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: Being inspired by the past (Susan Brownrigg)

In our latest guest blog post, Undiscovered Voices finalist Susan Brownrigg (UV2016) reveals the joy of using historical settings and research, as well as offering advice on how to use both effectively.

Being inspired by the past

A question I’m frequently asked by schoolchildren is “why do you write books set in the past?“.

There is, of course, the joy of not having the dual plot/drama spoilers of google and mobile phones. However, the main reason is that I enjoy immersing myself in another time and place and sharing my passion for what I’ve learned through story.

Settings that come with questions

I always begin with a real place. With my debut book – Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest – I knew I wanted to reflect my working-class northern upbringing by writing about Blackpool.

The spark for the plot came when I discovered that a fifteen-year-old girl switched on the ‘Blackpool Lights’ in 1935.

I knew I wanted it to be an adventure and a mystery and the plot around Ma’s disappearance is made up. As a writer, you have control over what you choose to include and how much you veer from actual events.

In the sequel, Gracie Fairshaw and Trouble at the Tower I wrote a scene set in the Blackpool Tower ballroom. I chose to have the Wurlitzer come up through the floor, although this wouldn’t be possible for another twenty years. It is only a small detail and only cinema organ enthusiasts are likely to notice!

Licence to thrill (and make changes)

It is fine to alter things for the sake of drama. You can always write a historical note if you feel you need to spell out where you have used artistic licence.

I also enjoy writing historical magical fantasy adventures. My UV winning entry, Girl Churns up Trouble, was set in a real time and place, Angkor Thom, Cambodia. It was inspired by reading an account by Zhou Daguan, a Chinese diplomat who travelled to the Khmer Empire in 1296. I wondered what would happen if a child had gone in his place.

My new children’s book Kintana and the Captain’s Curse set in 1733, Madagascar is a treasure hunt with lemurs inspired by the real-life Pirate Island.

How to bring the past to life

Sadly, time machines don’t exist, so we can’t journey back to see what life was like centuries ago. Instead, I have developed different research techniques to help me create verisimilitude.

For Gracie Fairshaw, I was fortunate to be able to visit Blackpool on several occasions. I was able to visit lots of the attractions that were around in 1935 as fortunately Blackpool still has a lot of its seaside heritage.

I went on the same fairground rides, took a trip on the heritage tram, listened to the Wurlitzer in the Tower ballroom and went to the Switch-On.

Think about how you could follow in your character’s footsteps

Look out for heritage open days (September) talks and tours. I’ve been on behind the scenes tours of the heritage tram depot, the Illuminations Lightworks depot and Blackpool Town Hall.

Are there specialist museums or enthusiast groups? I joined the Blackpool Civic Trust and the Winter Gardens Trust.

When you go on research trips, if allowed, take lots of photographs and video for reference. (They are often useful for publicity too).

Use a notebook to quickly capture your emotional and sensory reaction to new locations. I try to capture the tactile experience as well as sights, sounds and smells.

And don’t forget taste…

I like to eat the food I write about. For Gracie, I scoffed fish and chips, munched delicious warm Eccles cakes and nibbled minty sticks of rock.

Food and drink are a great way to give a flavour of the past. The scene in Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest where Gracie and her pals eat chips has really resonated with readers, especially those who remember them being wrapped in newspaper!

Going small for your sources

As a historical writer, I rely on a range of sources, both primary and secondary. The most useful research resource for Gracie Fairshaw has been back issues of the Lancashire Gazette kept on microfilm at Blackpool’s local history centre.

The microfilm readers were a little tricky to use at first – but they have been invaluable. I was able to read contemporary accounts of the 1935 Blackpool Illuminations Switch-on. This not only gave me a reliable source for the event but helped me get a feel for the language of the period. I try to avoid obviously incongruous words but prefer a more accessible, modern language style.

Getting the scoop from the local press

Newspapers can provide a lot more than just news. I uncovered detailed information about Blackpool’s weather, tide times and traffic which I used. The advertisements were gold for social history too, including fashion, entertainment, typical household products and attitudes of the time. While the children’s page prompted me to create my own League of the Shining Star club.

If you are a library member it is worth seeing if your membership includes access to online newspaper collections.

