Megaphone participants’ recent success:

It’s great to start the week with some good news about Megaphone participants – obviously we know they are talented writers who’ll go far, but it’s good to see that being recognised elsewhere too!

Joyce Efia Harmer has been shortlisted to take part in the Penguin Random House taster day #WriteNow- her entry stood out from over a thousand to make the shortlist!

Danielle Jawando was one of the six finalists for the Penguin Random House USA ‘We Need Diverse Books’ short story competition, with her YA story: The Deerstalker. She’ll receive invaluable feedback from a top editor, Phoebe Yeh.

The link to the original competition is here: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/58612-a-sneak-peek-at-phoebe-yeh-s-debut-crown-list.html

Danielle has also recently been appointed to a post on Manchester Metropolitan University’s creative writing faculty, and will be presenting a paper at the National Association of Writers in Education’s conference this November in Stratford-upon-Avon, UK.

Congratulations guys!

The mainstream is diverse; the literature industry isn’t.

There is so much to think about and talk over, following the recent A Place at The Table conference on diversity in children’s literature.Author  Catherine Johnson’s article about the conference is here, with a mention for Megaphone: http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2016/jun/17/childrens-books-diversity-change-inclusive-minds?CMP=share_btn_fb#_=_

She certainly speaks for me when she writes:

I think a lot of people – me included – are fed up to the back teeth talking about diversity. (…) Books at present are exclusive; children need to see the world they live in reflected in their reading matter. So why isn’t it happening?

And here’s another great article, this time by Misan Sagay from the world of screenwriting: http://www.theguardian.com/women-in-leadership/2016/jun/16/diversity-black-women-screenwriters-film-misan-sagay-guerrilla .

Misan Sagay writes:

 “What am I diverse from? I think the word can be a way of establishing a norm, and me outside that norm, and that worries me.”

I applaud Christopher, from Pickled Pepper Books, who told us at A Place at the Table how he tried as  a bookseller to ‘make diversity mainstream’. Booksellers like him are much needed. I remember when our Birmingham Waterstones used to have a small dump-bin marked ‘Other cultures’ – in this section would be everything from Handa’s Surprise to Noughts and Crosses. No longer, and that is a good thing. However, most bookshops still do not come even close to reflecting the world outside their doors. And that’s exactly the issue.

The world outside the doors of the bookshop and the doors of the publishing houses IS diverse. Diversity IS mainstream. Diverse is what the world IS, naturally: differently abled people, people with all shades of skin and all kinds of backgrounds, all genders, religions and mixed, and none. The problem is that the literature industry is NOT diverse and is therefore not mainstream. It is structured and curated to reflect the interests and needs of only a very small sliver of the population: white, heterosexual, able bodied (or more accurately, the not-yet-disabled, a brilliantly accurate term though I can’t remember where I read it!), middle- to upper-middle class, London-focused.

We – by which I mean the whole literature industry – need to stop curating our lists and bookshops and manuscripts to reflect only the small sliver of the population described above. Truthfully, I think it is just easier for people to continue selling books to people like them, rather than to connect with the many potential book buyers who don’t fit the description above. But what is easy is not what is right – and I mean that not merely from an ethical standpoint but from a hard business standpoint. Every industry worth its salt develops its markets in an effort to be resilient and responsive in a tough economic climate. Why not the literature industry? The growth of, for example, Islamic children’s publishing companies such as Shade 7 Publishing, demonstrates the demand for books that reflect the mainstream.

Valuable as events such as A Place at the Table are, we have to talk to each other less and instead talk more to the parents, the children, the world outside the literature bubble, those people who have no interest in publishing and just want to buy books that acknowledge their existence and value.

We have taken down the signs saying ‘no dogs, no Irish’ but we’ve got other signs, invisible ones, and we need to take those down too, and not get defensive when those whose eyesight has been honed by lifetimes of being invisible themselves, point out that the signs exist.

