Shane Casey is the author of two dyslexia-friendly children’s books, Nature’s Secret Adventures and Nature’s Hidden Adventures. Originally from the Burren in Co. Clare, Shane works as Clare Biodiversity Officer. Children aged 6 and above can attend the Nature’s Hidden Adventures Writing Workshop with Shane on the 13th of November. Shane takes us along on his journey to writing for children, as well as the importance of seeking nature in the everyday.
Q. What first drew you to writing for children?
It was by accident really. I was working as the Clare Biodiversity Officer at the time and was always looking for new ways to engage children with their local wildlife. One of the activities we used to do was a ‘mini-world story’ where you’d overturn a stone or a rotting log and tell a story based on the creepy-crawlies you’d find underneath. At the same time, I had been writing monthly articles for a local newspaper. Each month I’d focus on a different way of viewing biodiversity, and one month it was through the format of a children’s story. The article got a huge reaction and prompted me to try my hand at a few more stories. Before I really knew what I was doing, I was writing for children – big ones and little ones!
Q. Your workshop will teach children to be more aware of the wildlife around them. Where can we look for hidden nature in cities, for example?
Local wildlife is the most important theme that runs throughout the workshop and throughout my writing. The creatures we can find in our own gardens and parks are fascinating, but often play second fiddle to exotic creatures that can only be experienced in the zoo. The first story I ever wrote (the one from the newspaper) was about a little ant in a back garden who went on a big adventure. Along the way, he met dancing daisies, grumpy slugs and beautiful butterflies. But there’s so much more that we find in many Dublin gardens – pygmy shrews scuttling through the grass in search of crunchy beetles, hedgehogs rummaging around the undergrowth at dusk, and robins loudly singing battle songs to stake their territory. Our City’s parks are full of wildlife too – bumblebees, dragonflies, ladybirds, flowers of every shape and colour, and trees that tower above us. Our rivers, the Liffey, Tolka and Dodder, are full of otters chasing fish, and fish chasing mayflies. Even our building are home to wildlife, from bats roosting in cracks and crevices, to swifts and swallows building nests on the eaves of rooftops. Many of these creatures feature in my writing, and will feature throughout the workshop, with a focus on wildlife that is easily seen and accessible.
One other area which is unique to Dublin City is North Bull Island. This is an area that every Dublin person should visit at least once in their lifetime, and has something special to offer regardless of what time of the year it is – from wintering waders to summer orchids!
Q. All your books are dyslexia-friendly. How do you manage this?
It mainly relates to the visual design and presentation of the books. We use five simple techniques in our books to make them more accessible for dyslexic readers. While they may not work in every case, we have received a very positive response from parents, teachers, and children with dyslexia.
- We use a special font called OpenDyslexic font, which is currently free to download.
- We avoid black text on a white background. Instead we use dark blue text on a cream background.
- We use only single spacing after all punctuation marks.
- We avoid beginning the first word of a new sentence on the previous line.
- We align the text to the left of the page and avoid justifying it.
Q. What have you read recently that’s really excited you?
I’ve been reading some old Irish fairy tales. There are lots of books available, and many of the stories are a bit mad, but the language is often beautiful. Irish storytelling and conversations generally have some wonderful turns of phrase. In fact, I often find myself listening out for them in my own daily conversations, and I try to include them as much as possible in my writing.