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ireland's mountains to sea festival

So here are the top superheroes behind one of the best book festivals I've ever been to! Meet Tom Donegan and Sarah Webb, Ireland's ultimate dream team:

The sun was shining bright and Dun Laoghaire (pronounced 'dun LEER-y'), just next to Dublin, felt like being on the Mediterranean riviera. And I got to hang out with one of my best friends, writer Philip Reeve! We strolled along the promenade with Irish filmmaker Frank Kelly, who kindly agreed to take this author photo for the book I'm working on with Philip right now, Oliver and the Seawigs. My studio mate, Gary, just looked over my shoulder and said I look like a mermaid, so that's perfect.

On the first evening, Tom and Sarah took me for dinner with Philip, writer Marcus Sedgwick and top librarian Dr Marian Thérèse Keyes, who took the photo.

After dinner, Marcus, Philip and I went along to hear Sarah Webb talk about her book and writing, along with lots of other writers for adults and young adults, including Cathy Kelly, Katie Fforde, Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, Sinéad Moriarty and Marita Conlon-McKenna. Our dinner had run overtime a bit, so we were sitting way, way in the back and couldn't see all that much. The panel gave a great talk, but the three of us were quite jolly from dinner and I made stupid drawings of us.

The next morning, Philip and I did a big MONSTERS & GOBLINS stage event, in front of something like 300 kids. It was loads of fun! Here's Philip with a miniature version of a bratapult, a weapon of war which plays quite a key part in his Goblins book. In fact, his main character spends something like two chapters falling after being hurtled from such a device. We fired goblins into the audience to make some merry chaos.

Photo via @mountainstosea

At two different events, we introduced ourselves while the other person drew an attractive portrait. We weren't allowed to look at our portrait until it was finished. You can get a glimpse over my shoulder here of Philip's drawing of me, which set the kids in the audience absolutely howling.

Photo via @mountainstosea

I grossed out the kids with a reading from Morris the Mankiest Monster and then the kids helped us invent new monsters, and Philip and I took turns drawing how we thought some of the characters in Goblins might look, including Trolls and Boglins. Here's Philip's Boglin.

Then we turned the kids into a tribe of goblins by having them each design a goblin face.

It was fun seeing the kids' work when they came up to get their books signed.

Hee hee!

As ever, I can't post photos of the schoolchildren's faces, which is a shame, but they look quite nice with books for heads.

After the show, we recorded an interview for national television, RTE2's Elev8 programme (the same show Gary Northfield and I took part in a couple years ago, which you can see here). It'll go live in the show's next season, probably some time in October. Here are camera crew Elaine Buckley, Julian Hills and Orla Morris-Toolen.

Orla (in the polka-dot dress) was an amazing interviewer; the camera crew would ask her to do something a bit different, and she'd quickly think about it and come up with a good way to ask us a question that fitted in well with the flow of the programme. Not many kids can think on their feet as calmly as that, I was really impressed.

Later on in the festival, I ran into Moldovan Elev8 presenter Diana Bunici, who'd interviewed Gary and me last time. You can follow her on Twitter as @DeeBTweets and read her blog here.

And here's the fabulous illustration exhibition Tom Donegan put together in the County Hall! Scholastic UK let the festival have sneak peeks at two spreads in my new book, Superkid with Claire Freedman, coming out next spring. Here they are, printed up large:

Both times Philip and I had some time off, we took the chance to stroll along the beautiful Dun Laoghaire harbour. Philip took a photo of me in front of this big sea urchin sculpture and said I looked like something painted on the front of a B-52, the thought of which pleases me to no end.

You can just about see the James Joyce Tower in the background. I really should know what this is. *Makes note to self to try to get into Ulysses again, despite several failed attempts*

And here's some of the jolly gang from Children's Books Ireland! Mags Walsh, Jenny Murray (and Aoife (pronounced 'EEF-ah') Murray arrived a bit later); bookseller and blogger Kim Harte, writer and bookseller Adrian White and Tom.

The next day, Philip and I led a Comics Jam workshop in the lovely posh yacht club, with about 20 kids.

We started out by talking about character design. Here's one Philip drew:

And a kid's drawing. Isn't it fabulous?

Then we took our characters and put them into a comics story. Here's one Philip and I bashed out at great speed, taking turns with each panel, with story material based on suggestions from the kids.

