Brew a cup of tea, invite neighborhood children to a cozy story hour, and immerse yourself in Eileen Moynihan’s latest release, Frances Darwin Investigates. When the intrepid young heroine, Frances, discovers a bit of torn paper on the ground, it instantly ignites her desire to be a detective and reunite a stray dog with its owner. But that’s just the beginning for Frances and her new friends; dog-nappers are on an aggressive prowl in her neighborhood, and it’s up to the amateur sleuth to find out who’s behind it. In a delightful interview from across the pond, Eileen attests that being young at heart has a lot to do with successfully penning stories which will resonate with the next generation of readers.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and who/what inspired you along the way.
A: I have been writing from an early age. I loved to make up stories about magic and fairies when I was about 7. Then I moved onto adventure stories around the age of 9. As I grew older I was more into characters and what made them tick. I was definitely inspired by my mother reading books to me, regular visits to the library and encouragement from teachers at school. But as I got bogged down in rearing children and working, my writing got put on the back burner. Then in later years I heard about S.C.B.W.I (Society of Children’s Book writers and Illustrators) and became a member. They were very helpful in directing me in my writing. I also joined local writers groups where I could network and receive feedback.
Q: When you were the same age as your young target readership, were you a voracious reader?
A: Yes I was always reading. I would read when and wherever I could. I would even read the cereal packets. I was often caught with a torch under the sheets reading a book.
Q: What sorts of books might we have found on your bookshelves and nightstand when you were growing up?
A: Books by Enid Blyton, the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, @Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, Little Women by Louisa M Alcott, poetry by Robert Louis Stevenson and A. A. Milne.
Q: What influence did your upbringing in the U.K. have on your storytelling style and your general outlook on life?
A: I suppose I was influenced by writers from the U.K. in my use of language and style of storytelling. I liked the idea of the rural idyll of small quaint villages and countryside. But my father who was Irish also persuaded me to read books by Patricia Lynch such as The Turf-Cutter’s Donkey which sparked an interest in the Irish way of life.
Q: What attracted you to the children’s market as your genre of choice?
A: I used to teach and loved to share my love of books with children. I also wanted to revisit the books I had enjoyed as a child, and discover new ones. It was just a natural step to write for children.
Q: What inspires your creativity as a wordsmith?
A: It could be something I overhear or read – a phrase that may catch my fancy. It could be something I see or feel. Sometimes it is just a random thought that ‘grows legs.’
Q: All of your titles are delightfully imaginative! How did you come up with them?
A: Rory Gumboots just jumped into my head.
The Reckolahesperus came from the phrase I heard as a child – ‘You look like the Wreck of the Hesperis.’ The Wreck of the Hesperis was a poem about a shipwreck.
Hattie and Jacques Love London came from the name of Hattie Jacques who was a star of the Carry On films.
The Dreamsmith was just pure imagination.
Q: What was the inspiration for Frances Darwin Investigates?
A: I had seen reports of dognapping in the paper and that started me thinking. I enjoyed adventure books written by Enid Blyton as a child so that definitely influenced me, too.
Q: How much of young Frances is actually Eileen?
A: There is definitely a lot of me in Frances, her curiosity, her independence and imagination.
Q: Over the course of the story, Frances makes friends with people young and old. Do you think children can identify with this?
A: I think so because children are surrounded by parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbours and friends. Sometimes age doesn’t matter if there is a connection of hearts and minds.
Q: Why do you think children would enjoy this book?
A: I think children would enjoy this book because it has dogs, adventure, humour, interesting character relationships and it has a happy ending.
Q: Children today have far more distractions (many of them technological) than those of earlier generations. As a former educator, what would your advice be to parents who want their children to be more actively engaged in the joy of reading?
A: Read them books at bedtime from an early age. Encourage them to use libraries. Let them read comics. Let them read stories online or on Kindle and listen to audio-books. Buy them books as presents. Present reading in all its forms.
Q: Like many of today’s authors, you chose to don multiple hats and go the route of self-publishing. What governed this choice for you?
A: I sent Rory Gumboots to publishers and agents. I was told it was a sweet story but that they didn’t do books with anthromorphic animals etc.… so then I looked into self-publishing. I first did an eBook with KDP and then decided to get print books with Amazon’s Createspace. I am not getting any younger so I just wanted to get on with it.
Q: What have you learned (both pros and cons) about the DIY route that you didn’t know when you started?
A: The pros of self-publishing is that you are in charge of what you do and you can do it at your own pace and convenience. You learn a lot in the process and it is good to network with others who are self-publishing. The main thing is that you can produce the main product which is … your book.
The cons are that you have to do everything yourself, promotion, social media, uploading file, formatting and having to buy books before you can sell them yourself.
Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?
A: That I enjoy dancing and used to do stage-dancing as a child on the Isle of Wight.
Q: What is the oldest item you still have from your childhood and what is its nostalgic value to you?
A: The oldest items I have from childhood are some A.A. Milne books that belonged to my mother when she was young. I remember her reading these to me when I was at home sick from school.
Q: Plotter or pantser?
A: I believe I am mostly a pantser with a bit of plotter thrown in. For Frances Darwin Investigates I had a rough outline in my head but sometimes my characters would lead me down a different way.
Q: What is a typical writing day like for you?
A: I have no typical writing day. I often work better when I have a deadline for myself. I am a slow writer and give myself little rewards after doing so many sentences. I start with a small number of sentences and keep building up.
Q: Does anyone get to read your works-in-progress or do you make everyone wait until you’re finished?
A: I often read my works-in-progress to other people in my local writers group. I also used to be in an online S.C.B.W.I. group.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: I am working on a poetry book for children about wild flowers with accompanying photographs from my friend, Margaret O’Driscoll, who is also a poet. The illustrations of accompanying flower fairies are by my sister, Angela Gawn. The cover is done by my friend Dan Flynn who is an artist and fellow writer.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I don’t claim to be a great writer but it is something I enjoy. I am loving the journey and learning new things every day.