An interview with Eve McDonnell, by Niamh Garvey.
Eve McDonnell is the winner of this year’s Childrens’ Book Prize at the Wells Festival of Literature, for her novel, “Elsetime”. I asked her a little about her experience and what comes next.
Firstly, congratulations on winning the first prize in the Children’s book category at the Wells Festival of Literature 2017. It’s wonderful to see an unpublished writer win such a prestigious award, it gives hope to us all! Your book must have a stand-out story to have won this award, can you tell us a little about your award-winning story?
Thank you, Niamh – I have to admit it has been a rather special week! My novel, Elsetime, is a middle-grade adventure aimed at the 9-12 year old market;
Set in the fictional town of Inthington, Elsetime is an adventurous tale of courage and ambition and is based on a real-life tragic event; The Great Flood of 1928 at the Thames in London. It is the story of two misfits – a poor mudlark from 1864 and an impetuous jeweller’s apprentice in 1928 – that, together, can overcome the odds to get everything they need. The story grew from watching my children gather bits and pieces from the beach and listening to the fascinating stories that they made up as they held their sandy treasure in their hands.
You’re an unpublished writer (so far!). Is this your first book or have you been writing for a long time?
Writing, as a daily habit, really only kicked in about two years ago following a visit to a fortune teller (long story). This was a woman who predicted that I would have twins (and she wasn’t wrong), so when she sat there shouting at me to ‘write, write, write’, I listened and started to write my first book – a chapter book which takes pride of place on my twins’ bookshelf. This was followed by another middle-grade book which launched me into the dark world of agent hunting. I put that to one side and wrote Elsetime.
I am an artist and graphic designer by trade so I suppose that built-in necessity to produce something creative has always been satisfied by a blank canvas, although I can’t deny the writing bug was always there in the background – when I look around the house, I see several little poems I wrote framed and my attic is stuffed to the gills with boxes of frightening teenage diaries.
How has your writing changed since you first began writing?
Without doubt, my writing has changed dramatically over the last couple of years and I put that down to a couple of things; firstly, I read copious amounts of middle-grade, but I read as a writer; always digging a bit deeper to understand what works, what doesn’t and why. Secondly, I attend regular Advanced Children’s Fiction Workshops with the Big Smoke Writing Factory in Dublin where I receive invaluable feedback from the other inspiring attendees and its amazing facilitator – Claire Hennessy. In addition, I attend as many seminars and conferences as my wallet will allow – there is always something to learn. Sarah Webb also runs excellent workshops for Children’s Writers through her company, Story Crew. Having attended one only recently, I would absolutely recommend any budding writer to jump aboard.
How did you hear about the Wells Festival of Literature competition?
I’m a bit of a Twitter fanatic and that’s how I became aware of the Wells Festival of Literature. My sister-in-law, who passed on at an early age, spent time in Wells and, somewhere in the back of my mind, I was aware that it was a stunning city that I should visit one day. So I investigated a bit more and, hey presto, discovered that they were running a Book for Children Competition. This year, the festival celebrated its 25th anniversary so it was wonderful to be part of that celebration.
Is this the first competition you’ve entered with your writing, or are you someone who enters a lot of competitions?
No, it wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last – and that’s because, as any unpublished writer will know, motivation is key. If I’ve entered a competition, between the time I hit send and the long/shortlists are published, I have something invaluable – hope. So, I always endeavour to have hope on the go – be it via a competition, an agent submission or my mother-in-law’s hard-nosed critique. If I have hope, I have the will to write.
There are only a few competitions out there for children’s writers and most are UK based. In the past, I have entered a couple however the one competition (other than Wells of course!) that I would recommend any aspiring writer to enter is Date with An Agent – by writing.ie in conjunction with the International Literature Festival Dublin. As a chosen writer, you receive face-to-face advice from an agent – gold dust.
You flew over for the prize-giving ceremony, how did you feel when you found out you’d won?
I was squabbling with my squabbling twins in the car when I received an email from one of the competition organisers asking me to confirm my phone number. Why? I wondered. Could it be? I dared to think. After much hushing and fumbling with my mobile, I made contact and was informed that I was shortlisted. Travelling to Wells was initially a no-brainer – I’d always wanted an excuse to go, and now I had one. I bought the tickets, not caring (at the time) that I’d need to leave my house before 4am and return like Cinderella by midnight.
Before I travelled, I made the foolish mistake of googling the other shortlisted writers (like you do) and discovered that several had published books and awards to boot. So I hummed and hawed about cancelling my trip right up to the hours before the flight. But thankfully, as I sat in a room listening to the wonderful poems from the shortlisted entries of the Poetry Competition, Steve Voake, Author and Senior Lecturer of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, finally took the podium to announce the winner of the Children’s Book Award. I never in a million years thought I would win – just being part of the party was enough for me. When he summarised each shortlisted book, he described mine as a tale that “combines time-travel with evocative description, colourful characterisation and artistic endeavour to create the unique and compelling story of friendship and courage,” I sat a little straighter and perhaps dared to hope. Needless to say, when he called out my name, a sound resembling a hungry seagull flew out my mouth (or maybe my sister’s – I’m not sure which) and I haven’t stopped smiling since.
What’s the next step for this book? Are you going to try and get it published?
Yes, that’s the dream.
A Little About Eve
Eve McDonnell is an artist and aspiring children’s writer and is based half way up a hill in Wexford where she’s busy scribbling, reading or sploshing around in paint. When her head is not stuck in a middle-grade adventure, she enjoys painting everything from rather grown up pieces to illustrations and kid’s murals. Tweet a hello @Eve_Mc_Donnell, email firstname.lastname@example.org or view a sample of Eve McDonnell’s art on irish-art.com.