Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.

There are writers that we read that will forever live in our hearts and heads.  Writers whose vision, and eloquence, and understanding of their world and the wider world expands our own and makes us more understanding. For me Langston Hughes is one of those writers.  A hugely important writer whose work heralded the Harlem Renaissance , one of America’s most important creative geniuses.

And then today I heard about this fund raiser from I, Too Arts Collective, a nonprofit organization committed to nurturing voices from underrepresented communities in the creative arts. Their first major project is to provide a space for emerging and established artists in Harlem to create, connect, and showcase work and the goal is to lease and renovate the brownstone where Langston Hughes lived in Harlem as a way to not only preserve his legacy but to build on it and impact young poets and artists.
As Langston Hughes said ‘Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly’  Help make this dream become a reality and help affect the creative and working lives of people for years to come,


AFCC 2016 and looking forward to AFCC 2017

This May I spent five days in Singapore attending the impressive AFCC (Asian Festival for Children’s Content).  The conference draws professionals involved in the world of children’s books, film, games and other media together in the National Library and hours are spent talking, listening and learning about other peoples expertise.

This year the country of focus was Japan and publishers, writers and illustrators from Japan presented their wonderful books to a very interested crowd whose members came from all over the world.

If you want to know more about the events and the scale of the conference visit the website http://afcc.com.sg/ which not only looks forward to next years event from 17th to 21st May (when the country of focus is Indonesia) but also looks back at the conference over the six years of its existence.

If you are interested in taking part the organisers have put a call out for submissions for papers https://www.facebook.com/AFCCSingapore/

There is no fee paid to speakers but if you are selected to speak then you are given a free multi-day pass to the conference which is worth its weight in gold based on the quality, diversity and range of the wonderful speakers.

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Fancy something new to read?



How delicious it is to sit down with a magazine and not be entirely sure what you are going to find between its page, to have a sense of excitement and curiosity about what will be there.  That is the feeling we are hoping to engender and encourage when people subscribe to Scoop.

Scoop is a new magazine for children between the ages of 8 and 12.  It will be jam packed full of wonderful content by a fantastic range of writers and illustrators offering all sorts of different children something to tickle their reading fancy.

From Catherine Johnson to Gareth Jones, Emerald Fennell to Piers Torday, Chris Priestley to Lucy Coats the fiction will be a rich mix of voices and perspectives.  From a look at the fun of cycling to how to paint a flower like Georgia O’Keefe we will have a range of activities.  From writing a play to writing a poem we will encourage interaction.  There will be graphic novel fiction and non-fiction, quizzes, competitions, reviews of exhibitions around the country as well as  reviews of books.  There won’t be a moments boredom and all this and so much more from the likes of Tom Stoppard, Neil Gaiman, Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin ….

So, who are we?  We are Clementine Macmillan-Scott the founder of the magazine.  She has worked as Coordinator of the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka and the Galle Children’s Festival. And me.  Editor-in-Chief, commisioning content and working with contributors.  Our Marketing Director Joanne Owen, a children’s and YA author and reviewer, who has worked for Bloomsbury Children’s, Macmillan Children’s, Walker Books and Nosy Crow.  We all love reading, care about what children read and want that to be fun, quality, accessible and challenging.

Our aim is to enthuse children about the written word in as many ways as possible and publishing monthly at £3.99 per issue it is an irresistible purchase.  The website goes live in the 1st September with lots of exciting content until then you can visit the site to register for a subscription http://scoopthemag.co.uk/.  We are on twitter and instagram @scoop_the_mag and the first issue will publish on the 23rd September.

Why not subscribe  http://scoopthemag.co.uk/ for someone you know.  At £39.99 what a perfect year round birthday, Christmas or any-day present.

