“Uchenna’s Apples”: New children’s / young adult fiction from Diane Duane

by Diane Duane

Writing projects sometimes get started in unusual ways.

Some time back in early 2007 I was chatting electronically with an old friend and former neighbor, the gifted Somtow Sucharitkul — a splendid writer and (at least) equally splendid musician and composer, now the artistic director of the Bangkok Opera. And somewhere along the line, Somtow said to me: “Want to write a children’s book?”

I couldn’t see why on Earth not.

Somtow put me in touch with a charming Geneva-based lady named Beth Krasna.  She was working with UNESCO on a series of children’s / young adult short novels that were meant to illustrate what the experience of childhood was in various different countries. Beth and I discussed the project for a while, and after more than twenty years spent living in Ireland, I thought I had enough background on the subject — especially through watching nearly a generation of the neighbors’ children grow up,and spending a lot of time talking to them — to tackle the subject.

The concept was of even greater interest to me than than usual because of how different a place Ireland has become over the last twenty years. The apparent miracle of the “Celtic Tiger” brought people from all over the world to work in Ireland, and Irish society found itself faced with the need to become multicultural in a big hurry. This need (as you might guess) was never going to be perfectly met. When so small an island, far more used to periodic emigration, suddenly has to absorb large numbers of immigrating people from cultures and ethnicities that in many cases had never been seen here before, there were always going to be problems with retooling the national infrastructure to cope. And when the people who’ve always lived in such a place—long poor and isolated and used to thinking of itself as “hard done by”—suddenly find their home culture apparently under siege by an army of work-seeking foreigners who’ve brought their own cultures with them, the local atmosphere can become unusually challenging.

All of this was on my mind when I started planning the book. So when the protagoniste turned up on the creative doorstep one morning, it didn’t surprise me at all to find that she was the daughter of a Nigerian professional and her native Irish husband. Uchenna and her buddies—a single-parented American immigrant named Emer, and a youngster from the Irish Traveling community named Jimmy—shortly grabbed me and walked me into a tale of the changing Dublin suburbs — though one that developed a touch of mystery as it unfolded. As I worked, my younger neighbors were glad to fill me in on some of the fine points when I had questions about details. Other matters I didn’t have to query: anyone who’s lived here long enough can feel the tension of the Ireland that is as it strains against the memories and expectations of the Ireland that was.

I wrote the book between 2007 and 2008 and turned it in. To the general disappointment of Beth and myself, the economic madness that started in 2008 and got steadily worse thereafter meant that a print publisher couldn’t be found. The contract ran its course, and the rights for the book recently became unencumbered and returned to me.

So here it is now for you to read as an ebook, in all the major formats. (Print publication will follow later in the year.) 


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