This month Helen Simmons steps out with author Emma Read whose middle-grade debut Milton the Mighty was published in June. 

Welcome to this virtual landscape where SCBWI-BI debut authors get to take us along ancient streets, deserted beaches and dark forests, showing us what inspired them, pointing out the crossroads and obstacles and describing the next steps for their writing careers.

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? 

This is not so much a walk, as a crawl. A leggy crawl, if we can manage it, to view the world from a spider’s perspective. The ground floor of my house revealed many things to me as I crept about on the floorboards (ignoring the confused looks of family) – the safety of the dark corners, the gap under the skirting board where Milton lives, a lost badge under a chair and dust, a lot of dust! So we’re going to get down low and scuttle about, indoors and in the garden, but never Out the Front ... there be cats!

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

 Milton’s world is based on my house, so you’d think it would be easy to write – but it’s quite a different setting when viewed from a few millimetres above the ground! Ordinary objects take on a different role for the spiders, for example a log-pile by the wood burner becomes a hunting ground, the dining room table is a play area for webbing and swinging, and who would’ve thought the downstairs loo would be the perfect spot for a weekend bush-craft mini-break? Hidden parts of the house become accessible, such as the space under the floorboards, which provide a refuge from the killer pesticide spray of BugKill! As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand steps starts with one.

Tell us about your inspiration for your novel.

Milton’s story is taken from ‘real’ tabloid headlines: scare stories that appear every autumn when the papers try to alarm us into believing we have dangerous spiders roaming our homes and schools. I was already interested in the concept of unwanted fame, particularly in this age of social media and the example of ‘fake news’ surrounding false widows fit perfectly.

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

Writing Milton and his mini-beast buddies has been so much fun. I often catch myself laughing out loud at something they say, or at some ridiculous scrape they have got themselves into. Most of all, though, writing this book has brought me together with the most wonderful friends within the writing community. I couldn’t have written Milton, or indeed anything else, without their support.

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?

For various reasons there was a point a few years ago when I started to think this story had to be the one, and if I didn’t get anywhere with it, that would be the beginning of the end of my entire writing journey (melodramatic, much?). I was entering a lot of competitions and had my hopes set on longlisting in one in particular. The planets seemed to be aligning for success – Milton fit with everything they were looking for, but it wasn’t to be. It felt like a huge blow. However I have a strict 48hr rejection-disappointment policy and after that I always move on to the next thing. As it turned out the next thing was a competition win, followed by agent offers and shortlisting for the Bath Children’s Novel Award, proving that it’s never over in writing until you give up and stop!

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

Seeing my book in stores, in readers’ hands, in reviews has been every bit as wonderful as I imagined it. There have been occasions when I’ve worried if it’s doing well enough, or if it’s good enough, but fortunately these have been few and nearly always caused by comparing myself to others (don’t do this!) The most amazing experiences have been with readers – being an author has given me the opportunity to talk to young people about writing, about fear, about being themselves and it’s been a real privilege. I also had a fantastic launch at the gorgeous Mr B’s Emporium in Bath, with so many friends and family, and my wonderful publisher Chicken House there to celebrate with me. It was a great night!

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?

I’m just wrapping up final edits on the sequel to Milton the Mighty which is due to be published in spring 2020, and at the same time I’m writing something completely different. I like to have more than one creative project going at once so that if I find myself stuck with one, or not in the right frame of mind for that age or genre, I can keep the words flowing with something else. I can’t say too much about it, other than it’s older middle grade and pretty spooky!

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?

Be kind to yourself. Take the time you need to read, to write, to think, to be. The ideas will come, the words will come, but only if you look after you. This is perhaps a good place to reiterate: don’t pay attention to what someone else is doing/achieving/winning – it’s irrelevant to your journey, and will only lead to self-doubt. (Makes note to self to heed own advice!)


Emma was once a very sensible biologist. Now she uses her transferable talents such as attention to detail, patience and fine motor skills, to extract Lego from under the sofa. And of course to write children's books.
Her favourite things in the world are: badges, Death On the Nile, hats, foxes, deserts, desserts and Buck Rogers. Her one regret in life is never having trained to be an astronaut.

Milton the Mighty is Emma's first novel, and was shortlisted for the 2017 Bath Children's Novel Award.
Twitter @emmydee73 
Instagram: eadiereadie 


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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