Meet our mentees! Time to get excited about these new voices in children’s and YA literature, who are sure to be coming soon to a bookshelf near you…
Kiana Thorpe is an aspiring children’s author, with a love for laugh-your-socks-off books. Born and raised in Manchester, Kiana will always be a Mancunian at heart, despite having lived all over the UK. Kiana has been writing for over 15 years and is currently working on her upper middle-grade novel, And This Is How We Die. Previous works have won several prizes including the 2022 London Writers Award. When not writing, Kiana can be found chasing after her toddler, navigating ball pits and slides at soft play centres, and batch cooking curries that are too spicy for her.
And This Is How We Die is an upper middle-grade comic-fantasy. 12-year-old Liv follows clues from her trapped brother Harris to the Institute of In-Between – a school for training Grim Reapers that exists in the world between life and death. Thinking the key to Harris’ disappearance is hidden within the school, Liv enrols. With the help of new friends Liv tackles the mystery of her missing brother. But at the same time, Liv discovers other pupils are disappearing – could they be linked? Alongside this growing mystery, Liv finds herself grappling with grim reaping, battling crystal dragons and grumpy gargoyles, operating mystic meg hotlines, investigating paranormal forensics, and mastering transcendence (the passage between worlds) all amidst cut-throat rivalry.
What the judges loved: the overall concept, the intriguing set-up and the strong writing of the first chapter – we wanted to read on.
Shivanthi Sathanandan has loved stories since she was child, fuelled by pretty much being raised at the local library. She followed this love of hearing people’s stories to her current career as a doctor working in mental health. She lives and works in London with two unnervingly clever cats. Her application project was Astra Aref-Adib and the Land of Unfortunate Geniuses.
In Astra Aref-Adib and the Land of Unfortunate Geniuses thirteen-year-old Astra Aref-Adib is a misfit orphan with flashes of emotional synaesthesia (she smells the ‘essence’ of people). When her grandma, Bibi, suddenly dies, she won’t accept this is the end, and seeks to bring her back from the dead with the help of a mysterious old experiment that she finds amongst Bibi’s things. Astra searches for the elusive Braintree Institute for Unfortunate Geniuses, which her grandma had a connection to. As Astra and her new found friends, the Braintree twins & their cat, Coco try to carry out Bibi’s experiment in secret, they get embroiled in an ancient battle between the Braintree Institute and a guerrilla group of experimenters seeking to destroy the barrier between life and death. Astra has to decide how far she will go and what price she will pay to bring her grandma back.
What the judges loved: the strong confident writing which was very engaging, original and made us laugh.
Jemma Rose is a mother, a part time recruitment coordinator and a student. She has always had a passion for stories. Growing up in a small village in South Yorkshire there weren’t many other mixed-race kids, and being quiet, a bit goofy and constantly wrapped in a daydream, she found books to be a wonderful escape. One of her favourite books from childhood was a collection of West Indian folktales. These stories about Anansi the trickster spider, The Coomacka-tree and many, marvellous others, in a world where most characters didn’t look like her, gave her a real sense of pride and connection to her Jamaican heritage. She has always wanted to write something that could give children that sense of connection to England and the countries they may hail from, with a focus on changing the stereotypes assigned to people of colour. The characters she writes are heroes who are magical, strong, kind and who save the day with messy hair and tenacity, just as they do in We Were Gods.
We Were Gods is an Upper Middle Grade story about a mixed-race 13-year-old girl called Gabrielle Crook. Gabrielle realises her family is very different to the others that live in the terrace houses of Church Road. Not just that their food smells too exotic, their accents flux and change and every wall of their house is painted in a carnival of colours. But the strange people who visit her Gran, how her Auntie Genny’s paintings can be hypnotic, and how no one remembers ancient Auntie Lillian ever being young, but always being around. On her thirteenth birthday, Gabrielle is drawn into a prophecy the family have been collecting for centuries and thrown into a world of Caribbean Gods, Goddesses and Folklore. With only her weird Uncle Nelson to guide her, a family book of dreams, a painting Auntie Genny gifted to her and her Obeah Grandmothers blessing, Gabrielle must claim her power, solve the prophecy, and maybe find her missing mum along the way? The story touches on mental health, with a focus on self-belief, confidence, and hope, because fundamentally, Jemma Rose believes, we become what we see (or read).
What the judges loved: both the writing and the concept in this highly intriguing chapter that gave them goose-bumps!
Hi, I’m Ruth Lindup! I was born in London in 1980 but spent most of my childhood growing up in leafy Hampshire. I have also lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Berlin, Germany. Since 2021, I’ve been living in North London with my husband, 2 children and 2 cats.Aside from travelling, reading, and writing, I also enjoy swimming and I’m a bit of a foodie too!I have spent a ridiculous amount of time working in the production department of a legal publishing company because I realised that while formatting magazines, I could create stories in my head. Elodie & Vix: The Story of Crackles is one of them. I have more adventures about these two up my sleeve.
