Once Upon A Place: A Laureate Book Project by Siobhán Parkinson

Writing.ie | Magazine | Children & Young Adult

By Siobhán Parkinson

Children of Ireland, how lucky can you get! Just look at the fantastic array of stories and poems that are captured in the pages of Once upon a Place, compiled by Eoin Colfer, Laureate na nÓg, and illustrated by PJ Lynch – specifically for your delectation!

Irish writing for children has come a long way from ‘Eoinín na n-Éan’ (by Pádraic Pearse, and not to be sneezed at either, thank you very much) and the orthographical manglings of Pudsy Ryan (ask your great-grandparents – and in this case, sneezing is allowed). This beautiful book is chockfull of treasures: there are spooky stories and funny stories, adventurous stories and magical stories and stories that take you back in time or to enchanted places – castles and rivers, fields and woods and parks, towers and towns and gardens, beaches and islands – anywhere that might entice a story out of a writer or entice a reader into a story. Because, as the title suggests, this book is all about the charm of place: home or holiday house, indoors or out, places for hiding in and places for running to and running from, haunted places and spellbound places, bright and beautiful places and dark and brooding places, landscapes and seascapes and skyscapes and cityscapes.

The centrality of place in the storyteller’s imagination is a constant theme of Eoin Colfer’s thinking about fiction – and that is how he came to invite a bunch of terrific Irish writers and poets to share their special Irish places, whether charming or threatening, cosy or alarming, with him and with children who love to read and listen to stories.

Siobhán Parkinson
Siobhán Parkinson

Laureate na nÓg Eoin Colfer had a super idea when he thought up this project, but unfortunately he had his super idea just a little bit too late to make it a smooth and pensive jog along the primrose path of publishing. So when Children’s Books Ireland approached Little Island with this idea, we went Aaaaaghhhh! How could we possibly produce a book with so many contributors and so many opportunities for things to go appallingly wrong – not to mention the small matter of getting the whole lot illustrated in jigtime. We got out our rulers and pencils and calendars and we made a lot of timetables and bit a lot of nails and finally agreed that it might just be possible. So everyone breathed a sigh of relief and started to get on with it.

We felt that a book with such a diversity of voices in the text needed to have a single illustrator in order to give it visual coherence. We were fantastically lucky that Ireland’s very best illustrator, PJ Lynch, was delighted to have an opportunity to work in black and white, something he hasn’t done on this scale for very many years, and something he had been wanting to do in any case. He chose to work in charcoal, and the result is a book full of rich and textured illustrations. PJ’s style varies slightly from story to story as he responds to the text, but the overall effect is a visually unified piece of work, the stories and poems all strung together by PJ’s masterly illustration, which brings the texts into harmonious conversation.

We also asked PJ to do the wraparound cover illustration in full colour. The textual element that binds these stories into a coherent whole is of course the running theme of place, so we asked PJ to make us a cover illustration that would celebrate the Irish landscape, and populate it with intriguing visual clues about the stories contained between the covers of Once upon a Place. The result is the glorious watercolour landscape you see on the cover of our book.

Once upon a Place represents an unusually complex collaboration: it consists of work by eleven fiction writers, six poets and an illustrator and is published by Little Island in association with Children’s Books Ireland, which manages the Laureate na nÓg project on behalf of The Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, and in truth it was not the easiest project to manage, but everyone involved in it was committed to making it work and to making it as beautiful and as alluring as we possibly could, and everyone put their heart and soul into it. Special thanks here to Gráinne Clear, who managed the project at Little Island’s end with great outward calm.

(c) Siobhán Parkinson

Siobhán Parkinson was Ireland’s first Laureate na nÓg. She is publisher at Little Island Books. She has a story of her own in Once upon a Place

Eoin Colfer’s beautiful compilation, Once upon a Place, published by Little Island in association with Children’s Books Ireland and with the support of The Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Poetry Ireland contains stories by Eoin Colfer, John Connolly, Roddy Doyle, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, Derek Landy, Paula Leyden, Oisín McGann, Jane Mitchell, Siobhán Parkinson, Jim Sheridan, Sarah Webb; and poems by Pat Boran, Seamus Cashman, Mark Granier, Geraldine Mills, Kate Newmann, Enda Wyley and is stunningly illustrated in charcoal by PJ Lynch, who also painted the lovely cover image.

Fidelma Slattery designed and typeset the book. It is printed in the EU and proudly published in Dublin – UNESCO City of Literature by Little Island Books in hardback at a recommended retail price of €15.99. Available at good bookshops from 19 October 2015, or pre-order from www.littleisland.ie to receive your personal copy by post on publication day.

Once upon a Place, the book, complements Laureate na nÓg’s nationwide storytelling project, also called ‘Once upon a Place’ and is in bookshops now, or pick up your copy online here!

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