Then we set the kids off on their Comics Jam!

They had five minutes to draw a panel, then everyone passed their papers to the next person and for the next five minutes in the second panel, took up the new story where their neighbour had left off.

And so on, passing every five minutes until the four panels were filled.

At the end of 20 minutes, they had some great results. Here's one that made us laugh.

One of the cool things about doing events is meeting kids who are really stuck into comics already. Here's Finn, who brought along his notebook to show us and will obviously be an awesome comics artist if he keeps working as hard as he's doing now.

I was thrilled to see he'd been studying my favourite comic strip, Calvin & Hobbes. Copying is a great way to learn in detail how another artist works, and I remember copying pages and pages of Archie comics when I was his age.

And he's coming up with great stuff of his own! Philip laughed and pointed out this Will-You-Need-a-Gas-Mask-o-Meter.

You can definitely see the influence of other comics on Finn's work, and it's great to see how he's exploring them and starting to add his own creative elements. Look out for this guy, he made be making appearances at small press comics fairs in the next few years.

After our comics jam, we met up with lots of other writers on the yacht club deck to go for the Monster Book Lunch. I didn't get to talk with them as much as I would have liked to, but that's Claire Hennessey on the left (whom I hardly got to meet), Denise Deegan, in the middle, whom sadly I didn't really get to meet at all, and Judi Curtin, with whom I chatted briefly and is really lovely. Apparently her books are as popular in Ireland as Jacqueline Wilson's books are in England, so look out, English people, you might be seeing more of this lady.

Photo via @mountainstosea
When I walked into the lovely banquet room, I was kind of expecting the table I was sharing with Philip Reeve to be packed with girls in tea party dresses. And most of the tables were like this, except ours, which was entirely seated with ROWDY BOYS. Ha ha! They were gentlemen enough to warn me not to drink the squash, which had salt and pepper added to it.

At most tables, the esteemed writers were having gracious conversations with their table mates, but that wasn't going to happen at ours. Instead we played a Monster Consequences game, and made some pretty awesome creatures.

It was loads of fun meeting kids who already knew my work, including Shauna here, who was a huge fan and sent me a lovely e-mail which I read on my phone at the airport on the way home.

Here's our marvellous bookseller for the festival, the ever-energetic Bob Johnston, who runs The Gutter Bookshop in Dublin's Temple Bar area. His shop's been getting lots of publicity and winning loads of awards recently, and he and his team ran the whole book sales side of things completely smoothly. Thanks, Bob!

I left the Monster Book Lunch a bit early to do another Comics Jam workshop for older kids than the first one I'd done with Philip. Finn was there, but the rest were teenagers and a couple adults. They'd come to hear Steve Simpson give a talk on Superhero Illustration, but he had a family emergency, and the people at the workshop were great about letting me step in. Here are a couple of the Comics Jam results:

Meanwhile Philip Reeve was getting ready to go on a panel with writer Michelle Harrison, and I managed to dash in to listen, just as they were getting going.

The panel was a project for the three girls interviewing Michelle and Philip. They'd had the chance to choose writers they'd like to interview, get them invited to the festival, and spend quite a lot of time preparing for the interview. They knew the writers' books well, and were able to ask some great questions.

I was interested to find out that, like Philip, Michelle also does some illustration (as does Marcus Sedgwick, whom I mentioned earlier). And both she and Philip were very influenced by the early work of Brian Froud, who designed the looks for The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth films. Michelle writes a lot of horror stuff, and read from her recent book, Unrest, inspired by the sleep disorders she's encountered in people she knows. Here's the trailer video, and you can find out more over on her website.

Here's the fab panel, being VERY SCARED.

Or is that speakers being VERY SCARY? (Ha ha, click here for the animated version.)

One of the great things about Mountains to Sea is that the festival's all within walking distance and everyone stays at the same place. So we were always bumping into people, including the writer Eoin Colfer (creator of Artemis Fowl), who wasn't even taking part in the festival this year!

Here's the Royal Marine Hotel, a lovely Victorian candybox of a place:

I got to sit across from Michelle at dinner, and meet writer Robert Muchamore. I didn't really know Robert's work, but he's the writer of the Cherub graphic novels, which my friend John Aggs illustrates, so it was great to meet him. Michelle (@MHarrison13) tweeted: Sat next to @RobertMuchamore at dinner earlier. He threw olives at me and pulled my hair. ...I think I will say nothing about that.

