Friday, 31 January 2020

Courses and Competitions for Aspiring Children's Writers

Writing Courses for Aspiring Writers

1) Writing Magazine Online Courses

Writing Magazine is a fabulous resource for writers and offers monthly publishing news and opportunities. There is always a Writing for Children's article, written by Amy Sparkes* offering useful tips and advice. Writing Magazine also run a huge range of online courses across all genres of writing. Reasonably priced, this was my first ever port of call and I am now on my third extension of the Writing for Children course.
The initial course comprises of a set of detailed notes and 8 assignments which you have two years to complete. An experienced tutor will give you feedback on each set writing task or you can take the lead on what you want to focus on. For the past two and a half years I have focused on picture book manuscripts, extracts and even a whole chapter book!
*https://www.amysparkes.co.uk/- A published author, Amy offers a huge amount of advice on her website for aspiring writers and also runs 'WednesdayWritingTips' on Twitter.
https://www.writers-online.co.uk/Store/Subscriptions/- Subscribe to Writing Magazine for £9.99 a quarter. Subscribers also get special rates on courses.
https://www.writers-online.co.uk/- The 'Writing for Children' course is currently priced at £224 for non-subscribers and £199 for subscribers of Writing Magazine. However, discounts are frequently offered - for example, 20% off all courses is being offered across January 2020.
Extensions of 6 further assignments are charged at £140.

2) Lou Treleaven - Online Picture Book Course

Published children's author, Lou Treleaven has a haven of a website for aspiring authors. Not only is there a regular blog slot but Lou offers reams of wonderful advice ranging from which agents and publishers are taking submissions to how to write a synopsis. Lou offers a wonderful critique service and last year launched a 6 week online picture book course. This is a perfect platform for beginners or those wanting to hone their critique. There is no pressure and you can complete each task at your own pace.
https://loutreleaven.com/writing-course/- Lou is currently enrolling for the May 2020 course, priced at £150.

3) WRITEMENTOR

Over the past year WriteMentor has literally exploded in my face. Growing at an exponential rate it offers huge opportunities all over the country and online with the aim of making writing for  children  accessible and inclusive to all.
It would literally take me all day to write about the amazing things that WriteMentor now offer so please check out their website: https://write-mentor.com/
However, below are a few courses I have done or am doing through WriteMentor and thoroughly recommend:
Preparing for submission course: https://write-mentor.com/15-week-mg-ya-courses/preparing-for-submission-with-aisha-bushby/ This six week online course will help you hone your pitch, synopsis and first three chapters for a WIP. Culminating in agent feedback on your submission package this proved invaluable to me. Currently priced at £99

Writing Picture Books with Clare Helen Welsh: https://write-mentor.com/product/picture-book-course-with-clare-helen-welsh/  Another six week course focussing solely on picture books. Clare Helen Welsh, published author, takes you through weekly notes ranging from your first concept to final, polished edit. At the end of the six weeks you are able to submit a whole PB manuscript to an agent and get live feedback. I nearly fainted at this!!! £99

Launched in September 2019, this online weekend conference was a wealth of opportunity and resources. Set to return this year, tickets to online workshops and agent 1-2-1's range from £5 upwards.

Running across January and February, these writing weekends, taking place across the whole of the country, will get you away from the screen and meeting people in person. With the opportunity to attend one or both days and receive 1-2-1 feedback from high-profile agents, what on earth are you waiting for? Prices start at £100 for a day but look out for discounts, offers and concessions.

Digital WriteMentor magazine and weekly newsletter: https://write-mentor.com/writementor-magazine-for-childrens-writers/ 
If signing up for a free weekly newsletter isn't enough to satisfy your craving for more information then subscribe to the new digital quarterly magazine. Priced at £3 an issue or £9.99 for a year, it is an inspiring read.

See below for the WriteMentor competition.


