Guest blog: The Hot Seat (Andi Ipaktchi)

What of life after Undiscovered Voices? Previous Finalist, Andi Ipaktchi (UV2016), takes a wry look at her journey from illustrator and printmaker to comedy writer and performer in our latest guest blog post.

The Hot Seat

“What are you working on?”

With those five words, our entire dinner table full of artists, writers, actors, and composers fell silent, not just me. Seconds before the question, I was chattering away like a chipmunk. Now I was staring down at my dish. Perhaps a good answer would appear inscribed in the log rings of my roasted parsnips. I could hear someone pouring himself a very, tall glass of wine.

“Well?” the blockhead insisted. He was looking straight at me. He would have addressed me by name, if he had known it, but I was new. I was here to reunite with my friend. We had made plans months ago to and now she was seated right next to me.

I waved my napkin to my mouth to feign a mouth full of food and looked at the actors. Surely, they would be happy to talk about themselves? But they just stared back. My friend tapped my boot heel with hers.  She was on to me. I didn’t have a good answer for the blockhead and she knew it.

The truth was that we had shown up at the arts residency together because we brought out the best in each other. We liked volleying stories back and forth while the other diners fueled us with their laughter. In fact, they were the ones who encouraged us to return to write it all down.

She is a short story writer; I’m an illustrator and printmaker. We had returned to create a comedy of some kind, or another. Maybe a scripted sketch for Youtube. Or a podcast. Or a cartoon strip. Or why not a play? Or a live performance for kids.. or a Tiktok dance for old people. But definitely not a book. (Or maybe a book.) We had no idea, but we were there to figure that part out.

It had felt like a pretty solid plan, but now I felt exposed. Naïve. Foolish.

Being asked too soon into the creative process, “what are you working on?”  can feel like a stranglehold on a newborn’s neck. I wanted to give him a simple but satisfying answer so he would move on. Being too vague might sound coy and incite even morequestions. I stopped chewing and put my napkin down on my lap.

“My partner and I are taking a leap of faith that our combined creative energies will transform into something artistically viable.” But I didn’t say that because only a twit would talk like that.

Instead, my partner piped in. She blew across her green tea and said, “We’re working on something together.” (She has such a way with words, doesn’t she?)

“Like a creative collaboration?” asked the blockhead.

“Yes. A creative collaboration.” And that was enough. He was satisfied. He stabbed a small potato with his knife and popped it into his mouth.

Each evening at dinner, our collaboration process drew more interest than the project itself. We became a two-headed monster novelty. Our project began to take form.  Our stories began to volley back and forth across the table once again. (Even the blockhead laughed.)

A year later, we have written Season 1 of our audio comedy about a house full of international guests and staff at an arts residency in rural Ireland. But you probably want to know more about the collaboration. I’d tell you, but I can’t. There is no way to explain it, without sounding like a twit.

So, tell me… What are you working on?

Andi Ipaktchi is an American illustrator, printmaker, comedy writer and performer. She is an illustration graduate from Parsons School of Design. Since Undiscovered Voices 2016, she continues to exhibit her prints and paint. In 2021, she co-wrote and co-directed a scripted, audio comedy with Aoibheann McCannn called: RETREAT (Another Painful Irish Family History) due out in the autumn.  She encourages the UV community to contact her when travelling to Paris to take her famous Deux Centime, French, kid-lit tour. Her family really doesn’t mind.

Photos of Andi Ipatchi thanks to Noura Gauper.

Guest blog: Ten Years as a Discovered Voice (Nick Cross)

In our first guest blog by past finalists, Nick Cross (UV2010), whose extract was Back from the Dead, reflects on how being short-listed ten years ago changed his life in unexpected and positive ways. 

Ten Years as a Discovered Voice: What I’ve Learnt

Just over ten years ago, I received the call that my extract had been selected for the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices anthology. I thought my life was about to change, and it did, but not in ways I could predict. Here are ten things I’ve learnt in the process.

1. Success is how you define it

Although I’ve written a further four children’s novels since UV2010, I haven’t had a book published. But I’m still writing (and now illustrating too) despite the many knock-backs and rejections. And I have had lots of children’s short stories published and even won an award!