Calling all authors … open submission details

In my new role as Editor-at-Large at Pushkin Press I am delighted to be working on an initiative to encourage authors to send me their unpublished works of fiction.  I will consider the first 20 pages and a synopsis and there is a twenty four hour period from 00.01am  in the early hours to 23.59pm on the 20th June 2016.   I am looking for originality, strong characters, emotional impact and compellingly readable books for young readers 8+.  Please see the Press Release that went out this week.  If you are looking for tips on how to write a great synopsis this is a good place to start https://janefriedman.com/novel-synopsis/

Pushkin Press Announces Open Submission Initiative

Following the appointment of Sarah Odedina as Editor-at-Large for their children’s imprint, Pushkin Press is thrilled to announce the Pushkin Press Open Submission Initiative. Both Pushkin and Odedina believe whole-heartedly in encouraging new talent and this initiative will provide unpublished writers with a golden opportunity to have their work seen by a leading figure in the literary world.

Authors are invited to submit the first 20 pages and a synopsis of their novel, which will then be read by Odedina. Submissions will be open for full length novels for readers 8+.

Odedina previously launched and ran Bonnier imprint Hot Key Books, and before that she was Editor-in-Chief for children’s books at Bloomsbury, where she oversaw publication of the Harry Potter series as well as publishing Neil Gaiman, Louis Sachar, Celia Rees and Chris Priestley.

She said: ‘It takes a lot of energy and courage to finish a book and authors must find the process of getting published daunting. Pushkin Press are very positive about talking directly with authors and we hope that our Open Submissions Initiative will help us build bridges with the writing community and lead to some exciting books being published.’

Adam Freudenheim, Publisher at Pushkin Press, said: ‘Until now, Pushkin Children’s has focussed on previously published books, contemporary and classic, from all over the world. Sarah’s appointment is part of building and extending the Children’s list, and this open submissions initiative is one innovative way we hope to reach out to and discover up-and-coming writers.’

The 24 hour submission period will take place on the 20th June from 00.00 to 23.59, to coincide with the announcement of the 2016 Carnegie Medal, the UK’s most prestigious book prize for fiction for young readers.

Submissions should be sent to books@pushkinpress.com with the subject line ‘SARAH ODEDINA OPEN SUBMISSION MATERIAL’.


On June 8th at Free Word Lecture Theatre, 60 Farringdon Road, London at 6:45 pm the authors Piers Torday and Diana McCaulay will be in conversation about their writing for young readers, the role of the environment in their books, the empowered characters they create and so much more.  It will be a stimulating and thought provoking evening about literature and all the important ways it can question the world and influence readers.

The Free Word website tells us:  What do you get if you cross a dolphin with a pigeon? Join storytellers Diana McCaulay and Piers Torday to find out! Not only will the animals of two wonderful fiction worlds collide, their prize-winning authors will also tell us how these stories draw readers closer into an understanding of the world we all inhabit.

We’re thrilled to have award-winning Jamaican writer Diana McCaulay here in London with her new book Gone to Drift, a powerful story of  one boy’s discoveries about the planet we call home and humanity’s harmful impact upon the marine environment.

Diana will be in conversation with Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize winner Piers Torday, author of The Last Wild Trilogy, “a fantastic example of how a book for children can be serious without preaching … a sobering parable about our attitude to the natural world” [Gillian Cross] and children’s publisher and chair of this event, Sarah Odedina.

Join them for a conversation about writing and publishing environmental writing aimed at younger readers.

 Both Piers and Diana are alumni of Arvon.

£5 (£3.00)

AFCC (Asian Festival of Children’s Content)

At the end of May Singapore will host the AFCC – a wonderful conference with delegates from around the world talking about  all forms of creative content for children.  Each year the focus is on a different country and this year the focus country is Japan.  Held in the National Library the talks span the interests of a vast range of audiences from writers of picture books to YA books, film makers, illustrators, academics and publishers.   It is a fabulous opportunity to find out about all sorts of things you didn’t know about as well as to take time with other people in the business to talk about this specialised and special area of the creative industries – content for children.

