This summer, we’re handing the blog to our mentees so they can introduce themselves and their writing. Read on and find out more about the person who could be your next favourite writer!
Hi, I’m Munira Jannath. I’m from a little estate in Hackney, my home for 20+ years. I work in education and will complete my teacher training next year. I have always worked in schools in boroughs that reflect the demographics I “belong to” in one way or the other and that’s where my love for stories and need for storytelling grew.
Growing up I felt stories weren’t written about people like me, a British Bangladeshi Muslim girl, who had a flair for adventure and troublemaking, wanting to study my way out of poverty while facing the kinds the problems most kids in children’s books faced. I still can’t swim and can barely ride a bike but I graduated at least!
I feel some what fortunate to start writing a middle grade novel now and not when the idea for my first story came to me years ago. In the past four years I have seen covers that reflect and represent characters I dreamt of getting to know since when I was old enough to read… Hurrah! I have also found my own reasons to write and to keep writing (Yay!). That’s where my journey with Megaphone started!
My story is about 10 year old Rubi, a Muslim Bengali girl, who is trying to reclaim her family after her home life turns on its head. Mum has depression, dad has turned part time after getting a full time job, Nanu is getting older and her kind of perfect sister gets all the attention! Rubi and her cat side-kick Winnie find themselves in lots of adventures and trouble trying to make everything better!
I am excited to work with Megaphone! Having the opportunity to work through the internal and externals problems I face writing Rubi with an experienced and empathetic mentor is invaluable! Megaphone understands the need to support marginalised writers but also understands what it means to be one too. So far, I have had support with structuring, planning and getting the words written for my first draft. I can’t wait to have a complete story by the end!
We’re really happy to announce we’re working with RCW Literary Agency and Knights Of to support new children’s/ YA writers of colour. Their workshop will reserve 15 places for existing Megaphone Community members and offer a further 15 places to new attendees.
Megaphone Community is a community of practice for writers of colour who want to write for children or teenagers. It was first offered to support everyone who applied for Megaphone mentoring this year. Last time we ran the mentoring scheme, I hated the thought of saying ‘No’ to so many people, and as a writer, I knew how frustrating it was to apply for competetive schemes and get nowhere. I also knew that for writers of colour working in children’s literature, it was often quite isolating. So Community was designed to offer an online space for every applicant to get some ongoing support: a well to dip into when necessary, a place to ask questions and talk about writing. There’s a programme of free events (all online, we use Band https://band.us/ and Zoom to deliver Megaphone Community at the moment), including six IN CONVERSATIONS with people like Serena Patel and Jasmine Richards. Stephanie King, Usborne Commissioning Editor, is available fortnightly to answer any questions about publishing you might have, no matter how daft you might think them! These are recorded, so if you join in September you can watch them back. Following a survey of what members want, we’re starting to offer individualised feedback on submission packages and regular Writers’ Surgeries, too. Most importantly, Community will keep on evolving – and you could be a part of it.
I am delighted to pledge Megaphone’s support to Inclusion Labs’ DECADE OF DIVERSITY initiative. We will share our learning from working with writers of colour- who all love children’s and YA books, and who were all reading children once – to support the initiative for more diverse literature in schools. Where we can- our capacity as a small Arts Council England National Lottery funded project allowing – we will be delighted to support schools that are committed to change, to understand more about how readers and writers of colour grow, and about the importance of diverse books. What I love about the initative is the understanding that we need to take strategic action to make a fairer world, and also the acknowledgement of the enormous influence that schools, and children’s books, have on children’s developing mental health. The books schools put in front of their children, and the ways in which they are used, matter so much. I read pasionately as a child, but never found myself in stories. Research repeatedly shows that reading for pleasure in childhood correlates with later success and happiness in all areas of life. We need to make it as easy as possible for all children to develop that love of literature and the confidence that comes from seeing yourself honoured as the centre of a story. I encourage all schools and all teachers to audit their libraries, look at the messages that their book stock is giving out, and pledge 25% diverse literature in schools by 2030. Governing boards too should work towards diversity so that they can truly represent every child in their school. You can read more here: https://www.inclusionlabs.org/partnerwithus
“In 2019 33.5% of the school population were of minority ethnic origins, in stark contrast only 5% of children’s books had an ethnic minority main character.”
We’re really happy to say that after discussions with mentors and consulting with our funders, Arts Council England, we have decide we have the capacity to add a further mentoring place for a shortlisted writer. Abimbola Fashola is our seventh mentee and we’re so excited to be working on her wonderful book with her! We will also be continuing to support all the applicants who joined our free Community programme – so if you applied and haven’t taken up your place yet, please do – there’s a Zoom meet-up this Friday and our first event, an Open Door chat about publishing with commissioning editor Stephanie King, is coming up soon after.
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! – Leila
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!
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!