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Stories from Africa by Paula Leyden
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Saw an interesting comment by Michael Connelly, writer of the Harry Bosch series. On being asked about his Irish roots, he replied:
“ Yeah, I have complete Irish roots, and I went to Catholic schools and all of that ….But, you know, I don’t consider myself an Irish crime writer or an American crime writer, I consider myself a storyteller. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if a character is interesting to the reader, it doesn’t really matter where that character is or where the writer is. That kind of story crosses all oceans and all boundaries.”
It gets to the nub of writing – it is what we should all be, just story tellers with good characters. Characters that readers are interested in and who they care about. The genre is secondary – it is why good crime fiction does so well (in my view) it is because the stories are so good. Your attention is held. And you have characters in them that you care about (even more so in series where you have a central recurring character – think Jo Nesbo and Harry Hole.)
I am reminding myself here as much as others – I have a tendency to wander off from the story. Sometimes this is good as it leads the story to new places – other times it is just bad (like the little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead .. when she was good she was very very good, when she was bad she was horrid!). Note – I am not suggesting here that when I am good I am very very good … it just brought the nursery rhyme into my head. The ‘horrid’ still stands.
Wandering off in the middle of a story can lose you your reader – which is why I try to keep my reader in my head. They change shape depending on what I am writing – but sometimes they are a very specific person. I read aloud a piece I have written and wonder what they would think of it. It is not to say that I do not write for myself, I do, but that is not enough – I write so others can read – and if I don’t think about them I do them a disservice.
Anyway that came into my mind as I was talking to a lovely writers group during the week and it made me, once again, think about writing. The why, the what and the wherefore.
PS It is also about the words and how they are strung together – the last line of this little poem bears that out. Apart from rhyming with forehead, the use of the word horrid is just so perfect!
Really looking forward to working with the students at Grennan College in Thomastown and Kilkenny City Vocational School on a One Book Project with The Sleeping Baobab Tree.
I will be working with the English Teachers and students as they do what will hopefully be lots of fun, cross curricular projects around the ideas thrown up by the book.
Last year I spent many satisfying hours working with a Second Year group in Kilkenny VEC on creative writing and was impressed with the work being done at the school – and especially impressed with the work done by the students in my group.
As I understand it a One Book Project allows students to view a work of fiction through the various prisms of their subjects – already I can visualise possibilities in Biology, Geography, English, History, Art, CSPE, music perhaps and Maths … I hope so. Should be lots of fun and I am looking forward to my part in it all.
Here’s a picture of a Baobab tree, apropos of nothing other than the book’s title and it is my favourite tree.. and the wide blue sky.
By: Paula Leyden,
Blog: The Butterfly Heart
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So, Elmore Leonard died today. He lived a good life, long and full. I, for one, spent many hours contentedly reading his books – his ear for snappy dialogue is second to none. Great writer.
By: Paula Leyden,
Blog: The Butterfly Heart
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Previously I wrote a post on the how to books of writing in which I focussed on Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing.
Today it’s Ray Bradbury.
Mainly because I am trying to give myself his advice: ‘Don’t talk about writing. WRITE!’
I need that advice because when I get an initial idea I talk about it, as it develops I talk about it and then I talk some more. By the time I’ve finished the book has almost been written (in my head) and I am (almost) bored by it.
So, from here on, I will take his advice as my Rule Number 1.
Perhaps Rule Number 2 should be: Read intensely. Write every day. Then see what happens. Most writers who do that have very pleasant careers. (courtesy Ray Bradbury as well)
It is easy to let the rest of your life get in the way – and mostly there is no reason why it shouldn’t as long as there is always a space in your day, wherever you are and whatever you are doing, to fit in some writing. It is not impossible.
I will leave Rule Number 3 for the meantime – I reckon these tow are enough to be getting along with and I need to get to them instead of writing this post!
