“I really write with Northern Ireland in my heart”
A new children’s book, written and illustrated by two talented Northern Irish women, connects with the heart of the region and the beautiful natural surroundings which make it ‘Our Wee Place’.
Author, Sophie Kirtley, grew up in Northern Ireland, where she spent her childhood climbing on hay bales, rolling down sand-dunes and leaping the raw Atlantic waves.
Her books inhabit those preadolescent years, when children have a carefree sense of adventure and are brimming with excitement to explore their own little world for the first time.
Nowadays, Sophie lives in Wiltshire with her husband, three children and their mini-menagerie of pets and wild things.
Sophie always loved stories: she taught English in secondary schools for many years and worked in a theatre, a bookshop and a tiny pub where folk tell fairytales by candlelight.
Two books she has already written, The Wild Way Home and The Way To Impossible Island have already been met with critical acclaim.
Her latest book, Our Wee Place, to be published on the countdown to Christmas is a collaboration with emerging illustrator Ellan Rankin and the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).
The picture book reflects positively and engages young children on the experience of growing up in Northern Ireland.
Sophie explained: “It was something new for me to do as I don’t normally write for younger children.
“Picture books look simple but are incredibly complicated because every single word has to count, it’s a bit like a poem in that respect, because they’re so short, so brief and compact.
“Especially when trying to tell a story that’s big and meaningful, has a nice warm atmosphere and fits the brief.”
She added: “Once I decided, ‘yes, I’m going to do it’, it just felt like a real honour because Northern Ireland is so special to me and really is my home.
“The idea of all these wee children being able to read my story was really special and felt like a celebration of all the things I love about Northern Ireland.
“I put my heart and soul into it and loved doing every minute of it.”
In the book, Granda and Emily start off in Belfast where they walk through the city seeing murals and famous landmarks such as ‘Nuala with the Hoola’, they visit a waterfall in the Glens of Antrim, travel on to Dunluce Castle and the Giant’s Causeway before ending up in their back garden where they relive the adventures of the day.
The illustrations are integral to the story and Sophie described Ellan Rankin’s work as “just gorgeous”.
She continued: “When you’re wee yourself and look around thinking, ‘oh my God that’s amazing’, I really wanted to get that child’s eye view in all of the stories.”
Together they wanted it to make the story uniquely Northern Irish, through both the language and illustrations and it will take a keen eye to spot all those cultural references amongst the pictures.
As part of the NIO’s Centenary programme, it has offered the picture book to every child that started P1 this year via their schools.
Within 24 hours of making the offer, 12,000 pre-orders were received. Deliveries will start from Monday, December 6.
The NIO is also offering the book to all Sure Start centres and libraries in Northern Ireland.
The book has been created to sensitively reflect on the experience of growing up in Northern Ireland, drawing on cultural touchpoints, landmarks and traditions that will resonate with children everywhere, irrespective of their background.
It is an inclusive story about the experience of growing up here, and subtly touches on the ideas of resolving conflict and promoting understanding and tolerance.
An NIO spokesperson said: “We would stress this is not a factual or political book, nor does the story touch on the Centenary or have a historical narrative, either directly or indirectly.”