Welcome to Justin’s Debut-Dance Ball, a virtual party to celebrate SCBWI-BI members’ debut publications. This month, Justin welcomes debut middle grade writer, Elizabeth Ezrato 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!

Welcome to the ball, Elizabeth. Perhaps you’d like to try my Halloween pumpkin wine?

Ever since I was a child growing up in California, Halloween has been my favourite holiday. Mostly that was because, well, candy; but now, pumpkin wine will do nicely….

Elizabeth, 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 love nearly all types of music, but I’m afraid I’m one of those people who has to have almost complete silence to be able to write!

Ruby McCracken: Tragic Without Magic by Elizabeth Ezra, published by Kelpies 2017

Huge congratulations on your debut children’s book Ruby McCracken: Tragic Without Magic. How does it feel to see your work published?

It’s brilliant. I’m really pleased with how the book’s turned out. Aimee Ferrier, the artist who designed the cover image, did a great job, and I really like all the design details the press has added.

 Photo of Elizabeth Ezra by Justin Nevil Davies

Your book launch in Edinburgh (yay! A SCBWI launch in Scotland!) is set rather spookily for Halloween. What can those of us coming along expect?

It’s wonderful that the launch could be on Halloween – that’s so perfect for the book. I have requested jelly worms, so fingers crossed. It’s odd to be doing this interview before the launch, knowing that it will be published after the launch. All I can say is, I hope it will have been fun!

Elizabeth, you won the 2016 Kelpies Prize with Ruby. Can you tell us about the prize? Who are Kelpies, what did you win, and what has happened since?

The monetary prize was £2000, which I’ve split with my kids, whose help was invaluable in writing the book. But the real prize was being published by the Kelpies imprint of Floris Books, and most of all, benefitting from the expertise of the incredible editing team at the press. Jennie Skinner and Sally Polson were very hands-on in the best possible way. I’m very grateful for their help.

myself was shortlisted for the Kelpies Prize in 2015 (pipped to the post…thank goodness there was wine at the prize event!), and it definitely boosted my writing career. What stage were you at when you submitted to Kelpies?

Ruby was the third children’s book I’d written. I had sent it, along with the two previous books, to lots of agents, but wasn’t getting anywhere. I hardly even got rejected properly; all I seemed to get was a wall of silence. Then I happened to see an event for Book Week Scotland that gave aspiring writers the chance to show their work to an agent. I took Ruby along, and the agent, Lucy Juckes, suggested I submit it for the Kelpies Prize, which I did. I’m so grateful to the Scottish Book Trust for providing that amazing opportunity – and for so much other support since then.

Ten seconds to tell us about Ruby McCracken: Tragic Without Magic. Go!

Here’s my elevator pitch: The Addams Family meets Mean Girls. Adrift in the perplexing Ordinary world, a sarcastic young witch attempts to regain her lost magic.

Many of us lead other lives when we’re not busy writing. Your ‘other’ life is as Professor of Cinema and Culture at Stirling University. When do find time to write for kids?

I do a lot of my creative writing while on holiday (and I wrote one children’s novel while on sick leave with a broken ankle). And I write a lot with my kids, so that really helps. They help with ideas, and even with writing scenes; it’s been a great thing for us to do together. I wrote the entire first draft of Ruby McCracken while on holiday in Majorca two summers ago. It was too hot to go out, so I sat on the balcony with a fan blasting on me and hammered out the first draft. Now, I’m combining the creative and the academic strands of my life, by doing research on children’s literature and cinema – in fact, I’m currently working on a project about witches!

Who came first…Elizabeth Ezra, the children’s writer, or Dr Ezra, the academic?

I pursued my academic career first, but I’ve always tried to write creatively. When my oldest son was a toddler, I was lucky enough to meet some other mums who were brilliant writers, and they invited me to join this amazing writing (or “crit”) group, which encouraged me to go back to my creative writing. I’m so lucky to benefit from their criticism and encouragement. When I began writing children’s fiction, I joined SCBWI, and it has been absolutely invaluable for providing encouragement and opportunities for children’s writers; one such opportunity is another crit group I go to specifically for children’s books, which has been incredibly helpful.

Has your love of European cinema found its way into the pages of Ruby?

Now that you mention it, I could totally see Ruby McCracken as a German Expressionist or French New Wave film – The Cabinet of Dr McCracken; or R; or The 400 Spells! Actually, in all seriousness, I did structure the plot like a screenplay. Once I realised that the average feature-length screenplay is about the same length as the average middle-grade novel, I thought I’d try plotting the book like a film. It was a fun experiment, and it seemed to work.

Can we expect some more writing magic from you, Elizabeth?

With my kids’ help, I’ve written two other middle-grade novels. One of the other two books is a comedy like Ruby, but even zanier, and one is a time travel yarn. I hope they will both see the light of day at some point, but if not, I have two other ideas I’m currently pursuing.

And finally, I expect Ruby has her favourite spell. What’s yours?

Ruby’s favourite spell is probably the 'Snack Spell'. I was going to say that mine would be one that magically writes books for me, but where would be the fun in that?

Thank you, Elizabeth, for joining me at the Debut-Dance Ball.

It’s been a pleasure, Justin!

Ruby McCracken: Tragic Without Magic is out now, published by Kelpies.

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

Photo of Elizabeth Ezra by Paul Jackson

Originally from California, Elizabeth Ezra lives in Edinburgh with her family. She works as an academic and writes about film, literature, and French culture. Her début children’s book, Ruby McCracken: Tragic Without Magic, won the 2016 Kelpies Prize.
Follow Elizabeth: Twitter  Facebook

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, Instagram, Blog

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

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