Welcome to this virtual landscape where SCBWI-BI members share their debut journeys with us.
This month Helen Victoria steps out with author Maisie Chan, whose debut Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths 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? 

Today, we’re going on a walk along the beach in Troon. The kite surfers are out in force, their rainbow kites brighten up the grey Scottish skies. My family and I go to Troon quite a lot as it’s not very far from Glasgow. We bring our dog and walk along the beach and then we might get fish and chips before we head home. 

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

Danny Chung Does Not do Maths is set in a semi-fictionalised working-class suburb of Birmingham. I called it Longdale which was based on Longbridge where they used to manufacture cars, and Dale Road which is where I grew up. I needed the British Chinese family to be somewhat isolated from the throngs of Chinatown in Birmingham City Centre, so I set my book near the border with Worcestershire and Bromsgrove. There is a white working-class demographic and less of a racialised minority in South Birmingham, or there was when I was living in that area. Danny is eleven, so his world is mainly the small flat about the takeaway, the local park where he meets up with Ravi and the shops nearby. He finds a local community centre, which is where he takes his newly arrived Chinese grandmother. He thinks it can act as a granny creche for her while he goes to play with the cool kids. 

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

I was inspired to write this story when my friend’s grandmother moved from China to Birmingham aged 92. She couldn’t speak English and my friend who spoke Cantonese, couldn’t speak the dialect her grandmother spoke. I wondered what an older Chinese person could do for a social life, and I thought they could play bingo! That was the seed of the idea. 

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

I really like writing about people and relationships. I often pair two seemingly opposing people and see what happens to them. I loved writing the Nai Nai character, she made me laugh a lot, as did her friend Mrs Cruickshanks. I spent a lot of time with my dad who was much older than me. He lived in sheltered accommodation, and we’d go down and see the other residents and play bingo or just go down for chats. He died in 2017 and I began writing this book a year later. It really helped me during quite a dark time in my life to work on something uplifting. I also wanted to write about the two sides of myself. The outwardly, Chinese-looking part, and the inherently British and very English part of myself. Danny is inspired by my son, and I wanted to put in things that boys and primary school children might identify with. Such as wanting to hang out with certain people in school, or to have certain things. 

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? 

I find writing novels hard. Keeping all the threads together and getting to know your characters takes time and many drafts. I would say the hardest part for me is getting that first readable draft. I always have a soggy middle. It’s where I flounder after having begun and then I get stuck. What I do then is go to the end and write the last scene. I think the middle is hard because I’m not great at plotting, I like the character work, the dialogue, and the funny scenarios, but I’m not great at creating high stakes. Someone once told me it’s because I’m too nice and don’t want my characters to suffer so much. Now I try to be less kind! Rejection is part of the job. I don’t dwell on them very much at all. I get on with it and move forward. I had quite a few picture books that didn’t get picked up last year by publishers and for me, that means I need to get better at writing picture books and that it might not be the right time for those ideas. 

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

Being a debut author was fantastic. I had had other books published before but not a novel. There is something special about having your novel in a bookstore or seeing a class of children reading it as their class book. My book launch was a virtual one. I had grand hopes before the pandemic of having book launches in Birmingham for my friends and family to come, and I would have had one in Glasgow too. It wasn’t meant to be and many debuts who have had books out in the last two years know how hard it’s been to meet readers, booksellers and to attend events. Many things moved online or were cancelled. I loved my book launch though, even though it was online, it meant that friends could log in and be involved wherever they lived. I was especially happy to have my good friend Tita Berredo as the host, and the illustrator Anh Cao did a draw-a-long when my son read some of my novel. My former mentee Eliza Chan got me a cake with my book cover on it too. I had a lovely day. I went to my local Waterstones and signed copies and that was special too. Seeing your book for the first time and holding it in your hands is surreal. It’s a physical object that will find its way into people’s homes, libraries, and schools. It’s quite emotional seeing the final book because it takes years of work and a team of people behind the scenes to bring a book into being. 

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? 

Having your debut book out is only the beginning of a long journey. I am currently working on my second novel which I hope will have the same humour as Danny Chung, but has a totally different plot and set of characters. It’s about Lizzie Chu whose life is tough, she looks after her grandfather but he’s not quite himself after her grandmother passes. She takes it upon herself to begin a mission to make him happy by taking him to Blackpool, and along the way learns more and more about herself. It’s a quest narrative with a colourful set of characters and some Chinese mythology thrown in there too. 

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? 

My one tip for those yet to be published is to always think of it as a journey. Publication isn’t the endgame, it’s more than having one book out. Even those published are constantly pushing themselves, trying new things, and that has always been the case with me, even before I was a debut novelist.


Maisie Chan is British Chinese children's author from Birmingham. She loves dim sum, yoga and travelling. She has written early readers for Hachette and Big Cat Collins, and has a collection of myths and legends out with Scholastic. She is the author of Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths(U.K.) also known as Danny Chung Sums It Up (U.S.), and the Tiger Warrior chapter book series (M Chan). She runs Bubble Tea Writers Network to support and encourage writers of East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) descent in the UK. She has a dog called Miko who has big eyes. She lives in Glasgow with her family.

Follow Maisie
Twitter: @maisiechan

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. 

1 comment:

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