Congratulations again on being The Bath Children’s Novel Award‘s inaugural runner up for your Middle Grade novel The Miniatures.
Thank you so much. It was a rather surreal experience learning I had been longlisted for the competition. I was at work checking my email on my phone with the world’s worst 3G connection ever when I received the longlist notification. To say I couldn’t concentrate for the rest of the day was an understatement! Once again, I discovered I’d been shortlisted at my desk. I will forever remember scrolling on my phone seeing that immortal first sentence… “The youngest judges chose a comedy caper about a boy who accidentally shrinks his Mum” and thinking that’s my manuscript!
Our 2015 judge, Sallyanne Sweeney of Mulcahy Associates has described you as having “serious potential as a comic writer for the Middle-Grade market.” How does it feel to have your talent recognised?
It’s a huge boost to my confidence and self-belief. Writing creates a seesaw of emotions from not believing your work is good enough to thinking you don’t need to make any more redrafts whatsoever. It’s enormously challenging. For Sallyanne to recognise I have potential is motivational and has pushed me to work hard on a thorough and I believe, much improved redraft.
Your book completed divided our two reading panels. After voting your extract through to the longlist, the majority of the adult panel felt the full was too zany and not polished enough to make the shortlist. Meanwhile, one by one of the kids (aged from 7 to 11 years) on our Middle Grade reading panel sent in their book reports, saying yours was the book they had absolutely loved and wanted to win. Were you surprised by this split reaction?
No, not really. Having the opportunity to reassess the manuscript I can see why the adult reading panel felt the book wasn’t polished enough to make the shortlist. When you are up against such a high standard of exceptional writers – writers with MA’s and authors that have had already experienced success in other competitions, your work does need to shine. I appreciate that my manuscript wasn’t quite shiny enough for the majority of the adult panel.
However, the joy with this competition is that children are allowed to judge and voice their own opinions so I should be thanking them! There is nothing quite as honest as the opinion of a child. After all they are the ones who, if you are fortunate enough, will be reading your book. I loved reading the comments of the BNA Twitter page and recognising on the odd occasion, that they were commenting on my manuscript! It’s a huge privilege to know that they loved the story and characters and are keen to see the manuscript develop.
Tell us about The Miniatures…
The Miniatures is a middle grade comedy caper about a ten-year-old boy called Jake Henry who accidentally shrinks his Mum with a Delta Ray Pro Lite Miniaturisation Gun he discovers in his pants drawer! With the help of his 92-year-old neighbour Ernie, his closest friend, they embark on an adventure to try and make Mum big again with disastrous results…
It’s such a funny book. Our founder read it in bed and laughed so loud she woke her husband up. Which writers make you laugh out loud?
I’m a sucker for quirky novels with a comedic undertone. Recently, my book lush pile highlights include the very talented author Jonas Jonasson who wrote The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared and The Girl Who Save The King of Sweden. If you haven’t read them do so now!
A Man called Ove by Fredrik Backman is quite possibly my favourite book of all time. Not only is it incredibly moving, its hilarious, hard to achieve in an adult novel. I’ve recommended this book to everyone I know including my husband, who never reads anything and absolutely loved it!
In children’s literature you’d be hard pressed to beat the master himself, Roald Dahl with Jeff Kinney’s, Diary of a Wimpy Kid series a close second. Having two boys has given me the opportunity to purchase plenty of middle grade comedy books and I can’t resist having a quick peek much to my boy’s annoyance. One recent book that has been shared throughout our family is My Brother is a Superhero by David Solomons. We all thought it was hilarious.
Robin Falvey, our runner up in the adult novel award said he would find himself laughing out loud as he wrote some of the scenes for his main character. Did you find yourself laughing out loud?
Absolutely. It’s all part of the fun of writing a comic manuscript and is a complete mood boost. If you don’t think your manuscript is funny, who will? I wrote the beginning of my book in a local coffee haunt. I must have looked totally mad giggling away to myself when writing about Jake trying to find wine to put in the hamster cage drink dispenser for his Mum! It had me in fits of giggles.
The kids all related to The Miniatures’ main character, Jake. But they also adored Ernie, the nonagenarian neighbour. They loved that he acted like a teenager; eating pizza and playing X box. Where did you get the idea for Ernie’s character?
Ernie is a mutant in the nicest sense of the word! He’s a character I developed from several people I know without naming names. I’m sure we all know an Ernie in real life… an elderly gentleman full of self-importance with a total lack of respect for authority and who thinks he is 100 per cent right regardless of the consequences. However underneath his facade, Ernie has a good soul and heart and cares very deeply for his friend’s welfare.
I loved the idea that a child could also be great friends with someone significantly older then themselves and not be bothered at all by such an age difference. There’s a raging youth in all of us! Seeing my grandfather engrossed in modern day technology and gaming before he passed away was definitely inspirational.
It read as though the words must have poured out as you wrote. You’ve said it was a first draft, was it a fast first draft?
