A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl

If, like me, you’re fascinated by the lives of writers, this little oldie is a gem. John Quinn, author and former broadcaster for Irish radio station RTÉ, ran a series of radio programmes in 1985, each featuring an interview with a female writer whose childhood had been spent in Ireland.

Following the broadcasting, he collected the interviews into an edited collection of essays for this book, some featuring extracts from the writers’ works.

There are entries from well-known writers such as Maeve Binchy, Molly Keane and Edna O’Brien, as well as Clare Boylan, travel writer Dervla Murphy and gifted short story writer Mary Lavin, amongst others.

It’s such a lovely way to get an insight into the formative experiences and influences of people who went on to write. Childhood is also a fascinating subject to explore and, naturally, these women are excellent storytellers, with a great eye for the revealing detail. While there’s considerable diversity of experience, it was so interesting to see how similar themes recurred between the essays, such as a love for books and reading, the escapism of literature, the solitary nature of the writer, and the way in which childhood memories are often revisited over and over in adult works.

Out of print now, it’s not impossible to pick up a copy if you were interested enough to track it down. I picked mine up for about £1.50 via a secondhand bookseller.


Overdosing on children’s books – some current favourites

I’ve mentioned before that having a baby opened a door into a whole new world of books. Now, in addition to having my own teetering TBR lists, I have lists geared at every stage of my daughter’s life from pop-ups to pre-teen. So I thought it might be nice to share the occasional miscellany of child-friendly reading on the blog. After all, every committed reader I’ve ever met can reel off a list of ‘the books that began it all’ and I’d love your hints and tips on what I have yet to discover.

For starters, here are the books that we (translation: me – she’s largely still indifferent to whatever book we’re reading at bedtime and so I blatantly plump for my favourites over and over again…) are currently enjoying.


Jon Klassen – I Want My Hat Back

I so wish I could convey in words how the bear sounds in this book. And that funny little possum-like creature who’s never seen a hat. This book is ALL about the voices.

Oliver Jeffers 

Anything by OJ. But particularly Stuck for it’s joyful insanity. And definitely not The Heart in the Bottle because I was ill-prepared for how different this is to Stuck and it really doesn’t make for a smooth bedtime to find yourself suddenly choking back tears and thinking inappropriate ‘Sunrise, Sunset‘ thoughts.

John Vernon Lord – The Giant Jam Sandwich

More hilarious idiocy, only this time with rhymes. And how else would you get rid of four million wasps? This one is a favourite from my own childhood and comes with faint memories of having put it on as a play at my primary school.


Emma Dodd – Me

This is undoubtedly sentimental but it’s so so lovely and the illustrations are beautiful. The ending always makes me feel a little glow and hug a little tighter.

The Ahlbergs – Peepo

No children’s book collection is complete without a few Ahlberg’s and this one is currently making us smile. As much for the lovely details that set it firmly in an earlier time, like daddy carrying in the bucket of coal.

Helen Stephens – How to Hide a Lion

Essential know-how for a small person. Obviously.


Steve Antony – Please Mr Panda

I am a complete sucker for books that lend themselves to repetition in various funny voices. Plus this book involves both pandas and doughnuts. Double win.

David McKee – Not Now Bernard

Another proper classic. I love how dark this is once you’ve stopped laughing.

Tatyana Feeney – Little Owl’s Orange Scarf / Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket

Somehow, in very few words, Feeney captures the innocence of children and how things appear through their eyes. Clever, funny and with the loveliest illustrations.

What other children’s books should I (we) be reading??