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Children’s Book Festival

October here again, Children’s Book Festival – it’s a lovely month for children’s writers, booksellers, libraries, schools and children all over Ireland.

I am someone who finds it hard to switch my brain off from what is happening in the world – I never understand how it is possible for anyone to switch off. Sometimes it overwhelms. Cruelty, bigotry, prejudice, hatred, intolerance, brutality, murder and mayhem. Yup, we have it all. And I am lucky that it just overwhelms me – I do not live it or die because of it.

And what on earth does that have to do with Children’s Book Festival. Well … partly because it helps me to look on the bright side of life – because what I and many other children’s authors get to do is to travel to different parts of Ireland and talk to children. Children full of questions, children from all over the world who have through different circumstances ended up here (as have I), children who are only starting out on life. Children whose minds are mostly still open, unshuttered.

And in between them librarians and the wonderful CBI staff who all work so damn hard to make this happen.

This month I’m going to Cork, Clare, Wexford and Carlow and in November to Kildare. And I’m really looking forward to it. Writers and entertainers are not always one and the same thing – writing stories and storytelling do not always go hand in hand. And we all do things differently – I have watched other children’s writers present their work to children and have thought, ‘nope, I could never do that’ But that doesn’t matter because I do something else. Part of what I hope to do, as it is where I have lived for most of my life so far, is to bring them to the doorstep of Africa. A vast, beautiful continent that is ‘somewhere else’ in their lives. To show them what is different and what is the same. To slough off some of the preconceptions. Big aim but if I only achieve ten percent of it I’m happy.

Some snakes made by a class in St Johns when they were reading my first book, The Butterfly Heart

Some snakes made by a class in the wonderful St Johns school when they were reading my first book, The Butterfly Heart

Baobab on way to Kariba

And a baobab tree just because it’s my favourite tree .. and that sky!

Hay Festival Kells

I feel very privileged that this year I was invited to participate in the Hay Festival in Kells. I am not usually nervous about the ‘performance’ side of writing – schools, writing workshops, festivals etc. – but for some reason I was nervous about this one.

white rose

Turned out there was no need. The Hay Festival staff and volunteers in Kells were, one and all, wonderful. So welcoming, helpful and efficient. They made it all feel so easy. And the white rose at the end of each session was a lovely touch.

I enjoyed the two different sessions I ran – one which was storytelling and reading and the other which was a writing workshop. The workshop was challenging as I had all ages there – an age range I think of about seventy years. But I think it all worked. In the space of an hour there is really not a whole lot you can teach anyone about writing – as I said to the organisers the most I could aim to do was to fan a small breeze across a writing spark that was already there in every one of the people who attended. I hope I managed to do that.

The town had a lovely feel to it over the festival – a strong sense of involvement from everyone living there. The people who took writers and performers to their sessions were all volunteers from the community, and many of them doubled up as informal tour guides to the town. Mine did anyway! Shop windows were full of books and posters, the pharmacy proclaiming that there was ‘No Hay Fever in our Hay Festival’, Granny Lil’s Sweetshop offering free Cross Stitch Lessons, the opticians with books by Seamus Heaney and Dervla Murphy in the window and much much more.

So, thank you the Hay Festival, thank you to Kells and thank you to those who came to my sessions – I loved meeting you.


For Telling us how to Milk a Snake

On the day of the CBI Awards Ceremony I received this email from Ms. Mackey’s wonderful class in St. John’s  School in Kilkenny. My own children went to this school and I hold it dear to my heart.

I got the email while I was waiting, with trepidation, for the awards ceremony to begin. What more did I need than these 29 awards!? And then on top of this to get the Special Judges Award, my day was made.

Dear Paula,

CONGRATULATIONS!  You are the winner of 29 AWARDS. Emoji Ms Mackey’s Class would like to award you for the following reasons …  EmojiEmojiEmojiEmojiEmojiEmojiEmojiEmoji

Title of Award:  For Writing the Most Adventurous Stories

Presented by:  Nicholas Mullins

Title of Award:  For Being an Amazing Author and a Great Person in General

Presented by:  Louise Dullard

Title of Award:  For Writing Two Fantastic Novels and For Playing Games With Us

Presented by:  Tamas Sebok

Title of Award:  For Putting Us on the Edge of Our Seats

Presented by:  Leah Anderson

Title of Award:  For Writing the Best Children’s Books

Presented by:  Jamie Doran

Title of Award:  For Writing Books That Fill Children’s Hearts with Wonder and Joy