By: Paula Leyden,
Blog: The Butterfly Heart
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I am assuming it is true for all authors, but know that this is true for me: a lot of me has gone into every piece of writing I’ve done. I am not sure how it could be otherwise.
I tried once, as an exercise, to see if I could write something in a genre and style unlike my own – just to see if I could do it. I could, with difficulty, but the result was highly unsatisfactory and when the laptop courteously enquired as to whether I wanted to save it I said no.
Both The Butterfly Heart and The Sleeping Baobab Tree tread on ground familiar to me as a child growing up in Zambia. Writing them has freshened up warm and rich memories and brought them back into the forefront of my mind. I am grateful for that. The other pieces of writing I have been working on are a novella set on Death Row in South Africa prior to the abolition of the death penalty and a full length novel set in South Africa again in the late eighties. Both of these delve into more recent memories of mine and writing them enabled me address the memories and find a place for them.
With the as yet unpublished full length novel, called Turn Left at the Camel Thorn Tree, the story allowed me to look at the question of belonging (it’s alternate name being Who Here Belongs) and a sense of place. Having lived in many places and never truly been of those places, it is a question that intrigues me. And I use the word intrigue advisedly, as it does not distress me – just interests me. I feel privileged to have lived in all of the places, including here in Ireland.
With the novella, called No Shoelaces, the issue is simpler. The novella attempts to take readers into the belly of a place manned by people whose only function is to keep people alive until it is time to kill them. Scheduled date and time. Luckily the place in question now houses a Death Row museum in South Africa. But not so in many other parts of the world. America springs to mind. As does Pakistan which recently ended a five year moratorium and announced plans to execute the 400 prisoners who the government says are under sentence of death. Other groups put the number as high as 8,000. A popular move in Pakistan, something no doubt that Nawaz Sharif is well aware of, but in my view a huge step backwards for the country.
In talking about ‘writing yourself’ I am not for a moment talking autobiography – it is just that the adage ‘write what you know’ holds true for me. It is quite simply just easier. And more real. I for one am going to stick to it.
I was struck yesterday by a news item about a UN report that states that the number of refugees in the world is now at a twenty year high – with a person leaving their home to seek refuge and safety every four seconds. Every four seconds. That is the state of our world. Syria alone now accounts for 1.6 million refugees. And world wide 46 percent of refugees are under eighteen – essentially children by our own definition.
So last year approximately 2 million children left their homes, sometimes with parents, sometimes without, to find a safer place to live. Children born into war, prejudice and starvation. These two million joined the seven million who are already out there.
Contrary to the image portrayed by some sectors of the media the majority of these refugees are being supported and looked after by the developing world – 86 percent of all refugees are in the care of the developing world.
And a statistic that took me by surprise, one in four of all refugees is from Afghanistan – and has been for the past 32 years. For 32 years there has been a steady stream of people fleeing Afghanistan in search of safety. A country that the US has spent $636,000,000,000 being at war with (and this number increases every second – see Cost of War website for the figures)
Today is World Refugee Day – the UN has a page detailing how people can help refugees and you can find it here. Small things can make a difference.
As part of my writing life I visit a lot of schools and libraries – many of the children I meet are aged eleven, twelve and thirteen. An age at which children should be children with all the freedom that entails.
In Soweto in 1976, and in the rest of the country in the years beyond that, children were out on the streets facing grown men in uniform. Men armed with tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. Children who were often the same age as the children in fifth and sixth Class that I now visit. Hundreds of schoolchildren, who left home that morning in their school uniforms, said goodbye to their parents, perhaps to their siblings and their grandparents and walked to their deaths. The next time their parents would see them would be in Baragwanath hospital or in the morgue.
Brave brave children who took on a system that was set up to humiliate them from birth. A system that ensured they would have no future. A system that had decided they should learn their subjects in Afrikaans in order for them to understand the ‘baas’ (boss, for those not from SA) when he gave them orders. A system that had declared they would be granted access to an education that would prepare them for a life as ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’.
