Alan Murphy on Marc Chagall

Catalogue for Marc Chagall exhibition

Spotlight on Chagall

The back story of today’s #PoetryinJune choice of Alan Murphy is that yesterday I heard from a friend about a major exhibition of Marc Chagall’s (1887-1985) work that has just moved to Tate Liverpool. The timing couldn’t be better as I usually go over to the UK on a summer visit. I realised with a vague sense of shock that it was as long ago as 1998 that I went to London to see ‘Chagall, Love and the Stage’ at the Royal Academy. It was a stunning experience so I am keen on fitting in a trip to Liverpool with our summer travel plans.

This then leads me to Alan Murphy, whom we first saw at one of the Mountains to Sea Festival events at the County Hall a couple of years ago. I bought his collection The Mona Lisa’s on our Fridge (2009) which the author kindly signed for my daughter. Apart from the title poem, the book also contains two other art related poems; one on Picasso and one on Chagall. I will just quote the first and last verses to give you an idea.

According to Marc Chagallbook cover of The Mona Lisa's on our Fridge

How does it rain if the rain runs upwards?
 -in the mind of Marc Chagall.
How can a bun turn into the sun?
 -by the power of Marc Chagall.
And when does a town recline on a cloud?
 -when its world is Marc Chagall’s.

So doff your hat but hold on to your head;
Just lose your logical limits instead,
And gamely greet green, orange and red
 -the music of Marc Chagall.

My 1998 exhibition guide says of Chagall’s Russian – Jewish background that ‘An intense belief in the supernatural and miracles was part of everyday life’ and this is expressed in his paintings. Alan Murphy’s poem beautifully translates Marc Chagall’s scenes into words and puts over the sheer delight and exuberance of the paintings where ‘gravity wanes and withers’ (2nd verse). If you had never seen a Chagall painting, this poem would be a great introduction as it conjures up the surreal world that you find in his art. Alan Murphy is an artist as well as a writer and I think that his engagement with art comes across in this poem in a way that children can appreciate. Adults (well me anyway) can enjoy the fun with art too; there’s a also great poem entitled Pablo Picasso in this collection which is fitting as he and Chagall were artistic rivals.

Alan Murphy is based in Co Waterford and has published a second volume of poetry for children Psychosilly in 2011.

I hope you’re having a good weekend so far. After today’s piece on Chagall, drop by tomorrow for a poem to commemorate Bloomsday.

Update August 2013:

I did actually get to see the Tate Liverpool exhibition this month and bought the catalogue which I have featured in a blog post on Chagall. 

 

Robert Louis Stevenson

Yesterday I promised you one more poem about trains and here it is, right on time, from Robert Louis Stevenson’s (1850-1894) A Child’s Garden of Verses. This collection was originally published in 1885 under the title Penny Whistles. We have a nice Dover Publications edition (1992) with black and white illustrations but I have scanned the poem from an illustrated anthology, as the verse’s page has such an attractive border design.

The illustrations in A Children’s Book of Verse (Brimax Books 1978) are by Eric Kincaid and the poems selected by Marjorie Rogers.  This is a wonderful collection of poems, ‘Travel to the end of the rainbow, soar with eagles, fly to the moon, shiver with Old Jack Frost, delight in the animal kingdom, tremble in the underworld, dance with the fairies at the bottom of the garden or watch the seasons change’…you can also go on a train journey….

Text of Stevenson's Poem from a railway carriage

A wonderful train journey…

I like so many poems in A Child’s Garden of Verses that I opted for From a Railway Carriage since it had the dual effect of tying in with the previous train poems as well as meaning that I didn’t have to make a difficult choice. The collection encompasses many themes of childhood, such as playing games, going to bed, exploring and imaginary places. Poems such as My Bed is a Boat, The Land of Counterpane and My Shadow are timeless in their evocation of childish concerns.

And here’s a little extra one (simply because it amuses me):

book cover of A Child's Garden of Verses

Childhood…

Auntie’s Skirts

Whenever Auntie moves around,
Her dresses make a curious sound;
They trail behind her up the floor,
And trundle after through the door.

