Sinéad O’Hart takes the Inside Out Challenge
Hello, and welcome back to the Book Worm Hole.
I have something very special to share with you today. Way back when I started this blog, I created a little book challenge that I had a lot of fun with. It drifted into disuse, but I have been thinking for some time that I should bring it back. And now I have!
The Inside Out challenge is based on the Disney Pixar film, Inside Out, and looks at our emotional reactions to the books we read. I love books that give me intense emotional reactions, and it's very interesting to see which books other readers react to.
One book that has given me a lot of joy, and little touches of fear and sadness too, over the last few years is The Eye of the North by Sinéad O’Hart. This gorgeous adventure story is one of my absolute favourite books, from the stunningly brilliant opening line to the emotionally charged final chapter. You may have heard me reading some of my favourite sections of the book last year on my Twitter feed.
And now Sinéad has a new book out and it is a prequel novel to The Eye of the North! Skyborn is another masterpiece, a tale of magic, mystery and circuses, of family and belonging. It has a fantasy Victorian setting that I just adore, and tells the origin story of Thing from The Eye of the North.
To celebrate the publication of Skyborn, I have invited Sinéad to join me here in the Book Worm Hole where I can question her about some other books she's read.
First, please introduce yourself.
Thanks for having me here in the Book Worm Hole! I’m Sinéad O’Hart. I’m Irish, I’m a parent, I love the colour purple, I hate balloons, and stories (reading ‘em, writing ‘em, thinking about ‘em and talking about ‘em) are my favourite thing. I’ve written lots of books, and few have been published: The Eye of the North and its prequel Skyborn, a standalone story called The Star-Spun Web, as well as an early reader for children of 5+ called The Ravens’ Call. Hopefully, lots more tales are on their way!
Can you tell me about a book you have read that made you feel joy?
I first read an extract from Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth in a children’s encyclopaedia, and I’d never read anything like it before. It filled me up with joy – I felt like a bubble rising to the top of a glass of pop. It was anarchic and silly, and yet at the same time very clever; I got the feeling that to fully understand everything it was telling you, you’d need to be very smart indeed, and I immediately resolved to get smart enough to read the whole book. I borrowed it from the library and devoured it over and over, and as soon as I could, I got my own copy, which I still own. I love it because the jokes and puns make me smile, and the story is unique, and it gave me the brilliant word ‘dodecahedron’ which I still can’t say, or think about, without grinning.
What about a book that filled you with sadness?
I read Kate Saunders’ Five Children On the Western Front while heavily pregnant, so that might cloud my recollection of it a little (as emotions tend to run high at times like those), but I remember how sad it made me feel. I sobbed, utterly heartbroken, as the book’s conclusion made it clear the scale of loss and devastation the characters were going to have to go through, and nothing I’ve read before or since has made me feel so unbearably, intolerably, heart-rendingly sad. I love the story – it’s quite brilliant, both on its own and as an homage to E. Nesbit’s original Five Children and It, and its sequels – but it might be wise to read it with a box of tissues handy.
Have you read a book that made you feel angry?
I’ve read several books which have made me angry for various reasons. Frank Dikötter’s Mao’s Great Famine made me rage, as I had never known until I read it about the savage cruelty of the Mao regime and the ways in which ‘the Chairman’ made his own people suffer. It’s an excellent, award-winning piece of historical writing, which I recommend highly, but it’s a tough read. Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, and Nic Stone’s Dear Martin, made me angry for the inequalities and racial injustices they describe, and which I know are a lived reality for Black people in America and other parts of the world – but they also fired me up to be aware of these injustices, and to try to work with others to make them a thing of the past. Caroline Criado-Perez’s Invisible Women made me angry – even though, being honest, it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know about how women are seen and treated as second-class citizens, or even as subhumans, in many parts of the world. Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five, about the victims of the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper, also made me angry – angry that these women’s stories had never before been fully told, and anger that they had been miscategorised as ‘fallen’ women who had somehow deserved their fate, and angry that their killer is still more ‘famous’ than they are. It was a remarkable book.
Has a book ever disgusted you?
I follow an Irish author named John Connolly who has created, in my opinion, one of the finest series of crime and thriller fiction ever written. His character, Charlie Parker, suffers a horrendous loss in the first book and spends the rest of the series (so far) coming to terms with it, investigating it, and getting slowly drawn into a brilliantly conceived and skilfully written web of evil which stretches far beyond not only him, but beyond the events of the first book, and beyond the limits of mortality itself. The series of books is among my favourite of all time, but at several junctures during the reading of this series I’ve had to put the book down and walk away for a bit, to deal with some of the things I’m reading about. The stories might be fiction, but I fear the darkness they sometimes describe is all too real. That sort of darkness and depravity does disgust me, but I also feel it’s important to show characters overcoming and dealing with it.
Can you tell me about a book that made you afraid?
Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood and Co series has the distinction of being simultaneously a series I absolutely adore – I practically had to sit on my hands with impatience as I waited for each of them to be published, and as soon as I got them, I tore through them – and a series which utterly terrifies me to the marrow. I remember one particular ghost, who had been a cannibal while he was alive, and his ghost’s modus operandi was to frighten people with the sound of his crunching, munching jaws, slowly coming for them… That was a book that almost had to go in the freezer a few times, but it’s compulsively, utterly brilliant.
And finally, can you tell me a little bit about a book that you know inside out?
I think I’m going to have to say my old favourite, Alan Garner’s Elidor, for this one. This is a book that changed the course of my life and set me on the road to the career I now have – and, in fact, shaped me into the medievalist I also am, the person who worked and studied for years to gain a PhD in a subject I loved, Old and Middle English, which I had first encountered, unknowingly, in the pages of Elidor. It formed my brain into a story-loving, mythology-loving, folklore-loving, history-loving, inquisitive, outward-looking, imaginative, curious, never-fully-satisfied sort of brain, and I’m utterly grateful for that. I’ve read it so many times (I try to read it once a year, but I don’t always manage) that I feel I know the story, and the characters, and the setting, as well as I know anyone in my real life. And what a gift that is.
I'd like to extend my thanks to Sinéad for joining me on my blog.
Skyborn is out now from Little Tiger Press, and you can still see me reading the opening three chapters over on my Twitter feed!