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:

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/competitions/article3375938.ece

http://mslexia.co.uk/whatson/msbusiness/ncomp_rules.php

The Chicken House Writer’s Guide

Gardening and Planning

The garden after much levelling and grass-sowing

Last Thursday afternoon I took some time off to tame our feral garden. The sun made an unexpected appearance and I couldn’t miss the opportunity.

We’ve been faffing around inexcusably regarding what to do with bits of our lawn. One large section is a mess, after we had a boat standing there for years (a long story). We sold the boat a few months ago and since then the whole area has been an eye-sore and child-trap: full of bits of rubbish, holes the dog dug under the boat and many vicious weeds.

Husband wanted to fill the holes with top-soil, roller it flat, make it as gorgeous as a cricket pitch. I want somewhere the kids can play without getting stung or covered in mud or breaking their ankle.

In our family, husband is responsible for all things outside and DIY, while I do all things indoors and domestic. I have recently taken over lawn mowing while husband has been away with work, much to my 3-year-old daughter’s bewilderment.

The first time I dragged the lawnmower out of the shed she looked at me as if I’d grown horns.

“Mummy, that’s daddy’s job.”

I couldn’t figure out how to get the mower started and after twenty minutes I was sweating and cursing. Her response was:

“Better leave it to daddy.”

Needless to say she had a quick lesson in woman’s lib and not giving up and I was given the motivation required to approach the task more calmly and find the dead-switch.

As well as mowing this Thursday I decided to tackle the ugly-eye-sore spot. First thing was to shift a giant tarpaulin and wood pile, trying not to scream too loudly when I uncovered a nest of tiny mice. (I covered them with a plant pot and they were later relocated by their mummy.)

As I was moving planks, filling holes, scattering grass seed and generally trying to reclaim half my lawn for the kids, I got to thinking about writing (as I often do when my hands are busy but my mind is not.)

I see metaphors everywhere; it was easy to get distracted by what it symbolised to leave baby mice safely hidden, only to trap them later when they venture into our house, or the futility of planting grass seed for the birds to eat. Maybe the wasted effort of reclaiming lawn when it hasn’t stopped raining for three months and the long-term forecast isn’t much better.

In the end what stuck in my mind the most was the conflicting lures of planning versus getting stuck in. When I write, I generally just get stuck in, and the ideas follow (hopefully) one upon another as I type. I’ve often thought I should plan more. One writer I know sketches every scene before writing anything and has a prescribed number of chapters in a book and so on.

That fills me with awe and terror.

Awe because I can’t write like that and terror because I feel I probably should. How can I call myself a writer when I stumble along hoping a story comes to me as I type?  Except I recently read that even well-known published authors occasionally have the same approach.

Looking at our garden my conclusion was it’s okay to just get stuck in, although a little planning doesn’t hurt. If I had got stuck in at the beginning of summer, without worrying about a plan, we’d have lawn by now. A lumpy lawn, full of weeds and holes, but a lawn nonetheless. In this case planning equalled procrastination (to be fair, mostly it was due to my husband being just too busy). However I did lose an hour of gardening time on Thursday having to go buy grass seed, so some planning might have helped. The main thing is, when I look at the flat seeded area now (see photo) I am filled with a huge sense of satisfaction and progress, no matter how uneven the end result.

I have reached deadlock with my Young Adult novel, Dragon Wraiths, because I have to create a new world and a history. I am dealing with two planets and two timelines, and planning really is essential to keep it all straight.

But I hate planning.

I don’t like reaching the end of a day with no increase in word-count. There is no sense of satisfaction, just a growing confusion, and sense that I could probably plan forever and never be fully satisfied. My creativity doesn’t function unless I am actually writing. I may as well be doing school essays.

Reading what I’ve written so far I realise that lack of planning hasn’t held me back from writing some good stuff.  I mostly know where the story is going, in my mind, I just don’t always know how it is going to get there until I start writing it down.

