Friday, 17 July 2015

Harper Lee by Savita Kalhan

On Tuesday 14th July I was fortunate enough to be invited to a party to celebrate the publication of Go Set a Watchman - the second book by Harper Lee, her first book being of course the iconic Pulitzer prize winning To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960.

I'm represented by Andrew Nurnberg Agency, who are Harper Lee's UK agents, and fellow Edge author, Sara Grant, and I were very lucky to be shown copies of the original correspondence between Harper Lee and her eventual publishers before To Kill a Mockingbird reached publication.

I will be reading Go Set a Watchman. The reviews have been mixed, but I know that it has been published in its original form, much as it was written in the mid-1950s. The manuscript was assumed lost and only discovered in 2014. The world has moved on since the days of black segregation in the south. Nelle Harper Lee, her given name, is now 89 years old. The book features characters from To Kill a Mockingbird twenty years on.

I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was a teenager. It was my first introduction to the segregated American south. The book deals with racism in the small town of Monroeville where Harper Lee grew up. I have watched the film many times too and both book and film have had a profound effect on me. I wanted to be Scout when I was growing up. Atticus Finch gave his daughter lessons to live by, lessons in fairness and justice and tolerance, lessons to live by in any age.

To Kill a Mockingbird has been part of the curriculum in many schools over the years, and what Go Set a Watchman might do is to introduce a whole new generation to the book.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Surviving Rejection

Encouragement and Advice
from EDGE Author Sara Grant

I received my first rejection letter in March 1982 when I was thirteen years old. Seventeen magazine felt that my poem The Unnoticed Love didn’t quite suit their current editorial needs. (Is it ironic or just unfair to receive a form rejection for a poem about being rejected?)

But the dissuasion started a few years earlier in elementary school when I turned in my first proper 
My first rejection letter
creative writing assignment. I always knew I wanted to be writer. I was thrilled that at long last I could demonstrate my skill. I was sure that my teacher would recognize the genius of my short story titled Adventures in the Bread Drawer. This would be my moment. My teacher would probably read it aloud to the class as an example of excellence. This would be the start of my illustrious writing career.

But alas no. When my teacher returned my story, it looked like a study in blood splatter. My teacher loved grading with a red ballpoint pen. The pages were covered with glaring red corrections. Back then I couldn’t spell and my grammar and punctuation were rather – shall I say – inventive. (This was the dark ages before computers – and spell check.) This was my first crushing artistic rejection. (I shared this anecdote recently at a school assembly and the head teacher came up to me afterwards and said the same thing happened to her. Young discouraged writers unite!)

Those were my first rejections, but they certainly weren’t my last. I’ve received more than my fair share of rejection letters from agents and editors on both sides of the Atlantic. I considered them badges of courage. They demonstrated my commitment to my goal.

The path to publication can be long and bumpy. I don’t know a writer whose past isn’t littered with rejection. Tenacity and openness – your willingness to listen and learn – are the real keys to getting published. I know so many writers who never finish a novel or worse yet, let a rejection signal the death knell of their writing careers.

I’ve heard writers say things to the effect of “I’ll give it a year” or “if I don’t get an agent with this story, then I give up.” Please don’t. If you want to be a published writer with every fibre of your being – give it as long as it takes. 

Sure, getting published is about writing an original and compelling story, but it’s also a little about luck and a lot about things that are out of a writer’s control.

So how do you keep the faith in the face of rejection?

When I submit a manuscript, I immediately start the next story. Not the next book in the same series but a brand new original work. I don’t pin all my hopes on one project. Sometimes we must abandon stories – maybe not forever. (I blogged about leaving my dark past behind.) Maybe in a few years the market will change or you will discover how to revise your story to make it publishable.

Why not consider writing something completely different? If writing for teens, experiment with a story for young readers. If drawn to romance, try horror. You might be surprised that your writing sparkles when you experiment with an unexpected genre, or writing for an older audience suits your writing style better. Finding a publishable story can be similar to singing karaoke. I love Bon Jovi but when I tried to sing Living on a Prayer it was an unmitigated disaster. Maybe the stories you enjoy reading aren’t the stories you should be writing.

One of the many wonderful things about being a writer is that no writing is ever wasted. The novel you think will be your ticket to publication may, in fact, be an apprentice piece that hones your skills and paves the way for the novel that will lift you from the slush pile. That character you adore might find a home in a future story. That world you’ve created might simply need new inhabitants.

I often say I should be the publishing poster-child for ‘never give up’. I received my first rejection letter in 1982 and my first book deal in 2009. My advice: Write with passion. Revise with zeal. Experiment. Read and learn from fellow writers. Persevere in the face of rejection. Enjoy the act of writing. And in the words of the 1980s rock band Journey but usurped by the TV show Glee – Don’t stop believing!