In June 1976 they took on that system and many of them died for it. The spark that started it was the issue of learning certain key subjects in Afrikaans (introduced in 1974) and this affected both teachers and pupils. The protest started off peacefully, around 15,000 students marched towards Orlando Stadium in Soweto – but police were waiting for them. It is best remembered by those who were there,and Independent Lens interviewed some of them in this short film . It is worth watching this if only to see the how young some of these little ones were who were taking on what was a very powerful state.
Soweto 1976 Independent Lens PBS
The picture, shown in the film, that has come to represent June 16th is of Hector Pieterson being carried in the arms of Mbuyisa Makhubu, with Hector’s sister at his side. Hector was dying. he was thirteen years old. He, along with Hastings Ndlovu, was one of those shot and killed in that initial volley of fire.
Mbuyisa’s face that haunts me in this picture. It haunts me because of what became of him.
A year after this photo was taken – an iconic photo by now – Mbuyisa went into exile. He has never returned. No one knows what has happened to him. Stories have been told of him in Nigeria, of him becoming unwell, of him dying – but to date his family do not know what became of him. His mother appeared before the Truth Commission – and her plea at the end of it was:
All of us are going to die but I do want to know how my child died and when did my child die. And I’ve come here because this is my last hope, that maybe the Commission could help me find out what happened to my child.
She died in 2004 never knowing what had happened to her son.
Went today to visit 4th Class at Gowran National School here in Kilkenny. They are officially (well, as far as I know!) the first class in the country to have read The Sleeping Baobab Tree. Was a lovely visit, lots of very interesting questions on the book – and they read The Butterfly Heart just before this, so lots of comparative questions. All good!
Thank you to their teacher, Emer O’Keeffe, who organised the visit. As music came up in conversation I was also delighted to hear that she had heard my brother’s band, Mango Groove, on a visit to South Africa – so for her, I have added in a video of one of their songs.
Here is the class
And here is Mango Groove
SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) is a great organisation. There is a chapter of it here in Ireland and similar ones all over the world. It was founded in LA in 1971 by a group of children’s writers and has gone from strength to strength since then.
One of its services to writers is a magazine they bring out every two months, the SCBWI Bulletin – and without fail it is jam packed full of useful information, opinion pieces and reviews. It is an invaluable resource.
This month one of the articles is entitled TED Talks that May Change the Way You Work, Think and Live. For those who don;t know TED go and take a look - http://www.ted.com/ It’s tagline is: Riveting talks by remarkable people – free to the world! And so it is.
One of the talks mentioned in the SCBWI article is by Andrew Stanton – The Clues to a Great Story. Definitely worth a look. He makes many valuable points in his talk but one of them stands out. To quote – ‘When you’re telling a story, make me care. Please. Emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically. Make me care.’
How true is that? Of any story in any genre any format and for any age. Perfectly true.
Anyway, will not transcribe the whole talk but worth a look and a listen. Lots to be learned.
Many other links recommended to TED talks in the article – including those on the Power of Introverts, Ken Robinson on Education, Jill Taylor on accessing the creative, bliss filled part of our brain and Elizabeth Gilbert on Your Elusive Creative Genius. .
And all for free!
An SCBWI illustrator Elena Ospina
A lovely review just in of The Butterfly Heart courtesy of the crew at Gobblefunked (great name!) in Australia. Have put the review in below but you can find it on thier website at gobblefunked. Go and take a look, lots of reviews!
THE BUTTERFLY HEART
Zambia is the butterfly in the heart of Africa, and like a butterfly it is beautiful but fragile.
Within reading the first few pages of Paula Leyden’s debut novel The Butterfly Heart (2011), it is not difficult to imagine you are sitting beneath a baobab tree on a warm Zambian evening. Leyden effortlessly describes the sights, sounds and smells of Zambia and contrasts their beauty against the phenomenon of child brides.
