Interview with Author Sharon Tregenza

Today I am excited to welcome author Sharon Tregenza to the Conclave of Sappho. Sharon Tregenza is the author of The Shiver Stone and Tarantula Tide, two adventure books aimed at pre-teens. My own children have read Sharon’s work and enjoyed it enormously, and I highly recommend these books. Welcome, Sharon!

SHARON TREGENZA -PROFILE

First of all – tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
I read prolifically and I’m a big Netflix fan. Good drama is always a thrill. I enjoy education for is own sake too and recently completed a second Masters degree. I have a wide circle of family and friends – so I love having people stay.
When did you start writing? Or have you always done so?
I’ve always written is the pat answer but I began writing for publication many years ago – mostly stories for magazines and competitions.
Have you written other novels/works that have not been published?
Odd you should ask that. Many years ago a big publisher showed a great deal of interest in my first children’s book – there was even talk of an animated film. When it was suddenly dropped I was heart-broken. I tucked it away in a dusty corner of my computer and forgot about it. Recently I’ve taken it out, dusted it off, and taken another look at it. I think it still has potential so I’m reworking it and will see what my agent thinks.
Very pleased to hear that, and I look forward to hearing more about it. Now, onto your published work. What inspired you to write The Shiver Stone and Tarantula Tide?
I remember vividly the influence books had on me when I was eight to twelve years old. I wanted to recreate that myself. Both of those books have the sense of mystery and adventure that thrilled me then.
Do the characters in Tarantula Tide live through the adventure you dreamt of having as a young girl?
Being terrified of spiders I would have been much more like Jack than Izzie!
What about the location – does Shetland mean anything special to you?
I only visited once many years ago – my husband worked in the oil industry – but the strange treeless landscape had a deep effect on me.
You seem to have an affinity with nature: animals are portrayed as suffering in The Shiver Stone – a pony and a dog. Is there a message you are trying to put across here?THE SHIVER STONE COVER
There is an element of anti-cruelty to creatures in both of those books. Something I feel very strongly about.
The underlying topics in your books, such as dark secrets and dangerous adventures, are not simple matters. What do you think about introducing children to these themes?
I think it’s important for children to explore different themes and experience (even if it is from the safety of their own homes). Secrets and danger have has been an important part of children’s literature.
How about the level of vocabulary in your books? Do you think we should introduce children to more advanced vocabulary, or is it best to keep it simple?
“Never write down to kids” is a lesson frequently reiterated by children’s authors past and present and I couldn’t agree more. I always found that books that challenged as well as entertained stayed with me longest. Learning new words and expressions is a thrilling part of the challenge.
What is the overall impression you hope readers will take from your books? Are there lessons for children to learn?
There are always lessons for children to learn from books but hopefully they are absorbed as a natural part of the reading process – not imparted as “wisdom” to be acquired.
What’s next? Are you planning a sequel for each one?
Hmm, there’s plenty of “next” happening. I am writing two more stand-alone mystery books and I also have a meeting with a big publisher coming up to discuss the possibility of a picture book (something I’ve always wanted to do). Exciting times.

Thankyou, Sharon, and I wish you the best with your upcoming projects.

The Shiver Stone was highly commended for the Welsh Children’s Book Award 2015 and is available here.

Tarantula Tide was the winner of the Heart of Hawick Children’s Book Award 2010 and is available here.

Advertisements

Irish: a brief history of an endangered language

Grían an Mheithimh in úllghort,
Is síosamach i síoda an trathnona,
Beach mhallaithe ag portaireacht
Mar screadstracadh ar an noinbhrat.

(June sun in an orchard,
And a rustling in the silk of evening,
A cursed bee humming
Is a screamtear in the eveningshroud)

Seán O Riordáin

The above is a stanza from ‘Adhlacadh mo Mháthar’ (‘Burial of my Mother’) written by my great uncle Seán O Riordáin, an Irish poet. There are very few people left in the world who can read or understand his beautiful poetry.

Once, Irish (note: not ‘Gaelic’) was the sole language spoken in Ireland. It is a Gaelic language of the Indo-European language family and evidence of its presence in Ireland dates back to the 4th century CE.

When the Anglo-Normans arrived at the end of the 11th century their language came with them. The vast majority of people continued to speak Irish but it slowly lost its status as the official and legal language of Ireland.

The Tudor conquest of Ireland in the 16th century was the beginning of the end for Irish. The confiscation of land from native Irish people and the forcible plantation of English settlers over the subsequent centuries changed Irish society profoundly. Penal laws prevented Catholics from owning land and holding power, which meant that the Catholic ruling classes were replaced by what became known as the Protestant Ascendancy. Irish was seen as a threat to the power of English settlers and so its use was discouraged in law, education and administration. English was the language of power, and it was in the interest of Irish natives to learn it.

A further blow was dealt to the language by the Great Famine caused by widespread failure of the potato crop due to blight. It lasted from 1845 to 1860 and caused the deaths of approximately one million people. A further million emigrated. By 1911, the population of Ireland had halved to 4.4 million, while the population in England and Wales had doubled to sixteen million. The majority of Irish speaking people had died, emigrated or were living in very poor conditions in a small and struggling country. It was necessary to learn English to survive.

