Children’s Stories and Other Projects: 2013 365 Challenge #230

Why my first attempt at a children's novel is about pirates!

Why my first attempt at a children’s novel is about pirates and dinosaurs!

Brrr. As I write this, I am walking around a muddy ploughed field in completely inappropriate footwear (sandals because it’s still summer, right?) racing the rain clouds back home: I’m wet already as we’ve been swimming but I don’t really want the dog muddy and wet.

As is my habit, I’ve been searching my mind for today’s blog topic. It usually comes to me before I let the dog off the lead, giving me twenty minutes of walking and texting to get it written.

Today, instead, my head is full of projects (oh and now my ankle full of nettle venom, ouch. Texting and walking can be bad for your health)

This morning I signed up to an online course on writing children’s stories. I had to get my husband’s permission not because of the cost but because of the time. I’m not allowed to start the course until January. Because he had to take the children from 7am until 1pm today (it was bliss) so I could write yesterday’s post and get a tricky scene rewrite from Baby Blues out of my head.

The kind of illustrations I'd love to do!

The kind of illustrations I’d love to do!

I miss having my nursery days together: having one day to spend on editing followed by two or three days’ break in between is a nightmare because I only just about get going when it’s time to pick up the kids.

The problem today was that I worked until 1pm and then I didn’t want to stop. Not only have I got extra changes I want/need to make to Baby Blues draggng at my mind, I’ve got a dozen other projects clamouring for attention. I’m not really a completer finisher more a start and move on sort of person! Some projects I’ve managed to avoid starting, such as my overwhelming desire to try my hand at writing a children’s book.

Well today I gave into that desire, after reading to the kids for twenty minutes.

My attempt at illustrations

My attempt at illustrations

I’ve always wanted to see if I could write and illustrate something, although I’m pretty certain my current artistic skills are not of the children’s illustrator variety. Still, these things fill your mind when you read Tim, Ted and the Pirates for the hundredth time.

The project in my head isn’t there because I want to try and break into the picture-book market so much as because I want to write something for my children. I’ve had an idea floating in my head for ages, and I thought it wouldn’t be too hard to write it down. So I tried. Oh dear. Let’s just say I’m looking forward to starting my Writing Children’s Stories course in January.

And – If you’re based in the UK – the course was £12 on Groupon or I never would have bought it. I’ve got a bad track record with online study courses that don’t have deadlines. It’s hard to motivate yourself to work on something if nothing is driving you forwards. In this instance, it’s just as well that it’s an unrestricted course, as I can’t start for another five months! 🙂

Still, I know what next year’s blog is likely to be all about. You have been warned! Hee hee


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 


Claire stared wide-eyed as the Māori dancers thumped their feet and waggled their tongues. It was her first taste of aboriginal New Zealand and it was something to behold. From the moment the coach had collected them from the hostel they had been immersed in Māori culture. She glanced over at Neal, who had been appointed Chief of their group by general consent. From the way he stood absorbed in the ceremony, with his head high and his chest thrown out, it was clear he’d fully inhabited the role.

At least it takes his attention off me.

Claire had refused to give up her position at the front of the bus, but her profile among the other travellers had risen since the Shweeb challenge. Dealing with mostly good-natured ribbing wasn’t beyond her skills, but she had preferred her lonely anonymity.

The Māori warriors in front of them gathered to perform a haka challenge. Claire had only seen the haka on the TV before, at the beginning of the rugby matches she had endured to please Michael. The performance was much more powerful when the ground vibrated with every stomp and it was possible to look into the fearsome eyes made alien by dark tattoos.

Eventually something was laid at Neal’s feet. A peace offering, from what she could remember of the information they were given on the bus. Neal picked up the token and the atmosphere shifted, as the Māori people welcomed them into their village.

A high, long note sounded, raising the hairs on Claire’s neck. She searched for the source of the noise and saw someone blowing into a conch shell. As if waiting only for the signal, the women began an echoing call that resonated across the surrounding forest.

Claire shivered and wrapped her arms around herself, as the hairs continued to rise across her skin. She wished she’d thought to bring a jacket.

