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

Vashti, welcome to your party. Is there a piece of music you like to dance to, or perhaps a song that gets you in the mood for writing?

Hello! Well, I’m going to choose probably the least party starting piece ever (please don’t leave!) but at the moment I’m listening to Gollum's Song, performed by Emiliana Torrini. It’s from the LoTR The Two Towers soundtrack. I was struggling with pinning down the antagonist in something I’m working on, and this song has helped me unlock their story and get right to the heart of their motivations. I listen to soundtracks all the time because I find they are such a great emotional fast track to scenes and characters. Here’s a link to Gollum’s Song if you fancy a listen!

Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy, published by Scholastic 2018

Many congratulations on your debut novel Brightstorm. How does it feel to be a debut author?

Thank you! It feels amazing, mildly scary and overall the most magical thing I’ve ever experienced! Everything is so much busier than I expected, and people have been very kind with their reviews which is super lovely (and a relief!).

When did you first hear about your publishing deal and how did you celebrate?

I was in the library on my lunch break working on another story (trying to ignore the fact I was on submission) when I got ‘the call’. I had to suppress my happy squeals as I sneaked out as quickly as I could. Then I happy danced and haven’t stopped since!

What do you have planned for your book launch?

It’s a joint launch celebration with author friend James Nicol whose second book A Witch Alone is out the same day. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than with the friends who have been by your side throughout the journey – a bit like Brightstorm is about finding your ‘crew’, writing life is a bit like that!

Now I’m putting you on the spot, Vashti! Gives us your elevator pitch for Brightstorm. Go on…please!

Do you mind if I totally cheat? Zarina of Page to Stage reviews said it perfectly: “Brightstorm is what you get if you mix A Series of Unfortunate Events with Northern Lights and Around the World in 80 Days, and give it a steampunk twist. Quirky characters, sky ships and sapient animals form the basis of an epic and fantastical action adventure story and an exhilarating journey of a lifetime.” I’d like her to write all my pitches…

There seems to be an enduring fascination for middle grade adventures with a steampunk/Victorian flavour. What drew you to this exciting theme?

I’ve always been a world builder and I’m driven by exploring interesting ideas which are grounded in reality but with a twist. It’s that lovely feeling of what if things in our world were shifted just a little, which steampunk/Victoriana does so well.

Brightstorm has been described as appealing to readers who enjoyed Cogheart (Peter Bunzl), and who might go on to read His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman). Were you conscious of where your book might fit in the market whilst writing it?

I thought of the reader but not necessarily the market as that’s such a fluid thing. You can’t help but write the things that spark with you and fantasy has always been my first love. Luckily for me, Scholastic saw Brightstorm as something that would fit on their list perfectly for readers maybe not quite ready for Mortal Engines or His Dark Materials – something which I wasn’t aiming for but fitted brilliantly and I couldn’t be more delighted!

Along with several other Debut-Dance Ball guests, you’re an alumnus of the Golden Egg Academy. Can you sum up what the academy can do for unpublished writers?

GEA gives you the opportunity to work with top industry children’s book editors and to study the many facets of writing, whilst working on a complete children’s story including the big picture heart of what you’re trying to achieve. It’ll add to your writer’s tool kit which holds you in brilliant stead for life beyond. Plus, you find kindred spirit friends for life – much like SCBWI!

You have an eye-catching, interactive website to go with your book. Is that something your publisher helped with, or did you set it up yourself?

That’s very kind. I set it up myself, but I work in website management and digital marketing so it wasn’t too daunting. Also, there are some great templates out there which are easy to work with. Scholastic gave me the cover files which helped me separate elements of the images and set colours for the website so it all feels coherent.

Vashti, which explorers inspired you when you were writing Brightstorm? Where would you like to venture on your own sky-ship?

The initial idea for the story came from seeing Shackleton’s advert, said to have been placed to find the crew for his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition to Antarctica: ‘MEN WANTED for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.’ When I read this I wondered what sort of person would be wild enough to reply to such an advert? It had all the makings of a story and a cast of characters right there. Another inspiration was the aviator Amelia Earhart who helped me create intrepid sky-ship captain Harriet Culpepper, along with accounts of Edmund Hillary which helped me get under the skin of adventurers. If I had a sky-ship, I’d just set off and see where the wind took me. To fly one would be the biggest adventure…

Ernest Shackleton expedition to South Pole newspaper advert

And now, as the music fades, there’s just time to tell us what new writing adventures are in store for Vashti Hardy, author.

I have two projects on the go. One is a follow on for Brightstorm as there’s still more to explore and I don’t think the antagonist is quite finished with Arthur and Maudie… The beauty of creating your own landscape is that there are so many potential stories to uncover. Plus, I have another adventure fantasy which I’ve been germinating for a while. There’s a whole new mysterious world for readers to step into, and it’s about what it means to live life to the full… I’m super excited to write it!

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

Thank you for having me!

Brightstorm is published on March 1st by Scholastic.

Vashti Hardy

Follow Vashti:
Twitter @vashti_hardy 
Instagram vashtihardyauthor
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/VashtiHardyAuthor/
Website https://www.vashtihardy.com

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: The Flying Scribbler 

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

Feature Illustration by Louisa Glancy

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