Upcoming Event for Writers
Sara and the Book Bound Team will offer a one-day workshop – From Idea to Acquisitions – on Saturday 19 September 2015 in Edinburgh. Whether you have an idea or a completed manuscript, this workshop will help you fine tune your idea and pitch package as well as offer insider insights into publishers’ acquisition processes. For more details, visit

Undiscovered Voices
Submissions are open for Undiscovered Voices – an anthology with the aim of helping writers and
illustrators of children’s fiction find agents, editors and ultimately readers.
Undiscovered Voices has launched the careers of nearly 30 writers and illustrators, who have gone on to publish more than 120 books. These authors have been nominated for and won an amazing array of literary prizes: including the Carnegie Medal, Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize, Branford Boase Award, Blue Peter Award, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, and nearly 30 regional awards.

I’m on the team that organizes the competition. I love watching the submissions roll in and dreaming of the talent we’ll discover. If you are un-agented, unpublished and a member of SCBWI, please submit your work for consideration in Undiscovered Voices. It’s one road to publication – not the only one.

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 Book Bound and guest lectures at the University of Winchester.
Twitter: @authorsaragrant

Friday, 3 July 2015



Paula Rawsthorne feels honoured to be included in Nottingham’s first ever BIG CITY READ.

I love the concept of a Big City Read.  It’s been happening in American cities for years and now, more and more British cities are taking up the idea with Brighton and Hove having the longest running ‘City Read’ in the UK.

 The idea is that a city selects one book and encourages the whole community to read it.  This then leads on to discussions, debates and even inspiration to get writing through a series of special events, workshops and performances throughout the city.

 Previously, around the UK, ‘City Read’ choices have been current best sellers, classic works of literature or, novels by a local author.  However Nottingham’s ‘Big City Read’ is unique.  Nottingham decided that, rather than select an existing book, they would commission local authors, working in different genres, to write short stories for the city. 

The authors approached were enthusiastic about the project and, thanks to the determination and hard work of FiveLeavesBookshop, Nottingham Writers’ Studio, BromleyHouseLibrary, NottinghamCityofLiterature and ArtsCouncilEngland, the stories were soon published in a bespoke anthology of Nottingham tales entitled ‘These Seven.’
Six out of the seven stories are set in Nottingham and this helps make the connection between the community and their Big City Read much more personal. We hope that our stories will trigger many interesting conversations.

The intention is to bring the book not only to avid readers but also to people those who might otherwise miss out. It intends to show reading as an enjoyable, stimulating activity; and one that is inclusive, open to all. The authors will be doing talks and workshops in schools, colleges, prisons, women’s groups, reading groups, community centres, libraries and a wide range of other venues. Also, to encourage greater public involvement, a website will be set up for people to share their stories, submitting their own take on Nottingham and life within.

The idea of using short stories instead of a novel makes the Big City Read more accessible to reluctant readers who may find the length of a novel daunting. With ‘These Seven’ self-contained stories the reader can finish a complete, satisfying tale in the time it takes to get a bus across town.

The great advantage of an anthology using local writers is that the authors themselves can run the workshop and talks and therefore bring a much more intimate knowledge of their stories and inspiration to share with the readers.

Already the preview readings of ‘These Seven’ at LowdhamBookFestival played to a full house with great questions and interest from the audience. The official launch of Nottingham’s Big City Read will be on 17th July at the Council House in the city centre.

The six other writers in the anthology are best-selling crime novelist, John Harvey, Booker shortlister Alison Moore, writer and journalist, Shreya Sen Handley, literary novelist Megan Taylor, graphic novelist and political cartoonist John Stuart Clark AKA, ‘Brick’ (treating us to an illustrated tale) and the legendary Alan Sillitoe, with a story specially selected by his wife, Ruth Fainlight.

My story, ‘A Foreign Land’ is narrated by a ten year old Sudanese boy called Jay who has been brought up in the city and sees himself as a Nottingham lad through and through, which makes the decision to deport him and his family all the more cruel, bewildering and frightening for him. 

Pippa Hennessy, of Nottingham Writers’ Studio and project director for the City of Literature bid team said, ‘I’m really excited about this project, because it will bring Nottingham stories to Nottingham people, and allow them to tell their own stories that we hope will capture the unique spirit of this city’.

I felt honoured to be commissioned to write a story for Nottingham’s first ever ‘Big City Read’. I came to the city over twenty years ago as a student and stayed because I loved it so much. Nottingham has a thriving, and supportive writing community including the unique NottinghamWriters’Studio which is an organisation set up by acclaimed author Jon McGregor and run by writers, for writers, at all stages of their careers.

After months of work and preparation the city has just put in its bid to become a UNESCO City Of Literature (of which there are currently only seven in the world). Time will tell whether we will succeed, but the process alone has been a positive experience harnessing the enthusiasm and skills of many different city groups who love reading and writing and want to promote storytelling and literacy to people of all ages in Nottingham.    

‘These Seven’ writers- Alison Moore, John Harvey, Paula Rawsthorne, Megan Taylor, Brick, Sheelagh Gallagher (representing Nottingham City of Literature) Shreya Sen Handley. Photo taken by Stephen Handley.

I’m really looking forward to sharing this book with groups throughout Nottingham and hearing their stories too. Creating a bespoke ‘Big City Read’ with tales relating to the town is a great way to engage local people in reading and storytelling. Maybe other cities will think so too.