Mollie Cinnamon is Not a Cupcake (The Songbird Café Girls 1)
Walker Books, €6.38; Kindle, €7.86
A FEW years ago, the writer Sarah Webb was staying in a yurt on Cape Clear Island, off the west Cork coast.
She was having a lovely, peaceful time with her partner and three children, but she pondered what it would be like to live somewhere so remote full-time; and especially how it would be for young teenagers.
“So, I interviewed some girls there, of 10, 11 and 12,” says Sarah. “They said they had interesting lives. They were online a lot, but there was one problem. With so few girls of their age on the island, there was not much choice who they hung out with. They had to get along.
“I thought that was an interesting theme for a book,” she says. “I wondered what it would be like to arrive at the island from a different background. How would you make friends?”
This germ of an idea took root, and Sarah has just published the first of her series about an island, aimed at pre-teen girls.
Mollie Cinnamon is Not a Cupcake is a delightful tale of family, friendships and the difficulties of fitting in.
Arriving from Dublin on Little Bird Island, to stay with her great-granny, Mollie alienates potential friends, by seeming to be a cool, rather arrogant Dublin kid.
“It’s all about being left out,” says Sarah.
It’s a lovely read, which touches on several issues. Mollie’s mother is a ditzy TV presenter, so this relationship is developed, too. But how does Sarah invent such authentic young girls?
“My daughter, Amy, is 12. I draw from her, but mainly I remember back to my own childhood and how difficult it was to make friends.
“I had two best friends in school, and two from home, and I’d often get left out, because they lived closer or forgot to ask me to something. That feeling of, ‘why wasn’t I invited’ never goes away’.”
As the author of 34 books, including picture books, a series for teenagers, and a rake of romantic comedies for adults, how does she find the voice?
“I put myself in the character’s eyes, so if a character is 11, 14, or 57, it’s the same thing — it is what you do,” Sarah says.
Sarah has written the next two in the Songbird Café Girls series. The second focuses on Sunny, a girl in the café who doesn’t talk, and the third is about an American who arrives on the island when her mother has died.
Is it important to Sarah that her books include strong role models for girls?
“I wouldn’t like to be didactic or preachy, but I like my characters to have a sense of fairness and of right and wrong. I like naturally feisty heroines, like Anne of Green Gables. She makes mistakes, but she’s her own person. She’s not fazed by anyone — she’s a great girl!”
A former children’s bookseller, Sarah keeps busy, appearing at festivals as well as curating them. How does she find the time to write?
“I’m organised,” she says, simply. “And I work hard.”
When Sarah tells me she has another ambition — to open a bookshop cum café and arts centre, where teenagers can hang out and talk books — I’m not in the least surprised.
And with her work ethic and sheer enthusiasm, I have no doubt that she will make it happen.