Class effort for debut young adult novel

Durrow headmaster and sixth-class pupils combine to write and publish adventure story

Class act: from left, standing: Elysha Maken Finlay, Robert Crossen, Frank Kelly, Robert Kinsella, Kate Molloy; from left, sitting: Frank Crossen, Niamh Bracken, Jack Wogan and Molly McNally

Class act: from left, standing: Elysha Maken Finlay, Robert Crossen, Frank Kelly, Robert Kinsella, Kate Molloy; from left, sitting: Frank Crossen, Niamh Bracken, Jack Wogan and Molly McNally


Noms de plume have been used by authors as long as books have been around, but a debut novel from one DA O’Connor does more than hide a single literary identity. The author of a new young adult book, The Custodian, is in fact a group of Offaly schoolchildren and their principal, Frank Kelly. The eight sixth-class pupils from Durrow School have combined their literary talents and knowledge of young adult fiction to create an entertaining thriller aimed at an audience of their peers.

Having ran a study group for older pupils on the mechanisms of fiction for the past number of years, Kelly decided to take the process one step further this year and encouraged the group to create their own novel.

“It was an amazing collaborative process,” he said. “The aim was to take the best techniques they could find in their studies and write their own full-length novel, brim full of everything that would appeal to boys and girls their own age and try to have it published by a mainstream publishing house in Ireland or abroad. What followed was an amazing adventure.”

The nine involved in the project – Niamh Bracken, Frank Crossen, Robert Crossen, Frank Kelly, Robert Kinsella, Elysha Maken Finlay, Molly McNally, Jack Wogan and Kate Molloy – assumed the mantle of professional writers and began creating a story based on what they liked to read themselves. Their work was overseen by the novelist Safie Maken Finlay, who acted as editor and helped to shape the book.

“I was repeatedly astonished by the high quality of the writing and by the hard work being put into the project by Frank and his pupils,” says Maken Finlay. “Just five months from the time the first words were put to paper, the novel was completed and ready to submit to publishers.”

The Custodian tells the story of Matt, a 12-year-old boy whose life is falling apart. His sister is mean to him, his mother won’t get out of bed, and he hasn’t seen his father since his family was kidnapped in a tiger raid. With school bullies after him and night-time visits to Durrow Abbey, Matt ends up in a series of risky escapades that involve computer hacking, a telepathic ventriloquist’s dummy and efforts to save the Irish crown jewels from a desperate criminal gang.

Published by, The Custodian is available in bookshops across the country. An accompanying workbook, which was written and devised by Kelly, is also being published as an educational tool. The Custodian will be officially launched by Bressie on June 11th at the Bridge House Hotel in Tullamore.

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