Quite honestly, it was formula one racing quick! I spotted that the Bath Children’s Novel Award was accepting submissions. At the time, I had planned to submit my young adult manuscript, which I had dedicated many months to polishing. In the final few weeks before the deadline approached, I seriously wasn’t happy with the manuscript and wasn’t “feeling it!” Silly – but I truly believe you have to love what you are writing. Even though it was a total change of direction, I decided to focus on my comic middle grade story. Even with the time constraints I thought, just do it. It felt right. I’m certainly glad I did.
When and where do you write?
I write every day without fail including Christmas Day! For me it’s rather cathartic and something I need to do. I mainly write in bed on the world’s oldest laptop with the assistance of three lazy cats that I run many of my book ideas by. If they start laughing, I know I’m on to something!
Are you completely self-taught? How does it feel to have made runner up amongst a shortlist of polished MA level writers with a draft you knocked out in a few weeks?
I took English Literature and Language at A-Level but that’s as far as my literary academia goes. I would love to have the time to enrol on a Creative Writing course to develop myself further.
To be shortlisted with such polished MA level writers like Lucy Van Smit, our worthy winner and Sophie Cameron who has been shortlisted for SCWBI’s Undiscovered Voices 2016 and the Caledonian Novel Award is very humbling. It’s great motivation to get your own manuscript noticed.
Since winning you’ve met up with judge and children’s literary agent Sallyanne Sweeney to discuss your book. What editing suggestions did she make?
It was a privilege to meet Sallyanne face to face and have the opportunity to chat about my manuscript. Sallyanne gave me some excellent editing advice including help with the plotting and advice about developing more emotion throughout the manuscript – which was lacking. Sallyanne also highlighted parts of the manuscript she loved and parts she thought needed work on. This has helped significantly on my redraft.
Having taken all the comments on board, I am finally approaching the end of my redraft. I feel the manuscript has suddenly blossomed and I’m thankful for the editorial advice I have received. I can only hope it will be liked enough by someone to be represented which will be one of my goals for this year.
The kids’ panel are all constantly asking me when they are going to see The Miniatures in the shops. How’s the editing process going?
It’s full speed ahead on the editing process, thank you. I’ve dedicated myself to a complete redraft by the end of February and thankfully I’m ahead of my self-imposed time schedule. I‘ve been fortunate to revert to Sallyanne’s advice from the notes I took. I feel this redraft has kept the heart and comedic value of the story but has developed on an emotional level with the relationships between Ernie, Jake and his Mum. I’m happier with the quality of the book overall.
How did you hear about our award and why did you enter?
I’d seen the Bath Novel Award for the last couple of years and loved reading about the books that had been shortlisted. I adored Joanna Barnard’s Precocious. I read it on holiday last year. However, I found there were limited children’s book competitions so when I saw the inaugural competition I thought, why not? What have you got to lose? It was the best thing I did for building my confidence.
You’ve written another book… which you describe as a “gritty story about children that could fly and wanted to migrate to foreign lands they’d heard about.” What’s happened with that book. Have you submitted it anywhere or is it in your bottom drawer?
Alongside several other manuscripts of varying length and edits, it’s hiding in my very own pants drawer! The Manuscript is called The Flock and is a story about a young adolescent boy called Larious Grubb who can fly. In a world where every person can fly, but not everyone chooses to do so, Larious is a grounder; a child who has had his wings brutally clipped straight after birth. Larious is desperate to join The Flock – a group of carefree limitless teenagers on the edge of adulthood who take to the skies every summer for one final adventure.
I still do love this story very much so may very well dust it out when I’ve finished my redrafts.
You’ve been assistant to the Mayor of Kidderminster (pictured left) for eight years, which sounds like ideal material for a Victoria Wood sketch. What does the job entail on a day to day basis and does it involve many laugh-out-loud moments?
No day is ever the same in the Mayoral Office that’s for sure! Predominately my job is supporting the Mayor throughout their civic year and helping to raise funds for their chosen Mayoral charities. It sounds far more glamorous then it actually is.
My role ranges from organising civic ceremonial events like Freedom Marches to whipping cream in the Mayor’s Parlour to put into scones for a charity coffee morning. I did this yesterday – no word of a lie!
Of course there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in a position like this but I’m going to save that for another book!
You have two boys. Which one of them is more like Jake and what do they think of their mum’s writing?
That would be my youngest, Ross. Ross is kind, tolerant and thinks outside the box just like Jake and obviously would do anything to help his Mum!
My eldest son Max has been a great support and critic. I asked him to read the first third of the book without telling him I had written the manuscript. Luckily, he loved the story and though it was very very funny and wanted to read some more.
Lastly, we would love to see more funny novels in our entry pile for 2016’s award. Do you have any tips for MG writers on the secret of making kids laugh?
I have the utmost respect for anyone who writes a manuscript. It requires dedication, commitment and self-belief by the bucket loads. I especially tip my hat off to anyone writing middle grade comedy. Many believe it’s an easy category to write for. I can safely say, it is not!
I would urge all future middle grade entries to rewrite and rewrite and be ruthless with your own work. There are no tips on how to make children laugh apart from listening to your own inner voice. It’s that little voice is giggling, like mine did; you know you are on to a potential future winner.
Read the opening chapter of The Miniatures by Sharon Tandy along with all the first chapters of 2015’s shortlisted children’s novels here.
The Bath Children’s Novel Award is open to entries until 20 November 2016.