Welcome to Debut Diaries–One Year On, where SCBWI-UK members share their highs (hopefully lots of these) and lows (hopefully fewer of these) of the post-publication year. This month, Tizzie Frankish welcomes Ally Sherrick, author of middle-grade historical novel Black Powder, to join her for afternoon tea.

After a whirlwind post-debut year, it’s a chance for Ally to put her feet up and share her insights over a cuppa and some carefully chosen treats, which reflect the mood of the months following life after debut. 

August 2016: Sugar mice washed down with a bit of the bubbly stuff

Black Powder was officially born and I got the chance to celebrate with a bunch of lovely fellow plotters (family, friends, SCBWI chums and publishers Chicken House) at Waterstone's Guildford. Special guests included a certain Guido Fawkes x 2: one in the flesh (my lovely 84-year-old dad), and an interloper made by my old school chum and best friend Elizabeth and her family. Crit-group buddies Sharon Wigley and Cath Jones performed Sharon’s amazing 'Ballad of Black Powder' and I just about managed to hold it together for my speech.

Launch photos by kind permission of Paul Stead Photography of Surrey
September 2016: Mountains of comforting toast and Marmite and copious cups of strong Assam 

No sooner had the Black Powder launch celebrations finished than I was back at my desk working to meet the end of September deadline for Book Number 2 – due out from Chicken House in Spring 2018.

I made it with a screech of brakes before setting off for a much-needed holiday to sunny Lisbon with my long-suffering husband, Steve. Phew!

October/November 2016: Slices of Parkin, bags of bonfire toffee and a warming mug of cocoa 

The darkening evenings and the first fall of autumn leaves (is that getting later every year, or is it just me??) signalled the start of the Black Powder book tour.  The Chicken House publicity team did a stellar job in organising a programme of events, which included the Guildford Book Festival (my first event!) and a whole bunch of school visits. I had a brilliant time spreading a little gunpowder, treason and plot with young audiences and was relieved to discover that the thing I’d been dreading most about being a published author – getting out there and talking about my book – was actually just about the best fun there could be!  

Photo by Elizabeth Doak

Top tips for a successful school visit: 

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Remember to smile – and to breathe!

Make things as interactive as possible and have a back-up if technology fails.

Photo by Elizabeth Doak

January – March 2017: Ship's tack and nettle tea (bleah!) progressing to fig rolls, Garibaldis and vanilla rooibos (yummy!)

A nail-biting start to the year while I waited to hear back from my editor, the lovely Kesia Lupo, on the first round of edits for Book Number 2.  I got on with other small writing projects and promotional stuff in the meantime, but it was tough trying to possess my soul in patience. As the snowdrops and then the daffodils began to bloom, more great news of the Black Powder variety kept me going including: 

sightings of my book on the shelves reported from Dublin to the Isle of Man and from Edinburgh to Bristol. Such a thrill!

a  whole bunch of thank-letters from children telling me how much they enjoyed my author visits and reading Black Powder

a young reader sharing pictures of her World Book Day appearance as my heroine, Cressida Montague

Photo by Shalbey Bellaman

Photo by Shalbey Bellaman

And to top it all, very unexpectedly receiving news of not one but several shortlistings for children’s and teens’ book awards.

Photo by Shalbey Bellaman

May/June 2017: A big slab of the fruitiest fruit cake ever – and some more of the fizzy stuff (hic!)

In May I discovered that Black Powder had been shortlisted for the SCBWI-BI Crystal Kite Award 2017. I was humbled—it had made the list in the company of so many brilliant titles. And all the more special because without the SCBWI Ten-Word Pitch competition at the November conference back in 2014, I would not be writing this diary now. A sincere thank you to all the Scoobies out there who voted for it and who have cheered me on over the years, and huge congratulations again to fellow debut, Kathryn Evans and More of Me, for a thoroughly deserved win!

And finally – the icing on the cake: I got the tip-off from Kesia, my editor, that Black Powder had won the Historical Association’s Young Quills Award 2017 in its category (primary). I don’t think I could have wished for a better finish to my sparkling, fun-filled debut year!

Shortlisted books in the Young Quills Award – Primary and Secondary categories

Being presented with a Young Quills Award, by illustrator, former winner and judge, Martin Impey

My Top Survival Tips:

Patience, persistence and passion—the three ‘P’s that helped me on my way to eventual publication—hold true for my life post-publication too.


Ally Sherrick is the pen name of Alison Smith. Her debut middle-grade novel, Black Powder, was published by Chicken House and has been shortlisted/longlisted for multiple regional awards across the UK. It won the Historical Association Young Quills Award 2017 (Primary Category). Ally is a Patron of Reading for Cordwalles Junior School, Camberley and a volunteer co-coordinator of the SCBWI Author Masterclass Series.

She lives in Farnham, Surrey with her husband and a garden full of wildlife.

All photos author's own except where listed.


By day, Tizzie Frankish is a mum to two boisterous boys and a part-time university tutor; by night, an agented writer who is plagued by her characters. She writes better in her dreams than she does in the cold light of day (thank goodness for edits!) and she’s currently working on a number of Young Fiction stories. Her works are often humorous and more often than not include animals, even if she starts out thinking they won’t.


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