“I’ll keep you warm.”

Before she could protest, Neal was behind her, enclosing her in a bear hug. He radiated heat and Claire was soon able to push him away and admit, truthfully, that she was no longer cold. No need to tell him that the shivering had increased with his contact.

“This doesn’t count as dinner, by the way,” Neal said with a sly grin, as he dropped his arms in response to her shove. “You still owe me.”

Claire nodded and walked away without speaking, attempting to lose herself in the details of the village. She wandered through the various dwellings as if it were a living museum, taking pictures for the blog and mentally filing notes to write about later. Her mind cast back to some of the places she visited in the UK; the plague village, the Victorian town.

No wonder people would rather come here. Although some of these excursions are a bit pricey. At least I wandered around Eyam for free.


Claire’s tummy gurgled loudly and she blushed, thankful that the music from the stage mostly drowned it out. Neal, sat three seats over on her right, turned round and smirked at her and her blush deepened.

Claire wrenched her gaze back to the performance, watching the semi-clad men and women perform intricate dances that seemed to involve much thrusting of the hips and tongue. Although not overtly sexual, it made her skin hot and she was acutely conscious of Neal’s presence, despite the people sitting between them.

Glad when the performance was over, Claire gratefully followed the others to find the hangi food they had helped raise earlier from the pit. Tantalising smells of smoked meat and vegetables drifted on the evening breeze and she felt the saliva pool in her mouth.

She hesitated as the guests found their seats. She didn’t want to end up next to Neal but she couldn’t see him anywhere in the room. Not wanting to look like an idiot, at last she took a seat in the far corner and prayed he wouldn’t see her.

Why am I avoiding him? I have to take him out to dinner tomorrow, more fool me.

Claire pondered whether it was worth staying an extra night in Rotorua just to shake him off. She had a horrible feeling that he would stay too, just to torment her.

“You can’t hide from me.”

As if voicing her thoughts, the words cut through Claire’s reverie. Her heart plummeted at the sound of the too-familiar voice drawling behind her.

“Hiding in the corner isn’t going to put me off. I will have my wicked way with you.” His voice was jocular but the words cut directly through to Claire’s groin. Right then she would have followed him to the nearest bed. Sense fought with lust and sense won a temporary victory.

“You can try,” she spat at him. “I’m not yours for the taking. I’m not some gullible teenager. I don’t know why you don’t turn your attention where it’s wanted.” She ripped at some bread with her teeth.

“Oh, please. Those children? I’m old enough to be their father. Besides, where’s the fun in easy game. Like shooting fish in a barrel. Although I’ve never understood that phrase. Why would you shoot fish?”

He selected some food and chewed thoughtfully, as if they were engaging in normal dinner conversation.

Claire felt torn between following his lead and maintaining her icy silence. She realised she didn’t know anyone else at her table and it was Neal or nothing. Even as she resolved to speak to him, she realised she had nothing to say.

Have I lost the art of small talk? Have I been on the road so long I don’t know how to speak to people anymore?

She thought of all the things that weren’t to be talked of. Her sister’s illness, Michael’s blind infatuation, Kim’s anger, Josh; The jobs she didn’t want. Her family’s rejection on her last visit home.

No wonder I can’t do small talk. My life’s a wreck. Even here, on the other side of the world, I can’t get it right.

Claire stared at her plate and fought back tears.


Fun Farm Animals: 2013 365 Challenge #134

Meeting Charlie the cockerel at a Kid's Birthday Party

Meeting Charlie the cockerel at a Kid’s Birthday Party

Aaron took a picture of him holding a cockerel into nursery today. It was taken at the birthday party he went to on Sunday and he’s very proud of it, though quick to tell you the bird’s talons hurt his arm.

It was a great party. The parents had booked this Ark thing, where a bunch of farmyard animals are brought in and penned in the garden for the children to stroke.

It was lovely for Aaron to get into the enclosure with the animals and have unlimited access instead of trying to reach them through a barrier, as he normally has to do at the Farm.