If you fancy a day out in London, nosing around a children's publishing office and hearing how the industry functions at the chalkface then Nosy Crow offer the occasional masterclass with a 1-2-1 opportunity. This was an invaluable day as it taught me about the how sales work in an ever changing, trending market. It also highlights the importance of global concepts and what to do and not do when writing picture books. Sadly, all the 1-2-1 tickets were sold out when I booked but it was still a riveting day. However, I still regret missing out on this opportunity. (Price was approximately £150)

The Golden Egg Academy: https://www.goldeneggacademy.co.uk/
Run by a team of highly experienced eggitors, the Golden Egg courses aim to put aspiring writers on a professional path, with intensive courses, direction and networking opportunities. Their nest is rapidly expanding and since I started following them they now offer a picture book programme (I am in the current cohort) and fiction courses outside of London. Entry is via application of work (see criteria.)
This course is not for the faint-hearted. It is for wannabe professionals or current professionals looking to seriously hone their craft. The courses are delivered through online webinars, termly workshops (London based for the Picture Book Programme) and termly 1-2-1's. Feedback is as you would expect from an editor at a publishing house but is designed to make your work the best it can be. There are regular inspirational talks from authors and an annual 'Big Honk' party to enjoy in London's Mayfair.
The price of Golden Egg courses are costly - the most I have ever spent to date. However, this is a fully immersive course culminating with an agent and publisher showcase. Success rates are high and I am thoroughly enjoying my time with them - I haven't cracked yet!

These are only the courses I have experience with and there are plenty others to consider. Please let me know if you have found success on a different one. I have heard many good things about the Curtis Brown courses plus there are often courses run by Writers and Artists.


Competitions for Children's Writing

TheWriting Magazine Picture Book Prizewww.sparkey.org.uk/Books/picture-book-prize/
Running for the 4th year this year, the submission window for a children's picture book manuscript (text only) runs from September 1st to October 31st. Entry cost is £5. All long-listers receive brief feedback, short-listers receive detailed feedback with the top three being awarded prizes. First prize is £200 and lunch with top agent, Julia Churchill. The prize is run through Amy Sparkes and Writing Magazine. One entry per person.

With the window for entries closing on Jan 31st 2020, this year has seen the competition open it's doors to picture books and chapter books. Entries can be multiple but each costs £10. The pull of this competition is that all feedback and scores are made available to you and all short-listed entries are offered a place on their summer mentoring programme which ends in an agent showcase and has a high success rate.

One entry per person. NO RHYME! Prize: £1000 and possible publication.
Deadline: 31st Jan

Subscribers to SCBWI_BI can enter regular Slushpile challenges, set by high profile agents. Follow their criteria and you can bypass the slushpile straight to an agent's desk. Previous challenges have included a non-rhyming picture book, the opening of a YA rom-com and a narrative non-fiction pitch.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

The Chapters of Chasing Dreams: Part 3-Personal Investment

Part 3 - Personal Investment

Writing - what a nice, cheap vocation! Surely all I need is a notebook and pen? Well, maybe a laptop...oh, and lots of ideas!

You'd be surprised! Over the last three years, what started out as a simple enterprise and a form of escapism has become a full-time, military operation which has cost me hundreds, if not now running into a couple of thousand. Eeek!

Did I have to spend that money? No, of course not and nor should anyone feel pressured to do so. However, as an aspiring writer I quickly realised there were several things I needed to do.

1) READ: If you want to write for a certain age-group or in a particular genre then you need to read examples (and more examples) of good stories already out there that fit your criteria. Being inspired by both debut and established authors is important and helps you to know the current market. Reading widely also hones or extends your personal taste and highlights different engaging and dynamic techniques used by authors.
COST: Libraries are invaluable for this as are book swaps, charity shops and apps such as Borrowbox. Unfortunately, the problem I have in Cornwall is that new releases are very hard to come by in these places, meaning I end up spending a lot of money on books. This is my favourite thing to do of course but it has added up. Has it been worth it? Absolutely! It's even enabled me to launch a book review blog for children's books: http://www.thebreadcrumbforest.blogspot.com. However, my budget is currently very tight and I have wondered about trying a book swapping group where we all pitch in for some new releases and share them round.

