My Cultural Life: Malachy Doyle

The children's author on button boxes, reading in public and living on an island 'off the edge of Donegal'

Who/what/where/when/why is Malachy Doyle?

I was born in Carrickfergus and grew up in Whitehead, the seventh child of 11. I went to college in England, raised my children in Wales, and am now back in Ireland, living on a little island off the edge of Donegal with my wife, Liz, a dog, three cats, five ducks and three hens.

Did you always want to be a writer?

I loved writing stories when I was a child, but didn't come back to it till quite a bit later in life, after ten years working in advertising and another ten in special needs education.

What was the first thing you ever wrote?

I was 40 and I went to a creative writing class. The tutor got us writing down memories of childhood. I wrote a piece about my mother's button box, which she kept on the shelf above the range in our big old house in Whitehead. It was my job to get it down and share them out when my dad wanted to play poker (for buttons).

What is your latest book about?

Collywobble is a picture book about a wobbly little collie pup. When the snow comes, his master goes to fetch the sheep down from the top fields, but things go badly wrong. Will young Collywobble be brave enough to save the day? You'll have to read it to find out.

Why did you want to write children's books?

I always loved folk and fairy tales. I read them, and was told them, as a child. I carried on reading children's books as a parent and teacher. So when I started writing, it felt natural to try my hand at writing for children.

Have you ever considered writing for adults?

I've written some poems and short stories for adults, but prefer to write for a younger audience. I write stories for babies up to teenagers, but am probably at my happiest writing picture books.

How do you choose which artists to work with?

I use different illustrators for each book. There are a few artists who have done more than one of my books, but I always submit a text without illustrations. It is then up to the publisher to take it from there. One of the most exciting things about being a picture book author is to see how the artist interprets my words.

What do you think of World Book Day, which this year took place on March 1?

I think it's a fantastic celebration of the importance of books, and the joy they give people, old and young.

Do you ever get nervous reading in public?

I'm never nervous reading to young people. Occasionally I can find standing up in front of a large group of adults slightly intimidating. I usually win them over, though, with my charm and my picture books!

If you had a chance to write for any television show, which would it be?

I'd love to write an episode of The Simpsons. Homer is one of my all-time favourite characters.

Assuming that you could go back in time and write it before the original author, which book would you love to have written?

I wish I'd written Holes, by Louis Sachar. It's just such a perfect book. Or Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak: the best picture book ever. Or Treasure Island. Or Anna Karenina.

Read an extract from Collywobble below:

Farmer Joe's sheepdog had seven pups. Three were big and strong, three were good enough, but one was the most shivery little scrap you've ever seen.

'What a wobbly collie!' said Farmer Joe, as the tiniest pup tried to stand up for the very first time. 'Hey, that's what I'll call you - Collywobble!'

As part of the John Hewitt Society's World Book Day Celebrations and the Belfast Waterfront's Festival in a Weekend, Malachy Doyle will be reading at the Belfast Waterfront on March 10 at 4pm. Win tickets on the Literary Belfast website.