2016 shown me? To make sure you look after and cherish those close to you, as well as your own health – because that’s what really matters. And so, that’s exactly what I intend to do in 2017. I have many more people to thank for their support and encouragement this year, but that’s a post for New Year.

Happy Christmas all and see you in 2017 x

The Irish Book Awards & Making Dreams Reality

BookofshadowsWriting a book was simply a dream. I’ve always loved books; they’ve been my sanctuary for as long as I can remember. They got me through a traumatic childhood and continued to stick by me through thick and thin over the years. Books helped me dream, learn, imagination, escape, relax, feel secure and so much more. I’m turning 40 next year, so that’s a lot of hard work and support they’ve had to offer.

As for writing, I can’t actually remember a time when I didn’t write. I’m not one of those people with memories of being in the pram or cot; my first recollections are from the age of about six, and of writing poems. So writing was also a constant in my early life – until growing up and work got in the way. Over time, I let careers, ambition and financial concerns soak up my time and attention. I still read, but writing became a guilty secret, hidden away from the world, and eventually it dropped away completely.

But after establishing myself successfully in several careers and still not feeling particularly happy, I looked deep into my heart and asked – when did I last feel truly alive and full of possibility? And the answer was when I lost myself in stories. And so, I finally picked up a pen and started writing again. Poems, flash fiction, stories – eventually these got published. When I let writing back in my life again, I felt more complete. Eventually, I decided to try and realise my deeply buried dream of becoming a published author.

Ireland has a huge role to play in this dream becoming a reality. I moved here from Spain for work, and fell in love with the country and its people. I found the Inkwell workshops run by Vanessa O’Loughlin, and met fellow aspiring writers. The workshops were fantastic and inspiring, but the friendships developed were invaluable. We stayed in touch, supporting each other along the rocky and uncertain path to publication. I felt respected, supported and full of possibility. Ireland became my first true home and I began to realise that maybe being an author was something I could genuinely achieve.

Some risky decisions, a move to West Cork, a pile of work, and lots of rejection later, my first book deal was signed, followed by another! The Book of Learning – Nine Lives Trilogy 1 was chosen as the Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read for 2016, and it was such an honour to be part of a project that encourages reading for pleasure. After all, what better opportunity to try and pass on the one thing has been a constant in my life?

img_0040-1And now… In case you missed my inane ramblings across social media over the last week (I was in shock, forgive me!), The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 has been shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards in the Children’s Book of the Year (Senior) category. I’m still coming down to earth with a bump as it was completely unexpected. In addition, two of the authors I met way back when are also shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards this year; Cath Ryan Howard (shortlisted in Crime for Distress Signals) and Hazel Gaynor (shortlisted in Popular Fiction for The Girl From the Savoy). And Vanessa, who brought us all together, is shortlisted for her debut, Little Bones writing as Sam Blake.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t write for awards but being shortlisted for something like this is a real honour. Writing is a lonely profession, with lots of uncertainty, meandering pathways and all the emotions. I write because I can’t not write; because my passion for books and story outweighs my passion for anything else. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the way forward, but you stumble on blindly. A shortlist like this is like a beacon; it says, you’re on the right path, keep going, it’ll be OK!

But this isn’t just about me. It’s about all the writers out there who strive every day to create the best stories they can – whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, for adults or children, in whatever genre they prefer. The book community in Ireland is really social and supportive, and yes, people have ambitions and dreams, but they work really hard to achieve them and never forget the human factor.

My category is incredible strong and I am genuinely delighted for everyone on that list because they all deserve a spot with their fantastic books; Claire Hennessy, Deirdre Sullivan, Cecelia Ahern, Dave Rudden and Anna Carey, you are all rock stars and I can’t wait to share the celebrations with you on the big day.

(P.S. If you love books and haven’t voted yet for your favourites, here’s the link)