Presented by:  Laura Ryan

Title of Award:  For Giving Us Stories That Come To Life

Presented by:  Mark McBride

Title of Award:  For Writing Unusual and Funny Books

Presented by:  Courtney O’Dwyer

Title of Award:  For Writing My Two Favourite Books Ever

Presented by:  Nicole O’Leary

Title of Award:  For Writing Such Amazing Novels and Giving Us Such Enjoyment

Presented by:  Josh Curran

Title of Award:  For Writing My Favourite Books

Presented by:  Candice Keating

Title of Award:  For Being a Truly Magnificent Writer

Presented by:  Ayianna Piggott

Title of Award:  For Writing The Best Books in The Entire Galaxy

Presented by:  Marata Evelyn Sida

Title of Award:  For Being the Best Author in The World

Presented by:  Ryan Walsh

Title of Award:  For Being The Best Author and for Making us Feel Happy

Presented by:  Jordan Wall

Title of Award:  For Having a Great Imagination

Presented by:  Alex Molloy

Title of Award:  For Having the Best Books in the World

Presented by:  Anthony Walsh

Title of Award:  For Giving Away the Most Chocolates and Sweets EmojiEmoji

Presented by:  Tom Byrne

Title of Award:  For Writing Books that Our Class LOVE

Presented by:  Amy Hennessy

Title of Award:  For Coming into Our Class and Telling Us Amazing Stories

Presented by:  Sinead Hayes

Title of Award:  For Telling Us How to Milk a Snake

Presented by:  Niamh Hayes

Title of Award:  For Making Children Laugh

Presented by:  Orla Doheny

Title of Award:  For A Great Imagination and for Writing Fascinating Stories

Presented by:  Ioana Burghelea

Title of Award:  For Being My Favourite Female Author

Presented by:  Chelsea Comerford

Title of Award:  For Taking the Time to Come and Visit Us

Presented by:  Naoise Ryan

Title of Award:  For Making us Feel So Excited and Happy When You watched Our Plays Based on The Sleeping Baobab Tree

Presented by:  Stephen Power

Title of Award:  For Being Someone We Can Look Up To and Admire

Presented by:  Jack Brennan

Title of Award:  For Giving Us Chocolate Emoji

Presented by:  Daniel Valadkevich

Title of Award:  For the Best Writer in The World

Presented by:  David Kulaga

No one else has ever won these awards. That’s how special we think you are.  You have made a huge difference to our lives.  We have not met many authors.  You are the one that stands out to us.  We will remember you even when we are as old as Nokokulu.   We love that you always listen to us and take our questions seriously.  We love the ideas that you have and the way you tell stories to us in your books and when you’re in our classroom.  WE LOVE YOU!  EmojiEmojiEmojiEmojiEmojiEmojiEmojiEmojiEmoji

We began this morning by saying a prayer for success.  We would be so happy if The Sleeping Baobab Tree won an award.  Anyway we have decided that it doesn’t matter what the fancy judges think, you are definitely the best writer in our opinion.

Best of Luck, Paula.  We have all our fingers and toes crossed for you.  We hope to hear good news soon because we are getting very uncomfortable.  You will always be the best to us.  EmojiEmojiEmojiEmojiEmojiEmojiEmoji

Ms Mackey’s Class

P.S We hope to see you before school ends so that we can present you with your trophy!!!!!!!

CBI Special Judges Award 2014

Perfectly delighted to have been awarded the Special Judges Award in the CBI Book of the Year awards. A big thank you to CBI, to everyone I know and love and congratulations to all of those on the shortlist and to Marie Louise Fitzpatrick for her overall Book of the Year award.

What the judges said about The Sleeping Baobab Tree :

• Special Judges’ Award: Paula Leyden for The Sleeping Baobab Tree. The judges said, ‘Combining robust character development with vivid descriptions of the Zambian landscape, Leyden skilfully creates an evocative and atmospheric narrative that explores themes of friendship, family and human rights.’


Happy Days

Yesterday was a happy writing day.

Robert Dunbar in the Irish Times had this to say about the Sleeping Baobab Tree …

Finally, with Paula Leyden’s The Sleeping Baobab Tree , we travel to Zambia for a mind-opening novel featuring twin sisters, the boy next door and his formidable greatgrandmother: a car journey involving all four provides a wonderfully sustained piece of comic writing in a novel that nevertheless engages with serious contemporary themes.

