Tag Archives: The Butterfly Heart

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.

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!

Is it alright to do wrong, to do right?

Spent the morning with Orla Mackey’s 4th and 5th Split class (or should that be combined class?) It was a treat.

I was greeted with a beautiful rendition of Siyahamba – word perfect they were .. it sounded beautiful. I have videoed part of it and will upload. My camera ran out of space so it stops quite abruptly!

They then had a bag of curiosity containing all their questions and we went through those. Very thought provoking questions, some of which I am still thinking about. For example, ‘is it alright to do wrong to do right?’ A hard one. We discussed it in the light of the struggle against Apartheid. When Madiba died Ms Mackey and her class spent the entire day talking about him, his work, his history and they have done lovely work on the subject. That’s teaching and learning that is lovely to witness.

After that the 4th Class were pitted against the 5th Class in an epic battle. There were a series of pictures held up and they had to identify the connection between each picture and the book (they have started with The Butterfly Heart and are moving onto The Sleeping Baobab Tree next). It was a draw – and the plans were to finish the competition before going home to see whether a winner could be found. I would not have got all the answers … their knowledge was brilliant!

Finally, each member of the class had brought with them an item that related in some way to the book – this included Djembe drums, melted candles (from a description of HIV/AIDS in the book) a little house made of cardboard that resembled Winifred’s house and included a mulberry tree for Winifred as she had expressed a wish for a tree, a beer tankard, a snake (stuffed.. not real), a diary, a rosary, a branch of a tree, a twin sister (!)  and many more. Hugely inventive!

So, all in all a great visit – a mega thank you to Ms Mackey and to everyone in her class. I loved the time I spent with you!

St. John’s and The Butterfly Heart

As mentioned in the last post I spent a while last week in St. John’s School, Kilkenny. Below you will find some examples of the work Ms. Mackey’s class has been doing on The Butterfly Heart.

One of the groups did an Alphabet Book – they used every letter of the alphabet in words relevant to the book. I cannot scan the whole thing in so have just put in two pages to give you an idea. That group was Patrick, Katie, Lenka, Tony and Liam. The other groups have their names on the pages.

Thank you again, all of you, for the effort you have put into reading and understanding the book. I hope one day some of you might get a chance to visit Zambia and see it for yourself.

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The Sleeping Baobab Tree

The sequel to The Butterfly Heart, The Sleeping Baobab Tree, is slowly becoming a reality – link to it now up on Amazon and release date is May 2nd.

Been a long writing journey but I hope the end result is a good one, I’m looking forward to holding it in my hands. While I do read eBooks I am pleased this is not the only format available – I remember the day I received my first copy of The Butterfly Heart from Walker Books and the excitement I felt holding it in my hands and turning the pages. I cannot imagine I would ever get the same thrill from opening a Kindle file…..

Writing for Children, Writing for Adults and Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Have been thinking about this as I am doing both – sometimes concurrently.

When I started writing The Butterfly Heart I did not have in mind a target audience, it was just a story I wanted to write. It was when I came to my characters that I realised this could be a story that children would read. I am happy however that both children and adults have read it.

I think there are different freedoms in writing for different audiences – I definitely find myself freer in language use when I am writing books specifically geared to an adult audience, I do not check myself as often. The only question I would be asking myself is whether the language I have used is the best it can be.

I would ask myself a similar question when writing for children – but added onto that would be whether it would allow for easy pleasure in its readers. There is a different freedom I find in writing for children – not sure what to call it other than flights of fancy, a freedom of imagination. Maybe I should feel that freedom in writing for adults, and I do to a certain extent, but more so with children.

One of the greatest writers ever (to my mind) is Gabriel Garcia Marquez – and I have only ever read him in translation. He combines everything in one – beautiful use of language, wondrous flights of fancy and great storytelling. There is no one writing now who comes close to him in the way he blends magic and reality, who so seamlessly takes you into a world that is real but which shimmers with a sense of unreality. Can you just imagine what it would be like to read him in Spanish?