Meeting Esme and Pig

Meeting Esme and Pig

It was the kind of thing I would love to do as a business if I had the motivation, space, money, expertise. Letting children learn about animals and not be afraid of them. It’s hard to be afraid of a pygmy goat called Esme, in a red halter, standing on the back of a sleeping pig, then snuggling up against her to keep warm in the rain.

It was a good reminder of the intelligence of pigs, too, as the pig only woke to move under the gazebo out of the rain. It’s not hard to see why so many children’s books are written about farm animals. They have such a repertoire of personalities and a diverse range of looks and mannerisms but they all live together mostly harmoniously. They’re not trying to eat each other and only the horned ones (sheep and goats) seems to get grumpy and physical.

Giving the dog a cuddle

Giving the dog a cuddle

Seeing the dynamic between the bantam chickens that kept escaping into the flower bed, the friendly but hungry pony, the sleepy pig and snuggly goat, it was a children’s book waiting to be penned.

Picture books have fascinated me since I started reading a dozen or two a week to the kids. The difference between the awful and the great is hard to define and the opinion seems to differ between adult and child!

I’ve long wanted to have a go doing one, both the words and the illustrations. It’s on the list of projects!

If I do write a picture book about farm animals it might have to include the grumpy man in charge and his two brow-beaten, terrified-looking children. I will write them a happy ending. Something like in Farmer Duck! (One of mine and the kids’ favourite books).


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire folded her cleaned and ironed clothes and stuffed them deep into her rucksack, hoping her mother didn’t notice. I can’t believe Mum did all this for me. She hasn’t washed my stuff since I was about twelve. If the Boarding School didn’t do it, then I had to do it myself.

Looking round her old room, Claire shivered at an unexpected wave of nostalgia. It had felt like old times, with her and Robert both staying in their parents’ house for the weekend.

Claire had spent the first few days of Ruth’s hospital stay in her sister’s house, caring for Sky. Once the doctors had given the all clear for Ruth to return home, Claire had agreed to stay at her parents’ house to keep an eye on her brother and father, while their mother resumed her care of Sky and Ruth.

The idea of returning to her hostelling journey felt wrong. Promoting an outdoorsy lifestyle had been odd from the beginning, but now – with her sister fighting cancer – it felt utterly pointless.

Whatever you try and do in life, there is always something that can knock you flat. Look at Ruth: ever since she had Sky she’s been a health freak, eating broccoli and giving up the ciggies and wine. Fat lot of good it did her.

“Claire, I’m about to leave.”

Robert’s voice called up the stairs, echoing round the empty hallway. Another strange sensation twisted in Claire’s stomach. I’ve spent more time with Robert this past week than I have in a decade.

Not that there had been much chance to chat. Robert had locked himself in the dining room with his laptop, when he wasn’t visiting the hospital or speaking to the doctors. Claire had been glad of his presence for that reason alone, as he managed the intimidating people responsible for Ruth’s care much better than she felt she would have done.

An image of Josh floated into her mind. I wonder if he becomes super-scary when he dons a white coat? I can’t imagine it. Maybe doctors that care for children are more approachable.

She’d tried to talk to Robert over dinner the previous night, the first time they had eaten together all week. The nagging feeling that all wasn’t right between him and Francesca still haunted her, but – despite increasingly unsubtle questioning – Robert had refused to give anything away.

It had become a game, watching his face close up whenever the subject of marriage, family or children arose. He would either deflect the question back to Claire and her perpetually single and childless state, or he would frown and change the subject completely. Through it all their father sat silent, chewing his food and gazing at the salt pot.

Claire pulled the rucksack closed and propped it against the wall. Galloping down the stairs, she arrived just as Robert was about to call again.

“I have to go,” he said, his tone defensive despite Claire’s silence. “My flight is in a couple of hours and I have to get the hire car back to the airport.”

Biting back a retort, Claire smiled and gave her brother a brief hug. “I know. Give my love to Francesca and the boys. I really will come out for a visit.” She watched his face, trying to gauge his response. He merely nodded.

