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Maisie Chan reflects on her year as the Dr Gavin Wallace Fellow 2020

Last Wednesday, we launched the Dr Gavin Wallace Fellowship for 2021. This prestigious opportunity is aimed at mid-career writers and we are looking for applicants. You could receive a bespoke package of training and development as well as a £20,000 stipend.

As we await the appointment of the 2021 Fellow, it is a good opportunity to hear about some of the amazing work produced by our 2020 Fellow, children’s author Maisie Chan.

Read on to learn more about her very productive year and to receive her advice for any 2021 applicants.

Maisie ChanHeadshot of Maisie Chan (photo credit: Maisie Chan)

“In February and March 2020, when we were finding out that our lives would change forever, I found out that I had been awarded the Dr Gavin Wallace Fellowship funded by Creative Scotland and the host organisation was Peter Pan Moat Brae. I couldn’t believe it!

It was a career highlight for me. It felt like recognition of all of those years I’d invested in myself as a creative writer and it was coming at a time when I knew that prejudice and hate against people who look like me would increase because people want scapegoats. In my mind, I was thinking to myself… “I won’t be chosen because I don’t look like a children’s author.”

But being chosen helped me feel more confident about presenting myself as a children’s author and being proud that I break the mould and that I come with perhaps a different set of ideals or goals.

I’d always wanted to be a writer in residence, and the ironic thing was that we were in lockdown — so I was a resident of my four walls! I was hoping to spend time at Moat Brae, they had a little room all ready for me but alas, I only got to go there once. The brief was to be inspired by the Neverland Discovery Garden but I wasn’t able to go until August 2020.


Moat BraePhoto of Moat Brae (photo credit: Maisie Chan)

So, the focus of the residency was my creative practice and that was what I put my energy into. In my interview, I told the panel that I had three areas I wanted to explore. One was grief, the second was writing more fantastical books with portals and magic, and my third focus was on learning more about writing picture books.

My output was good even though we were in lockdown and I had a house full of family members. We were trying to work out how to be together during a very difficult time. Usually, I would go away to write or find a local café, none of that was possible.

However, during my fellowship, I did three picture book courses online with CITY LIT based in London. They were courses that ordinarily I wouldn’t have been able to attend due to my location. Yet, somehow, the pandemic opened up online doors for those of us with childcare needs or those with disabilities or chronic illnesses. I have come to the conclusion that picture books are the hardest to write out of all of children’s literature! They need to be perfectly formed and I am a scrappy writer, especially in my early drafts as I need time to work things out and to find the story.

During the year, I also worked on edits for Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths (which is out in June 2021 with Piccadilly Press) and I wrote two Chinese fantasy chapter books with portals and magic (Tiger Warrior - out with Hachette in July 2021). I also wrote three picture books which I am hoping to publish soon.

Danny Chung does not do mathsCover image for ‘Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths’ (image credit: Picadilly Press)

I wrote some stories for Peter Pan Moat Brae - one was about grief and it was inspired by the ghostly figures that were dotted around the Neverland Discovery garden like ghosts of children from the past. It was called A Tree for Nanny Barton and Moat Brae have recorded it for their social media channel. I also wrote three monologues for them to use during the Wild Goose Festival. I did manage to visit for one weekend in August 2020 and all of the staff were fantastic.

I also got to chat with Flora, who is the chair at Moat Brae and she shared with me interviews she had done with people connected with the building. That and my own visit inspired an idea for a middle-grade novel set in the past but with magical elements and time travel.

I also had some success with screenwriting as I was one of the Sharp Shorts awardees and the short film I wrote was filmed with funding from BFI and Screen Scotland in March 2021. I was also a BEATS screenwriting fellow and mentored by Emma Reeves who writes for CBBC (The Worst Witch, Tracy Beaker).

My advice for those applying to be the next Dr Gavin Wallace Fellow is to be clear on what you would like to achieve in your creative practice.

I was specific about what I wanted to explore in my practice over the course of a year. I wanted to look at the theme of grief but I also had concrete notions about wanting to learn more about picture books. And why did I want to learn more about picture books? Because I don’t see any British East Asian or Southeast Asian children in picture books, so I wanted to see if I could write something that would help fill that void.

I would also say be confident in who you are as a writer. I was told I was chosen because I took being a children’s author seriously. I do. I laid it out in simple terms - this is what I currently do, and this is what I would like to do."

Read more from our Literature team on the Creative Scotland Literature blog.

This article was published on 01 Jun 2021