For the full picture of the range of talks and activities visit the web site and if you are anywhere in the country, or in the region, do go along.  There is so much to be discovered, shared and enjoyed.  http://afcc.com.sg/

Bologna 2016 and plans for 2017

Bologna Children’s Bookfair has finished for another year with lots of really great good news stories coming out of it.  One of the most exciting initiatives is the plan to launch an international children’s festival in Aarhus in 2017 which will include a publication of the best 39 European writers of YA literature under 40.  Come on everyone … lets get behind and support this.


Megaphone updates … interviews with shortlisted authors

Leila Rasheed is running a series of interviews with the shortlisted Megaphone authors.

Megaphone is a new writer development scheme, specifically aimed at BAME (Black, Asian or other Minority Ethnic) writers who would like sustained support as they write their first novel for children or teenagers. It is funded by Arts Council England and The PA Children’s Book Group in association with EQUIP (Equality in Publishing). Melissa Cox has made an additional donation to cover one participant’s fees. For further details please have a look at the FAQs page and the Who’s Involved page.



Megaphone: some reflections on the present and ideas for the future by Leila Rasheed

I am delighted to post this blog by Leila Rasheed looking at the journey of Megaphone so far as well as making a call for action in the future.  Leila believes that children’s literature is not the niche interest it’s often assumed to be but rather it is a foundation of society.  Her work on Megaphone goes someway to ensuring that all children, and writers, get to benefit from the power that literature holds.

In late 2015 Megaphone (www.megaphonewrite.com) , a writer development programme aimed at BAME writers of children’s fiction, opened to applications for the first time. I’m delighted to say that our five participants – Danielle Jawando, Tina Freeth, Joyce Efia Harmer, Nafisa Muhtadi and Avantika Taneja – have just been selected from more than sixty excellent applications. A panel of editors and publishers helped make the final choice from a shortlist of ten. I’m truly excited to begin working with these talented writers, who are writing on a wide range of subjects and in a range of styles and voices, and I feel this is a good time to take stock and look forward.

So what have I learned so far?

The applications came from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, broadly in line with national demographics, and overwhelmingly from women. The decisions were made on the basis of anonymous writing samples – we asked for letters of application also, but these were just to ascertain the writers understood the commitment that would be necessary for a year-long course. The successful participants had all taken creative writing courses or written in other modes previously (though as stated above we did not make the selection on this basis). All applicants had made big sacrifices for their writing – investing money and time, taking sabbaticals from work and so forth. Several were writing in the face of substantially difficult circumstances.

This illustrates that it takes a lot of investment in one’s writing to reach even the stage of being selected for a writer development programme such as Megaphone. Of course, not everyone has the opportunity to invest in their writing – not everyone can afford it, or easily access opportunities. I believe we ought to develop more targeted opportunities to create a ladder of development for children’s writers. This is the only way we will get a range of voices in children’s literature that represents the whole spectrum of British life – and we need such a range, because I feel strongly that children’s literature is not the niche interest it’s often assumed to be; it is a foundation of society, the art which has the most impact. It is where the next generation learns not only its values but also its understanding of what a story is and how meaning is made – the very structure of thought. I also believe that everyone should have the opportunity to connect with the next generation. This needn’t always mean writing for mainstream publication; it could (for example) mean creating projects where older people can write stories from their life in a way that will engage and entertain their grand-children. Megaphone has a very specific aim, which means that it has to work on the principle of selection, but there is room for many other schemes to develop. I would love to see more of these ‘rungs’ created – and see them made available across the UK.

I was struck by how many people in their letters of application expressed a feeling that Megaphone was not merely opportune, but really needed. Many felt excluded from mainstream publishing and were delighted to find a project that specifically targeted and welcomed them. We know from the Writing The Future report (https://www.spreadtheword.org.uk/resources/view/writing-the-future) and from the recent, excellent Bare Lit festival (http://barelitfestival.com/ ), that BAME writers are often bypassing mainstream publishing altogether because they do not see themselves supported and valued there – and that is no different in children’s literature. Nosy Crow’s call for BAME writers (http://nosycrow.com/blog/an-update-on-our-open-call-for-childrens-fiction-submissions-from-debut-bame-writers/ )is great news and has already drawn many submissions, but I wonder how many more writers have not even heard it because they’ve already decided that mainstream publishing wasn’t open to them and are not tuned to those channels.

