Spotlights tell you more about the people involved in Megaphone: writers, editors and agents.
Kirsten Armstrong (@K_L_Armstrong) is one of the editors who is generously donating her time to help select the applicants for Megaphone and to deliver final feedback on the manuscripts. She has worked at Random House Children’s Publishers since 2011, on the prestigious David Fickling Books imprint and across the list more generally. She also has special responsibility for managing the Tamarind fiction list, an imprint which aims to redress the balance of diversity in children’s publishing and which publishes wonderful authors including Jamila Gavin, Candy Gourlay, Malorie Blackman, Bali Rai, Narinder Dhami and Crystal Chan. She has been a strong advocate for diversity in publishing for a long time, and sits on Penguin Random House’s Diversity Task Force.
So, what is Kirsten looking for? If she could order the perfect unpublished children’s or YA book to arrive on her desk tomorrow morning, ready for her to edit and send into the world, what would that book be like?
Kirsten: “My two favourite books are Junk by Melvin Burgess and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, because both are brilliantly written, have strong characters and pack an emotional punch. They tackle difficult subjects and are not afraid to challenge the reader, but are written beautifully and have a deftness of touch. I would love to find a writer who is an expert storyteller, able to captivate, challenge and surprise me with their narrative, and make me really root for their characters.”
With responsibility for Tamarind Press, Kirsten has a great opportunity for insight into diversity in children’s literature. I asked her: what one thing does she believe is most needed, to improve diversity and equality in the children’s book world? What project, initiative or change of approach would really make a difference?
Kirsten: “I think the publishing industry has turned a corner recently – three years ago, it was really difficult to find a submission that featured BAME main characters, but thanks to movements like ‘We Need Diverse Books’ I am seeing so many more. However, there is definitely still work to be done, particularly in terms of ensuring diversity within the writing community, not just within the pages of books. Megaphone excites me because I think the industry really needs a mentoring scheme like this. I think a project like Megaphone could make a huge difference, in terms of coaching talented new writers to develop and prepare their work for submission. Getting an agent or a publishing deal is tough, but I hope that by having an industry professional to mentor a writer through the process and impart practical advice this would help to encourage more BAME voices in children’s literature.”
Many thanks to Kirsten for her support!
Note: Tamarind Press was originally an independent publisher, started by Verna Wilkins who is something of a legend in publishing: I strongly recommend reading The Right To Be Seen, Verna’s 2008 Patrick Hardy lecture, in which she describes why she set up Tamarind Press. http://www.tamarindbooks.co.uk/downloads/tamarind_righttobeseen.pdf