AFTER THE WHIRLWIND Emma Finlayson-Palmer

Now that the whirling debut dust has settled, Emma Finlayson-Palmer talks to Caroline Deacon about some of the things she's learnt since she was published.

Emma Finlayson-Palmer

I’ve now hit the one-year anniversary of becoming a debut author when Autumn Moonbeam: Dance Magic! was published. The year has been a rollercoaster of experiences and emotions that I wasn’t expecting, and some I’d dreamt of most of my life. Debuts, dreams, and disasters…  

Launch day, Emma collecting copies for her school visit the next day from Blue Sheep Books in Wednesbury

Autumn Moonbeam came cartwheeling into the world on the 7th July 2022. From the moment I signed the contract with UCLan in early 2021 the whole journey has whizzed by in a blur! There were times when it was tumbleweeds, then flurries of activity, which seems to be the case with most things in the publishing industry. Release day came and a book fairy campaign sent lots of copies across the country, and my dreams of having a book in the world had come true, I was finally a published author! 

Book fairies campaign – screenshot from Instagram

It was a lovely, chilled debut day followed by a whole day event at a local primary school for my first ever official author visit. School events were most definitely the one thing that terrified me the most about being published. 

School event at a local primary – Emma reading Autumn Moonbeam: Dance Magic!

I’m autistic but I’m also very shy, so the thought of talking in front of groups of people left me anxiety ridden. But, after attending SCBWI’s Debut Bootcamp (a weekend absolutely chock full of amazing information to help you get started with life as a debut author), and a WriteMentor course on running events, also online, run by two fellow SCBWI's, Fiona Barker and Clare Helen Welsh, I was better equipped with what to expect, and had the tools to help make things run smoothly, or at the very least, not rocky!

Emma testing out her event at the Write Mentor event course, with props!

When the day of my first visit came, I discovered that, despite the nerves, I actually really enjoyed it. Talking to the children and reading from my book was a lot easier than I expected it to be. The key thing for any event, especially school ones, is to be prepared for technology to fail. SO, basically, be ready to do your talk, readings, any games, etc, without the use of a laptop/projector or technology if you can, so if technology lets you down, you’re not fazed by it. Another key thing I learned via the courses and from doing the school visits was to break your event into chunks, so you can chop and change depending on what age group you’re with, or how many children there are, or suddenly not having the amount of time you were expecting. 

Visit to primary school – Emma signing copies of both Autumn Moonbeam books

For me, I discovered that to ease the stress, I tend to send my author talk via a PowerPoint presentation video in advance of my visits. This way, teachers can share it with the children when it’s convenient for them and get them prepared for my visit, with the bonus of freeing up time to do other things during my visit. When I actually go in for visits, I have made it easier on myself by doing class by class, or a couple of classes at a time rather than whole school assemblies. They’ve usually already heard about me from my video presentation, so I start them off with a reading, no more than 5 minutes or you might start to lose them. 

I follow up with an ice breaker game, getting the children engaged rather than just sitting and listening, and I end with a Q and A, which always seems to inspire some unexpected questions. I don’t feel I’m a natural speaker, but by making it more manageable chunks and to smaller groups, I have found it helps ease my anxiety immensely. Take the pressure off yourself by asking the teachers to choose the children who ask questions during the Q & A, as they know the ones to watch out for and they know their names. Engagement is KEY! Get the kids involved and they love it, and you should too. 

Author wall at a primary school Emma visited

A real highlight of debut year for me has been another form of engagement, getting to see the reviews from bloggers and teachers, and most importantly children. I have felt such joy at being sent pictures of friend’s children engrossed in copies of Autumn Moonbeam, and all the stress has been worth it to see my book in children’s hands. Even better when children tell me directly how much they have enjoyed it. I had a child come along to a craft session at my local Waterstones over Easter who was an actual fan, I could have cried with joy (and reader, I did afterwards, out of sight!)

 Autumn Moonbeam on the shelf in Wolverhampton Waterstones

Indie bookshops have been so, so supportive, and there are so many wonderful booksellers out there who will champion your book. Do pop in and support your local shops, they are treasure troves of bookish delight! I was one of the victims of the Waterstones order system changes last summer, which meant that apart from my local branch who ordered copies direct from the publisher, Autumn never made it into any branches. Even now it’s only just getting in a handful of places. That was frustrating as it was totally out of my control and impacted on sales, but I knew many other writers were in the same boat, and it was just unfortunate timing. The booksellers at Wolverhampton Waterstones however, have been absolute rockstars and supported me from launch to now, asking me in for craft sessions during every school holiday. And most exciting of all, they gave Autumn a spot in their window display, an author’s dream come true! 

Emma at the book launch at Wolverhampton Waterstones

Wolverhampton Waterstones window display 

Just remember that there are so many things that are totally out of your control when you are a debut, and sometimes that can feel frustrating or scary. At times I felt like a failure, or imposter syndrome hit me hard. A lot of these feelings come down to the fact that as writers, we are creative people, and you have to do all sorts of marketing that you might not feel comfortable with. It’s always worth trying all sorts of things to help promote your book, but don’t do it if it’s going to make you ill with stress, it’s not worth it. Your mental health should always be a priority. Be kind to yourself. Don’t lose sight of why you got to this point in the first place – you love to write! You love creating stories, so write! Yes, it’s great to do events, especially to connect with your readers who love your books. But… you need to write. Fill your creative well and bring even more stories into the world.

*Header image: in-house collaboration by Ell Rose & Tita Berredo
*All other images courtesy of Emma Finlayson-Palmer


Emma Finlayson-Palmer is an autistic, working class writer who lives in the West Midlands with her husband and a multitude of children, cats, and chickens. Author of the Autumn Moonbeam series, including Dance Magic and Spooky Sleepover, published by UCLan in 2022. Emma runs #ukteenchat, a writing-themed chat on Twitter, and edits, mentors and reads competition entries for #WriteMentor and also reads flash fiction entries for Retreat West. She’s also one half of Word Witches, as a children’s fiction editor. Find Emma on Twitter.


Caroline Deacon lives in Edinburgh and is the author of several childcare books. She now writes MG and YA and is agented by Lindsay Fraser of Fraser Ross Associates, Edinburgh. Find her on Twitter and at


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. Contact them at

Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. Contact her at:

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