I know from the amount of support I’ve been generously offered with Megaphone that mainstream children’s publishers really do want to publish a more diverse group of people. My experience so far leads me to believe that they should begin by asking themselves: how does my organisation, how does my website, how does my list look to non-white people? Does my publishing company look welcoming to them? Or does it look like somewhere they will always be the odd one out, asked embarrassing questions, be expected to change the most important things about themselves and their writing? Does it look like somewhere they’ll find themselves fighting a cover whitewash? Does it look like somewhere that expects BAME readers to buy their books, or somewhere that would be surprised to hear that non-white people read? To attract BAME writers, I believe mainstream publishers need to think about BAME readers – they are the same people after all.

It is a struggle for any writer to find their voice and the confidence to use it, but especially so when the contents of the library and the bookshop provide so little evidence that the world wants to hear what someone like you has to say. In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf wrote, describing the hostility that faced female writers as opposed to the indifference that faced male ones:

“The world did not say to her as it said to them, Write if you choose; it makes no difference to me. The world said with a guffaw, Write? What’s the good of your writing?”

Too often, the world’s message to British BAME people is simply, ‘You don’t write’. I hope that Megaphone can contribute to changing that message.

The future

One thing I learned when I studied children’s literature at Roehampton is that children’s literature has always been radical and engaged with society; from Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies to Jan Needle’s Wild Wood. This is a history we can celebrate and build on. All of us who are involved in children’s literature need to be more willing to identify and critique the effect that growing up with literature that has until recently either excluded non-white people or presented them only as stereotypes has had on us. Just as I internalised the idea that I couldn’t write about myself, it has had an effect on our assumptions, on our cultural values, on what we include and exclude, on what presences we have come to expect and what absences we have learned to tolerate. So these are some things that I personally would like to see in the future:

Sound research into how BAME people engage with children’s fiction. This will be the bedrock for targeted and effective action. I want to know exactly how many picture books with Black or Asian or other minority ethnic main characters are published per year in Britain. I want to know how BAME parents feel about buying books for their child, and where they buy books and why, and what change if any they would like to see. I would like to know how many books by BAME authors are shortlisted for major children’s literature prizes. I want to know what the gaps and absences we’ve not thought to question yet are.

We need BAME writers and publishers to keep on writing and talking about their experiences and sharing them. We need to define the problem before we can fix it. We need white writers to keep being conscious and positive about equality, to counterbalance those who are not.

We need projects that work for everyone. I do think that Megaphone legitimately offers publishers something of real value: they would love to cast their net for writers wider, but they aren’t a school for writers and they quite reasonably want to publish books they can sell. Megaphone creates a conduit from writer to publisher. Editors need a close-to-perfect manuscript, but a writer development programme can work with what comes before that – and potentially can keep people writing and submitting rather than giving up.

I’d love to see the history of non-white publishing and writing for children and teenagers collected and recorded so we can see how much has been achieved by people like Verna Wilkins (http://www.tamarindbooks.co.uk/downloads/tamarind_righttobeseen.pdf ). I don’t think we celebrate this enough. A book, a website? A Heritage Lottery Fund project?

I’d like to see BAME readers, parents, book buyers, to make themselves even more visible as a consumer force. I would like to see people getting vocal about this. I’d like to see active questioning: why isn’t my child anywhere in your bookshop? And why should I spend money in a place that excludes my child?

I’d love to hear what everyone else thinks. What should we be doing next?

follow Leila on twitter @LeilaR


2016 Hans Christian Andersen Shortlist

Watch this wonderful video with clips of authors and illustrators talking about their work, their commitment to creating wonderful literature for young readers and their amazing artistic legacy.  And put the date in your diary if you are attending the Bologna Children’s Book Fair when we will find out who the winner of this award, dubbed the nobel prize for children’s literature, will be.  2pm 4th April 2016 in the Illustrators Cafe.

Hans Christian Andersen Award 2016