2) FIND SUPPORT:Writing is challenging, isolating and, at times, soul destroying. As a natural loner, even I am surprised at how much I have struggled with this. Find like-minded people and connect with them. It's amazing what a boost it is and what a difference it makes. 
COST: Predominantly free! There is an amazing writing community on Twitter and Instagram. A year's membership to SCBWI_BI* is $95 with a renewal fee of $80. Link up with your regional organiser and you can join critique groups online and in person. https://britishisles.scbwi.org
*(Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators_British Isles)

3) IMPROVE: Sadly, I am not a blazing bush of talent who has discovered I can put pen to paper and write something instantly staggering. Yet, I have always had a spark of aptitude for poetry, rhyme and certain types of stories, as well as a love for it. However, a spark has to be nurtured- the flame has to be fanned. I realised very quickly that writing is a craft and has to worked at if you want to get better.
COST: There doesn't necessarily have to be any cost to this. The best way to improve is to practise and, if you are reading lots then this should help to inform and shape what you are writing. However, there is one crucial factor that I think is vital to improve. Which brings me to my next point...

4) FEEDBACK: For an aspiring writer feedback is gold-dust. Is my concept strong? Is my writing effective? How do I know if I can't get industry feedback. My friends and family are patient, often too kind or, in some cases, not kind at all (Hello kids!). Their perspectives have certainly been useful...but sadly not enough.
COST: It was at this point I decided I needed to find ways of getting professional advice on my writing and this is where I began to incur the cost. However, doesn't every job require a level of personal investment and training? Across sixteen years of teaching I was expected to undergo professional development every year and the times when I didn't (Hello maternity!) I felt my confidence and competence drop considerably.
Aren't university fees £9,000 a year now? Well, I've been writing again for nearly three and thankfully have not (Phew!) got anywhere near that figure. But what I have spent has been well worth it!

The brilliantly, fantastic news is that in the writing world things have changed dramatically in the last five years or so. Even in the three years I have been writing, I have seen a mammoth increase in opportunity: from critique groups to courses, competitions to online conferences. The writing community is now branching further outside London and becoming more accessible and much more reasonably priced. Feedback? I've now had plenty. Have I improved? Definitely! Will I ever stop needing feedback? NO!

So, however minimal your budget is, there is something out there for you! Even if it's simply a local book club or writing group, a picture book chat on Twitter or a copy of Writing Magazine - any personal investment is money or time well-spent!

In order to make myself useful, I will be building a list below of courses, groups, competitions etc that have helped me to become a better writer and forge lasting friendships and support within the writing community. For accessibility, I will also post these in separate sections on the blog.

Writing Courses

1) Writing Magazine Online Courses

Writing Magazine is a fabulous resource for writers and offers monthly publishing news and opportunities. There is always a Writing for Children's article, written by Amy Sparkes* offering useful tips and advice. Writing Magazine also run a huge range of online courses across all genres of writing. Reasonably priced, this was my first ever port of call and I am now on my third extension of the Writing for Children course.
The initial course comprises of a set of detailed notes and 8 assignments which you have two years to complete. An experienced tutor will give you feedback on each set writing task or you can take the lead on what you want to focus on. For the past two and a half years I have focused on picture book manuscripts, extracts and even a whole chapter book!
*https://www.amysparkes.co.uk/- A published author, Amy offers a huge amount of advice on her website for aspiring writers and also runs 'WednesdayWritingTips' on Twitter.
https://www.writers-online.co.uk/Store/Subscriptions/- Subscribe to Writing Magazine for £9.99 a quarter. Subscribers also get special rates on courses.
https://www.writers-online.co.uk/- The 'Writing for Children' course is currently priced at £224 for non-subscribers and £199 for subscribers of Writing Magazine. However, discounts are frequently offered - for example, 20% off all courses is being offered across January 2020.
Extensions of 6 further assignments are charged at £140.

2) Lou Treleaven - Online Picture Book Course

Published children's author, Lou Treleaven has a haven of a website for aspiring authors. Not only is there a regular blog slot but Lou offers reams of wonderful advice ranging from which agents and publishers are taking submissions to how to write a synopsis. Lou offers a wonderful critique service and last year launched a 6 week online picture book course. This is a perfect platform for beginners or those wanting to hone their critique. There is no pressure and you can complete each task at your own pace.
https://loutreleaven.com/writing-course/- Lou is currently enrolling for the May 2020 course, priced at £150.