He probably knows there’s as much chance of me staying with them in Geneva as there is Mum and Dad taking up salsa. Maybe if they lived near a beach or something.

Robert shook hands with his father. “Say goodbye to Mum for me, and let me know if anything changes with Ruth.”

He raised a hand in farewell and gathered up his briefcase and wheeled bag. Claire watched him go, shirt and tie in place, clean shaven and spotless, and wondered what had happened to the brother she remembered from old. The one who came home with blood pouring from a grazed knee, or built rocket ships out of cereal boxes.

I wonder what his boys are like. Maybe I will go and visit. I do need to work at being a better Auntie. Besides, then I can suss the gossip for myself.


Sleepy day and Stone Heart: 2013 365 Challenge #95

A gripping tale after a slow start

A gripping tale after a slow start

I spent today – my first day without the kids in a week – stuck in bed with a poorly tummy. I think it was caused by dehydration from the wind and lack of water during my day out with the kids yesterday. I can be prone to dehydration, especially when I’m writing – forgetting to eat and drink because I’m so engrossed – and I end up with a twisted gut and a sore head. Or I might just have girl flu.

Whatever it was, it floored me. I slept until 2pm, after cobbling together yesterday’s rather rubbish Claire installment, then spent the afternoon engrossed in Stone Heart by Charlie Fletcher.

I initially stopped reading the book after the first couple of chapters, as I found the writing style opaque and overly-cryptic and the main protagonist unlikeable. But when I finished Shadow Forest I ran out of things to read and picked it up again. I’m glad I persisted. It is hard to read – especially for a children’s book – but the characters are endearing and develop beautifully. It’s always a challenge when a character starts out annoying and then grows throughout the book. They have to be annoying in order to have room to grow, but it’s hard to read through the early part when you just want to give them a slap.

It turns out there’s a sequel so I shall be looking for that next time I go to the library. So far it’s two out of two for my random charity shop purchases. Just the Wendy Holden to go.

I’m still feeling ropy so my Claire installment today is likely to be a bit shaky. I’m taking her to Hamerton Zoo – it’s near where she and Sky stayed last night and I should be able to write it without any research. Hopefully normal service will resume tomorrow, although I have an obscenely early kids party so will have to get the post written before bedtime!


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire stared at the tiger. The massive white head faced away from her, as if ignoring her scrutiny. Then it swung round and seemed to acknowledge her gaze, before its flat eyes slid away and his attention moved on to the other side of the enclosure.

You poor old brute. What a life, sitting on a platform being watched by things you’d rather eat. Like sitting in a cake shop while the Belgium Buns take photographs. She shivered as the timeless eyes swung round to face her again. The tiger looked down his proud nose at Claire and stood, stretching like a domestic cat, before jumping silently off the platform to walk outside. On the far side of the enclosure Claire could see the orange tiger dozing in the sun. Between them was a giant red football. The sign said they spent hours knocking the ball to each other, but clearly not today. I’d give something to see that. I bet you do it when the zoo is closed right? Why perform for these strangers? You’d like us all to sod off, I bet.

“Auntie Claire?” A hand tugged at her jacket, reminding Claire she wasn’t at the zoo alone. Bugger. That’s going to take some getting used to. What if she’d wandered off, or been snatched, while I was communing with tigers? She turned and squatted down so her face was nearer Sky’s. “Yes poppet?”

“Can we go through the Tiger Tunnel? Can we, please?” She pointed through some pampas grass to a man-made tunnel that looked like it had been constructed from shipping containers.

“Sure, sweetheart. Although the tigers are here, darling.” She gestured to the specks of white and orange; all that could be seen of Blizzard and Lady-Belle.

“The map says there are sheep and goats through there though. And camels.”

Sheep and goats? We could have gone to a farm to see them, instead of this wind-swept, freezing zoo. Not camels, though, don’t remember seeing camels at any farm nearby. Claire stood up, ignoring the protesting creak in her knees and back. The hotel bed had done enough damage; she didn’t want to think about it anymore. Bad enough waking in a different bed to the one she’d gone to sleep in. As far as she could work out, Sky must have crawled in with her in the night and she’d crawled out the other side to sleep in the child’s bed.