Bul-Boo and her twin sister Madillo could not be any more different if they tried. They squabble about anything and everything, sometimes not talking for days. But when their school friend Winifred becomes withdrawn and unlike her usual bubbly self in class, they unite to get to the bottom of it. It seems young Winifred has a dark secret. One that will change her life forever. She is to be married off to her cruel uncle’s friend. A man old enough to be her grandfather and thirsty enough to drink all the beer in town. Time is running out and it is up to Bul-Boo, Madillo and their neighbour, Fred, to save their friend before she loses her childhood, innocence and future.
After much contemplation, the school friends decide to ask the local snake man, Ifwafwa, for help. A mysterious old storyteller, Ifwafwa is a very wise man who knows evil and how it can quickly erode a young person’s life. He is very fond of Winifred and knows that he must act to save her from the forced marriage awaiting her. He sees the sadness and pain in her mother’s eyes, a woman who is a shadow of her former self after the death of her husband and the violence she endures daily. He wants to help give her and young Winifred a voice. Bul-Boo knows of Ifwafwa’s power but also of the sluggish nature of his decision making. Impatient as ever, she is getting restless but she must learn to trust in a higher power and in the wise old man.
Ifwafwa. Yes, that’s what they call me. The Puff Adder. Slow and heavy, but fast to strike.
Winner of the 2012 Eilis Dillion Award, this book is a wonderful introduction to Zambian culture and human rights issues. Leyden was born in Kenya and spent her childhood in Zambia, something which is evident in her lyrical writing and vivid imagery. She is respectful of the traditions of this beautiful country but is well aware of the many problems facing it today and the effect these problems will have on future generations. Steeped in history and witchcraft, this book is a wonderful debut novel and leaves readers wanting more. Thankfully, Leyden’s second book, The Sleeping Baobab Tree was released in May 2013 and it revisits the school friends on their next adventure.
Watched a brilliant documentary the other evening on David Bowie entitled Five Years. What was consistently striking about it was his dedication to his craft and the fact that he constantly evolved and changed what he was doing. Musically he never stood still – as evidenced by the extraordinary variety in his music throughout his life right up to his recent release The Next Day.
David Bowie Five Years
Like him or hate him there is a lot to admire about him and a lot to be reminded about as writers.
Number one is discipline. The discipline to sit down and write, to research, to promote, to learn more about the craft – but above all to write. To use the time that you have (and this varies for everyone, it can be snatched moments between work, children, daily life or it can be unfettered time) in the best way. It is a mega cliché but time passes and once it has gone it has gone – so you owe it to yourself as a writer to use it well.
Number two is to make sure that with each project you take on you extend your abilities, move yourself on – go forward. This is no different than in any type of work or occupation if you are lucky enough to be working in an area that allows for this – take yourself to the next level. Make it better. Stretch your brain. Never be satisfied. In writing we can do this as it is self directed, it is up to us as writers to manage what we do and how we do it.
Number three is cooperation – and this is different for musicians than for writers. The evolution of a song is very different to the evolution of a novel. Writing is a solitary occupation – but it does not have to be lonely. Being part of a writers group is one way of cooperating – or getting the corners rubbed off you! Sharing your writing with a partner, your children, writing friends, illustrators is another. This is not for everyone. I know of writers who work till its done and then let it out into the light. I am not like that – I like feedback, I think it improves my writing.
And Number Four is I suppose be true to yourself. To do this you have to know yourself, but when you do be true to who your are. Because it shows.
Now I just have to go and remind myself to listen to my own advice – far easier to give advice than to follow it.
By: Paula Leyden,
Blog: The Butterfly Heart
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, Barbara Kingsolver
, Chinua Achebe
, Dr. Seuss
, Elmore Leonard
, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
, John Steinbeck
, Noo Saro Wiwa
, Ray Bradbury
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The title of a book is so important – and not many people have titles as consistently good as Gabriel Garcia Marquez (in my humble opinion) – and I suppose that is linked to the fact that not many people write as well as he does (again … in my humble opinion..)