The next day, writer-illustrator Chris Judge and I went to the People's Park to take part in the Picture Book Picnic. I'd met Chris once before, at the festival at Tales on Moon Lane, but I'd been so busy keeping my group of kids from dumping paint on the bookshop floor that I didn't have much time to see him in action.

Here I am, reading from You Can't Scare a Princess.

Chris did a great job reading from The Lonely Beast and The Great Explorer and getting the kids to respond.

It was so obvious that all the kids, parents, festival volunteers, everyone, really love him. That's something so nice I'm noticing about Ireland. They don't have a huge home-grown publishing scene, but those they do have, they really get to know and cherish them. I really like that.

We both did some drawing with the kids. Here's Chris showing us how to draw the walrus from his book.

So many kids showed up that some of them had to share clip boards. I love this photo.

And this one, too. The team of volunteers was brilliant. And can I just say that if I was making an epic action film, I would want to cast this awesome-looking one in the lead role? This is designer-illustrator Simone Crowley and I spent some of the picnic admiring her and her tattoos from afar.

And one more photo with Chris. The weeping willow in the Secret Garden section of the park made for a wonderfully atmospheric storybook kind of place.

After the picnic, Tom and a lovely volunteer named Jenny hustled me off to County Hall for The Big Picture Panel Discussion with Chris, Inis magazine editor David Maybury and David Mackintosh.

No event involving the whirlwind that is David Maybury can be anything other than terribly exciting, and this panel was no exception. The best part for me was finding out about David Mackintosh's work. I'd never even heard of him, but his books are SO beautiful.

David's now London-based, but he was born in Belfast and grew up in Australia. And he worked as a graphic designer before moving into making his own picture books. And you can really tell: his understanding of typography, colour, how to use space on the page is exceptional.

I'm already such a fangirl. Here's the dedication in one of the books I bought:

Aren't these pictures the best thing ever?

I talked a bit about self-publishing during the panel, and at the end, two members of the audience came up and gave me copies of their self-published books, The Enlightened Light Bulb Boy by Dublin-based Brazilian illustrator Tarsila Krüse and the Yum! Yum! Recipe Booklet by Tarsila and her friend Paula McGloin.

Googling their names, I saw their blog post about the annual Dublin Zine Fair, which looks like something worth visiting or taking part in if you're in town.

After the panel, CBI's Jenny Murray set me up for my interview for Inis magazine with Cethan Leahy, and we had a good chat.

Then it was time to go home. Jenny whisked me off for a late lunch at the bagel place, then I got a festival taxi to the airport with Philip's agent, Philippa Milnes-Smith, and Sara Wingate Gray, who runs The Itinerant Poetry Library. Philippa and I listened, enthralled, to all the stuff Sara's been getting up to with her suitcase of poetry books, providing her 'guerilla public library service'. She was one of the first librarians to know about Twitter, which you can guess from her succinct Twitter name, @Librarian. I mentioned Audrey Niffenegger's graphic novel, The Night Bookmobile and short story Moths of the New World, and we decided that Sara had probably crawled out of the pages of one of those books before they were even written.

Oh, and this is my lovely new companion, a 'zonk' which I have named Webbster Donegan. She loves flying, even though her wings aren't terribly aerodynamic.

I was sad to leave. Someone tweeted a Dr Seuss quotation during the Paralympic Closing Ceremony that evening - 'Don't be sad it's over. Be glad it happened.' - and I thought that was a good way to look at it.

Goodbye, Ireland! An enormous thanks to Tom, Sarah, Marian, David, Jenny, Philip, CBI, Bob, Orla, the team of volunteers, and loads more people who made this festival such a wonderful experience. If you like, you can see a few more photos over in a Facebook album.

I feel like sleeping for a week now, and I'm sure the festival team do, too, but wow. That was amazing.

Edit: You can read other authors' accounts of the festival: Philip Reeve's, Judi Curtin's, Steve Cole's... more coming soon, I'm sure!