Misan Sagay writes in the same article I linked to above, about efforts to bring diversity to screenwriting: “It feels like a dance people are doing somewhere over there, when the solution is over here and very simple,” she says, “hire more black people, hire more black women.”

The literature industry needs to heed her words. The solutions are simple, though that doesn’t mean they’re easy to implement. As always in literature, point of view is key. We need to turn our point of view around; we do not need to bring diversity mainstream. Diversity IS mainstream – it is the literature industry that isn’t. What is it going to do about it?

#APATT
#EverybodyIn

Megaphone first masterclass!

The first Megaphone masterclass took place on Saturday 02/04/2016 at Writing West Midlands’ meeting room in the Custard Factory, Digbeth, Birmingham (venue kindly provided as in-kind funding by Writing West Midlands). I didn’t notice the graffiti outside the window when I was taking this but it’s quite funny!

We looked at book, story, plot points and communicating your story to readers. I’m so pleased and excited to finally have things underway, and to be working with these five very able and promising writers !

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First Megaphone Masterclass

Peter Kalu on voice, publishing and the barriers BAME writers face:

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Peter Kalu

Peter Kalu is a poet, novelist, playwright and script writer. He started writing as a member of the Moss Side Write black writers workshop and has had five novels, two film scripts and three theatre plays produced to date, winning a number of prizes in the process. I interviewed him ahead of his upcoming appearance at Bare Lit Festival (with Megaphone tutor Catherine Johnson), about, among other things, his Young Adult books, both of which are published by HopeRoad, and the Commonword Diversity Writing for Children prize – recently re-launched and open to submissions on the website: http://www.ihaveadream.org.uk/ . Peter’s depth of experience as a writer and with Commonword-Cultureword meant I was especially keen to find out his thoughts on the barriers BAME writers of children’s fiction face and how they can overcome them.
silent striker2

Leila: I’ve really enjoyed reading both The Silent Striker and Being Me. Marcus and Adele have such different voices; their characters really come through. It might be down to the use of first person, but Adele’s life seems more chaotic than Marcus’, I think because she has a more extroverted personality.

Peter: Thanks for those generous comments. I didn’t set out to create a sense of chaos, that’s simply how the Being Me novel evolved.  In some way it’s a bluff – an embracing of unexpected turns the novel took as I was developing it. It does reflect Adele’s personality well, so maybe it was inevitable.  I did the same thing in the short story I had published recently in the Closure anthology, but for different reasons.

Adele is definitely more extrovert than Marcus. Maybe the other difference between the two characters identity-wise  is that Marcus begins with a sense of  a stable core identity and HAS this sense Piccasso’d/destabilised  by the onset of his deafness. Whereas Adele does not start with such a composed identity.  From the get-go Adele has competing stories being told about herself – at school, by each parent, by her friends. She’s a girl. She’s a boy. She’s black, she’s white. She’s a caring person, she’s a villain. She’s unlovable, she’s adored.  She’s a loyal best friend. She’s a let-down and an impostor.  And Adele’s work is to figure out how to reconcile all these competing stories of herself. So Marcus and Adele have very different work to do. One is trying to rebuild his understanding of  himself as having a stable core identity, the other is trying to work out what is the story or set of stories I want to tell about myself. Does any of that make sense?! It’s not something I set out to do as I was writing them, but looking at the two characters now, that’s how I feel about them.

Leila: That does make a lot of sense. Marcus is centred in a way that Adele isn’t.  I wondered which voice you enjoyed writing most.

Peter: They were both a challenge. I enjoyed writing particular scenes. The scene where Adele spends the night in the Adenuga family’s spare room listening to all these strange noises and movements, that was fun to write. The Marcus moment where he objects to his uncle being buried with Marcus’ favourite football and his mum faints as he scrambles after it was a highlight for me. There’s usually also some key emotional scene or moment in each book that I wouldn’t say I enjoyed writing, but which mattered a lot to me.

