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Literacy Learnings
Léargais Litríochta


Author name:  Manchán Magan

Title of shortlisted book:  Tree Dogs, Banshee Fingers and other Irish words for Nature

1. What was your earliest memory of reading/being read to?

My grandmother would constantly read irish language books to me and my siblings. I remember especially An Tiogar a tháinig chun té (a translation of the Tiger Who Came to Tea), and Mog, an chat díchéilí (one of the Mog series of books).


2. When did you first begin to write for an audience?

I returned from a life-changing trip across Africa overland from Dublin to Kenya in 1991 and determined to mould my diary into a book. I first wrote it around 1993, and then published it around 1996 as an Irish book titled, Manchán ar Seachrán


3. What book inspired you most as a young writer? Why?

The Robber Hozenplotz.

There were a series of books under this title. They were classics in Germany and elsewhere around the world, but didn’t really make the same impact in Ireland. I was entranced by them.


4. What is the best thing about writing for a contemporary audience?

I adore to share ideas and I find that writing is the easiest, cheapest and most direct way to share ideas. Making TV or radio programmes or podcasts are all so much more cumbersome and expensive. Words on a page or a screen, for me, beat any other form of communication.


5.  What is the most challenging thing about writing for a contemporary audience?

Keeping their attention. Knowing that I am competing with TV, the internet and myriad other forms of communication that are constantly begging for attention and chiding people when they don’t give it to them. Books are rather tame and passive in how the demands they make on the public to engage with them.


6. What inspired you to write Tree Dogs, Banshee Fingers and other Irish words for Nature?

I had written Thirty-Two Words for Field about the wisdom and knowledge encoded within the Irish language, but hadn’t found room to explore how Irish words for the natural world have a unique magic of their own. They capture nature and our surroundings in a really beautiful and life-affirming way. My aim was to convey this in this illustrated book


7. What have you learned from the process of writing this book?

This was the first illustrated book I have ever done, with very little text and it has taught me how impactful such a book can be. I was so focused on words on paper before this that I never considered the power that could be created by lessening the words and allowing room for the reader and observer to create their own world from the images, design and blank spaces. I am so indebted to the incredible illustrator Steve Doogan who did all the images and the amazing design team at Gill Books who brought each page alive.


8. What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

 It may sound like a cliché, but my advice would be to strive to find your own voice and to write about your passion. If you do strictly follow your passion your own voice will arise naturally. It can’t not. I spent too long copying other writers that I admired and chasing ideas that I thought others would find significant or alluring. I finally gave up and just tuned in to my own inner voice and inner knowing and followed my passion and my inner drive. As creatives, artists and writers, we need to follow our instinct.

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