Once Upon a Place by Eoin Colfer (editor)

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Once Upon a Place by Eoin Colfer (editor)

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: In honour of Eoin Colfer being the Irish equivalent of Children's Laureate for two years, he curates a collection of new stories and verse centred on the theme of place. The result is, like Ireland herself, a true patchwork quilt.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: October 2015
Publisher: Little Island
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781910411377

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You know the bit of the blurb on every Artemis Fowl book, where Eoin Colfer had it said about how you pronounce his name? That wasn't the intention of an up-and-coming author to be recognisable; rather, it was pride. Pride in the difference of it, of the Irishness of it. Ireland, it seems to me, is more full than usual of people, things and ideas, and places that are different by dint of their singular nationality – and so many deserve to have pride attached to them. The places might not be the famous ones, but they can be the source of pride, and of stories, which is where this compilation of short works for the young comes in, with the authors invited to select their chosen place and write about it.

Of course, when you have a place to yourself, of whatever kind – the most pretty, the most supernatural, the most memorable – the question comes as to whether you want to share it. The first work, from Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick looks at the idea of that, as a lad invites his classmate to a mysterious appointment at a ruined priory past midnight. Our narrator is changed, but the sharing as such is somewhat hindered. Roddy Doyle has a lad do something daring to seemingly little consequence, as nobody is there to see him do it – but that's not quite the truth. Siobhan Parkinson takes us, and two more youngsters – girls this time, hanging on their storytelling father's every word – to Bray Beach. Elsewhere a place isn't exactly shared with us, but shares all its secrets – a whole build-up of them – with the first-person narrator of a creepy effort by Oisin McGann.

Some authors seem to have concentrated less on the brief, and given us a story that could be in any place, any time – perhaps because they're veering towards genre, with the likes of Derek Landy's young teenage Sherlock Holmes, or Sarah Webb's romantic little feline interlude, Paula Leyden's ghost story, or the film maker and writer Jim Sheridan's dark piece, which barely mentions a specific location beyond the unlucky house number 13. Equally, John Connolly seems to drift from the theme somewhat – while mentioning a town's name a few times, he really doesn't look at a place so much as the people in it, namely two boys who adopt a bear for the day. By calling her piece 'There and Here', Jane Mitchell clearly is visiting two places, even if one is out of sight for us. And the editor's own piece, with the book's lightest and most amusing touch, is in a typically Irish (and typically Colferian) mythological realm, but one remove from where we tread.

There are also six poetic works, occupying a double-page spread each, and conveying their own individual senses of location, although I have to say none found favour with me. They do bring up many points of order about the nature of the book, however. A lot of the pieces feature young characters, and it's not unique to these pages that several are the children of separated parents, or semi-alone. The age of the protagonists and the style of illustration (itself worth a mention, as it is nigh-on flawless throughout, beyond the Caspar David Friedrich mimicry of the cover) suggest this is for primary age audiences; the small print and mature themes and approach suggests something a little older. Certainly the young reading this would not be patronised, as the inclusion of blank and quite obscure verse implies. But I do wonder if the failure of the book to latch on to one target audience would hinder it in the marketplace.

It itself might be intending to be a place of its own – somewhere people can revisit time and again, as the seasons change and years pass, and find something new each time. On this passing I did find some of the pieces a lot more amenable than others – some can make you hit the end with a smile and much pause before carrying on, others I will never remember come the morrow. Still, there are flats, there are heights, there are dry bits and wet bits. There is dark history and modernity – sometimes right next to each other. This book, then, is a place of its own – it's Ireland.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

One of our British Children's Laureate has not been idle – she has put together a themed collection of short pieces herself, namely Love Hurts by Malorie Blackman.

Buy Once Upon a Place by Eoin Colfer (editor) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Once Upon a Place by Eoin Colfer (editor) at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Once Upon a Place by Eoin Colfer (editor) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Once Upon a Place by Eoin Colfer (editor) at Amazon.com.


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