Circus of Stars by Alice Ellerby

Sylvie is desperate to become a trapeze artist – just like her mum. And now she has her chance. This year, for the first time, Sylvie – and her dog, Welly – are spending the whole season with the Circus of Stars. Sylvie can’t wait to become part of the troupe; to pull back the curtain and experience the dust and grease of the real circus. Only, Mum seems determined to stop her playing any part in the show.

Sylvie feels unwanted and out of place, and she’s still coming to terms with losing her granny, who used to care for her while Mum performed. She longs to return to her old life. But, when she tries to run away, an unlikely friendship with a local boy, Jacob, leads Sylvie back to the circus, where she discovers a secret from her past that paves the way to the dizzying heights of the Big Top.

About the Author

Alice worked in a literary agency before running away with the circus, where she performed as a trapeze artist for companies including the Roundhouse and NoFit State Circus. She has a degree in English from the University of Leeds and was awarded a distinction for her MA in Writing for Young People. She is now sub-editor at Juno, a natural parenting magazine. Alice lives in Bristol with her wife and daughter and their dog.

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Circus of Stars by Alice Ellerby, introduced by Luke Redfern

I was lucky enough to share all my workshop sessions with Alice, and each fortnight I looked forward to hearing this warm and hopeful story unfold. The bitter-sweet setup gives the story a subtle depth, but more importantly, it has you rooting for Sylvie (and of course Welly!) from the first chapter. The icing on the cake is the story’s authentic and vivid detail and its cast of colourful characters; Alice’s own experience as a circus performer shines through. Circus of Stars is a warm coming-of-age story about one summer’s highs and lows at the circus, a story young readers will treasure.

What was your inspiration for this story?

I drew on my time as a trapeze artist to write Circus of Stars. I had the circus in my back pocket when I started the MA, but I wasn’t sure when I’d use it in my writing. Then for one of our workshops we were asked to write a piece set in a rich and exciting setting and I thought, Aha – I know just the place! This piece gave me the idea for my manuscript.

What was your most memorable moment on the MA?

We were asked to rewrite a scene from a film from a secondary character’s point of view and I rewrote the last scene in Billy Elliot, from Billy’s friend Michael’s point of view. Six months into writing my manuscript, it was so refreshing to write something completely different. It freed something up in my writing and, strangely, went on to inspire the last scene in Circus of Stars.

What is the most important thing you learned on the MA?

Keep it child-centric. Use sensory description to bring the writing to life. Make sure every chapter develops character or plot. Control the pace of the writing to earn the emotional pay-offs. These lessons made my writing better.

What’s your favourite part of the writing process?

I love the beginning of the process and the end of the process. Having the idea, conjuring up characters, relationships, problems – this I find exciting. Slogging out the first draft is the tough bit for me. But, once some semblance of a story is there, I love reshaping it, drawing out the ideas and themes, fine-tuning the pace and rhythm of the plot, and refining the writing.

What do you like doing when you’re not writing?

I like walking with my dog and swimming in cold rivers. And reading, of course.

What is your top piece of advice for aspiring writers?

I count myself as one, so the thing I tell myself is don’t stop writing. People that become authors are the ones who never give up: the ones who keep working and experimenting and learning. Of course, I would love to have my work published but, first and foremost, I remember to write because it makes life richer.

What was your favourite book as a child?

I loved animal stories. I wanted to live on a farm and I read all Dick King-Smith’s books.

What place in fiction do you most want to visit?

I like my books set in a version of the real world, so the fictional places I like to visit are inside characters’ heads as they discover the world and themselves. Some of my favourites are Nicky from The Truth of Things and Lark by Anthony McGowan, Opal from Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, Conor from A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, and Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.