More generally, I had such a great bunch of writers around me giving me feedback for both books and I enjoyed meeting up with them and bouncing ideas back and forth. I’ve not answered the question have I?  I can’t choose!

being me rough_new_jigsaw FINAL-1

Leila: Was there a particular reason to write Silent Striker in third person and Being Me in first?

Peter: I was aware that Marcus’ story was in parts autobiographical so I wanted to ensure I didn’t under-distance the space between author and character. To fend that off, I placed the Marcus story in the third person and used the past tense for it.  Those choices flip for the Adele story – she’s in the present and in first person.  I wanted Adele to be the unreliable narrator of her own story. The spaces between what she thinks is going on and what others – including readers – think might be going on interested me. I decided that was best done in first person. Then for speed and immediacy the present tense. Again, I might be rationalising. I probably make these choices intuitively.

Leila: The voices in both novels are different, but feel really realistic. I feel as if I could hear them on the back of the No 50 bus any day after school lets out! I wonder why there aren’t that many voices like this in children’s literature. 

Peter: Not enough published writers are catching those No 50 buses! In my area it’s the No 192 that’s legendary.  Dropping the metaphor, I guess few working class writers break through. Mainstream publishing is run by the middle classes and they choose books for their imagined readership which of course means a reflection of themselves. At least that’s my impression.

I recently opened up some YA books in a Manchester Waterstones (so serving a population of high cultural diversity). And randomly chose some books that looked as if they were set in the ‘now’. Overwhelmingly, they featured middle class protagonists.

Leila: What was your own journey to publication like?  Did you try many publishers before finding the right one?

Peter: The book was part of a project with my writing buddy, Tariq Mehmood who wrote You’re Not Proper at the same time that I was writing The Silent Striker and Being Me (I write faster than him!)  We would meet up several times a week and swap notes.  The journey to his kitchen and back those mornings was invigorating. While writing, I’d heard some of what Malorie Blackman said at a writing conference about how black writers break through. So rather than approach a mainstream publisher, I went straight to Hope Road: I knew they had a commitment to diverse writers.

Leila: And what are your writing goals for the future?

Peter: Apart from another CYA novel (featuring zombies!), I’m working on a crime novel. And completely unrelatedly, I want to write a novel in the way that visual artists produce collages, but I’ve not figured out the techniques needed yet.

Leila: Can you tell me a bit about Commonword and Cultureword – how did you come to be part of these organisations, and where did the idea for the Diversity Writing For Children prize come from? It’s great to see it relaunched, by the way!

Peter: I got the writing bug after reading Alice Walker and Maya Angelou in the 80’s.  I went to the Moss Side Write workshops that had been set up by Commonword-Cultureword, where I met  the legendary, Lemn Sissay. My involvement kicked off from there.

The Diversity Writing For Children prize came about through schools telling us there were no books with BAME characters in them, no books that reflected their classrooms. The more we looked into it, the more startlingly apparent this absence. The prize does something to tackle that.

Leila: What barriers do you think that UK BAME children’s/ YA authors face in particular? And how do you think they can best approach them, get over them, go round them…

Peter: Two arguments tend to surface.  First, white children don’t feel comfortable having to read about the UK through the eyes of black characters. I simply disagree with that – it’s not what I’ve found. Second, parents – who buy the books – don’t feel comfortable buying such a book (approx 40% of buyers of YA fiction are actually older adults who simply enjoy the genre). There’s some truth in that. It’s well known for instance that mainstream publishers for a very long time avoided putting a black kid’s face on the cover of a YA book as their marketing departments told them it would inhibit sales.

