Friday, 29 January 2016

And the Costa Book of the Year is - a Children's Book! Savita Kalhan

Hooray! Frances Hardinge has not only won the Costa Children's Book award but also the Costa Book of the Year award for her novel The Lie Tree!

The last time a children's book won the Costa Book of the Year was fifteen years ago in 2001 when Philip Pullman won with his novel, The Amber Spyglass, which is part of His Dark Materials series.

Hardinge describes her novel as a "Victorian Gothic mystery with added palaeontology, blasting powder, post-mortem photography and feminism".  At its heart, The Lie Tree is a children's book, and as Frances Hardinge says - most of her books are written for herself as a 12 year old.

Her win is important for so many reasons, not least because when she was interviewed on Radio 4, she was asked by the interviewer what winning the 'proper' prize meant to her. I'm not sure whether the interviewer meant that the Children's Prize was improper in some way, or just not as important or meaningful...

So why is it an important win, apart from the fact that the book explores issues that a scientifically-minded, very intelligent 14 year old girl in a Victorian age faces at a time when girls had little or no say in the world, much less in the scientific community?

Over the years, teen and young adult fiction has been seen as unliterary and lightweight, and because it caters for children, it therefore cannot be deemed worthy of winning a 'proper' prize. Writers of teen fiction are often asked whether they think they might be the next JK Rowling, or whether they might eventually write a 'proper grown up' book, so for a book like The Lie Tree to become part of mainstream literary fiction will open hearts and minds to the fact that children's fiction is eminently readable, as enjoyable, and as good as other 'grown up' books is great.

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Friday, 22 January 2016

Celebrating SCBWI British Isles 20th Anniversary

EDGE Author Sara Grant owes a debt of gratitude to SCBWI and its Members

I wouldn’t be published if it wasn’t for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). This year the British chapter of SCBWI turns 20. I thought I’d take this opportunity to express my gratitude to this organization and its amazing members and volunteers.

The SCBWI is a network for the exchange of knowledge among writers, illustrators, editors, publishers, agents, librarians, educators, booksellers and others involved with literature for young people. SCBWI boasts more than 22,000 members worldwide in more than seventy regions, making it the largest children’s writing organization in the world.

In 1994 I attended my first workshop on writing children’s fiction, lead by the incredible Elaine Marie Alphin. I left inspired with a notebook full of ideas. She said that if I was serious about writing for children I should join SCBWI -- which I immediately did.

From then on, I have regularly attended events and volunteered for this organization on both sides of the Atlantic.

Here are 20 reasons I’m grateful for SCBWI.

Thanks to…

1.      Natascha Biebow. She’s served the British SCBWI as its regional advisor (RA) for more than
18 years. The British Chapter started with twenty members and under her leadership has grown to nearly 1,000 members. She is the longest-tenured international RA with the fourth largest chapter worldwide.

2.      Natascha again because she handed a copy of the British SCBWI’s Undiscovered Voices 2008 anthology to literary agent Jenny Savill at the Bologna Book Fair in 2008. Jenny read the extract from Dark Parties, which was included in the anthology, and gave me a call. I signed with her a few months later.

3.      My US Writers Group. At an SCBWI event around about 1995, I met three Indiana writers who would become my critique and support group until I moved to London in 2003. They survived my early kids stories, which I hope they have long-since forgotten. A regular critique group was key to establishing a habit of writing and an ability to take feedback.

4.      My UK Writers Group. One of the first things I did when I moved to the UK was connect to the local SCBWI and join a writers group. The group members changed and the monthly meetings have dwindled to periodic one-to-ones, but those writers introduced me to the British SCBWI and were my first friends in the UK.

5.      Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser. They are the visionaries who started SCBWI in the US in 1971 and continue to guide its progress.

Thanks for…

6.      Lifelong friends. I have many cherished friendships with the writers and illustrators I met through SCBWI.  

7.      Encouragement. Whether its face-to-face at an event, email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. SCBWI members understand the highs and lows of publishing and never fail to offer encouragement.

8.      Knowledge. I never leave an SCBWI event without a notebook full of ideas, facts and to-dos.

9.      Inspiration. I’ve met almost all of my literary heroes at SCBWI events. I have shelves full of signed books and a head full of inspirational quotes to keep me going.

10.  Community. What could be better than gathering with people who love what you love?

11.  Industry News. Through regular emails, newsletters and a yahoo group, I keep up on what’s happening in the publishing world.

The Mass Book Launch Celebration
12.  The Annual Conference. It’s one glorious weekend in November that’s action-packed with speakers, celebrations, networking and fellowship.

13.  Networking. Whether at the agent’s party or the mass book launch, you have an opportunity to meet folks from every aspect of the publishing world.

