Friday 18 October 2019

Sadhbh's first book a treat for children - as Gaeilge

Reporter David Medcalf learned how multi-talented Sadhbh Devlin draws inspiration from her family life in Bray

Sadhbh Devlin with her daughters Sábha and Lile and her new book Bí Ag Spraoi Loim
Sadhbh Devlin with her daughters Sábha and Lile and her new book Bí Ag Spraoi Loim

Sadhbh Devlin says that being the mother of twin girls is her favourite job among a list that also includes being an award winning blogger and a TV researcher.

The latest occupation added to her busy schedule is being a children's author - which brings the conversation back to the two daughters. Sábha and Lile provided valuable inspiration and some market testing too for the book, which was launched recently at a reception in Dubray Bookshop.

'Bí ag Sproai Liom' (loosely translated as 'come play with me') was written by 39-year-old Sadhbh and illustrated by Tarsita Krüse as a valuable addition to the choice of child-friendly books in Irish.

The language has been a constant in the author's life since the Bray native was dispatched from home in the Dargle Road area to Scoil Chualann primary.

This was followed by yet more immersion in the vernacular at Coláiste Íosagáin in Stillorgan before going on to study drama and Irish at Trinity College. It sounds like a perfectly natural progression but, in fact, the Irish was not her first priority in selecting her university course.

Instead she rather expected to major in drama as she had been immersed in theatre for much of her teenage years. Going even further back, she still recalls being brought to the children's acting school run by Gladys Sheehan at the age of seven.

Then most of her spare time during her teenage years was passed in or around Dry Rain Theatre, taking part in ambitious productions of Shakespeare classics 'Romeo and Juliet' of 'Midsummer Night's Dream'.

The Irish in her was not to be denied, all the same, as she participated in a Gaelgeoir splinter group which broke away from Dry Rain to do their own thing for a while.

Arriving in Trinity, Sadhbh certainly enjoyed the college experience - 'being in the city centre and the freedom of it'. She did her share of theatrical work while a student, from designing posters and assisting backstage through to performing before the footlights.

However, she did not see herself as one of the stars, one of the heavy hitters such as Tom Vaughan Lawlor (later Nidge in 'Love/Hate') who was a classmate. She discovered that the Irish department was a warmer and more welcoming place, so the drama became relegated to second place.

'I am bilingual,' she muses. 'I have two languages that I can communicate in - and I love both of them.'

Parents Siobhán and Sam Gallagher certainly did not break into Irish regularly at home in Dargle Road: 'There was no Irish spoken around the breakfast table growing up.'

Yet the Irish tongue has become a strong feature in the lives of their offspring after the Gallaghers took the brave step of sending the children to a gaelscoil. When they started by selecting Scoil Chualann for their eldest daughter, the benefits of immersion in Irish were still largely unproven, at least in Bray.

As it turned out, not only has Sadhbh since made much of her living though island's original tongue, but one of her sisters is on the staff of a gaelscoil in Wicklow town while the other used to teach the language to tots.

Their brother, by the way, works in RTÉ where he is more than happy to conduct conversation in Irish if required.

Maybe the fact that Siobhán Gallagher's mother Máire McKay hailed from Mayo and had knowledge of Gaeilge from the cradle exerted some influence. Sometimes these things skip a generation.

After her time at Trinity, Sadhbh emerged with her degree to take up work with various Irish language organisations which have sprung up with State backing. She spent much of her time on the payroll at Comhluadar, which aims to help families raising children through Irish.

The job had her travelling the length and breadth of Ireland giving talks on the subject in public libraries or to community groups.

She also had a stint with Comhar na Muinteorí Gaeilge providing support through Irish to secondary school teachers. And she enjoyed a spell too as education officer with Forbairt Naionraí, an organisation backing the national network of Irish language pre-schools.

Then three years ago, austerity caught up with the State-sponsored Irish sector and the backing from the taxpayer was trimmed.

'We had done quite well but eventually the funds were pulled': she took her redundancy pay-out after 13 years of consistent employment, resolved to spend more time with the twins.

It was an abrupt financial change for the family. Husband Mark Devlin - a boy more or less next door romance - is a specialised art handler, looking after paintings for galleries and auction houses.

Work was scarce for him too around the same time as the couple had plenty of time on their hands to spruce up their home in Bray's Hawthorn Road. Sadhbh also found herself devoting herself more intensely to her own blog on the internet.

'I have always written or blogged,' she reveals recalling that she penned her share of ansgsty adolescent poetry in her youth.

She also published one issue of a cultural magazine called 'Ruby Fix' before moving on to the web after she became hooked on a series of online diaries.

'' has been on the go for eight years now, telling her followers about life with two daughters and passing on tips for things to make at home, like felt unicorns or loo roll reindeer - all in the English language.

It was when she attended a creative writing course at the Bray Institute of Further Education that tutor Dave Lordan suggested she should try to explore Irish.

She was not immediately gripped by the idea but her experience of reading as Gaeilge with two very young girls eventually persuaded her to consider writing her own book.

She made a pitch to Irish language publishers Futa Fata for a guide to home crafts but they were not in the market for a work of non-fiction.

However, they recognised potential talent when they saw it and proposed she should instead devise a picture story book.

Sadhbh has learned since that, though simple in appearance, writing picture books for children requires the author to learn a strict formula: 'the pictures and the words have to work together symbiotically. There has to be a hook on each page.'

While the story may be set out initially in thousands of words, by the time the process is finished, the thousands have been refined down to fewer than 500.

What finally emerged as 'Bí ag Sproai Liom' required a plot. Inspiration for the story line came from the twins when they asked their mother about the games she played as a child.

'I would love to play with you when you were a child,' declared one, setting off a productive train of thought.

The result was the book's heroine called Lúna, a young inventor with a busy mother and an interest in time travel.

And finally, a picture story requires pictures, so Futa Fata teamed their new author up with Brazil-born Tarsila Krüse.

Together the Bray woman and her Brazilian illustrator have come up with a book which will bear repeated bedtime reading by parents and children together.

Sales in Ireland of the book will not make Sadhbh a millionaire, though the publishers will seek to have it translated into other languages around the world - so, fingers crossed.

However, being an author at least means she is in demand as a speaker at literary events and library readings, not to mention workshops with schoolchildren.

Launching Bí Ag Sproai Liom was tinged with sentiment for Sadhbh as Dubray Books was where her mother used to work. Siobhán Gallagher brought her to the shop where the little girl was presented with her first book by boss Helen Clear - a collection of poetry 'Morning is a Little Child'.

Sadhbh Devlin has a sporadic alternative career in television, largely in the background but occasionally in front of the camera too with TG4. She was presented 'An Fear Breaga' a programme which had her out and bout on location with primary school pupils exploring environmental issues. She continues to work as a freelance researcher with the station, travelling every now and again to the station's headquarters in Connemara.

She lets slip that she has a regular crafts column which appears in a parenting magazine.

'I do a lot of different things,' she says as she adds up the strings to her bow. 'I am someone who likes a challenge and I like being creative. I don't want to go back to sitting at an office desk.'

Never idle, the plot of a second book is already whirling at the back of her brain.

Bray People