In Elodie & Vix: The Story of Crackles it has been thirteen years since the last witch hunt ended and all witches are now supposed to be dead. Elodie (a witch) and Vix (her human best friend) live in the secret village of Crackles. The inhabitants of Crackles are survivors of the witch hunts, all either witches or witch-sympathisers.
What the judges loved: this was highly readable fun right from the start, with breezy, energetic writing which kept us giggling and turning the pages. With vividly described characters and magic we could see lots of readers loving it.
Mahi Cheshire was born in Sri Lanka and has lived in London since she was four. Her work has been longlisted for the London Writer’s Award and selected for the Rewrite Academy 2020. Her debut novel for adults, Deadly Cure, published with Harvill Secker in 2022, and was nominated for two Dead Good Reader Awards, and her Audible Original romance, Whisked Away at Christmas, was released in 2022. She works as a GP. She is passionate about writing stories in which children of different backgrounds can see themselves reflected.
What the judges loved: The judges were immediately gripped by the accomplished writing and strong teen narrative voice.
Asli Jensen is a London-based writer who was born in Britain. She is of Somali and Danish heritage. Asli holds an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck University and was shortlisted for the 2023 Times/Chicken House Fiction competition. She has had her short fiction published in Stylish Magazine and was previously a mentee of the Curtis Brown Breakthrough Writers’ programme. She has a wealth of experience within the public sector, most relevant in youth justice.
Asli’s writing motivation derives from her innate desire to liberate marginalised and under-privileged communities. As a young mixed-raced woman, she is deeply passionate about portraying her Somali culture and history in literature and film. Her writing also incorporates the Multicultural London English (MLE) sociolect, reflecting her upbringing and community.
What the judges loved: The judges were impressed by the confident handling of voice and the authenticity on the page – a totally convincing piece of writing.
Emma Zipfel is a writer, mother, and teacher from London. She is passionate about writing that shows all children can be the stars of the story and wants to see the diversity of children’s voices and experiences better reflected in the books available for them to read. Emma is a graduate of the Harper Collins Author Academy for Children’s Writing (2022), was awarded the runner-up prize in the Grazia First Chapter competition (2022), and her writing has been longlisted for the City Lit Malorie Blackman Scholarship (2023), the London Library Emerging Writers’ Programme (2023) and the London Writers’ Award (2022). Emma’s writing often explores liminal spaces and characters who are trying to find their place in the world. She is interested in blurring the boundaries between heroes and villains and writing about complex teenage characters as they navigate growing into the adults that they want to be.
The Jump is a YA thriller exploring guilt, revenge, and redemption. A week-long school trip will take 15-year-old Sachi and her classmates from the relative safety of their urban comprehensive school to the wild mountains and valleys of the Lake District. Sachi can’t wait to get away from the drama and gossip lingering after a recent house party which she only has hazy memories of. Devan is, she thinks, the boy of her dreams but he is certain that this trip will be ‘the deadest week ever’. When the group falls victim to increasingly terrifying accidents while hiking through the mountains they begin to wonder if they are in fact being targeted by someone who wants to harm them. It looks like Devan’s words could be proved truer than he could have predicted. Sachi’s memories of the party’s forgotten hours are finally uncovered along with her friends’ secrets and lies climaxing in a tense confrontation at the mountain’s edge forcing the remaining characters to question if the people they are will destroy the people that they want to be.
What the judges loved: the strong voice, characters and commercial thriller plot.
My name is Lubna Saleh, an Actor and Writer from Manchester with East African Asian heritage. My passion for creative writing started when I was younger as I was immersed in the fantasy novels I read as a child such as Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree series. Children’s literature is very important to me as I want children to love reading and to be able to get lost in similar worlds that I know shaped my childhood! I am now writing my first children’s book, exploring South Asian identity through the lens of a teenage girl in a coming of age YA novel. As a person of colour I believe it is crucial for me to have diversity in my writing, I want readers from all backgrounds to have characters and stories they can relate to, something most of us did not have growing up. The importance of encouraging younger people to read more literature is why I am so grateful to have been able to write a historical fiction YA piece for Manchester Centre of Youth Studies in 2021. I did this during my undergraduate degree at Manchester Metropolitan University where I studied a BA in English and History. My piece for MCYS had a similar lens to my current work in progress but instead, the protagonist of this story was a teenage girl in Ancient Greece. Writing diverse stories that empower women is what I would like to do with my writing and I hope I am able to encourage other young women to do the same.
Lubna writes: Haldi, Amla and Being a Brown Girl is written for young teens. PRIYA struggles with her identity, accepting who she is and how she looks as she is the only South Asian girl in her school. Growing up around girls who do not look like her, PRIYA tries to fit in, in hopes of looking better and getting a boyfriend. PRIYA is bullied by her classmate HARRIS who picks on her over the way she looks and for being outspoken. It’s a comedic and relatable story that resonates with me as a South Asian girl who would have loved a coming of age story relevant to my life and culture. I want this story to be a female empowering narrative about finding your identity, strength and voice, not just for South Asian girls but for all girls who need a reminder that they are worthy just the way they are.
What the judges loved: they genuinely laughed out loud at, empathised with and cringed for the teenage protagonist in the sample.
Anas and the Dread (working title)