3) WRITEMENTOR

Over the past year WriteMentor has literally exploded in my face. Growing at an exponential rate it offers huge opportunities all over the country and online with the aim of making writing for  children  accessible and inclusive to all.
It would literally take me all day to write about the amazing things that WriteMentor now offer so please check out their website: https://write-mentor.com/
However, below are a few courses I have done or am doing through WriteMentor and thoroughly recommend:
Preparing for submission course: https://write-mentor.com/15-week-mg-ya-courses/preparing-for-submission-with-aisha-bushby/ This six week online course will help you hone your pitch, synopsis and first three chapters for a WIP. Culminating in agent feedback on your submission package this proved invaluable to me. Currently priced at £99

Writing Picture Books with Clare Helen Welsh: https://write-mentor.com/product/picture-book-course-with-clare-helen-welsh/  Another six week course focussing solely on picture books. Clare Helen Welsh, published author, takes you through weekly notes ranging from your first concept to final, polished edit. At the end of the six weeks you are able to submit a whole PB manuscript to an agent and get live feedback. I nearly fainted at this!!! £99

Online Conference: https://write-mentor.com/w-o-w-writementor-online-writing-conference/
Launched in September 2019, this online weekend conference was a wealth of opportunity and resources. Set to return this year, tickets to online workshops and agent 1-2-1's range from £5 upwards.

Writing Weekends: https://write-mentor.com/writementor-writing-weekends-www/
Running across January and February, these writing weekends, taking place across the whole of the country, will get you away from the screen and meeting people in person. With the opportunity to attend one or both days and receive 1-2-1 feedback from high-profile agents, what on earth are you waiting for? Prices start at £100 for a day but look out for discounts, offers and concessions.

Digital WriteMentor magazine and weekly newsletter: https://write-mentor.com/writementor-magazine-for-childrens-writers/ 
If signing up for a free weekly newsletter isn't enough to satisfy your craving for more information then subscribe to the new digital quarterly magazine. Priced at £3 an issue or £9.99 for a year, it is an inspiring read.

See below for the WriteMentor competition.


Nosy Crow Masterclass: https://nosycrow.com/blog/the-nosy-crow-masterclass-is-back/
If you fancy a day out in London, nosing around a children's publishing office and hearing how the industry functions at the chalkface then Nosy Crow offer the occasional masterclass with a 1-2-1 opportunity. This was an invaluable day as it taught me about the how sales work in an ever changing, trending market. It also highlights the importance of global concepts and what to do and not do when writing picture books. Sadly, all the 1-2-1 tickets were sold out when I booked but it was still a riveting day. However, I still regret missing out on this opportunity. (Price was approximately £150)

The Golden Egg Academy: https://www.goldeneggacademy.co.uk/
Run by a team of highly experienced eggitors, the Golden Egg courses aim to put aspiring writers on a professional path, with intensive courses, direction and networking opportunities. Their nest is rapidly expanding and since I started following them they now offer a picture book programme (I am in the current cohort) and fiction courses outside of London. Entry is via application of work (see criteria.)
This course is not for the faint-hearted. It is for wannabe professionals or current professionals looking to seriously hone their craft. The courses are delivered through online webinars, termly workshops (London based for the Picture Book Programme) and termly 1-2-1's. Feedback is as you would expect from an editor at a publishing house but is designed to make your work the best it can be. There are regular inspirational talks from authors and an annual 'Big Honk' party to enjoy in London's Mayfair.
The price of Golden Egg courses are costly - the most I have ever spent to date. However, this is a fully immersive course culminating with an agent and publisher showcase. Success rates are high and I am thoroughly enjoying my time with them - I haven't cracked yet!

These are only the courses I have experience with and there are plenty others to consider. Please let me know if you have found success on a different one. I have heard many good things about the Curtis Brown courses plus there are often courses run by Writers and Artists.


Competitions for Children's Writing

TheWriting Magazine Picture Book Prizewww.sparkey.org.uk/Books/picture-book-prize/
https://www.writers-online.co.uk/store/buy-the-magazine/writing-magazine/writing-magazine-october-2019
Running for the 4th year this year, the submission window for a children's picture book manuscript (text only) runs from September 1st to October 31st. Entry cost is £5. All long-listers receive brief feedback, short-listers receive detailed feedback with the top three being awarded prizes. First prize is £200 and lunch with top agent, Julia Churchill. The prize is run through Amy Sparkes and Writing Magazine. One entry per person.

