WRITING Debuting when you're older: Yvonne Banham


For many children's authors, the route to publication is a long one. In this series, Deputy Editor Françoise Price talks to writers who debuted later in life about their experience. In the second interview, Yvonne Banham popped into Words & Pictures HQ to tell us about her debut novel The Dark and Dangerous Gifts of Delores Mackenzie, published April 2023.


Yvonne Banham's debut novel; cover illustrated by Nathan Collins. 
Publisher: Firefly Press 

Hi Yvonne and welcome to Words & Pictures! Can you tell us how the early months as a debut have been? 

They have been incredible. I’ve been so fortunate in the support I’ve had from readers, reviewers and book shops. There is nothing quite like seeing your book in a shop for the first time and there have been lots of emotional moments: my launch, book signings, signing the writer’s ladder at Edinburgh Bookshop, seeing my book in actual windows (Waterstones Princes Street was a huge moment), picking up my author pass for Edinburgh International Book Festival plus a couple of snippets I can’t share quite yet. BUT it has been an emotional rollercoaster with moments of self-doubt, anxiety and hideous imposter syndrome. This is when you need your closest writing buddies because they will be the ones who completely understand. Start building your communities now!

Highlight: Yvonne signing the writer's ladder in Edinburgh Bookshop


How did you feel when you heard you were going to be published? Can you remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard about your book deal? 

I cried. Then rang my husband. Then cried a bit more and danced around the kitchen. It was Lockdown January 2021 when everything seemed so bleak. I’d had a message from Penny Thomas at Firefly to say they were interested but it might take a few weeks for the team to read it, so I wasn’t expecting to get the email when I did. The email banner drifted across the top of my MacBook saying ‘Thanks for this, I’m afraid…’ so I sighed and opened the email BUT it was an offer! (Never trust those banners!)


What made you decide to give children’s writing a go? What mindset, or personal techniques kept you going? How old were you when you got your deal? 

I was 56 when I got my deal, 58 when I was published. I started writing to give myself some illustration ideas but writing took over. I knew it was time to make the switch when I was sat in a studio space in Leith, surrounded by gorgeous art supplies, spending all my time writing on my laptop. The universe was nudging me and finally, I listened. I took some creative writing courses at Edinburgh University Open Learning and joined SCBWI. SCBWI Scotland were so welcoming and supportive, they were my first friends in Edinburgh and that connection kept me going. I hadn’t considered my age versus the industry at this point and my SCBWI’s have never made me feel it was an issue.


More highlights: book signings (top) and picking up Yvonne's 
author pass for the Edinburgh International Book Festival 

Did you have a day job or career before you became a full-time writer?

Many and varied! Nurse, Illustrator, lecturer, then art club leader at an international school.


With the benefit of hindsight would you do anything differently?

I wish I’d started sooner, though seven years of writing to first publication isn’t bad! That said, maybe I just wasn’t ready. Growing up, being a writer was not in the stars for working class kids like me, but I’ve always loved reading and writing stories so maybe there’s been an inevitability to it after all. I would definitely not rush my first manuscript out to agents, a mistake I think lots of writers make in the early days.


What in your opinion are the benefits (and pitfalls) of writing/getting published when you’re older?

Time; it’s a benefit and a pitfall. I have time to read and write but my potential ‘career’ is shorter. Navigating social media is more challenging – you want to do it authentically but don’t want to look ‘tragic!’ I can be flexible with promotional stuff and have time for self-development but that can tumble into procrastination. I’d like to say I’m less anxious and care less about what other people think, but I’d be lying. A huge benefit is that I have time to appreciate it, and you must do that. Celebrate every tiny victory.


You are a keen walker/runner. How important is this do you think for mental well-being, not just as a writer?

Crucial. I get out in the morning light every day. I’m a chronic insomniac and those rays have healing powers! That can be challenging in Scotland but there’s a small woodland outside my door and I’m near some beautiful hills; many a plot hole has been solved by blue sky and endorphins.


I think older writers are often seen as hobbyists, but we’re as serious about our craft as anyone. I’ve noticed it most in group situations; the professionals gravitating toward the bright young things

Were there any organisations, mentors and/or books that you feel really helped in your goal of becoming a writer?

SCBWI BI Undiscovered Voices was career changing in terms of input, connections and learning about the industry. The Golden Egg Academy was massive in my writing development through courses and mentoring; Delores Mackenzie wasn’t my ‘Egg’ project, but I wouldn’t have got there without Imogen or Tilda. My go-to book is On Writing by Stephen King as it has a narrative, so doesn’t feel ‘teachy.’ I’m currently listening to Save the Cat Writes a Novel and I love Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Big Magic isn’t for everyone, but I love the ‘out there’ ideas she has about inspiration and what you do with it.


Did you ever feel you experienced ageism during the seven years before you became a published writer?

Not with my publisher (Firefly), but outside that, yes. It’s subtle; a feeling, a look. I think older writers are often seen as hobbyists, but we’re as serious about our craft as anyone. I’ve noticed it most in group situations; the professionals gravitating toward the bright young things. Look at the deals announced in the Bookseller, and you’ll see what I mean. The fact that so many people say ‘ahhh but Bonny Garmus,’ proves the point; one example from hundreds of books. I love it though when people are shocked by my chosen genre. I think I’m expected to write cosy stuff at my age, so I find that amusing.


Did you ever consider self-publishing?

Briefly but I’m not entrepreneurial enough. I admire people who do it, but it’s not for me.


I understand you’re writing another supernatural tale. Can you tell us more?!

Details coming soon, but it’s a dark Edinburgh haunting with a few familiar faces plus some new and very creepy ones. The new characters have been huge fun to write, and I can’t wait for them to get out into the world. My editor told me to stay the right side of terrifying and I hope I have! (Love that she thought I might not.)


What would you say to other older writers hoping to get published? 

It’s possible and it’s worth it. Be extra diligent with your research into agents and publishers and be meticulous with your submissions, so they can see quickly that you take your writing seriously. The story is the hook but be ready to show that you are as good a prospect as anyone else they’re speaking to. Lean into the resilience and the richness of experience that has got you this far in life because only we can tip the narrative. Silver Writers unite!


*Read the first interview with Em Lynas here


*Header image: in-house collaboration between Ell Rose and Tita Berredo; 
all other images courtesy of Yvonne Banham


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. Her debut novel The Dark and Dangerous Gifts of Delores Mackenzie published April 2023.


Françoise Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact at: deputyeditor@britishscbwi.org


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. Contact them at: illustrators@britishscbwi.org

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


1 comment:

  1. Inspirational words of advice . Bought your first book for my teenage granddaughter , now I am enjoying too.


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