Welcome to this virtual landscape where SCBWI-BI members share their debut journeys with us.
This month Helen Simmons steps out with author Louie Stowell whose debut The Dragon in the Library, was out in June 2019.

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? 

It’s a sunny winter’s day and the air is sharp with a traffic tang. We go through an iron gateway into an overgrown cemetery. The traffic noises muffle as we walk past graves all tangled with grass and dead flowers. No one’s been buried here for a long while, it seems, and the names are out of date. Enid. Arthur. But some graves still have fresh flowers on, decades after death. Abney Park is halfway between a graveyard and a nature reserve. It’s full of birdsong and, although it’s in zone 2 of London, as soon as you’ve taken a dozen paces down one of the wooded paths, the city feels very far away. I saw a rat there once. That went immediately into one of my books. In fact, it’s the setting for book 3 of my Dragon in the Library series that I’m writing at the moment. What I love about it is it’s a kind of wood between worlds, stuck between present and past, chaos and order, city and country.

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

The landscape of The Dragon in the Library is an in-between place, half inside, half outside, with a magical wood beneath a seemingly-ordinary library. Within certain magical books in the library, there are other landscapes that the characters travel through. The landscape is tied closely to a key theme of the book – that books can open up whole worlds, even if you don’t think you like reading. You just need to find the right book – or have a kindly (and magical) librarian find it for you. As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand steps starts with one.

Tell us about the inspiration for your novel. 

I wanted to explore the idea of a magical landscape that’s very ordinary at first glance – a modern, run-down library with shonky sliding doors. It’s not your standard magical library, with wood panelled walls and portraits and ancient tomes. I don’t know exactly what first gave me the idea, but it was something to do with seeing magic out of the corners of my eyes in prosaic spaces, whether that’s a chain coffee shop, a council library or a car park.

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

One of the things I enjoyed the most was creating the friendship group of Kit, Alita and Josh. I love group dynamics – the banter, the tensions, the general feeling of all for one and one for all. Perhaps it’s my years watching Buffy? I’ve always wanted to create a Scooby Gang of my own.

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? 

If I get stuck, I generally go for a walk or do something else. Often, the problems solve themselves once I have a fresher brain. Other times, I talk them through with my wife. I do like to think out loud. Solving writing problems is a lot easier than the publishing process, though. Rejections never stop, even when you’re published. In fact, those are worse, because they’re the ones no one talks about. The way I cope is to redirect my attention from the world out there – the world of publishing – to the world in here, the world of writing. If you bring it back to the words and the worlds you’re creating, it gives you a certain degree of insulation from the knocks.

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

I’d written non-fiction before – as an in-house writer for a publisher – so I thought I knew what to expect. But writing my own fiction turned out to be a very different experience. It’s much more personal, so the dread is vaster – will anyone like it? Will anyone even buy it? The rush is greater too – seeing it out there, something I created from scratch was incredible. The run up to launch was terrifying – see above re will anyone read/buy/like it – but my launch party was wonderful. It was in Hatchards in Piccadilly, and it was lovely to gather friends and editors and readers together. I might suggest not having your book launch in summer when the aircon’s broken though…

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 waiting for my editor’s comments on book three, so I’m writing something completely new. It involves gods, doodles and giants. I’m loving it! It’s my first book in the first person, which is a lot of fun. Letting the voice carry me away!

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? 

Make friends with other writers. I’ve got an amazing network of fellow debuts now and it’s made the journey so much more enjoyable. Having people to compare notes with and problem solve with is amazing. Also, writers know all the good gifs, because they spend so much time on twitter avoiding writing.

Louie Stowell started her career writing carefully-researched books about space, ancient Egypt, politics and science, but eventually lapsed into just making stuff up. She likes writing about dragons, wizards, vampires, fairies, monsters and parallel worlds. 
She lives in London with her wife Karen, her dog Buffy and a creepy puppet that is probably cursed.
Follow Louie on Twitter:

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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