When Ireland began struggling for independence from Britain in the late 19th century, Irish became a focal point for political rhetoric. The so-called Gaelic Revival led to the setting up of organisations such as the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language in 1877 and the Gaelic League in 1892. The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), formed in 1884, was set up to preserve uniquely Irish pastimes such as hurling. Irish is named as the national and first official language of Ireland in the 1937 constitution of the Republic of Ireland and all official documents are available in both Irish and English.

Today, Irish is a compulsory subject for every single child at school, from the start to the end of their school career, meaning that most children have at least twelve years of Irish language lessons. In 1996 an Irish-language television station, originally called Teilifis na Gaeilge, now called TG4, was set up. Over the past twenty years the popularity of gaelscoileanna – schools that teach entirely through Irish – has increased greatly. However, in spite of all of these successes, very few people leave school with any degree of fluency in Irish. Today less than 100,000 people use Irish as their daily tongue. They tend to be concentrated in ‘Gaeltacht’ areas, parts of Ireland such as Connemara where the government recognises that the Irish language is the predominant vernacular.

 

In future posts I’ll explore my experiences of Irish as a child, the structure of the language itself and the English phrases and expressions that developed from the Irish language.

Sparrow

I was sitting under a cloud,
Singing my own song quietly to myself,
When suddenly a strange sound picked my ears,
Up I looked, to see a little bird,
Trilling to me gently from the sunlight.
Sweet little bird, I listened to its song.
A small shaft of sunlight shone through my cloud.
I smiled, for it brought me joy.
Like with like, I shared my own song,
With this strange, flitting being.
It ruffled out its feathers delightedly,
And whistled me borrowed songs.
I watched it contentedly skip and hop,
In tune with the music within.
Fleeting bird, it stayed too little,
For when I reached towards its feathers,
My hand passed through only air.
Ghostly wee sparrow,
Ever beyond my touch.

On the Origins of the word ‘Write’

These days, writing is everywhere, and there is a far greater proportion of the population that uses or knows how to use forms of writing than may have been the case in the past. Writing has become a part of our daily lives.

Writing as an activity has a long history, with early examples dating back to the Sumerian civilisation around 5000 years ago. However, in this article, we are not going to look at the activity, but instead at the word itself.

To trace its path through history, we shall first take a look at Middle English. Here, with spellings as yet unstandardised, we can find an enormous number of forms, including wrīten, writ, writin, writon, writte, writh, wright, wrigth, wriȝte, wretene, wreite, writan and writtenn. Although all of these written forms may resemble the modern word, it is likely that the pronunciation was significantly different, and it was pronounced with a sound much like the past participle ‘written’, /i/ or /i:/.

Here is an example from 1450, from a collection of Middle English sermons known as the Sermons in Royal:

Crist put down is fyngere and wrotte on þe erthe.

(Christ put down his finger and wrote on the earth)

Now compare this with the similar fragment from the Wycliffite Bible, which dates to 1384, so some years earlier than the Sermons in Royal:

John 8.6: Jhesu, bowinge him silf doun, wrot with þe fyngir in þe erthe.

In both these examples, we can easily recognise the word and identify it with its modern counterpart. Now let’s go to the Ormulum, from around 1200, at least 180 years before the Wycliffite Bible:

Johan þe Goddspellwrihhte wrat onn hiss Goddspellboc Off Cristess Goddcunndnesse

(John the Evangelist wrote in his gospel of Christ’s divinity)

In this example, although it is still close enough to be recognisable to a modern speaker, there is a difference. The past tense is now wrat; the vowel has changed. This has moved the word closer to its form in Old English, as we shall see in our next example, from the Wessex Gospels, dating to approximately 990:

Hé wrát mid his fingre on ðære eorþan.

I have used the same reference deliberately, for better comparison with its later forms. It might strike you, as it did me, that although ‘wrote’ has now become wrát, the word for finger is much more similar to our word today than its Middle English versions! Going back to ‘write’, it should be noted that the word did not just carry the meaning that we know today, but also meant ‘engrave, inscribe’ and even ‘wound’. This is evident in this example:

Wrít ðysne circul mid ðínes cnífes

(Engrave this circle with this knife)

This is from Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of early England, a collection of writings published in the 1800s, dating back to the late ninth century. These days, we are unlikely to talk of writing with a knife – engraving is far more likely to come to mind.

There are cognates, or words from the same root, of the Old English word wrítan in other Germanic languages, such as Old Norse rita, meaning ‘write, scratch’, German reißen, which means ‘pull, tear, rip’. Old High German also gives us rizan, meaning ‘write, scratch, tear’. A possible cognate is Swedish rista, meaning rip or tear. These point to a common root in the language that gave rise to all the Germanic languages; known as Proto-Germanic. The proposed root here is *writan. Unfortunatefly, we can’t trace the word any further back in time, as there are no known cognates in languages outside of Germanic.