UV Masterclass report, part 2

This year’s Undiscovered Voices preparations are bigger than ever with our very first UV Masterclass series proving hugely popular. But if you missed out, don’t panic! Here’s a breakdown to clue you in. Each of the three sessions focused on different elements of your UV submission. Our second report focuses on WRITING A SYNOPSIS with author and editor Benjamin Scott, sharing his secrets for distilling your novel into a 75-word synopsis. This might feel impossible, but Benjamin makes it look easy.

Writing a Synopsis

Firstly, it’s important you don’t try to say too much – it’s only 75-words – try to capture the essence of your story and don’t try to squeeze in all the finer details. Remember, you don’t have to keep it forever – it’s a specific tool to woo our judges.

Hot tip! The writing does matter. Fluidity and intrigue that pulls you in is key, a bit like a movie trailer. You might like to keep that in mind when you’re writing yours. They should tell you just enough to give you a picture of the story and where it might go.

What were the big pointers to look out for?

Make sure you’re pitching your story to the right age group, that the tone and style are reflective of your chapters, be sure to tell the judges about the bigger picture and read the previous anthologies to see successful examples – they’re all available for free!

You’ll notice those who’ve previously bagged themselves a spot in the anthology ensured their audience knew who their stories were about, their conflicts or goals, the stakes and what they intended to do about them, and if they had time, they’ve thrown in a small peppering of setting too.

At the end of the day, Benjamin advises not to let this task consume you – it’s a functional tool just for our judges – if you’re submitting directly to agents, they’ll likely want a longer synopsis.

Get friends and family to check it or write several different versions to let them choose. Why not also get your friends and family to read a selection of your favourite synopses from the previous anthologies? Then ask them what appealed to them.

Make every word count and trust your gut!

Coming soon – UV Masterclass report, part 3

Don’t miss the great tips in our UV masterclass report, part 1 on Titles That Sell.

Andrew James is originally from the Lake District and teaches English, Film and Media. He completed his MA in Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths in 2018 and for the past five years, he has organised and hosted monthly agent pitch evenings for his local writing group. He has a passionate dislike for anything referred to as an ‘easy peeler.’ Satsumas are the only way to go.

UV Masterclass report, part 3

This year’s Undiscovered Voices preparations are bigger than ever with our very first UV Masterclass series proving hugely popular. But if you missed out, don’t panic! Here’s a breakdown to clue you in.

Our final report focuses on HOOKING YOUR READER FROM THE START, which saw editor and author Catherine Coe and author and screenwriter Simon James Green discussing how to polish those opening lines, including dispelling the most common myths about openings and highlighting the key components your openings really do need.

Hooking your reader from the start

What were the common myths? You’ve heard them all before: avoid exposition, start with action, make sure your first line sparkles and never, ever, ever use a prologue. I know what you’re thinking. Should you now ignore these conventions? Not exactly. They’re just not necessarily absolutes, nor should each be taken to extremes.

Lights, Camera, Exposition

With exposition, readers don’t want to see lots of clunky backstory, but they do need to know some details, otherwise it’s confusing. Exposition should come naturally. Trust your writing to be strong enough so you don’t need to cram the twists and turns into your opening.

Action’s great to start with, but don’t be fooled by the word action. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something physical. E.g. Alan Garner’s The Owl Service merely has the children hearing something in the attic. It’s intrigue we want. Physical action might work brilliantly for some genres but not for all, so try your best to interpret this into something appropriate for your story.

If a prologue is key to your story, if you absitively posolutely have to have it, then why not just name it Chapter One? And a sparkly first line? Really, the whole book really needs to sparkle. If it does, you won’t need to worry about the first line. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

So, what’s the big idea of dispelling myths you’ve worked so hard to adhere to? It’s all about not letting yourself get bogged down trying to follow rules, but instead using your common sense to write your story with these conventions as guidelines.

That’s what not to do. Here are the six key components every opening should have:

One – Start in the right place

Start where your story really starts. You’ve heard it before, I’m sure, yet aspiring writers continually make this mistake. Get to your inciting incident ASAP. It doesn’t have to start where it starts in your head.

Two – How are you going to say it?