14.  Networks. No matter where you live in the UK, an SCBWI group is never far away.

15.  Worldwide Connections. And no matter where you go in the world, you can find SCBWI chapters.

16.  PULSE (SCBWI’s resources for its published members). SCBWI grows with its members, offering nuts and bolts sessions for those just starting out to PULSE events for writers and illustrators who have new challenges and opportunities once they are published.

The 2014 Undiscovered Voices writers, illustrators & planning team.
17.  Undiscovered Voices. It was my stepping stone to finding an agent, a publisher and ultimately readers.

18.  Undiscovered Voices. It’s a huge part of my life. It’s how I give back and help other writers and illustrators achieve their publishing dreams. Last week we announced the writers and illustrators who are featured in the fifth anthology. From the previous four anthologies, 32 writers and illustrators have received contracts for more than one 120 books in more than 70 countries. I couldn’t be more proud.

And finally…

19.  Volunteer! Volunteer for SCBWI because it’s what makes the organization so amazing. The British chapter hosts so many events a year. It has a web site, Facebook group, newsletter and much more. Everything is run by volunteers. Volunteer because it’s a way to give back to an organization that will give you so much.

20.  Volunteer!! If not for a philanthropic reason, volunteer because it’s a great away to network. You can host an event with an author you admire or set up critiques with your dream agent.

Thanks SCBWI -- for all of the above and so much more.

   About Sara…
Sara Grant has worked on both sides of the editorial desk. She has inspired and edited nearly 100 books for children. Her two YA novels – Dark Parties (SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner, Europe) and Half Lives – are futuristic thrillers. She also writes a funny magical series for young readers – Magic Trix. Sara is currently developing a new action-adventure series for tweens with Scholastic. Chasing Danger will be published in April. She leads writing workshops in the US, UK and Europe as part of BookBound and lectures at the University of Winchester and Goldsmiths. Website: Twitter: @authorsaragrant

    Book Bound is now accepting applications for its 2016 retreat for adults who are interested in writing novels for children and teens. It’s an intensive weekend of workshops, one-to-ones, and camaraderie. Visit the Book Bound web site for more details:

Friday, 25 December 2015

Season's Greetings from the Authors at The EDGE!

On behalf of everyone here at the EDGE, I'd like to say a huge thank you for your continued support this year. We've enjoyed your company and hope to see you again in 2016, when we will be announcing some exciting news! Watch this space . . .

In the meantime, have a fantastic festive break, and all the best for a happy and healthy 2016.

Friday, 18 December 2015

In defence of YA literature, by Bryony Pearce

It appears to have become fashionable recently to write blogs and articles, to make comments on Twitter and Facebook and to journalists which make fun of Young Adult literature.

These detractors, some of whom are writers themselves, tend to focus their derision by stereotyping the genre as nothing but Twilight clones, Hunger Games wannabes and sparkly pink books about love at first sight.

Demanding more protagonists who don’t solve their problems by kicking ass, learning karate or becoming more attractive suggests to your audience that most of them do. Demanding fewer books about sparkly vampires or handsome werewolves implies that this is the dominating feature of YA literature (Twilight was written ten years ago, get over it). Saying that your own book stands out because it is complex implies that other YA is not. Asking for the elimination of ‘instalove’ allows your reader to infer that no YA literature contains relationships with slow build or real depth.

How are writers of YA literature meant to bring in more readers (even to convert reluctant readers) when there are people, other writers no less, telling them not to bother reading within the genre aimed at them.

At the moment YA is the nerdy kid in the playground; the one it’s easy, even fashionable to pick on.

Perhaps this is something to do with its success. YA literature is one of the few genres that has shown market growth throughout this depressed economy, and, as we know, bullies don’t like a successful underdog.

Perhaps it is because the books that have been massively successful have not all had great literary merit (but have been cracking good stories nevertheless – and given a choice between reading literary fiction with no story and a book with an amazing story, but which won’t have passages read out in poetry appreciation I know which I’d pick). Perhaps it is because the books that Hollywood chooses to make into film are the best known, if not the best examples of the genre, enabling those who don’t read YA widely to pigeonhole all YA literature (although by this argument I could go on to judge all adult literature by Fifty Shades of Grey).

Perhaps it is because the YA community is well known to be ‘nice’. As writers, readers and bloggers were are generally accepted to be mutually supportive and friendly, does this make our genre an ‘easy target’?

Perhaps it is because our readers themselves are, or appear to be easy targets. It has always been the role of those past a certain age to criticise the choices of the young – their music, their clothes and, now that they have it, their literature.

Readers of YA literature are not easy targets, as some attackers of YA literature have recently discovered but … and here’s the big but, some of them are.

