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Coming to Life in Lockdown: Elephant on the Farm by Brendan McDonald

Writing.ie | Magazine | Children & Young Adult | Interviews

By Brendan McDonald

Let’s be honest: who hasn’t thought “I can absolutely write one” while reading a Children’s bed time story book? This is exactly what crossed debut Children’s Book author Brendan McDonald’s mind as he set about writing Elephant on the Farm during lockdown last year.

I very naively thought ‘it’s only a few lines and a few pictures…could it be so hard?’ but it was only when I actually sat down and started the process that I quickly realised how difficult a task it is.

Brendan’s writing journey began when reading bedtime stories to his nieces and nephews, which in turn prompted him to enrol in an online course to help him navigate the book world – “after some research I stumbled on Curtis Brown Creative and I enrolled on their online “Writing a Children’s Picture Book” course with David O’Connell. This was a fantastic introduction to the amazing creative world of Children’s Picture Books. The Course was perfect for me as a beginner and set out not only the fundamentals behind writing a Children’s Picture Book for the under 6’s, but also provided some good tools to use such as a grid to help with layout and wordcount”. 

“As I wanted to write in a rhyming style, every single sentence and page has to flow correctly in line with the illustrations so that the reader is hooked from page one, and more importantly that they will want to read it again and again. This is also so important for mammy’s and daddy’s as they are ultimately the ones that have to read it every night!

Crediting his joining of Children’s Books Ireland as well as attending book workshops and webinars as being invaluable learning tools – such as those hosted by Children’s Books Ireland or Sarah Webb – Brendan notes that “there are so many resources available and when you initially start your writing journey this can be a little overwhelming. Attending workshops and webinars organised by recognised experts in their field is however very worthwhile and I would highly recommend this to any budding writer”.

Brendan began writing Elephant on the Farm in lockdown 2020 – “Like so many people I was at my wits end looking for something productive to do last year so I said ‘now or never’ and got stuck into writing what I think has turned out to be a beautiful story of friendship, kindness and diversity & inclusion.”

The story follows Edward the Elephant who meets Olive the Owl, and his journey from being totally different to acceptance as one of the Farm gang.

Brendan grew up on a farm in Laois and called upon his farm experience for inspiration “I grew up on a mixed tillage, beef and sheep farm in Killeen, south Laois just near the border with Kildare and Carlow so being from a farming background I wanted the story to reflect some of the scenes that can be seen on a farm“. Indeed he notes that one scene came directly from the family farm last summer – “dad has Massey Ferguson tractors which are of course red so there is a line in the book: ‘Two tractors, a trailer, a big yellow bailer’ which was directly from a scene on the farmyard one day last summer with two red tractors, a red trailer and a yellow bailer”.

I haven’t really seen a huge amount of farm stories so I wanted to bring one to life in a positive manner” Brendan notes. A solicitor by background Brendan also wanted to show that difference is very much acceptable – “we are all different and the story really resonates with that message“.

Key to any story is a talented illustrator. Brendan explained how he went about this process: “I found Martin Beckett, based in Donegal, who provided the illustrations, on the illustrators Ireland website. Martin’s professionalism and skill in bringing the farm scenes to life was invaluable and the beautiful illustrations really helps the story resonate with young readers”. 

20% of net profits from the sale of Elephant on the Farm will be donated to Crumlin Hospital. Brendan notes that his godson Tommy spent a short time in Crumlin a couple of years ago “all is now good thankfully – as an acknowledgement of the fantastic work that the Crumlin staff undertake for all Irish children, I wanted to make a donation from book sales” Brendan said.

Brendan is very proud of the fact that the book is written, illustrated and printed in Ireland – “it was very important to me that ’Elephant on the Farm’ was illustrated and printed in Ireland. We are all conscious of the push to Buy Irish and to Shop Local so bringing the book entirely to life in Ireland was certainly a pre-requisite on my publishing journey”. The book is printed by Modern Printers in Kilkenny.

Elephant on the Farm can be purchased from Brendan’s own Bed Time Story Publishing website www.bedtimestory.ie at the very reasonable price of €9.95.

Brendan is already working on his next book which he hopes to publish in the summer of 2021.

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