There are many routes to publication and Debut Journeys aims to celebrate them all. This month Mario Ambrosi talks to Sue H Cunningham whose novel, Totally Deceased, is out now from Scholastic UK.

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

I’m currently curled up on the sofa, which is also where I tend to write, with a dog snoozing on my feet. 

I’m not a desk person – I tend to monopolise one end of the sofa with a pile of books, magazines and notebooks on the floor beside me. I always write straight to laptop but also have random bits of paper with scribbled sentences lying around the house – I note things down as inspiration strikes but my handwriting is so awful I’m lucky if I can work out what I’ve written by the next day! My very patient husband has learnt not to throw anything away.

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

Totally Deceased is a funny supernatural YA murder mystery where seventeen-year-old Jess wakes from an emergency heart transplant to find she’s being haunted by her donor. High-maintenance, trust-fund teen Tilly is convinced she was murdered and refuses to rest in peace until Jess agrees to help solve the mystery behind her untimely death.

Tell us about your route to publication.

I wrote a lot as a child but then only really picked it up again when my own children were babies. I started off writing short fiction for magazines and then eventually progressed into full length novels. 

The first was a romcom for grown-ups, (I’m slightly allergic to the term 'adult fiction' as it sounds so much ruder than it is!), but once I started writing YA I felt really at home. 

I had a lot of nearly theres with a previous YA which longlisted for Bath and won the Write Mentor Children’s Novel Award in 2020. This led to a fair bit of agent interest and full manuscript requests but, sadly, that book didn’t move forwards. I sulked for a while but eventually picked myself up again to write the new manuscript which would become Totally Deceased

This one shortlisted for Northern Writers and then, in 2021, I was super lucky to be chosen for the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices Anthology 2022. I then signed with my fabulous agent Rachel Petty at The Blair Partnership and we got an early offer for a two-book deal from Yasmin Morrissey at Scholastic. Yasmin had already read the opening as one of the judging panel for Undiscovered Voices so she was a great champion for the book from the start!

Cover of Totally Deceased

What do you do when you’re not writing?

In my day job I’m kept pretty busy working for the NHS. When I’m not writing I enjoy walking the dog, watching films/TV and reading. One of the best things about being published is being sent free books to review – a dream come true! I also love live music and theatre and you can’t beat a lie in on the weekends!

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?

The biggest bump with this book was sitting down to get the first words onto the page. Because of all the nearly theres with the previous manuscript I’ll admit I’d got a bit dispirited with it all. I hate the first draft but, once I have something to work with, I enjoy the editing process. Things moved fairly smoothly once I had a completed manuscript and, because it hadn’t already done the rounds with agents, I had a lovely clean slate for the submission process after UV2022.

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

Don’t be on your own – reach out and ask for help. There are lots of free opportunities and the writing community is one of the most welcoming spaces both online and in person, (especially the lovely people involved with SCBWI). Get yourself a critique partner  or more than one, if you’re greedy like me! 

Giving and receiving feedback is a great way to learn how to edit your own work and to practise accepting constructive criticism with good grace. I still find critiquing others’ work really helps me to spot the flaws in my own writing. And, as a debut, I’ve found the support of other debut writers invaluable – boosting each other, sharing the highs and lows and helping one another demystify the publishing process.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on book two for the fabulous team at Scholastic. Totally Deceased is a standalone so the new book will have a different setting with new characters but I’m aiming for a similar fun vibe with humour and some supernatural stuff thrown in!

*Header image: Ell Rose and Tita Berredo



Sue Cunningham writes YA with humour and a hint of magic. She lives in a Manchester man-cave with her husband, sons and a super-clingy cockapoo. When she’s not writing or tripping over electric guitar cables, she works for the NHS. 

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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. 

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

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