(number xv in the Dover edition)

The verse conjures up a wonderful image; I hope that auntie never got her skirts caught up in the door…

I’ll leave you with a link to the Robert Louis Stevenson Website which is a comprehensive source of information on RLS and his work.

Look out for more #PoetryinJune verse tomorrow!

Old Possum: TS Eliot

Now, you may have thought ‘Ah ha, this is going to be a poem about a cat’. And you would indeed be right but it is also a poem that continues the train theme that I began yesterday. There are many magnificent cats (I might mention Cat Morgan, I might mention Mr Mistoffelees) in T.S. Eliot’s poems but only one ‘Railway Cat’ and that is the incomparable ‘Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat’ Here’s the first part of Eliot’s poem:

text of T.S. Eliot's poem SkimbleshanksOld Possum’s Book of Practical Cats was first published by Faber in 1939 and re-published with additional poems in 1954.  Apparently T.S.Eliot first wrote the cat poems during the 1930s and included them in letters to his God children under the name ‘Old Possum’. Lucky kids! An illustrated edition of the Practical Cats (drawings by Nicholas Bentley) was first published in 1940 and re-titled in 1974 as ‘The Illustrated Old Possum’. More recently Axel Scheffler has illustrated Old Possum (2009) but I have a great fondness for Bentley’s cats in preference.

In this poem, there is again a great rhythm for reading aloud as the sense of the train journey up to Scotland is evoked. Mind you, I think T.S. Eliot was taking a few liberties with the night mail service, since I seem to recall from the GPO film that it carried no passengers. I believe there used to be a sleeper train travelling up and down but whether that carried mail or not, I doubt if it had as dedicated an employee as Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat.

Book jacket of Old Possum's Practical Cats The first Old Possum cat that I recall was ‘Macavity: The Mystery Cat’ which I remember my mum reciting to us when we were young. I’ve had a couple of copies of Old Possum’s over the years and this present book  replaces one that mysteriously went astray during a house move (a case of the ‘hidden paw’ perhaps?).

I’m thinking of squeezing in one more train poem tomorrow on #PoetryinJune before moving onto a new topic so look out for that tomorrow. Meanwhile, any comments about your favourite poems on trains, cats or anything else would be very welcome!

Now, back to T.S. Eliot (AKA Old Possum…)

Skimbleshanks and the stationmaster

Skimble and the stationmaster

 

Belloc’s Beasts: Cautionary Verse

orange and yellow book jacket and poem characters

A couple of likely lads…

I know that this will be two children’s poems in a row, but I suppose that the excitement of having some sustained sunshine has addled my brain a little. In fact I’m beginning to suspect that this #PoetryinJune challenge may end up featuring rather a lot of light-hearted or comic verse. As summer is finally on the horizon, there may be just cause to steer clear of sad or tragic poetry (though that doesn’t mean I will eschew sadness completely).

Having decided on comic verse, you can’t do much better than to choose one of Hilaire Belloc’s wonderful Cautionary Verses. The problem then, was which Cautionary Verse to choose for my featured poem. After much deliberation I decided on the following. This was solely on the basis that suffering from a sore throat as I was, I rather liked the thought of it being as the result of purple and pink microbes.

The edition I have here is a selected edition (mine is a 1968 reprint) taken from the illustrated album edition published in 1940 by Gerald Duckworth & Co. I dare not even consider how much you would pay for a first edition (381 illustrations and cloth gilt cover) these days. The illustrations of Belloc’s verses are by Nicholas Bentley and B.TB. (Basil Temple Blackwood).

text and illustration of poem The Microbe

A jolly purple microbe…

The above poem comes from More Beasts for Worse Children which was first published in 1910 as a separate book and later included, along with Cautionary Tales for Children (1907) in the album I mentioned. The drawings for ‘The Microbe’ are from B.T.B.

Now, I will see if I can become a little more serious for tomorrow….  

