| 9.4°C Dublin

Sinéad O’Hart’s encyclopaedic knowledge turns the literary tides

Sinéad's latest book The Time Tider is out now.


Sinéad O'Hart. Photo: Jill O'Meara.

Sinéad O'Hart. Photo: Jill O'Meara.

Sinéad O'Hart. Photo: Jill O'Meara.


Before smartphones, laptops and PlayStations children had to work for their entertainment, had to make do with limited resources. A ball, of any description, became your best friend, toys lasted years, and books were read over and over again. Sinéad O’Hart grew up in one such environment, a Gorey home where books, in particular, were king. And it was the arrival of one set of books which would not only play a significant role in her childhood but also prove an inspiration in her later career.

My mam and dad encouraged me and my brother in everything we did, they were always very positive and supportive,” she says. “They would make sure we could go to the library, we’d go regularly, it was like a little cavern of perfection, my place of happiness and joy. We would get books wherever we could and one of the things my parents did was to buy The World Book of Encyclopaedia set, which would have been a lot of money at the time. I owe a lot of my career to those books, I was fascinated by them as a child and would read them constantly.”

This is Wexford Newsletter

A weekly update on the top stories from County Wexford in news and sport, direct to your inbox

This field is required

That career has seen her work shortlisted for the Children’s Books Ireland Awards, seen three popular middle grade novels released; The Eye of the North, The Star-Spun Web, and Skyborn. On February 2 her fourth novel, The Time Tider, hit bookstores, and it, like its predecessors, was partly inspired by those hours spent poring over giant encyclopaedias. 

“My ideas come from everywhere, from stuff I loved as a kid, the story of The Eye of the North was based on polar exploration and the kraken, and that came from me reading about the kraken as a child,” says Sinéad. “All the books I’ve written are rooted in things I discovered in childhood, and the encyclopaedias played a big part in that.”

Described as a “fast-paced adventure” The Time Tider follows Mara, a young girl who is on a mission to find her kidnapped father with the very fabric of time and space at stake. However, when it came to writing it Sinéad admits there were a few false starts. 

“This was my fifth try at writing it, I had tried it in a variety of settings, but it just didn’t feel right. Then I got this image of a girl and her dad in the back of a van, I just let it sit in my head and percolate, and from that image the whole box slowly began to weave together in a new way, and it worked.”

Despite being obsessed with books as a child and continuing that obsession into her third-level studies, Sinéad, like a lot of writers, took a while to fully embrace her latent talent, fulfilling a variety of roles before answering her calling.

“I previously worked in Pettitt’s in Gorey, I was in my teens at the time and it was one of those jobs where you help out where you can,” she recalls. “I had been working on the floor and they asked if I could help out at the meat counter, even though I was a vegetarian I said I would do it. It was hard work but I enjoyed it, I had a great time - the most complicated tool I had to use was a cleaver.”

Having received a PhD in Medieval Studies from UCD, Sinéad emerged from her studies in the “mouth of the recession”, a time when qualifications in the arts were not in high demand.

“I began looking for work anywhere, all over the world. I worked in administration in UCD for a while, filing and archiving, then in its bookshop, I loved it there, it was one of my most happy times, but I had moved to Meath by this point and the commute was too much.”

It was at this point, in her mid-thirties, that Sinéad finally decided to go for it as an author, to see if she had what it took.

“I was fulfilled with my academic work but from the time I was young books and stories have been my passion,” she said. “I’m delighted to have been able to make a life in this career, I never thought I was good enough to be a writer, didn’t necessarily think people would be interested in what I had to say, or that I had a voice, it took me a long time to write something I felt comfortable in sharing.

“It’s fantastic (to be an author) I’ve accomplished something I never thought would be possible, there is challenges and difficulties, a certain amount of pressure, and a strange mix of emotions. It’s very nerve-wracking and scary when your books come out, hoping people will like it and enjoy it, there’s a very unexpected mix of emotions that comes with it.”

The official launch of The Time Tider was in Halfway up the Stairs in Greystones on Saturday, February 4 where Sinéad read an excerpt from the book and conducting a question and answer session. Among those present was her seven-year-old daughter, who, despite being an avid reader, has yet to get on board with her mother’s work. 

“She thinks I’m desperately uncool, she doesn’t really read my stuff yet, but she does read a lot. Those old encyclopaedias are still at my parents’ house so I’m going to get them for her eventually. If I was my daughter’s age and I saw myself and what I’ve become I would feel I’d achieved everything I’d ever wanted.”