This month Helen Simmons steps out with author Amy Beashel, whose YA debut The Sky is Mine was out on 6th February 2020.

Welcome to this virtual landscape where debut authors take us along ancient streets, deserted beaches and dark forests, showing us what inspired them, pointing out the crossroads 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? 

I love walking along the River Severn, not only because it plays a part in The Sky Is Mine – though walking across the footbridge on which Izzy has a moment of realisation about her self-worth does still give me thrills – but also because I love the river for its ability to allow me to think. It’s very easy to believe writing happens only at the laptop. Taking a break can feel counter-intuitive when you’re on a deadline. But having a dog means I’ve no choice but to get outside, even when the words need putting on the page. Three minutes from the house and I’m by the water, where, quite often, plot points which had proved sticky, quite magically begin – no pun intended – to flow.

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

The landscape in The Sky Is Mine is very much my real landscape. It begins in Whitstable, where we lived when I first began plotting the novel, and ends in Shrewsbury, where we were living by the time I began to write. As I’d made that move somewhat reluctantly, Izzy’s fears and fury about her departure from Kent were fuelled by my own sadness and trepidation about leaving a place I truly loved. Similarly, the possibility she sees in Shropshire reflects the beginnings of my own affection for a town I now love. As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand steps starts with one.

Tell us about your inspiration for your novel. 

Funnily enough, this took place by the river, where my husband and I were having lunch. A bunch of 16/17 year olds were messing about by the boat house on the other side of the water. While some lads were throwing each other in, a boy and girl were kissing. I said to Phil how idyllic it seemed, how romantic, how I missed that teenage ability to kiss until your mouth aches and you can’t possibly kiss any more. They started rapping then, more evidence of their innocent joy and positive lack of inhibition. Until I listened more closely and it became apparent they were rapping about rape. Obviously, the magic spell I was under was broken and something in me clicked. How was this okay? So this found its way into the book. But rather than silencing Izzy, it rouses her. From the other side of the river, she begins to find her voice.

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

I loved how Izzy began to find her voice. I remember how furiously I was typing when I was writing scenes such as the one with the river rappers. My fingers banging louder and louder against the keyboard to buoy Izzy’s rage.

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 wrote The Sky Is Mine very quickly. I’d plotted it quite meticulously and though I didn’t always stick to my plan, the detailed synopsis allowed me to see the end was never too far out of sight. A combination of planning for publication and receiving reviews of The Sky Is Mine played massively with my head. I have been filled with so much self-doubt, and while publication has been a dream come true, it’s also been one of the most mentally difficult periods of my life. I think I’m on the other side of it now that I’m editing rather than writing, which is always easier. But I did kind of fall out of love with writing for a while. Thankfully, the relationship has been rekindled.

How did you overcome rejections? 

Love. Tears. Resilience. When we subbed The Sky Is Mine, we very quickly received excited early responses from editors. But as they took the book to acquisitions, one by one they began to drop away. All the rejection emails, while filled with praise for my writing, were still punctured with that dreaded “but”. We were nearing the end of our submission list, and I was in tears in the kitchen, telling Phil I couldn’t do this any more, that the toll it was taking on me, and consequently my family, was too great. He told me, as he always has, that it would happen. A few days later it did. Rock the Boat made their offer and I didn’t sleep for 48 hours with the glee.

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

No! My editor, Gill Evans, was AMAZING. There may have been a few word choices I clung on to, but pretty much everything she suggested was spot on. I thought I’d hate being edited – I’m a Leo and much prefer praise to criticism – BUT I loved the process. It felt magical. I could feel the pace changing, the plot tightening and the characters becoming truer to themselves. Seeing the document properly type-set was an amazing moment too. I’d never thought of the layout, the page numbering, etc, making that much difference, but with every change, my story looked more like a book. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

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

I’m still getting used to the word. Author. That it can be put in front of my name. That that’s what I now am. It’s incredible. As my gift to myself when I signed the deal, I bought a sequinned jumpsuit which I’d planned to wear to the London launch. But the closer we got to it, the more I thought I’d look like an ostentatious idiot if I wore it. Who did I think I was, planning on prancing about a bookshop in a flared gold number? But the local launch made me realise just what a special occasion this was, that even if no one else was going to dress up, I wanted my outfit to convey just how sparkly I felt on the inside. So, I wore it to Goldsboro Books in London and felt shiny both inside and out. 

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

Unbelievable. I still well up every time I properly look at it. I received my US edition – a hardback! – today and can’t stop touching it. All those words. All that work. Right there. An actual tangible thing.

Who do you thank in your credits and why?

Ha! Who don’t I thank!? My editor said they’re the longest acknowledgements she’s seen. They certainly are extensive. A sign, I think, of how lucky I am to have had such brilliantly supportive friends, family and colleagues. There are many reasons I wanted to write, but I think the biggest is that my childhood was filled with stories told not just by my parents but a whole heap of adults who together raised me with a belief that anything is possible. Thankfully, I then met my husband who, when doubt began to kick in, reiterated that message I’d grown up with. I really couldn’t have done it without him.

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’d like to continue writing young adult but move into adult fiction too. I have an adult novel out on submission at the moment. I’d forgotten how agonising the wait is! I’m writing my second young adult novel for Rock the Boat. It’s about an urban explorer whose whole sense of self is pulled apart when she learns the truth about her mother’s death.

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? 

As Stella Duffy once told me, “Write the fucking book.” You can think about, you can plot it, you can talk about it. But the most important thing is to write it. (And edit it after).

Having previously written food and pregnancy blogs, Amy began her debut novel in the too-short hours when her small children were sleeping and her husband was obsessing with box sets. Thank goodness for Calpol and Netflix. Inspired by the books she read for GCSE, in which she and her mum would always look for female characters finding their own self worth, Amy now writes about young women discovering just that.

Follow Amy:
Twitter: @BeashelWrites
Instagram: @beashelwrites

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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