As writers in command of our craft there are solutions to that white ‘we don’t feel comfortable’ problem: exotifciation, omission, ellipsis, inversion, exfoliation. In non-technical terms, add a major, heroic white character, reduce cultural friction, downplay division, celebrate collaboration, fly into fantasy, erase the blackness, write under the radar, at least make your book a black-white two-hander.  These solutions can work but at times can feel soul destroying for a BAME writer. I prefer not to craft something that is guaranteed to make white people comfortable, but instead to allow they themselves address that issue of why they are uncomfortable (or, to simply not be published).  The world’s changing. Heterogeneity is growing. Those who ignore it or oppose it are like King Canute trying to turn back the tide.  Publishing, including YA publishing, in the end will embrace it, probably when it hits their cash tills.

Leila: I’m interested in how the conversation around diversity in children’s literature plays out in the USA as well as in the UK (for example, A Birthday Cake for George Washington). What do you think the differences and similarities are between the USA and UK children’s publishing industries and how they include (or don’t) BAME writers?

 

Peter: The commentator, Paul Gilroy described Britain as suffering from colonial amnesia.  The most barbaric events of the British colonial era didn’t happen on the landmass of Britain so that amnesia is easier to sustain.  The USA has no such distancing. Plantation slavery is a fraught part of USA history and happened on American soil. Yet the Washington book news story showed the USA was giving amnesia a good go.

The demographics in UK are different: a higher South East Asian population and, I believe, a greater ‘mixed heritage’ population.

The Oscars controversy suggests USA is only slowly waking up to its privilege and prejudices, and still does not like to look at them straight in the eye. That uncomfortable thing again.  The statistics for USA and UK on percentage of BAME characters in published CYA books sing the same song. The USA statistics on under-representation are here: http://blog.leeandlow.com/2015/03/05/the-diversity-gap-in-childrens-publishing-2015/

As far as I can tell there has been no hard, statistically significant research done  in the UK but the anecdotal evidence is similar to that of the USA.

Yet it’s not all bleak. As in the USA, there are signs of improvement. My impression is that the general population is way ahead of the publishing industry. If  I crystal ball gaze, then my guess is that ventriloquism –getting white writers to depict black lives – will be the prominent in the first wave of change, to deal with that ‘comfortableness’ issue. Simultaneously more BAME writers will get taken up, though not at a speed to frighten the horses. Finding publishers who will break cover and take a risk is the game. Of course, once that risk makes some publisher big money, suddenly every mainstream publisher in the land will follow suit, perhaps as a new fad.

The publishing industry is not an island. It sits within society itself and so there are limits to how fast things can progress in publishing while the (older) UK white population keeps up its postcolonial melancholia, its longing for a mythical white Britain.

 

Many thanks to Peter Kalu for this great interview, which I think is full of insights the mainstream publishing industry should benefit from – and do read his excellent books!
http://www.hoperoadpublishing.com/
http://www.hoperoadpublishing.com/being-me
http://www.hoperoadpublishing.com/the-silent-striker

 

 

 

Spotlight on Catherine Johnson, author and Megaphone masterclass leader

 Spotlights tell you more about the people involved in Megaphone: writers, editors and agents.

Catherine Johnson is one of the authors who will be leading a writing masterclass for Megaphone.

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Catherine Johnson: “In twenty years I have only ever worked with one Black editor.”

In her twenty year career she has written many books for young readers, including Sawbones, which won the Young Quills Best Historical Fiction prize in 2013. Her latest novel for teenagers is The Curious Tale of The Lady Caraboo – a gripping mystery about a girl who is not what she seems. She also writes for film and TV including scripts for Bullet Boy and Holby City. Her radio play has been shortlisted for The Prix Italia and The Imison award. But she is particularly known for her historical fiction, which often tells the stories of non-white children and teenagers in the past – something I think is particularly useful, given that British history has until fairly recently been presented as exclusively white, which does not reflect the reality. I asked her to say something about her writing process: what draws her to a character or a scenario in history and makes her want to turn it into a novel?

