Welcome to Justin’s Debut-Dance Ball, a virtual party to celebrate SCBWI-BI members’ debut publications. This month, Justin welcomes Middle Grade author, Jess Butterworth to his ball, and invites her to take a turn on the dance floor, whilst he asks the questions only a newly-published writer can answer!

Thank you, Jess for accepting my invitation. Knowing your association with Bath, I was hoping to hold this month’s ball at the Pump Rooms. Sadly, they were unavailable, but I took the liberty of ordering some bath buns for you instead. Would you like one?

I would love one, thank you! And thanks for having me; I’m delighted to be here!

Jess, this is your party and you get to choose the tunes. Is there a piece of music you like to dance to, or perhaps a song that gets you in the mood for writing?

My protagonists are often flung into life or death situations and to help get myself into their shoes, I write to music that affects me emotionally. My favourite music to write to is ‘Night’ by Ludovico Einaudi. It builds the same way I want my scenes and chapters to, whilst evoking a pacey narrative style that I adore writing in.

Running on the Roof of the World, Jess Butterworth, Orion Children’s Books 2017

Many congratulations on your debut novel Running on the Roof of the World. What was it like to hold your first book in your hands?

Thank you so much! It was the best feeling ever. I couldn’t stop looking at the cover and the mandala chapter pages. I felt incredibly grateful to everyone who had been a part of turning my manuscript into the beautiful book I was holding!

How did you celebrate landing your publishing deal?

I was actually with my writing workshop group at a café in Bath when my agent rang with the news, so I celebrated the moment with friends, tea and brownies! It was perfect and very exciting!

Can you tell us about your recent book launch? Was there cake?

It was in Waterstones in Bath. There were mini cupcakes with book-toppers and I brought lots of Tibetan objects that feature in the book for people to look at, along with my two toy yaks! I said a few words, followed by my editor, and then the lovely Bex interviewed me before an audience question-and-answer session and book signings. I was delighted with how it went and Waterstones sold out of copies! Hooray!

As you know, Words & Pictures readers are an inquisitive bunch and they want to know how long it took for you to write your book.

I started writing it over four years ago and finished it within a year, but since then the complete manuscript has gone through fourteen different drafts! (My first one wasn’t great!)

You spent your childhood in the Himalayas (I spent mine on a housing estate near Southampton, but we can’t all be that lucky). When did you realise this was something you wanted to write about? Would you have become a writer without that experience?

Alongside wanting to be a vet when I was younger, or David Attenborough, I’ve always wanted to be a writer; I used to write stories and plays about all sorts of things and get my (sometimes more willing than others) cast of three younger sisters to act them out. I started writing about India in secondary school, mostly when I missed the place, or my dad who worked there. Because I have so many memories there, the Himalayas will always be a setting I return to and love to write about.

Jess, you’re a graduate of the MA in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University. What advantages do you think this experience has given you in your quest for publication?

The MA taught me so much: how to workshop and critique writing; the importance of re-writing; the confidence to play and experiment with words; ways into a writing routine. And it made me feel part of a writing community, like SCBWI does too, which is important because writing can be a very solitary experience.

You’re plunging very quickly into the world of author events, the New Voices in MG Fiction event at Waterstone’s, for example. How did that come about? Is it something you’re keen to do more of?

Yes, I can’t wait to do more events! I’ve had the best time ever doing my first school visit, visiting bookshops, the New Voices panel event and being interviewed on Fun Kids Radio! Most of these things were organised by my wonderful publicist, but the New Voices in MG Fiction event came about because I wanted to do a panel event with other new authors. Along with my friend and fellow MG author, Sarah Driver, we approached some authors and they all said yes! Everything else fell into place and we spent the evening at Waterstones Piccadilly discussing our writing processes, inciting wonder in our readers, and what it means to write for that age group.

Tell those of us yet to be published what you’ve learned about the industry since you landed your deal. What’s it like working with an editor, for example? Were you given tight deadlines? Has your writing process changed?

I’ve loved working with an editor. I think the thing to remember is that you’re both working towards making the book the best possible version of itself it can be, and that deleted scenes, or even whole chapters, are part of the process. Whenever you have a tight deadline, remembering that these people believe in you to do it, makes it all the more possible. I was very grateful when my copyeditor noticed that I’d written ‘I pour the noodles out of my bowel,’ instead of ‘bowl!’ With my second book I did more planning because my editor needed a synopsis before I had written the story, whereas Running on the Roof of the World developed as I wrote it.

A lot of SCBWI-BI members are trying to get an agent as well as a publishing deal. Can you tell us a bit about your own experience?

I was lucky to be contacted by my (now) agent through the publication of the Bath Spa MA Anthology Beautiful Lies. When I met Sallyanne Sweeney for the first time, it was clear she absolutely shared my vision for the story and got what I was trying to say with it and I signed with her there and then. We then spent the next 6 months editing together before she submitted Running on the Roof of the World to publishers. I’ve felt supported every step of the way. For anyone wanting to get an agent I’d suggest searching through the Artists and Writers Yearbook at agents who are looking for the age range you’re writing for, and making a list of who you want to submit to, before submitting to a few at a time. I’d also recommend meeting in person before signing, that way you can check that you’d work well together.

And now, as the music fades, there’s just time for you to tell us what’s up next for Jess Butterworth, the author. Are you working on a new project?

I’m currently editing Book 2, When the Mountains Roared, out in April 2018. The story is inspired by my Grandma’s own adventures and the time she smuggled a kangaroo joey out of Australia!

Thank you, Jess for joining me at the Debut-Dance Ball. It’s not quite the Pump Rooms, but I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

It’s been brilliant! Thanks very much for having me!

Jess Butterworth, photo by Iona Berry

Running on the Roof of the World is out now, published by Orion Children’s Books.
Follow Jess:
Twitter: @j_t_butterworth
Facebook: @jessbutterworthauthor

Justin Nevil Davies

Justin Nevil Davies leads two distinct lives. In one, he flies around the world as cabin crew. In the other, he writes middle grade novels with the aim to make kids laugh. Sometimes, his lives converge. Justin is part of SCBWI South East Scotland.

Follow Justin:
Twitter: @flyingscribbler
Instagram: @flyingscribbler
Blog: flyingscribbler.wordpress.com

Louisa Glancy is a features editor for Words & Pictures.
Contact: writers@britishscbwi.org
Twitter: @Louisa Glancy
'Justin's Debut-Dance Ball' illustration credit: Louisa Glancy

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