Q&A with Rachel Pierce
1. Can you tell us what to expect from Ireland: The People, The Places, The Stories?
This is a child’s eye-view of Ireland, exploring the whole island and including the sorts of things I think children will love to read about. So, you’ll be reading about the lesser-known Ireland – like the ghost dog said to haunt the battlefield at Aughrim, the tunnel used by the staff of Guinness brewery to reach its second site across the road, the sinkhole c. 300ft wide that yawned open next to a school in County Monaghan and the legend of the Jumping Church of Kildemock, which leaped aside to exclude a non-baptised person who had the audacity to be buried there.
It’s a fun and fascinating trip around the island. On top of that, it is gorgeously illustrated by ten Irish illustrators, so it’s a visual education as well. It runs the whole gamut, from prehistoric times to the present.
2. How much research did you have to do?
I wrote the book in 2020, which was a bit of a pain because I couldn’t travel around the country. I was reading about these incredible places, but I couldn’t visit them. Research is usually a delightful mix of desk work and trips, but I had to take the unusual option of travelling through my own memories. I did use books and the internet as sources, of course, but I also had to imagine myself back into all the places I’ve visited over the years. It might be a fact-filled book, but Lockdown meant it was a work of my own imagination as much as of studious research. It was an interesting challenge!
3. What was your favourite section to write and research?
The great thing about research is finding out all you don’t know. When you’re researching your own country, it’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘I know about that’. It’s so familiar, you don’t even realise you often only know half the story. There are nine sections in the book, ranging from The Living Landscape to Warring Ireland to Haunted Ireland, and then a final section giving lots of ideas for places to go and things to do and see.
I think my favourite was probably Underground Ireland. I knew about the bog bodies and souterrains, but I didn’t know much about the many tunnels around the country – not even the air-raid shelters in Dublin’s Merrion Square and Grafton Street, and I’m a Dubliner!
4. What is the best part about being a published author?
The two best things were both unexpected and came as a very pleasant surprise. The first sounds odd, but when you get published, nothing changes, and you get to focus on your next idea. For writers, getting published is usually a dream we have cradled and cherished from childhood. If it does happen, it’s incredible and you secretly feel like the world will never be the same after the day of publication. Then the day comes and … nothing changes. The sun rises and sets, the world bustles on and it dawns on you that it was never a finish-line, it was one landmark on the long walk you’re on – and you get to keep on writing, keep on walking. That’s a good feeling.
But the truly best thing is receiving messages from readers. You can’t imagine that beforehand and you don’t, it’s impossible, but then it happens and it’s mind-blowing. A child somewhere, perhaps in a country you’ve never visited, has connected with your book so much, they need to tell you about it. That’s as good as it gets.
5. What books are you most looking forward to reading this year?
My to-read pile is taller than me at this stage. I have dreams of the whole lot teetering over and burying me in my sleep. My three children are all avid readers, so they are great for recommendations. They loved Rebel Dogs, so Rebel Animals at Risk: stories of survival by Kimberlie Hamilton will be on that pile. I keep hearing great reviews of The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh by Helen Rutter, so I’d like to read that. I received an unprecedented text from my sister ordering me to read everything Katherine Rundell has ever written, so I’d better obey that! Bunny vs Monkey is proving as big a hit at home as Dogman, so I’ll read those too. And Anthony Horowitz – my son has been raving about his books, so onto the death-defying pile they go.
Ireland: The People, The Places, The Stories by Rachel Pierce is out 2nd September!