Could you share a little about your favourite classic children's book and how it has influenced your own writing?
Adiba: My favourite classic children's book was Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. One of the great things about that book is that it's fun, whimsical, and doesn't take itself too seriously. When I'm writing, I try to bring joy to my books and characters, and enjoy the process of creating!
Katie: Some of my favourite children's books from a young age were the Brambly Hedge series by Jill Barklem. My parents used to read them to me at bedtime, and I was so captivated by the beautifully detailed illustrations of the little mice going about their business in their cozy, busy worlds. I think the books of my childhood definitely influenced and inspired the woodland aesthetics - the golden-warm reds and yellows of - The Little Squirrel Who Worried.
Creating relatable and memorable characters is crucial in children's literature. Can you tell us about one of your characters that you're particularly fond of and why?
Adiba: I'm fond of Ishu from Hani and Ishu's Guide to Fake Dating. She was a lot of fun to write, because in many ways she's quite different from me. She's very blunt and outspoken, which sometimes I wish I was. She's also very loyal and loving, which is maybe not something that people would expect from meeting her for the first time!
Katie: I am particularly fond of my character Little Otter. Not only is she a cute little ball of fluff, but I find her story of learning to swim very relatable. Little Otter learns, just like every child learning something new, that it takes time, practice, patience and self-compassion. I think her journey also contains important messages that we need to remind ourselves of as adults.
What's the quirkiest or most unexpected source of inspiration you've ever had for a children's story?
Adiba: My novel The Dos and Donuts of Love was inspired by all of the many doughnut shops in Dublin!
Katie: I think my most unexpected source of inspiration while writing a story happened during my work with young people during COVID. In the height of the pandemic, I was supporting children and their parents to understand and manage worry.
The support I was giving to them at the time inspired the tale of The Little Squirrel Who Worried. What started off as a little project for my own enjoyment soon became something I wanted to share with others, after an accidental email encounter encouraged me to submit the story to a publisher. Each character in the story imparts some of the knowledge or coping skills that I shared with clients. I do believe that times of struggle and difficulty have the potential to be creatively inspiring and to be opportunities for meaning-making.
If your writing desk could be anywhere in the world, where would it be, and how would that location influence your stories?
Adiba: I think I'd just want it to be at home, because anywhere else would be too distracting, and so I wouldn't get any writing done!
Katie: If I could choose anywhere in the world, it would be right in the middle of the national park with its array of landscapes - from forest, to woodland, from lakes to meadows. Nature has always been a major inspiration for my creative work. I can only imagine a view from my desk filled with such a selection of plants and animals, the inspiration for stories would be endless.
Writing for kids is a bit like being a wizard – you create enchanting worlds with your words. What's the most enchanting or surprising thing a young reader has ever said to you about your work?
Adiba: I'm always very moved whenever a young reader excitedly tells me about how they share a similar identity to the characters in my books.
Katie: This year after reading the tale of Little Otter to a very young group of readers, the children were reflecting on some of the lessons the character had learned during her journey. One little girl raised her hand and shared, "Little Otter learned that we all need help sometimes", then speaking about Little Duckling "and that we can never know how hard someone else is trying". I was so taken aback by how succinctly this five-year-old had absorbed the messages from the story and was moved by her emotional capacity. My aim in my work is to hopefully weave words of magic so that each child has their own mantra of self-kindness and compassion to support them with the challenges life can bring.
Let's dive into your bookshelves! If you could meet one classic children's book character for tea, who would it be and why?
Adiba: Maybe the Mad Hatter from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, seeing as he's already got a great tea party going.
Katie: I would love to meet Aslan, the lion from the classic, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I was always really captivated by the mysteriousness of Aslan's character and his beautiful connection to the children in the story. Aslan for me was a symbol of hope, courage, growth in nature, and good prevailing over evil. I would love to meet him for tea to ask where he disappears to during the winter time and what happens to his magic, while sipping tea at a Narnian tea party.
If you wanted to instil a child with a lifelong love of books, what would you get them for Christmas?
Adiba: A book voucher, because there's nothing as fun as visiting the bookshop and picking out books by yourself!
Katie: I think the experience of being brought to a bookshop or a library, being told to pick out a book of their choice, along with maybe a little bit of help from an adult can be the most magical of experiences. I still remember walking around the library at the age of six, thinking about all the different stories and worlds contained in the sea of books surrounding me. Books are the most wonderful gift to receive, each containing endless magical possibilities.
Adiba Jaigirdar and Katie O’Donoghue will both be speaking at the Dingle Literary Festival, taking place from 17 – 19 November. See dinglelit.ie for more information.