EVENTS Developing a sustainable writing career


If you've wondered whether it's possible to build a sustainable career as a writer, SCBWI Scotland member Maisie Chan is inspiring proof that it is. Sheila M. Averbuch reports on this online event hosted by SCBWI Scotland in January 2022.

Maisie, a British Chinese children's author from Birmingham who's now based in Glasgow, is the author of Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths (Danny Chung Sums it Up in the US), one of my favourite reads of the last year, and now shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Awards 2022. Funny and poignant, her middle grade debut is about a boy who gets to meet his grandmother from China for the very first time when she moves to the UK... and into his bedroom.


Maisie's not just a novelist but also a screenwriter, mentor and volunteer founder of both the Glasgow Children's Writers Group and Bubble Tea Writers, a support group for writers of East and Southeast Asian descent in the UK. SCBWI Scotland was thrilled to welcome Maisie as guest speaker at its first event of 2022, a Q&A about building a long-term career as a children's writer.

Although Maisie's debut novel came out in 2021, she has an array of other writing credits. She's written early readers for Hachette and Big Cat Collins and has a collection of myths and legends out with Scholastic, as well as featuring in the acclaimed anthology The Very Merry Murder Club. Maisie also just saw her first screenplay, Folding, head to the British Shorts Film Festival in Berlin. So, the group of around 30 attendees at the SCBWI event were leaning eagerly into our screens to hear Maisie's advice on making a life-long career out of this writing business.

It was a fantastic Q&A right from the start. Maisie revealed that the process of getting her agent stretched over more than 15 years, back when she first decided she wanted to write. A key takeaway here was that some opportunities came to Maisie because she bravely put herself out there: she told people she was writing (always difficult to do at first!) That meant that they were looking out for opportunities and competitions that they could tell her about. She repeatedly encouraged us all to apply for interesting opportunities that come our way, even if we feel we won't be chosen. 

Another key early decision Maisie made was to invest in herself and her craft by doing a course: she saw this outlay as an investment and believed that it would come back to benefit her. That's not to say there weren't tough times, and Maisie spoke frankly about these. Starting a family and struggling with various personal challenges meant that she stopped writing for five years, but a great decision she made when transitioning back into writing was to apply for a writer development programme.


She was accepted to Writing West Midlands’s Room 204 scheme in 2015 and this built her confidence, prompting her to apply for other programmes, including Megaphone in 2016. That’s where her kidlit ambition really started, and it was her Megaphone mentor who first told her about SCBWI.


The makings of a debut

The origin of the wonderful Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths goes back to a short story Maisie wrote years earlier. She had by that time signed with an agent for a YA manuscript, but in discussion with her agent decided to develop Danny Chung. And it was Danny that publishers definitely wanted, with Maisie signing deals on both sides of the Atlantic in 2019.

After working on edits for two years, Maisie saw her debut become a book in 2021 with Piccadilly/Bonnier in the UK and Amulet Books/Abrams Kids in the US. It instantly picked up a raft of honours, including a shortlisting in the hugely influential Blue Peter Book Awards, the final winners of which are chosen by more than 300 school children across the country.

Her hard work and reputation for professionalism got Maisie one of her other big opportunities, too, when Hachette approached her with the idea and the characters for the Tiger Warrior chapter book series. Maisie planned her time and realised she could say yes to this opportunity; she's able to put her head down and generate the initial 12,000 word drafts of these books in just over a week, she said.

Saying yes and staying strong

If there's one overriding message I took away from Maisie's presentation, it's to go for it: seize opportunities, and cultivate a network of fellow writers. That's not just your peers, but also people who might be earlier along in their journey. Maisie mentors for a number of programs and says she likes to choose people whose projects and genres she can learn something from.


We can all learn from Maisie's can-do spirit. When promising new opportunities arise – such as offering a workshop for schools on a particular topic – she says yes, even if that means researching the topic quickly to get the skills that will let her meet the commitment. A word that kept cropping up in Maisie's Q&A was 'reliable': she puts a strong focus on being a reliable professional, something that's clear from her range of achievements, including publishing six books in a single year.

I came away from Maisie's event with renewed optimism. I immediately applied to a screenwriting competition I'd been dithering over, and to a second program which is looking for mentors. Maisie's positivity and her belief and investment in herself were such an inspiration, it was impossible not to come away with the sense that the future is bright. A great way to kick off the year!

Learn more about Maisie's writing, including her next novel Keep Dancing, Lizzy Chu, here.

Sheila M. Averbuch is a former journalist who’s interviewed billionaires, hackers and would-be Mars colonists. She holds a 2019 New Writers Award from the Scottish Book Trust and lives with her family near Edinburgh. The middle-grade thriller Friend Me (Scholastic Press New York) is her first novel. 
Find her on Twitter: @sheilamaverbuch or at

Anna Gamble is Social Media Editor and Sub-editor for Words & Pictures and is a member of the Events team. Contact:

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