Welcome to Justin’s Debut-Dance Ball, a virtual party to celebrate SCBWI-BI members’ debut publications. This month, Justin Nevil Davies welcomes Middle Grade author, Maureen Lynas (writing as Em Lynas) 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! 

Maureen, 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?
I can’t listen to music while I’m writing because I sing along too much so for me it’s either silence at home or the chattering buzz in a cafe. I love dancing and was coming up with a few favourites but my husband has just been playing a very long 60’s to 90’s list he created on Spotify and I’ve just found myself doing comedy dancing to SHOUT!

So, I’m going with that. Many congratulations on your debut novel You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! How does it feel to hold your first book in your hands?
Unreal. Exciting. Unreal. Thrilling. Unreal. Amazing. Unreal...

 How did you celebrate landing your publishing deal? 
 Actually, it was a moment in life that can only be expressed through Dicken’s opening to A Tale of Two Cities:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. 
I answered Agent Amber’s call saying we had a fantastic three book deal as we pulled up at the hospital to visit my elderly mam who, we’d been warned, was very poorly and unresponsive. I was stuck in the middle of two huge emotional reactions as we entered A&E. Joy and fear do not go well together! Luckily, she was sitting up in bed absolutely fine. We celebrated both with a large glass of single malt.

Ten seconds to describe You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! 
The book is written in Daisy’s voice so...
I am not a witch! I am an actress! A Shakespearean actress! Granny’s dumped me at Toadspit Towers School for Witches and I must leave in two sleeps to perform my Bottom, which is a very big part. Escape will require grit, determination and... a PLAN.

You’ve signed a multiple-book deal with Nosy Crow. What are your feelings about writing to a deadline? 
It’s been fine. Kirsty Stansfield, my editor, has been very helpful and so has Agent Amber. What has been odd is working on the drafts and proofs for book 1 while writing the first draft for book 2. Plus there have been a lot of extra unexpected requests, the most unexpected being – Can you make a ten minute video about yourself and the book! I stupidly didn’t keep all of the embarrassing outtakes. It seemed like a good idea to delete them but now I’m thinking – comedy gold and a missed opportunity.

How long was your debut’s gestation? African elephant or Virginian Opossum? (12-13 days incidentally… don’t you love Google?) 
Initially – the opossum. I wrote the first draft in a week. I must emphasise this was a very rough draft with Daisy’s voice and purpose coming over strongly but the other characters were fighting over roles. Then it turned into a kangaroo. It had been born and crawled up into the pouch and stayed there for about three years being nurtured by me, my agent and finally, Kirsty.

You’ve written on the Notes from the Slushpile blog (a SCBWI-BI team blog) about your eighteen-year journey to publication. What’s the single most important thing that’s kept you going? 
Breathing. Sorry, that was my husband’s suggestion! Stubbornness? I’ve started so I’ll finish? Annoyance? SCBWI friends not allowing me to give up? I think it gets to a point when you know you can’t stop. That something will be missing if you don’t write. Plus, the ideas keep coming and I just love the process of putting them down. It’s a treat to spend time with Daisy and my other characters, they’re part of me now.

A lot of SCBWI-BI members are trying to get an agent as well as a publishing deal. How did you find yours? 
It was the brilliant Slushpile Challenge run by Elaine Cline, originally set up by Chitra Soundra. I’ve blogged about it here on Words & Pictures.

Do you have school visits planned? How will you prepare for them?
The Nosy Crow team are planning a series of events in London in October at Pickled Pepper Books and nearby schools. I was a primary school teacher so I’m really looking forward to getting back in front of the kids and there are lots of starting points I can use from the book to generate talks and workshops – hats, personality traits, expressions, characters, map making, plan devising etc.

And now, as the music fades, there’s just time for you to tell us who your favourite fictional witch is (mine’s Grotbags, by the way).
Oh, so many but I think I’m going to vote for Professor Minerva McGonagall as played by Maggie Smith. She is so impressive.

Thank you, Maureen for joining me at the Debut-Dance Ball. It might not be as spooky here as it is at Toadspit Towers, but I hope you enjoyed it. 
Thank you for having me.

You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! is out now, published by Nosy Crow.

*'Justin's Debut-Dance Ball' illustration credit: Louisa Glancy

   Follow Em Lynas on Facebook, Twitter, Website, Blog

    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 on Twitter, InstagramBlog


Louisa Glancy is a features editor for Words & Pictures. Contact: writers@britishscbwi.org Twitter: @Louisa Glancy


  1. This is such a great post. I'm halfway through the book and it is making me giggle at every turn. I love Daisy/Twinkle/Ophelia (not sure what to call her!!) and the world you have built for her. We'll done!! Xx

  2. It's a brilliant post. Really enjoying your book.


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