I hope Musical Beds isn’t going to be a nightly occurrence. It’s hard enough dealing with all that chatter, without a head full of cotton wool and a broken and bruised body.

Claire let the girl drag her into the tunnel, which had been painted a vile sort of green with pictures to alleviate the metal expanse. They stopped at glass windows to search for Maned Wolves and more tigers but saw only scrubby grass and grey skies.

At the end of the tunnel, wooden gates opened into a small grassed area surrounded by animal enclosures: from reindeer on their right, past rheas, alpacas, sheep and goats, to camels far away to their left. They stood for a moment to get their bearings, when a flash of white and a bleating noise announced the arrival of a mob of miniature sheep, which flocked around their feet.

“Look, Claire, we can feed them. Can we, please?” Sky turned her sweetest smile on Claire and she nodded, pushing through the sheep to reach the food dispenser. As she inserted a twenty-pence piece and turned the dial, another flash of colour alerted her to new arrivals. Four short, fat, black goats came leaping across the grass and, before the food was even cupped in her hand, started jumping and head-butting her legs.

Sky shrieked, as the goats shoved her so hard she fell backwards into a muddy puddle. Oh great, Claire groaned. I hope there is somewhere here we can change. Though I don’t know what I’m going to change her into. What was Mum thinking, packing dresses and tights? Did she think we were only going to do little girl things, or did she hope rich Claire would take poor little Sky shopping? Claire swallowed the bitter taste in her mouth before reaching over to scoop her niece out of the gloop and onto a bench. She worried that Sky would shirk from the boisterous goats butting at her hands, demanding food. Instead the girl giggled with glee, seized the tiny horns and pushed the heads away.

Standing there, mud dripping from her pink dress and leggings, with her once-pink coat flapping in the arctic wind and her hair flying behind her in a stream of gold, she looked like a superhero, saving the world from vicious horned beasties. Claire felt a strange sensation in the pit of her tummy as she stood watching her niece. Something warm and almost maternal; something she didn’t remember feeling for another human being before. It felt like pride.


‘The Extincts’: Resurrecting my Love of Reading: 2013 365 Challenge #69

Roelant Savery [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Roelant Savery via Wikimedia Commons

I was lucky enough to grab a free copy of a children’s book (MG I would guess) from our local book shop today, while taking the kids in to spend their World Book Day vouchers.

I always find it odd taking a free book and my daughter exclaimed in horror when I didn’t pay for it. Funny because I happily give my own books away for free. Maybe that says something about how I rate my writing or how I perceive the difference between an ebook and a paper copy.

The book, an uncorrected proof, is called The Extincts  and is by Veronica Cossanteli. The proof copy says it will be published in May 2013. When I got home I found it on Amazon here.Looks great.

I read some of the book this afternoon while Daddy took the kids to buy me a mother’s day gift (and after I’d ordered my mum a spa day and printed and laminated the voucher). I was hooked, as much as I have been by any book recently. I have three half-finished novels under my bed – Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman, The Real Thing by Catherine Alliott and Rowling’s Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets which I’m reading because I’m finding the others too much at bedtime. I never used to leave books half-read and couldn’t understand how my husband would have three or four on the go but these days I have to be in the right frame of mind. When I’m not I re-read something that’s so familiar I can open it at any page. I feel I can happily read this book, The Extincts, to the end not just becuase it’s great but because it isn’t emotionally taxing.

My eclectic half-read pile of books

My eclectic half-read pile of books

Veronica Cossanteli’s book has the strongest opening and voice of anything I’ve read in ages. There are bits that don’t flow but partly that’s shifting pace to Middle Grade fiction after reading YA and Women’s lit. The pace, the language, the imagery and the plot concept are all great. It has reminded me how much I love Middle Grade fiction (probably one reason it is Harry Potter I turn to in times of trial.). MG fiction tends to be entertaining without being too close to home emotionally (like the Catherine Alliott book) or too challenging in subject matter (like the Blackman book).

