There are many routes to publication and Debut Journeys aims to celebrate them all. This month Mario Ambrosi talks to Jesse Kaur whose When Nani, When?, illustrated by Fiona Rose, was published in June 2023 by Mantra Lingua.

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

I am currently working as a secondary school cover teacher in my hometown of Dudley in the West Midlands. I wrote When Nani, When?, my first picture book, in 2014. After 11 years teaching Religious Education full time I had decided to take a career break and reconsider my options. I knew I still wanted to be in school but the job was life consuming! Becoming a part-time cover teacher meant I had time to write again, something I hadn’t done for years. During my four month sabbatical, I had time to stand and stare, (out of my window that is), at the cherry tree in my garden. I wrote a poem about its seasonal changes which I then turned into a rhyming picture book and then again into prose, which I felt worked better.

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

Jaya and her brother Billy discover that Nanny has a cherry tree. Jaya asks for cherries but, with a child’s sense of time, she expects immediate growth and a speedy delivery of her favourite dessert. What she gets is a lesson in patience. 

Nanny’s sing-song responses to Jaya’s disappointment are informative of the reason behind each season; its contributing factor to the tree’s development. The landscape changes reflecting Jaya’s emotional journey – her initial fear that the tree has died in winter, to the hope of spring blossom and eventually the joy of harvest. As the seasons change, the siblings enjoy the traditional activities associated with each quarter, always keeping one eye on the changes in the tree. The page turns invite the reader to guess what seasonal sweet treats Jaya and Nanny will bake as they wait for the ultimate sweet cherry pie. 

Tell us about your route to publication

My first memory of writing a story is from Year 4 when I entered (and won!) a school competition with The Magic Bubble. I won a red lollipop and the head teacher read the opening lines in assembly. I was thrilled! I loved writing poems as a teenager and still do. I often told myself while teaching that one day when I retired I would write a book. I’m glad to say I didn’t wait that long.

It’s ironic that my first book would have patience as its theme and then take nine years before anyone picked it up! Many submissions, rejections and edits later, my book was submitted in October 2021 and given the nod of approval in January. There was a month of negotiations, then pairing with an illustrator. The initial deadline was pushed back at least three times which left me wondering if I was ever going to see the book in my hands! 

Now the book is in 19 languages, including Punjabi so my elders and family in India can read it. That was important to me. Also that this dual-language book is chipped so that the story can be heard with each page turn from a special audio pen! Great for the visually impaired or for EAL readers.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I walk, swim and grow vegetables. I grew a loofah plant in my greenhouse once. During lockdown I grew white aubergines, chocolate peppers and my first okra plant. I like Christmas shopping in Spring/Summer and have everything stored in the loft by August for a stress-free winter. 

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?

It was a rocky road of highs and lows. The thing I struggled with most was when things went quiet and I didn’t know what was going on with my book – it was out of my hands, no longer in my control. It’s frightening to think that the world you have built up inside your head – what your characters look like etc – will have to give way to someone else’s interpretation of the story. This took time. Slowly I began to realise that a team of heads is better than one and when a book leaves the author the aim is to improve on what has already been done. Also, listening to other people’s reactions and positive responses helped to put things in perspective.

After reading this great book You Can, You Will by Joel Osteen, which includes examples of ways to keep your dream before you, I decided to pin a Waterstones bag to a corkboard in my house. Each time I have gone past it, I’ve remembered my dream – my book isn’t on a shelf there yet, but I’m getting closer!

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

Be patient. Ha ha! No, really. Be prepared to be in it for the long haul. I might have written the book in 2014 but it wasn’t ready then – I wasn’t ready then. It has taken these nine years to develop my writing, understand what’s important to me to write about and to polish my cover letter and pitches. I honestly believe things happen when they are meant to, not too late but on time. This book feels that way. I needed to write another 10 picture books, join a couple of critique groups, read many, many picture books and enter lots of competitions before I was ready for my first book to be published. 

Take the time to enter competitions. They can take a lot of prep but that prep hones your work and makes it even sharper and ready for submissions. And when you get an honourable mention or long/short-listed it is a massive confidence boost. You will know when you’re getting closer when these wins start to occur. 

What’s next for you?

I’m going to keep writing of course! I have lots more ideas and 10 other books to keep submitting until another needle is found in another haystack. Getting traditionally published without an agent is exactly that – a needle in a haystack – but it can be found and I am the proof of that ☺ 

*Header image: Shannon Ell & Tita Berredo


Jesse Kaur was born and lives in Dudley, in the heart of the Black Country with her family. She taught Religious Education for many years but is now a part time supply teacher. She thoroughly enjoys walking out of the door with her students when the bell goes, her hands free of books that need marking. Her motto: keep calm and eat cake – every day, if you can.

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

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