Think of these:
Love in the time of Cholera
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Chronicle of a Death Foretold
The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World
No-one writes to the Colonel
Memories of my Melancholy Whores.
The General in his Labyrinth
Other titles I like, from other authors
Up in Honey’s Room – Elmore Leonard
The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
Of Mice and Men – Steinbeck
And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street – Dr Seuss
Death is a lonely business – Ray Bradbury
Dandelion Wine – Ray Bradbury
Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
Looking for Transwonderland – Noo Saro Wiwa
OK I’ll stop now … but it is a hard thing getting a title right, and it does matter!
The indefatigable Mary Esther Judy over at Fallen Star Stories (and Dubray Books Galway) has just written (on a public holiday – dedication beyond compare) a beautiful review of The Sleeping Baobab Tree.
Thank you Mary Esther – I am so pleased it spoke to you in this way!
THE SLEEPING BAOBAB TREE
Author: Paula Leyden
Sister Leonisa is always telling her students grim and gruesome stories. One day, she tells them all about Ng’ombe Ilede… the place of the sleeping cow; the place of death. As Bul-boo and Madillo arrive home filled with her horror stories, next-door neighbour Fred (himself always full of tales of woe) informs them he is to go to that very spot with his fearsome witch great-granny, Nokokulu. Also, that night they learn that patients from their mothers’ AIDS clinic are mysteriously vanishing; one of the vanished just happens to be Freds’ wonderful Aunt Kiki. Is all of this a strange coincidence or fate? With Bul-boo and Madillo stowing away in the boot of the car, Nokokulu drives a doom-laden Fred out into the Zambian wilds for an encounter with mystery and magic the three will never forget. At the sleeping baobab tree, anything could happen.
It is such a joy to return to the lives of Bul-boo and her twin Madillo in the butterfly heart of Africa. Leyden’s descriptive text gives full texture to the place, the people and the beliefs of Zambia with a strength that allows the reader to believe they are there. While Bul-boo and Madillo again provide a sense of the duality of human nature; the pragmatic meeting the superstitious; this story primarily belongs to Fred, who struggles with his inbuilt sense of impending disaster at every turn. The relationship between the three friends provides a strong, yet easy dialogue with the aspects of loyalty, mystery, common sense and confusion that make up their emerging world-view. Add to this the frightening and yet stabilising character of Nokokulu, a symbol of roots and tradition as strong as the ancient Sleeping Baobab Tree, and we have an impressive dialogue with a social structure in conflict with itself; which of the old way to keep and which to throw away; how to move fully into the contemporary world and remain who we truly are; a quality that allows the story to easily relate wherever the reader may live.
It may seem that these are heavy, burdensome concepts for young readers to take on, but not at all. The story is not weighed down by messages or agendas. It is adventurous, mysterious and humourous. The friendships are tangible. The characters are identifiable and become easily lodged in the readers’ hearts and memories. The situations in which the friends find themselves are believable and are depicted from a child’s-eye view that never speaks down to the reader, but leads them through a wondrous and heart-felt journey. As with Leyden’s first book; ‘The Sleeping Baobab Tree’ is simply beautiful, and an absolute joy; a rare and wonderful gift.
(Note: There are teaching notes available for both of Paula Leyden’s books, making them ideal novels for class use.)
Only getting round to putting up a few pictures of this now. Was a lovely launch – great crowd and they all seemed merry! Lots of family there, plus members of my writing group Gemma Hussey and Jean Flitcroft, plus members of my young writers group from the Kilkenny Vocational School, a spectacular cake made by Nicky Read of Nicky’s Cakes and all taking place at the wonderful Stonehouse Books. A big thank you to Liz, Tara and Claire for all the work, and to Palmyra Restaurant for the delicious food. Best hummus I’ve tasted. Also great to see Dubray Books well represented at the launch with their children’s book club, and The Book Centre as well! As I have said many times we are blessed with our booksellers. Conor Hackett, the Walker Rep in Ireland was down from Dublin – thanks Conor for making the trip and for being part of such a wonderful publisher.