It’s like the TV my husband and I watch these days: it has to be safe, preferably funny, definitely non-emotional and (for me) non-violent. We have enough struggle in the real world, our entertainment is a time to escape. We couldn’t even watch the nature programme on penguins recently because the chicks were being attacked by cormorants.

I was drawn to the Cossanteli proof because the publisher is Chicken House, who ran a competition I wanted to enter last year. Funny how life can throw you random choices that have significant results. The book has entertained me, broken my dry-spell of reading and reminded me that reading can be fun as well as challenging and stretching. It brought to mind a quote I read on Twitter the other day:

“One must own that there are certain books which can be read without the mind and without the heart, but still with considerable enjoyment.”
― Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader

It’s also reminded me that I would love to write Middle Grade fiction if only I had the imagination for it. Maybe one day.


Claire dumped her rucksack on a bottom bunk and went to stand at the bay window. There were bars in front of the glass, presumably to stop small children falling out. Claire opened the window wide and leaned out as far as she could. She was in the turret at the front of the hostel and the hillside dropped away, falling down to Eyam village. Weak rays of sun prodded through the heavy cloud and highlighted buildings beneath her. She turned and looked at the bunk where her rucksack lay, conscious of an urge to lie down and close her drooping eyelids. She’d barely slept after her frantic evening ringing hostels trying to arrange her two weeks with Sky.

The door opened and the hostel warden poked her head round. “Not really meant to let you stay, love. Checking in isn’t really til five.” She smiled apologetically.

“That’s okay. Thank you for letting me in to leave my bag. I’m trying to decide whether to walk into Eyam village or drive to Chatsworth house.”

Eem Miss.”


“It’s pronounced ‘Eem’ not E-yam’. E-yam sounds like a cheese.”

Claire flushed. “Oh. Sorry.”

“That’s alright. Southerners never get it. Walk into the village, it’ll be pretty when the sun breaks through. There’s a nice bakery and a tea room.”

Claire thought privately that it was a bit early in the day for tea and cake. She didn’t want to offend the woman so she merely nodded and went to get her things from the rucksack.

“If you’re wanting to walk into the village take the path rather than the road. It’s real pretty, winding past a llama farm. Comes out behind the church.” The lady shone a bright grin then ducked back out, closing the door behind her.

Eem it is then,” Claire said to the empty room. She let herself out and followed the signs for the footpath.

Halfway down the hill Claire regretted her decision to walk. Down is fine but I don’t fancy the climb back up.  The sun’s attempts to break through looked like they might be scuppered by the surly clouds and Claire could feel moisture gathering on her hair.

By the time she reached the village Claire was sweaty and irritated, knowing she had the return climb to contend with after whatever delights Eyam had to offer. The footpath took her into the village past the church. She turned right and stopped at a sign proclaiming the ‘Plague Cottages’. I thought the whole village suffered from the plague, not just a few cottages?

A dark green sign promised illumination and Claire stopped to scan it. The notice told of Mary Hadfield, who lost her sons, aged 4 and 12, early on in the plague and her husband nearly a year later. Just when she must have thought the worst was over. I can’t believe she lost thirteen relatives in total. Claire felt the grey of the day seeping into her soul.

I don’t think I even have thirteen relatives, never mind that many all living within the same clutch of houses. She tried to imagine living that close to her parents and Robert. I don’t know what’s more depressing: that she had them or that she lost them.

Claire took a quick snap with her phone then walked on towards an impressive high stone wall and black cast iron gate on her right. The board said it was Eyam Hall, Historic House and Craft Centre. Whatever it is, it’s closed. Clearly they don’t expect many visitors in March. Can’t imagine why.

She wandered on past a Post Office and some more cottages, following signs for the museum. May as well get some facts for the blog, then I can get out of here and go somewhere less depressing. Like maybe a morgue.

The museum looked like a school house or a village hall, hulking opposite the car park and public toilets. When she got closer she could tell it, too, was closed.

