Welcome to Justin’s Debut-Dance Ball, a virtual party to celebrate SCBWI-BI members’ debut publications. This month, Justin welcomes YA author, Lucy van Smit 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!

Lucy, 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?

When I wrote The Hurting, I listened to Don’t Kill My Vibe by the Norwegian singer, Sigrid. She’s the same age as my Nell and they both hum the vocal hooks before writing lyrics.

Many congrats on your debut The Hurting. How does it feel to be a first-time author? 

Still pinching myself! It makes me smile every time. I’m chuffed to be an author at age 60.

How did you celebrate landing your publishing deal?

I had a lot of celebrations! Family. Friends. My hubby and my 93-year-old mum were the first people I told. They’ve been so supportive and always believed in my writing.

Tell us about your launch party. Was it aquavit and salt cod canapés, or champagne with lingonberry liquor?

Hah, I wanted themed cocktails: blue vodka and pine-needle tonic, but we knew we had too many guests, well over a hundred on the night. I had friends flying in from Canada, Europe and from out of town, so we went to my default setting: champagne. Peter, the manager at Waterstones Trafalgar Square, said they sold a record number of books. When Barry Cunningham announced that Emily Bronte would be proud of me, the magic of the night exceeded my expectations for the launch of The Hurting.

The Hurting by Lucy Van Smit published by Chicken House 2018

Ten seconds to describe The Hurting. Go! 

Nell wants to escape her suffocating family to be a songwriter but gets trapped in Norway by her sister’s cancer treatment. Motherless and neglected, Nell has no time for love, and falls for Lukas, a boy raised by wolves, who persuades Nell to steal a baby. The Hurting explores Nell’s choices, her obsession with Lukas; the gulf between who she is and what she’s done, and how Nell finds her own voice. It’s literary, uplifting Nordic Noir. With wolves!

The Hurting is published by Chicken House. Were they your publishing top pick? If so, why?

How could I resist? My aim was to write the best book I could, not just to get published. When editors Barry Cunningham and Rachel Leyshon said my book was up there with the best of them and they hadn’t seen anything as good in years, I looked behind me to see if it was someone else in the room. I knew they’d help me write the book I wanted. Then Anja, my German publisher, fell in love with The Hurting and wrote to say it was one of the best five manuscripts she’d ever read, and I was overjoyed. It felt like everything had paid off.

Were you inspired by the recent craze for Nordic Noir or did the idea come to you before the rest of us became hooked on Danish knitwear? 

My siblings all wore Norwegian sailor sweaters when we were kids, so maybe it does come down to knitwear! Nordic Noir is short code in The Hurting for the thrilling events set in a stunning setting, but the bigger themes are Nell’s mysticism; her bonding with Ulv Pup the stolen baby, and her wonder at life, and this overwhelming love she has for Lukas, and how Nell squares that with keeping the baby alive.

Before you won the inaugural Bath Children’s Novel Award, you’d had success in some SCBWI challenges and competitions. How did entering these help your writing progress? 

Competitions are best for deadlines and getting your MS read. I never sent work out, not for years. My focus was always on learning how to write better. During the Bath Spa MA, my little brother Dom died, and I couldn’t concentrate at all. I had the word count to get distinction, and 12 agents contacted me for a full MS on the strength of the opening in the anthology, but my MS wasn’t ready. I spoke to Golden Egg, and then got shortlisted for the Caledonia Novel Award, won the Bath Children’s Novel Award, and an earlier draft of my first book won the inaugural Slushpile Challenge; of course, I’ve never sent that novel out either.

You’ve talked about the complex road to publication – can you share some of the things you’ve learned about the process after landing your deal? 

I loved, loved, loved, the editorial process with Rachel Leyshon and Barry Cunningham. They ask questions which can take your novel up a whole new level. They didn’t touch my actual writing, it was more about simplifying the events.

Writing success can be a bit like buses: you wait years for anything to happen, then it all does at once. Tell us about your recent week when a whole fleet of buses arrived at your bus stop.

At the London Screenwriter’s Festival, director Chris Jones announced The Hurting and gave it to Scott Myers on stage. Then I moderated author David Nicholls, who adapted Patrick Melrose. I was nervous about the big audience, but my TV experience kicked in and I’ve always loved interviewing authors. I was on a novelist panel myself with Lucy V Hay. I also moderated Hans Rosenfeld - writer of The Bridge and Marcella. Then Lost Eye Films signed me to write a Nordic TV series. Quite a week. Thanks, I’d almost forgotten how brilliant it’s been.

And now, as the music fades, there’s just time to for you to tell us what we can expect next from Lucy van Smit, the author.

I’m contracted to write book two for Chicken House, but I can’t say much about that!

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

Thank you, Justin for asking me to dance! Great questions.

The Hurting is out now, published by Chicken House Books. 

Lucy (on right) on a recent visit to Waterstones Trafalgar Square

Lucy van Smit is an artist and TV producer/director who travelled worldwide for NBC News, flew on Air Force One with President Reagan, got surrounded by tanks at Manila airport in a coup, before she chilled and made documentaries on authors for Canadian Broadcasting, such as John Le Carré, Martin Amis and Ian MacEwan. Lucy’s debut novel The Hurting is a story about the power of attraction and the terrifying consequences of falling for the wrong boy, which leads a British teenager to kidnap a baby in the Norwegian Fjords. Brought by the legendary Barry Cunningham and Chicken House Books - The Hurting is being translated into Russian, German and Polish. 

Follow Lucy: 
Website www.lucyvansmit.com 
Twitter @lucyvansmit
Facebook @lucyvansmit
Instagram @lucyvansmit

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 

Feature Illustration by Louisa Glancy

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