Robert Dunbar, rest in peace

It’s a while since I’ve blogged but felt that it was easier to get my thoughts out in a blog rather than a series of disjointed tweets.
Yesterday, I heard the very sad news that Robert Dunbar had passed away.
For those who don’t know, Robert was a children’s literature commentator, a journalist and educator. I was honoured to meet him on a few occasions, including one cold sunny morning we met in Rathmines for a coffee, which turned into several coffees, all the while chatting about books and writing and life.
Ireland has an especially supportive children’s book community. Yesterday that community lost one of its greatest champions. Robert was at the heart of the community and always full of enthusiasm. I will never forget the feeling of immense gratitude and joy when I read the overwhelmingly kind words he’d written about my book.
So my deepest sympathy go to his family and friends. He was one of a kind and will be missed greatly.
And to Robert, I say thank you.
And rest in peace.

Arthur Quinn and the Chrismas Links

It’s that time of the year again. So if you want to get Arthur in your life in time for Christmas, here are all the links you’ll need in one place.


If you can, buy the books from your local indie bookshop. But there are loads of places you can buy the books online. Hive is a great book retailer, especially since you’ll be supporting independent booksellers. Mericer Press, who published the books, have a fantastic deal at the minute – all three books for €15! You can, of course, also find the books on Amazon. But if you are buying online, I can’t recommend Hive or Mercier enough!

As for e-books, you can get the books individually at all the above links. But by far the best value is the bumperpack which includes the entire trilogy for around £10!! It’s available on Hive here. (You can also get it on Amazon but please do try to support Hive and independent bookshops!)

What’s that you say? You speak French and also want to read Arthur’s adventures? Well good news! Because the entire trilogy is now available in French here!

Maybe you’ve already read all three books and want something else. Well, check out the Arthur Quinn website for lots of Christmas freebies, including greeting cards, decorations, screensavers and – best of all – TWO exclusive short stories!


In Which Paintings Scare Me

There were two films that really scared me as a kid – and both of them had one rather unusual feature in common.

‘The Witches’ and ‘Ghostbusters 2.’

Let’s look at ‘The Witches’ first. Remember the scene where the grandmother tells Luke about her first encounter with witches? If you don’t, just watch the clip below.

That clip ended a little bit sooner than it should have. After that, the grandmother told us that the girl in the painting would change positions from time to time but nobody ever saw her move. And freakiest of all, she got older and older, until one day she simply wasn’t there anymore.

Why did I choose the film over the brilliant book? Because in the film we got to see the painting. And in my parents’ house, we had a painting of a cottage in the woods just like that one, which you can imagine I was terrified of. I honestly think that the clip above is one of the most frightening scenes in cinematic history. Getting trapped for eternity in a lonely painting is such a horrifying prospect. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

Which brings me to ‘Ghostbusters 2’, which also had a person trapped in a painting at its core. Except this time, the person trapped is the evil ghost Vigo the Carpathian.

I loved everything about ‘Ghostbusters’ growing up; the cartoon, the toys, the first film. So I couldn’t wait to see the sequel when it came out. I went to the cinema with my mother and brother. I took the aisle seat and waited to laugh and jump in equal measures. And this was all going so well, until Vigo stepped out of the painting.

I distinctly remember that moment. It’s stayed with me more than any other cinema-gonig experience. Sitting there, in the aisle seat, I was convinced that Vigo was going to come walking down the steps from behind to get me. I even looked over my shoulder a few times to make sure he wasn’t there.

Thankfully he wasn’t. But even to this day, if I see a painting like the one in ‘The Witches’ or a poster with Vigo’s snarling face on it, I can’t help but swallow drily, avery my gaze and hurry away.


So with that, I’ll wish you all a HAPPY HALLOWE- Wait a second! There’s a painting over my desk I never saw before…

I think I’ll just take a closer look. Be right back…


What a weird painti-ARGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

Swear to Tell the Truth

Every so often, the issue of swearing in YA literature raises its tedious head. And I do mean ‘tedious’. The fact that some adults are still questioning whether a few four letter words are suitable for young adults is more than a little tiresome.

I am firmly in the camp that ‘bad language’ has a place in YA literature. Now, I’m not saying that it would be right for Bella Swan to go around effing and blinding when Edward breaks up with her. It just wouldn’t suit her character. But sometimes not only is it appropriate for a character to use a profanity, it is necessary.

Recently I read two new YA books that deal with curse words in completely different ways. They were the fantastic When Mr Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan and the thrilling Half Bad by Sally Green. In the former, we meet young Dylan Mint, who suffers from Tourette’s syndrome. The language Dylan uses in the book is often coarse, offensive and dehumanising. But it is also playful, funny and – most importantly – emotionally truthful. The profanity is sometimes shocking but, despite this, there is not one moment when you feel that it is included for shock tactics. You are in Dylan’s mind throughout, no holes barred.

Half Bad is a very different book. It is a dark, violent, gritty tale of modern day witches. It’s a real page turner and makes you feel that there actually might be a society of witches bubbling under our own world. But I have to admit that I had one problem with the book – and this was something that manifested itself in the latter half. Not only is there no swearing but there is an explicit aversion to it. This is a book that features numerous scenes of mild torture – both physical and emotional – that includes acid burns, backroom surgegical procedures, scarring with knives and much more. Yet it constantly shies away from any four letter words. We are told on a couple of occasions that protagonist Nathan ‘threw in a few swears’ and, on the occasion where Nathan is suffereing the worst agony of his young life, we get an asterixed ‘F***!’

