Leona Forde, author of the Milly McCarthy series of children’s books.

Milly McCarthy is ‘pure Cork’ says Leona Forde

It's not every day that you come across a character as vibrant and relatable as Milly McCarthy. In the children’s literary landscape, which is often dominated by American narratives, Milly McCarthy stands out as refreshingly Corkonian.

The author who dreamt up Milly is Leona Forde, an English teacher living in Bandon. Leona took her daughter's request for an Irish lead character to heart and created the Milly McCarthy series of books. The most recently published book 'Millie McCarthy and the Irish Dancing Disaster' is the second installment in the trilogy.

"I wrote the book initially for my daughter Asha, who wanted a Diary of a Wimpy Kid-style book, but with a female protagonist and set in Ireland," Leona told the Cork Independent. “So I created a character called Milly McCarthy - a young girl from Cork who attends a gaelscoil and does all the things kids living in Ireland do, like play GAA and go on school tours to Fota Wildlife Park, but with the twist that she is a bit of a catastrophe and always manages to get herself into a muddle.”

Leona says part of Milly’s charm is her Rebel county spirit. “Milly is one hundred per cent pure Cork. I suppose if you think about the qualities of a Cork person, you might say: fun loving, confident, and historically quite rebellious.”

Milly's family in the books are inspired by Leona’s own children, who are aged 4 to 13. Their interests and experiences have found their way into the stories, from a love of Star Wars to Irish dancing. Leona says that there are also parallels between Milly and her younger self. “My own childhood plays a part too, I did Irish dancing as a child, so my experiences of attending a Feis, with the pumps and poodle socks and memories of glittering medals all helped in writing book two,” she explains.

Originally from the city, Leona says that as a child she loved reading and going to her local library which was Tory Top Library in Ballyphehane. She studied English and History at UCC before becoming a teacher, a profession she loves. Although she enjoyed writing, she didn’t have aspirations to become an author until she took a writing course with children's author Patricia Forde who suggested she submit her work to publishers. “I did it hoping for the best, and I'm very glad I did,” she says.

Finding time to write with a full-time job and four children to take care of might seem daunting, but it's all about passion and discipline explains Leona. “I think when it's something you enjoy doing you always find time,” she says.

“I do set aside one evening a week where I write for at least three hours, that time is sacred, I never miss it,” she adds.

While writing for a younger audience can be tricky, Leona says it’s also rewarding. “Children are honest readers, quick to decide if they like a story or not. However, the positive feedback from young readers makes it all worthwhile,” she says.

'Milly McCarthy and the Irish Dancing Disaster' is published by Gill Books.