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

Elaine, welcome to the ball. As you know, I like to ask my guests to choose some music to dance to. Do you have a favourite tune that gets you in the writing mood?

Thank you, I’m honoured to be here, but likely to loiter around the buffet until I’ve had a couple of shandies. I don’t often write to music because my little head can’t do writing and listening at the same time, but I really like the Harry Potter soundtrack – it makes me feel all magicky and bookish, and I use it to get in the right frame of mind for school events.

Planet Stan by Elaine Wickson, illustrated by Chris Judge, OUP 2018

Many congratulations on your debut book, Planet Stan. How does it feel to see it in print?

Many thank yous. The first thing I did was smell it, obviously. I couldn’t believe that the words I typed on a ropey old laptop that used to burn my knees were now inside an actual book. WORDS I TYPED. Amazing.

Do you have a launch party planned, Elaine. Can you tell us about it?

Yes, and I’m very excited because there will be pie chart cakes. It’s at Blackwell’s bookshop in the brand-new Westgate Centre in Oxford. They even have a TREE in the middle of it, which you can sit beneath and read. I am very tempted to move in.

Ten seconds to describe Planet Stan. Go!

Nerdy boy charts his life through diagrams, as he tries to win a telescope and not get distracted by his brother’s campaign to stop a dinosaur being replaced at the local museum. It’s a story wrapped around a sort of Haynes manual for siblings. Phew!

Stan is obsessed with pie charts, Venn diagrams and graphs. In a pie chart of “A day in the life of Elaine Wickson, writer”, how large would the “writing” slice be? (feel free to use an actual pie chart to illustrate your answer!)

Planet Stan is illustrated by Chris Judge. How closely did you work together to bring Stan’s graphs and charts to life?

Firstly, I drew very dodgy versions of the charts in Word using ‘shapes’ – have you ever tried drawing in Word? Because it’s about as easy as swimming in porridge. Secondly, Chris Judge transformed them into far superior and hilarious versions. I laugh-cried when I first saw them because I was a bit overwhelmed. I think we had a typical author/illustrator collaboration where we worked, through the publisher, OUP, guided by marvellous designer Holly Fulbrook.

Illustration by Chris Judge from Planet Stan

How has being a SCBWI member helped you on your writing journey?

I only became a member in September 2016, so am quickly catching up. I soon cottoned on this was a good place to be: Scoobies are lovely. One of the SCBWI events I attended was the Debut Author Boot Camp, run by Candy Gourlay, Mo O’Hara, and Sara Grant. It was like attending an 'Author Hogwarts' where they taught you 'Defence Against the Dark Amazon', 'Brandology', 'History of School Visits', and 'PowerPoint Charms'. And I got to meet amazing debut authors and sneak a peek at their books!

On your (fabulous) website, you quote Hans Solo, who, as the Millennium Falcon is about to fly into an asteroid field, says: “never tell me the odds”. Do you have any other advice for writers who might feel it’s never going to happen to them?

Well thank you for that, cos it took me ages. Harrison Ford also said: “I realised early on that success was tied to not giving up. Most people in this business gave up and went on to other things. If you simply didn't give up, you would outlast the people who came in on the bus with you.” One of the things I’m most proud of is how I’ve got back up after a crushing rejection, or after putting aside a much-loved manuscript because it didn’t make it past acquisitions (that one hurt the most). Tenacity is definitely a big part of it. You can’t do anything about the planet-aligning stuff, but you can decide to not give up. Oh, and make sure to have plenty of tea, and toast, and cake, look out at horizons, and go on big long walks.

Elaine, you have a great YouTube book trailer for Planet Stan. How else do you plan to engage with your young readers?

I’ve just done my first school events and I LOVED meeting the children - signing books, their hands, and scraps of paper, and answering all their brilliant questions – they really do love an author visit. I hope to get into schools as much as I can.

You credit the Oxford Literary Festival with reigniting your passion for writing. Do you have any festival appearances of your own lined up?

I’m over the moon to be appearing at the Oxford Literary Festival this year in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History where some of Planet Stan is set. The literary festival means a lot to me - it’s also where I first saw Julia Churchill, who was running a Boot Camp on how to get a children’s book published. I wrote down EVERYTHING she said, and it worked, because in a lovely twist of fate she rang to offer representation some years later. I actually blubbed and told her I loved her. Luckily she didn’t mind, because she’s an Agent Fairy Godmother of Loveliness.

And finally, as the music fades, there’s just time to tell us if Stan is going to be sharing any more pie charts with us.

Yes, he is. I’m on the home straight with book 2 right now, and having loads of fun thinking up brand new diagrams and charts which aren’t just about his brother this time…

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

No, thank you. It’s nice to get out.

Planet Stan is out April 5th, published by OUP.

Elaine Wickson
Elaine Wickson lives in Oxford with her husband and two sons and has written stories since she was a small-year-old. Some of her various jobs have included school photographer, film extra, and potato-peeler. She also worked in the media industry for both local radio and newspapers, before a visit to the Oxford Literary Festival rekindled her passion for writing. Nowadays, if she’s not star-gazing, she is often found in her Plotting Shed at the bottom of the garden, where all her ideas germinate.

Follow Elaine
Twitter:  @elainewickson
Instagram: loowix
Facebook: elainewicksonauthor
Website: www.elainewickson.co.uk

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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