Many readers of YA are young. Not all of them of course, YA welcomes readers of all ages, but by definition, Young Adult literature is aimed at young people.
When someone attacks YA as a genre, minimalises its importance, says that it has no literary merit, no complexity, no depth, no understanding of the world, especially if they have their own platform, I wonder if they realise that they are also saying to its loyal, young readers: there’s something wrong with you. Your choices show that you aren’t clever enough to be reading books that deal with real issues, or that have true complexity, you aren’t serious enough to enjoy real literature. All you’re good enough for is fiddling around in the shallow end of the pool, if you had any real chops, you’d join us in the deep end – the adult section.

The YA literature that I have experienced most commonly deals with subjects that concern young people. It helps them to work through and understand issues such as poverty, bullying, relationships, sexuality, climate change, death of loved ones, war, politics, violence, hatred, bigotry, racism, working out who you are, where you fit into the world, who you are going to be in the future and yes, love. It teachers its readership that it can be brave, that it can bring about change in the world – and who more important to send this message out to than the young?

Yes, some YA could perhaps be described ‘fast food literature’ (and why not – who’d want to read Tolstoy, Shakespeare and Melville all the time) but not all of it not, in fact, the majority. I’m not going to provide a reading list here (although I could); instead I suggest that we start a hashtag of the things that YA does well:

  1. Engaging teenagers in debate
  2. Enabling conversations between teenagers and their guardians
  3. Letting teenagers know that they are not the only ones in the world with those concerns, those problems, those feelings
  4. Exploring the ideas of and the ethics behind scientific discoveries
  5. Engaging reluctant readers by providing books that are totally gripping
  6. Creating believable, memorable characters
  7. Creating whole worlds for readers to get lost in
  8. Using science fiction, fantasy and magical realism to deal with serious issues
  9. Widening teen vocabulary, emotional intelligence and articulation
  10. Preparing readers for adult literature …

Friday, 11 December 2015

Diverse December

#diversedecember was launched on Twitter on the 1st of December to celebrate BAME, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, authors, and to highlight the continuing lack of diversity in publishing.
I have blogged about the lack of diversity in children's literature here many times over the past few years. I've also blogged about Malorie Blackman and Bali Rai's call for more diversity in children's literature, and about how the lack of diversity in children's literature affected me when I was growing up.
Now, Nikesh Shukla has joined Jon McGregor in an attack slamming the elitism of an industry which “work[s] to perpetuate an environment in which their own sort feel at home."
The article was published in the Guardian: 'Where are the Brown People?: Authors slam lack of diversity in UK publishing'.

On Twitter people have been sharing what they want to read this month and recommending books. It's easier to do this with contemporary fiction because there seem to be far fewer published books by BAME teen writers.

I'll be reading these two great new books published this year by BAME teen/YA authors:
The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo by Catherine Johnson
13 Hours by Narinder Dhami

I'll also be reading these adult fiction books:
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
The Private Life of Mrs Sharma by Ratika Kapur
A Restless Wind by Sharukh Husain

Nosy Crow has announced that they would like to support #diversedecember. So if there are any BAME authors out there, now is your chance to submit. Check out the submission guidelines first here - Nosy Crow
Tom from Nosy Crow said, "Today we’re announcing an open call for children’s fiction submissions from debut BAME writers. I think that it’s incredibly important that our industry represents a wide range of voices, not only so that children from every background can recognise their own lives and experiences in the books that they read, but also simply to enrich the body of children’s literature that we publish, by moving out of a monoculture and embracing a wider world of ideas."

Nikesh Shukla is also compiling an anthology of essays by BAME authors, The Good Immigrant, fifteen writers who will be exploring what it means to be Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic in the UK today. He is looking for funding - here's the link if you'd like to pledge - UNBOUND
J K Rowling has just pledged £5K.

You can follow #diversedecember on Twitter for more book recommendations and news.

Please leave your book recommendations in the comments.

Friday, 4 December 2015

No Such Thing as Normal

by EDGE Author Sara Grant

During the Q&A of a creative writing workshop for thirteen year olds, I was asked, "If given the chance, would you go back to being thirteen again?" I blurted my response, “Oh, good God, no.” I shouldn’t have said it, but my instinctual response flashed from my brain and out my mouth before I could stop it. I recovered by saying something like “I love my life and believe in looking forward, not back.” Which is true and should have been my first response really.

The young writer asked a follow up question, “What would you tell your thirteen year old self?” My answer was basically it gets better.

My young teen years were probably the most difficult of my life. Here’s a picture of what I looked
like. I was pink-cheeked and chubby, and the mock Farrah Fawcett hair style didn't do me any favours either. I know looks shouldn’t matter, but when I was a teen, it seemed to me that it was the only thing that did. I remember telling myself over and over that some people have their glory days when they are teens, but my day was coming. And I was right.  

