Welcome to Justin’s Debut-Dance Ball, a virtual party to celebrate SCBWI-BI members’ debut publications. This month, Justin welcomes Middle Grade author, Andy Shepherd 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! 

Andy, 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?

Unlike lots of people, I can’t actually write to music and I’ve never done a playlist for a book. It’s one of those things I hear writers talk about, and I feel curious and am tempted to look at, but then never get round to doing myself. However, a song that always makes me happy is Castle in the Air by Ed Sheeran – it transports me back to a wonderful sunny day driving through Framlingham with my family and hearing it playing on the radio at full blast, and we were all feeling very silly and happy. So maybe that’s a good song to start us off!

The Boy Who Grew Dragons by Andy Shepherd, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie, Piccadilly Press 2018

Many congratulations on your debut novel The Boy Who Grew Dragons. How does it feel to be a first-time author?

Thank you! I went to Clays printers to see it being bound in January, and watching the copies rolling past on the conveyer belt was totally surreal. It’s been in my head and in progress for such a long time, I still can’t quite believe it’s actually in the world! Whenever I see it lying on a table or on a shelf at home I do a double take. The best bit though was handing copies to my sons.

How did you celebrate landing your publishing deal? 

One of my supreme ice cream sundaes with my husband and sons. And a lot of screaming!

Tell us about your book launch? Was it dragon themed?

There may have been one or two ... My friend has made Glint (my dragon) who sits on my shoulder. And my dad made a 6 foot dragon-fruit tree and little wooden dragons for everyone to colour and stick on. There may have been some dressing up ... and a dragon hunt ... and ... (I do love dragons).

Ten seconds to describe The Boy Who Grew Dragons. Go!

Tomas finds a strange fruit at the bottom of his grandad’s garden in amongst the brambles and nettles. When he takes it home, he discovers that vegetables are not the only things they are growing in the garden – but dragons are a lot more trouble than cucumbers!

You have a three-book deal (yay!) with Piccadilly Press. How has your writing process developed with each book? 

I got a lot better at planning!

The Boy Who Lived With Dragons by Andy Shepherd, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie, Piccadilly Press 2018

All three books will be illustrated by the wonderful Sara Ogilvie. What level of collaboration have you had along the way?

When I heard that Sara had agreed to illustrate the books I was over the moon. I love her work. She has created amazing cover artwork for the books and Nick Stearn and the team at Piccadilly Press have done a fabulous job with the design. I feel really lucky to have such talented people working on the books. Sara’s illustrations throughout are just a joy. I was shown rough drafts at various stages to offer any feedback, but to be honest when I saw the first cover and the first rough illustrations I just felt like Sara had captured the book perfectly. And the next two are equally as stunning. There were a few things that I really wanted to have an illustration for – there is something that the reader finds out at the end of book one which Tomas doesn’t know – and I always saw that as being told through a picture. So it was lovely to be able to contribute a few ideas in that way, but all the gorgeousness is Sara!

Where did you get the idea for this series?

The seed of the idea came from our own family dragon. He arrived in our garden when my eldest son was small. And then my youngest son started asking questions about him – where had he come from? Why did he go away sometimes? Were there any more dragons? And so the story started growing. Every day I would walk down the lane past the allotments with our dog and I thought about our dragon. What if he had grown in a garden like that one – all overgrown and wild? Maybe there was an egg buried under a patch of nettles. Or maybe he had grown on a special plant. It would need to be a very special plant indeed. And then something popped into my mind. ‘Hold on,’ I thought. ‘Isn’t there a dragon fruit tree?’

The Boy Who Flew With Dragons by Andy Shepherd, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie, Piccadilly Press 

If you were to grow your own dragon (perhaps you already have!), what would it be like? 

His name is Glint and you can find out all about him on my website – I’ve even drawn a picture of him. But he’s not too happy about that.

On your website you say that we shouldn’t stop doing something just because we’re not very good at it – otherwise, how will we ever improve? It’s great advice for aspiring authors and illustrators just starting out. Do you have any other advice for novice writers? 

All the usual things. Read a lot. Write a lot. Keep your eyes open for ideas and note them down. But I’d also add, keep an eye on the 3 S’s that make up a good story. Secrets – a mystery of any kind keeps those pages being turned. Surprises – look for ways to add twists and turns to excite your readers and keep them hooked. And Stakes – make sure you have characters people will care about. Oh, and be prepared for the fact that writing is mainly rewriting!

And now the question everyone wants the answer to ... does dragon poo really smell that bad?

Worse. Especially when it’s dried and exploded. It’s the kind of smell that lingers.

Finally, as the music fades, there’s just time for you to tell us what’s up next for Andy Shepherd, the author. Are you working on a new project? 

I have several ideas, some with dragons some without, but they are in the butterfly stage – i.e. I’m afraid of talking about them too loudly in case they flutter away. Sorry!

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

Thanks very much for having me and I’m extremely sorry that the dragons did what they did – although I did warn you the ice sculpture was a bad idea.

The Boy Who Grew Dragons is out now, published by Piccadilly Press. The Boy Who Lived With Dragons is out in September. And watch out for the third book in Andy’s series: The Boy Who Flew With Dragons.

Feature Illustration by Louisa Glancy

Photo of Andy Shepherd by Ian Shepherd

Andy Shepherd is a children’s writer working on stories for 5-12 year olds. She lives near Cambridge with her husband and two sons. She spends her spare time trying to figure out how to move this beautiful city closer to the sea. 

* Disclaimer – Please note, all dragon-growing is undertaken entirely at the grower’s own risk and Andy cannot be held responsible for any damage your dragon may cause. 

Follow Andy: 
Twitter: @andyjshepherd 
Facebook: Andy Shepherd 

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 co-coordinator 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 

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