Welcome to this virtual landscape where debut authors share their journeys with us. 
This month, Helen Simmons steps out with author Kate Mallinder whose debut, Summer of No Regrets is out on May 2. Let’s begin our journey… 

There’s nothing like a good walk to fuel creative ideas and give us inspiration in our writing. Where are you taking us on our walk today? 

My inspirational walk is the daily one I have on the way back from dropping my younger two off at school. Usually it’s hectic, we’re often running late and by the time I get to the school gates I feel fairly frazzled. So I take the long way home, walking out across a field, often seeing cows (in summer) or horses. I get to breathe and walk and think. It’s like my reset button before I get home to start work. It’s often a good time to daydream story lines or character’s motivations and usually I get back raring to go. Unless of course it’s raining; then I have to dry out first!

What about the landscape you have created? What was your inspiration for your novel? 

My story is set on the south coast, in Kingsbridge, although I never come out and actually say that, but those who know the town will recognise it. I live in the Midlands, miles from the sea, so holidays on the coast are magical – I love watching how the sea changes each day with the weather. I started out setting my story locally but it just didn’t have the feel I wanted. The instant I changed it to Kingsbridge, it clicked. Off the back of that I chose the other settings for the book and also places I love: Lake Geneva, Wales and Paris. As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand steps starts with one.

Tell us about your inspiration for your novel. When and why did you start writing your novel?

I started this particular story early summer 2017 but the first draft wasn’t finished until October. It took me several months to get to know my four main characters, how they spoke, what they wanted. Once I knew that, their stories came a bit easier. I took inspirations from my general carpe diem attitude to writing, from warm British summers and from friendships that are rock solid.

Now we have got into our stride, can you tell us what you loved most about writing this book?

I love the girls – Hetal, Cam, Sasha and Nell. They started out as just scribbled notes on bits of paper and now they are real, like people I’d recognise in the street. Whenever I try to explain this to non-writers, I tend to get funny looks and polite smiles, but I know everyone at SCBWI gets it. I’m unbelievably thrilled that my girls are going to get read.

We seem to be lost in the woods now. Can you describe your most difficult moments when you were writing and how you got back onto the right path?

There was a point when my characters were still stubbornly two dimensional, the plot was a mess, their motivations were unclear and I was in the familiar, yet somehow every time scary, Pit of Despair. Then a rejection arrived. A near-miss, one I had got my hopes up about, and it knocked me out. That took a couple of months to come back from. Being published felt like a million miles away. This is where writing friends became a lifeline. I kept plugging away, getting my rubbish first draft written. I also applied to study for an MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University – I reasoned that if my writing wasn’t quite up to scratch, I needed to better it. The SCBWI conference that November was just what I needed. An editor liked the concept and asked to see it when it was ready, so I went home reinvigorated. I edited, my agent sent edits, I edited some more and by the spring it was ready to go. I braced myself for a long wait. But an editor read in under 24 hours and loved it, which kick started others reading. In comparison to the drafting, which I struggled with, the editing process has been an absolute joy, both with my agent who has read countless chapters ‘just to see if this voice works’ and with my editor. I’ve been with my agent, Hannah Sheppard, for a few years so we know how we both work, so I was interested and a bit nervous to work with an editor I didn’t know. I needn’t have worried. Janet Thomas at Firefly is lovely. Her edits are absolutely spot-on and she has an open and collaborative approach to changes. I feel so very lucky to have an editor who gets my story and who loves it as much as I do.

As we reach the summit, can you tell us how it feels to be a first time author?

It literally is my dream come true, and most days I find it hard to believe it’s happening. When people say nice things about my book, I struggle to know what to say (I find I’m saying ‘thank you’ a lot!) but all the comments, all those bits of feedback help me know I’m not imagining it, it’s not a mistake, it is actually real. A key moment was when I got to hold my proof for the first time. It was on the Firefly stand at the London Book Fair and on my way there that morning I worried that I’d burst into tears when I was supposed to be meeting people. Luckily my reaction was one of absolute happiness – there are some photos of me very widely grinning!

We’ve finished our walk now so I think we deserve to celebrate with tea in a cosy inn. As we warm our feet by the blazing fire, tell me where you think your writing will take you in the future?

I’m currently in my first year of the Writing for Young People MA, while also working on book 2 (a different story, rather than a sequel) so hopefully there are plenty more stories in my future.

Finally, I have really enjoyed walking and talking with you today. Can you give us one take away tip for yet-to-be-published writers?

Keep going, but take breaks if you need to. Be a reader; read more than just the age/genre you are writing. And lastly, if a story’s not working or not selling, don’t be afraid to move onto something new.

Kate Mallinder lives with her husband, four children and two crazy kittens near Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire. She grew up in Solihull and went to college in Leeds. She wrote this book as part of her own ‘no regrets’ pledge along with trying to surf, which didn't go so well. If left to her own devices, she'd live on a window seat with a good book and a never-ending cup of tea.

Find Kate on twitter: @KateMallinder
On Instagram: kate.mallinder


Helen Victoria is a writer of YA fiction, a full time drama teacher and a reader of anything and everything. When she is not putting on shows, reading or writing, Helen loves to walk in wild places, or hang out with her family and friends in London, France and Cornwall.

Follow Helen:
Twitter: @helensimmons100


Imogen Foxell is an illustrator with a particular interest in creating intricate imaginary worlds. She illustrates English literature revision cards for, and interesting words for Her website is Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

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