Sarah Webb is one of Ireland’s busiest and most successful writers – the author of best sellers for both children and adults, plus more than a smattering of non fiction works, her latest book for children is hitting bookshelves this week. Mollie Cinnamon is Not a Cupcake is the first in The Songbird Cafe Girls series which focuses on friendship and family, and is set on an island. Perfect for readers aged 9 years and up, Mollie Cinnamon is stuck on a tiny island with her great-grandmother while her mum travels the world filming her new TV series. Mollie is bored and lonely until she makes friends with Sunny and Alanna at the Songbird Cafe. Disaster strikes, though, when the cafe is threatened with closure. Can the new friends work together to save it?
We asked Sarah when she first started writing, she explained, “I’ve written all my life. As a child I wrote short stories and little books that I illustrated and bound myself (with a needle and thread). As a teen I wrote bad poetry and as a student I wrote chapters of a book about a young sailor called Sally and her adventures. All very much wish fulfilment. My first book, Three Times a Lady (2000) starred, you guessed it, a professional sailor called Sally.”
When we asked Sarah exactly how many books she has packed into the intervening fifteen years, she laughed, “I visit schools every week and the children always ask me this. Give me one second while I count.
OK here goes:
11 novels for adults including The Shoestring Club and The Memory Box (the latest two)
1 short novel for the Open Door series
6 Amy Green books
1 Songbird Cafe book (new series for age 8+)
1 early reader called Emma the Penguin
I have also edited 2 adult collections and 1 children’s collection and 1 nursery rhyme book.
And finally I’ve written 5 non fiction titles.
So if you count the books I edited (which I do as they were a lot of work) that’s 34.
I’m currently working on a new novel for adults (partly historic), a new collection for O’Brien Press, a short story for the Irish Children’s Laureate book, Once Upon a Place and two more Songbird Cafe books. But no, not all at the same time!”
There aren’t many writers who write for both adults and children and we wondered if Sarah could explain what the main difference was between writing for adults and kids, she revealed, “There are no major differences. The characters are just a certain age. So girls or boys who are 8/11/13 have different lives/language/thoughts to those of 28/31/53. I go about the writing in exactly the same way. Next I’d like to try a picture book – the hardest thing of all to write. They’re not called Haiku for Aliens for nothing.”
Obviously Sarah isn’t lacking in inspiration, but starting a new series has its own set of challenges – challenges Sarah relishes, she told us, “I knew I wanted to set the Songbird Cafe books on an island. I stayed in a yurt on Cape Clear a few years ago and I sat outside the tent and wondered at the peace and quiet. It got me thinking about island life and what kind of life a young teenager might have on a small island.
‘I love books that have a strong setting and I had great fun creating the island of Little Bird and it’s inhabitants. I’ve always loved books about islands. I grew up reading Enid Blyton and my favourites have always been Five on a Treasure Island and The Secret Island. There’s also a wonderful Irish children’s adventure story called Island of the Great Yellow Ox by Walter Macken, and I also love the Anne of Green Gables books, set on Prince Edward Island in Canada.
I drew Little Bird (I’m no artist so it was a bit wobbly) and one of the artists at Walker Books, Jack Noel created an amazing map for the books based on my attempt.”
As well as writing, Sarah is one of Ireland’s leading literary event programmers and a children’s
book consultant. Not having time to write is something many would-be writers claim is the reason they don’t get started – we asked Sarah where she found the time. “I write as often as I can. I also have other jobs – running the children’s programme at the Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival, teaching writing at the Irish Writers Centre, reviewing, working as a children’s book consultant – but I try to give writing priority.
I walk the dog, then I sit down at my desk from about 10am to 2pm. I aim to write 2,000 words in that time but it doesn’t always happen. Yes, I’m very disciplined and I treat it like a job. I used to work full time in Waterstones and produce a book a year – all while I was a single mum. I’m very lucky to have a supportive family and partner. And also a mind that never stops ticking over and asking questions.”
(As well as a dog, Sarah has two young children!) We asked her for her tips for new writers. This is what she told us:
- There is no secret.
- Write – as often as you can.
- Keep the story simmering in your head when you’re walking or commuting.
- Approach the page every day with enthusiasm and energy and love. No-one’s going to write your book for you. Find a story you have a burning passion to tell and just get on with it.
- Keep at it. If your first book is rejected (my first – Kids Can Cook – was rejected many times before finally finding a home) try again. Write another book. And another. Don’t give up.
(c) Sarah Webb
The Opening of Mollie Cinnamon is Not a Cupcake (age 8+)
by Sarah Webb
As I watch from the window of the ferry, Little Bird Island gets bigger and bigger. I can just make out the harbour and behind it, a stone castle covered in ivy, where Red Moll McCarthy once lived. She was a famous pirate queen and Granny Ellen said she is one of our ancestors . I was named after them both – Mollie Ellen Cinnamon.
There’s a village just up from the harbour, the buildings all painted bright sea-sidey colours: strawberry pink, vanilla yellow, mint green. I can’t believe I’m about to be imprisoned on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere with people who think it’s normal to paint their house the colour of ice cream. And Little Bird is such a weird name for an island. It sounds like a character from Sesame Street . I’m doomed!
The Songbird Cafe: Mollie Cinnamon is Not a Cupcake is published by Walker Books, UK, is in bookshops now or pick your copy online here.