Gerbil Juggling with Brian Patten

This is a really silly verse to celebrate the June Bank Holiday (well, it’s a holiday if you happen to be in Ireland anyway). Juggling with Gerbils is the title poem of a Brian Patten collection published by Puffin Books in 2000. Illustrations (and not only of gerbils) are by Chris Riddell. Even though I have been a gerbil owner myself I still find this poem funny. And before you ask, I have never tried it myself. Honest. Patten’s collection found its way onto The Landing a few years ago via a library sale in Dundrum, Dublin and has been read many times over. I somehow doubt if we’ll ever grow too old for gerbil juggling!

Juggling with Gerbils

book jacket with seven gerbils

Do not try this at home…

 

 

Don’t juggle with a gerbil
No matter what the thrill
For gerbils when they’re juggled
Can end up feeling ill.
It makes them all bad tempered
And then they’d like to kill
Those gerbil-juggling jugglers
Juggling gerbils till they’re ill.

(Do not try this at home)

Brian Patten  was born in Liverpool in 1946 and formed the Liverpool Poets with Roger McGough and Adrian Henri in the 1960s, bringing out The Mersey Sound in 1967. His first solo collection was also published in that year, Little Johnny’s Confessions and has written extensively both for adults and children since then.

For more information here is a link to Brian Patten’s website. Now where’s that gerbil gone…

Flaming June is Poetry Month #PoetryinJune

Woman in orange dress asleep on couch

Flaming June, Frederick Leighton, 1895

If you all cast your minds back to last December, you will recall that I set myself the daunting challenge of writing a seasonal posting every day during Advent. Somewhat to my surprise, I did indeed manage to do just that very thing. Ever since then I have in mind to attempt a similar challenge later in the year. Well, dear reader(s) that time has now arrived with the advent of spring (or what passes for spring in these parts at any rate).

To a great fanfare (well you’ll just have to imagine that bit) I am hereby announcing that the month of June will be Poetry Month (#PoetryinJune) on The Landing. I have been scouring the shelves here and blowing the dust off a few volumes that I have not looked at in a while. My intention is to put together a mixture of old and new(ish) poems, which will include a few childhood favourites too. My grand plan is to work out a complete list ready for June 1st but I may end up flying by the seat of my pants part of the way through the month.

I belatedly caught up with the poetry readings at the National Gallery of Ireland, which are run in association with Poetry Ireland. This has also helped to spur me into action and to include a sizeable chunk of poetry on the blog. Yesterday I was listening to Peter Sirr reading from both his own poems and his translations. One of the translations he read was Maison á Vendre (House for Sale) by André Frénaud both versions of which you can find on Sirr’s blog The Cat Flap.

I will have to apologise in advance if my choices for next month are not your choices but I will try to put together a reasonable mixture culled from our shelves. In fact, I have to come clean and admit that I never manage to read as much poetry as I would like. I am much more likely to pick up a novel or short story collection if I’m browsing and in need of something to read. Last year was supposed to be my year of reading more poetry so I picked up a couple of Faber volumes in a book sale to try and broaden my range but they are still languishing on the shelf.

Next month may then prove to be a voyage of discovery for me as there are clearly poetry books on our shelves that I have barely even opened. However, I will certainly feature a few poems from my childhood that have been read many times over and that are still enjoyed. This will, I hope even the balance a little and perhaps remind me of a time when I was more poetry minded than I am now. I used to have a Puffin collection of children’s poems and a Children’s Treasury containing stories and poetry. The latter still survives so I will choose a favourite memory from its rather battered pages for one of my blog entries.

At last Wednesday’s Poetry Ireland reading by Michael Krüger I jotted down his assertion that ‘a day without reading a poem is a lost day’. Let’s see what I can do about that during the course of next month.

Let me know about your favourites if you have time to drop me a line (use #Poetryinjune on Twitter).

(Picture Credit: Wikipedia – original painting in the Ponce Museum of Art, Puerto Rico)

Landing Author: Sam Hawksmoor

Today’s post is given over to a guest blog spot, this time featuring YA author Sam Hawksmoor. I have known Sam (in a virtual sense) since long before I ever had a Twitter persona or a blog to call my own. As well as writing teen fiction, Sam has edited a great writer’s website called Hackwriters since 1999 and he has kindly published several of my pieces on books and bookselling over the last few years.

