On the Lookout
I’m lucky to represent very talented children’s and YA authors but I’m always on the lookout for an exciting debut to help break out. I’m looking for voice, storytelling and a concept and character that speak to me, whether in a picture book, a YA novel or anything in-between.
I can never predict where the next submission that blindsides me is going to come from, so with a big pinch of salt, here are a few thoughts on what I’d like to find in my inbox.
I’d love an animal story that pulls on my heart. From A DOG CALLED HOMELESS, to BLACK BEAUTY or WAR HORSE, the devotion found between child and animal is magic and evergreen.
I’m a huge fan Cathy Cassidy fan, and it would be great to see some fiction that nails what it means to be a 9-12 year old girl, about friends, families and feelings. Every family is unusual, every friendship has secrets. I want to know those quirks and secrets. I’m looking for freshness, something that isn’t in the world already. I’m looking for a new situation, a story that we all understand and yet we might not have experienced. THE WEIGHT OF WATER by Sarah Crossan sums this up for me. It’s the story of a Polish girl who comes to Coventry to find her missing father. It’s crystalline and spare, every word the right word, about what it means to be alone, on the outside, and struggling to find your spot in the world.
I’m looking for picture books. A great picture book has elegance. It’s so tough to tell a story, in so few words, that has meaning and resonance and doesn’t feel borrowed and stale. How do you make something come alive, with a beginning, middle and end, in 300 words, less?! I love the brilliance and simplicity of GOODNIGHT MOON, the originality and joyfulness of DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS, the irrepressible child-friendliness of POO BUM. I hope to find a new picture book writer who has a fresh and fun series character, or a magic stand-alone.
I’m interested in books that have a kind of cross-over, a slightly younger tone but an older, more worldly heart, like WONDER, about kindness and a boy with a facial disfigurement, or MY SISTER LIVES ON THE MANTELPIECE, about a grieving family. These books stretch, they’re for all sorts of readers, 10+, 12+, 14+, grown-ups.
I’d love to find a younger series for boys or girls or both. I daydream of finding a voice as mad and confident and spot-on as MR GUM. Or a character as resilient as HORRID HENRY or FLAT STANLEY.
And I’d love a fantasy series, the heartland of children’s fiction. THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE was the HARRY POTTER of its day. What is the HARRY POTTER of our day? I’m looking for world-building, playfulness, depth, a clever ‘what-if’ at the heart of the concept. I don’t often see 8-12 fantasy that feels fresh and springs from the page, but I believe in magic, and I’m sure it will come my way.
And I’m looking for a British YA talent to help break out. I don’t know if the next stand-out YA that comes to me will be a thriller, a fantasy, or a horror novel with the sharpest of teeth. Maybe it will be all of those things or none. I want to find a love story for young adults – contemporary, historical, futuristic. I don’t mind where, when, who, I just want butterflies.
I love big novels with the hum of a classic about them. A new Michelle Magorian, or Malorie Blackman, or Eva Ibbotson. Wouldn’t that be something?! And I’m keen to see submissions written by black, Asian and minority ethnic writers.
So that’s my wish-list, my cosmic order. If you’re writing for children or young adults, I’d love to see your work when it’s ready to share. What’s written above may give you an idea of what I’m looking for, but above all, there’s a lot of opportunity in not listening to what people are looking for, in not following trends, and in writing the book that only you can write. So if you’re writing that book, that’s what I really want to see.