Welcome to this virtual landscape where SCBWI-BI members share their debut journeys with us. This month, Helen Simmons steps out with author Marie Basting

Marie's debut middle grade book Princess BMX is out on August 1st. 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?  

Today I’m taking you into the deepest, darkest forest. When I was writing Princess BMX, I spent a lot of time walking through woodlands trying to imagine the fear and trepidation of the protagonist, Princess Avariella, as she headed off into the unknown. I took lots of photographs, so I could recreate the setting and atmosphere back at my desk.

What about the landscape you have created in your novel? How important is the setting to your plot and themes?

Setting is absolutely key to the text. The action plays out in two key locations: Camden, London, and the magical, fantastical world of Biscotti. It’s the contrast between these worlds that feeds both the anarchic humour and plot. Biscotti is picturesque and smells of chocolate blossom while Camden is more car fumes and concrete. But despite their differences, the children inhabiting these worlds are ultimately the same with the same basic needs for friendship and acceptance.

As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand steps starts with one. Tell us about your inspiration for your novel.

I was inspired to write a book about a BMXing princess while watching the BMXers at the Undercroft skate park on the South Bank. When I was growing up BMX was for boys, and gender stereotypes were so ingrained it didn’t even occur to me to challenge the prevailing view that girls should stick to their roller boots. But there, under the shadow of the Millennium Wheel, were a new generation of girls and boys not just challenging norms, but also the authorities who wanted to close down their skatepark. I wanted to capture that sense of rebellion and self-discovery. I’m not quite sure why I decided to put BMX and a princess together, just like I don’t know why I ended up with a tea bag as a character. I guess I’m just a bit weird, but Chicken House seems to like that, so it’s no bad thing.

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

The character development, for sure. As mentioned, the book is slightly anarchic, and I often found myself laughing out loud at the things my characters said or did. I understand this is normal for people who write funny. Please tell me it’s normal..?

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?

I was really fortunate in that I didn’t have to go through the whole rejection thing – I know – sorry! – securing a book deal after pitching to editor Rachel Leyshon at the SCBWI conference. My lowest point was therefore during the edits. Because the manuscript I sent to Rachel was still a work in progress, there was a lot of work to do. Rachel told me that I would start out loving her, have a period where I hated her and then love her again. But I didn’t believe her – how could anyone hate the lovely Rachel Leyshon? However, there was one point I would gladly have put her in the stocks and thrown rotten Biscotti dragon cabbage at her. This was the point I thought I would never get the manuscript finished. I know now though that turning my line edit into another rewrite made the book much stronger. Rachel was released from my mental stocks and put back in her rightful place as my fellow Ronnie. I’m not sure if she is Ronnie Corbett or Barker, but the end product that is Princess BMX is definitely the work of a rather silly comedy double act.

Describe the editing process to us. Was there anything you really wanted to keep but your editor didn’t?

I felt really honoured to work with and learn from Rachel. She went gently with me at first, encouraging me to think about what drove my characters and how this related to the plot. We also spent a lot of time on world building and strengthening the setting. As we moved further into the editorial process, Rachel got a lot more direct and really began to challenge me. While my initial response was to shake my fist at the screen and wish a curse upon her publishing house, once I’d had time to reflect, she was almost always right. When I didn’t like what she said, I’d ignore her and hope she’d go away or forget about it. But she never did, so in the end, I had to start standing up for my writing choices. And just like in any good relationship, we’d talk, perhaps disagree a bit, but then we’d come to an agreement. Our most significant disagreement was over Sir Jeffrey Bobbersons, Princess BMX’s puppy. Can you believe my EVIL editor wanted to get rid of him so she could have more Doreen the microcorn? No, I couldn’t believe it either, but Rachel really loves that tiny unicorn – so much so I became slightly concerned about her. We managed to reach a compromise and kept Sir Jeffrey in the end, but I still haven’t really forgiven Rachel. I’m not sure I ever will.

As we reach the summit, can you tell us how it feels to be a first-time author? Tell us about your book launch.

Because August is peak holiday time, I’m going to celebrate the launch of Princess BMX late September. The celebrations will be linked to an SCBWI North West panel event – look out for details coming soon. After we’ve done the writing talk, we’ll open some fizz and I’ll be hosting a tea party style gathering with silly party games and lots of cupcakes.

How did it feel to hold your newly published novel in your hands?

It was totally surreal. I think it’s common for debut authors to worry something is going to happen to stop the book being published or that they’ll wake up, Alice in Wonderland style, and realise they’ve been dreaming. But seeing the book for the first time shuts down all the doubting voices and you realise it’s true… You’ve really done this… You’ve written a book. And it’s the best feeling ever! Until you start worrying about the reviews.

Who do you thank in your credits and why? 

Are you sure you want to go there? My credits read a bit like an episode of This is Your Life. (I’m showing my age now, aren’t I.) There were just so many people I wanted to thank. There were all the obvious contenders – family, critique group buddies, my MA friends, agent and the Chicken House team – but then there were the people who made this book possible in ways they didn’t even realise, helping me to push away the self-doubt and believe that a working-class northern girl with low self-esteem really could do this.

We’ve finished our walk and 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? Are you writing something new at the moment? Can you give us a sneaky sentence about it?

I’m still in discussion with Rachel about the next book. I have a two-book deal, but we haven’t nailed down what the second book will look like. Expect more funny middle grade though.

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? 

Join SCBWI, of course! Better still, volunteer. Being part of the 75 strong team of British SCBWI volunteers is rewarding on so many levels. Sure, it’s great on your writing CV and opens up opportunities to meet and learn from industry professionals, but the best thing about volunteering is you’ll be surrounded by other writers, at all stages of their careers, who will cheer you on and support you throughout the exciting but treacherous journey towards publication. I could never have done this without my SCBWI gang. Oh, and buy a frilly underskirt and some shoes with unicorns on – they can help you seem glamorous and confident when really you are petrified. Not that I’m petrified. No way. You Scoobies have got my back…right???

Header image: Imogen Foxell
Image of Marie: Marie Basting 


When Marie Basting was fifteen, she was told by a careers advisor that girls like her don’t become writers. For a long time, she believed this. But then something magical happened and Marie finally came to realise that girls like her can do anything they want. 

A highly experienced learning practitioner, Marie has an MA Creative Writing and a Level 7 qualification in Action Learning. As an Assistant Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Marie supports the development of writers and illustrators at all stages of their careers. She also offers freelance creative writing tuition to both adults and children and is an Associate Lecturer at Manchester Met University.

Find out more at:
Follow Marie on Twitter: @riewriting


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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