There’s a wonderful project that I support called It Gets Better. Its mission is to communicate to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth around the world that it gets better, and to create and inspire the changes needed to make it better for them. They have some amazing and inspiring testimonials.
I wish more teens could hear and believe these messages of hope and perseverance – and not just LGBT kids, but anyone who believes they are ugly, fat, stupid, or different from that illusive thing called normal. Now I know there’s no such thing.

About Sara Grant
Sara Grant has worked on both sides of the editorial desk. She has inspired and edited nearly 100 books for children. Her two YA novels – Dark Parties (SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner, Europe) and Half Lives – are futuristic thrillers. She also writes a funny magical series for young readers – Magic Trix. Sara is currently developing a new action-adventure series for tweens with Scholastic. She leads writing workshops in the US, UK and Europe as part of BookBound and lectures at the University of Winchester and Goldsmiths.
Website: Twitter: @authorsaragrant
Book Bound is now accepting applications for its 2016 retreat for adults who are interested in writing novels for children and teens. It’s an intensive weekend of workshops, one-to-ones, and camaraderie. Visit the Book Bound web site for more details:



Friday, 27 November 2015


Paula Rawsthorne applauds the organisers of the brilliant UKYA and UKMG Extravaganzas for bringing authors, en masse, to the cities of the U.K.

So many of the big literary events only happen in London.  But, stating the bleedin’ obvious, there’s a fantastically rich cultural landscape outside the capital too and YA authors Emma Pass (Acid)  Kerry Drewery (A Dream of Lights) know that regional cities deserve to be at the centre of exciting events just as much as London.  That’s why they organised the wonderful UKYA and UKMG Extravaganzas.

 The inaugural UKYAX was held in February this year at Birmingham H.S. Waterstones. It sold out within hours and showed that there was an eager audience who wanted to meet YA authors and learn more about their work.  UKYAX came to Nottingham Waterstones in October and the first ever UKMGX also rolled into town and was held at Nottingham Central Library.

Each of these events involved over 30 authors from all over the UK and brought together writers with readers and bloggers. The events helped to showcase the wealth of YA and MG books by UK authors and also  enthused readers, young and old.

Before the Birmingham and Nottingham events, Emma and Kerry organised blog tours featuring all the participating writers. It was a great way to hook up writers with our supportive UK bloggers and each post provided a unique insight into their books and writing world. 



I was asked By Emma and Kerry to chair both the UKYAX and UKMGX held in Nottingham on consecutive Saturdays.  It was an absolute pleasure to be in a room so full of enthusiasm for reading and stories.  Readers of all ages got to chat with authors as well as discover new books and it was clear that the events help to break down barriers between the two.  Since the Nottingham events I’ve been told by several parents that their children haven’t stopped reading!

The format of the event worked very well with panels of authors having two minutes each to speak, followed by five minutes of questions from the audience.  This kept the event flowing nicely and democratically and made authors hone their anti-waffling skills.  An essential aspect to the event was the regular breaks which allowed the audience to eat cake, mingle with the authors and get books signed


UKYA Authors at Nottingham Waterstones

The UKYA Extravaganza at Nottingham Waterstones was well attended with a mixture of teens, adults, bloggers, librarians, teachers etc.  Kerry and Emma made Waterstones’ impressive ‘Sillitoe’ events room look festive and welcoming with UKYA bunting, balloons and name badges as well as a table full of swag for the audience. 

UKMG Authors at Nottingham Central Library
The first ever UKMG Extravaganza was held at Nottingham Central Library and the librarians did a wonderful job of preparing the room and the refreshments.  The event was absolutely packed, with many people having to sit on the floor. The format was the same as for UKYAX only the MG authors used more props during their two minutes (always a good thing) and John Dougherty even whipped out his guitar which went down well! 

 Just some of the audience for UKMG at Nottingham Central Library

 Emma Pass told Sheena Wilkinson  “We wanted to bring together authors from all sorts of publishers, big and small; to have a big author event which wasn't in London and which put everyone on an equal footing -- and where the readers aren't cut off from the authors. The mingling in between panels, and the informal party afterwards, was very much part of this approach.”

The after party at Nottingham Writers’ Studio was a chance for some writers to get to know each other in the real world as opposed to on Facebook and Twitter.  It really was a great end to a wonderful day. 
After its great success I know that Kerry and Emma are all fired up and are  busy organising the next Extravaganza which will bring writers from all over the UK to the mighty city of Newcastle.  So watch this space for more details!
The fabulous Bowen presented Nick Frost with a UKYAX cake at Waterstones Nottingham (doesn’t Nick look ecstatic?)

Paula Rawsthorne is the author of the award winning YA novels ‘The Truth About Celia Frost’ and ‘Blood Tracks’. She is part of ‘The Big City Read Anthology’ and a writer in residence for ‘First Story’.