EXPERIENCES The Wizard in the Pandemic: Louie Stowell

Welcome to our new series in which our Deputy Editor, A M Dassu invites authors to tell us about their publishing-related experiences. This month author and former publisher Louie Stowell tells us about writing and publishing an MG series in the pandemic. 

Publishing a book never stops being terrifying. But there’s something about launching a book in a pandemic that – for me at least – makes the terror feel less personal. It’s a terrible time all over the world, and, in the scheme of things, whether my book succeeds or not doesn’t really matter. I’ve had two books out in a pandemic so far, and only one in the Time Before. So, perhaps pandemic publishing is my normal? 

Publishing a book in a pandemic is a reminder that the world is very big and a book is very small. When I used to work in publishing and someone was having a bad day, the go-to reminder was: “It’s ok. No one’s going to die if this book….isn’t on time/has to get pulped/doesn’t sell/has a typo/has missing pages/contains a random picture of an aubergine that has nothing to do with the story…” 

There are little griefs about the things you can’t do – go and visit your book in a shop, do a festival event, prance around in front of a crowd of children. But, I got to do those things with my first book, and I know I will again. In the meantime, there are digital events, in all their undignified chaos of spotty wifi and bad lighting. (Note to self: get a ring light. Apparently that’s what every pandemic author needs.)

My latest book, The Wizard in the Wood, is the grand finale in my Dragon in the Library trilogy. It came out in January, under lockdown. When you start a trilogy, you don’t know the world you’re publishing the first book into, never mind books two or three. The Wizard in the Wood published under just about the worst circumstances – in terms of bookshops being shut, schools off limits for events (for very sensible reasons), and the distractions of what sometimes feels like a crumbling world. 

But, an upside of that has been being reminded that the story itself matters. I love the world of these books – a world of ugly modern libraries, not fancy wooden edifices; of clumsy, awkward children with no destinies, only obligations; of magic that isn’t in Latin, but a mish-mash of loanwords and English; of dragons, obviously, and libraries. I’m able to see the books as themselves, not as how they relate to the outside world. 

If you haven’t read any of them, the first is the story of a girl called Kit discovering she’s a wizard. Together with her friends – wordy Josh and animal-loving Alita – she has to save the library from an evil property developer. I launched that book in a pre-pandemic world and it was a whirl of school visits, festivals, a proper book launch with friends, family and close proximity. 

In book two, the gang travel to Scotland to return a loch monster to its home, battling evil mermaids and ghostly rats. That one had a month in shops before lockdown, and I managed to squeeze in one school visit just before Covid. But I do feel like I ended up neglecting it a bit – juggling work and writing and having covid. It’s a shame as I loved it perhaps more than the first. Portraying mermaids not as compliant hair-brushers but rather as rangy ancient pains in the bum was a lot of fun. Plus, the idea of mind control and brainwashing felt very apt for the time, given the political situation and “alternative facts”. 

Book three is – like all finales – where things get a little darker and more apocalyptic. It’s a harder book to talk about without spoilers as it contains a twist. But it was a joy to write. Writing during a pandemic felt different. I was used to writing in cafes – a particular Costa in Dalston, always ordering the same coffee. There was a ritual to it. I started book three pre-pandemic, I think — I’m honestly losing track of time. But writing some of it during the pandemic, the new reality seeped in. Perhaps that’s why it’s a little darker? But also, I was taking my daily walks in the cemetery where I set it, Abney Park, and that setting ended up coming more to the fore in the story. It was my escape from Covid – a green oasis in a city, with beautiful crumbled graves and overgrown statues, plus lots of rats. (My wife hates the rats, I love them. Little friends!) 

Since Wizard came out, I’ve done Zoom events to promote it, which isn’t the same, but any chance to go back into that world and explore it in new ways is always a pleasure. A story matters even if I can’t see people reading it, or see it in shops. It exists now, and has its own life. To an extent, it’s not my business any more. Once published, a story belongs to everyone. The author doesn’t get to tell people what to think about it or how to read it. So, I can’t see people reading, I can’t see children’s faces laughing at an event, but they’re out there. And, after the pandemic, I will be again. I’ll wash my cloak ready. 


Louie Stowell is a children's author based in London. She spent 15 years in the publishing industry, most recently as Publisher at Ladybird, part of Penguin Random House, before becoming a full time author. She's written dozens of non-fiction books for children and is the author of The Dragon in the Library trilogy, published by Nosy Crow. They're funny books about wizards, dragons, libraries and friendship. Her next book, publishing in May this year, is a darkly funny Middle Grade portal fantasy called Otherland, about two children who have to rescue a stolen baby from the Fairy Queen in a realm where nothing is as it seems. She also has a three book deal with Walker for a funny diary series about the Norse god Loki being punished by living on earth as a mortal child and - worse - going to school. 
Louie lives with her wife, Karen, her dog, Buffy, and a creepy puppet that is probably cursed. 

Twitter: @louie stowell
Instagram: @louie stowell 

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