2 Minutes with… Raising Voices Fellow: Conor BredinPublished 20/04/2022
We sat down with Conor to learn a little more about him, what he hopes to gain from the Raising Voices Fellowship, his thoughts on children’s publishing in Ireland and what he’d like to see more of in this sphere.
1) What do you think are the best things about children and young adult publishing at the moment? And the worse…
One of the best things about children’s and YA publishing at the minute is that the industry seems to be more willing to take risks compared to when I was a child. There are more ‘weird’ and kooky stories out there. I love seeing that publishers are realising that children are very odd human beings indeed, and that is one of the most wonderful things about them. It makes me smile so much when I see a child find a book that speaks directly to them and their sense of oddity, in a way that books when I was a child often didn’t.
To flip the coin and talk about some of the not-so-great things, I think the industry is just so under-represented in the larger scale of Irish publishing. The wonderful Children’s Books Ireland and Sara Webb run a series of workshop events called “ProperBook” events, which are a fantastic resource for all children’s writers at all stages of their journeys. They are named “Proper Book” because of the common experience a children’s writer gets when they say they’ve published a book is “Oh great, so when are you writing a proper book?”
Also, when you go into some (definitely not all) bookshops, the children’s section is often way way down the back, or the bestseller shelves have children’s books kept away from the “Proper” adult books. I’d like to see children’s books be more recognised and respected!
2) What would you hope to achieve or learn from the Raising Voices Fellowship?
When someone asks me what I hope to learn from the Raising Voices Fellowship, my honest answer is “I don’t know!” I think that’s the point. There’s a lot I don’t know, actually. I don’t know anything about children’s publishing, and how to “make it” as a children’s writer. I’m hoping that my mentor, astounding author Dave Rudden, will be able to figure out where I am in my writing journey, and point me in the right direction, even if it’s just the next step I should take.
I do know what I want to achieve however! I’m hoping that by the end of the Raising Voice Fellowship, I’ll be able to take my children’s fantasy manuscript, and have it as polished and as ready for a publisher as I can. Hopefully, I’ll then be able to become really good friends with a publisher out there…
3) What would like to see more of in Children’s publishing?
Diversity, diversity, diversity! I’d love to see more LGBT+ characters, more neurodivergent characters, more disabled characters, more characters of different races and ethnicities. But, and I feel this is really important, I don’t want to see those identities be central to children’s stories. What I mean is, let’s have a character who is in a wheelchair, but not have the story be about being in a wheelchair. Let’s have a story about a little lesbian girl, but the fact that she’s a lesbian be as relevant to the story as the fact that she has brown eyes. I get a little emotional still when there’s an LGBT+ character just casually mentioned in a story. Let’s have some casual diversity. We need both stories that are central to diverse peoples experiences, but also have stories that are central to everyone’s lived experience, but just have diverse people there as well.
Remember, if we can’t see it, we don’t know that we can be it. Children need to see all the different ways to be, so they can find and understand who they are.
4) Who or what inspires your own work?
Honestly, I feel like a shorter list would be what doesn’t inspire my work.
My current work in progress was actually inspired by the children I teach. I told them I wanted to write a children’s book but I had no ideas. So I asked them to design a book cover, and tell me the story of that book. One of those books is now my manuscript!
Authors and Illustrators that have inspired or taught me a thing or two are the likes of Eoin Colfer, Sara Webb, Eve McDonnell, Tarsila Kruse, Shane Hegarty, Paddy Donnelly, Oliver Jeffers, Sadhbh Devlin and so many more. Of course, the two biggest that had an influence on who I am today are probably Roald Dahl and Phillip Pullman.
5) Recommend one piece of essential Children’s/YA literature
Honestly, Under the Hawthorn Tree by Martina Conlon-McKenna is one of Irish Children’s Literature’s greatest works, and I feel that everyone should read it twice. Once as a child, and once as an adult.
Over the next six months, children’s artists Conor Bredin, Nene Lonergan, Carol McGill, Kate Moore, Aileen Swansen and Jennifer Wallace will be connected to a welcoming community of practice and supported in developing their careers. As part of the Raising Voices programme, the fellows will benefit from a host of creative and practical supports throughout the year. The fellowships are run by a group of literature organisations including Children’s Books Ireland, Illustrators Ireland, Publishing Ireland, the Dublin Book Festival and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig.
What is the Raising Voices fellowship?
Raising Voices aims to develop and support aspiring artists who make work for children and young adults and whose voices have been underrepresented in literature. The fellowship aims to break down barriers to publication, progression and inclusion and to increase diversity and representation in the Irish literature sector for those whose voices have been underrepresented due to background or identity.
The creative and practical supports all six fellows will benefit from include:
- Mentorship with an experienced writer or illustrator
- A detailed critique from an editor/art director suited to the fellow’s practice
- A week-long residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig
- Access to a bespoke speaker series, bursary information clinic with the Arts Council, and various events and courses.
- Tools, information and guidance needed to finalise a manuscript or dummy, prepare work for submission, research the market, and apply for bursaries.
Conor is a primary school teacher at Rush and Lusk Educate Together National School and has been writing stories ever since he was in Junior Infants himself. Conor is currently writing a children’s fantasy novel, but also enjoys working on picturebook manuscripts. Conor applied for the Raising Voices fellowship because he believes that every book needs to have LGBTQIA+ characters, and those characters need to have their own stories that have nothing to do with their identity. He hopes that his time with the Raising Voices fellowship will make him the best author he can be, and help him spread the message that diversity of all types is to be celebrated.