Recipients of the 2020 Children’s Books Ireland and Tyrone Guthrie Centre Bursary Awards for Mid-Career Children’s Books Artists Announced

Children’s Books Ireland and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre are pleased to announce Ashling Lindsay, Shona Shirley McDonald, Nicola Pierce, Margaret Anne Suggs and Máire Zepf as recipients of the 2020 Children’s Books Ireland/Tyrone Guthrie Centre bursaries.

With each artist taking part in a week-long residency at the centre in Annaghmakerrig, these bursaries are designed specifically for mid-career children’s books authors or illustrators. While several schemes exist to support emerging and debut artists, these bursaries support more experienced, published authors and illustrators who require time and space to focus on their craft to the benefit of their continuing careers, complemented with a focus on creative exchange and collaboration.

All five residencies are achievable thanks to partnerships with other bodies. Support for author/illustrator Shona Shirley McDonald is provided by Waterford City and County Council Arts Office; Fingal County Council Arts Office are providing support for illustrator Margaret Anne Suggs’ bursary and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre is supporting illustrator and Belfast resident Ashling Lindsay as a Northern Irish artist. The Laureate na nÓg project is an additional partner, funding KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year Award winner Máire Zepf as an artist working in the Irish language as well as author Nicola Pierce. Laureate na nÓg Aine Ní Ghlinn will also join these artists. Laureate na nÓg is an initiative of the Arts Council, managed by Children’s Books Ireland with the support of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Poetry Ireland. Children’s Books Ireland and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre are thankful to each partner for their enthusiasm and support for this project. All six artists will visit Annaghmakerrig together over a week in December.

Ashling Lindsay is an artist and writer from Belfast. Her picturebooks are published in more than ten languages. She has an MA in Design and a BA in Visual Communication, both from Belfast School of Art. She is the winner of the 2019/20 KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Honour Award for Illustration for The Tide, written by Clare Helen Welsh.

Originally from Aberdeenshire in Scotland, author/illustrator Shona Shirley McDonald studied at the Edinburgh College of Art. Having lived in Ireland for more than a decade now she resides in County Waterford. She is currently working on her own picturebook as well as illustrating others’ words.

Nicola Pierce originally worked as a ghostwriter before publishing The Spirit of the Titanic in 2011. Her most recent work was Chasing Ghosts, published this year. Nicola lives in Drogheda, County Louth.

Margaret Anne Suggs is predominantly a children’s book illustrator and has published over a dozen books in four languages. Mags was raised in the American Deep South but now lives in Portmarnock, County Dublin, with her family.

Máire Zepf is an author working in the Irish language and lives in Belfast. She was the inaugural Children’s Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland and is the KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year Award winner 2019/20.

Feedback from previous bursary recipients:

The bursary enabled me to bring 1.5 years’ worth of work to a close, ready for submission. During the week, I redrafted an entire 40K word manuscript that is the proposed Book 1 of a series aimed at middle grade readers. This manuscript has been awaiting completion since November 2019, but in these final stages, I require completely uninterrupted time, and this had been impossible to salvage from the usual working week. 

In addition to completing the manuscript, I also wrote the synopsis and several suggestions for future books in the series. My agent is currently preparing these documents for submission to publishers later this week. Without the residency, I’d have been lucky to have completed this submission before June, so the impact is huge. 

Another element of the residency is that it also enabled interaction with other children’s writers who understand 1) the craft but also 2) the business. This led to many in-depth discussions about teaching workshops, submission opportunities, writing styles, which inevitably fed into the work. 

Author E.R. Murray

I set the bar high, aiming to complete a draft of each of two chapter books, and was delighted to actually achieve this.

I definitely recommend bursaries being awarded for the same week, to strengthen the network of children’s author/illustrators, to foster support within the children’s books community, and to share truly useful information and ideas. Niamh (Sharkey) and I were already friends, but we now more readily ring each other, and bounce ideas off each other.

Author and illustrator Mary Murphy

The group who stay over the same period as I do include another children’s writer, an Irish Times editor, a radio documentary maker, various other breeds of writers and poets, a songwriter, a retired composer working on a novel, painters, printmakers and a film and theatre director.

I keep the work to just two projects; a children’s non-fiction book that is demanding a lot of research, which means a real stop-and-start process of reading and writing. The long periods of focus make a huge difference. Sometimes I’m up, pacing back and forth trying to find the few specific words that will lead into the next stage in the book. The other piece is a novel that I’ve finished, but had to put aside and which I now want to go back over.

My brain is busy and tired, but in this calm, relaxed atmosphere you can keep going for long periods and stop when you need to, to talk shop with other artists and let the beautiful surroundings have their effect on you.

It’s the kind of existence that, when you were young, you thought would be the lifestyle of a writer, not realizing how the rest of life crowded in on the pure work that makes this weird career worthwhile.

Author and illustrator Oisín McGann