Welcome to this virtual landscape where debut authors get to take us along ancient streets, deserted beaches and dark forests, showing us what inspired them, pointing out the crossroads and obstacles and describing the next steps for their writing careers. This month Helen Simmons is stepping out with author Emily Kenny whose debut, The Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks, is out on 26th May 2022.


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?


I’m taking you down the twisty-turny cobbled streets of Norwich city centre where brightly coloured shop fronts tilt drunkenly over pavements and ancient pubs spill out onto narrow lanes. I walked these streets daily as a student and now like to visit from time to time as a tourist and look on nostalgically!


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


Setting is everything in The Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks. The story takes place at a cliffside boarding school and the school itself, the bay, the tiny, crooked seaside town and the nearby woodland are all very much intertwined with the mystery and adventure. I boarded as a teenager and I really wanted to bring the intensity but also the homeliness of boarding school life to the page. To create Pebblehampton-Upon-Sea, I’ve borrowed from the stories I adored as a child, as well as my love for balmy summer days exploring the Sussex and Kent coast.


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


The inspiration for my novel was a single image that Lindsay Galvin used as a writing prompt on her WriteMentor writing weekend in Brighton. It was of a pair of pink Converse trainers abandoned on a beach and right away I heard Alice protesting angrily about how much she hates the beach! I knew from the start she was neurodivergent and that, like so many Autistic people, was struggling with masking and societal expectations. Though I chose to write this book using the third person limited, her voice spoke to me from the off… and she was angry!


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


First and foremost, I loved writing an Autistic child protagonist who had adventures and solved mysteries because there weren’t any when I was a child reader. There were very few books featuring neurodivergent people and the ones there were tended to be heavy-handed ‘issues-led’ stories by neurotypical people.


I love animals so another aspect I really enjoyed was creating voices for my animal characters and thinking about what a cat, a fox or a seagull might say if we could only understand them.


The Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks was very much my lockdown project. As a clinically extremely vulnerable person, I didn’t go anywhere or see anyone during those early Covid days, so writing about talking animals was great escapism and frankly, brilliant fun! Perhaps that’s why the book ended up so full of comfort and cosiness despite the darker themes and moments…


Emily Kenny's debut novel

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 studied Creative Writing as a significant part of both my BA and MA but I lost a lot of confidence amongst the competitiveness of university. After that, my work as a teacher and family life took over. I didn’t write seriously again for a long time – almost sixteen years! I’ll forever be grateful for the kindness and generosity of authors like Lindsay Galvin and Aisha Bushby for gently building my confidence back up.


Going into this manuscript, I never expected to write a mystery and nor did I know anything at all about how to plot or structure one! There was a point after I’d signed my book deal when I really thought, “I just can’t do this.” I was neck-deep in structural edits and the plot had become seriously knotty. I couldn’t see a way out of the maze and was slipping into panic mode – that’s when my editor came to the rescue! A fresh pair of eyes cut straight through the noise and got all the pieces in order in record time. I can’t tell you how thankful I was! It really felt like being thrown a lifeline.


My lovely agent, Lauren Gardner, kickstarted the editing process and helped me get Alice’s story into shape ready for submission. Lauren is a very hands-on, editorial agent and she was incredibly patient with me, a total newbie, as I wrote my way into the story. Once Katie Jennings, my editor, came on board, we were at the stage of trimming the fat. Fortunately, Katie really understood my vision for the story and her suggestions always made sense and helped the story to shine. There wasn’t anything for me to disagree with!


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


In a word: daunting! I’m incredibly excited for Alice Tonks to finally be in readers’ hand and I really hope it reaches the readers who need it the most, autistic or otherwise. If it makes a difference to a child then that will mean everything to me. However, imposter syndrome is still nipping at my heels and it can be hard sometimes to believe this is all really happening.


My publisher, Rock the Boat at OneWorld, have poured so much love and attention into my book and have truly nurtured me as an author. Now, the scary part is that matters are truly out of my hands. Will it sell? Will people like it? Only time will tell!


Rock the Boat and my incredibly talented illustrator, Flavia Sorrentino, have produced a thing of beauty. The more I look at my cover, the more I fall in love!


I am hoping for a small and intimate book launch to celebrate with friends and family in the coming weeks and then I have some festivals and book events to attend.


I have to thank Lauren Gardner and Katie Jennings for both believing in Alice and helping to bring her story to life. The SCBWI and WriteMentor communities have also been so supportive and kind. I really ought to also thank my poor long-suffering partner for putting up with me disappearing to write all the time!


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?

 My ultimate goal is to be a career writer and to achieve longevity in this industry. It would be lovely to help other up and coming writers and to perhaps try my hand at young fiction or YA, though I think middle grade will remain my home.


I’m currently writing the sequel to The Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks, which picks up almost straight after the action of book one… Watch this space!


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?

 Put words on the page. It doesn’t matter how many or how often, so long as you write!




Emily Kenny is an autistic and dyspraxic writer from London. She wanted to write her debut novel about an autistic child protagonist. Emily studied English Literature and Creative Writing for her BA before completing an MA in Children's Literature, and was part of the Spark Mentor scheme with WriteMentor. Emily works as a secondary school Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator, and can usually be found with her head in a pile of books!




Gulfem Wormald is the Editor of Words & Pictures. Contact: Twitter: @GulfemWormald

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