This month, Tizzie Frankish welcomes Andy Shepherd, author of the The Boy Who Grew DragonsThe Boy Who Lived With Dragons, and The Boy Who Flew With Dragons (with two more books in the series coming soon!), to join her for afternoon tea.

Welcome to Debut Diaries – One Year On, where SCBWI-BI members share their highs (hopefully lots of these) and lows (hopefully fewer of these) of the post-publication year.

 After a whirlwind post-debut year, it’s a chance for Andy to put her feet up, and share her insights over a cuppa and some carefully chosen sweet treats, which reflect the mood of the months following life after debut.

January – triple chocolate chunk cookies
Andy at Clay's Printers
Seeing The Boy Who Grew Dragons rolling off the press was a sweet treat to start the year. Definitely a magic moment after an eight-year journey to publication. It was only after seeing someone else on Twitter visiting the printers that I even thought to ask my editor if it was possible. Her reaction was, ‘of course, let’s see what we can do.' That’s one thing I have learned this year – it’s always worth asking for things!

June – a slice of my delicious launch cake  

Andy at launch, and the cake!
The launch was held in Heffers in Cambridge. At their heart, the books are all about family, and the launch was a real family affair – a six-foot dragon-fruit tree made by my dad, jam tarts by my mum, a reading and dragon drawings from my sons, and the unwavering support of my husband. Wider than that is the writing family I’ve found through SCBWI and online who came along to celebrate. It’s so important to take the chance to connect with other writers; they just get it – the ups and the downs.

July/August – a plate of Nana’s jammy tarts  

And so there followed a summer of deliciously unexpected delights, including seeing the book in a host of national newspapers, and various summer roundups, spotting it in the wild for the first time, and finding out it had been chosen as Book of the Month in W.H. Smith's travel stores.

September – lemon cupcakes

Excited to see book two, The Boy Who Lived With Dragons, flying out into the world. It felt a bit like buses… coming along so quickly after the first. Learned that dragons make a mess of cake!

November – a sticky pavlova!

A real highlight for me was going back to my home town to do a talk at my old primary school and library. Talking to children about my books in the places where I first became a reader was wonderful. I haven’t been able to do as many events as I might have liked. One of the biggest challenges for me has been balancing work and health. I am recovering from ME/CFS, and part of me wants to say ‘yes’ to all the opportunities that come up, but I simply can’t, and I know other authors who’ve also run into problems taking on too much. 

Pupils from Howard Junior School
Saying ‘no’ is hard. You feel like so much is riding on your ability to get out there and shout about your book. But I had to be honest with my publisher and myself about what I could do. I’ve been grateful for their support and understanding and the truth is, we each have to find what works for us. I’ve had to be creative about how I connect with readers, and I choose any events I do carefully. One school even brought their class by bus to my village hall in order to accommodate a visit! What I can do is a huge amount online – offer Skype visits, make videos, write messages and letters to schools and so on. I learned that there are ways to make it work for you. It’s definitely great to welcome opportunities, but I’d urge anyone not to say ‘yes’ at the expense of their health or home life. We’re in this for the long haul, and I for one want to be well enough to enjoy it.

January – scones, jam and cream

The month I finally got to see all three of my book babies out in the wild. And was completely thrilled to learn that the books have sold in their twelfth country.

February – a selection of eclairs

A particular highlight was finding out the book was on the Blue Peter longlist and the Sheffield and Waterstones shortlists. This last bit of exciting news led to my first ever TV interview on BBC Look East – complete with dalek! 

BBC interview, and dalek
And the awards evening held at Waterstones Piccadilly was fabulous fun. To be on the shortlist alongside friends I’ve shared my debut year with made it even more special.

March – a yummy iced donut with lots of hundreds and thousands

Seeing children dressed up as one of your characters is so exciting. I’ve been delighted to find that the dragons have found happy homes in so many classes, and teachers are continually surprising me with the creative ways they’ve used the book.

Dressed up for World Book Day

Today – steamed jam sponge and custard!

So what have I learned this year? Well, for a start, I’m going to make sure I leave enough room for the creative side. I spent six months pre-launch focused on the promo, creating a website, making teacher resources, filming introductory videos, networking, writing blog posts… and I didn’t write. I’m glad I did all that stuff, but I’m never going to neglect the writing to that extent again. It wasn’t good for my psyche. I also learned that this can be a fickle business. I’ve seen stunning debuts not getting the exposure they deserved and have thought how unfair that was. I’m keenly aware of how lucky I’ve been with the amount of press coverage the book has received, being Book of the Month for W.H. Smith and getting on award lists. But there are no guarantees in this business. Who knows if the publishing world will like what I do next. So with that in mind, I’m going to enjoy the ride while it lasts! 

If something doesn’t feel right, with an agent, a publisher, a deal, trust enough to wait. 

If I had to give one bit of advice it would be this: trust yourself and trust your story. Before I got my deal with Piccadilly Press, I had a publisher interested in The Boy Who Grew Dragons. They wanted me to rewrite it for a much younger age and much shorter. I knew if I did this I would probably get published, and after six years of rejections it was so tempting to go down that route. But I tried to rewrite to that brief and I just felt like the heart of the story and Tomas’ voice were lost. So I thanked them for their interest and walked away.That was definitely a hold-your-nerve moment! Especially as it was another year before the dragons finally found a home at Piccadilly. But I’m so glad I made that decision, because the team at Piccadilly loved it the way I loved it. And they’ve backed the dragons from the start. So my final piece of advice is stick to your guns. If something doesn’t feel right, with an agent, a publisher, a deal, trust enough to wait. Books can take so much heart and soul to write and can take so long to find their way into the world – when they do, more than anything, you really want them to be the ones you wanted to hold. At the end of the day I do feel proud that the books in my hands are the ones I wanted to write. Everything else is a bonus.

Three books for Christmas!

Coming 2020 – two more books in the series!

Picture credits:
—cover of The Boy Who Grew Dragons, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie
—photo of children in costume on lawn, credit Howard Junior School

—child in dragon costume, credit @Artheart71
—children in costume for World Book Day, credit @BlodynJones
—other pictures from Andy Shepherd 
—Tizzie's picture from Tizzie Frankish

Andy Shepherd is a children’s writer who grew up on the Essex coast and spent most of her time scribbling stories and messing about in boats – and mud. After studying English and European Thought and Literature, Andy trained as a teacher and worked as a Campaigner for Oxfam, but is happy now to have found her way back to scribbling stories. Her books The Boy Who Grew Dragons, The Boy Who Lived With Dragons, and The Boy Who Flew With Dragons are published by Piccadilly Press in the UK and have sold in 12 countries. She is represented by Jo Williamson at the Antony Harwood Agency.

Twitter @andyjshepherd   

By day, Tizzie Frankish is a mum to two boisterous boys and a part-time university tutor; by night, an agented writer who is plagued by her characters. She writes better in her dreams than she does in the cold light of day (thank goodness for edits!) and she’s currently working on a number of Young Fiction stories. Her works are often humorous and more often than not include animals — even if she starts out thinking they won’t. 

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