DEBUT JOURNEYS Jennifer Burkinshaw



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 Jennifer Burkinshaw, whose YA debut, IGLOO, was out on 18 November 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?

We’re walking up a dense pine forest above a little village on a mountain pass in Haute Savoie, the French Alps, where IGLOO is partially set. The white-sleeved firs and their clean scent will accompany us on our steep walk which will be rewarded by a panorama of a whole chain of mountains when we get to the top.

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

When my main character, Nirvana, is in the Alps, she is in a snowy white-out for much of the week, when all she wants is to see the mountains. She finally gets HER view, enabled by Jean-Louis her new ally and boyfriend, at the midpoint of her story. The white-out and view is a metaphor for Nirvana experiencing an important realisation at this turning point.

This landscape is very real to me as my family and I owned a little chalet in the village for fifteen years.

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

When we visited our chalet, our sons often used to build igloos and I did wonder what it would be like if you met someone in an igloo – so little space – and what would happen. This is what happens to Nirvana and Jean-Louis. They begin by tussling over igloo rights and end up sharing the igloo he originally built very happily – it becomes their vital refuge and escape.

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

IGLOO is particularly special to me because I love the Alps and snow, AND Christmas, when the book is set. The themes are also very important to me – that we shouldn’t have to hide away to be our real selves; that the fight to be who we are is hard but always worth it. Nirvana’s name, meaning ‘ultimate bliss’ is important too: she finds it ironic that her mum gave her this name when just ​ now Niv is being nothing but trouble in her mum’s eyes. But Jean-Louis will only ever call her by her full name because HE actually means it!

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?

It did very much seem that IGLOO might never get into the hands of readers as I had written a much darker version of it, which was just ready to submit when the pandemic struck and my editor, Tilda Johnson, was clear that the market was no longer right for IGLOO as it was. So, I re-wrote it during the pandemic as the story it now is - still with conflict and shades of dark and light of course, but not nearly as dark as it was.


 Rejections, near misses – my skin had got toughened by now as IGLOO is my second book, my first, HAPPINESS SEEKER, not quite making it (but watch this space for more news on that!)

 The editing process with my publisher, Beaten Track, was very harmonious. The only wording we disagreed on was the position of lips in Niv and Jean-Lou’s first kiss. My publisher actually won the day here because we went to a public ‘vote’ on Facebook and the consensus was with Debbie!

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

IGLOO was launched in a beautiful, atmospheric bookshop in Lindley, Huddersfield. We ate igloo biscuits and igloo cake with tea, I signed books, read the start of IGLOO and it genuinely was my very dream come true to share this long-held ambition with many close friends.

 In my credits, I acknowledge the help I’ve had at all the stages of my on-going writing journey, from the colleagues at MMU during my Creative Writing MA, my mentoring at the Golden Egg Academy with Imogen then Tilda, and the huge support I have had from the NW SCBWI critique group. I certainly wouldn’t be published without any one of these wonderfully talented and generous people.

We’ve finished our walk and 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’ve somehow managed to find myself with three books on the go at the start of the year! As mentioned, I have new hopes for my YA novel, HAPPINESS SEEKER, which involves a young economic migrant and is set in Morecambe Bay. I also have a finished draft of an adult novel, GOING WEST, I’m about to return to. Over ​ Christmas, much to my surprise, my brain started hatching an upper-middle grade story, TWELVE, which is set around Pendle Hill in Lancashire, where I grew up.

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 think to have as clear an idea of structure as you can to start with – I’ve learnt the hard way that it can save a lot of meandering, redrafting and time. ‘Into the Woods’ by John Yorke is my go-to for structure.

 That and never give up! The point at which you’re thinking of giving up on a novel could be the very point someone will take it.



 Jennifer grew up in Lancashire. She loves mountains, Christmas and border collies! After studying English and Classics at Cambridge University, Jennifer taught English, Drama and Classics for twenty years in several schools, including four years in Paris. She later completed an MA in Creative Writing for Children at Manchester Metropolitan University and is also an alumna of the Golden Egg Academy. Now retired, at least from teaching, Jennifer lives with her husband in West Yorkshire but enjoys travelling to new places, particularly if they have mountains, including most recently to beautiful Romania. Igloo is her debut novel; her work-in-progress is Going West, a story for adults.


  1. I read Igloo recently - loved hearing the story behind aspects of the book (even though I’d heard Jennifer talking about it before). Thanks for the encouragement to keep going & finish just when the temptation to give up is strong

  2. Really informative, fun read for a short interview--thank you!


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