Ever since I was little, I’ve loved writing stories. My first-ever book was one I stapled together from printer paper and painstakingly illustrated it myself. It was about a worm, called “He Will”, who liked helping his friends (hence his name, “He Will Worm” – which if read a certain way, sounds more like a threat than a name!) I have also always had a fascination for vampires, and between devouring “The Little Vampire” series by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg, frequently ran around our social housing estate wearing bin-bag vampire capes adorned with glued-on tin-foil stars (thanks Mum!)

Last year, I took a chance and applied for a writing development programme run by Stories of Care. Stories of Care is an organisation set up by BAFTA-Award winner Sophie Willan, and the development programme was exclusively for aspiring young writers with care-experienced or low-income backgrounds. It had Lead Artist Oliver Sykes at its helm, and the team aimed to guide selected new writers to produce a short story for children and publish them in an anthology in 2022. This June, our debut stories were indeed published in “Tales of the Bold, the Brave and the Beautiful”, alongside exclusive stories from YA author Danielle Jawando (“And The Stars Were Burning Brightly”, 2020) and children’s poet and performer Dominic Berry.

When I was accepted onto the programme, my partner Jenn and I danced with joy around our kitchen! But even then, I had no idea how much I would grow as a person and a writer by taking part in the Stories of Care workshops. I have met such wonderful writers and creatives from across the country and learned so much from this process. My fellow debut writers and I worked alongside one another to create heart-felt, authentic stories for children, each inspired by our own experiences.

My story for this collection is “Vampire Hunter Jess”. It follows 10-year-old Jess, who is convinced that her new neighbour, Ellie, is a vampire. She sets out to prove it, gets into a whole muddle of mischief, and ends up making an unlikely friend. It is told through a 50/50 mixture of general prose and unanswered text messages Jess sends to her mum. I was unsure of my style choice at first – I simply wrote it in a frenzied passion, sent it in, and prayed I wouldn’t be told to change everything and tell it normally (whatever that means!) To my surprise, Oliver and the editorial team met me with avid enthusiasm. Not only did my experiment work – it resulted in a piece to be celebrated!

Becca Horswill, the designer I was paired with, did incredible work emphasising the text messaging aspects of the story on the page. And Richard Watson, our illustrator, brought Jess’s adventures to life perfectly.

The lead-up to the book’s release date in June was beyond exciting. I took part in an interview with State of the Arts, and we got word that none other than Jacqueline Wilson had sent us a quote of endorsement for our collection. She had read our stories and called them fantastic! I’m still speechless now – I spent my whole childhood within her worlds, and now here she was, within mine!

In May 2022, I was invited to read Vampire Hunter Jess for the Pride in Trafford Festival in my hometown of Sale, Manchester. This was the first time I’d ever done anything like this (due to anxiety and then-undiagnosed autism, I was unable to complete my Speaking Exam in English in secondary school!) but, with Oliver’s guidance and the unending support of my family and friends, I was able to fully enjoy performing this reading, and doing so enabled me to challenge my own perceptions of what I am truly capable of.

June 4th 2022 was the launch evening of “Tales of the Bold, the Brave, and the Beautiful”, and the entire night was magical. It was a true triumph to see everyone after so many months apart and celebrate our achievement together. Each of us recited extracts from our stories, to whoops and applause from a cram-packed audience. And there was no greater indicator of what I’d achieved than when, afterwards, young girls sought me out in the crowd to softly ask me to sign their books. I signed my name: “Emmy”, with a long-tailed “y” which I transformed into a fanged smile. Dream fulfilled… more of the same, please!

Alongside writing, earlier this year I fulfilled another dream of mine by joining Booka’s brilliant team as a Bookseller. I love every moment of my role, and this is in no small part due to the warm environment Booka (and Oswestry as a whole) fosters and cultivates. When Carrie and Ruth suggested that I read a short teaser extract of “Vampire Hunter Jess” at Booka to round off Independent Bookshop Week, I was delighted, grateful, and very moved. I have only stepped into Oswestry’s community from Manchester within the past year, and something I fell in love with at once was the vibrant, welcoming community. Writing can be a lonely endeavour but surrounded as I am on all corners by fellow book lovers, I am no longer as solitary a creature as I once was. Like Jess in my story, I’m being bold and brave… and isn’t that all quite beautiful? (…see what I did there?)

Thank you all for the part you’ve played in welcoming me here, Oswestry!

  • Emmy