Welcome to this virtual landscape where SCBWI-BI members share their debut journeys with us. This month, Helen Simmons steps out with author Damaris Young whose debut The Switching Hour came out on 1st August. 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? 

Despite living in a city, I’m lucky to live near a nature reserve that follows the River Avon. I take my two dogs for a walk there every day, often to escape a tricky chapter and mull the tangles of the story over in my head. Walking outdoors is a constant source of inspiration, showing how weather, climate and landscapes can impact the environment and the flora and fauna in your story, which in turn will impact on your characters emotions and actions. I love spring and autumn best, where everything feels very transitional. There is change in the air and an expectation of things to come. The Switching Hour is about transition, that time between day and night, which also creates suspense, as the characters in the story must be locked indoors before nightfall, or the dream eater will snatch them away!

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

I spent many years of my childhood in Botswana, living in the Kalahari Desert. The climate there is very dry and the plants and animals have adapted to the heat of the day and the often extremely cold nights. In the rainy season, powerful thunderstorms sweep across the land, turning dust into mud and causing the plants and trees to sprout green leaves and bright flowers. The extreme contrast between the two seasons is astonishing and the memory of that landscape has stayed with me and inspired the setting for the story. While I was writing The Switching Hour on my MA at Bath Spa University, the UK was experiencing one of the hottest summers on record. It made me think about how extreme weather phenomena, such as drought, affects all living things and changes the environment so dramatically. I wanted to explore those climate issues in the story by creating a dream eating creature that is awoken by a terrible drought. As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand steps starts with one.

Tell us about your inspiration for your novel.

The dream eating creature in the story was inspired by my interest in climate change, as the supernatural creature embodies a terrible drought that threatens to wipe out all things. As the creature eats your dreams, the memory that you exist begins to disappear. As a child, my family and I moved around a lot and I was always afraid of forgetting close friends, beloved pets and happy memories that I cherished. I wove this fear of forgetting into the story, using it as the catalyst for my main character Amaya to find her brother before she forgets him.

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

I find writing incredibly cathartic. I love unpicking a story and editing it, until it feels just right and the characters become fully formed, with their own motivations, hopes and dreams. I get completely absorbed when I’m writing on the sofa with my laptop on a pillow on my lap, the dogs snoring peacefully next to me. It is such a thrill to know that there are infinite universes you can explore as a writer and that you have the key to let readers into those new worlds.

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 had written lots of stories before, but never seemed to finish them or I lost interest after the first draft, so The Switching Hour is my first fully edited and completed manuscript, which I wrote as my final project on the Bath Spa Writing for Young People MA. I learnt so much on the course and the volume of new information was at times very overwhelming. I had to fight against imposter syndrome every step of the way! During the MA, I was also working and so I had to fit writing in whenever I could, in the early mornings, late evenings, lunchbreaks and on scribbled notes on a notepad I carried around with me at all times. It was a tough year trying to fit it all in and there were moments when I thought about quitting, but my wonderful tutor persuaded me not to. I’m very glad she did! Once my book found a home with Scholastic, I was very fortunate to be working with an editor who really understood The Switching Hour. It felt like a team effort and it made the editing process thoroughly enjoyable!

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

A few weeks ago, I was given the wonderful opportunity to go and see The Switching Hour being printed! When I held my book in my hands for the very first time, I was lost for words. There was such a sense of awe, knowing how much work had gone into the book, from first writing the bones of the story on the course, to being edited with Scholastic, to the gorgeous cover artwork by illustrator Kelsey Buzzell and the design team. In the acknowledgements I tried to thank as many people as I could, all those who had worked on The Switching Hour, all those who had supported me, listened to me cry in frustration at the plot holes, or just been there when I needed someone to lean on. It felt really special writing those words, knowing that there are so many wonderful people who have helped turn the story into a book.

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 writing something new at the moment, which is keeping me busy. It is another middle grade adventure story about a young girl who fights to save a menagerie of unusual creatures, that focuses on themes of habitat loss and the importance of wild spaces. I love writing stories that have an adventure quest, animal companions, supernatural scares and an environmental theme!

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?

Finding a community of other writers, whether it is online or offline, is so important. Being able to share your work and receive constructive criticism is essential to being able to develop as a writer and gain confidence in your ability. SCWBI is a fantastic organisation that connects writers together and one I’d highly recommend to any writer out there! Most importantly, just keep writing. Write in all sorts of genres and age groups, write poetry and in verse. I truly believe that the magic of a story happens when you’re enjoying the process and experimenting, so go and have fun with your writing!


Damaris Young studied on the Writing for Young People MA at Bath Spa University, where she wrote her debut novel, The Switching Hour. She spent her childhood in Southern Africa before moving back to the UK as an adult. She now lives in Bristol with her partner and two dogs, where she works on building worlds and adventures for MG readers with strong friendships at the heart of them. 
Twitter: @damarisyoung
Instagram: @damarisyoungauthor


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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