Dave Cousins’ Journey to the Crystal Kite

The SCBWI Crystal Kite Awards recognise great books from the 70 SCBWI regions around the world. Each regional chapter is assigned to one of 15 divisions and the membership in each division votes for their favourite book published by an SCBWI member that year. The Crystal Kite Awards are a regional complement of the annual SCBWI Golden Kite Award, given in four children’s literature categories. Both awards are unique as they are chosen by other writers and illustrators, which makes them the only peer-given awards in publishing for young readers.

Here at SCBWI British Isles we’re very proud that the winner of The 2013 Crystal Kite for the UK and Europe is Dave Cousins for 15 Days Without a Head.

Jan Carr spoke to Dave about his journey…

Dave, many congratulations! 'The Journey to the Crystal Kite' sounds lovely and fantastical - has it been?

Fantastical? It's certainly been a bit of a fairy tale. When I was getting up at 5am every day to write before I went to work, I never believed "15 Days Without a Head" would be published, let alone win an award!
I love 15 Days, all my sympathy is with Laurence struggling to look after his little brother, Jay, and hide the fact from Jay and everyone, that their alcoholic mum has disappeared. They’re so real - where did you find Lawrence and Jay?

I found them in a pub! It was a lunchbreak from work and I'd gone to the pub with a couple of mates. We heard a disturbance in the beer garden and went out to investigate. There was a woman arguing with the person at the next table. She was so drunk she could hardly stand up and was being really aggressive. I noticed she had two lads with her and realised she was their mum. The elder boy – who looked about 15 – was doing his best to calm her down, while at the same time trying to stop his little brother from getting upset. Eventually they left the pub and I went back to work, but all afternoon found my mind going back to them – wondering what had happened when they got home and what life must be like. That's how a story tends to start for me. When something affects me emotionally – makes me care in some way.
I never saw them again but I felt a responsibility to do justice to their story. Of course, it may have been a one off incident and their mum was never drunk like that again. But even if my imagination veered away from the truth of that family, unfortunately there are thousands who do live in circumstances similar to the ones faced by Laurence and Jay in the book.

You’ve said that you wrote and drew when you were a kid. What prompted you 'many years later' to have a go yourself?

What prompted me to finally try to write a novel was reading great books and wanting to have a go myself. There were so many books along the way that inspired me, but the two that I think finally pushed me to give it a go were CREEPERS by KEITH GRAY and STORM CATCHERS by TIM BOWLER. My first story was about a girl's football team. I thought it was a very original idea, until two years later BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM came out. But it was my idea first, honest! I wrote for years (four or five) before showing anything to anyone. I'd finish a novel or get two-thirds of the way through and decide it was no good. They all went under the bed. I have quite a stash under there, at least half a dozen finished novels. I need a ladder to go to bed now!

You've certainly served your apprenticeship, Dave! How long have you been writing seriously?

That's hard to say, but it was probably since the early 2000s sometime, so getting on for ten years before I was selected for the 2010 Undiscovered Voices anthology.
In those ten years I had a full-time job and a young family, so writing had to be squeezed in around everything else. An hour at 5am or late at night, in lunch breaks, weekends, on trains and buses, whenever I could find a few minutes. But yes, all I was doing was reading lots and trying to write. I didn't tell anyone beyond my immediate family and never went on any courses or joined a crit group or anything. Just sat in my attic typing!

What did that it feel like when you first gave someone outside your immediate family something of yours to read?

Nerve-wracking! I eventually sent an early draft of "15 Days" to Cornerstones because I wanted a professional opinion. I expected them to politely tell me not to give up my day job, but the response was very encouraging and that gave me the confidence to keep going and enter Undiscovered Voices.

And we know what a life changing experience Undiscovered Voices was for you, Dave! What's a typical week like for you now, are you really still in the attic?

Yes, I'm sitting in the attic right now! It's hard to describe a typical week. At the moment I'm doing a lot of school events. I just came back from a mini tour of schools in Scotland and next Friday I'm off to Italy to receive an award for the Italian edition of "15 Days" which is called "Quindici giorni senza testa"! When I'm writing though, I like to be at my desk by 9 at the latest and work for about four hours, then have a break for lunch, then try to get another three hours in before my wife and son get home. I'll have a cuppa and a catch-up with them, then do another few hours work. If I'm really busy I sometimes work all evening and into the night too. Trying to make a living as a full-time author is hard, but I love it, so I'm not complaining!

Your second book for OUP,  Waiting for Gonzo, was published in March, how's that going?

It's still early days, but so far the response from readers and reviewers has been very positive thanks. I also got to read the story for the BBC audiobook, which actually came out today! And there's a soundtrack to go with the book too which has been released as an album! All very exciting.

Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant. I’m waiting for my copy of Gonzo to arrive. Thank you very much for your time, Dave, and again many congratulations on all your successes; they are inspirational.

Life in the Land of the Crystal Kite certainly sounds good. Many congratulations to all this years winners!

Jan Carr is the editor of Words & Pictures. Her fiction is older middle grade, she blogs occasionally and loves to write in magenta.


  1. Great post and interview, Jan and Dave. Many congratulations on winning the Crystal Kite, Dave!

  2. Congrats! This is such an inspiring and hopeful story. (as is the book itself). Onward and upward!

  3. Congratulations! 15 Days Without A Head is an excellent read :)

  4. When I read 15 Days Without a Head, I wanted it to win EVERYTHING. Congratulations, Dave.


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