Laureate na nÓg Patricia Forde on creativity and making it up as you go along

Published on: 25 July 2023

Patricia Forde, the seventh Laureate na nÓg (Ireland’s Children’s Literature Laureate), is passionate about inventing characters and worlds. She’s hoping to share this joy during her tenure.

Irish Children's Literature Laureate Patricia Forde and the cover of her book, The Girl Who Fell to EarthIrish Children's Literature Laureate Patricia Forde and the cover of her book, The Girl Who Fell to Earth

Neither here nor there

It is an enormous honour to be appointed the seventh Laureate na nÓg.  As someone who has been making it up as I went along for most of my life, it didn’t take long to come up with a theme for my three years in the post. That theme is Samhlaigh Samhlaigh – Making It Up As We Go Along. My theme celebrates the time when we are ‘neither here nor there’ and the moments when ‘we catch the heart off guard and blow it open’ to quote Seamus Heaney.

I grew up in the medieval city of Galway on the west coast of Ireland. Once a walled town, Galway was full of stories. My five sisters and I grew up on Market Street and one of our nearest neighbours wasSt Nicholas’ Collegiate Church whose noisy bells woke us every Sunday morning and under whose shade the farmers’ market took place every Saturday. This is a church that still boasts headless angels, decapitated by soldiers under the command of Oliver Cromwell. High in the eaves is the leper gallery and far below it the altar rails where Christopher Columbus knelt in prayer on one of his failed attempts to discover the new world.

As an imaginative child, Galway fascinated me. I became interested in the history of the town and spent hours in the local library reading all I could find out about it. In a way, it was the beginning of my interest in world-building, because this ancient Galway was a different world with different rules and inhabited by very different people to the city that I was growing up in.

Vanishing islands and fairy forts

Imagining worlds was second nature to us, surrounded as we were by the imaginary places that populated our folklore. There was Tír na nÓg ( The Land of Eternal Youth) and Hy Brasil, a mysterious island that appeared every seven years off the coast of Galway. There were fairy forts and fairy trees and the mischief that could befall you if you interfered with either! In our neighbouring County Clare, a motorway was diverted to avoid a fairy bush, and that was in 1999.

I always loved books that presented new worlds – books like The Hobbit and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. But even more than that, I loved inventing them.

When we were growing up, washing dishes was a nightly chore. When it was my turn, I imagined that the knives, forks and spoons were all families. The knives and forks were the parents, the soup spoons the uncles and aunts and the teaspoons were the babies. I could spend hours playing with them, creating my own soap opera as I went. It never occurred to me that I was already in training to become an author.

Patricia took inspiration from The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.Patricia took inspiration from The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Inventing new worlds as we travel our own

One of my favourite things about being a writer is that feeling of absolute power when it comes to creating new worlds. In my novel The Girl Who Fell To Earth, I set about creating a planet in a far-off galaxy, a place more advanced than Earth. This became a place called Terros, run by scientists, where people live forever.  Here, memories can be downloaded, leaving more room in the brain for other necessary processes; children are grown in synthetic wombs where all perceived ‘defects’ can be corrected before birth; and Earth is merely a Shadow Planet – a laboratory that serves Terros. I created lots and lots of details – most of which didn’t survive the final cut – but all of which helped colour the picture that was building in my imagination.

As Laureate na nÓg, I want to encourage creativity in children. One part of the project involves bringing children’s writers and illustrators on a bus tour along The Wild Atlantic Way – one of the longest coastal routes in the world, winding its way from the Inishowen Peninsula in the north, to the beautiful town of Kinsale in the south. We will invent new worlds as we go – writing stories and poems, making maps and drawing hordes of new animals and birds and sharing our imaginings with the children we meet along the way. We will stop at schools and libraries and I know that we will be inspired by the young people we meet – and hopefully we will inspire them too!

This will also be a way to introduce Irish children to contemporary writers and illustrators.

Books and stories are the fuel of imagination and creativity. I want to make sure that the next generation have all the support and encouragement they need to read and to write.

Through stories – their own and others – they will learn empathy, they will see themselves reflected back to themselves and, most importantly of all, they will experience the joy of making it up as they go along, being neither here nor there, but losing themselves in other worlds – masters and mistresses of their own hearts and souls, and kings and queens of lands of imagination.

Laureate na nÓg is an initiative of the Arts Council. It is managed and delivered on the Council’s behalf by Children’s Books Ireland, and also supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.

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