Publisher branches out into children’s fiction

History and mythology through fiction in ‘The Adventures of the Fianna’

History and mythology through fiction in ‘The Adventures of the Fianna’

 

Commercial women’s fiction has been one of the biggest casualties of a declining books market in recent years. The sector has been the bread and butter of Irish publisher Poolbeg and the fall in sales has prompted a rethink of the company’s business model. While women’s fiction is still important, the publisher has branched out into other areas, setting up a literary imprint, Ward River, earlier this year.

Poolbeg is also trying to tap into the children’s market, with a range of series geared at teaching children about history and mythology through fiction. The In a Nutshell collection is for readers 6+ and includes titles such as The Story of Newgrange, The Adventures of the Fianna, How Cúchulainn Got His Name, The Story of Brian Boru and Granuaile the Pirate Queen

Slim volumes

There are over 20 titles in the collection in slim volumes that are easy to read. Saint Brigid the Fearless, The Irish Vikings and Journey into the Unknown: The Story of Saint Brendan are among the new titles on the way in 2015.

Poolbeg founder Paula Campbell got the idea for the series from her children. “They were learning about great Irish legends at school,” she says. “But when I researched the area, I couldn’t find inexpensive or accessible child-friendly versions of the stories.” Launched in 2012, In a Nutshell has sold in the region of 50,000 copies to date. “We’ve found they’re going down well with the reluctant readers, especially the boys who love the ones about the Fianna,” she says.

With the take-up proving positive, Poolbeg brought out a spin-off series for readers aged 9+ last year. Hands on History is more focused on the school curriculum, with topics such as the War of Independence and the Easter Rising explored through fiction.

Children’s authors Patricia Murphy and Claire Hennessy have written for the series. Murphy’s Molly’s Diary tells the story of the 1916 Rising from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl. Hennessy’s Seeds of Liberty looks at the battles for independence in America, Ireland and France.

“It’s more school-oriented than the Nutshell series,” says Campbell. “But we still wanted to give a child’s-eye view of these key historical periods and turning points. Using compelling characters and narrative helps to engage the younger readers and there’s also supporting notes for teachers with ideas for future projects.”

New opportunities

Campbell acknowledges that it’s a challenging time for Irish publishers, but points to new opportunities borne of these difficulties.

“It has forced us to refocus,” she says. “The area of commercial fiction, which has been hardest hit and is also hugely saturated, was the main part of our publishing programme. It is almost like Poolbeg has come full circle again with the development of a new literary imprint and a growing children’s list.

“We are entering a very interesting time in Irish publishing. There are lots of independent houses publishing books that they feel strongly about despite the climate. The print runs may be smaller, but the variety of books is still on the up.”

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