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

Elisabeth holding an event at her local library

It was less of a whirlwind, more like a gentle autumn breeze. For several reasons, my debut chapter book, sort of stuttered quietly out into the world.

I had Covid for a start.


The weekend I was hoping to celebrate the publication of Ivy Elf's Magical Mission I was lying in bed with my first Covid experience. I was due to be appearing at the Independent Publishers Fair in Edinburgh, my nearest city and the inspiration for my book. The event wasn’t just about my book but it was the closest I was going to get to having a book launch. I was happy with that; the idea of my own launch was a bit intimidating – what if no one came at all? So being part of the fair made sense, especially as the venue was so wonderful.

The fair was held at the wonderful Story Telling Centre, a gorgeous location which hosts wonderful storytellers year round. I was so proud when I heard I would be appearing there. But on the actual day, September 17th 2022, I didn’t even have the emotional capacity to give it much thought. I was so caught up in a fog of exhaustion. This fog polluted my book for a while after. I just couldn’t find the energy I needed to get out there and get excited about my book.

After that, it was rather down to me to create a whirlwind. I did do some events, one at a local library which I adored. It was so good to be with children - the audience it was meant for after all - and watch as they became invested in my story. I loved that. Parents/carers bought books too, which is always a bonus! I also did a storytelling at a school, and again the children were so engaged. However, selling books at school events is virtually impossible as you don’t want to cause any pressure for parents/carers. So, I have avoided too many unfunded school events as I just don’t have the time to do them for free.

I also worked with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust, as Ivy is based along this stretch of wonderful water in Edinburgh. I volunteered at one of their events, doing a short storytelling session with Ivy, sadly again the format didn’t lend itself to book sales, although Ivy is now stocked in their shop so fingers crossed for summer sales! I was also involved through my publisher in an online event for York Book week that focused on women authors.

I have found the monetary aspect difficult. I would just love to share my story and be with children, but now I am self-employed this isn’t necessarily a reality I can enjoy. I knew my book would never make me any money really, and that is fine, but there are other ways I can spend my time which does, and I have found making those decisions painful. That is why things like the Scottish Book Trust Live Literature Funding are so important, so writers can get paid for their time.

I love independent presses. I adore what they represent, a widening of voices, a challenge to the dominant narrative of the big publishing houses. They remain true to storytelling over profit. Most important of all, for me, is that they put children at the heart. They don’t dumb down to children or try and appeal to the adults in children’s lives. They respect children’s huge ability for imagination, for curiosity, for creativity, and for challenging assumptions. The independent press field is wide and varied but I have found this true of all I have come across and interacted with.

Promoting your book when you have been published by a small press is, however, hard work and can get dis-heartening. When you are trying to squeeze writing in around your already busy life of work, children, family, and you then have to go and organise and carry out events (some for free and no books get sold!), market yourself, go to bookshops to ask them to stock your book etc, it can get a little overwhelming. If I am honest, it can get demoralising and you start fantasising about the big publishers and their big machines and the voice creeps back in. You know the voice, the one that says you aren’t good enough for the big publishers, that perhaps writing isn’t for you.

At the Water of Leith event


When this happens (which it has done a lot recently), I remember those children in the library. I remember how they believed in Ivy and her mission to save the humans from themselves, reconnect them with the natural world in an urban environment, and I believe again. I go and shout about my book a bit on social media, and hang on to the fact there are some children out there with my story on their bedside table, my story in their head. I begin to believe perhaps I could write again.


Our world, and our children, need independent publishers who don’t sway to the latest market trend. I believe we need stories to challenge and inspire and I believe if only a hundred children hear my story and see my book, it is still a story worth hearing.

So, I have just got in touch with a new independent bookshop that has opened about 40 mins drive from me and we are starting to discuss an event. I have dusted off my middle grade manuscript that I finished in December, and I am going to query even more agents, then I will write a sequel to Ivy Elf’s Magical Mission. I miss it. Writing. So, it doesn’t really matter what the end product is, I need to just keep writing.

Illustration from Ivy Elf's Magical Mission by Elisabeth's husband, Damian

*Header image: in-house collaboration by Ell Rose & Tita Berredo

*All other images courtesy of Elisabeth Kelly


Elisabeth Kelly is a trained teacher and a writer. She has been published in numerous anthologies and journals both online and in print. Her children’s books aim to help children love the place they live, to see magic and wonder in urban as well as more natural environments. Ivy Elf’s Magical Mission was published by Stairwell Books in 2022. You can find out more about Elisabeth on her website.


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:


Anne Boyere is one of Words & Pictures' Feature Editors and runs the #SCBWIchat Twitter chat about books for all ages @SCBWI_BI. You can find her on Twitter.

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