On the case with factual books

My shelves are full of factual books about Blackpool, animals, magic, the circus, the seaside, film, journalism, pirates, the Incas, the Amazon, Peru, Cambodia and the Khmer Empire, the Congo and Paris used for researching my books. There are travel guides, atlases, biographies, travelogues/diaries and cookbooks.

Don’t forget you can borrow books (and E-books) from your library too.

Old cookbooks and old magazine recipes can shine a light on what people ate in the past. TV series, such as the excellent ‘Back in Time for Dinner’ and the history segments on Bake Off, are also brilliant for establishing what foods were easily available, affordable as well as changes in fashion.

Mapping out other avenues of research

I also have a collection of maps – modern, old and replica, as they are a great way to describe a place accurately. A Vision of Britain Through Time is great for digitalised old maps. Google Earth is another brilliant resource tool.

As well as books, I have a collection of DVDs including films and documentaries and music (ranging from 78s to CDs) which have enabled me to get a fuller sense of the world I’m writing about. Youtube is fantastic for old documentaries, old home video footage, 1930s films, music and dance clips.

Shopping for inspiration

Ebay, junk shops and charity shops are worth investigating for out-of-print books. I’ve also bought old postcards, photographs, song sheets, newspapers, magazines and other publicity and advertising ephemera.

Beware though, you can lose hours down research rabbit holes! And often a lot of what you learn doesn’t need to be in your story! Always ask yourself if the interesting fact is vital to character, plot or setting.

One final tip…

Lastly, remember you can ask the experts! Look out for public talks, zoom events, ask questions. Be polite and acknowledge if they have been kind enough to assist you with your research or have fed back on your stories.

Good luck to all those entering Undiscovered Voices this year – just remember whether you’re creating a contemporary, historical or purely imaginary setting to make your setting as real as possible for you, your characters and your readers!

Susan Brownrigg is a Lancashire lass. She loves bringing the past to life for children. A former journalist, Susan has worked in heritage education roles at a Tudor hall, a Georgian mansion, a cotton mill apprentice house, a zoo and a museum. Her MG debut is Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest. Her second book, Kintana and the Captain’s Curse will be published in June 2021. A sequel to Gracie Fairshaw is scheduled for October 2021. You can find out more at susanbrownrigg.com

Getting Ready for UV2018 – Guest Blog with Sophie Cameron

In our sixth guest blog by a past finalist, Sophie Cameron (UV2016), whose novel Out of the Blue will be published next year, talks about the power of thinking yourself as a writer. 

Masterclass Breakthrough

Just over two years ago, I went to a masterclass on writing young adult fiction with Juno Dawson. The class was brilliant and Juno gave us lots of great tips, but one in particular stood out to me: think of yourself as a writer. If you write, regardless of whether or not you’ve been published, that’s what you are – not an “aspiring writer” or a “wannabe writer”, a writer. (Juno no doubt put it more eloquently than I have, but you get the gist.)

It’s pretty simple advice, but it really changed my outlook on writing. Before, I’d been someone who enjoyed writing, someone who’d done writing courses and workshops, someone who hoped to one day be published… but not a writer. Once I started thinking of myself as such, I began to take my writing more seriously. I got into a routine and started viewing it as a responsibility, just like my day job.

Entering UV

A month or so after that masterclass, I sent the first chapters of my YA novel Out of the Blue to Undiscovered Voices. I’d started writing the manuscript just a few months beforehand so at that stage it was only a very rough first draft, with lots of gaps and plot holes to be filled in. In the time between submission and the longlist announcement, I stayed focused and worked on properly finishing the novel and improving it as much as a could – not because I thought I had much chance of being selected, but because that’s just what writers do.

Even having a complete, polished manuscript to my name felt like a huge achievement.

Even having a complete, polished manuscript to my name felt like a huge achievement. Until then I’d always reach twenty or thirty thousand words, hit a wall, then get distracted by a shiny new idea and start over. I spent years stuck in this cycle, but once I decided I was a writer, finishing felt like something I had to do; it gave me a focus and drive that I’d never had before.

To my amazement, I made the Undiscovered Voices shortlist in December 2015.

