Today’s guest is my first ever international friend! Paddy Donnelly lives and works in Belgium though his Irish roots certainly inform his work. And his newest book– a debut as a writer/illustrator — is based on a lake nearby where he grew up. I am especially drawn to Paddy’s The Vanishing Lake (Yeehoo Press) because I had a dad like Meara’s grandfather who delighted in spinning out less than believable explanations for all kinds of events. If Paddy’s fanciful explanations for the vanishing lake “wetted” your appetite for more information, check out this article from Smithsonian Magazine.

Paddy Donnelly

The Vanishing Lake  

The Vanishing Lake by Paddy Donnelly

The Vanishing Lake is about a little girl called Meara who goes to visit her Grandad who lives by a lake, which disappears and reappears for no apparent reason. She constantly asks her Grandad why it happens and each time he has a more extravagant and unbelievable reason for her.  Meara won’t believe any of his stories, so she sets out to find the ‘real’  reason.  

I’ve illustrated over 10 picture books, however this is my first as both the  author and illustrator. It has been published in English, Chinese and  Greek so far, with a few more languages following in 2022. 

It’s a pretty special one to have as my debut author illustrated book, as  the story is actually based on a real place – close to where I grew up in  Ballycastle, County Antrim. It’s a lake called Loughareema which actually does disappear and reappear every few days, depending on the weather.  When you grow up with a wonder like this on your doorstep, you  definitely take it for granted, and I hadn’t really thought about it in years.  You can see a couple of photos here of the lake full and then empty! I took these just a few days apart. 

I was toying with the idea of writing and was brainstorming a few different  story ideas and it somehow popped into my head. I thought the title itself  was intriguing and then I set off to come up with a story around that. I  thought the mystery of ‘why’ the lake would disappear and reappear  could be interesting to drive the story, and then setting the character up  to be unwilling to believe these reasons, spurred myself on to come up  with crazier and crazier ones. That’s how the story started with me and it developed from there.  

The publisher, Yeehoo Press, released the book first in Chinese in 2020  and then in English in April 2021. You’ll only ever have one ‘first’ story  published, so the fact that mine will always have this connection to home  is amazing. Amazingly the book won the gold medal in the picture book  category of the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2021

My process 

I’ve been illustrating picture books for a few years, but initially hadn’t  imagined myself writing my own stories. A couple of years ago I decided  to give it a go and I discovered I absolutely loved the process of creating  both the text and illustrations. It’s all a bit of a jumbled mess, like any  creative process. It all starts with an idea of course. Usually I begin with something I really want to draw, then try to find an interesting angle or  story involving that subject. And then I storyboard out the main plot  points, keeping in mind interesting/funny scenes I want to illustrate. Once  I’ve got those super rough thumbnails, then I’ll start the writing.  

It’s a very back and forth process when you’re writing and illustrating, as  you can tweak the text when you’ve got an idea for the illustration, and  tweak illustrations when you hit upon a great line and juggle pages  around, merging them, splitting them. It’s quite different when you receive  a finished story from another author. You can perhaps make small  suggestions to the text if you think it’d work better moving a line to the  next page or something based on the illustration, but in general the story  has already been through so many revisions and is pretty final. So you  don’t mess with it, and you don’t want to either!  

Dodos Are Not Extinct  

Dodos are Not Extinct! They’re Just in Disguise by Paddy Donnelly

My second author illustrated picture book will be published by Yeehoo Press on February 8th 2022, and a few days ago I got to reveal the cover  on social media! It’s called ‘Dodos Are Not Extinct’ and is something  completely different from The Vanishing Lake and was a ton of fun to  create. It’s a funny story that follows a group of supposedly ‘extinct’  animals, who reveal they’ve been hiding out in genius disguises all this  time. I love extinct animals, so this was a dream. More news about this  book will be coming soon, and you can already preorder it! Link to cover reveal video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=- Z8tYC51b7Y

Paddy Donnelly is an Irish picture book author  & illustrator living in Belgium. He has illustrated  many children’s books, including The Vanishing  Lake, Dodos Are Not Extinct, Here Be Dragons,  The Last Seaweed Pie and Hom. His work has  achieved international acclaim as he was  nominated for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal  and shortlisted for The World Illustration  Awards. The Vanishing Lake is Paddy’s first  book as both author and illustrator and was  awarded the gold medal in the Independent  Publisher Book Awards 2021. Paddy grew up  on the beautiful north coast of Ireland,  surrounded by mythical stories of giants,  magical creatures and shape-shifting animals.  All of this prompted his love for nature, animals,  the sea and storytelling. He wishes Pluto was  still a planet. You can follow his work @paddy