For me he has all the freedoms combined in writing for children and adults – a freedom with language and imagination combined with a powerful storytelling ability – that ability which is at the core of any good book.

His titles alone are wondrous – has there ever been a better title than One Hundred Years of Solitude? Love in the time of Cholera? Chronicle of a Death Foretold? Memories of my Melancholy Whores? Strange Pilgrims? I’ll stop now – but can you imagine the fun that illustrators have had with designing those covers?

Here are just a few of them for One Hundred Years of Solitude.


Dubray Books Kilkenny

I have written and spoken before on the number of great bookshops we are privileged to have in Kilkenny – The Book Centre, Stonehouse Books, Dubray Books and Khan’s. More recently Easons have opened a small branch as well.

Imagine living in a city with a population of around 24,000 and being surrounded by that many wonderful bookshops? Each one of them staffed by people who are enthusiastic, helpful and incredibly supportive of both readers and writers.

One of them, Dubray Books, is hosting an evening tomorrow night (17th August) celebrating local talent as part of Arts Week here in Kilkenny. Both Tom O’Neill  and myself will be there.  Looking forward to it. Excuse the bad photo!

Dubray Books Window Display

CBI Eilis Dillon Award 2012

Absolutely thrilled to have won the Eilis Dillon award for a First Children’s Book at the CBI Book Awards .  Just to say I am delighted. A great honour for the Butterfly Heart, for me and, I think, for Zambia.

Here is a pic of the certificate and the lovely trophy (which one of my daughters reckons would make a good weapon….?) Mega thanks to everyone – especially my extended family!

Trophy and beautiful window (not legible I know)

Slightly more legible picture

Seomra Ranga – Classroom

I was searching on the web the other day for sites that offer support and resources to Primary School teachers. I was doing this as I wanted to find a suitable home for the brilliant teaching guide that Orla Mackey of St. John’s School, Kilkenny had developed with her Fifth Class when they were reading The Butterfly Heart.

One of the first sites I came across was Seomra Ranga which means classroom in Irish. It is a site set up by Damien Quinn, a Primary School teacher in a rural school in Sligo and he set it up, as he says himself, ‘to share practical resources for the primary school classroom on the web.’  These are mainly resources he has developed and used in the classroom himself, with the addition of resources submitted by other Primary School teachers. It is a fantastic site and when I emailed Damien to ask whether he would be interested in seeing this Teaching Guide he came back immediately and said he would. The upshot of all of this is that the Teaching Guide is now available for download on Seomra Ranga here and this week they are also running a competition with five of the books to give away.

Seomra Ranga for me illustrates the positive power of the web – here is one individual, a committed teacher, who has set up a website, a twitter and a facebook page and through this other teachers are able to share resources in a way that can only enhance the experience of the children in the schools. Just brilliant.

Ms. Mackey and some of her students

So, where are you from?

A normal part of being human is being from somewhere, and it’s an easy way for all of us to learn a little bit, quickly, about a person we meet. It might appear to be an easy question – but it’s not so for everyone. For me, it’s a question that does not have a one word answer. I was born in Kenya, grew up in Zambia, spent many years in South Africa and now live in Kilkenny, Ireland.

To be ‘from’ Kilkenny your family have to have lived here for a minimum of 150 years … last week I heard someone say, ‘Well, sure, that family only arrived here in the late 1800’s, they’re only runners,’ so I am quite sure my eight years here do not qualify me ! Having said that I feel very at home here and have been welcomed without hesitation by people in the city. My parents live in North Wales now, having moved there from Africa in the nineties, but my dad also lived in Burma and India as a child, and my ancestors came from England, Burma, Holland, Scotland and Ireland. So, a mixed bag. My answer to ‘where are you from?’ would probably be – ‘Well, different places really, but from here at the moment.’

I feel privileged to have lived in different places and from each of them I have learned different things. I sometimes think it must be satisfying to have a complete sense of where you are from, a national identity, a confidence to say, ‘I am Irish’ or ‘I am Zambian’ but never having had that it is not something I miss.