DEBUT JOURNEYS Susan Brownrigg

Welcome to this virtual landscape where SCBWI-BI members share their debut journeys with us. This month Helen Victoria steps out with author Susan Brownrigg, whose debut
Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest was out in July.   

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? 

We are going to take a walk along the Tawd river in Skelmersdale, where I live. Skelmersdale has a reputation for being a new town with lots of roundabouts but it is also very green. The river is a bit of a secret even though it runs through the town centre. It is a great place to go for a stroll and to connect with nature and let your brain work through plot problems.

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

Setting has always been the spark that prompts my books. I’ve written books set in Madagascar, Peru, Cambodia and the Congo – and the plot has always been influenced by the history of each place. 
My published book is set a lot nearer to home! Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest takes place in Blackpool in the run up to the 1935 Illuminations Switch-On. The plot sees Gracie turn detective after her Ma mysteriously vanishes. 
The book couldn’t take place anywhere else!

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

Gracie Fairshaw was prompted by happy memories of visits to Blackpool with my family when I was a child.
There’s nowhere quite like Blackpool! It’s a place people go to for fun, to spend money and to let their hair down. 
When I discovered that a 15-year-old Blackpool girl called Audrey Mosson has performed the Illuminations Switch-On in 1935, I knew I had the spark for my story.
I also wanted to write an adventure story where the main character who has a disability. Gracie has limb difference like my Great Grandfather. 

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

I love writing, but I have to admit that the research part for this book was brilliant! I only live an hour’s drive from Blackpool so I have made many trips there! Live Gracie, I’ve listened to the fabulous Wurlitzer organ in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, I’ve ridden vintage rides The Grand National and the Hiram Maxim Flying Machine at the Pleasure Beach funfair. I’ve travelled along the prom on a beautiful cream and green Balloon heritage tram depot and been to the Switch-On!
I have also loved using a microfiche reader at the Blackpool Heritage Centre to read old copies of the Gazette newspaper which covered the 1935 Switch-On in great detail and helped me add lots of details to my book for authenticity.

Once the book was completed, I submitted it to Uclan Publishing who asked if I would like my book to be used by three MA publishing students as their major student project. They had to convince the rest of their class about Gracie at an acquisitions meeting and then edited, typeset and proofread the book. They also had to assess the financial feasibility of Gracie and plan a marketing strategy. 
After graduation my book would be considered for publication by Uclan’s commercial arm.
I really enjoyed the experience of working with Nat, Becca and Bev on edits. They were so passionate about my book. They also commissioned a local artist, Jenny Czerwonka, to design the cover – and it is brilliant! In fact, I learned so much from the process and had such fun that I have worked with three new students this year on a different book.

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? 

My first version of Gracie had issues with the plot – but luckily two people gave me the same feedback and straight away I could see a way to make the book stronger. I had to throw out quite a lot of the book and it was a bit scary seeing the word count plummet, but the book worked so much better after the changes. My journey to publication has been a rollercoaster – with highs and lows! I first started writing for children in 2000 and my debut is out in 2020!

Joining SCBWI was by far the best writing-related decision I’ve made. I thoroughly enjoy being a networks co-ordinator for the North West and my crit group have been so supportive and I am so grateful for their feedback every month. My advice to other writers would be to keep writing when you can but take a break if you need to. 

I have had lots of rejections over the years, but I really feel that the right book has found the right home at the right time. 

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

I am absolutely thrilled to be a published author! I have been overwhelmed by the support from friends and family. It was wonderful to see my mum’s reaction when I gave her a copy – she’s my number one fan! I was also delighted when Bounce marketing chose Gracie as one of their July picks!

My launch plans had to change, but new opportunities have come along. I have learned new skills and overcome nerves to record a challenge for Authorfy. The Uclan Publishing team have been brilliant, especially Hazel Holmes, the publisher. Hopefully we will be able to reschedule school visits (possibly online). And in the run up to publication, I teamed up with The Literacy Trust’s Get Blackpool Reading project for an online launch. I recorded three short Detective Challenge videos in Blackpool and a Q & A with questions sent in by Blackpool schoolchildren.

Then on launch day I was chuffed and surprised to see that my SCBWI friends had created Blackpool postcards to celebrate Gracie on their social media profiles! 

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 hoping that Gracie Fairshaw will be a series. I’ve completed a sequel set in Blackpool Tower’s Childrens Ballet at Christmas and I’ve begun a third! I also have a list of Blackpool things I would like to do post lockdown! 

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 proud of your books that don’t get published – I call them my back catalogue! Those stories have all helped me to develop as a writer. 
There’s a great quote in Lauren Wolk’s new book Echo Mountain – ‘The things we need to learn to do, we learn to do by doing.’
To learn to write, you need to write.


Susan Brownrigg is a Lancashire lass. She is a SCBWI network organiser for the North West. She was awarded the Margaret Carey fiction writer scholarship in 2015 and is an Undiscovered Voices winner, 2016. Susan is a former journalist and sub-editor, but now works as a museum learning manager. 

Twitter:  @suebmuseum

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.


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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