Welcome to this virtual landscape where SCBWI-BI members share their debut journeys with us.
This month Helen Victoria steps out with author Chrissie Sains, whose debut An Alien in the Jam Factory is out now. 

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? 

Hi – thanks for walking with me today! I love walking in my local woods and head there every day. It’s a beautiful place to be at any time of the year and a great place to resolve plot dilemmas! 

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

An Alien in the Jam Factory is set in McLay’s Jam Factory - the most inventive jam factory in the world. It’s a pretty key element of the book, but when I first started planning the story – there was no jam factory! I’d got the idea of an alien who flew around in a jam tart, but no setting. I guess a jam factory was a fairly natural leap, but I wanted it to be something really fun - something that would get kids thinking about the jammy inventions they could make too. It took me a few weeks of research, brainstorming and drawing and my house became littered with sketches of maps, inventions and ideas. A rollercoaster, a pair of giant friendly robotic hands, a huge hairdryer, even a pull-chain flusher to deep clean the factory. I had a lot of fun with it! 

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

An Alien in the Jam Factory was initially written for my god-daughter, Abigail, who inspired the hero of the book, Scooter McLay. Scooter is the Chief Inventor of McLay’s Jam Factory. Just like my god-daughter, Scooter is smart, inventive and incredibly determined. And just like my god-daughter, he has a disability called cerebral palsy. 

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

I really enjoy writing humorous scenes, especially if they make me giggle as I’m typing. A lot of the humour in An Alien in the Jam Factory comes from Daffy and Boris, the villains of the story. They were a lot of fun to write. 

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? 

Rejections are probably one of the hardest things to overcome in the writing journey. An Alien in the Jam Factory is the fourth book that I’ve written, though it’s the first to be published, so rejections are something I’ve received a-plenty. I don’t think there’s any one right way through them. Sometimes you need to take a bit of time to lick your wounds, other times you feel a need to doggedly continue. I did a bit of both, but I guess the key is not to give up, to lean on your writing friends when you need and to write what makes you smile. 

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

It’s taken a while to get there so it feels properly lovely. Also, super busy - I have to keep reminding myself to pause and enjoy it. The best part has been sharing it with my friends and family – they’ve been an enormous part of the journey and were just as excited as me on launch day! Being that An Alien in the Jam Factory was released during the lockdown, I had a virtual launch. I aimed it at kids and made it into a bit of an event for them with a quiz and a draw-along with Jenny Taylor, the illustrator of the book. We ended it with Jenny and I getting dunked by a bucket of green slime (AKA Brussels sprout jam). It was a great giggle, though I was pretty nervous beforehand - we had over a hundred children attend, plus plenty of friends and family. I loved hearing the squeals of delight when Jenny and I got dunked! 

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’ve got two more books coming out in the Spring next year, which I’m so excited about. Treasure under the Jam Factory – the second in the Alien in the Jam Factory series. Think - the Goonies, but with jam. And, I Got This - which I’m co-authoring with CBBC star, Cara Mailey. The book is inspired by Cara’s real-life experiences growing up with achondroplasia (dwarfism) - she’s hugely inspiring and a lot of fun to work with! 

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? 

For me, writing isn’t all about getting words on the page. The research and thinking time is just as important. So, my advice is always to allow yourself plenty of time to percolate and process. It’s easy to focus on the end goal, but the whole story-weaving process is such a pleasure – enjoy it! 

Chrissie grew up in Billericay, Essex. She wrote her first story aged 7; a high stakes adventure about falling through a trapdoor into a pit filled with hungry crocodiles! Her first published book is the start of a hilarious, jam-packed new adventure series starring Scooter the inventor and his top secret alien sidekick. An Alien in the Jam Factory was released in April 2021

Follow Chrissie:
Twitter @crsains 
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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