So, the past week may have been the busiest so far in this round of Megaphone delivery. Actually a lot (LOT – I’m going to do a free webinar on this topic) of the work takes place before the project even starts, in making the funding application – but aside from that, these days of reading all the applications, agonising over which to shortlist, are intense. This is the first time we’ve also tried to give every eligible applicant a little feedback, and that too has been demanding, with 60 eligible applicants. The emails inviting people to the Community strand are going out today, and the editors have all made their rankings, so on Monday I look forward to contacting and announcing the mentees! If you were not successful this time, please don’t be discouraged – I can’t stress enough how subjective writing competitions always are, which is exactly why this time round we created Community. See you there!
Quick update to let you all know that we have, with great difficulty, selected 10 of the 60 wonderful applications we received to send on to the editors. The shortlisted writers have been informed this morning via email. CONGRATULATIONS YOU STARS!
We will also send an email out to those who didn’t make it on this occasion. If that is you, please don’t be disheartened. We always get more good applications than we have space to mentor, and it doesn’t mean your writing isn’t good or won’t succeed elsewhere. With that in mind, I wanted to share a little about the process:
We look first and foremost at the quality of the writing sample. But what does quality mean? For me, I look for a voice that’s so much fun to read that I forget I’m reading it ‘for work’. Story-telling ability; something that makes me believe I’m there, with those people. A sense of tension and the drama in all kinds of moments.
The paragraph of ideas matters because it shows the reader whether you have a sense of where the book is going. Are there any surprises? Good surprises or just surprising surprises? We look at this second, to get more context on the whole book you want to write, and whether it seems as if you’ll be able to complete it to a publishable standard in a year (the aim of the mentoring). We also think about whether the story might work differently – whether certain editorial suggestions might make sense, for example, pitching it at a different age range.
The letter of application gives us more of a sense of where you’re coming from and where you want to get to – and we might find out from it that an applicant isn’t eligible (for example, being under 18 – please see the FAQs on this website). We don’t get many ineligible applications.
Finally, on a personal note, I just loved reading all your samples, and also all your letters of application. It was moving and empowering for me to realise that there are people out there, who I don’t know at all, who agree with me about the kind of stories and perspectives that are missing from our bookshelves – and how important it is to tell those stories, and how much we want to read them and have them to pass on to the next generation. I couldn’t put every sample I loved on the shortlist, but I do hope to keep connecting with you all via the Community strand. Keep writing!
– Leila Rasheed
Look what came through the post – a proof copy of DANNY CHUNG DOES NOT DO MATHS by Maisie Chan! I can’t wait to read this! Maisie’s voice is full of humour and warmth and I always loved her work when I mentored her. After setting up her own mentoring group, Bubble Tea, Maisie is returning as a mentor for Megaphone, and will be mentoring one BESEA writer in 2021. #DannyChung @PiccadillyPress @MaisieWrites https://www.maisiechan.com/
Pre-order now! Out 10th June 2021.
Golden Egg Academy are supporting Megaphone writers with an offer of one free place on their September 2021, 12-week course to an unsuccessful applicant.
We’re thrilled that GEA, led by Imogen Cooper, have just donated a free place on their September 12 week course to one applicant to Megaphone.
We already know we will get more excellent and deserving applications that we have space to mentor. Our Community strand helps us go on supporting people even if we can’t mentor them this year, and this 12-week course will be an extra offer to one applicant who is not on our 1-1 Mentoring scheme. Many thanks to GEA for supporting children’s writers of colour – and if you want to know more, there is still time to sign up for the Honkference this weekend!
Children’s Books North offer mentoring for anyone who wants to break into the children’s publishing industry and lives in the NE, NW, Yorkshire or Scotland. Deadline is 29th January 2021. Find out more here: https://childrensbooksnorth.blogspot.com/2020/11/mentor-scheme.html
I’m really excited to confirm our first three masterclass leaders – Sharna Jackson (High Rise Mystery, Mic Drop), Patrice Lawrence (Rat, Eight Pieces of Silva, Granny Ting Ting) and Bali Rai (Rani and Sukh, Mohinder’s War, Now or Never) . Find full details on this page: https://megaphonewrite.com/megaphone-masterclass-leaders-2021/
There is no doubt that our masterclass leaders are some of the best, most exciting and experienced writers for children and teenagers working today. I am delighted that they’ve agreed to be involved in Megaphone and to share what they have learned during the writing journey we are all on. More leaders will be announced shortly!
Megaphone is open for applications until 31st January 2021. The website has been updated with details of our mentors and I’ll be adding more information about the editors and authors who are supporting us in the next few days.
