There are many routes to publication and Debut Journeys aims to celebrate them all. This month Mario Ambrosi talks to AJ Clack whose Lie or Die was published on 7 March by Firefly Press.


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

I am sitting in my office with the dogs in the corner. I do most of my writing here or in the car while waiting for the kids to finish one activity or another!

What’s it about?

Lie or Die is a dark and twisty YA Thriller that’s set in a reality TV game show, based on the popular party game Mafia. The Traitors meets Big Brother, it’s a murder-mystery game in which the innocent Players must find the killer Agents before they are murdered in their sleep. It follows 17-year-old Kass, who is persuaded to audition by her fame-hungry friend Thea. Once in the game, Kass realises that everything is not as it seems and, when the housemates start dying for real, the game becomes a fight for survival.

Kass must catch the killer or die trying. Reality Television just got real.


Tell us about your route to publication

I started writing properly about seven years ago. Before then I had studied playwrighting, written plays in my university days and had been commissioned to write a play for the Edinburgh Festival which ran for two years. I have also worked on children’s TV pilots and voice/overs and some development scripts. But when my children were young I stopped writing completely.

I decided to try to write a novel and when I had finished, I had no idea what to do with it! I sent out some extremely cringe-worthy submissions, then some slightly better ones and did get some agent interest – but, despite thinking I had totally made it, nothing came of it. 

I started to learn my trade. I read – a lot, fiction and non-fiction, did courses, went to various conferences, joined SCBWI, met writers in the same position, and began to build a support system of brilliant authors-to-be around me who became fantastic friends. 

I was accepted into the GEA Foundations and worked with them on a new novel which did really well and got me an agent. That novel went out on submission to publishers the very same week the UK went into lockdown – the timing could not have been worse. Sadly, that novel got lost in the Covid ether and my agent and I parted ways. I was completely devastated and had no idea what to do next, or if I even wanted there to be another ‘next’.

After a while feeling very sorry for myself and wondering whether I was really cut out for the world of publishing I decided to give it one more go. I wrote the first chapter of Lie or Die. This coincided with a Words & Pictures First 100 Words Competition, so with nothing to lose I entered and won.
This gave me the confidence to carry on and write a bit more.

My writer friends encouraged me to submit the opening to the Undiscovered Voices Competition 2022. I only had a beginning at this point, but I thought that entering would give me the momentum and the motivation to continue and finish the manuscript (something I wouldn’t recommend doing btw – waaay too stressful!).

It worked!

I finished the first draft the same week I got a call from the UV judges to say I had been long-listed – and then shortlisted. There was a mad panic then to get the manuscript into shape before the anthology came out.

My now agent read my extract in the anthology, got in touch, and the rest is history!

AJ Clack's debut novel, published by Firefly Press

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I have four kids, so I spend a lot of time on the side of rugby or football pitches. I love walking my dogs and reading (not at the same time!). I enjoy gaming — board games like Catan, Azul, and Silver Bullet, and playing console games with my daughter. I also love watching films and, of course, lots of reality TV!

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?

I think myself to be honest! I had a lot of imposter syndrome and found it hard to overcome this and to enjoy the process. It’s taken a while and it still sits on my shoulder from time to time whispering in my ear, but I am learning to handle it better and take time to enjoy the achievements.

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

Don’t give up!  It’s a hard road we’ve chosen and it’s not easy. I think you need to have a certain amount of stubbornness to get through and to keep picking yourself back up. If I had given up during Covid I wouldn’t be writing this now and if I can do it, anyone can. Also, don’t try to do this alone, find your people, join crit groups, talk to other writers, have critique partners, and nurture your support group.

What’s next for you?

I am working on something new but I can’t tell you about it at the moment – sorry!!


*Header image: Shannon Ell & Tita Berredo



AJ Clack moved from a small village in Wales to London to pursue a career in television. She worked on a huge range of shows from Teletubbies to Friends, while also writing plays for the Edinburgh Fringe and developing scripts/pilots for children’s television. She now lives in Essex with a handful of teenagers and can often be found freezing on the side of a football pitch. 



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 or find him on X: @marioambrosi

1 comment:

  1. What a fabulous story concept - I enjoyed this interview so much, and it's not often I crack up on a Monday afternoon! Well done AJ - and good luck!


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