On Friday night I went to a party. It was very glamorous, partly because it was held down the road from Claridges (just call me Lady Rose), and partly because it was filled with children’s writers, and when children’s writers party, we like to DRESS UP. Long dresses, high heels (some of which were removed in the course of the evening), net underskirts, matching rose-embellished gloves and earrings, hats … We don’t limit our imaginations to our books.
Even children’s publishers bring a certain sartorial je ne sais quoi to the occasion. (In the case of mine, Barry Cunningham – the famous discoverer of Harry Potter, it happens to be his hat.)
This party was special because it was celebrating two years of a new venture founded by my former editor, Imogen Cooper, to encourage promising unpublished children’s writers, and give them editorial help. It’s called the Golden Egg Academy, and it’s already produced Lisa Williamson’s The Art of Being Normal, for example, about a transgender teen, which has just been published to some fantastic reviews.
Most of all, what I love about Golden Egg is the camaraderie between all the members. They know they have each other to talk to, laugh with and rely on, throughout the scary process of writing and then trying to find an agent and get published. And they know how to party. Mind you, during the speeches, sharing your work with professionals was likened to walking naked through Tesco. So we all went away with that lovely image in our minds …
The GEA didn’t exist when I was writing my first books – the 3 that didn’t get published, and the one that eventually did. I was very much on my own, trying to work it out as I went along. My lucky break came with the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition, which actively looks for unpublished children’s writers. The longlist for 2015 has just been announced, and the prize is a publishing contract. If you’re trying to break into writing, then (obviously) I can’t recommend competitions enough. They’re a great way to get noticed, and actually just having a deadline, and the knowledge that a professional is going to read your work, is a big help to focusing your mind.
Here I am with three of Imogen’s other authors from her Chicken House days: Janet Foxley, who won the year after me with Muncle Trogg, Pat Walsh, who was shortlisted and still got a publishing deal with The Crowfield Curse (what I love about the Chicken House prize is that you don’t need to win to win). And Rachel Ward, who did it the traditional way, and has had international bestselling success with the Numbers series.
We’re incredibly lucky (and often incredibly moany) that writing is now our job. It was inspirational to be surrounded by dozens of writers who are devoting themselves to their passion, even though they’re uncertain of what the outcome will be. I spent so many years wanting to be a published writer and not knowing if it would ever happen that a part of me will always feel that way.
And so, if you’re writing that book … I wish you all the luck in the world. I hope you find an agent, a publisher, a reader, who sees its spark and falls in love with it. And meanwhile, I hope you’ve found a group of like-minded friends to help you through the ‘naked in Tesco’ part.
And if you’re a reader, then THANK YOU! Because in the end, we couldn’t do it if it wasn’t for you.