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LISTOWEL WRITERS’ WEEK – for Children’s Writers too!

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 It’s a new look for the children’s blog Down the Rabbit Hole on Writing.ie, now renamed ‘Flourish and Blogs’ as a nod to one of the most famous bookshops in children’s literary fiction.

As a Kerry person I’ve always felt I had part ownership of Listowel Writers’ Week. In fact, ask any Kerry person – this is our festival, founded by Kerry greats, attended by publishing giants and neatly set in a local town square. It is to be expected that literary royalty should attend a writers’ festival set in The Kingdom, but I wonder do people realise that such merit also extends to writers and illustrators of children’s fiction?

Since 2013, Listowel Writers’ week has had a full Children’s Programme, I spoke to chairperson, Catherine Moylan, and she described the specifics of preparing for the children’s side of the festival. ‘Preparations are underway since the end of September, when the committee meets, full of ideas from books they’ve read over the summer.’ There is a particular atmosphere that pervades this north Kerry town. Yes, it’s true that writers, readers and publishing folk return to Listowel again and again,  but as Catherine explained ‘the locals know why people come back and that pride in the festival means every local wants to help visitors,’ even the layout of the festival around The Listowel Arms in the corner of town square means that writing notoriety is accessible, for a cuppa or a pint.

The interactive nature of the festival is unsurprising, their finest literary sons; John B. Keane and Bryan MacMahon, were themselves men of the people. Catherine has fond memories of listening to MacMahon read, with his granddaughter, only for him to give reading a week later in an American University. ‘Listowel has been spoiled with such great names and it’s only right that children should have that too. That sense of wonder is part of the children’s festival – we make the area around the Community Centre like Alice’s Wonderland with oversized furniture, lollipops and sweets. And if your reader is unsure what books to read then the CBI book doctors are the best to advise.’

The events for children truly reflect how every child’s artistic ability can be empowered from creating their own adventure with Chris and Andrew Judge, harnessing their writing potential with Dave Rudden and Padraig Kenny, to capturing their own Magic Moment with Niall Breslin. Award winning Irish and international writers and illustrators also feature and share the bill with robot workshops, yoga, balloon modelling and parent and child events.

Of course there are a plethora of writing masterclass workshops, run by outstanding writers, including The Rejection Business – How to Succeed as a Professional Writer from our own Vanessa Fox O Loughlin, but for those who want a greater insight into Writing for Children and Teenagers there’s a two-day workshop by Sarah Webb and Grainne Clear.

Sarah Webb has worked in children’s books for over 20 years, from children’s bookseller to children’s marketing manager and is an award-winning writer. She is currently the Programme Director of Dubray Storyfest and the Family and Schools Programmer for ILFDublin (International Literature Festival, Dublin). Grainne Clear is the Publishing Manager and Art Director of Little Island, an award-winning publisher which has a dearth of award-winning writers too, and just about swept the boards at 2018’s Children’s Books Ireland annual awards.

Both Sarah and Grainne have been to Writers’ Week previously – when Grainne worked with RTEjr she reported on the first Children’s Book Festival. But it’s her second visit that captures the everyman nature of Writers’ Week. ‘… the town embraced the festival so wholeheartedly. Every shop and pub was full of people talking about events they’d been to or were going to later that day, and the streets were full of people chatting about books and poetry with such genuine excitement. After the event, a big crew of children’s books authors and illustrators got together in the back room of Keane’s to talk about their events and unwind. The illustrator Sarah McIntyre was part of the group and, as we were chatting, she drew a portrait of everyone sitting in a circle. It was such a great group of people, the conversation was so interesting and fun, and it’s solidified in my memory thanks to Sarah’s drawing, which I still have a picture of somewhere!’

Sarah explains that the two-day course is ‘aimed at people who would like to write for children and/or teenagers – all abilities, from beginners to those who have written before. All are welcome! We will be covering all kinds of things, from creating characters to plotting your novel.’

While Sarah will delve into the writing side of the course, Grainne will be talking about the publishing world, what publishers expect of writers and how best to catch their eye, and the journey of a book from manuscript to finished product. ‘Because we’re a small independent publisher, I do many different jobs within the house, including editorial, art direction, marketing, international rights sales, event organisation and author care. Thanks to the varied nature of the role, I can pretty much answer any question when it comes to how children’s book publishing works, which is particularly useful for events and workshops like this one. The information that I bring to a course like this is available but it can be sometimes tricky to access, and it’s rare that authors and illustrators have the chance to ask frank questions about publishing and what they can expect of an editor or art director or sales person, so I also love answering questions and sharing what I can.’

Sarah is also hosting a workshop on Blazing a Trail on Irish women who changed the world with their endeavours. She hopes to make history come to life and ‘it will involve a lot of dressing up and acting. I hope it will be fun for all ages and stretch the audience a little bit too.’

Both Sarah and Grainne are both looking forward to talking books and publishing so make sure you sign up!

Before I finished chatting to Catherine she described how a friend’s child seemed to grow in confidence and energy after meeting writers and illustrators at the festival. ‘It’s so interactive and motivating – even storytime is something that both children and parents will enjoy. Everyone seems to leave the events beaming.’

Happy readers, what more could you ask for?

So, come to the Kingdom for ideas, inspiration and the very best of Irish and International Writers.

If you love books, you never know who you might meet, and if you love writing, well, you never know where your stories will take you.

Olivia Hope


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