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 10th, 2012 10:24 pm (UTC)
Great Pics!
Great post Sarah! Love the images... especially the one of Philip and you ;) Quite an adventure!
Sep. 10th, 2012 10:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Great Pics!
Thanks so much! :)
Tom Donegan
Sep. 11th, 2012 07:06 am (UTC)
Hey Sarah, you are too kind - it's YOU guys that make it such an amazing festival. Thanks for saying'YES' way back when you first agreed to come and bringing your fabulous enthusiasm to everything you were involved in last week. There's a safe harbour in Dun Laoghaire whenever you next choose to sail this way! Nb. The lovely gentleman in the group pic is Adrian White @lynskeybook - bookseller and author https://sites.google.com/site/lynskeybooks xxxx
Sep. 11th, 2012 08:06 am (UTC)
I had a blast! And you are a star, Tom! :D (Thanks for the tip on Adrian!)
Sep. 11th, 2012 07:50 am (UTC)
Making me cry
Ah, Sarah, your lovely post has made me all teary eyed. And did we REALLY make you do so many wonderful events - yikes! It was so lovely to have you over and we look forward to seeing you very soon. You and Philip are officially now 'Friends of the Festival'. Much love, SarahX
Don't be a stranger now, you hear? And isn't David AMAZING? I want to marry his books!
Sep. 11th, 2012 08:07 am (UTC)
Re: Making me cry
Hurrah! Great job on the festival, you guys put SOOOO much work into that! It was awesome.

Oh, Webbster's batting me with his wing stub and wants to know if he's a Friend of the Festival, too.
Sep. 11th, 2012 10:09 am (UTC)
Re: Making me cry
OH yes, he deffo is - Webbster - that's what they used to call me in school. Or Spider Woman! Ha! XX
Sep. 11th, 2012 04:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Making me cry
Oh, excellent! He carries the name proudly. XD
Sep. 11th, 2012 01:52 pm (UTC)
I really don't know how you do it Sarah - what a fab event! Hope you're sleeping now!
Sep. 11th, 2012 04:47 pm (UTC)
Ha ha! If only... ;) xx
Sep. 11th, 2012 03:17 pm (UTC)
Mountains to Sea festival
Thank you for putting me in your blog. I am really happy you did.

I also really loved all the comic workshops you did they were great.

From Finn Colville

You have made Finn's day! He is very proud to be on your blog. Thank you for all your enthusiasm. Finn's mum
Sep. 11th, 2012 04:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Mountains to Sea festival
Hi, Finn! Thanks for leaving a note here, it was great to meet you!

I can't wait to see what you'll do with your comics. You can already start making comic books; all you need is a photocopier to make more copies and fold them, and your school or library might be able to help you with that. Good luck with it! Maybe I'll see you again on my next visit.
Sep. 11th, 2012 04:44 pm (UTC)
brilliant post and lovely photos - made me half homesick for Dun L...
Sep. 11th, 2012 04:51 pm (UTC)
Ah, that's right, I forgot you had an Irish connection! Is Mr Ncot from Dun Laoghaire? Cheers! :) x
Sep. 12th, 2012 02:44 am (UTC)
This! is! ALL! So! COOL!

Great author photo! Great photos all around!

Great adventures! (envious)

Hey, did I ever send you my mini-ULYSSES comic book? It would help a little if you tried to get into the actual book. (The tower is the Martello Tower (I feel like Alex Trebec), Martello Tower).

For me, I really want to read Moby Dick one day soon. I've never been able to get into it more than 50 pages or so.
And I want to travel to Ireland one day! Thanks again for your amazing blogging!
Sep. 12th, 2012 02:45 am (UTC)
Remind me your address (via email) and I'll send you the Ulysses comic book. I owe you that piece of art too!
Sep. 13th, 2012 09:24 am (UTC)
Re: mail
Oh wow, that would be amazing, David! I'd love to see it. :D

I've seen online a converted Martello tower house: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2010/dec/20/martello-tower-conversion
Sep. 12th, 2012 09:51 pm (UTC)
Brilliant photos and blog! Really enjoyed meeting you at the festival! : - Jenny
Sep. 13th, 2012 09:25 am (UTC)
Re: Hi!
So glad to meet you, too, Jenny! Thank you for all your help! x

Sep. 13th, 2012 07:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Hi!
Thanks Sarah!:) Love the photo! Thanks for being so friendly, and so encouraging about writing! Really looking forward to Seawigs, and to seeing more of your work! x
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah McIntyre

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