The Story Behind the Story - Dundurn
May 05, 2022

The Story Behind the Story

I’ve learned a lot over the last twenty years being a writer. Too many lessons to list. But one of the most important things I’ve learned, especially when writing for young people, is that it’s easier to promote a book if there's a good story behind it.

With that in mind, I make a conscious effort to try and remember a book’s journey, from the first twinkle of an idea to the day that glorious box of books lands on my front porch.

Some of my books have great backstories. Safe Harbour was a joy to promote because of its compelling, mysterious origin.

But like a third-born child, I must confess, my memory of The Limitless Sky is hazy. It could be that I wrote the original draft so long ago, but as a third-born myself, I wouldn’t find that a satisfactory explanation if my mother alluded to a similar lapse brought on by the passage of time.

This is what I do remember.

A decade ago, when Netflix was new to us and we were new to Netflix, my family watched the dystopian movie, City of Ember.

I was captivated by the movie, but I was haunted by so many unanswered questions that I woke up from a dream the next morning with an image still bright in my memory. It was an image of Rook, the heroine of The Limitless Sky, standing on top of an expansive cement building. Her hair lashed against her face and her cheeks were red from the biting wind. She was colder than she ever thought possible, but she had her head thrown back and was laughing at the limitless sky stretching all around her.

When I woke up, I knew two things. First, I knew that was the first time Rook had ever stepped beyond her dystopian world and been outside, under the real sky. Second, I knew I had to write a book about it.

The next six weeks were a blur of work, after-school activities, dinner-time conversations where my family helped me workshop plot points, reading freshly written chapters at bedtime to my kids, then furiously writing a new chapter after they went to sleep.

The writing of The Limitless Sky was a family project, and I still cherish the enthusiasm and creativity that my children, and husband, brought to the process.

My favourite memory is bribing my son to have a shower by telling him I'd read him the final chapter when he was ready for bed. It was a record-fast shower for my easily distracted, 10-year-old son. Afterward, he raced to the bed where I was writing on my laptop, breathless and still dripping, and curled up beside me while I tapped out the last few lines.

Since that night, The Limitless Sky has been through hundreds of hours of edits, ten titles, three agents, two editors, and the design and publishing process. It has evolved in all the best ways since it first came to life in my dream. But this origin story will always be my favourite part of its long, messy, wonderful, and mostly forgotten, journey.

Christina Kilbourne is an award-winning author of young adult fiction, most recently Safe Harbour. Her writing has been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Slovenian, and Ukrainian. Christina lives in Muskoka, Ontario, where, when not writing, she spends as much time as possible outdoors. Learn more here.