But as for the “best”? My Honour Award for fiction would go to the Paula Leyden title, which, as some duplication is allowed, would also carry off the book-of-the-year award. 

Now. I know this is one person’s opinion – and as I said in a previous post, the shortlist is a strong one and I am a newbie so my expectations are low – but I am thrilled to be on the list and his comments warmed my heart. I especially loved that he was amused by the book ..Thank you Robert!

Then, a review of Tom O’Neill’s book (Tom is my partner) Fionn and the Legends of the Blood Emeralds by Mary Esther Judy of Fallen Star Stories

author: Tom O’Neill (2013)
ISBN: 9781909483279
Dark McLeans’ Uncle Connie has been struck down by a mysterious illness: an illness of alarmingly rapid progress with no obvious cause or treatment; an illness that is killing him. Dark is now in a race against time to find a cure. Their sinister neighbour is shadowing Darks’ every move, his friends are abandoning him and Dark is losing hope and courage. Each night, Dark ventures into a nearby fairy ring in desperation. Perhaps the Old People know of a cure. Each night, Dark is told a tale….. a tale of a young man called Matha who, long ago, was on a similar quest to his own; a tale of Fionn MacCumhaill and ancient journeys, of bards and battles and a magical land. As time is running out for Uncle Connie, Dark begins to understand the true meaning behind his uncles’ words: “They walk among us.”
Tom O’Neills’ previous book, “Old Friends: The Lost Tales of Fionn MacCumhaill” was thoroughly gripping. 

This one is even more. This one is simply spell-binding, packed with lyrical story-telling, raw and complex emotional impact and evocative characters and setting. The flow of the contemporary story into the mythical is smooth, and the correlations drawn between the two stories create an ebb and flow that pulls the reader into the tale. Each chapter is genuine, believable and intriguing. The power behind the words is tangible and will keep you awake well into the night reading on…. and casting your vision out into the night wondering what is actually going on out there in the trees and hills. A wondrous adventure that blurs the lines between reality and mythology. Just loved it!

Welcome in our class, our school and our universe

This warmed my heart today – the plays referred to in the letter are plays the class (a combined 4th and 5th Class) put on, each group taking a different section of the book. They were absolutely brilliant.


Dear Paula,

We FINISHED reading ‘The Sleeping Baobab Tree’ today.  In the words of Leah Anderson (5th Class) we have mixed emotions.  Every school day is going to be different from now on.  Reading ‘The Sleeping Baobab Tree’ was our favourite part of the day (we had a vote and it was unanimous!).  We are sorry that that has come to an end.  We are happy that all of the characters are safe at the end of the book.  We had ANOTHER vote and it was decided that Nokokulu is our favourite character.  We were surprised by how kind she actually is.  Naoise (4th class) thought that it would have been a good idea to include a chapter from THE MAN BEAST’S point of view.  We laughed out loud at lots of things especially things that Fred imagined and things that Nokokulu did.  We were all afraid at different points during the story.  We begged Ms Mackey to read extra chapters every day.  Sometimes she would and sometimes she wouldn’t….GRRRRRRRRR!

Thank you very much for coming to see our plays.  We hope you liked them.  We liked having you here and we liked the Maltesers!  We will always remember the special time we had reading your stories.  We wish that you had another book ready for us to read straight away.  Ms Mackey read us the story of Scabby and we loved it.

You are always welcome in our class, our school and our universe (Chelsea),

Ms Mackey’s 4th/5th Class


Some snakes made by the class when they were reading my first book, The Butterfly Heart

Some snakes made by the class when they were reading my first book, The Butterfly Heart

CBI Awards Shortlist 2014

A delayed post … I had written this a week ago when they were announced but it ended up in drafts!

So, here goes. I was thrilled to hear that my second book, The Sleeping Baobab Tree is on the 2014 shortlist for the CBI Awards.


.. So a big thank you to the judges for considering my book worthy of the honour. I am one of eight authors on the list and here’s what CBI said about it all …

The Book Centre

The Book Centre

Shortlist 2014

Eight Titles will compete for the 24th CBI Book of the Years Awards 2014, the most prestigious awards for children’s books.

The shortlist for the 24th CBI Book of the Year Awards was revealed today, Tuesday March 18th 2014. Each of the eight titles will compete for the high caliber awards, which includes the innovative ‘Children’s Choice Award’ voted for by young readers located across the country. The winners will be announced at a ceremony to be held on May 13th.