I was lucky to have Tom my partner there – author of Old Friends, and all our children – Amy, Christie, Kate, Aisling and Maurice, as well as my parents and a great representation of the O’Neill clan. Christie, as you will see from the pics, did the reading – far better than I could have done. Greatly appreciated. And Gemma spoke as well before I mumbled my thanks! So, a big thank you to everyone who was there – and to the two visitors to Kilkenny who wandered in from the street wondering what the hubbub was about and then bought a copy of the book! An unusual memory of a visit to Ireland, the launch of a book set in Zambia.
What is not love about the Kilkenny bookshops? Stonehouse Books, The Book Centre and Dubray books all with beautiful window displays of The Sleeping Baobab Tree! How privileged am I, as an author, to be living in a city like this? And not just bookshops – but bookshops staffed by dedicated and passionate booksellers. Couldn’t ask for more.
In brilliant company in Dubray Books, Kilkenny
And a fearsome lion at work in The Book Centre
Sunny Stonehouse Books
Dubrays in Market Cross centre
The Book Centre
Stonehouse Books, Kieran Street (launch venue)
Yesterday I spent some time with two Fifth classes at St. John’s School here in Kilkenny. A treat it was. For the first hour I was with Orla Mackey’s class (she of the Wondrous Teaching Notes fame!) . They have finished the book and as part of my visit Orla had organised a Beat The Author Quiz. Essentially it was Me vs. the world – being tested on my own book!
Under normal circumstances you would be forgiven for thinking that this was a slam dunk – who would know their book better than the author? Well, I’ll you who – Ms. Mackey’s Fifth Class. I scarcely had time to even think about ringing my bell, let alone answering the very hard questions, before someone in the class had the answer. We ended up in a draw but only because some very kind students took pity on me and joined my team.
The children had lots of questions and also read out for me some of their work – which ranged from eulogies for various characters (literally brought a tear to my eye) to an oral history of Ifwawa to poems, an alphabet, a last will and testament – endless things and every one of them wonderfully done.
As a finale Gary, who was the winner of the ‘Talk for as long as you can about Butterfly Heart’ competition (a pause of four seconds and you were out!) stood up and spoke about the book. Two minutes and fifty one seconds later he stopped. He was brilliant! I heard later that he he performed this for another teacher and FIFTEEN minutes later he was still talking. A remarkable feat, well done Gary! I also got to hear about Merrylegs, a wonderful little pony who belongs to Tony – Merrylegs is lucky to have such a knowledgeable and careful owner.
So, thank you Ms. Mackey’s Fifth Class – I loved the time I spent with you and am sure one day I will be back.
I will write about Mr. Roche’s class again when they have finished the book as I promised them I would come back into to talk to them. What surprised me though was that even though they are only half way through the book they had lots of very interesting and thoughtful questions for me – they really made me think. So I am looking forward to a return trip where I can take some photos of their work and chat to them some more.
Ms Mackey’s Fifth Class 2013
Here’s a lucky thing about living in Ireland (one of many). We have a postal service, An Post, that is reliable, friendly, efficient and fast. You post something to anywhere in the country and by the next day it’s there. Brilliant.
And today was a Good Post Day! I received my author’s copies of The Sleeping Baobab Tree – how exciting is that? A lovely pile of books. Thank you Walker Books, over and over again. I feel privileged to have had my first two books published by you.
A Storytelling of Books
I suppose the collective noun for books would depend on context – so I have decided to borrow the collective noun for ravens for the purposes of this picture: A storytelling of Books. Seems appropriate.