2. You have to ride the rollercoaster
Photo by <a href="">Charlotte Coneybeer</a> on <a href="">Unsplash</a>

A career as an author is not a dependable thing – you are at the whims of your own creative impulses, the publishing industry and ultimately your readers. I’ve seen writers whose first children’s novel got picked up for publication in a blaze of hype, but who then struggled to get a second contract. I’ve seen others who had to keep diversifying into other age groups and genres to survive (or even, gasp, writing for adults). And there are a lucky few who found the right publisher and audience, and by working incredibly hard have been able to carve out a steady career path.

3. Everyone needs a side hustle

Because authors’ careers are so volatile, you’ll need to maintain other streams of income, whether those are school visits, teaching adults to write/illustrate or selling merchandise on Etsy. In my case, I’ve worked full-time ever since leaving university, so writing and illustrating are actually my side hustle!

4. The world is out there

Through my involvement with Undiscovered Voices, I was pitched (pun intended) into a social whirl of publishing events. I got introduced to all sorts of writers, illustrators, agents and editors, many of whom are still my friends today. It was incredible to step into a world I’d only dreamed of, and to find that the reality of the publishing industry was more vibrant and complex, and yet also more grounded than I could have imagined.

5. Be open to the unexpected

While my Undiscovered Voices novel didn’t find a home, I did. I realised I liked the people and the industry so much that I wanted to work in publishing. So I changed my day job and I now manage a digital publishing team of ten people, which is demanding but also highly rewarding.

6. Give your creative aspirations room to grow

As I became more experienced as a writer, I was increasingly drawn to illustrated fiction. There was something so appealing to me about being able to tell stories in both words and pictures simultaneously. But the nature of the publishing process – in which an illustrator generally isn’t chosen until the publisher has acquired a book – frustrated me. I couldn’t express what I wanted to in just words, and yet I also hadn’t picked up a pencil since secondary school. Could I really be an illustrator? It turned out I could!

7. Feel the fear and do it anyway

Becoming an illustrator at the age of forty-five is just one of the slightly mad things I’ve done since Undiscovered Voices. A couple of years ago, I walked out onstage to pitch my novel for SCBWI British Isles’ The Hook, in front of a panel of four agents and an audience of two hundred people. I have a chronic anxiety condition, so it definitely wasn’t easy, but I’m proud I could do it.

8. Protect your health

Creative practices can take a toll on your body and mind, whether from sitting in one position for long periods, staring too long at a screen, or not getting proper rest and exercise. While it can be tempting to keep pushing yourself harder and harder to succeed, you only have a finite supply of energy. I learnt this to my cost, and barely a year after the exhilaration of Undiscovered Voices, I crashed into a long period of exhaustion and depression. But I also learnt that…

9. The community will help you through

Nurture your contacts and support network through the good times, and they’ll be there for you when things get tough. This last year of the pandemic has been impossibly difficult for many creative people, but virtual support networks have been a great way to stay sane. Along with the wider SCBWI community, the Undiscovered Voices alumni have been an invaluable comfort to me. I’m looking forward to seeing them again in person at the 2022 launch!

10. It’s worth entering Undiscovered Voices, whatever the outcome

Looking back on my ten years as an Undiscovered Voice reminds me that nothing in life is certain. While dreams of countless book launches and reaching the New York Times bestseller list have yet to be realised, I’m immeasurably richer in terms of friends, inspiration and experience for having been a UV finalist. That’s why I encourage you to put your fear aside and try out for Undiscovered Voices 2022 – who knows where it could take you?

Nick Cross is a writer, illustrator and blogger whose novel extract Back from the Dead appeared in the Undiscovered Voices 2010 anthology. Nick has had more than ten short stories published in children’s magazines, and was honours winner of the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award for fiction. He is a long-time contributor to SCBWI-BI Words & Pictures magazine – as well as his fortnightly Blog Break column, he is currently writing and illustrating a monthly comic called Antisoci@l Media.

Nick is represented by Heather Cashman at Storm Literary Agency, and can be found as @nick_w_cross on both Twitter and Instagram.