The next few months were incredible: I got lots of requests to read the full manuscript from agents and editors, several of whom I met while I was in London for the Undiscovered Voices launch party last February, and ended up with multiple offers of representation. I signed with my brilliant agent Hellie Ogden last March, she sold Out of the Blue to Macmillan Children’s Books in October, and it’s now due to be published in spring 2018 – something that still hasn’t quite sunk in!

I was so lucky to be included in UV, and I know not everyone has such a quick or straighforward route to publication. But thinking of yourself as a writer, as someone who is serious and professional about what they do, can only help – especially if, like me, you’ve had trouble sticking to projects in the past. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been writing or what stage in your career you’re at: if you write, you’re a writer. Don’t be afraid to think of yourself as such.

Submissions for UV2018 will open this Saturday (1st July 2017) and will close 15th August 2017. Why not sign up here for a reminder when submissions open?


Sophie Cameron is a YA writer from the Highlands of Scotland. Her first novel Out of the Blue was featured in Undiscovered Voices 2016 and will be published by Macmillan Children’s Books in 2018. She currently lives in Spain, where she works as an editor for an events magazine, and is writing her second novel. 

Getting Ready for UV2018 – Guest Blog with Georgia Bowers

In the second of a series of guest blog by past finalists, Georgia Bowers, an author featured in the UV2016 anthology, talks about her UV experience.

The 7th of December 2015 was a big day for me. I was leaving work early for the  twelve week scan of my first baby and as I was packing up, I noticed I’d had a missed call on my mobile. I listened to the voicemail and it was a message about my other baby – my novel, Clopwyck River.

I’d tried not to think about making the Undiscovered Voices longlist since I’d had the email a couple of weeks before, but hearing Sara Grant’s voice asking me to call her back, hope and a little bit of doubt came flooding over me. Sara wasn’t calling people to tell them they hadn’t made it, was she?

She wasn’t. Clopwyck River had been chosen for the UV anthology!

At this point I had queried thirty-seven agents, with only one requesting the full manuscript. In the fortnight after the shortlist was announced I had four requests for the full manuscript, including one from an agent in the US, and met with an agent to talk about the possibility of representation. I submitted to a few more agents following the launch and received four requests for the full MS almost immediately. Being part of the anthology also meant that I attended the launch party where I met agents and publishing representatives, and I spoke to a few of the UV judges who said lovely things about my writing, one of them asking me to send him my WIP. I may not have an agent, but being a finalist has got me within touching distance of my dream.

Write what’s in your heart.

My advice for anyone thinking about entering UV would be:

  • Get your 4000 words up to scratch, have a break from them, get them up to scratch for a second time, hold your breath….and enter!
  • Give the rest of your novel the same attention. If there are scenes that you’re not keen on, re-write them or get rid, don’t leave them in and hope that an agent won’t notice them.
  • Write what’s in your heart. An agent asked me to write a version of Clopwyck River without the paranormal storyline. I did it, but the agent didn’t go for it, probably because it wasn’t really what I wanted to write so it had lost my voice and my heart.
  • Learn from every rejection. My re-written version may not have had my heart, but it had my blood, sweat, and tears as I managed to finish writing when I was eight months pregnant! Although the agent didn’t go for it, they did say that it was much more streamlined and successful as a novel. I now know that I’m capable of producing good work if I put a little pressure on myself.
  • Finally, if you make the anthology, network your ass off at the launch party, even if you’re considering signing with an agent already. Keep the momentum going, be proactive and don’t wait for people to come to you; go to them and shout from the rooftops because being included in the UV anthology is an amazing thing.

It’s been a year since the UV launch, and I’ve gained so much.

It’s been a year since the UV launch, and I’ve gained so much. I’m part of a network of writers and illustrators who I feel so proud of when I read about their successes. I have feedback on the first three chapters of Clopwyck River from people with so much experience and insight into the publishing world, I could have only dreamt of it before. I’ve learned that when agents say that the publishing industry is subjective they really do mean it, and it’s not just something they say to fob you off. I have a handful of agents who, although they didn’t go for Clopwyck River, have asked to see anything I write in the future. I’ve had a taste of what it could be like to be a published author and I’m even more driven to achieve it.

 

Oh, and I have a beautiful baby girl, who thinks that every story I tell her is a best seller.