How the Next Big Thing blog hop works
An author answers ten questions and then tags other authors to do the same thing the following week on the same day, which in this case is a Wednesday (I am a little late..)
Tom O’Neill tagged me.
Tom O’Neill had his book Old Friends: The Lost Tales of Fionn Mac Cumhaill published recently. He likes writing for both old adults and young adults. It allows him to spend time amongst strange characters and to add to the public body of lies. Other preoccupations: Africa, farming, and restoring castles. You can find out more at Tom’s blog.
Here are my answers to the questions..
What is the working title of your next book?
The Sleeping Baobab Tree
Where did the idea come from for the book?
It came to me as I was looking at photos of Baobab trees (as you do) and I came across one at a place called Ingombe Ilede, roughly translated as The Place of the Sleeping Cow. It is in Zambia and nearby an ancient burial site. A magical place.
What genre does your book fall under?
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
A hard one, but as the book is set in Zambia I would like actors from there to play the roles rather than people from other countries pretending to be Zambian.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Three friends and an old woman embark on a journey, each of them hoping to right wrongs, both past and present … but dark clouds are gathering and ancient magic is in the air beneath the shadow of the sleeping Baobab.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It will be published by Walker Books in London.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
This book has taken many twists and turns along the way so that’s a hard one to answer!
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Certainly my first book, The Butterfly Heart, not sure which others.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Primarily my love for Zambia inspired me – it is where I spent my childhood and my memories of it are vivid and clear.
What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
One of the sub-themes in the book is the damage done by those people, scientists among them, who have spent many years denying the existence of HIV/AIDS. In the process they have caused the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.
I have tagged a few authors as it seems as though the Blog Hop allows you to do this. However if my tagees (!) wish to limit themselves to only one other author, that is no problem.
I have tagged Jean Flitcroft, Jean is the author of The Cryptid Files series published by Little Island and you can read more about Jean here. In this series Jean’s love of travel, her scientific background and her writing skill have combined into three wondrous tales of Crytpids. So far the books have taken us from Loch Ness to Mexico and finally to a remote island off the coast of Canada.
I have also tagged Vukani Nyirenda. Vukani is a Zambian writer specializing in children’s folktales based on Zambian folklore. He has published two picture books and many of his stories have been published online and in magazines. He currently lives in Ontario, California. You can read more about Vukani here.
I have tagged Colleen Caitlin Jones. Colleen lives in Cork and is a Canadian writing for children. She is also a very active member of SCBWI (the Ireland chapter) and a Sacred Heart singer. You can find out more about Colleen here.
And, finally, I have tagged another O’Neill. John O’Neill, who hails from Ballon in County Carlow, is the author of the book Children of the Cromlech, as well as the script-novel Ned Hickey. John lives in New Zealand now.
I recently spent time with the Fifth and Sixth Classes at Scoil Mhuire gan Smál in Graignamanagh and what a pleasure that was. A lovely school and I found the pupils so enthusiastic and so talented. We did a few sessions on character development, opening paragraphs, limericks and general writing and I enjoyed every minute of it. It is a treat to go into a school where the pupils are happy and involved, where evidence of creative teaching is all about the place and where you get a sense of proper learning taking place. I have seen a lot of this in the primary schools I have visited over the past couple of years. Well done to all of you, Principal, all the staff and pupils. And a big thank you for having me visit your school. I have put up a few of the limericks some of the girls wrote on my School Pages. Hopefully I will get a few more of them (or their stories) in the post!
Next week will be busy!
On Tuesday I am meeting some pupils from Presentation School here in Kilkenny at Dubray Books – looking forward to that, I have met some of the students from the school before and they were lovely.
On Wednesday I set off for Galway where I am being hosted by Sadie Cramer (Illustrator, Artist and general whirlwind!) You can find her website here.
