A young adult novel about schooldays in north Wales, an illustrated story for younger readers, and ‘a darkly comic tale of what it means to be alive, 17 and living in Port Talbot’ will be the first three titles in a forthcoming series of Wales-based children’s and YA literature from Firefly Press.

The first three signings in this series are Patience Agbabi, Zillah Bethell and Emma-Jane Smith-Barton. The books will publish from autumn 2024 onwards, and it is hoped that there will be at least another three in the series of contemporary Welsh children’s fiction.

‘We felt there was a lack of children’s and YA stories that reflect what it is like to live in or grow up in Wales in recent times,’ said Thomas. ‘When we approached established authors about this, we were thrilled with the hugely positive reaction from writers who may never have been asked to write about this part of their experience before! We are also looking at publishing them simultaneously in Welsh, to ensure as wide a reach as possible. All this has been made possible by New Audiences Fund from Creative Wales and the Books Council of Wales, and we can’t wait to read the results!

Born in Papua New Guinea, Zillah Bethell has lived in south Wales for many years. Patience Agbabi was born in London and attended secondary school in Colwyn Bay, north Wales, while Emma-Jane Smith-Barton is from south Wales.

Patience Agbabi is the author of four critically acclaimed poetry collections and three middle-grade novels one of which, The Infinite, (Canongate, 2020) won the Wales Book of the Year: Children & Young People category.

She said: ‘I’m delighted to be working on a young adult novel with Firefly. I first got into literature and popular culture at school in north Wales so I can’t wait to recreate that setting through my fictional protagonists.’

Emma-Jane Smith-Barton studied English and Creative Writing (BA) at the University of Warwick and has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. Her short stories have appeared in various publications such as Mslexia and The Bristol Short Story Prize anthology (under a pseudonym for her adult writing), and in 2017 she was one of twelve writers chosen from over 2,000 applications for WriteNow, a scheme run by Penguin Random House to increase diversity in literature.

Her first novel, The Million Pieces of Neena Gill was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Award, the Branford Boase Award and the Romantic Novelist’s Association Debut Romantic Novel Award.

Growing up between cultures in south Wales has heavily influenced her writing and she is especially interested in exploring themes of identity and belonging. Before writing, she taught in secondary schools for six years, and is passionate about increasing awareness of mental health in young people.

Emma will be writing an illustrated story for 7-9 year-old readers, set in Wales. She said: ‘As a Welsh-Pakistani woman I would have loved a book like this when I was growing up, to help me navigate the difficulties (and discover the beauty) of belonging to more than one culture, and I hope it will help children in a similar position to feel seen and less alone in that challenge.’

Zillah Bethell lives in the south Wales valleys with her partner and two children. She has written some four books for adults and four middle-grade titles for children, including The Shark Caller (Usborne 2021) which was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award.

Her as yet untitled YA novel for Firefly is set in Port Talbot, and features protagonist Apricot Jones. Zillah describes it as: ‘A darkly comic tale of what it means to be alive, 17 and living in Port Talbot!’

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