Author’s Bookshelf: Tracey Flynn and Niamh Gogan on the making of ‘The A-Z of Minding Me’
In this instalment of our ‘Author’s Bookshelf’ series, Tracey Flynn and Niamh Gogan are giving us an insight into the writing process of The A-Z of Minding Me, the importance of empowering children, and their eternal inspirations.
Tracey Flynn and Niamh Gogan are the authors of the newly released The A-Z of Minding Me, a book that empowers children to embrace their unique talents, while encouraging small acts of self-care and kindness, and promoting wellness of the body and mind.
The A-Z of Minding Me is an evergreen book that children can read and share time and time again. Embracing the much-loved A-Z format, each letter guides its reader through its beautiful pages, illustrated by the wonderful Kerry O’Callaghan.
This book serves to equip grown-ups everywhere with relatable, child-centred language to compassionately connect and respond to children, while reminding little ones of all the skills and things they can do to love and mind themselves.
Tracey Flynn (TF) is a primary school teacher with a Masters in Dramatherapy and an accreditation in Children’s Mindfulness Practice living in Dublin with her daughter Callie and cat Misty. Niamh Gogan (NG) holds an honours degree in Psychology, is accredited in Therapeutic Play Skills and is currently undertaking a MA in Creative Psychotherapy. She’s living in Dublin with her husband, David, and their two children Poppi and Seb, and her stepdaughter Holly.
Did you always want to be a writer/author?
TF — Yes! I’ve always enjoyed writing. As a child, I was always writing short stories and, in particular, I loved to write poetry. I’ve always dreamed of writing a children’s book and it’s finally happened!
NG — I’ve always loved language, words, journaling and writing in general. I often said it would be amazing to actually write a children’s book that would help little people — that they would hold and enjoy time and time again.
What inspired you to start writing?
TF — I am so grateful to have had some amazing teachers in school who nurtured and encouraged my creative side from a young age. My passion was drama, so I was always reading scripts, poems and stories. As a teacher, the children have also given me many inspiring ideas to write about and I’ve written a few short stories for my daughter, Callie.
NG — We wanted to give children a tool to help them connect with themselves and others, to manage big feelings and practice positive thinking and reflection.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
TF — The idea came from our discussions around the power of using positive language with children. We wanted to write a book that made a difference in children’s lives and that speaks to children everywhere.
NG — We always wanted to write a book for children around the power of positive language and after 2 years of being told about all the things they can’t do, we thought it would be a timely reminder to celebrate all of the things that children can do. Each positive affirmation reminds children of the power they have within themselves to unlock and embrace and — most importantly — celebrate their unique talents!
What did you learn when writing this book?
TF — It was really refreshing to be working on something we felt so passionately about. It was such an exciting project and to share it with Niamh was amazing. I learned what a joy it is to believe and trust in yourself and go for it!
NG — Often we would take a piece of work and look at it independently and then regroup and compare – more often than not, we would discover we were on the same page, and where we had differences, it served to make our work stronger. Like everyone else, we became accustomed to Zoom and we were grateful for technology!
Three words to describe your writing process:
TF — Collaborative. Nurturing. Fun.
NG — Creative. Collaborative. Considered.
Do you have any quirky habits when writing?
TF — Maybe not quirky, but I always have my cat Misty near me. She brings me such peace and calm.
NG — I get up and move around when trying to figure something out and workshop it. I then sit back down and write with clarity.
The first book you remember reading is…
TF — When I was really small, I was a Topsy and Tim superfan and I can still recite some of the lines! In later years I remember reading my Mandy and Bounty annuals at nighttime and my favourite books were Edith Blyton’s The Secret Seven and Judy Blume’s books. They brought me so much joy.
NG — The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis, I was entranced by Narnia and loved getting lost in its fantasy… I always wanted a magic wardrobe after that!
Your favourite Irish author is…
TF — It has always been Maeve Binchy. I think I have all her books and will hold onto them dearly forever. Her characters are all so relatable.
NG — Oh, there are so many and I have read so many it’s hard to have a favourite! I love anything by Sinead Moriarty, Helen Seymour, Marian Keyes, and then I love Chris Haughton, Chris Judge, Eoin Mc Laughlin’s children’s books… oh, there are just too many to choose!
The book you gift everyone is…
TF — Tree Dogs, Banshee Fingers and other Irish Words for Nature by Manchán Magan. This is the most beautiful book celebrating the Irish language and its connection to nature. It’s simply magical. I love supporting Irish authors.
NG — The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy – I love it!
Three books everyone should read:
TF — This is a difficult question! Everyone is so unique. I think people read certain books at a certain time in their lives, depending on what they need. People have their favourite authors… like a soft blanket; comforting and familiar.
