There are many routes to publication and Debut Journeys aims to celebrate them all. This month Mario Ambrosi talks to Yvonne Banham, whose The Dark and Dangerous Gifts of Delores Mackenzie, illustrated by Nathan Collins, was released on 6 April 2023.


Where are you now and where did you write your book?


I’m at my desk surrounded by the fort I’m building from my TBR pile. I’m lucky to have my own space at home in Stirlingshire, where I live with my husband and our ancient beagle, Toby. This is where I do most of my writing but, sometimes, I meet up with writing buddies - anywhere that has good coffee and cake - for writing sprints and accountability. I was living in central Edinburgh when I wrote Delores Mackenzie, sometimes at home and sometimes in cafés in Edinburgh Old Town which is a cliché I know, but it really is an amazing place to write. Lockdown scuppered a lot of that!



What’s it all about? (Your book, that is!)


The Dark and Dangerous Gifts of Delores Mackenzie follows 14-year-old Delores as she tries to take control of her extraordinary levels of necromancy. After she’s almost drowned by a particularly grabby paranormal entity, she’s sent to the mysterious Uncles in Edinburgh Old Town to learn how to control her dangerous gifts, but when a sinister apparition threatens the lives of her strange new housemates, Delores has to gather all her strength to save them. It’s a ghost-filled, shapeshifting paranormal whydunnit, but it’s also about personal boundaries, trust and the joy of found family. It’s quite dark in parts, but hopefully I’ve balanced that with some lighter characters and a bit of sly humour. It’s aimed at readers aged 10-14 who enjoy Jonathan Stroud, Phil Hicks, and Frances Hardinge. If you liked Netflix’s Wednesday, you might like this too.



Tell us about your route to publication.


First step was joining SCBWI Scotland and that gave me a sense of where I was with my writing, and then I did some Extended Learning courses in creative writing at Edinburgh University. I studied with the Golden Egg Academy for a couple of years and was mentored by lovely Tilda Johnson. My GEA project got into the Undiscovered Voices 2020 anthology and that was a massive turning point in terms of confidence and opportunities. That book didn’t get picked up, but I took what I learned there and wrote the one that did.

 I’m not agented (but ‘Hi’ to any agents out there!) I got picked up by Firefly Press via an open submission. There was a lot of kitchen disco when that happened (again... lockdown!) but it’s been a brilliant experience with Penny Thomas and the Firefly team. Being unagented, this relationship has been super important as I’ve had to ask Firefly lots of things directly that you might normally ask an agent. 

I’ve been writing MG and Teen fiction for about seven years now, but a big chunk of that was spent on my GEA/Undiscovered Voices project. I guess you could call that my apprentice piece. I still feel very attached to it. I get fully immersed in projects, going back and reworking and reworking, so I don’t have a drawer full of projects like a lot of debut authors. However, being a dedicated pantser, I do have a full waste basket.



What do you do when you’re not writing?


I’ll be scoping out spooky locations in Edinburgh and surrounds, mainly graveyards, museums and historic buildings. I also love trail running and hiking and I’m near enough to some incredibly beautiful places for that to be a distraction. I highly rate the thinking time those open spaces give you and the endorphins are great for the brain.



What was the biggest bump in the road when it came to getting your book out into the world and how did you overcome it?


Lockdown. I’d picked up some momentum with Undiscovered Voices but come March 2020, there was a sense that publishing was pulling up the drawbridge, and who could blame them? I’d already started Delores Mackenzie and I had to switch my thinking completely to this new project and overcome the expectations I’d built for my witchy MG Undiscovered Voices book. I found lockdown difficult creatively, but keeping in touch with my writing friends kept me going. I also reached out to the Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland when they offered support to debut authors adversely affected by lockdown. They’ve been great.


Any tips for budding writers hoping to follow in your footsteps?


Even if things are starting to happen with your current MS, get working on something else. Always be working on something else. There’s a lot of waiting that all too often ends in disappointment, and you need to have something to move forward with. That something might be the one. It was for me. And watch out for those open submissions, the agent route isn’t the only way to get there. Finally, patience! Even once you sign your deal, 18 months to 2 years isn’t uncommon between your deal and the book hitting the shelves (I signed in early 2021 and my book is out April 6th this year.) It is quicker for some people, but this is worth keeping in mind.


What’s next for you?


I’m writing another supernatural tale for the same readership, but I’m going to be that very annoying person that says that’s all I can tell you for now! I have an idea for another project swirling in the ether, so I’ll make a start on that when this one goes in for edits. Hopefully, that will be my next something!


 * Header illustration by Imogen Foxell



Yvonne Banham grew up on an island off the coast of Cumbria and spent lots of time huddled on blustery beaches with a book or three. She believes in ghosts though she’s never met one and after five gloriously spooky years in Edinburgh, she now lives in Stirlingshire with her husband and their ancient beagle, Toby. When she’s not writing, she can be found trail running or hiking in the nearby hills.​ Twitter: @Eviewriter Instagram: yvonnebanham Website:




Mario Ambrosi is Words & Pictures's Debut Journeys Editor. He’d love to hear from SCBWI debut writers happy to feature in the Debut Journeys section of Words & Pictures. Follow him on Twitter: @marioambrosi.


If you would like to feature in a future Debut Journeys, please email Mario Ambrosi at

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