WriteMentor Children's Novel Award: https://write-mentor.com/writementor-childrens-novel-award-2/
With the window for entries closing on Jan 31st 2020, this year has seen the competition open it's doors to picture books and chapter books. Entries can be multiple but each costs £10. The pull of this competition is that all feedback and scores are made available to you and all short-listed entries are offered a place on their summer mentoring programme which ends in an agent showcase and has a high success rate.

The Salariya Children's Picture Book Competition:https://www.stratfordliteraryfestival.co.uk/article/childrens-book-competition
One entry per person. NO RHYME! Prize: £1000 and possible publication.
Deadline: 31st Jan

SCBWI_BI Slushpile Challenges: https://www.wordsandpics.org/2020/01/slush-pile-challenge-january-2020.html
Subscribers to SCBWI_BI can enter regular Slushpile challenges, set by high profile agents. Follow their criteria and you can bypass the slushpile straight to an agent's desk. Previous challenges have included a non-rhyming picture book, the opening of a YA rom-com and a narrative non-fiction pitch.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

The Chapters of Chasing Dreams: Part 2-The Rocky Road of Writing

Part 2: The Rocky Road of Writing

Several months ago, in October 2019, I was in the middle of the school run when I got the email every writer is waiting for.

Dear Tracy,
Thank you for submitting (picture book manuscript). I have read your submission and am excited about the opportunity to publish it.

I couldn't believe it.

It was two and a half years since I had returned to writing and here was my dream morphing into reality in front of me.

It was a tentative, double-take moment (What's the catch, what's the catch, what's the catch) which, after a couple of emails, quickly turned euphoric: the offer was genuine, the company were legit and the people seemed lovely...and extremely interested.

Problem was (this is me and, of course, there was a catch) that the publishing offer came from a company in America...

a very small company in America...

a company which were very excited about using my manuscript as one of the launch books for their new children's imprint. (An imprint which, by the way, had a very cute name.)

Nevertheless, it all sounded really promising...

until the advice came flooding in to turn it down. Advice that I had to admit I trusted.

The reasons were varied and complicated. It wasn't that there was a problem with the offer but more that the publishing company in question were too small to do more than sell online or print on demand. In short, the book would not get the sales, meaning my debut would look like a failure.

And, if my debut was a failure no publisher would want to take on further work and no agent would want to take a risk on me as a client.

'But there's interest in my manuscript,' I cried. 'Surely that counts for something?'

Maybe not.

So what did I do? Not wanting to thwart a chance at a long-term career, I heeded the advice, took a (very) deep breath, kissed goodbye at the chance of seeing my work in print (my dream since childhood) and turned the offer down.

I have to admit, that was not the best day. But, I was firm. I allowed myself twenty-four hours to mope and then I moved on. After all, those who had advised me knew what they were talking about and hopefully there was light around the corner.

There was. By the time Christmas came I had two honourable mentions and two short-listed entries from a run of competitions I had entered. What an end to the year! So much so that when I jotted down a list of my successes in 2019, I actually forgot to list the offer of publication. It had all but disappeared from my mind.

January 2020 dawned full of hope and promise. Then seven days in came the news that I hadn't been placed in the bigger of the competitions. Nor had I won the smaller one. Instead first place went to a very worthy winner who I happen to have the privilege of knowing. I was thrilled for him and disappointed for me.

And then the news continued. Within the space of a week, two of my other writing buddies also received wonderful, ground-breaking news about their work.

One of the best things about joining the writing community has been the supportive and dynamic hub of people I have connected with. People who share the same passions, the same visions and the same hopes as myself. People who provide encouragement, support and who genuinely wish you well. The feeling is most definitely that we are all in it together.

But sometimes, just sometimes, when you're chasing dreams there are moments when it feels like it's hopeless...like you are hopeless.

One step forwards, three steps back. Suddenly, the publishing offer from three months earlier came pushing right back to the front of my mind. From that to...nothing. So near but so far...

Make way for a massive dose of imposter's syndrome and feeling hard done by.

Do I ever think about giving up?  Yes, everyday. As short as life is, I need to earn. Where is the line between dreams and self-indulgence?

Will I give up? No! Why?

Well, for one, it was my promise to my dad and, two, let's look down the road to 2030. Another decade could see my kitchen table littered with books I've had published. Okay, so that's best case scenario but it is still a possibility - a distinct possibility.
One thing's for sure, though. If I give up, my kitchen table will remain ladened with nothing but food.