 


Georgia is a librarian by day and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan by night. She has written a number of articles for Hodderscape including Stranger Things vs. The OA, What Would Buffy Do, and Films To Watch at Halloween if You’re a Big Scaredy-cat. She is currently working on a new YA project, a mix of The Breakfast Club and Lost, where six teenagers take a journey with a bus driving dog and a cross-dressing conductor. Her spirit book character is Mildred Hubble.
Twitter: @georgia_bowers
Tumbler: bookbewitched.tumblr.com
Hodderscape: www.hodderscape.co.uk

2016 Success Update: Scholastic UK announces acquisition of NOAH CAN’T EVEN by Simon James Green with pride

UV 2016 finalist Simon James Green has signed a two-book deal with Scholastic for NOAH CAN’T EVEN (previously called Nuts), and a follow up title.

Linas Alsenas at Scholastic UK bought World Rights from Joanna Moult from Skylark Literary, having been captivated by painfully geeky protagonist Noah Grimes.

Simon James GreenAuthor Simon James Green says: “Being published by Scholastic is a dream come true, and it’s an honour to join their list of such wonderful authors. The Scholastic team are fantastically supportive, and I’m really looking forward to working with them to bring this funny, confused, complex mess of a teenage boy into the world. All of this was possible thanks to Undiscovered Voices and I’m incredibly grateful for everything the team at UV have done for me.”

Linas Alsenas, Commissioning and Development Editor – Fiction for Scholastic UK, says: “I often hear editors say something along the lines of “As an editor, I live in hope that a book like this will cross my desk,” but in the case of Noah Can’t Even, there’s no other way to put it. I. Love. This. Book. It gives me all the feels, but most of all a steady stream of genuine, snort-out-loud laughs. The plot twists are shocking and mad – poor Noah – and yet the characters never cease to be real and fully drawn. I’m really looking forward to readers getting to know Simon, who is just as hilarious and fabulous as you would expect from his writing.”

Noah Can’t Even by Simon James Green publishes in May 2017.

2016 Success Update: Book Deal for Sophie Cameron

A two book deal for Out of the Blue, and a second title, has been announced by Macmillan Children’s Books. The title will be published in the UK in spring 2018.

You can read more about this exciting news in The Bookseller:

http://www.thebookseller.com/news/sophie-s-choice-macmillan-416486

Congratulations Sophie!

A Message from Sally Gardner – Honorary Chair 2016

We’re proud to post a message from Sally Gardner shared with our finalists at the launch of this year’s anthology.

Sally talks about her journey to becoming a writer and questions an unhelpful educational focus on the qualifications of being writer (like spelling!) rather than the importance of story and inspiration. She speculates whether one of the greats of English literature might well have been found today thanks to Undiscovered Voices. As a ‘fell-walker’, Sally talks about the difficulty of the creative process and how much luck is needed after the difficult climb up the mountain of ideas.

We’d like to thank Keith Rogerson for recording and editing this video and thank Working Partners for hosting the interview!

 

The 2016 Success Story that Almost Never Happened: Patti Buff

Patti BuffSix out of twelve writers among the Undiscovered Voices finalist have now been signed by agents, but the latest signing is one that might have never have happened!

“Most people don’t know this, but I almost entered a previous version of my novel for the 2014 anthology, but decided at the last moment that my story wasn’t working,” confesses finalist Patti Buff. “So I tossed the entire book and started over from scratch. I am so glad I listened to my gut and reworked Requiem because being chosen for the anthology has paid off a thousand-fold.”

A Chance for Immortality

Requiem introduces Rix, a street-wise seventeen-year-old, who has a chance to earn immortality by working for the feared and powerful Cathari family. She just needs to do everything that they ask her to do, but when they kidnap her supposed-to-be-dead boyfriend, she finds herself in the middle of a century old feud. Will the lure of immortality be trumped by the love for a boyfriend who abandoned her?

This irresistible tale told with an amazing voice attracted agent Hannah Sheppard from DHH Literary Agency as soon as she read it in the Undiscovered Voices anthology. “I knew I wanted to talk to her [as soon as I had finished reading Requiem]. We bonded over Midwest America (where Patti is from and where I spent a year as a teenager), blizzards and speech team competitions. We met again at Bologna once I’d finished reading (and loved) the full manuscript to discuss Patti’s future ideas (which I’m incredibly excited about) and that confirmed for me that Patti was someone I’d very much enjoy working with. I was delighted when she agreed to sign with me at DHH Literary Agency.”

