Why firefighter Joe is hot property as the Sheffield author of a children's book
“I liked the idea of simplifying the theme of connection. It is reassuring in relation to big picture stuff like life and death.”
Joe Moorwood is talking about his children’s picture book The Outside Is Inside. He could also be talking about his job as a firefighter. Joe doesn’t compare the roles but both are part of his big picture.
The 43-year-old father-of-two, who lives in Brincliffe, Sheffield, is a firefighter based in Chesterfield. He’s also a three times published writer.
Joe is clear on which is his career.
“Writing is something I dabble in, in the hope that other people want to read it,” he says. “I love my job as a firefighter, it is such varied and contrasting working day or night. I love the extremes of the work.
“You go to intense situations and they do stick in your mind. I find the idea of a predictable career soul destroying. I can’t imagine a 9-5pm job, I did it and wouldn’t swap back.
“In the fire service, you retire at 60 and I want to keep going as long as possible. Of course you have to keep fit!”
His latest dabble in writing was published this month and The Outside Is Inside features a young boy who has misgivings when his elderly grandad moves in but concern turns to wonder after he learns a magical secret. Their adventure is a heartwarming story of love, loss and the power of imagination.
The story's themes are multilayered, insightful and positive - offering an optimistic message about love and connection.
It is a family affair, featuring illustrations by sister Anna Stephenson, 42, a former Grenoside Primary School teacher and was 'highly commended' by Roger McGough in the 2020 Caterpillar Poetry Prize.
Siblings Joe and Anna collaborated throughout multiple lockdowns and other Covid restrictions to make their dream of producing a children’s picture book a reality. Dog walks, zoom calls and two-metre conversations across picnic tables were all used in order to marry Anna’s images with Joe’s words.
The pair were raised in Fulwood, where they shared a magical childhood. Joe said: “Anna and I were fortunate to enjoy a childhood packed with make-believe stories, games and imaginary adventures, whether it was with our grandparents, parents, siblings or friends.”
He believes the power of imagination has never been more important for children, whose lives may have been impacted by the pandemic and are often dominated by screens. The story also addresses timely themes of intergenerational connection, and love and loss.
“I didn’t set out to consciously address any particular issue,” says Joe. “The book started as a stand-alone poem, written just before everyone’s life changed so dramatically at the start of 2020. As the world went into lockdown, the messages and ideas woven into the poem suddenly felt more relevant than ever.
"That’s when I shared the story with Anna, who was immediately moved and inspired to create the illustrations, with the hope of one day finding a publisher.”
The book also celebrates the involvement of grandparents in helping to raise children – now a possibility for millions of families once more, following a long and painful period of separation – and, finally, deals with bereavement in an accessible and reassuring way.
The Outside Is Inside is dedicated to mum Janet after she died earlier in the year following a brief battle with cancer.
Anna said: “It’s been a challenging year for all of the family after the devastating loss of our inspirational mum. Especially having to socially distance knowing how little precious time we had left together.
“The book has proven to be a positive distraction in a really tough period of our lives. We made an audio-animation to accompany it, so it was nice that she got to watch and listen to the story. There was never any doubt about who we should dedicate it to.”
Joe added: “She was diagnosed last summer and initially we thought we might have a few years but it wasn’t to be. She died a couple of days before her birthday but she heard the audio and that is a special, magical last memory.”
Joe has already written two popular Yorkshire books. His first book The Yorkshire Meaning of Liff was published with the support of Blackadder and QI producer John Lloyd. They got connected because the Outwood family were fans of The Meaning Of Liff which Lloyd wrote with Douglas Adams.
Liffs are comic definitions of place names which Joe and the family used to do as a family game.
Joe was told of a radio appeal for contributions to The Meaning Of Liff at 30. Lloyd loved his manuscript and they have corresponded ever since. Together with Joe’s other book Yorkshire Wisdom, he has already sold more than 10,000 copies.
It helps to have a connection like John Lloyd.
“He called me to ask to use some of my definitions and agreed to help me find a publisher. I used his title and branding, he wrote forward and I got published. I needed a bit of luck and was fortunate enough to get it.”
Joe had also been tenacious in not giving up on the idea and worked hard on the material, qualities which have helped his latest work win praise from Lloyd who described it as “an absolutely ageless piece of work.”
Professionals like it too. Fiona Ainsworth, a child psychotherapist and friend of Anna’s, saw a draft copy of the book when visiting one day.
She said: “I was blown away when Anna showed me the story. It could not arrive at a better time because it encourages children, parents and grandparents to play together and use their imagination, which costs nothing and can help families bond and have fun no matter the circumstances. Imaginative play is crucial to a child’s development on so many levels.
“For a child to lose a grandparent, to Covid or any other reason, is always a difficult event for both them and any parent to deal with. Reading a book together that briefly touches on loss can be a healthy way to start addressing such a difficult topic. Especially when the storyline and tone of the book are overwhelmingly inspiring and celebratory. The book also has great potential to be used in educational settings, and will undoubtedly appeal to adults and children alike.”
Joe’s boys Max, five, and Noah, 10, proved a useful audience for the book. “They loved the work at first but we’ve probably read it too many times now. It has been a good way to raise relevant topics.”
And the family connections keep coming for Joe, who was born in Fulwood and went to school in Nether Green and at Tapton. His brother John is also a published author - The Magic Of Fishing, John’s first book, is about how his hobby helped him deal with redundancy.
It carries a cover by sister Anna and pencil sketches by dad, Rowan. Joe’s brother Sam has also written books. “We grew up in a creative environment, our parents were inspiring, they helped nurture that side of us,” says Joe.
For more information about The Outside Is Inside and to order a copy visit the book’s website https://www.theoutsideisinside.co.uk/ and enjoy an audio animation of the book. The Outside is Inside is available from all good book shops, call 01274 735056 or visit www.ypbookoffer.co.uk