Welcome to this virtual landscape where 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. This month we are stepping out with author A. M. Dassu whose debut Boy, Everywhere was published on 22nd October 2020.
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? 

Let’s go to Damascus, the oldest city in the world, where water trickles and ripples in the basins of tiled fountains in traditional sunlit courtyards. Envelop yourself in the scent of jasmine and rose, find shade from the scorching summer sun in the beautiful architecture that surrounds you. Stroll along the street, passing artists, people laughing, chatting, some hurriedly walking to music school or to a football game. Let’s sit and sip coffee amongst the buzz of people in a café. 

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

The settings in Boy, Everywhere are crucial to the plot, because each new place means new dangers and experiences for my main character, Sami. Readers cover a lot of distance and various landscapes. You start off in Damascus in Syria, one of the oldest cities in the world, the welcoming, bustling city of jasmine. Then you cross the border into Beirut, Lebanon, with its mix of architecture and sparkling seascape. You fly to Istanbul in Turkey, but are driven to a rural area in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by only insects and the wind. The worst is when you’ll have to cross the sea to get to Greece: the waves will overpower you physically and mentally, until you make it to land, then via a dark, gloomy and dangerous journey in a truck, you will make it to the hills of Athens. You will breathe and have hope before you fly over European borders, across British fields and motorways, landing in your final destination: Manchester. 

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

In 2015, when the world struggled to help Syrians, I sat in my comfortable living room watching countless news broadcasts about the influx of refugees to Europe. One interview showed refugees in a muddy camp holding smartphones, talking about what they’d left behind. I realised how similar their lives were to ours and how easily a civil war could bring the same fate upon me. I had been supporting refugees by setting up fundraising campaigns to provide food and aid for many years, but I knew this wasn’t enough. I wanted to do something long-lasting by sharing their incredible achievements, culture and backgrounds. So I started writing a relatable story about a boy who once had everything. 

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

Learning more about Damascus, meeting more Syrians and passionately discussing their lives and their country with them, reassuring them that I would do my best to let everyone know about their dignified lives, that they were not simply victims of war or reduced to a ‘refugee’ label. 

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? 

The most difficult moment by far was when Boy, Everywhere went as an exclusive submission to a Big 5 publisher. The whole team read it and loved it and were about to take it to acquisitions but the commissioning editor changed their mind last minute because the other books I’d been asked to pitch were aimed too high or low, and they wanted a career MG author. I'd never considered 'branding' before. I was floored by this and couldn’t write for months. It then went to Bologna in 2018 and publishers said they loved it but didn’t want it for various reasons (had something similar, wanted to publish more funny books, etc.). They all said they’d cheer me on and two UK editors asked to meet with me to discuss my other books, which told me I had potential and was so close to getting a book deal, but I felt so far from it. It was only after Boy, Everywhere sold in the US and the announcement went viral that publishers sat up and took notice, and on the second round of submissions (also reminding the first round of publishers to reply) it went to acquisitions with four publishers in the UK. This was almost TWO years after it went out as an exclusive! 

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

Incredible. It’s a surreal moment to hold something you’ve worked on for five years in your hands. What’s made this journey even more memorable is the love, joy and encouragement from my friends and fellow SCBWI members at each milestone I’ve reached. I have felt so loved and lucky because of it. And that’s why I have a four-page acknowledgement section! I thank everyone from the very beginning, because without these people I wouldn’t have made it this far. My book launch was planned to be a huge affair in London so that I could thank everyone in person, but unfortunately the coronavirus robbed me of it. I was upset for most of the year about losing out on a traditional launch in a bookshop, where I could highlight the brilliant work of Syrian refugees I know, and I kept reminding myself that the main goal for this book is that it makes a difference and changes perceptions of refugees and immigrants. And so I organised an online launch – what I didn’t know was that you can absolutely celebrate with people you love via Zoom! Over 130 friends made an effort to attend and it turned out to be the biggest launch this pandemic – it even made book industry news on BookBrunch the next day! It was truly joyous and everyone who attended said they found it uplifting. The online chat was so wonderful to read afterwards, there was so much love in the room and it was great that I still managed to interview one of my Damascene friends and introduce him to everyone via a recording, because he couldn’t make it on the night. The funny thing is, when things return to ‘normal’ I might just have another online launch – it’s so much easier for everyone to attend and is more inclusive. I couldn’t, in my wildest dreams, have imagined Boy, Everywhere to be received the way it has. It has had incredible reviews and was also chosen as one of The Guardian’s Books of the Month, in the Best New Novels feature. Authors, librarians and teachers have been donating copies to school libraries and it really feels as if I am now passing the baton on to readers. I hope Boy, Everywhere will do the work I intended it to. 

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 have had the opportunity to dabble in all sorts of genres, non-fiction and fiction ranging from early chapter books to upper MG. Right now I’m writing another upper MG about a girl whose personal life is turned upside down because of an outside event. Much like Sami’s life, but this time, her school world is rocked and she must decide whether she accepts her status quo or take action to challenge it. 

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? 

Believe in yourself and keep on writing. It’s a long journey, be patient. Some might say I got here quickly because it is the first novel I wrote, but it took a lot of rewriting, getting that butt in my chair to edit yet again, a lot of grafting, a lot of tears, networking and showing up to get here. It’s sheer determination and belief in our stories and also in ourselves that gets us published. The writing helps!


A. M. Dassu is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction books and is based in the heart of England. She is Deputy Editor of SCBWI-BI’s magazine, Words & Pictures and a Director of Inclusive Minds, a unique organisation for people who are passionate about inclusion, diversity, equality and accessibility in children’s literature. Her work has been published by The Huffington Post, Times Educational Supplement, SCOOP Magazine, Lee & Low Books and DK Books. When she isn’t battling emails or writing, she mentors aspiring authors and loves to shout about other people’s books. A. M. Dassu has used her publishing deal advances for her debut middle grade novel Boy, Everywhere to assist Syrian refugees in her city and set up a grant to support an unpublished refugee or immigrant writer. 

Boy, Everywhere was published in the UK and Commonwealth in October 2020 and will be out in hardback in the USA in Spring 2021. You can find her on Twitter @a_reflective and Instagram @a.m.dassu


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:

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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