Today’s guest is my first ever international friend! Paddy Donnelly lives and works in Belgium though his Irish roots certainly inform his work. And his newest book– a debut as a writer/illustrator — is based on a lake nearby where he grew up. I am especially drawn to Paddy’s The Vanishing Lake (Yeehoo Press) because I had a dad like Meara’s grandfather who delighted in spinning out less than believable explanations for all kinds of events. If Paddy’s fanciful explanations for the vanishing lake “wetted” your appetite for more information, check out this article from Smithsonian Magazine.
The Vanishing Lake
The Vanishing Lake is about a little girl called Meara who goes to visit her Grandad who lives by a lake, which disappears and reappears for no apparent reason. She constantly asks her Grandad why it happens and each time he has a more extravagant and unbelievable reason for her. Meara won’t believe any of his stories, so she sets out to find the ‘real’ reason.
I’ve illustrated over 10 picture books, however this is my first as both the author and illustrator. It has been published in English, Chinese and Greek so far, with a few more languages following in 2022.
It’s a pretty special one to have as my debut author illustrated book, as the story is actually based on a real place – close to where I grew up in Ballycastle, County Antrim. It’s a lake called Loughareema which actually does disappear and reappear every few days, depending on the weather. When you grow up with a wonder like this on your doorstep, you definitely take it for granted, and I hadn’t really thought about it in years. You can see a couple of photos here of the lake full and then empty! I took these just a few days apart.
I was toying with the idea of writing and was brainstorming a few different story ideas and it somehow popped into my head. I thought the title itself was intriguing and then I set off to come up with a story around that. I thought the mystery of ‘why’ the lake would disappear and reappear could be interesting to drive the story, and then setting the character up to be unwilling to believe these reasons, spurred myself on to come up with crazier and crazier ones. That’s how the story started with me and it developed from there.
The publisher, Yeehoo Press, released the book first in Chinese in 2020 and then in English in April 2021. You’ll only ever have one ‘first’ story published, so the fact that mine will always have this connection to home is amazing. Amazingly the book won the gold medal in the picture book category of the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2021.
I’ve been illustrating picture books for a few years, but initially hadn’t imagined myself writing my own stories. A couple of years ago I decided to give it a go and I discovered I absolutely loved the process of creating both the text and illustrations. It’s all a bit of a jumbled mess, like any creative process. It all starts with an idea of course. Usually I begin with something I really want to draw, then try to find an interesting angle or story involving that subject. And then I storyboard out the main plot points, keeping in mind interesting/funny scenes I want to illustrate. Once I’ve got those super rough thumbnails, then I’ll start the writing.
It’s a very back and forth process when you’re writing and illustrating, as you can tweak the text when you’ve got an idea for the illustration, and tweak illustrations when you hit upon a great line and juggle pages around, merging them, splitting them. It’s quite different when you receive a finished story from another author. You can perhaps make small suggestions to the text if you think it’d work better moving a line to the next page or something based on the illustration, but in general the story has already been through so many revisions and is pretty final. So you don’t mess with it, and you don’t want to either!
Dodos Are Not Extinct
My second author illustrated picture book will be published by Yeehoo Press on February 8th 2022, and a few days ago I got to reveal the cover on social media! It’s called ‘Dodos Are Not Extinct’ and is something completely different from The Vanishing Lake and was a ton of fun to create. It’s a funny story that follows a group of supposedly ‘extinct’ animals, who reveal they’ve been hiding out in genius disguises all this time. I love extinct animals, so this was a dream. More news about this book will be coming soon, and you can already preorder it! Link to cover reveal video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=- Z8tYC51b7Y
Paddy Donnelly is an Irish picture book author & illustrator living in Belgium. He has illustrated many children’s books, including The Vanishing Lake, Dodos Are Not Extinct, Here Be Dragons, The Last Seaweed Pie and Hom. His work has achieved international acclaim as he was nominated for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal and shortlisted for The World Illustration Awards. The Vanishing Lake is Paddy’s first book as both author and illustrator and was awarded the gold medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2021. Paddy grew up on the beautiful north coast of Ireland, surrounded by mythical stories of giants, magical creatures and shape-shifting animals. All of this prompted his love for nature, animals, the sea and storytelling. He wishes Pluto was still a planet. You can follow his work @paddy