NG — Anything by Roald Dahl, Dr Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, and Dibs in search of Self by Virginia Axline.
You overcome writer’s block by…
TF — Going to bed… and voila… at 3 or 4am I’m wide awake with a mind full of ideas!
NG — Playing and spending time with children – they bring me right back and ground me, and I often find they also provide me with additional insight and inspiration to ignite the creative juices.
Do you listen to music when you write?
TF — I like to have the radio on quietly in the background and I always light a candle… I adore energising, citrus scents such as grapefruit and lemongrass.
NG — No, I can’t write with music on — I light a candle and enjoy the peace.
The best money you ever spent as a writer was on…
TF — Sticky notes and more sticky notes! I use them for everything — I couldn’t live without them, they are all over the house!
NG — My laptop, definitely a worthwhile investment.
The three books you’d bring with you to a desert island are…
TF — David Attenborough’s Living Planet – The Web of Life on Earth. What an incredible man and I could read and look through this book over and over again. Right now, I would probably bring Manifest – 7 Steps to Living Your Best Life by Roxie Nafousi. I found her ideas really inspiring and it’s an area I would like to explore further. I’d also bring a blank journal to write and doodle in. A desert island you said… when are we leaving?!
NG — The A-Z of Minding Me; The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse; Little Women.
A quote you love is…
TF — “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think” — Winnie the Pooh, by A. A. Milne.
NG — “Time spent playing with children is never wasted” — Dawn Lantero.
The book you always return to is…
TF — The Complete Library of the Garden. My grandmother gave me this book. It is so sentimental to me; I love plants and flowers just like she did.
NG — The Invisible String by Patrice Karst – I love it. I have gifted it to so many people and I use it with children myself. It explores the intangible yet unbreakable connection between us all and helps provide comfort around separation anxiety, loss and even grief.
Seeing your book in shops is…
TF — Like having a little part of your heart smiling back at you!
NG — Going to be a very surreal experience… can’t wait!
One book you wish you had written is…
TF — Oh, so many to choose from! The Day the Crayons Quit by Oliver Jeffers, he’s a genius. This book makes me laugh out loud every time I read it. It is just so cleverly written and playfully explores so many topics. We adore it in our house.
NG — Guess How Much I Love You by Sam Mc Bratney, because it has always been one of my favourite books to read with my children… it will always hold a special place in my heart as a result.
How do you use social media as an author?
TF — Personally, I find social media such a supportive tool as an author and teacher. Sharing ideas, resources and seeing others’ work has helped me incredibly. I find people to be so kind. The online community gives me a sense of connection to others and their journey. You can find me on Instagram @mindfulmsflynn.
NG — I’m quite private and tend to use social media within a closed user group. I enjoy connecting with writers I know and am inspired by them, and learn from them too.
Should books be judged by their covers? How did you pick yours?
TF — Who doesn’t love a beautiful cover?! An invitation… ‘hold me, open me and get lost in my pages’. We were so lucky to have the gorgeous Kerry O’Callaghan as our amazing illustrator from Kinsale, Co. Cork and of course the team at GILL to thank for our cover. We think it’s beautiful.
NG — They possibly shouldn’t but I find they hold valuable information about the story kept inside, and everything is put in place for a reason, and I respect that… I have to admit I love a good book cover! We were lucky enough to have the very talented Kerry O’Callaghan as our illustrator and Graham Thew in GILL books did a wonderful job of celebrating her drawings as our cover design and we love it.
Do you find it hard not to procrastinate when writing?
TF — I’ve such a busy life between parenting, teaching and working on different projects, my writing fits into it.
NG — I think we both loved writing this book so much that it was exciting any time we sat down to do it.
The best advice you’ve ever gotten is…
TF — “When things are tough, take it one day at a time and if one day is too long, take it one hour at a time”. My grandmother and mum passed this advice onto me and my sister. It has helped me through some of the difficult moments of my life.
NG — “You don’t need to see the whole staircase, just take the first step”.
Your workspace is…
TF — Small and compact, near my kitchen. It’s bright and colourful and leads out into the garden. It’s my happy, creative space and I’m near the kettle!
NG — A playful space, I write in my playroom and it is where I study as well, so there are a lot of toys and play material at hand for inspiration!
Your favourite literary character of all time is…
TF — James Henry Trotter from James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. What an amazing little boy and what an incredible journey. Who wouldn’t want to fly in a giant peach with so many enthralling insects?!
NG — I don’t know that I have a favourite of all time but I love Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables for being headstrong, optimistic, warm, loyal, intelligent, talkative, and hugely loving with a great imagination! I also enjoy the nostalgia of being read this story as a child by my mum and now as a mum reading it with my own daughter.
The A-Z of Minding Me is on sale now.