In the first of a series of interviews with Irish debut children’s authors, Olivia Hope of our Down the Rabbit Hole blog talks about first-time experiences of being a published author.
Pádraig Kenny is an Irish writer who hails from Newbridge in County Kildare. He is a graduate of Maynooth University where he obtained a master’s degree in Anglo-Irish writing. He started his career writing radio drama. As an arts journalist he has contributed work to the Sunday Tribune, the Sunday Independent, the Irish Examiner, and several other publications.
Hi Pádraig – many congratulations on having your first book TIN (Chickenhouse) shortlisted for the Irish Book awards Children’s Book of the Year later this month and also being nominated for the prestigious CILIP Carnegie Award 2019.
So, an easy question first – what was your most significant moment in the past year of being a debut author?
Getting the first finished copy into my hands was a highlight. I should have done one of those videos in the hope it might go viral, but who wants to see a middle-aged man running up and down his hallway and bellowing incoherently?
What has really struck has been the enormous amount of good will from everybody, family, friends, and other writers – even though as writers we secretly stick pins into effigies of each other. Ah no, we don’t really. Well I don’t. Well not anymore. Not since last Friday.
How long did it take from beginning your first draft of ‘Tin’ to it appearing on the bookshelves?
It took three years, but I think at least four months of that can be written off because I put the first draft in a drawer with the promise of returning to it and making changes. Then I returned to it and made no changes, so maybe there’s a lesson here. The speed of the publishing business is quite something. When someone in publishing says “this is going to happen really quickly” it usually means it’ll take two years. I saw a documentary once about how animals perceive time. For the scenes with snails in them everything people did was speeded up. In this tortured analogy the humans are writers and the snails the publishing industry.
How did you find working with your editor? Were there any new experiences in publishing that you hadn’t encountered when you were writing and submitting?
Working with my editor Kesia Lupo was fantastic. I don’t think people talk enough about what a collaborative process writing a book can be. People seem to be hung up on the idea of a writer being a singular genius writing in splendid isolation. It is impossible to write a good book without an editor – I can’t stress that point enough. They have the required distance and objectivity to help you find what story you’re trying to tell. Kesia has great storytelling instincts and I reckon I took on board at least 95% of her suggestions. As a writer you’re well within your rights not to accept any suggestions or changes, but if you don’t change anything at all then there’s something wrong with you, and you need to take a long hard look at yourself.
How has your writing changed since you have been published or do you find you have become more confident in your voice in the last year? Has it influenced how you have approached writing your second and subsequent titles with your publisher?
I’ve been made more aware of certain little bad habits I have as a writer, so I’ve tried to fix these for my next book. The way I approach my work overall hasn’t changed though. I’ve been pretty confident about my voice for a while because I’ve written a lot before writing my books.
What has the experience of receiving reviews been like?
It’s been great because the reviews have been really positive, but it’s also a bit odd because I’ve worked on the other side of the fence as a book reviewer myself. You get a little boost from the good reviews, like a little shot of adrenalin.
Promotion is a huge aspect of a writer’s first year – what tips and tricks did you discover helped you spread the word about your book?
I had real help from Chicken House and their brilliant publicists. Tin was made Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month for February and March, so when something like that happens anything you do yourself doesn’t even come close to garnering real attention. This whole idea of author’s doing their own publicity seemed to become a bit of a thing after the most recent economic crash. Now you see all these websites advising authors how to push themselves, but that shouldn’t have to be their job, an author’s job is to write. I wonder if it had something to do with marketing budgets being slashed. I think it’s a bit of a reach authors doing their own publicity. I think there’s only so much you can do. You can do school visits and things like that, which I’ve done, but really doing your own publicity is like chipping away at an iceberg with a pen knife. I do things like maintain a presence on Twitter, but these days being on Twitter is like being waist deep in a cesspool. The real publicity work is done at the macro level by the publishers and publicists who have the connections and know what they’re doing. There’s a reason you don’t get Philip Pullman offering to appear on his local radio station and being sandwiched between an item about the local knitting club and someone objecting to a new cycle lane.
And finally, what advice have you for writers who have just received their first acquisition or just signed with an agency?
Always keep writing, otherwise you’ll drive yourself insane waiting for decisions and news on projects. The book business moves slowly, so have at least one other book on the go as you wait for news. It’ll help distract you and keeps your momentum going, and reduces the time you’ll spend refreshing your email by about 20%.
Thanks so much for your time, Pádraig – we really look forward to reading your next book ‘Pog’ (Chickenhouse publishing) in Spring next year.
(c) Olivia Hope
Olivia Hope is a children’s writer from Killarney, Co. Kerry.
She was once a hammer thrower, Sometimes a teacher of all subjects; from English to ice-cream making, And has worked in a variety scenarios, from nurseries (plants and children, although not at the same time, unless you count the daffodil incident) to nursing homes. She is unreasonably fond of cheese, French Fancies and is prone to cartwheels. She writes for all ages, and her picturebook “Be Wild” will be published by Bloomsbury in Spring 2018. Follow her on Twitter @OliviaMHope or her blog oliviahopeandtheimaginationstation.wordpress.com
Christopher is ‘Proper’: a real boy with a real soul, orphaned in a fire. He works for an engineer, a maker of the eccentric, loyal and totally individual mechanicals who are Christopher’s best friends. But after a devastating accident, a secret is revealed and Christopher’s world is changed for ever … What follows is a remarkable adventure, as Christopher discovers who he really is, and what it means to be human.
‘One of a kind. Utterly fantastic.’ EOIN COLFER
Order your copy online here.
David and Penny arrive in a strange new home in a forest. Other creatures live here – magical creatures – like Pog. He’s one of the First Folk, tasked with protecting the boundary between the worlds. But David is drawn into the forest, lured by a darker entity, who tells him there’s a way he can bring his dead mother back …
An old house in the forest’s heart.
A family broken by loss.
A grief so dark it brings monsters.
And a promise by one small creature.
“Pog is here. Pog is waiting. Come, face Pog if you dares.”
Pre-order your copy online here.