'I made my agent cry with children's story'

A virtual talk on writing books for children will take place online tomorrow, as part of the Cork World Book Festival celebrations, which continue this weekend, writes COLETTE SHERIDAN
'I made my agent cry with children's story'

Children's author, Olivia Hope,

DO you think you could write a book for children?

Author, Olivia Hope, who has a children’s book coming out next year with Bloomsbury, as well as another two books after that, will be giving a virtual talk at the Cork World Book Festival on April 24 at 1.30pm on how to get published in this genre.

Olivia, from Killarney, has always been making up stories and working with children. She never set out to be a children’s author but has discovered this niche suits her.

She has worked as a PE teacher at a primary school “playing imaginative games, which is a really great way to engage with children”.

Olivia adds: “When I had my own children and was reading books to them, I might make up another version of a story. It’s very easy for me to find wonder in things, to be curious about tiny things.

“But it was a big step to go from making up stories to actually writing them down, wondering if anyone wanted to read them.”

With three sons, Ethan, 16, Charlie, 13, and Thomas, nine, Olivia used to test her stories on them when they were very young.

“Nowadays, if I can’t hook my kids in the first 30 seconds, the story isn’t working. They’re my toughest critics. 

"I’d prefer to face a team of editors rather than my kids!”

Olivia’s forthcoming book, Be Wild, Little One is “an anthem for bravery, for exploring the world you live in. It’s an adventure story. I think children need to be empowered. There’s enough going on to keep them protected and safe. But kids like a little bit of risk. I think it makes them understand what they’re capable of.”

At the Cork World Book Festival seven years ago, Olivia realised what she might be capable of when she made an Irish literary scout/agent cry. The agent, Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, was moved when she heard Olivia’s story centring around a robin.

Olivia wanted to understand how the publishing world works. She says it was “daunting” to meet Vanessa and pitch her story to her.

“I knew I didn’t have much time with Vanessa as there were a few people behind me waiting to talk to her. I gave what I now realise is the ‘elevator pitch’. She started crying and said the story was beautiful. 

"She also said that publishers needed to see my books. So I was very lucky to make that impact on Vanessa.

“But it took me another year before an agent took me on and a further year before I signed my first book deal. I feel I’ve been learning a lot. Part of it is making sure you’re writing a story that connects.”

Olivia received a modest fee on signing the contract with Bloomsbury followed by a further payment when the text was approved.

“There will be a final amount when the book is published. I won’t be living off it unless the book becomes a big seller.

“I don’t think people go into children’s books expecting to get rich. You do it because you love writing stories for children. 

"There are some who make millions, like Julia Donaldson who wrote The Gruffalo and JK Rowling (of the Harry Potter books.)”

Olivia’s book is illustrated by “a fantastic artist, Daniel Egnéus”.

She says that writing for children “is somewhere between poetry and surgery.” The word count is very low — between 400 and 800 words. But every word counts and there is an art to connecting with children on the page, helped by illustrations.

Difficult themes such as divorce and the refugee crisis can be touched in on children’s books, says Olivia. Children are open to learning about life’s problems in a way that is not heavy-handed.

As well as writing, Olivia works as an associate artist with Siamsa Tíre, the national folklore theatre of Ireland. She also is a creative associate on the Arts Council’s creative schools’ programme, and she teaches creative writing and critiques picture books with the Inkwell Group. She studied education at the University of Limerick and did psychology with the Open University.

Another string to Olivia’s bow is her background in sports. She has competed for Ireland as a record breaking hammer thrower.

“I haven’t done athletics for a long time. The great thing about athletics is that you learn very quickly to get over stuff that’s not going so well. I did athletics for years. I was always setting goals and learning from performances that didn’t work.”

Olivia says there are “a lot of knocks” in the writing business.

“I wonder if I hadn’t done athletics, would I have been strong enough to cope with rejection. You have to get used to rejection in writing and not winning. Determination, a bit of grit and diligence, kept me at the writing.”

For more on what is taking place for Cork World Book Festival and to book Olivia’s workshop see https://corkworldbookfest.com/

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