Welcome to Debut Diaries – One Year On, where SCBWI-BI members share their highs (hopefully lots of these) and lows (hopefully fewer of these) of the post-publication year.

This month, Tizzie welcomes Amy Beashel, author of The Sky is Mineto join her for Afternoon Tea. After a whirlwind post-debut year, it’s a chance for Amy to put her feet up, and share her insights over a cuppa and some carefully chosen sweet treats, which reflect the mood of the months following life after debut. 

AMY: If there’s one thing possibly better than books, it’s cake. So, what a pleasure to be invited to a virtual afternoon tea to discuss both. A joy too to be encouraged to look back on a year preoccupied with a pandemic and rummage through the memories of lockdown, home school and repeatedly bad news to eke out some good bits. Because there were some good bits. 


February – Classic Victoria Sponge 


I debuted in February 2020, not realising my luck, of course, at being scheduled for so early in the year when I was still able to have a real-life launch. While the virtual launches I’ve attended over the last few months have been wonderful, I’m forever grateful for the opportunity I had to celebrate with friends and family in person.  


At the time, this month was the sugar rush of decadent death by chocolate, but with hindsight tinted with nostalgia for hugs and kisses, February 2020 is now a Classic Victoria Sponge, as made by my Nanna every time she came to stay. For as much as my launch was about The Sky Is Mine, so too was it the last time I saw and held many of my loved ones. I think of it today with the same longing and warmth as I think about my nan’s cake.  


March / April – Bittersweet Chocolate Cake 


The months post publication were a well-beaten mix of joy and fear. In addition to my already unhealthy addiction to Goodreads reviews, I discovered the Amazon rankings list, a readily available reminder that there are three-hundred-and-seventy-eight-thousand or so books that people are enjoying more than they are enjoying yours. Of course, it doesn’t really mean this. But there is a voice, dogged and disarming, telling you others are writing better and selling more. That they know how to do school visits – either online or in person – and are, despite a pandemic, book-two syndrome, or whatever else life might throw at them, on top of their literary game. And then you feel bad and shallow and ungrateful for making comparisons, for not appreciating the opportunities you’ve been given when only a few years ago you would have done anything to be in the position you’re in now. The voice keeps on speaking. When it whispers, you can block it out with the sound of your fingertips on the keyboard, a rhythm restoring hope that you might rediscover the true pleasure of writing. When it roars, though, you are a trickster, a one-hit – how dare you even call yourself a hit!? – wonder, who will never again feel the buzz of well-crafted words. 


Then comes a DM on Instagram from a reader, who says she saw herself in your story. She thanks you for writing the book, which she tells you made her feel stronger. And you remember that’s why you wrote it, because you wanted girls like her to hear their voice in Izzy’s voice and to feel their strength in hers.  


May – Flapjack 


It’s lockdown, and I’m up at 5am to trawl through book-two edits before the kids wake and we’re back to home school. It’s tough, like it is for everyone. It’s only a book, I tell myself. It’s only a story. There are more important things in life. But…  


It’s hard to write. It’s hard to think, even. But writer friends, Susie, Sandy and Ko, keep me going. They tell me they too are struggling. We Zoom. We Skype. We plough on. I join #magichour with Jandy Nelson and lots of other authors who gather to sprint online. These friends – both long-known and recently discovered – are the flapjacks I made incessantly in the last few weeks of pregnancy with my son, Monty, when I needed the slow energy burn to get me through labour. They are sweet sustenance, and I am so grateful for this simple recipe of honesty, kindness and time.  


Another act of generosity boosts me further still: Jennifer Niven raves about The Sky Is Mine on her Instagram stories and, honestly, I am bursting with glee! 


June – Lemon Drizzle Cake 


When life gives you lemons…  


My daughter, Dolly, is baking online with her grandmothers. We all devour the lemon drizzle. Maybe it’s its colour: the yellow that reminds me of the cover of The Sky Is Mine, chosen for its promise of love and light. We need that right now. For while there are some hints of “normal”, we remain in the dark tunnel of lockdown, unsure when we will really be through to the other side.  


I cry the day I submit my manuscript for book two. “It’s terrible,” I tell Phil, my husband, who says I always say that. “But it really is,” I weep. He tells me I always say that too.  


I eat cake to console myself and, not long after, discover The Sky Is Mine has been shortlisted for the Bristol Teen Book Award. Phil smiles knowingly, reminds me I once declared that book terrible. I smile too, my heart rising as high as Dolly’s cake.  


November – Apple Pie 


Holy freakin’ moly, The Sky Is Mine has been nominated for the Carnegie. The Carnegie!  


I am elated.  


The elation quickly subsides into panic about probably not being long or shortlisted. I then berate myself for not being able to simply enjoy the nomination without immediately binding it to possible failure.  


My Nanna’s last words to me were “Be happy.” November, then, is another of her signature bakes: apple pie, the same dish she made me when I went off to university. “You can share it with your new friends,” she said, allaying any concerns I’d had about not making any. That was the thing about Nanna, she (and her apple pie) allowed me to celebrate the moment, instead of worrying about what was to come. 


December – Champagne Truffles 


At the end of a mixed bag of a year, I receive notes from Katie, my new editor, on book two. It’s not all terrible. Some of it might even be quite good. 


The Sky Is Mine is one of the Irish Times’ YA books of the year.  


I am thrilled by the news but calmer than I have been on receipt of other good book-related updates.  


For all the turmoil of the past year, I realise I am content.  


January – Carrot Cake  


January is carrot cake from CSONS, a restaurant in Shrewsbury, where, in more conventional times, I meet my writing friend Sandy to bounce around ideas. As we enter another lockdown, I crave cake and her company more than ever.  


I chat with Katie, my editor, about the changes we’ll make to book two. Her input is invaluable, inciting an enthusiasm for the story I feared I’d lost when it seemed to go so terribly wrong. We talk for over an hour, and I come away from the call so grateful for Katie and everyone else who’s helped me along the way. Writing, for me, requires some isolation, but with all the workshopping, feedback and encouragement, it’s never lonely, and the stories I write are never wholly my own.  


In the last month, we have moved to the country. For someone who’d always declared myself a town-girl, I am shocked by how quickly I am restored by nature. Each morning, I watch the sun rise over the Shropshire Hills. The itch I have to write again is as furious as the fire in the sky.  

Sunrise over Wenlock Edge


Having previously written food and pregnancy blogs, Amy Beashel 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.

Twitter: @BeashelWrites
Instagram: @beashelwrites 


Tizzie Frankish is a regular contributor to Words & Pictures.

Website: Tizzie Frankish
Twitter: @tizzief

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