Seriously? No wonder they had no problem separating themselves off from the world. Who the hell would want to come here? It’s dark and dreary and half of it isn’t even open.

Claire spotted a map urging her to ‘Discover Eyam at a Glance.’ I think I’ve done that. It wouldn’t take more than a quick peek. Having located the YHA hostel on the map Claire realised it was a short walk up the road from the museum. For a second she contemplated heading into the village for an early lunch and a better look around. Or I could walk back to the hostel and drive to Chatsworth for some civilisation. Her eyes scanned the featureless museum building staring blankly at her and decided on Chatsworth House.

That’s assuming it’s open.


Children’s Novel Competitions: Mslexia vs Chicken House

Ok so now I have a dilemma. The lovely Helen Yendall over on her Blog About Writing posted a link to another children’s novel competition running this autumn, this time with The Times and the publisher Chicken House.

If you follow my blog, you may know that I am writing a Young-Adult book – Dragon Wraiths – to enter in the Mslexia Children’s Novel competition.

Now I have to decide whether to continue to aim for the Mslexia competition, or to change direction and enter this one with The Times and Chicken House instead. They each have their pros and cons.

The deadline for the Chicken House is later than the Mslexia one (26th October vs. 10th September) but the entry is a full printed manuscript, up to 80,000 words (suggested minimum 30,000 words, which is the same as Mslexia). In the first instance, Mslexia are asking for the first chapter, up to 3000 words, with the full manuscript and synopsis to be sent later, if you are shortlisted. Now this is where the comparison gets tricky.

As well as the wanting the full manuscript, Chicken House state:

Each entry must be accompanied by a brief synopsis, plot plan and a letter of submission explaining the book’s appeal to children. (A plot plan is a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, with a couple of sentences on each, paying attention to the roles of the main characters, dramatic high points, and the most important strands of the plot. The synopsis should be no more than a page, and should give an overview of the complete story, including key characters, events and settings.)

So, how confident am I about my writing? Do I feel my opening chapter has enough impact for me to take the easier (more lazy) route, or will my story come across better will a full synopsis?

The latter, of course.  

I’ve already discussed how I’m worried my first chapter alone isn’t enough without a synopsis, because the dragons don’t come until a third of the way into the book. On the other hand, writing the synopsis is going to be hellish, because the novel skips between two worlds and two timelines, using different fonts (at the moment) to keep it all separate. Also the plot-plan is going to highlight my weaknesses when it comes to planning, as I’m not sure every chapter has a dramatic high point and so on.

There are other differences between the two competitions: the terms and conditions for the Times competition are much more thorough, including lots about the paper having rights forever to publish excerpts of any entry for free. That kind of stuff worries me, but I’ve convinced myself it’s just free publicity, assuming all excerpts are accredited to me as author.

Getting down to the nitty gritty of money, entry into Mslexia is £25 whereas the Times / Chicken House is £15. The minimum winner’s pot, as I read it, is £5,000 and £10,000 respectively. That’s pretty irrelevant: I don’t expect to win, really, although there’s no harm in hope.

The Times/Chicken House Ts & Cs have an interesting one-liner on what they are looking for:

The winner will be the entrant whose story, in the opinion of the judges, demonstrates the greatest entertainment value, quality, originality and suitability for children aged 7-18.

That’s a tall order for any author, but something we should all aspire to. I have no idea whether my idea is original and I don’t know any young-adults to try it out for entertainment or suitability. I guess these are things outside my control in a way. I find the story entertaining, and I like Young-Adult fiction (I’m re-reading Philip Pulman’s His Dark Materials at the moment, and finding it hard to put down, even though I’ve read it before)

Despite the entry cost I am extremely tempted to submit to both competitions. I can’t find anything in the rules expressly forbidding it. I would love to double my chances of at least getting some great feedback and the Times/Chicken House competition offers editorial feedback to the 20 shortlisted entries. That is something I can aim for.

Of course, there might be a problem if I won both competitions, but wouldn’t that be a nice problem to have? 😉


Other Links:

Competition Rules:

The Chicken House Writer’s Guide