The shortlisted titles are:

The Sleeping Baobab Tree by Paula Leyden

Warp The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer

Heart Shaped by Siobhán Parkinson

Hagwitch by Marie- Louise Fitzpatrick

Too Many Ponies by Sheena Wilkinson

Skulduggery Pleasant Last Stand of Dead Men by Derek Landy

Mysterious Traveller illustrated by P.J. Lynch

The Day the Crayons Quit illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Founded in 1990, The CBI Book of the Year Awards are the leading children’s book awards in Ireland. They are a celebration of excellence in children’s literature and illustration and are open to picture books and novels written in English or Irish by authors and illustrators born or resident in Ireland and published between 1st January and 31st December each year.

Pádraic Whyte, chair of the judging panel that almost 70 titles, said: “The books on this year’s shortlist offer children and young people from a broad age group rich and satisfying reading experiences. Many of the books engage with difficult contemporary or global issues while others are stories of whimsy and fun. This is a wonderfully diverse shortlist that highlights the literary and artistic excellence of current Irish Children’s Literature.”

Hello Nelson. Cool shirt!

Yesterday on World Book Day while I was in Galway in Dubray Books I did a small exercise with one of the groups, they were from Scoil Ida. It was on the subject of Mandela.

I was delighted to hear that they knew so much about him and so obviously admired him. Fair play to the teachers concerned!

I thought I would write down some of the things they wrote, which were things they would like to say to him if he had visited Galway and then paid a surprise visit to their school. Some great conversations would have been had.

So, here goes:

‘Hello Sir, My name is Loretta Ojo. How are you? Were you able to cooperate with life when you were younger? It is very stunning to meet you as you are a true leader of Africa.’

Anon. ‘What was it like to take a stand? You took a stand and you were knocked down but you got back up. The world looks up to you as you achieved your dream. How does that feel?’

‘Was life hard for you when you were young? Was it tough?’

‘Hello Nelson. Cool shirt! I’m Karolina – why did you come all the way here?’

(I gave them this picture of him – hence the cool shirt!)

‘You are an inspiration to our world. You have stood up for yourself and others using peace. You are strong at heart and I’m stunned that I would actually meet the world’s best leader’

‘How did you feel when you were put in jail?’

‘Hello my name is Lucja and I think you are an amazing, inspiring person and a role model. You didn’t deserve to be locked up for  27 years. You deserve all the best things in the world and all the people will forever be in debt to you. I can’t believe I can actually meet you!’

‘Hello I’m Ania. Did you choose to free the people? Do you think that someone else could have done it? Why did the white people treat the black people so badly?’

‘Hello my name is Aoife Campbell. I’m very happy to meet you. I think you are the most brave, kind and clever person in the world. You have done great work for your country. You are an inspiration to me. Thank you for meeting me, you are my hero.’

‘Hi, are you having a good day? You look very nice today.’

‘What is your favourite season?’

‘Hi, you are a really good person, kind and gentle and by the way, can I have your autograph? It was nice to meet you.’

‘How are you so brave and confident? Wow! You are my inspiration, how do you stand up for yourself? I can’t believe I got to meet you.’

‘This is such an honour. I think you are so amazing. Were you not scared?’

‘Hi. I’m so glad to meet you. You are so caring and generous. I wish I and other people could be like you.’

‘Hello. How do you think life should be? Why did you want to be President and was it easy?’

Nelson: Hello and how are you?  Me: My name is Shauna.  Nelson: Well, nice to meet you. Me: When you were in school what did you learn?’

‘Wow! OMG! How much time do I have? You’re so cool. How are you so brave?’

‘I can’t believe I’m actually meeting you. My name is Emily, I’m eleven years old and I love art and reading.’

‘What is it like to be you? Do you love what you do?Why did you come here? Thank you for listening to me, you are a brave man.’

‘Did you get any food or drink in jail?’

‘Hello Nelson Mandela. My name is Evelyn Byrne. I think everything you said was correct and that everyone should have equal rights and not to judge others and we must live life to the fullest. Your words have changed the world and have made people think about things that were wrong.’

‘You gave light when the rest of the world was dark, you gave faith when the rest of the world gave up, you gave peace when the rest of the world was at war.’

‘Hello my name is Grainne and you are my hero.’

