So, it’s hard to believe, but Megaphone has come to an end. The year is completed and I will now be taking stock, evaluating and planning for the future. We have filmed footage of the writers for a short film which is in the editing process at the moment. The only element of the programme left outstanding is sending samples out to the editors, which will be done this week. The masterclasses and one-to-ones, the spine of the programme, are completed.
Megaphone can already point to material successes: two of the writers have secured representation by major agents with their completed novels – Danielle Jawando is now represented by Madeleine Milburn and Joyce Efia Harmer by Jo Unwin. The other writers have had keen interest from agents and publishers also, and short stories – in some cases their first publications – have been commissioned from the writers by the BBC, Aquila and Scoop. Megaphone had an incredibly well-attended final event at the London Book Fair, with plenty of positive attention and support, both for the Megaphone writers and for the programme itself, in the wake of it.
In the coming weeks, I will be evaluating the programme and asking the writers to tell me about the benefits to them, what they have learned and what they would have liked to be different. But in the mean-time I thought it would be good to reflect on my own feelings!
What have the benefits been to me?
Certainly, setting up a project like this without any previous experience has been a challenge, but it is one I have benefitted from enormously – I’ve learned about the process of setting up and managing a project from start to finish, and have come to feel it’s not too different from writing a novel!
Most importantly, I’ve had the pleasure and honour to be around as five unique and dazzling works of literature come into the world. I’ve met five incredible people – Danielle, Nafisa, Tina, Joyce and Avanti – whose stories deserve to be read, and I’ve seen them grow and flourish in confidence and skill to tell those stories. I admire the energy and the commitment that all these writers have brought to this year –in the face of many different challenges, they have never given up. It really feels as if all five writers have grown, and that development is exactly what I hoped to achieve with Megaphone: five writers who are more publishable and more likely to sustain a career in publishing after the programme than before – because they have more knowledge, improved skills and a better sense of the mental and emotional resilience needed to persist in the industry. Which is not to say that these writers couldn’t have got to this stage without Megaphone. But it’s a difficult and discouraging world out there for authors. Anyone who’s ever tried to describe the writing life to a new writer eager to embark on it, will know how hard it is to strike the right balance between being realistic and being discouraging. Sustained support and guidance is, I feel, the thing that can make the real difference. This year, the Megaphone writers have discovered that they can do it, they can write a novel, and they’ve developed a support network in each other that I hope will last their lifetimes, through all the ups and downs of a writing life. Writing in a community is something children’s literature does very well, and Megaphone continues that tradition.
Over the next few months, I will be evaluating Megaphone, and looking at ways in which the project can be honed and improved and potentially extended, without losing its core strength and focus. I will also need to identify future sources of funding (this year’s funding came from Arts Council England, The Publishers Association and a kind donation from Melissa Cox).
I will of course be following the progress of the Megaphone writers and hope to be able to share news of publication deals over the next few months. It’s a long game with no certainties, but I’m hopeful!
Writing West Midlands have been a constant support and we are planning an event with them as part of the Birmingham Book Festival this year, so keep an eye out for that in October. It has meant a lot to me that this has taken place in Birmingham. As a city, we have a lot in common with children’s literature in that we’re constantly looked down on by those who know little about us. We’re low on bookshops, hit by cuts, our libraries are disappearing; yet we are simultaneously a youthful, hopeful, exciting, entrepreneurial and ethnically diverse city –with a long history of world-changing invention. Megaphone is in the right place.
Long term, I hope that Megaphone can come to be seen as a place for agents and publishers to look when they want to find the best and most exciting new writing for children. It has been a fantastic year for BAME children’s authorship – with success in most of the major prizes and attention paid to glaring absences for the first year ever.. What I hope is that this year won’t be a one-off but a real sea-change in how the non-white experience in children’s literature is valued, understood and respected. And that Megaphone will be part of that sea-change.
– Leila Rasheed