Welcome to this virtual landscape where SCBWI-BI members share their debut journeys with us.
This month Helen Victoria steps out with author Attiya Khan, whose debut Ten Steps To Us 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? 

My summer holiday was in the highlands in Scotland. I did a 13km hike in Glencoe with my family. It was really challenging and I cried several times on the walk because I was so unfit and lagging behind my superfit husband and kids, but it was amazing. There was one point where I looked back through my tears and saw the most fantastic views. It really was worth the heartache. 

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

Setting and description is one of the things I struggle most with in writing, but it really is so important. Location location location. My book is mainly set in Kent, but there are times when the protagonist comes to East London and the contrast in the two areas is actually quite important in explaining why the protagonist feels so isolated in Kent. Description and detail make writing rich and really bring the world alive; Otherwise it can sometimes read like a screenplay if there is too much emphasis on dialogue. 

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

It all started off as a free writing exercise in a creative writing class. The opening scene with Aisha at the bus stop just poured out onto the page and got really good feedback from the class. After class, one of the other students told me I had to write this story because she wanted to read it – it all followed on from there. Six years later it finally got published. 

Ten Steps to Us is Attiya Khan's debut novel

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

I really loved writing all the romantic scenes about the feelings of attraction and the thrill you feel when you like someone you are not supposed to like. I loved the early part of the book where Aisha is in denial about being in love and all the strategies she employs to try and convince herself that she is not in love. It brought back some painful memories! 

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 was faffing about with the book for ages, not really taking it seriously as I didn’t believe I could ever get it published. I never thought I would be able to finish it, but when an agent took interest, I really started to believe in the project and I managed to find the discipline to complete the first draft in a few months. All it took was a little focus and self belief. 

The agent who had expressed interest ultimately turned it down, but her interest made me believe that the book had legs. Shortly after this, I was selected for the David Higham open day for underrepresented writers and one of their agents also asked me to send her the full manuscript. She also didn’t take it on, but I felt I was getting closer and closer. When I then got selected for the longlist for Undiscovered voices 2020 I really started to think I was nearly there. 

A few months after this I was picked up by Independent Publisher, Hashtag Blak. I think if you are getting interest from agents and receiving specific feedback rather than just a routine rejection, it’s all positive. It means you are getting there. The editing process was really tough. I was on about the third draft when Hashtag Blak signed me. Once I was with them, there were at least four more rounds of edits. We had numerous zoom calls and some major structural edits - some of them very close to the deadline which was challenging while working. 

There were no major disagreements, on the whole I agree with the edits. My love interest wasn’t very likeable initially and I really changed that with the guidance of the publisher. I think it reads much better than it did when I first submitted it to Hashtag Blak, but it can be hard to take feedback about the characters you have created. I was very clear that I wanted to move away from tired cliches such as the protagonist being sent off to Pakistan or being portrayed as a terrorist and they certainly shared my vision when it came to that side of things. 

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

I didn’t have a book launch, as we were in the middle of a pandemic – instead, I did an Instagram video, which I actually preferred as I was terrified of doing a launch and no one showing up! I could also plan a bit what I was going to say and edit the video a bit and it generally got good feedback and remains on my Instagram page. However, I am having a group book launch at Waterstones in Cambridge on 22nd January (this weekend) with some other amazing young adult authors, I’m super excited! 

Holding my newly published book in my hands felt almost like giving birth. My baby was finally born after a six year gestation period! I thanked so many people – all the people in my critique group without whom I could never have finished the book, my fabulous writing teacher and mentor Sophia Bennet who has helped me so much. I thanked all my friends and family and anyone who has helped me with the feedback. I especially thanked my husband who was really supportive of me. 

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? 

I’m currently writing a GP thriller (I am a GP by profession, but this is not an autobiography I promise!) about a doctor with mental health problems who is working with a Harold Shipman type character. Is she just imagining that he is murdering patients, or is it really happening? If it is, who will believe her? 

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? 

I really think, don’t worry about getting published. Just try and write the story you want to write and try to make it the best you can. Write from the heart if that’s not too much of a cliché.


Attiya Khan is a mother of three and works as a GP in East London. She has been part of critique groups for many years and holds an MA in Modern Literature from Birkbeck, where she graduated with merit. She was selected to be part of the David Highams Open day for underrepresented writers, and was also on the longlist for Undiscovered Voices 2020. Ten Steps To Us is Attiya's debut book.

Follow Attiya
Twitter: @attiyakhan39


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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