It's the hope and possibility which keeps us chasing dreams. And as my writing tutor has categorically said on several occasions: 'You can kill anyone in a story, even the main character, but you can never, ever kill hope.' 

Hope and hard work! That's what I'm chasing dreams with. All my writing friends are on a similar path but we're not on the same one. We'll all get our moments to shine and to celebrate and no doubt we'll all have our 'can't do it days'.

But what's important is that we get back up, keep smiling and keep on going.










Friday, 17 January 2020

The Chapters of Chasing Dreams: Part 1- A Wake-up Call

Part 1: A Wake-Up Call

Becoming a writer, especially a writer of children's stories, was never a lightbulb moment for me. It is something that has been with me since I can remember. The majority of my childhood memories come accompanied with the image of a book or a notepad:
  • Me curled up with a book on a bean bag (my nickname, by the way, very quickly became Beanie Bum).
  • Me scribbling stories in the back of the car on our long treks down to Cornwall.
  • Me winning the poetry prize at primary school.
  • Me reading my work aloud to my long suffering family.
It was my dream to write tales that would be read and enjoyed by a host of younger readers - so much so that if I didn't achieve it then I didn't understand why I had been put on this planet. It was and remains the essence of me.

So why then, if that was my aspiration when I was still in single figures, have I not achieved it by the age of 39?

Because, as with many of us, life got in the way. I wanted to live in Cornwall, I needed financial independence, therefore I needed a job that paid.

So I abandoned my dream for a career in primary teaching.

Actually, it wasn't quite as cut and dried at that. It feels like I abandoned my dream but, looking back, I can see that really I never stopped writing. Teaching became a creative outlet for me and telling stories was a huge part of that. I even did an oral story-telling course and adapted well know fairytales into oral performances. 
Then there were the endless diaries and journals, even the odd story idea scribbled on the inside covers...but as a self-indulgent twenty something, I was writing about my life, my thoughts and feelings...

until motherhood took over. Three children in five years and I was in a fog.

And then, at the age of 36 I got my wake-up call.

In early May 2017 I took a train back from London to Cornwall after a training day for a marking job. This was the second year I'd done it and so it marked the year anniversary since I'd last been away from the children and home. Revelling in the five hours of 'me' time ahead and having exhausted every book and magazine on the outbound journey, I did something I hadn't done in a long time...I took out a brand new notebook and started to write a rhyming children's story.

I will forever wonder about the timing of that decision...because exactly three days later I had a phone call that changed my life. My father, the man who has instilled in me my love of books and writing, was dead - killed in a freak car accident. 

Suddenly I was back on a train to Birmingham with my mother and sister waiting for me and I had exactly five hours to think about what on earth I was going to say, or do, when I saw them.

I had no idea.

So, to stop myself worrying, I took out my notebook and carried on with the story I had begun a few days earlier. By the time the train pulled in, I had a full first draft.

How inappropriate it sounds, how inappropriate it was...to bury myself in a tale about a boy hunting for marshmallows when we'd been plunged into the darkness of grief.

If it was shock then I've never recovered from it because from that day onwards I began writing with a new and determined focus and I very clearly knew why:

  • If I was to be faced with a long tunnel of blackness whilst raising a young family then I absolutely needed something positive to pull me through it.
  • Writing was my dad's legacy to me. I hadn't always been the best daughter but one day I would absolutely make him proud and prove that the hours of time he invested in me would never be wasted.
  • Life is too short to not chase your dreams - if I hadn't stopped, maybe my dad would have been alive to see me achieve them. If I don't do it now, will I live to achieve them?
There's not always a right time to realise your biggest ambitions. But to quote J.K Rowling through the legendary voice of Dumbledore: "“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” ― (Harry Potter and the The Prisoner of Azkaban). Writing was my light. It was just a shame it took such a shake-up to get me back on route.

Chasing dreams has never been destined to be easy. But this was the first chapter in my revived attempt...

            and almost three years later, I don't regret it for a second.




Hooray! I received an honourable mention in this years 6th Annual Valentiny Contest run by Susanna Hill

For anyone who is not aware of  Susanna Leonard Hill's  Annual Competitions, they are a fantastic challenge for any children's write...