Dream Fulfillers

From Patti’s point of view, she felt something click as soon as author and agent spoke to each other. “Not only had she been to the frozen tundra I call home, but she even liked it and remembered it fondly,” Patti tell us. “Hannah told me her vision for both Requiem and my future projects and I knew that I’d found the perfect partner for me and my books. A huge thank you to everyone involved with Undiscovered Voices for making all of this possible. You’ll always be known as the ‘Dream Fulfillers’ to me.”

We’re as glad as Patti that she finally entered her book into Undiscovered Voices and is beginning to see her dedication to her craft pay off!

Getting Prepared for UV2018

For currently undiscovered writers out there, UV2018 will be launching in Spring 2017, so now is a perfect time to start something new in time for the competition or reassess your work-in-progress for the sort of changes that can transform it into a book worthy of the shortlist. Make sure you sign up for email alerts here.

Best of luck from the “Dream Fulfillers”!

2016 Success Story: Angels and an Agents for Sophie Cameron

Sophie CameronWith her gripping story about angels falling from sky, it wasn’t going to be long before someone snapped up finalist Sophie Cameron. We’re delight to share the news that she has been signed by Hellie Ogden at Janklow & Nesbit.

Sophie, who wrote Out of the Blue, says, “Undiscovered Voices has been an amazing boost, both to my writing career and to my confidence! I really didn’t expect to be selected, so to make the anthology and then to get such a great response from agents and publishers was hugely exciting.”

Out of the Blue follows the story of Jaya MacKenzie combining a personal tragedy against a global phenomenon of falling angels. With her dad determined to capture one of the angels alive, will Jaya and her family ever get a chance to come to terms with her mum’s death? As one of the judges said, “a very original premise pulled off skillfully.”

Meeting at the launch party, Hellie and Sophie hit it off straight away. “I felt sure she was the right agent for me,” Sophie says. “As well as being really lovely, she has such a fantastic vision for ‘Out of the Blue‘, and I know with her editorial help it’ll be a much stronger novel.”

And, agent Hellie Ogden couldn’t be happier. “I am a huge fan of Undiscovered Voices; the talent is always exceptional so it’s a really important resource for agents,” she says. “I was blown away by the quality this year and to find, and then get to represent, the incredibly talented Sophie Cameron is really exciting. Sophie is one to watch.”

We couldn’t put it better ourselves. But we’ll leave the last word to Sophie: “Getting to meet the other writers and illustrators was great, too – I’ve loved hearing their success stories and am excited to see their work in print! It’s been a brilliant experience and I’m so grateful to the organisers and to SCBWI British Isles for the opportunity. Thank you!”

2016 Success Story: Kerry’s Fairytale Agent in Judge Kate

Kerry CassidyOne of our lovely judges, Kate Shaw of The Viney Agency, has signed up author of The Thread Fairy, Kerry Cassidy. Both are mothers of boys and have loved escaping the football, rugby, cricket in this delightful fairy adventure.

Kate says, “Kerry’s fairy story is fresh, charming, sweet, funny… gorgeous! Gabriella is a lovely heroine and I have a good feeling about The Thread Fairy…”

The Thread Fairy is the story of Gabriella, the class prankster, who discovers she is in fact one of rarest of magical beings – a thread fairy. Whilst her heart is in the right place she manages to cause trouble wherever she goes. Throughout this story readers learn with Gabriella the importance in life of understanding what others are thinking and feeling but they’ll have lots of fun along the way.

When Kerry first got the phone call from Sara Grant to say she’d been short-listed for Undiscovered Voices she didn’t really believe it. She had only entered the competition after a friend convinced her it was worth a try. “When I got the news I just kept smiling to myself but couldn’t believe that this list of judges had picked out my story,” she says. “The team at Undiscovered Voices and the judges were giving up their time to help unpublished writers like me. When I met Kate I knew instantly that we’d work well together and thank goodness she felt the same. I am delighted to sign with The Viney Agency and thrilled to be represented by Kate who I feel has been in my corner from the outset.”

Kate wants to tell other writers not hold back. “Next time around enter Undiscovered Voices and you just never know what might happen…”

We couldn’t agree more!