There are many routes to publication and Debut Journeys aims to celebrate them all. Mario Ambrosi talks to Bethan Clarke, whose Holey Moley, illustrated by Anders Frang, is out now. 

Hi Bethan. Where are you now and where did you write your book?

I am sat in my kitchen writing this but, usually, I don’t have one particular place I write. My stories tend to evolve over a period of time. Some are slower than others. I often start with a title or a character name and then it builds from there. I’m always noting down names and rhymes and lists of words that relate to the story or an animal or a character I’m writing about. I’m not often sat down at my laptop writing away – I’m more of a notebook scribbler or making notes on my phone if I’m out and about.

My writing is often done quite sporadically as I fit it in around work and family and life. I’m often fixing plot holes on the dog walk or thinking of rhymes in the shower, while I’m waiting for the kids to finish swimming, when I’m driving, cooking, anywhere really. Often, I look like I’m just on my phone (and sometimes I am merrily doom-scrolling!) but other times I’m actually doing important story stuff. Like looking up plant names that sound like bum, researching dinosaur poo or finding out if sharks can fart. I can get a bit carried away with research but I like to be accurate!

With Holey Moley, the title came a long time before the story. I spent ages thinking of the characters – the text is dialogue only so the characters had to be strong. The plot took a while to come as well – it started out as the other character (originally a stoat) suggesting places the mole might want to live and then it kind of escalated from there. I also had lists of words that rhymed with mole and took a while deciding which ones I wanted to use and the order they should be in. So by the time I actually sat down to write the story out on my laptop I had most of it already and it came together fairly quickly.

What’s it all about?

Essentially, Holey Moley is the story about what happens when Gus the Goat meets a Mole called Mavis and tries to guess where she lives, but all the guesses have to rhyme and poor Mavis can’t get a word in edgeways.

I really love using language and playing around with words and tried to make it as fun as possible to read aloud. There are lots of puns and rhyming words and a bit of a tongue twister thrown in for good measure!

Tell us about your route to publication.

I had been entering writing competitions for a number of years and had never even made a longlist. So, I entered the Little Tiger Picture Book competition in 2021 genuinely wondering if there was much point. But I’d had some good feedback on the stories I was going to enter so decided to go for it.

I received an email out of the blue from one of the editors at Little Tiger saying that they loved the text I had entered for the competition and offered me a contract. I met with them the following week and after thinking about it for a second (!), signed the contract a few weeks later. Then, nearly two years on from that, Holey Moley was published. I feel incredibly lucky and probably still in slight shock that it actually happened!

Cover of Holey Moley, by Bethan Clarke, illustrated by Anders Frang

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?

For me, my biggest hurdle has been my brain! I have OCD and one of the main themes of that is very much intertwined with writing, following an incident that happened at school many, many years ago. So, for me, just sharing my work with people was an absolutely huge thing. The only way I manage to move forward is to try to just not listen to what’s going on in my head and to prove it wrong. A feel the fear and do it anyway-type approach, which on the surface sounds quite easy, but it took years for me to go from thinking about writing again, to actually writing something, to sharing that with other people and then submitting work.  

It's not something I’ve completely overcome. In some ways I’m not sure I ever will. OCD is sneaky and likes to morph into different fears when I’m not looking! But writing-wise I’ve reached a point where my need to write and tell stories, for the most part, helps to overcome the thoughts that I can’t.


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

Take every writing opportunity you can. Enter ALL the competitions, even if you don’t get anywhere, if nothing else use the competition deadline to whip your stories into shape.   

Also, find yourself some writing buddies, I met mine through SCBWI and they have been invaluable in my writing journey and we share not just our stories but support each other. Writing can be lonely and frustrating and you can often feel like you’re not getting anywhere or that you just want to give up. Having friends who understand all of that is amazing. 


What’s next for you? 

I've had a busy summer with Holey Moley events and I've now got a little break until some local library sessions over October half-term. I’m still writing lots when I can and hoping to venture into the world of chapter books in the near future, but for now, more silly picture book writing is on the cards.

* Header image: Ell Rose and Tita Berredo

*Other images courtesy of Bethan Clarke



Bethan Clarke has been a story maker-upper ever since she could write them back to front. This has proven to be a vital outlet for her love of silliness and fondness for puns. Bethan lives near Manchester with her partner, two children, two dogs and a headful of nonsense. Her debut picture book Holey Moley, illustrated by Anders Frang, is out now. 


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.


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures.
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Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. She has a Master's degree in Children's Literature and Illustration from Goldsmiths UOL and a background in marketing and publicity.
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