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Eve McDonnell is a children’s author and artist. After a fortune teller told her to write, Eve traded her blank canvas for a blank page! Her debut nover, Elsetime, was published in 2020 and was inspired by a real-life tragic event: The Great Flood of London in 1928. Her second novel, The Chestnut Roaster, is about twelve-year old Piaf who has the ability to remember everything that has happened since the day she was born. Set in Paris in 1887, Eve creates an adventure that travels through the city as Piaf tries to figure out why everyone but her has forgotten the entire last year. Illustrated beautifully by Ewa Beniak-Haremska, this is a must read for all the little bookworms in your life!
Your first book, Elsetime, is set around the Great Flood of 1928 in Thames, London. Your new book, The Chestnut Roaster, is set in Paris in 1887, capturing the city and making it come alive to modern readers. What is it about historical settings that inspire you to base your stories in them?
I think this comes down to that old chestnut (excuse the pun!) of the five senses. To me, there is something so raw and crisp about 1800s world – when I place myself there, smells are sharper, noises are clearly distinguishable; horse hoofs dominate before being replaced with the clanging of metal on metal, the ghastly smell of smog only overtaken at ports by pungent fish. There is less muddle – no buzz of technology, no take-away vinegar in the air, no clashing colours and an atmosphere of less confusion everywhere, from occupations to industrial progression, from the feel of clothing to limited food choices and tight daily routines. Against such a palette of simplicity, stories can stand out. I did, however, originally set the first draft of The Chestnut Roaster closer to home in the 1950s, but Piaf chewing bubble-gum to a soundtrack of rock n’ roll fashion just didn’t cut it for me!
12-year-old Piaf has the ability to (and burden of) remembering everything that has happened since the day she was born. How difficult was it to write a character who has remembered every moment of their lives?
I certainly made a rod for my own back! I quickly realised that Piaf’s adventures in Paris could end up being dominated by her relentless memories – effectively her back story. Back story is always a tricky thing to balance, often times slowing down pace if overdone or if used in the wrong place. Piaf’s memories would persistently rattle for attention in the face of peril or great excitement – precisely where I intended the pace to rise. It was also a struggle to get across the burden she carried without repetitively deep diving into memories of the past.
Is there a book you’re always recommending to readers?
I adore Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty. Dara’s writing is sublime and quickly transports you to his side as he ventures through forests and up mountains. He sees things more clearly – and reading his work effectively places a pair of magical glasses on your nose, glasses you never knew you desperately needed. It changed how I see and care for the natural world. It also provided me with an endless jar of inspiration for my own writing.
What are you currently reading? Are you enjoying it?
Yesterday, I read Emma Carroll’s The Little Match Girl Strikes Back. It’s a middle grade novel stunningly illustrated by Lauren Child. The story is relatively short and perfectly crafted – I was lost in little Bridie’s world from page one. Emma, in case you didn’t know, is the Queen of children’s historical fiction.
Is there a book you think deserves to be more widely read?
There is a middle grade novel called The White Phoenix by Catherine Randall. It is the story of a thirteen-year-old girl and a bookshop (this should be reason enough to read it!) with the backdrop of the Great Fire of London in 1666. It’s a thrilling and authentic read that ticked all the boxes for me.
What is the most important thing someone needs to write well?
Tenacity! There are a gazillion reasons why writing can, and sometimes must, take a back seat but thankfully that deep-seated need to create – for me, a tickle of anticipation in my brain – is actually a superpower that can ultimately overcome anything in our way, be it confidence, financial or time constraints, health issues, rejection, doubt, for a start. And the more we use that superpower, the better we write. Keep going!
Are you currently working on anything or is that all hush-hush?
I’m working on another children’s middle grade novel set in the 1800s – no surprises there! – but this time in Ireland. I am particularly excited about it. It is heavily inspired by the true story of a remarkable twelve-year-old boy – the very short story of his very short life blew me away and ignited something spectacular in my mind. My challenge is to now put that into words. Usually, my stories have a hint of low fantasy, and this one currently has a mere spoonful, but I’m only on the first draft so goodness knows what might happen! I am the lucky and ever-grateful recipient of an Arts Council of Ireland bursary which is enabling me to research and write this story.