March 19, 2014


I am getting a real kick out of visiting primary schools in Dublin. I’m staggered by the wide range of books that the students find interesting . . . or not so interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever heard The Diary of Anne Frank described as “boring” before.

Thanks to the passionate child readers who are not shy about sharing their opinions, I’ve acquired a must-read list longer than the Zambezi River. Topping the list are David Walliams’s Demon Dentist and the Once, Then and Now series about the Holocaust by Australian writer, Morris Gleitzman. It is fascinating that such very different kinds of books are equally popular.

Whether a book is interesting or not depends, of course, on the individual reader. I am currently reading The Oysters of Locmariaquer by Eleanor Clark. What? You think that a book about the history of oysters sounds less than riveting?  Read This:

The type of oyster called Pycnodonta “but no other oyster, has its rectum running through its heart; this is considered rather unsophisticated.” 

Come on! This is compelling stuff.

I am, by turns, amazed, bewildered and amused by the questions that the students put to me. Most of the big questions are of a philosophical nature: Why Do You Write? Where Do Your Ideas Come From? Are Writers Born? How Many Elephants Are There In Your Book?

I also get questions from eleven-year-olds that cause me to break out in a sweat, such as:

What kind of options do you have in your book contract?  And what are your projected sales figures?

The RTE series, Dragons’ Den, has a lot to answer for.

Yesterday, reeling slightly after a school visit, I dropped into the local café for a take-away coffee. As I waited for my order, I noticed the staff huddled together, whispering and shooting me furtive glances.

Don’t be paranoid, I reminded myself. They are not talking about you.

One of the baristas approached with a napkin.

We were just talking about you,” she said. “Could we have your autograph?” she added, thrusting the napkin into my hand.

My jaw dropped open. So, okay, I had an article in the Evening Herald yesterday, accompanied by a rather unflattering photograph. Now, no disrespect intended at all, but, I didn’t think that one article in the Herald would propel me to celebrity status.

I slapped myself mentally. OF COURSE. These women must be parents of children in schools that I’d visited. They wanted the autograph for their kids.

“Sure,” I answered, signing swiftly and returning the napkin.

She looked at it.

“WHO IS Sheila Agnew?” she asked.

“Em, that’s me, I have a children’s book out. I’m a writer.”

She looked horribly disappointed and a tad disgusted. “Oh, we all thought that you were that famous actress.”

I decided that I’d had enough humiliation for one day. I didn’t ask her which actress she meant. She handed my own autographed napkin back to me. I didn’t quite know what to do with it so I stuffed it into my handbag as the other customers all stared at me silently. I think I’ll hang on to that napkin for the rest of my life as a reminder!

I have to run. I am due to be at St. Cronan’s primary school in twenty-three minutes and I haven’t managed to climb out of bed yet. If there’s a particular book that you love or hate, shoot me an e-mail (agnewsheila@gmail.com) or tweet (@agnewsheila) telling me why. I’ll gift you my copy of the oysters book if you make me laugh. Now there’s a threat!



Back to the Blog