Sam HawksmoorAccording to his author website, Sam has taught creative writing, he wrote for radio and screen, travelled widely and has even done the odd bit of gold prospecting in British Colombia. All of this experience led up to  becoming a fully fledged kids’ writer, with two brilliant sci-fi thrillers  The Repossession and its sequel The Hunting being published by Hodder last year. The two main protagonists, Genie and Rian weathered many storms together and I’m sure that I’m not the only reader to hope for the ending they deserve in the final volume of their adventure. I was pleased to see that The Repossession has been shortlisted for two book awards, The Leeds Book Awards (May 2013) and the Amazing Book Awards (July 2013).

Sam has gone on to publish a time travel adventure this year, The Repercussions of Tomas D which is as yet only available as an ebook (thus challenging my technological skills). It was worth grappling with the Kindle app, to follow Tomas’ experiences as he inexplicably finds himself in the middle of World War II as Britain struggles to keep going during The Blitz. We may have fantasies about being able to time travel, but what might the consequences be if we could travel in time? Tomas and his not-exactly-girlfriend Gabriella are plunged into a whole new world as a result.

I asked Sam if he would write a piece for The Landing about how he got started writing for teens, how he chooses what to write, what approach he takes to the subjects.

In other words: The ‘Nuts and Bolts’ about writing for a YA audience:

I can say precisely when I decided to write young fiction.  It happened the very day that a friend and I were held up at gunpoint at his apartment in Hollywood.  They tied us up as they robbed everything he had.  I was only visiting, so they had nothing to steal from me.  Remember dial phones?  Try dialling 911 with the tip of your tongue.  A SWAT team arrived real fast but of course the baddies were long gone.   But that very evening I had the sudden inspiration to write The Bears You love – a girl, her robot bear, an evil relative who wanted her money and her flight into a desolate climate changed America.  That was a long time ago.  I wrote it.  Couldn’t find a single publisher who’d read it, let alone reject it.  Lot of heartache in that book, lying in a suitcase somewhere rotting.  Writing for kids wasn’t fashionable back then.  And don’t think I was an amateur just having a go.  At the time I had two adult novels in print and was working on a third.  Just the very idea of writing ‘for kids’ was not really on the radar and a tough story about mega cities of the rich surrounded by scavengers surviving by diving into the city dumpsters wasn’t ‘cute’.  ‘Completely wasting your time writing juvenile fiction.’ Said my then publisher at Sphere.

Cover of The Repossession

Every writer has tales like these.  I have a lot of ‘as yet to sell’ novels awaiting daylight.  Who’d be a writer anyway huh?  Yet, once you have the idea, you have to put it down and if you’re going to put it down you have to get the end and then… what stick it on Smashwords?   Hmmm.  After the Bear episode, I was distracted by writing screenplays.  If you think selling kids books is hard, trying getting a script made.  Yes I had a few optioned, but after knocking my head on many walls I finally realised, hell I need a real job.  A salary – a life – before it’s too late.  Nothing like teaching students to put you off writing forever it seems.  I had to begin at the bottom.  No one was interested that I had published anything, especially fiction, (which is sneered at in academic circles I discovered). Real writing was what they did for obscure academic journals peer-reviewed by similar narrow-minded obscurists and the less readable it was the higher the esteem it gained.  Anything remotely accessible was clearly garbage.   When I finally got to run something (Falmouth Post Grad) I brought my enthusiasm for children’s writing to it.

