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The Story Behind ‘Beyond the Stars’ by Sarah Webb

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By Sarah Webb

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Beyond the Stars is unique. It’s a collection of twelve short stories for children, written by some of the top names in children’s books – current Irish Children’s Laureate, Eoin Colfer, John Boyne, Judi Curtin, Marita Conlon-McKenna, Derek Landy, Roddy Doyle and many others. I had the great pleasure of compiling this star stellar book.

Each story is illustrated by one of Ireland’s best illustrators – from PJ Lynch to Niamh Sharkey. All profits from the book are being donated to Fighting Words, the creative writing centre for children which was set up by Roddy Doyle and Sean Love in the heart of Dublin city.

Why did all these talented individuals give their time and expertise to create one magical book?

That’s easy. Because, like this book, Fighting Words is also unique. As Roddy Doyle, the centre’s co-founder says ‘It’s a big bright room. In an area that needs a big bright room. In a climate that needs a big bright room.’

Fighting Words gives young writers a voice and helps them reach their creative potential. And above all, it’s fun.

Sarah Webb

In January 2009 I volunteered at Fighting Words’ very first Primary School Workshop. The room was so full of such creativity, joy and optimism I thought my heart would burst. The children from Griffeen Valley Educate Together School, with the help of a storyteller, an illustrator and a team of volunteers, wrote their own book.

On the back of each book (every young writer was given their own full colour copy to bring home – complete with illustrations) was a photograph of the child’s smiling face and a blank box for them to add their very own writer’s biography.

Leaving the centre, their faces shone with happiness. Their teacher, Liz Morris has never forgotten that day. She says ‘My class was so engrossed that they never even noticed the writing area at the far end of the room, where men were lifting in and unwrapping desks and chairs right beside them. They were so engrossed they wouldn’t have noticed a herd of elephants. Nothing would distract them from the story they – THEY – were creating.’

Roddy Doyle
Roddy Doyle, founder of Fighting Words

Since that first workshop, I have volunteered at Fighting Words whenever I can. I have always left that big bright room inspired, uplifted and with a joyful heart. This book is my thank you to the centre, for creating a haven of the imagination. I hope they will allow me to be a small part of the magic for many years to come. In 20014 I decided I’d like to do something to help support the centre, so the idea for putting together Beyond the Stars was born.

I’ve edited two previous charity collections – Travelling Light and Mum’s the Word – so I know how much work was involved, but this is my first for children. It was my great joy and privilege to select the writers and illustrators for the book, and to pair them up. It was wonderful to work with such talented people. I also got to work with Ruth Alltimes in the editorial department at HaperCollins and her talented team.

So how do you put together such a collection?

It was a true team effort. First I invited (by phone or email) twenty-two Irish children’s writers and illustrators to take part. Eleven writers and eleven illustrators, as Oisín McGann offered to illustrate his own story and we had a competition to find the final story. Some are household names, others are up and coming talent. I wanted to have a nice balance of experienced and newer writers and illustrators. In the mix are award- winners, bestsellers, and no less than three Irish Children’s Laureates. What they have in common is that they are all Irish or living in Ireland, and they all love the work of Fighting Words.

Everyone I approached, once they heard the project was being put together to support the work of Roddy and Sean’s centre, said yes immediately. I then asked the authors to write a story with a wintery theme. Once their stories were all delivered (each unique, each wonderful), I met with Ruth at HarperCollins in London and we talked about the author/illustrator pairings. We had each prepared a list of which illustrator might work the best with each story, and our lists were almost identical.

I then sent the writers’ stories to their illustrators, and they provided the exceptional artwork that you see in the finished book. The stories went though some edits (even bestselling writers need an editor), and finally the book was designed, typeset and printed. It is now available in bookshops and we all hope it will be a Christmas bestseller and raise lots of money for Fighting Words.

So what’s in the collection?

Twelve remarkable tales of adventure, magic and wonder: The Star Dogs, Roddy Doyle’s wonderful story about the Russian street dogs who were sent into space in the 1950s, illustrated by Steve Simpson; Derek Landy’s gripping battle story and a very unusual hero, illustrated by Alan Clarke; John Boyne’s tale of the Brockets and their new dog, with illustrations by Paul Howard; Judi Curtin’s moving and funny story about a rather grumpy granddad and his loyal grandson, illustrated by Chris Judge; The Snow Globe by Marita Conlon-McKenna, with beautiful atmospheric illustrations by PJ Lynch; a re-telling of The King of the Birds by Michael Scott, with illustrations by Chris Haughton; a stirring ice queen tale by Gordon Snell, with snowy illustrations by Michael Emberley; Celine Kiernan’s shadowy cat story, with illustrations by Tatyana Feeney; a World War I story written and illustrated by Oisín McGann; Ice Fairies by Siobhan Parkinson, with illustrations by Olwyn Whelan; and finally, a tale of loyalty and bravery by newcomer (and winner of the competition to write the final story) Emma Brade, illustrated by Niamh Sharkey.

Beyond The Stars will be launched today (Thursday 2nd October 2014) in Eason, O’Connell Street, Dublin at 6.30pm and all are most welcome.

(c) Sarah Webb

Sarah Webb is from Dublin and writes for both children and adults. Her Ask Amy Green series for readers of age 10+ (Walker Books) has been shortlisted for the Queen of Teen Awards in the UK (twice) and the Irish Book Awards. The latest book in the series is Ask Amy Green: Wedding Belles. She is currently working on a new series for children, The Songbird Café Girls (1st book – March 2015) and an adult novel set in 1934.

Her books have been published in many different countries including the UK, the US, Italy, Poland and Indonesia. She also writes children’s books for younger readers including Emma the Penguin (O’Brien Press), and Sally Go Round the Stars (O’Brien Press).

After working for many years as a children’s bookseller and consultant, Sarah now combines writing with visiting schools, reviewing for the Irish Independent, volunteering at Fighting Words. She is the Children’s Curator of the Mountains to Sea Book Festival in Dublin, which has one of the largest children’s programmes in the country, and is on the board of Children’s Books Ireland, the Irish trust for children’s books.

Find out more about Sarah at her websites:  www.sarahwebb.ie and www.askamygreen.com and you can find her on Facebook www.facebook.com/sarahwebbwriter or Twitter @sarahwebbishere

Editor’s note: This is a GORGEOUS book, a rare beautiful hardback that should be on every child’s shelf, it’s the perfect Christmas gift! In bookshops now or pick up your copy online here.


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