‘Hello my name is Divine and it is an honour to meet you. I wrote you a poem but sorry I didn’t finish it.’

Crawling with ghosts

This post  could not, in all honesty, be called a written post. No writing needed. What follows is a series of pictures drawn by Ms Mackey’s 4th and 5th Class in St. John’s Kilkenny. They have done such great work on both The Butterfly Heart and The Sleeping Baobab Tree that I wanted to post some of it on here. These pictures are based on lines that they liked from the The Sleeping Baobab Tree.

Brilliant work! Lovely class! Great teacher!

Ms Mackeys 4th and 5th 2014_0001 Ms Mackeys 4th and 5th 2014_0002 Ms Mackeys 4th and 5th 2014_0003 Ms Mackeys 4th and 5th 2014_0004 Ms Mackeys 4th and 5th 2014_0005 Ms Mackeys 4th and 5th 2014_0006 Ms Mackeys 4th and 5th 2014_0007 Ms Mackeys 4th and 5th 2014_0008 Ms Mackeys 4th and 5th 2014_0009 Ms Mackeys 4th and 5th 2014_0010 Ms Mackeys 4th and 5th 2014_0011 Ms Mackeys 4th and 5th 2014_0012 Ms Mackeys 4th and 5th 2014_0013 Ms Mackeys 4th and 5th 2014_0014 Ms Mackeys 4th and 5th 2014_0015 Ms Mackeys 4th and 5th 2014_0016 Ms Mackeys 4th and 5th 2014_0017

The Squonk, (in)humanity and luck

I do not usually write personal posts, but a question put to me yesterday by one of my daughters made me think about this. So, here we go.

She asked me, ‘How do you manage to stay cheerful when you look at what is happening in the world?’ A good question. Not sure I have a full and proper answer to it but I will try.

I remember at age twenty sitting in a friends basement sobbing my heart out at the state of the world, asking the question ‘why do we say ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ when in fact it is us, humans, who are cruel, thoughtless, prejudiced, greedy, violent, murderous, bullying, brutal, selfish ….. so to be all these things is not inhuman, it is human… we should call it man’s humanity to man?’

Maybe that is so, but in answer to my daughter’s question..

I remain cheerful because that is not the sum of who or what we are.

I remain cheerful because, amazingly, I am an optimist..

I remain cheerful because that is my make up, I feel blessed that my chemistry allows me to feel so!

I remain cheerful because I believe that we can do better.

I remain cheerful because I am able to focus on the small things – sometimes to look upon the whole world in all its misery still overwhelms me, so I focus in and look closely.

I remain cheerful because when I do that I am able to find beauty, kindness, laughter, love and unselfishness alongside all the sadness and madness.

I remain cheerful because I am lucky enough to be part of an extended loving family.

I remain cheerful because despite the multitude of faults in humanity I still find us interesting.

I remain cheerful because when I realised, way back then, that I could not on my own change the world (ah, youth!) I also realised that I could change bits and pieces of it. That small things can make a difference. It is true.

So,  I remain cheerful because in my life, where it has been possible, I have worked to change things that seemed to me to be wrong. Small things, sometimes slightly bigger things. But never enough, absolutely never enough. Alongside this I have also just lived my life, and have been lucky enough to do so – lucky enough to love, to rear my children, to listen to music, to write, to teach, to work, to just live. To do all the things that are denied to so many.

As I write this I know that right now there are people in situations that will prevent them from ever being cheerful; there are people being killed; raped; tortured; starved; abused; bullied. There are animals being slaughtered, confined, tortured, abused and bullied. It is an unequal and unfair world. And yes it still overwhelms me every time I look out on it – but now instead of sobbing I suppose I think, what can I do?

So, having written all that I am no longer sure why I remain cheerful – there are many who believe that those who do are merely blind to the horror. Maybe that is so. But maybe it is also just luck. In my case lucky in where I was born, who I was born to and the composition of my brain. I reckon it’s that – pure luck.

It has allowed me to realise that there was no point in dissolving into a puddle of tears like the Squonk (who, in American folklore, evaded capture by dissolving himself in a pool of tears) – or spend my life apologising for being lucky. Instead I suppose I have thought that I might try to put my luck to good use, look out  onto the world with my eyes wide open and see what is to be done … and then try to do little bits of that … tiny, miniscule, microscopic  bits …  Hard to do as I wear a thin skin,  and the torment and suffering of the world  breaks through it very easily.

Having said all that …

The Squonk