Times had changed.  Someone called J K Rowling was gaining attention.  Philip Pullman was respectable and brilliantly written.  It was OK to talk about literary values in children’s fiction, study it even.  Later I was running courses in Children’s Writing at Portsmouth University and they were massively oversubscribed.  Everyone wanted to write for kids and there was a lot of talent there (if not the necessary staying power).  I took it further into the MA that I ran there.   I decided that here I was discussing all this exciting material, but I wasn’t writing it.  My first attempt was something called Mean Tide set in Greenwich, written under a pseudonym and although it was mentored by Beverley Birch at Hodder, it didn’t get through the hoops there.  I learned something important though; keep it focussed on the kids.  My adults got a lot of equal time in that book, a mistake it seems.  I still have a fondness for it, so I put it out on Lulu as a calling card.  The Repossession and The Hunting came out of my screenwriting days.  I had been working in Vancouver at the time and a number of incidences that my wayward niece and her friends would get up to was kind of shocking to me.  How little they thought of their own safety and just how many kids disappeared and how little their families seemed to care.

cover of The Hunting

The central character Genie is based on someone I know.  In fact I wrote it for her and she would await each chapter and give me quite harsh notes that I had to take on board.  (Yes someone really was forced to live behind bars at home when they came back from school each day – I saw it with my own eyes).  The mother was a teacher! Did it turn out all right?  No.   What happens in those two books and the concerns the kids have follows from observations and talks with Canadian teens.  The schools they go to are huge, it’s hard to stand out.  Kids work to pay bills.  It’s very different to the UK.  My nephew’s best friend was blown away – shot at point-blank range – they were just walking from a coffee shop and wham.  No reason.  Social media is like viral poison.  Huge numbers can gang up on you, destroy lives.  There is no restraint.  I don’t try to adopt their language.  Couldn’t even if I tried. It moves on too swiftly.  But issues such as love, doubt, fear, peer pressure are universal and tapping into that puts me back in my own school days.  It was harsh, yet somehow I survived – and if I could survive, then today’s kids can.  That’s how I see it.  So when I write fiction for teens I put myself in their shoes.  The world doesn’t make sense.  Yet more often than not the kids are good, ambitious, want to be something and usually the opposite of whatever is happening at home.

Is the subject difficult?  Well putting a kid through teleportation experiments isn’t pretty, especially when you know it’s not going to work.  It’s fantastical, but rooted in the tradition of experimental science.  I’m trying to keep my feet on the ground, rather than write something that couldn’t be believed.  In Repercussions of Tomas D, I’m playing with time travel.  In time stories you can spend a lot of time building a machine and all that.  But I rather liked what happened in ‘The Butterfly Effect’ and for my ‘hero’ Tomas D it’s something that happens to him, not a choice.  I like the idea too that in creating a ‘hero’ that stops the war, he automatically becomes the greatest traitor that ever lived.  The fun in writing comes with the consequences of the situations you create.  Tomas D’s girlfriend is left behind and discovers the day after Tomas disappears that she is the only person in her school who remembers that Germany didn’t win the war.

To be honest that’s the fun part of writing, inventing a new present for young Gabriella to live in.  Dealing with the past is about research. But here again I draw upon two personal experiences.  One is the beach I frequent each year in France where the German gun emplacements are still intact. 70 plus years on, there is a visible reminder of war every hundred yards or so along the French coast.  That and finding a picture of my grandfather buried up to his neck in rubble – still alive – from a German air raid on Lincolnshire.  This was the second time he had been bombed.  The first time was in 1914 when a German Zeppelin dropped a bomb on his home killing his brother and parents.  There’s a photo of him in his pyjamas standing in his bedroom with the front of the house blown off.   So for Tomas D to have this nightmare about being buried alive by German bombs  – it comes from a reality.

cover of The RepercussionsHow will this appeal to teens or young readers?  Hmm.  In doing my talks to schools, I am acutely aware of how little history is taught and how varied.   Increasingly the names Hitler and Churchill mean nothing (unless it is a nodding dog on TV) so the story of a boy going back in time and altering everything really only appeals to a kid who knows something about our Island story. (I should send a copy to Michael Gove).  This is why publishers increasingly are wary of publishing ‘historical fiction’ I guess.  I would argue that history – especially ‘economic’ history should be a much bigger part of curriculum’s to provide a better understanding of how society works and where it is going.  I am but a straw in the wind on this.  I am in progress on a number of works.  All YA fiction.  One survival story set again in Canada, the second in a parallel London at war with the French.  I live in hopes they will see the light of day.