So, I could fart about worrying about the details of my world and have no story to enter in the Mslexia competition in September. Or I could break a dozen rules, just keep writing, and add the history in the second draft.

Maybe sometimes you just have to get stuck in and not worry if it’s lumpy and full of holes. After all you can’t edit a blank page any more than you can mow dirt.

Waiting, Dragons, Tennis and Sleep

Wimbledon 2007 – photo by Kol Tregaskes on Flickr

Pictures of Love, my WIP, is out with beta readers. I’ve never had anyone but family or agents read my work before. The former have always loved it, the latter rejected it. So I wait with more than a small amount of trepidation.

To use the time well (hopefully) I have gone back to my Young Adult book, Dragon Wraiths, which I hope to enter in the Mslexia Children’s Novel competition in September. I had put the idea on hold, because the rules state: Women who have had a novel published commercially, for any age group, in any country, are not eligible.

As I hope to self-publish Pictures of Love in August, I figured that meant I couldn’t enter. But I read the rules again, more closely, and it says Self-published manuscripts are eligible, so it’s game on.

Only now I’ve read the rules again I’ve spotted that the entry is 3000 words with no synopsis.

Eek.

The dragons don’t come in until Part Two, a third of the way through the book, and the weighty stuff about global warming etc comes in Part Three, (assuming I can research enough by the September deadline; it’s a new addition to the story).

How can I get enough plot into 3000 words to hook a reader, and still have character development, voice, YA themes and all that jazz, without a synopsis? I guess I have to finish the first draft and see how much time I have left before I worry about it.

That’s if I can stay awake.

Youngest child has had an ear infection, together with a lovely temperature of 39.2 for days, so sleep has been a rare commodity all round. Husband and I have been staggering about sighing I’m so tired; so much so that it’s my eldest child’s favourite excuse every time she has the screaming heebie-jeebies (by the way, I love that Word has that in its dictionary!).

“But mummy I’m just so tired, that’s why I lashed out and threw something at you.”

I have to bite my tongue on snapping back, “You slept for ten hours last night, I’ve barely had that this whole week!”

One of the by-products of sleep deprivation is that I, too, become a tiresome three-year-old.

As a result, my return to writing today, after two weeks without penning a word, as I wrestled with Lulu printing and e-book formatting (posts to come), only lasted until lunchtime. Then I had to admit defeat, close the laptop and turn on the tennis. I saw about three shots before I fell asleep.

Now I’m walking the dog, hoping the rain and soggy trousers will wake me up enough to finish my chapter before I collect the kids.

Or I might go nap in front of Murray.

This is WriterMummy saying night night.

 

P.S. Can’t sleep. Murray is making me too nervous. Come on Murray, hold your serve!

Hurrah for the web!

Sometimes all you need is a nudge in the right direction.

After panicking and dreading the writing of my synopsis, and after writing a couple of terrible, long-winded drafts that broke every rule in terms of length, style, content and readability, all I really needed was a nice step by step guide. And I found it here.

http://mslexia.co.uk/getpublished/pub_wkshop3.php

Following each step described here, I now have a basic synopsis that just needs tightening and shortening slightly.

The same website has also yielded some great advice on titles – http://mslexia.co.uk/getpublished/pub_wkshop1.php  – causing me to change mine from the boring/abstract Pictures of Love to the more specific (if still a bit predictable) Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes.

Now I just need to work on my first chapter. I am certain it wouldn’t pass Miss Snark’s Crap-o-meter, discovered at another great (and sadly discontinued) blog:

http://misssnark.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Crapometer-first%20pages

Miss Snark has also done a Crap-o-meter on synopsis writing, so I can check the quality of mine against an agent’s idea of excellent (or crap!).

Finally I found some lovely words of advice and encouragement on Billie Jo’s blog, here:

http://usaukwoods.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/synopsis-writing-ugh/

Hurrah for the web.