Small and Free

I’m working with three very different secondary schools at the moment (just started!) and really enjoying it. One in Rathkeale, one in Limerick and one in Bridgetown, Wexford. As I said to one of the teachers, this gives me an opportunity to go back to teaching (which I used to do, way back when, and loved) but I get to do all the good bits and have none of the accompanying heartache of the administration, reports, more administration and reports… Thank you Poetry Ireland for these opportunities!

It also makes you think (as it should) about the way we pass on skills, the way we pass on the elements of the craft of writing. When I first looked at exploring fictional writing I attended a course given by Siobhan Parkinson, in the Smurfit Business School, called Write That Novel. I had searched through loads of different courses for one that would deal with the different aspects of writing that I felt I needed to look at: creating characters, writing dialogue, narrative voice, point of view, plotting, setting, genre, structure, editing and the rest ! When I saw the course outline of Siobhan’s course I had no hesitation in applying for it. And it was all that I could have wanted and more.

I was not looking for a course that wanted me to explore my inner self, get in touch with my feelings, write stream of consciousness things .. I wanted to understand the craft. And while I cannot claim to understand it fully yet, I have the framework and that is what I was looking for. Uber thanks to Siobhan!

The rest was of course up to the individuals in the course. It was up to us to practice, to write and then to write some more.  And to discover whether writing was something we could do. That is not of course a given. In the same way as we would not all become artists if we were given the techniques of painting, drawing, sculpture, etching or anything else. I certainly wouldn’t.

Another thing I have to be grateful to that course for is the fact that our writing group, The Crabapples, emerged from that course. Eleven years later we are still meeting!

In working with Secondary school students what I love to see are the gems that emerge. The small beautiful pearls of writing that are as individual as the students themselves. Made even more beautiful when they come from the pens of young people who felt they could not write. Did not like to write. That’s the reward for me. With permission I hope to post some of their work once completed but will leave you with one line that has stuck in my head. One group in Limerick were working on poems on the issue of child marriage and in one of the poems this line emerged: I wanted to be small and free.

Simple words, beautifully put.

As yet I have no pictures of the schools so, apropos of nothing (and because I do not like posts without images), here is a picture of Old Greg .. a dog who found his way to our farm, terrified, thin and not well – and just look at him now. We are glad to have him.

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Art and other things

Over the past couple of months a friend of ours, Tommy Cuddihy, was laid up after a foot operation. While this must have been extremely frustrating for him, the result of it (in non medical terms) was brilliant. He produced a picture combining elements of both The Butterfly Heart and The Sleeping Baobab Tree. I still do not know how he did it as it contains pressed metal and beautiful colours, but I do not really need to know because I love the result!iphone January 2015 700

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That is such a brilliant Baobab tree .. and as for Ifwafwa on his bicycle, the detail of the small bits of orange plastic on the wheel spokes,  and Nokokulu’s yellow car – just astonishing.

So, a huge thank you to Tommy for this – a real work of art. And it got me back to my blog which has been sorely neglected for the past while. So a double thank you.

Libraries in County Clare

Last week I spent a couple of days in Clare – visited Scarriff, Killaloe, Ennis and Shannon. This time of year always reminds me of the work being done in the libraries in Ireland – and always reinvigorates my hope that we do not go the way of Britain where public libraries are being closed. Hundreds closed so far I think. In the North as far as I know, one has already been closed and ten are under threat (See http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/closures-map/).

What always strikes me in the libraries is the variety of things that happen under their roofs! Storytelling, PC training, book clubs meeting, Leaving Cert and Junior Cert studying, Summer reading challenges, drama workshops, film clubs, creative writing workshops and more!

I took a look at some of the summer activities for children in the Clare libraries, outside of the reading challenge, and they included a Sculpture Trail, a visit to the Ennis Old Friary, Story Time, crafts, jewellery making and  visit to the museum. And all free. All a public service. So … long live the libraries of Ireland and their energetic librarians !

The classes I met, from national schools and secondary schools, were great. In Ennis I had fifty girls from the secondary schools and we did some work together on the issue of child marriage. In a very short space of time they produced some beautiful poems written in the voice of a young girl who had been told she was to be married. Really excellent and empathetic writing, I am hoping they will send me copies so I can put them up on the site.

Off to Wexford and Carlow this week, then Cork next week!

 

In Ennis Library

In Ennis Library

On the way to Killaloe

On the way to Killaloe

 

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.

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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.’

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