square SBCatherine: “It’s usually different every time, Sawbones was triggered by a visit to the Hunterian Museum in London – there was a tumour in a jar, the label read ‘cut off the face of a boy in St Kitts’ and I wrote the whole thing in six weeks. Caraboo came out of being reminded about her in an interview when I had just written Nest Of Vipers (about a gang of confidence tricksters). I was asked who my favourite conman or woman from history was, and I knew I had to write about her. Every book is different. Although being shallow I must admit the first historical fiction I ever wrote was prescribed by fashion. I wanted a book with empire line frocks so it had to be the 1820s…I have to get caught up in the story, a novel takes a long time and it’s sort of a confidence trick in itself. You have to convince yourself your characters are real before you convince any readers!”

Benjamin Zephaniah has recently spoken about how Black History Month ought to be integral to the teaching of history, not just a month. I asked Catherine if she thought historical fiction had a place in teaching parts of history that the curriculum doesn’t reach.

Catherine: “I was so bad at history that I wasn’t allowed to take the O level (they were O levels then). I hated learning about Corn Laws but I loved people. I have learned more reading historical fiction and brilliant non-fiction – like Peter Fryers’ Staying Power.  I think it’s so much easier learning stuff if it’s interesting. What I object to is taking exams. It’s hard. You want students to love their topics, maybe making it more about people and less about economics isn’t a bad thing.”

Finally, I asked her: what positive change would you love to see in the children’s book world? What project, initiative or change of approach would really make a difference?

516tZVguXhL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_CBCatherine: “I think writers need proper support; publishing is a business but I don’t know if it’s one I would be able to join if I was starting out now. I had a housing association house, a part time job and tax credits as well as writing books. These days – twenty years on – my advances are not any more than when I started out. It looks bleak – why do it at all? It’s hardly viable…..BUT the only person who loses out if you don’t do it is you. So it’s like a horrible addiction. What positive change would I like to see apart from writers being paid reasonably? More people of colour in the publishing industry for sure, in twenty years I have only ever worked with one Black editor.”

About Megaphone, Catherine has previously said:“I believe the Megaphone project is one that’s needed now more than ever. As a BAME author who has been published for the last twenty years I have seen numbers of non white UK children’s authors stay resolutely low. Young readers need to see modern Britain reflected back at them in their books. New authors need support – support that is no longer available in publishing today.”

Thanks to Catherine for her support!

Spotlight on Rachel Mann: Children’s Fiction Editor, charity founder and teacher

 Spotlights tell you more about the people involved in Megaphone: writers, editors and agents.

 

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Rachel Mann

Rachel Mann (@rachelphilippa ) Children’s Fiction Editor for Simon & Schuster UK,  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 is also Founding Director of literacy and education charity The Saltpond Education Project (SEP) based in Ghana, West Africa. This sounds a fantastic project, so first of all I asked her to tell me something about it.

Rachel: “SEP has been an ever-evolving project, borne initially from the passion of a single Ghanaian teacher and the very urgent need of the beach children where he lives. We’re now a mid-sized charity with lots of wonderful UK trustees, providing an innovative form of education and teacher-training to over 180 children and 13 staff, all from a particularly underprivileged area of Saltpond, Ghana.”
On the subject of books and literacy, Rachel added:

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Children reading at the Saltpond Education Project

“One of the first thing I noticed upon my first trip to the country was a truly upsetting lack of imagination and expression in the classroom. This is a complex issue but one that has a lot to do with a lack of access to reading materials for students, teachers and the general population. Schools generally have a few copies of battered, outdated, poorly-produced textbooks to hand – and certainly no fiction – either in English or local languages. Literacy levels across all generations are extremely low in the area we serve – and most of our students are not recorded in national statistics because their births went unregistered.

