Books Make Things Better with Conor Busttil

Hi folks, my name is Conor and I am very proud to say I am an illustrator working primarily in children’s picturebooks. I come from a tiny little village tucked away on the Strangford Lough coast, Co. Down called Kircubbin and although I now happily live nestled away in the Welsh valleys, I will always see that as my home.


As I’m sure a lot of others around the globe have experienced, the recent pandemic has placed a sharp barrier between loved ones and myself over the past six to seven months and counting (being a bit of a home bird, I am longing to see those shores and old faces once more).

However, I have been extremely fortunate to have been working alongside the wonderful O’Brien Press team on a picturebook based on the myths of Ulster called Ulster Fairytales & Legends by Nicola and Peter Heaney, throughout the crisis. It has been a real lifeline in the sense that I have had the constant flavour of home around me, both through the beautifully descriptive texts by Nicola and Peter, but also having the excuse to decorate my studio in those iconic landscapes I know and cherish as inspiration.


So although I have never really been away from home this long, through this line of work, I have never felt closer.


To tell you a little bit more about my background, I have always just wanted to draw … anytime the school careers advisor came to visit and asked what I wanted to do? It was always to draw! I was never sure what that career was going to be (and looking at the advisor’s face nor did they) but I was determined to make it work. Even now, after finishing college, then university back in 2012, I still feel like I am only just peering through the door of feeling like a fully-fledged illustrator. I will admit it has been a turbulent journey and a lot is left to your own self-motivation, but it is one of the most rewarding jobs I could ever have wished for.


It is thanks again to the O’Brien Press team for giving me the opportunity to illustrate my debut children’s picturebook alongside the very talented Laura Ruth Maher, The Children of Lir, this time last year. Although getting paid, especially as a creative, is always a massive breakthrough from all those ‘Can you draw a wee card for your Aunt Mary’s birthday?’ – ‘Yes, Mum’, it’s the responses from the children and the parents that makes it.


The amount of personal messages of encouragement and pictures of little ones holding that picturebook you helped create just gives you a smile you can’t get rid of for the rest of the day.


Prior to working with O’Brien, I worked on a few projects in various parts of the UK. After connecting with my super switched-on agent at Bath Literacy Agency, she soon propelled me into my first official project with Kew Gardens, London, working with both them and Blue Peter on a competition called ‘Here Be Dragons’ where children designed marvellous beasts that might visit Kew. It was my job to help come up with a narrative and re-illustrate the winning dragons. For me, this was a real eye opener into the many marvellous twists and turns of being an illustrator, not to mention the many new connections it can bring.


With the release of Ulster Fairytales & Legends in October, I will certainly be welcoming it like a ray of light through what has been a dark period. The book is a collection of some of Ulster’s more well-known tales and those we may not know so well. It was a real opportunity for me personally to dig deeper into some of the real facts and locations behind these myths. For example, where the famous ‘Red Hand of Ulster’ comes from, or the story behind how the ‘Salmon of Knowledge’ came to be. As with all myths there had to be the little flare of magic here and there. A true experience to be a part of, and I do hope its future readers, both young and old, find it as much of a pleasurable read as I did, and that the artwork does it justice.