The Ark of Dun Ruah — Protectors of the Flame
Currach Press, €11.99;Kindle, €3.68
Maria Burke recently published her second book, The Ark of Dun Ruah — Protectors of the Flame. Her first came out last year, and she has already written a third — yet unlike most writers, this hasn’t been a long-held ambition.
“I was never good at English,” says Burke. “My spelling is very bad. I would get ‘D’s for my essays.”
She did well enough at Leaving Certificate to get into teacher training college, and after qualifying, she worked as a primary school teacher. But her first love is art.
“I went to art school at night, in my early 20s, and then gave up teaching to attend college full time. But it was hard. I’d exhibit sometimes, and sell some paintings, then it would all dry up again. So I went back into teaching.
“I was teaching in Dolphin’s Barn in Dublin, and I started reading Roald Dahl to the children. He really spoke to them. I started basing all the art work around the books. I taught the history or geography that came up in the books. It became the way I taught.”
Burke became more of a reader, when, after marriage, she and her husband moved to Lahinch in Co Clare. She worked in a bookshop, reading her way through the stock when times were quiet.
“I didn’t know anybody in Lahinch, and I started painting again. I painted ships, blue owls, and eagles. And when my son, Aidan, was born, I thought I could use the paintings to write a picture book for him.
“I started writing, and I couldn’t stop! Within two or three weeks I had a full size novel written in longhand. It was a mess, because I’d felt the need to simply get everything down, and it was years before it was well edited and on my computer.
“I gave the manuscript to friends who were teachers, and they gave them to the children in their schools. They encouraged me to publish it, but I was never confident. I would drop the project for a few years, then get back to it. Finally, I came to a point where I felt it was ready for a publisher.”
After a few false starts, Burke was welcomed with open arms by the Currach Press.
“We had long discussions on the phone. They wanted to know if I was prepared to publicise and promote the book. They asked me what my goals were. They were happy to know that I view writing as a long-term project.”
Which she certainly does. As she finished drafting the third book — due for release next year, ideas came in for the fourth, and possibly the fifth. And she’s working on two other books — one, set in the first world war, is for adults.
The Ark of Dun Ruah series features children Simon and Kerry Macken, and charts their adventures into a fantasy land. In Protectors of the Flame, they are battling the evil Black Vipers. They have to venture over a treacherous mountain pass to get to the land of fire. Their friends include Timmy and Dot, a pair of talking swift-tails.
Ending in a lighthouse, the book is a rollicking good read for children over nine.
“I get my ideas from my life,” says Burke. “I make documentaries for Life FM Radio in Cork. I made one on the lighthouses of Cork, and another on Collins Barracks. I was talking to a female soldier who had served in Chad. I asked her what her greatest challenge had been, and she said the snakes; they got into her tent.
“I asked how she dealt with them, and she said she shot them. But when you do that, they still keep coming at you, so you have to jump out of the way. I thought that was incredible, so I used the story for the book. Snakes are extraordinary creatures.”
Burke credits her family — her husband Tony and 13-year-old son Aidan — for keeping the books up to scratch.
“It really is a family effort,” she says. “Aidan loves the books, but he helps too. I’ll read it to him and he’ll say, ‘ah Mum! That battle scene isn’t nearly realistic enough; the bad guy has to look as if he’s on top.’
“Tony is good too. He reads through the fine detail of the book, and says, ‘this is not believable’, or ‘this is not consistent’. Once he said, ‘This bad guy is a wimp!’. That led to arguments. I don’t want to scare children, but he says I have to have real bad guys to balance out the good. He’s better at grammar than me, too. He checks all the spelling.”
The books have gone down wonderfully well in schools. Burke is busy visiting children in both primary and secondary schools.
“I was in a school in Tipperary this week. I did all the artwork for the cover, then the designer adapted it. I brought all my drawings and paintings into the school, and explained how the process had been. I took in my original manuscript too, to show them how I wrote the book.
“When I get an idea for a book I start writing without knowing what will happen. Then when I’m half way through my brain goes into overdrive, and I know how it will finish. It’s all about the adventure.”
Burke’s favourite children’s books are by CS Lewis, and JB Tolkien.
“I’ve read them to Aidan time and time again. I hope, that like their books, mine are not just a good story. There’s something underneath about hope and courage, and good overcoming evil.
“I want my readers to have the courage to follow their dreams. I’d like them to learn that life is an adventure. It is exciting! But they must support their friends, and stand up to things.”
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