I take the business of writing for kids very seriously.  Some of the best fiction ever written is I would argue for kids.  Incarceron by Catherine Fisher for example. Clever on so many levels and stretches the imagination.  Never dumbed down and it’s inspirational.  Ship Breaker by Paulo Bacigalupi one of the most vivid and yet plausible visions of our future on this planet. Hopefully one day I’ll find a way to do that myself.

Sam Hawksmoor 2013

Sam Hawksmoor … until recently was the Course Leader for the MA in Creative Writing at Portsmouth University and a similar programme in Falmouth, Cornwall. He is the joint-editor of Hackwriters.com. Sam is the author of ‘The Repossession’ and ‘The Hunting’ with Hodder Children’s Books.  Sam currently lives in windswept Lincolnshire but misses Vancouver, the mountains and the coffee bars, the setting for several of his YA novels.

Credits: author photo and bio taken from Leeds Book Awards site; other pictures from author’s own site.

Dolls on The Landing: Helen Clare

After writing a piece recently on Tara’s Palace for the Irish News Review I thought I would squeeze in a dolls’ house related post to further indulge my memories of childhood fantasies. Was I the only child who wished that some magic spell would turn me small enough to be able enter toy houses and shops? I doubt it very much. The dolls’ house stories by Helen Clare were entirely responsible for my particular fantasy. I so much wanted to be small enough to visit the doll’s bungalow that my dad had made for my birthday. Alas, it wasn’t to be!

In Five Dolls in a House, (first published 1953) Elizabeth however, does exactly that. Magically she finds herself walking up the path to the front door and knocking. As she does so, she hears the voices of the dolls within:

And without thinking twice about it, Elizabeth walked into the house. She said nothing (she was too surprised) but followed the red-cheeked person into the house. 

Five Dolls in a House

Puffin edition, 1964, reprinted 1978.

If you have never met the dolls in Elizabeth’s dolls’ house then let me briefly introduce you:

Vanessa (she of the red cheeks) is rather bossily in charge of the household and is the daughter of a Duke (allegedly);

Jacqueline is the French paying guest who possesses lovely lace underwear;

Jane is a very sweet-tempered doll who always wears a long green nightdress:

Lupin by contrast is always clad solely in a blue woollen vest with a lot of dropped stitches;

Amanda is the lively, mischievous one who quarrels with Vanessa;

And last, but by no means least, is the monkey living on the roof who has been known to dress up as a duchess on occasion.

They all have lots of adventures with Elizabeth (in the guise of Mrs Small the landlady) including getting measles, acquiring two white mice to pull a trap and spring cleaning in their own inimitable style. I’m sure that Vanessa would have loved Tara’s Palace. She would have thought it ‘most genteel’, coming as she did from a castle (Cranberry Castle in fact).

I think all of the stories are now out of print, but they are well worth tracking down. My mum found the copy we have in Oxfam in Birmingham and we were lucky enough to spot even more adventures at last year’s Trinity College Book Sale.  All of the stories are complemented by Cecil Leslie’s delightful line drawings.

Do you have a favourite dolls’ house story? Let me know…

Landing Author: Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

As previously promised, I am today hosting a new YA  author on The Landing Bookshelves. Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, a professor from Limerick University, publishes her first novel today. I was lucky enough to receive a proof copy of Back to Blackbrick before Christmas. I was immediately attracted by both the time travelling element of the story and the back drop of ‘The Big House’ where so many fascinating stories often lurk. It is clearly a fascination that many readers and writers share. The great houses of Ireland and Britain have long provided much food for thought.

book cover with big iron gates

Back to Black Brick

This kind of setting always interests me for personal reasons, in that my late grandfather was a gardener at Grove Hall in Harborne, Birmingham (demolished in the 1970s) home of a prominent local family. The grounds are now a public park. I  recently spotted a large cedar tree in a photograph of the grounds of Grove Hall; it dawned on me that it must be the same tree that I played under as a child, when the grounds had been handed over to the council. Time travel of a sort, perhaps.

