DEBUT JOURNEYS Emma Finlayson-Palmer


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 we are stepping out with author Emma Finlayson-Palmer whose debut Autumn Moonbeam: Dance Magic! was out on 7th July from UCLan Publishing. 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?


Autumnal smells on the air, the promise of bonfires and Halloween treats with Christmas not long after, I’m off to my daughter’s first dance show and there’s a certain feeling of magic as I watch the dancers and cheer teams perform. The way they move, the flow and rhythms, the coming together as a team, the beat of the music, it coils around me like it has a special kind of dance magic that enchants me and makes me want to know more about this strange new world I’ve entered. Little did I know that night what sparks of imagination had been set in motion and that a witchy spell had been cast.



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


The main setting is Sparkledale Dance Academy in a town of the same name, in the country called Cauldronia. I hoped to create a world that reflected many aspects of the real world but with a magical twist, for example, the spell-a-vision instead of a TV, Aaarghlympics instead of our Olympic Games. The gym within the dance academy is very important to the plot as this is where most of the “dance magic” takes place, and I really want young (and older) readers to get a sense of the feelings and sensations that you might have if you were there and trying out for the competitive dance team, Black Cats.



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


I’ve always been a huge fan of stories involving magic and witches, so it seemed a natural progression to include them in my writing. Once the spark of inspiration had come from seeing my daughter perform and later compete with a competitive cheer team, I thought witches and magic would make the perfect accompaniment to a dance academy.


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

I am absolutely obsessed with writing and have dreamed of having a book published since I was at junior school. So, character names and spells popped up all over the place. I especially loved creating lists of spooky words and anything magical I could think of, so I had a bank of words to create characters and the world. Some of my favourite character names are influenced by nature, Autumn, her twin, Zephyr, Leif, Batty, Skye, the list goes on!


 Emma Finlayson-Palmer

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? Tell us about the points at which you thought that it might never get finished.


Autumn Moonbeam first started life as Black Cats Cheer Academy back in July 2015, according to my notebook. For a long time, I’d make lists or jot down ideas for character and possible plot points, or costume ideas. But it wasn’t until 2018 when I finally completed a first draft. I would go off and work on other ideas, but I kept coming back to this little witch who really wanted to join a cheer team.


Black Cats Cheer Academy went out on submission to publishers at Halloween in 2019 and had lots of lovely comments but also lots of passes. I really don’t mind rejections as it means someone has read my words and that really is the ultimate goal for me, even if they then say no, it’s still me getting my stories out in the world.


That first round of submissions got the interest of a lovely commissioning editor who was very generous with her time and talked me through lots of possibilities for what direction edits could go, with the ultimate goal of heading to acquisitions. All seemed very positive but alas, the Sales team said no. It’s really common for this to happen and I wasn’t deterred, despite working for months with this editor. And best of all, now I had a whole new book essentially, and I’d really learned to hone my craft and experience of writing younger fiction. So the all new and shiny version... Autumn Moonbeam: Dance Magic! now a dance rather than cheer academy, went out on submission to publishers again late 2020.


It was well into the pandemic by this point so, with stories of publishers taking on less or pushing back release dates, I was starting to wonder if Autumn might not find a home. But I was overjoyed when another publisher said they wanted to take it to acquisitions, but with slightly fewer puns! So, puns trimmed back, I waited, and during that time I had an offer from the wonderful UCLan publishing, and I just knew they would be the perfect home for Autumn.


Then there was the torturous wait into the new year as my agent wanted to see the outcome of the acquisitions meeting from the less “punny” publisher. Long story short, it went the same as the first, lots of love but ultimately the Sales team just didn’t want it. I have never been so happy to get a rejection before and couldn’t wait for my agent to contact UCLan with my decision.


It was a yes! And AUTUMN MOONBEAM: DANCE MAGIC! was taken on by UCLan in February 2021, and soon book two was taken on too and both were scheduled to cartwheel into the world in 2022, my lucky year. Not strictly writing related, but I was born twenty-two minutes past the twenty-second hour of the twenty-second day, so twenty-two is most definitely a good number for me. Autumn’s magic had worked!


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


I actually got really nervous in the run up to the launch and wondered if I actually wanted to be published at all. I now realise this was quite a common anxiety to have and one I hadn’t really expected. So I’d definitely recommend joining writing groups, and especially debut groups, there’s almost always one happening in a Twitter DM for each publishing year, just ask on Twitter and someone will point you in the right direction. I can’t stress the importance enough of being part of the writing community, it is such a wonderful and supportive thing to be part of and I have made so many lovely writer friends along the way, and through organisations such as SCBWI.


When I actually got to hold a copy of my book for the first time my partner thought something terrible had happened. After recording the obligatory unboxing video, bursting with joy, I was overcome with all the emotions and sobbed. I spluttered between sobs... “it’s MY book!”


I could have done with a whole new book for all the thank yous in the acknowledgements and know I must have missed out so many. It takes a whole army of people to create a book, and help along the way, and I will be forever grateful to all the writers and book lovers out there that support writers. 

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 really hoping to write more stories about Autumn, so I’m keeping my wands crossed for that. There’s a book two of Autumn that’s already been written that will be out in time for Halloween, Autumn Moonbeam: Spooky Sleeper!


I’m currently working on a YA that is very different to Autumn’s sparkly world. It’s gritty and about grief, friendship, rescue chickens and hope. 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?


Find the joy! It might sound silly, but I think all too easily we lose sight of the fact most of us write because we love creating stories. We can get too caught up in that long and often very, very slow journey to getting an agent... publishing deal... published... in a competition... the list goes on. Whilst these things are wonderful, ultimately whatever you write you need to love and get joy from because not only does it show in the writing, but these stories live in our heads and beyond for a long time to come, so better to enjoy them than not!




Emma Finlayson-Palmer is a working class, autistic writer who lives in the West Midlands with her husband and a multitude of children, cats and chickens. A writer of children’s fiction, represented by Veronique Baxter of the David Higham Agency. The first in her chapter book series, Autumn Moonbeam: Dance Magic, is now out with UCLan publishing. Emma runs #ukteenchat, a writing themed chat on Twitter, edits, mentors and reads competition entries for #WriteMentor and reads flash fiction entries for Retreat West. She’s also one half of Word Witches, as a children’s fiction editor.




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. Thank you for this entry into the realms of the fantastic realistic, Emma.

    And the nature names.


  2. Autumn Moonbeam is a lovely book.

  3. In the realm of writing, where words weave wonders, authors and writers embark on a journey of expression, crafting tales that transcend time and touch hearts. For the negative writer, ink becomes a refuge to release the tempest within, transforming shadows into resilient narratives. The positive writer wields words like sunbeams, illuminating hope and kindling dreams. And the neutral writer, like a gentle breeze, harmonizes contradictions, bridging divides with empathy. Together, these wordsmiths shape the world, painting eternity's canvas with the power to inspire, heal, and unite.


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