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How will Santa find us?

Author Shane O’Brien tells us about a new children’s book featuring artwork from one of Ireland’s best-loved illustrators, with all proceeds going to support Focus Ireland.

Earlier this year, it was announced that the number of homeless people in Ireland passed 10,000 for the first time. It’s a staggering figure, and it has continued to rise as the year has gone on. Perhaps even more frightening is that among those 10,000 there are nearly 4,000 homeless children. Most of them will still be homeless this Christmas. It was out of a sense of helplessness and frustration with this growing crisis that myself and Stephen Rogers decided to write How Will Santa Find Us?.

Our hope was to produce a book that could be a response to homelessness from Ireland’s creative community. We wanted to form a collective of some of Ireland’s amazing creative talent and make something that would raise money for the vital work of the wonderful team in Focus Ireland, but that could also help inspire empathy for families who find themselves in the terrible, dignity- sapping position of being homeless. Books can be such a powerful way of teaching children (and their parents) about difficult subjects and issues, and we hadn’t come across any that dealt directly with homelessness or homeless families. So we decided create one that gently puts children in the shoes of someone who is homeless, but does so in a way that is still hopeful.

How Will Santa Find Us? is about a little girl and her younger brother who are left with nowhere to stay after their family lose their home in the week before Christmas. As they move from place to place, their parents try to distract them from the reality of their situation by taking them on a journey through their imaginations. Everywhere they visit becomes an exciting new world. They climb mountains on a friend’s couch. They become ghosts in a hotel lobby. They go on safari while sleeping in their car. But with all this moving around, they still worry about where they will end up on Christmas Eve, and, most importantly, how will Santa find them?

Every spread in the book has been drawn by a different, brilliant Irish illustrator, with beautiful artwork from Lauren O’Neill (Gulliver), Steve McCarthy (Sally Go Round the Stars), Steve Simpson (Space Dogs), Peter Donnelly (The President’s Glasses), Tara O’Brien, Fatti Burke (Irelandopedia), Kevin Waldron (Harold’s Hungry Eyes), Yasmeen Ismail (Time for Bed Fred) and Alan Dunne. Each page sees one of them take over the narrative and add their unique artistic style to the story, bringing to life the imaginations of the children running wild. The result is a visually stunning book, which we believe will be like nothing else on shelves this year.

When Stephen and I began writing the story last September, we optimistically (naively) thought that we’d get it into shops that Christmas. I’m really glad we were so wrong, because it gave us the time to work with a fantastic team of people who have helped us create something that we are incredibly proud of. In addition to our amazing illustrators, a huge number of people from the creative community have generously given us their time and talent to make sure this book was completed in time for Christmas 2019. WorkGroup turned those magical illustrations into a beautifully designed book. Gill Books gave us vital editorial, production and distribution support and boundless enthusiasm. Our partners and publishers Jessica Derby and Bren Byrne of Good Cop Good Cop pulled the whole thing together seamlessly. There are dozens more people we could mention, but this article would be at risk of just becoming a list of thank yous; so I’ll just say you can find that actual list in the book and we are very grateful to everyone who gave this project their support.

Although How Will Santa Find Us? deals with a serious subject, you’ll be glad to hear it does in fact have a happy ending. What’s more, by purchasing it you can help to ensure that many real homeless families will also get the happy ending to their story that they deserve this Christmas.

About Focus Ireland: At Focus Ireland we believe homelessness can be solved. Right now in Ireland, more than three families become homeless every single day. It wasn’t always like this. And at the root is the way we think about housing and how we provide it. Crucially, we believe there must be a much more ambitious plan to build enough homes in our communities, homes people can afford to live in. Focus Ireland has been challenging homelessness for over 30 years. Every day our skilled staff work to stop people losing their homes in the first place, to get people into a stable home as fast as possible, and to ensure people are supported to not return to homelessness. To find out more about the work we are doing every day to change people’s lives, or if you can afford to make a donation to help us provide vital services for those in need, please visit www.focusireland.ie.

How Will Santa Find Us? is available in bookshops nationwide or see www.howwillsantafindus.com.