So, we send over as many culturally appropriate and easily accessible storybooks and educational materials as we’re able to and, where we can, ones in which the children can recognise their own skin colour. Sadly, as we know, there aren’t that many! We then build interactive lessons and teaching styles around stories – using puppets, play acting, art and creative writing. We also run after-school creative writing and reading clubs, among others, as well as adult literacy classes and educational plays for the wider community. Once we were up and running, we let our students name our school, and they chose to call it ‘ the SEP Happy School’. Our school truly is a happy and dynamic place and this is largely because of the impact that stories and pictures have had on our learning environment.”

 

Rachel is clearly an incredibly busy person, so I had to ask her: why take something new on- why support Megaphone?

Rachel: “I have been working with children’s books for over twelve years now and have always, frankly, felt embarrassed and concerned about the lack of diversity and internationalism in the books that are currently available – though things are finally beginning to shift a little. Publishing is an industry which has a lot to do with canon and heritage, and one that can be very slow to change. Commissioning editors like myself can certainly do much more to ensure that all areas of our global society are reflected in the materials and stories we provide children with, but it’s also a sad fact that we just don’t see enough submissions by writers of BAME heritage. That’s because we’ve already failed a whole generation of readers, who have not seen themselves in stories and so haven’t felt that the industry would welcome them. That’s shocking – and something we need to address as soon as possible.”

Rachel added: “I took some time out of publishing in 2012 to teach English in an incredibly good school in Tower Hamlets, in which the cohort was 98% Bengali Muslim girls. The students were lucky enough to have access to a wonderful library, and a variety of extra-curricular activities around reading and writing. And yet, when these avid readers wrote stories, they would call their characters ‘Lily’ and ‘Rose’ and any number of other names straight out of a Jacqueline Wilson or Sophie McKenzie novel. Hardly any of them ever considered writing about themselves – their protagonists were always normalised Western-Caucasian girls, and certainly didn’t wear hijabs. And the girls I taught were all WONDERFUL writers – open-minded, worldly, expressive, and having had extremely interesting and often difficult lives already. So many of them were made to be authors, but almost none of them considered it. Sadder still, none of those readers were even able to escape a sense of struggle and alienation into imaginary worlds that accepted them. That was a huge factor in my return to publishing!”

Rachel thinks that when it comes to diversity and equality in the children’s book world: “It’s about changing the landscape and helping young people to feel included and supported in reading and writing at as early a stage as possible. Megaphone is wonderful in that it will help get more books published in which all young readers will recognise themselves. At the same time, we must make sure that teachers, librarians and other professionals are able to get those books into the hands of the right children, not just a privileged few. This is a lot to do with library and arts funding – something we must all keep fighting for. Creative writing initiatives like First Story and Ministry of Stories are also doing really wonderful work in helping young people from all backgrounds to get writing!”

Totally agree – and I’d add to that the Young Muslim Writers Awards, which is doing great work. Thank you Rachel for your support!

Spotlight on Jane Griffiths, Children’s Fiction Commissioning Editor.

 Spotlights tell you more about the people involved in Megaphone: writers, editors and agents.

Jane Griffiths 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 in publishing for over ten years and is currently Senior Commissioning Editor at Simon & Schuster Children’s Books UK – a key role, with a lot of responsibility for which books and authors reach publication.  Read on, to get great tips about being the kind of writer that editors love to work with!

 

Jane Griffiths - photo
Jane Griffiths

Leila:  “ You’ve recently been double shortlisted for the Branford Boase award – with The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss and The Dark Inside by Rupert Wallis – which acknowledges the contribution an editor makes to a book – congratulations! What do you think makes a great editor?”

