Featured Readers

Each month we sit down for a chat with a ‘Featured Reader’, to find out about their favourite books of all time, their literary preferences, recommendations, revered authors, & the likes...

This Month

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Helen Carr

Raheny, Dublin 5

I tend to remember the stories I read as a child – and phrases from them – rather than the illustrations, whereas I know a lot of people are the opposite.

Helen Carr

Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born and bred in Dublin, I’m an editor with a book publishing company and I also write and review books for various publications. I like reading, running, music, podcasts, drinking coffee and getting out and about into the parks and seashores around Dublin.

I’ve worked in publishing for over twenty years, starting on reception and learning on the job. I’m currently Senior Editor with The O’Brien Press, a general publisher of fiction and non-fiction for adults and children. I edit or manage about 20 books a year on subjects ranging from fiction to current affairs, cookery to sport.

I think I did always want to work with books – when I was a child I used to write and illustrate little stories with my sister and friends. But equally, I also thought I might be a writer, or a journalist – or an actor! (I’m glad I chose publishing!)

Tell us about your most recent project? What types of genres do you work across?

I’ve worked across the complete range of our books – I love the variety. I edit a lot of children’s fiction – and some non-fiction – working with many Irish children’s and YA authors. I’ve edited eighteen of Judi Curtin’s books, across several series, and I’m always excited when a new submission comes from her, whether it’s an idea for a new series or more about some beloved characters. One of my most recent projects was The Dublin Marathon: Celebrating 40 Years by Sean McGoldrick. I think it’s fair to say that it was a labour of love – both for Sean and for me! Sean is a sports journalist who has run many marathons around the world. He was very knowledgeable, such a good writer and always coming in with great new snippets of information

So many people got involved with this book – we have photos and stories from the 1970s right up to the present day, and so many personal stories of runners and volunteers down through the years. I was really excited to work on the book, because I’ve been aware of the Dublin Marathon nearly all my life – as a child, I remember standing in my native Raheny, watching Dick Hooper – local hero, Raheny Shamrock runner and two-hour, 12-minute marathon runner – storm through the village on his way to winning it three times. In the mid 80s, I also cheered on my own father. These days, the Dublin marathon passes the front gate of The O’Brien Press (at about mile 18), so I think it’s very appropriate that we published this gorgeous book about a real Dublin institution.

Were you always a reader? What is your earliest memory of reading? Do you have a favourite book from childhood?

I was always a reader; I was very lucky – we had books in the house, and my parents and my grandmother had time to read to us. I think reading came quite easily to me and I was more of a ‘words’ person than a visual person – I tend to remember the stories I read as a child – and phrases from them – rather than the illustrations, whereas I know a lot of people are the opposite.

I don’t remember learning to read – though I do have a memory of reading The Little Red Hen to a teacher before I started primary school, and I also have a very strong memory of reading the terrible headlines about the Stardust fire [in 1981] in a newspaper (probably the Evening Press).

Tell us about your life in books, any particular memories that stand out?

As a child, I loved going to the library – we’d walk to Raheny library, which I loved as it had a jungle mural on the wall in the children’s section. At weekends we’d often go in to the Ilac Centre Library and then go to the Soda Fountain (which used to be just down the stairs from the library) for a coke float.

Another strong reading memory is a set of books we had at home called The Young Folks Shelf of Books (Collier's Junior Classics, published 1962).

It had extracts from books grouped by theme (like stories from other countries, stories set around holidays etc.). I really, really loved that set; it introduced me to so many authors (like Beverly Cleary, who wrote the ‘Ramona’ books) as well as to other religions and races – it was an American publication, so it covered Hanukkah as well as Christmas in the ‘holiday’ selection and had stories about First Nations children and so on.

Do you have a book you use or read again and again? Why this one?

I don’t have one book I return to again and again or that has special meaning for me – but I do tend to re-read books a lot. Sometimes I’m just in the mood for a certain type of book, or I see one on a shelf and think I’d like to re-read it. I’m also terrible for reading back through a series if I’ve just read a new book by the same author. For example, I just read Val McDermid’s latest book in the ‘Carol Jordan & Tony Hill’ series, How the Dead Speak , and as a result am now re-reading that entire series.

I love series, and another I return to every few years is the Cazalet Chronicles – a five-book series about an English extended family during World War II and beyond (it covers 1937-1956) – I love it so much, it’s so immersive, there’s such a brilliant cast of characters and the author writes so well and so empathically about life and people’s feelings and actions. I’d really recommend it. Another author I return to again and again is Kate Atkinson.

In terms of books I use again and again – I have a cookbook called Veg Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that I cook from several times a week, and I also return to Biddy White-Lennon’s The Best of Irish Traditional Cooking every year for my Halloween brack recipe.

If you could give one book to a child what would that be and why?

I think it would depend on the child. I think that being able to take pleasure in reading and in stories is such a great gift. The things readers take away from books (whether that’s facts, new understandings and insights, exciting and diverting stories, or lines of verse) stay with them even when the book is put away. So the book I’d like to give would be the one that the child loves and enjoys and will make reading a pleasure for them.

Anything else you would like to add?

I’d just like to mention a crime / mystery author I recently started reading called Ruth Ware. I love her books – she often gives a modern twist on the classic ‘Locked Room’ mystery (as in her books The Turn of the Key, In A Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10 where the action takes place somewhere isolated or onboard a ship!) with a limited cast of characters and she often has a very creepy feel to her books (like The death of Mrs Westaway and The Lying Game). With the evenings drawing in, readers looking for a creepy thriller – a bit like a modern Agatha Christie! – might enjoy Ruth Ware.


The Books

We have been finding out about the books that matter to you, to grow this virtual bookshelf that represents the lives, families and culture of the people that call Dublin home. Here are a selection of some of the books that you have been telling us …

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We want to hear about the books that matter to you. Tell us about your most cherished books, what you’re reading right now, your favourite book from your childhood, and the books that make up the story of your life. Share your recommended reads and take part here

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