Like I said, I did enjoy Half Bad a lot. It is, quite simply, a great book. The world Sally Green created was believable and immersive. But the reluctance to use swear words took me out of that world. The character of Nathan was honest and open to the reader throughout which made it feel all the more untruthful that he wouldn’t drop the occasional F-bomb in our presence.

There are people who believe that there should be no swearing in YA literature. Some say that young adults are not emotionally mature enough to deal with the language. Others actually claim that it will encourage them to use four letter words – (as if they weren’t already aware of them!) All of that is hogwash. As Patrick Ness has said, children and teenagers are great self-censors. I certainly know that, as a kid, if I ever started a book I didn’t feel ready for, I put it down until a later date.

Profanity should, of course, have a context. But so should every other word and event and character in a novel. The only thing that matters is the truth of the character and the truth of that moment. Denying the character four letter words because of prudishness does nobody any good, least of all the reader.

One Day

People often ask me – (as I’m sure every writer gets asked) – what my average day is like. What time do I get up in the mornings? How long do I work for normally? Or, for that matter, how do I make myself work when I could be just watching a Jeremy Kyle marathon?!

So, to address all those questions and more, here’s my normal day.

The first thing you should know is that there is no such thing as a normal day. I have a basic routine but this can change at the drop of a hat, depending on a lot of different factors. I like to stick to this routine as much as possible, especially when I’m working on early drafts of a book, as it keeps me focused; I’m in the world of the book, thinking and feeling what the characters think and feel. Rather than calling the following a normal day, let’s call it an ideal day.


7:21 – Wake up.

I know that 7.21 is a strangely precise time to wake but it comes from some ridiculous study I heard about on the radio a few years ago. Apparently the best time to wake every morning is 7.21. I don’t know if it is or not. But I did set my alarm to that after hearing it and have left it since. It works for me, that’s all that matters.


8:30 – Get up.

Yes. It takes me that long to wake fully. I like to listen to the radio during that time.

Once I’m out of bed, I’ll fill a Thermos mug with fresh coffee – (which I have on a timer!) I prefer using a Thermos mug for two reasons. Firstly, it keeps the coffee warm for almost my entire writing session. Secondly, it means I don’t have to get up from my desk for a refill.

Read the rest of this entry »

New Ink!

I got a new tattoo and it’s very bookish.

before and after - tattoo


I’ve wanted this one for a LONG time. I came up with the idea and the fantastic tattooist designed it for me. It took about 2 hours under the needle but was so worth it.


The quote, by the way, is from Matilda by Roald Dahl, my favourite book growing up.

So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.

Arthur Quinn and the AMAZING LETTER!

Just before Christmas, I received some unexpected post…





I was really intrigued and so opened it up. But the design didn’t stop on the envelope…




A young reader called Niamh Dwyer from Leitrim sent the amazing letter to me. I couldn’t have been more delighed to receive such a beautiful and well-written letter. THANKS NIAMH!

The Reviews Are In!

A few weeks ago I was bowled over by the amazing review that Robert Dunbar gave ‘Arthur Quinn and Hell’s Keeper’ in the Irish Times. A quick read will tell you why I was so thrilled!

Alan Early’s Arthur Quinn and Hell’s Keeper (Mercier, €8.99) concludes his Father of Lies trilogy. Praiseworthy as the two previous titles were, it is by far his most significant achievement. The knowledge of, and affinity with, Norse myth that characterise Early’s writing is again strongly evident, but the way these are woven into a narrative that moves effortlessly between past and present represents new levels of attainment. Not since Cormac MacRaois’s Giltspur trilogy of the late 1980s has this been done so convincingly in Irish children’s fiction.

Particularly impressive is the use made of the flooded Dublin cityscape through which Arthur and his young allies make their way, on jet skis, to Arthur’s final engagement with Loki, the “Father of Lies”. Croke Park, Kilmainham Gaol and Áras an Uachtaráin all figure prominently and very entertainingly. But also worth noting is Early’s portrayal of relationships, whether within the family or between friends. It all amounts to an expertly paced and totally engrossing novel.

But most astonishingly of all, this week Robert has included the book in his list of his favourite Irish kids books of the last 25 years! That my little book has been mentioned alongside books that I read and loved as a kid myself is just mind-boggling! I’m so happy that people are liking Hell’s Keeper as much as they are. It was the most fun to write of the three, but also the most difficult to get right.

‘Peter Quinn: The Underground War’

I got sent this great little short story by a young writer in Longford and thought I’d share it here. I suppose you could say it’s the first piece of Arthur Quinn fanfic!


      The Underground War
Chapter one
Peter Quinn was an 12 year old boy.He moved in to a house in Dublin he didn’t like it was the holidays they just started.The first day he found a new friend named Arthur Arthur show him the Dublin castle. The next morning Peter went to Arthur’s house then they went to Croke park then loki attack them Peter asked Arthur “what is your surname” he replied to him “I’m Arthur Quinn your mom told me not to tell you”why “because I’m your cousin”

Arthur – back in Farranfore!

You may not realise this but Arthur Quinn is originally from Kerry; a place called Farranfore to be precise. And this weekend, I was in Kerry. Of course I visited the birthplace of Arthur and the train station that features in Arthur Quinn and Hell’s Keeper.