I asked Sarah to talk to us about the background to Back to Blackbrick and about the research that underpinned the novel. Like me, Sarah admits to a fascination with the life and history of the big country house. When we chatted last week, we talked a little about this, mentioning the brilliant Abandoned Mansions series of books by Tarquin Blake (see previous post).

Here is Sarah’s piece, written especially for #LandingAuthor, in which she talks about her influences:

How a history book helped to inform and inspire my first novel

At the centre of my first novel, there is a big house called Blackbrick Abbey. Two big avenues lead up to it – one from the south and one from the north. In the grounds there are stables, beautiful horses, big trees and an orchard with apple sheds and a gate lodge. Very early on in the story, Cosmo, the main character, gets a key to the gates of Blackbrick from his brilliant, lovely grandfather. But it’s only when Cosmo gets there, that he realises he’s been sent to the past in order to recover his granddad’s failing memory. The huge old house contains secrets that will help him to make sense of important things in his life.

I’ve always been kind of obsessed with the idea of ‘Big Houses’ and the complicated things they represent.  I was captivated, as generations of children were, by Misselthwaite Manor in The Secret Garden and later, by the strange evocative Anglo-Irish climate of Danielstown in Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September, by Molly Keane’s descriptions of a family keeping up appearances in the crumbling manor of her deliciously dark Time After Time and to Evelyn Waugh’s heartbreaking Brideshead Revisited. In all of these stories, the big house sits silent and gigantic at the heart – symbolizing family identities and their labyrinthine dynamics and secrets.

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that when I started to write my own novel, a house like this would somehow become a crucial part of the story’s backdrop. When the idea for Back to Blackbrick was being formed, I remember stumbling upon the non-fiction gem by historian Terence Dooley, entitled The Decline of the Big House in Ireland. That’s when a major part of the plot crystallized in my head, and I decided that my character was going to have to spend some time in the past. Writers often warn that too much research can distract novelists from getting on with the story – that if you get too immersed in the history of an era you disappear into the research, abandoning the novel. But when I read Dooley’s book, replete as it is with wonderful and impeccably researched historical descriptions, the opposite happened – it spurred the creative writing side of my brain with the curiosity to explore hints of a human story that could lie behind the historical facts.

While Back to Blackbrick is set in both the present and the past, and while I have tried to paint the historical references with a light touch, Terence Dooley’s book gave me a rich sense of themes that eventually became a really important part of the story – reminding me never to underestimate the power of historical non-fiction to provide luminous raw material for storytelling.

head and shoulders photo

Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Sarah Moore Fitzgerald is a professor at the University of Limerick. Late at night, she writes stories for her children. Her first novel, Back to Blackbrick (Orion Children’s Books) is out on Feb 7th.

With many thanks to Sarah for joining me as a guest on #LandingAuthor and lots of luck with Back to Blackbrick. If you would like more infromation take a look at Sarah’s agent’s website here.

Photo credit: Liam Burke/Press 22

A Happy New Year from The Landing!

As 2012 draws to a close and 2013 creeps tantalizingly nearer, I will leave you with a final poem from Read Me and Laugh (edited by Gaby Morgan) about a topic that causes much angst at the turn of the year:

‘New Year Resolution’  (by Steve  Turner)

Read Me and Laugh

Funny poems galore

It was January the 1st

I turned over a new leaf

It was clean on the top side

But had bugs underneath.

This says it all really: behind every good resolution is a creepy crawly waiting to get us. It is also quite an evocative image to any gardener, conjuring up visions of pesky greenfly.

I have yet to make any resolutions although I have signed up for a new course so I suppose that counts in my favour. I usually try to come up with a book challenge, but as I still have to finish my Landing Eight selection I may have to shelve (ha, ha) that idea for a while.

Meanwhile, if any readers would like to let me know about their reading resolutions, please drop a line in the comment box.

Wishing all of my blog and Twitter followers and anyone else who stumbles into The Landing Bookshelves:

‘A very Happy and Peaceful New Year!

Ring out the old, Ring in the new!

Bells and Holly

A seasonal peal…