Chop-Chop Mad Cap illustrated by Sadie Cramer, written by Juliette Saumande
On Thursday morning I’ll head into Kilcoona National School with Sadie where the theme of World Book Day is Africa. Throughout this week parents and others have been reading my book The Butterfly Heart to the pupils. Seems as though it’s going down well. Looking forward to meeting everyone there.
Then I will head into Dubray Books at the kind invitation of Mary Esther Judy, bookseller extraordinaire and writer of the wonderful blog Fallen Star Stories. Mary has been an enormous support to me as an author and I know to many other children’s authors round the country and the world! So looking forward to these couple of days.
Dubray Books Galway, World Book Day window
A perfect World Book Day!
I drove up to Galway on Wednesday and was very kindly put up by Sadie Cramer and Mark Hand and their four children in a beautiful spot called Luimneagh West, just twenty minutes out of Galway City on the shores of Lough Corrib. Very peaceful.
Then I went into Kilcoona National School with Sadie where I met the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Classes, along with various parents and teachers. It was a treat – World Book Day is a BIG day in Kilcoona NS, the children all kitted out in various outfits and the school kitted out as well!
Then I headed into Galway to Dubray Books where, courtesy of Mary Esther Judy, I met with two different groups and they were all an absolute pleasure to talk to. Lots of questions and opinions, just as it should be. A camera crew from TG4 came along as well which was initially a little alarming but I got used to it. Unfortunately I was unable to speak to them in Irish, one day perhaps…
So, a mega thank you to Sadie Cramer and Mary Esther Judy - you both do such great work for children and books!
At Dubray Books, Galway
I have been thinking about teaching and learning for a while now – perhaps because we are nearing the end of school attendance with our own children, perhaps because of visiting so many schools in the past six months but perhaps because of this picture, which arrived in my inbox courtesy of Chipasha Luchembe from the Zambians in California community.
Perhaps because once upon a time I was a teacher.
It is a formidable responsibility that you take on when you stand in front of a class of ten, twenty, thirty, fifty or one hundred children and direct their learning, impart knowledge – educate them.
Confucius, a teacher himself, placed enormous emphasis on morality, self control and respect – and on study and discipline. One of his more famous quotes relates to this: “He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.”
He did not in any way mean rote learning – his teaching was defined by its questioning nature, literally. He would ask students questions, pose problems and get them to arrive at the answer. As he himself said “I only instruct the eager and enlighten the fervent. If I hold up one corner and a student cannot come back to me with the other three, I do not go on with the lesson.”
One of the blessings of being a teacher is that you are given an opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of those you teach, and likewise they can have a positive impact on your own life. It can be a rewarding, wonderful job. I remember being told of science teachers in Zimbabwe, many of whom had not been paid for months on end, travelling miles – some walking, some cycling, some in cars using up scarce diesel – to attend a Science Teachers workshop. Taking time they could ill afford in order to improve their skills in the classroom. There are many students who have a lot to thank those teachers for.
In looking up teaching in Zambia after seeing the picture that Prof Luchembe sent on I came across one of many inspiring stories. It is the story of teachers Mr. and Mrs. Maonde from Lilayi. They had both retired from teaching but began to teach children in their own home. They started with five pre-schoolers but by 2005 they had 200 pupils coming in shifts to their home to be taught.
The couple got in touch with teachers they knew in Canada and out of this an initiative called Friends for Zambia was started to raise funds to build a school in the area. The result is this.
Twitti School in Lilayi
There are now 370 pupils in the school from kindergarten to Grade 9. Some achievement. All stemming from the dedication of two inspired Zambian teachers, Simon and Lydia Maonde and two inspired Canadian teachers who had taught as volunteers in Namwala Secondary School – the school at which Simon Maonde was headmaster!
Take a look at their website here
The young girls in this video speak for themselves far more eloquently than I could. Heartbreaking.
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So, here it is – not launched yet but a pre copy. I love it!
Release date 2nd May.
And here, with its older sibling!