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Opinion: Writing my first children's book, about one of Santa's elves

Donagh Hourihan tells about how he developed the idea for his first children’s book about an elf from the North Pole.

Donagh Hourihan

Many houses around the country will have some company this Christmas, as Santa’s elves came to visit. Some even get up to mischief. A lot of Santa’s elves this year though have had to ‘elf isolate’, given all the Covid safety restrictions. That means they haven’t been able to cause as much trouble around the house.

This year, one Irish writer has created a book about a little elf called Cotton Bottom, who tells the story of the North Pole in 2020 and how he and all of Santa’s other elves helped get everything ready for a very special Christmas.

Donagh Hourihan’s details below how he developed the idea for Cotton Bottom, the elf:

COVID-19 HAS AFFECTED the way we all live today, including Santa and his elves at the North Pole. Lockdown has forced Santa to make some changes to how things operate there, but he’s all set for a busy Christmas, no matter what.

With all the changes, how will all the children’s presents be ready in time for Christmas Day?

Santa doesn’t want you to be worried about this so he sent a special elf named Cotton Bottom to our house. Cotton Bottom has told me all about the work going on at the North Pole to make sure you get your presents safely.

Building the story

I am not a writer by trade, but this year I needed something to keep me busy when I wasn’t juggling work and kids. I have two young boys and they both LOVE books. Like countless others, my wife and I had to manage work and taking care of them when crèches were closed, so there was a lot of reading going on in our house.

I had the original idea for “Elf Isolation” back in April, but I didn’t really know what to do with it. I had previously written a short story for my nephews in Boston as a Christmas present but had not thought anything further about it after that. 

I decided to turn the idea into a short story in August after plenty of “Will I, won’t I?” I wrote a draft in the evenings once the kids were down. I got lots of editorial help from my family – both my sister and my wife helped review and refine it.

After getting the “thumbs up”, I started to enhance the back story and build on what was in the draft. Eventually, I had the full story completed and it was time to get started on actually putting a book together. 

I had worked for an eLearning company in Singapore and started to put the design together using the experience I had from there. I drew up a full storyboard before engaging some freelance artists to come up with some sketches for the book. After working with a few, I decided to work with a Turkish artist named Ugur Kose.

We spent close to six weeks drawing up the sketches and finishing all of the artwork for the book. I was busy with edits and design layouts while he produced these fantastic images.

Eventually, on 12 November, the book was ready to go and was launched “virtually” on Amazon through social media. It was a very busy time but also extremely enjoyable putting everything together.

Close to our family’s heart

The book is dedicated to my sons James and Conor. We have spent a lot more time together this year than planned and it has been a fantastic experience. My company were very flexible and considerate during the whole pandemic, especially when it has comes to working from home and minding the kids.

While the crèches were closed, I would take the morning shift with them from 7 am to 2 pm, before handing them over to my wife and then work US hours. It was non-stop – exhausting yes, but we were safe and had work, so really we were counting our blessings considering the hardship that has been felt this year by so many people. 

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In the book, I try to mention as many professions as I can that are supporting the country this year. Apologies to any I have missed! I feel it’s so important for us to acknowledge our frontline workers and those doing a lot of the unseen work.

It’s been a really hard year for so many people in so many different ways and I think it is really impacting on people’s mental health. That’s one of the main reasons I linked up with Pieta House for this book.

My wife and I choose a different charity to donate to each Christmas and I know that this year has put extra pressure on organisations like Pieta. Sinead Ronan Wells, their Fundraising Executive, has been very supportive of the book over the last few weeks. I’m going to donate 10% of the book proceeds to them and am also working to see if some local companies will also match my contribution.

The book started off being available on Amazon who provides self-published authors with a great service that prints on-demand once someone orders from the site.

This was going to be my sole avenue to sell the book, but it has been getting a great reception and there has been a lot of interest in the book, especially since Ryan Tubridy mentioned it on his show – apparently, he liked the book and thought the title was one of the best puns he heard this year.

I’ve now committed to printing the book and trying to get it into bookshops across the country and I’m delighted that it’s been taken in by some so far. It’s been a totally brand new experience for me; I that I have enjoyed and one that I hope will bring some laughs into the houses of those who read it.

Donagh Hourihan is living in Cork with his wife and two boys aged four and two. The book is available on Amazon and in bookshops and Christmas markets from 5 December. For more, see Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Donagh Hourihan

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