Jane: “Thanks so much! I was thrilled when I heard that I’d been shortlisted with two of my authors for the prize, it’s a wonderful award because it recognizes that the editorial process is a collaborative one. And that, for me, is the crux of the editor/author relationship, collaboration and working together to make sure that the author’s novel is the very best it can be. I think editors can look at a manuscript the way that authors can’t always because you are one-step removed from the process – it’s why editors are often described as the “midwives” of the authors’ “babies”! So, really I think a great editor is someone who is there to help an author shape and form their manuscript into the best book it can be.”
Leila:  “And what makes a great writer from the editor’s point of view?”
Jane: “Every author is different, but the writers I enjoy working with most are the ones who you know are open to ideas and suggestions and also are keen to get stuck into those rewrites if necessary! I think that most of my authors would say the editorial process is a fun one (I hope!) with two people working together on a text they are both passionate about. Having said that, I also think that a great writer knows the world that they have created in their novel – they know their characters inside out and often have backstories and histories in their mind that go well beyond the action that takes place in the novel – which means they’re able to take editorial comments and ideas and really run with them.”

23652426YORLeila: “And finally, why did you want to be involved with Megaphone?”
Jane: “As a commissioning editor it’s frustrating that we just don’t see enough from diverse voices that reflect different perspectives and experiences. As an industry we need to do something about that by going out and actively seeking authors from different backgrounds to open up the world of publishing and schemes like Megaphone are a really good way to do that.”

 

Thanks to Jane for her support!

Spotlight on Lee Weatherly, author and Megaphone masterclass leader.

 Spotlights tell you more about the people involved in Megaphone: writers, editors and agents.

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Lee Weatherley

Lee Weatherly is one of the authors who will be leading a writing masterclass for Megaphone. In an industry where it is notoriously as difficult to stay published as it is to get published in the first place, award-winner Lee has had more than fifty books published, an impressive achievement which I think makes her excellently placed to pass on the benefit of experience to Megaphone participants. I personally have found her book, co-authored with Helen Corner, Teach Yourself: How To Write a Blockbuster a practical, useful basic guide to writing anything (not just blockbusters :)). Her latest book, Broken Sky,  will be out in March from Usborne Fiction, and is ‘‘an exhilarating epic of deception, heartbreak and rebellion, set in a daring and distorted echo of 1940s America’. Can’t wait! You can follow her on Twitter @LA_Weatherly and on Tumblr to find out more.
About Megaphone, Lee has said: “I’m thrilled to be involved with Megaphone — because diversity in children’s fiction matters. When kids read, they should both experience other realities and see their own reflected. They need to know that anything is possible, that the world isn’t closed to them. We’re all cheated when this isn’t the case, no matter what our skin colour.”9781409572022-broken-sky-new-2
One of the goals of Megaphone is to support the participants in developing the skills and networks they need to sustain a longterm career as a writer, and since Lee is a great example of success in this respect, I asked her what she thought writers needed to keep going in the long term.
Lee: “Oh gosh, what a tough question. Dedication, I guess, and talent, and a willingness to try different genres. But honestly, I think I’ve been very lucky. I’ve never written anything that I wasn’t passionate about, and everything I wanted to write happened to be in vogue at the time. I think if you try to write to the market, you’re probably likely to fail. You have to love what you’re writing.”
Good advice – so I asked her for some more. What top 3 tips would she give to an aspiring children’s fiction writer?
Lee: “Writing is hard, that’s the main thing I know. Read all you can about it, and then figure out the way that works for you. But here are some tips:
1. You should genuinely love children’s/YA fiction and read a lot of it. If you don’t, you should probably be writing something else.
2. Be aware of the market, and then forget about it. Write what excites YOU. 
3. Inhabit your characters and tell the truth. Never write ‘down’. Kids aren’t stupid. They can smell well-meaning condescension a mile away.”

Finally, I asked her: what positive change would you love to see in the children’s book world? What project, initiative or change of approach would really make a difference?
Lee: “We’re in a time where publishing any individual title is a group decision based largely on marketability, which can mean that the more challenging or ‘quiet’ or unusual stories don’t ever make it onto the shelves. What I’d love to see is more decision-making power being returned to the commissioning editors, less emphasis on sales right from the onset, and a more nurturing atmosphere where authors are helped to build careers across several books. (Well, I can dream..!)”

Thanks to Lee for her support, and I’m really looking forward to her masterclass!