Tuesday, 12 April 2011
Discovering a voice
Now, if this sounds like a gathering of wannabes, think again.
The thing about SCBWI is that there is a very high standard of commitment and professionalism. People being kind to aspirant writers often refer to them as the "pre-published" which presupposes that anyone who wants to will make it as a published author one day. It's well-meaning but inaccurate.
Lots more people want to write, especially for young readers, than have a chance of ever being published, especially in these difficult times. And many of these talk in vague terms about things like "inspiration." They are far less like to complete a book, let alone find a publisher for it, than those who do their homework by joining SCBWI.
They have 19,000 members worldwide, who form a support and friendship group; there are conferences and retreats where agents and editors come to give one-to-one sessions and there is the marvellous anthology idea Undiscovered Voices. There have been two of these so far 2008 and 2009 and 13 of the featured authors - more than half - have gone on to be published or are contracted for publication.
At the retreat I went to in 2009, I met three authors who have gone on to be published (and many more who have become Facebook friends!) One was Candy Gourlay, who was an "undiscovered voice" in the first anthology of 2008. Since then, her first novel, Tall Story, has been published by David Fickling Books and shortlisted for Waterstone's Children's Book Prize, Blue Peter Favourite Story Prize, the Leeds Children's Book Prize and the Hillingdon Secondary School Book Prize. It has been nominated for the Branford Boase, the Redbridge Children's Book Award, the UKLA Book Award and the Carnegie Medal.
Another person I met on the same retreat was Jonathan Mayhew, who had a three-book deal under his belt already, with Bloomsbury, two of which have since been published.
The first was Mortlock, a grisly piece of junior fiction for lovers of horror, with some terrifying aunts who are half human and half crow, and some real deaths.
That too was shortlisted for the Waterstone's prize and nominated for the 2011 Branford Boase Award. And Mayhew's second book, The Demon Collector, is just out.
So you see, these SCBWI-ers really do have a high success rate.
A third writer I met in Staffordshire was Miriam Halahmy and her first book is so recently out that it hasn't had time to be put on any lists but I'm sure it will. Hidden is the only one of the three aimed at teenagers and is set on Hayling island, a location Miriam knows well. When I first heard that, I thought it might involve sailing but it doesn't. It's about illegal immigration, prejudice, ignorance and the gradual growth of trust, respect and tolerance. Apart from the arrival of Mohammed by sea, hit over the head and dumped in the water by unscrupulous people-smugglers, the plot that unwinds could take place anywhere in the UK.
Halahmy knows a lot about family life and customs in Iraq because she has been married to an Iraqi for more than thirty years and that experience makes her book all the more authentic. She has also addressed an increasingly common situation about which most teenagers know little and has cast an uncomfortable spotlight on their reaction to the strangers in their midst.
SCBWI are now accepting submissions from members for the 2011 Undiscovered Voices anthology - see www.undiscoveredvoices.com for details.
The judges have been announced - including agents and editors - and the Chair is Malorie Blackman. But for all who don't make it into the anthology, take heart - Jonathan Mayhew and Miriam Halahmy were not in the two previous ones.