Voice! Oh, I know, you’ve had that feedback before. It is key though. The voice of your character, narrator and your voice as the author all have to shine through. Isn’t that why you love your favourite writers so much

Three – Get under the skin of your characters

Use your characters to create engagement and connection. You have to know your characters inside out, but we don’t need every detail on the page. We can see brushstrokes in their actions and reactions, but again, this should feel natural. Don’t list their traits. It’s a classic show, don’t tell situation.

Four – Everyone should know where they are

Setting is vital. Just because you can see it in your head, doesn’t mean your reader can. Your setting is likely as important as your characters, so use it.

Five – Making sure you keep the reader reading

How do you? Intrigue! You need to think about how you begin and end your chapters, the pacing of your story and how to hook the reader to keep turning those pages.

Six – Give us enough clues to know what we’re reading!

It’s important to give a sense of genre to your writing. It helps our judges (and your readers) understand where your story falls and what might come next. Conventions are useful but again, not absolutes. They can be broken, but that’s all part of your intrigue.

And, lastly…

One final brilliant tip from our wonderful Benjamin Scott regarding your 50-word bio. Re-visit the previous anthologies (all free to download) and read some. You want the judges to be interested in you and see that you take your writing seriously. Think about how you present yourself.

There you have it. All three of our amazing Undiscovered Voices Masterclasses in a nutshell. So, what’s stopping you? Get to work!

Good luck and remember, it’s supposed to be fun!

Don’t miss the great tips in our UV masterclass report, part 1 on Titles That Sell and part 2 on Writing your Synopsis.

Andrew James is originally from the Lake District and teaches English, Film and Media. He completed his MA in Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths in 2018 and for the past five years, he has organised and hosted monthly agent pitch evenings for his local writing group. He has a passionate dislike for anything referred to as an ‘easy peeler.’ Satsumas are the only way to go.

UV Masterclass report, part 1

This year’s Undiscovered Voices preparations are bigger than ever with our very first UV Masterclass series proving hugely popular. But if you missed out, don’t panic! Here’s a breakdown to clue you in. Each of the three sessions focused on different elements of your UV submission. Our first report focuses on the first, TITLES THAT SELL, with freelance editor Jenny Glencross and Dani Wilson from Simon & Schuster Children’s sales team.

Titles that sell: what did they say?

Titles are important. They’re the first thing an agent, editor, publisher, or reader will see. They have to work hard to grab attention, hint towards your book’s genre and intended readership and entice them to actually open the book. The right title can make a big difference to sales! Would you pick up a book called Trimalchio in West Egg? No? But you might pick up The Great Gatsby. How about a book called First Impressions? You might be surprised to learn that one later became Pride & Prejudice.

Why not consider the titles of your favourite books – what do they tell you about the story, the intended readership, the genre and tone? e.g. The Day the Screens Went Blank tells you so much, including the timeframe the story is set in.

They Both Die at the End means you instantly know it’s YA and it gives you the ending, but you buy it hoping it’s not true.

So, how do you pick the right title for you? Jenny and Dani suggest brainstorming keywords or phrases that describe the plot, character and themes of your book or even phrases that might be in the book that encapsulate your story.

If you’re really stuck, maybe consider some of the classic title conventions and structures, such as the one-word title (Brightstorm, Cogheart, Nevermoor), the name + noun title (Amelia Fand and the Barbaric Ball, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone), the play on words title (Who Let The Gods Out, Murder Most Unladylike), the juxtaposition title (Dragon Mountain, Dangerous Remedy, Demolition Dad), the noun title (The Boy at the Back of the Class, The Clockwork Sparrow) and the list title (Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging; Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow; Chocolate Mile, X-Ray Specs and Me).

If in doubt, don’t overcomplicate it and don’t try to be too poetic or clever. Remember, if you get signed by an agent, they might want you to change the title, as might an editor or publisher, or maybe even the booksellers! Keep an open mind and whatever you do, don’t use picking a title as a device to procrastinate and keep you from writing!

Coming soon – UV Masterclass report, part 2

Andrew James is originally from the Lake District and teaches English, Film and Media. He completed his MA in Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths in 2018 and for the past five years, he has organised and hosted monthly agent pitch evenings for his local writing group. He has a passionate dislike for anything referred to as an ‘easy peeler.’ Satsumas are the only way to go.

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