The Monthly interviews Collette Bailie, illustrator of the children’s book, “Con O’Neill’s Great Escape” – Part 2 – A book for children

How do you go from working in fashion to producing a children’s book?

I moved to Belfast, had three girls, I was a mum and I was encouraging my own children’s education. We loved an author called Lauren Child, and I was very influenced by her work, and the girl’s loved her books. I just became interested in children’s literature, children’s books and that stayed with me for a while.

I also designed fancy dress costumes for my children and that started me thinking that it would be great to do a book where there was a story, and illustrations, but also that there would be costumes that the kids could dress up in. They could dress like the characters in the book. That idea was in the back of my mind and it will be part of my next book.

You produced another book first?

Yes, the book, “Con O’Neill’s Great Escape” came about because I was on a bus tour of East Belfast with the organisation TURAS. The Con O Neill story was part of that tour, and I really liked the ideas and the imagery. I thought that the story wasn’t really being taught at school. You might get taught about Carrickfergus Castle, but there is no teaching about a Gaelic Lord who lived close by and I just thought that it would be great to produce a book about that particular story.

What happened then?

I talked to Linda Ervine, and I suggested that we could do a book on that story, and the idea I had was that we could simplify the story, illustrate that story with pictures, and I wasn’t going to just draw the pictures, I was going to sew the pictures. I was also going to show the area where Con O’Neill lived as it was then with woodlands, rivers and a castle.

This is a story that is not widely known?

Yes, very few people know about the Con O’Neill story as far as I am aware,  and so TURAS found the funding to allow me to produce the book. I worked on the book during Lockdown.

Originally the idea was to do the story as a folk tale or legend and then marry that with the idea I had about the costumes, so children, as I said earlier, could dress up like the characters in the book.

How has your work been received?

Most people who had a chance to look at the book have responded positively, but we do have a problem with getting the book promoted. We have it in a few bookshops, and in a couple of museums, and we are aiming to get it in to more places over the next little while.

I think my confidence has certainly grown after working on the first book and while the second book is just an idea at the moment, I am working on it and I hope to find a publisher who will let me do the book the way I would like to do it. That is the project I am working on at the moment.

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New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.