Happy new year! I really do hope that 2021 will be happy, or at least happier than 2020 (can’t be hard, can it). It feels as if over the past 12 months, life has simultaneously shrunk – so many activities that we used to enjoy have vanished – and expanded like some sort of nightmarish wave, overwhelming us with concern for our friends and relatives, work worries, child-care, home education, Zoom fatigue… It is fair to say that hasn’t been the year any of us wanted. I am excited however to be able to offer one opportunity at least in 2021 – support for writers of colour who want to create great stories for children. These stories – YOUR stories – will not stop being wanted and needed just because of this virus.
I’m so aware that the full effects of the pandemic on society and on emerging writers won’t be known for many months or even years in the future. There will be an effect though; it seems impossible that there wouldn’t. I would like to know how the pandemic has affected children’s writers of colour – emerging and published- in particular. Yesterday I tweeted a poll asking whether writers have found it harder or easier to write in 2020. So far the majority is ‘harder’ but there’s a significant minority for ‘easier’. So far around 64% have said it was harder, 25 % easier. What was your experience?
Yesterday both CLPE and Book Trust released their most recent research into representation of authors and characters from ethnic minorities in British children’s literature. This is important work, creating a base of data that can be used to support writers and create better literature for children. Read them here:
The general conclusion both reports draw is that while there has been an improvement in representation of authors (Book Trust Represents) and characters (CLPE) of colour, there is much work still to be done. I’ve read both reports and here are my reflections.
Debut creators of colour are embarking on an exciting but very difficult journey
“There has been a clear increase in the number of debut British creators of colour published since 2007. The number more than doubled from 10 debut creators of colour in 2007 to 24 in 2019.” – Book Trust Represents
More people of colour being published for the first time in children’s literature is a very good thing, but context and detail is all. Book Trust also reported the important fact that:“It is important to note that a large proportion of these debut creators continued to be self-published/published by a hybrid publisher”
Although there are benefits to being self/ micro published, self-publishers and those published by very small presses, may experience more barriers to reaching wide audiences and high sales. It is therefore concerning if the increase in debut creators of colour is mostly in these areas.
Overall, opportunities for anyone to be published in children’s and YA literature are apparently narrowing:
“…there has been a steady decrease in the number of all titles, unique titles and number of creators since 2015. This decline in the number of titles and creators being published continued in 2018 and 2019.” – Book Trust Represents
The natural publishing timeline means that many authors and creators who were first commissioned back in 2017, 2018 are releasing their debut books in 2020 – the year of the pandemic, disruption in schools and libraries, closed bookshops, cancelled school visits and many other factors making it harder than ever for debut authors to be discovered by readers. Moreover, the impact of Covid-19 on ethnic minorities has been especially high. This is a challenging time to be a debut creator of colour.
One of my tutors on the creative writing MA at Warwick once told me: “It’s not getting published that’s the problem; it’s staying published.” As an unpublished writer, I didn’t understand this. Fifteen years later, I most certainly do. An steady increase in debut creators is great. A steady churn of debut creators – where your first contract is your last – is not. It’s not yet clear which we are seeing. To make long-term change, publishers will need to make long-term investments in and committments to creators of colour so they can not just start, but sustain, a career.
British writers of colour are under-represented: a minority within a minority?
The latest figures from Dr Melanie Ramdarshan-Bold’s research into representation of people of colour as writers of YA literature, showed a steady increase since 2017, with the percentage of YA authors of colour at nearly 20% in 2019. Yet UK YA writers of colour were a mere 5.95%. Similar statistics are evident today in Book Trust’s interim report which covers all age groups: a rise in people of colour creating children’s and YA books, from 5.58% of creators (2017) to 8.68 % (2019), but 1.98% (2017) to 2.86% (2019) when you count only British creators.
Why does this matter? Well firstly because the preponderance of authors from elsewhere than the UK strongly suggests that publishers are choosing to buy in ‘oven-ready’ books from a different country rather than nurture writers here in the UK . That is a quick fix, not systemic change. It does not empower emerging UK writers of colour. In fact, it may take one of those diminishing opportunities to be published away from them. Publishers should consider looking down the street before they look across the pond.
Secondly, young UK readers need books that reflect their lives in all their regional diversity. Of course we want to see children’s books from all over the world, but not if it continues to present a narrative in which those with brown skins are foreigners. One of the great things about Danielle Jawando’s AND THE STARS WERE SHINING BRIGHTLY was its setting in Wythenshawe. Children’s literature needs to celebrate the diversity of people of colour of all backgrounds, classes and in all regions of the UK.
In conclusion, it’s great to see the improvements, but I don’t see evidence of significant systemic change happening yet. The important reports published yesterday are part of a process . I look forward to following the research through years to come so we can get a clear image of where we are, and a map of where we want to be.