I had lots of fun at Fighting Words meeting a group of brilliant young authors who gave up their Saturday morning to come and talk about ideas, writing and creating stories.
It was all arranged by the amazing Louise Melinn and Mark Davidson and the team of volunteers in Fighting Words in their bright and welcoming head -quarters in Dublin’s Russell Street. Writer Catherine Prasifka author of ‘None of this is Serious’ was there to help moderate what was a lively session. We all had such fun with the young writers getting out pen and paper to write a new story.
Fighting Words is a creative writing organisation which was the brain child of Writer Roddy Doyle and Sean Love. It was set up in 2009 to encourage children to write and create stories of their own. They hold workshops for both primary and secondary school students and summer camps which they run with the help of volunteers.
The Creative Ireland Programme has partnered with Fighting Words to help it expand and they now have 12 branches in towns and cities across Ireland. Volunteers play a huge part in its operation and there are over 400 wonderful volunteers and mentors helping young writers to harness their imagination and develop their creative writing skills.
It was a great honour to be asked to take part in the memorial tribute for my friend and publisher Michael O’Brien in Dublin Castle as part of The Dublin Book Festival. Friends and family and colleagues from the book world gathered in the Print Works to remember this extraordinary man who had done so much to grow and develop Irish publishing over the years. He was involved in setting up so many organizations that would encourage reading, writing and publishing.
O’Brien Press growing from the small beginnings of just two people working there to becoming one of Ireland’s foremost award winning publishers. Michael had huge energy and drive and a vision for Irish publishing that he lived to see fulfilled. His achievements in terms of publishing were enormous as found gaps in the Irish book market and set about filling them as well as regularly attending the huge book fairs and selling translation rights to so many books by Irish authors.
His son Ivan O’Brien and Editor Ide O’Laoghaire and designer Emma Byrne all shared their memories as a montage of photographs of Michael’s rich life was shown on screen.
I told of my first meeting Michael in O’Brien Press in Rathgar in 1989, when he gave me the good news that he was going to publish my book ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree.’ This was the start of a long friendship which stretched over many years, with O’Brien due to publish my new children’s book Fairy Hill in spring 2023.
Playwright and author Frank McGuinness was a long -time friend of Michael’s but unfortunately at the last minute was unable to attend but Ivan read out his words about the high regard he had for Michael O’Brien.
President Michael D Higgins also spoke of their enduring friendship over many years and how he looked forward to meeting Michael and the lively discussions that ensued. Michael was always an innovator, full of ideas ready to try new things.
Michael O’Brien was huge figure in Irish publishing and will be missed by all of us who had the good fortune to know him. However he has left an abiding legacy and O’Brien Press continues to thrive under the good care of his sons Ivan and Eoin O’Brien and all the publishing team there.
Dublin Castle with Ivan O’Brien and the wonderful Alice Leahy
On a balmy November’s evening in Dublin it was great to be able to get along to two busy book launches after such a long time of having no launches.
Ally Bunbury’s fun Christmas read ‘All Wrapped Up’ was launched in The Little Museum by Anne Doyle and then down the road to Hodges and Figgis Bookshop for the launch of my friend P.J. Lynch’s beautiful new picture book ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ which is based on the famous Robert Frost poem. Eoin Colfer did the honours and it was great to meet up with so many friends. Both are perfect Christmas books
One more book I should mention is by talented young Ukrainian writer Yeva Skalietska whose wonderful book ‘You Don’t Know What War Is’ has also only been published.
Twelve year old Yeva recounts what happened when Russian forces began to bomb her home town of Kharkiv, at first they shelter but as things worsen she and her grandmother Irina have to flee, moving to another part of Ukraine. Yeva keeps a diary recording what is happening all around her and her fears and hopes. She and her grandmother make the long journey to Hungary where a journalist sees her writing it and helps them until they eventually come to Ireland. There are maps of her hometown and of the long journey she and her grandmother made I met Yeva months ago with Irina and she is already trying to make the best of things, settling into her new school and life here.
Dun Laoghaire’s Lexicon Library was a hive of activity for the launch of
Sarah Webb’s wonderful new book ‘ Be Inspired.’
The book is a celebration of 28 talented and bright Irish young people who are changing the world. Many have already made their mark on life.
Sarah wrote and researched the book over the Covid lockdown and it is illustrated by Graham Corcoran.
Ivan O’Brien from publishers O’Brien Press launched the book and many of the O’ Brien team were there. This very special launch was tinged with a little sadness as Michael O’Brien and Sarah’s wonderful Mum Melissa had both passed away recently.
Young bee-keeper Rian Somers told me about the 60,000 bees in his hives and kindly gave me a little pot of his honey. Talented young journalist Zainab Boladale talked of her journey to becoming a TV journalist and RTE Presenter and talented singer songwriter Michael Moloney blew everyone with one of his own songs.
To add to all the excitement we discovered that Sarah Webb has just been shortlisted for The An Post Book Awards Author of the Year Award.
It was with great sadness that I heard of the sudden death of my friend and publisher of more than 33 years Michael O’Brien on Sunday 31st July 2022. A giant in Irish Publishing, his death is huge loss to the Irish Book World.
I first met Michael over 33 years ago when filled with nerves and trepidation I went to meet him in his office in Victoria Road, Rathgar to talk about my first book ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree.’ Sitting there surrounded by paintings and art he told me how much he loved the book and wanted to publish it. When I told him that I was huge bookworm and growing up and had loved all the books with chapter illustrations, he decided that ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’ should have them too and went on to commission artist Donald Teskey to design the book cover and illustrations.
From the beginning I think we both realised that it was a very special book. He then asked me what my next book was about… I hadn’t the nerve to tell him I hadn’t thought of a next book yet, but blurted out about writing about the Irish in America…the little maids who worked in the big houses. He looked a bit surprised at the subject but ‘Wildflower Girl’ came next
So began a long and happy time working with Michael and my editor Ide ni Laoghaire and all the great team in O’Brien Press in Dublin. Michael took my books to the book fairs in Frankfort and Bologna and sold rights in translation across the globe in my work. He had a vision for Irish Children’s Books believing that a ‘good book’ will travel and deserves to reach young readers across the world.
Ide’s offices were in the garden of O’Brien Press and I just remember working there with her and Michael coming in to see how things were going. Every July Michael held a garden party for writers and staff, translators and agents, Michael in his straw hat greeting everyone and keeping the party going long after the sun went down. I always enjoyed spending time with him, whether it was at work or lunch or travelling for a book fair or event. He was always full of ideas and plans and campaigning to try to safe guard and grow Irish Childrens Writing and Publishing.
Over the past few months we were back working together again on ‘Fairy Hill,’ my new children’s book with Michael full of plans for it and getting a good cover! I find it so hard to believe he will not be there to see it in print.
However O’Brien Press is safe in the good hands of his sons Ivan and Eoin and the wonderful O’Brien Press Team. He will be terribly missed by all of us who had the good fortune to know him.
My thoughts are with his family Svetlana, Ivan, Eoin, Dara and Ferdia, his grand- children and everyone in O’Brien Press at this time.
In Michael’s memory read a good book!
Celebrating 25 years since the publication of ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’ with Michael O’Brien and Dr Pat Donlon at Party held in Smock Alley.