Emma Read: ‘My journey to publication has been quite a thrill-ride, an accelerating snowball with Bath Children’s Novel Award right at the heart of it.’

BOOK DEAL NEWS: EMMA READ was shortlisted for the Bath Children’s Novel Award 2017 with Milton the Mighty which has been snapped up by Chicken House for publication in 2019. Milton the Mighty will be the first book in a fresh, funny adventure series for ages 7 and up, illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths. 

Congratulations again, Emma, on your fantastic book deal news!

Thank you! Chicken House have a reputation for producing beautiful and exciting books and it’s a privilege to be working with them. The team are amazing – supportive and kind, with magical powers when it comes to editing! I’m part of something quite special.

What’s the reaction been like from friends, family, writing tribe..

I love that my family always have a quiet confidence about my writing, which provides a perfect balance for my occasional lurches into doubt and panic! I’m also extremely lucky to be part of an amazing writing group, the TWP, or to give them their correct title: My Friends. I would never have made it this far without their feedback, moral support and occasional random gif-wizardry. The response from the online writing community has also been humbling, and lots of people have already asked where they can buy the book!

When will Milton hit the bookshelves?

Milton will be web-swinging onto the shelves by summer 2019.

Tell us about Milton…

Cover for Milton the Mighty by Emma Read showing a small red spider in the centre of a web captioned the teensiest super-hero

Milton the spider lives under the skirting board of the house he shares with his humans, Zoe Macey, and her arachnophobic dad. Being the approximate size of a raisin, Milton’s life is unassuming, until the day Mr Macey sees a newspaper headline wrongly branding Milton’s species deadly. Mr Macey arranges for local pest control company, BugKILL to come and exterminate all the spiders in the house. Fortunately, Milton is brave and clever, and with the help of his BSFs (Best Spider Friends) and house human Zoe, he plucks up the courage to make a stand, doing something rather extraordinary.

Our Junior Judges loved Milton! Your flair for writing classic escapism combined with brilliant social awareness shone out from the first round, converting even the youngest arachnophobes!

This makes me so happy! In the run up to the long list announcement there was, of course, the agony and ecstasy of the notorious teaser tweets and on November 30th, this happened:

I allowed myself to hope that this was me and Milton, because if I’d managed to make just one person think that spiders might be worth loving then it had already been worth it. I’ve been a dreadful arachnaphobe for most of my life and it’s not nice. Milton helped me overcome my fear, and I hope he can do the same for others.

When you entered you were unrepresented and seeking representation. After the longlist announcement you had quite a bit of agent interest…

My journey to publication has been quite a thrill-ride, an accelerating snowball with Bath Children’s Novel Award right at the heart of it. Once I’d submitted my entry I had a feeling that Milton was as ready as he ever would be to head out into the world, so I began querying. I’d recently won the #PeerPitch250 competition which garnered Milton some early agent interest – so the timing felt right.

On the day of the longlist announcement I was shopping at the Bath Christmas Market, drinking mulled cider and listening to carols under sparkly lights. It was magical! Once I got home I did two things: ran around screaming, then contacted all the agents I’d queried to let them know the good news. Nine days later, I’d sent five full manuscripts out, had one ‘don’t do anything until I’ve had a chance to read it’ request, and I was on my way to London to meet two of my dream agents face to face.#

You found yourself in the position of having three agents to choose between – how did you make your decision?

As a fledgling writer you dream of getting ‘that call’, so when it happens three times it’s beyond wonderful. It’s also incredibly hard. I know that may sound rather ungrateful, but making decisions is not a talent I possess, and I agonised.

I’d met two agents in person and had a phone call with the third, all great experiences –so how to choose between three brilliant agents? I wrote lists, I crossed out lists, I looked at sales, spoke to other clients, I consulted the Oracle (otherwise known as my TWP writing tribe) and finally, I got on my hands and knees and asked Milton under the skirting board what he thought we should do  (but he was on a mini-break for the holidays).In the end, I realised I already knew the answer. So I did what I always do when I’m stuck with my writing: when my head fails me, I listen to my heart.

You accepted representation with Lauren Gardner at Bell Lomax Moreton – how did you know she was the best agent for you?

Lauren Gardner and Emma Read holding champagne glasses in front of a large painting in an ornate gilt frame
Literary agent Lauren Gardner supporting Emma at the Bath Children’s Novel Award 2017

I knew Lauren was the one because we were compatible on a fundamental level: she likes the Maltesers in a box of Celebrations, whereas I like the Snickers, so we’re a perfect match. Seriously though, meeting Lauren was amazing. I was determined to enjoy the day, despite my nerves – this was my first agent meeting after all, but it was actually enormous fun. Lauren’s ideas for edits made me feel that she really loved Milton (every time we meet she has little spiders doodled in her notebook!) I knew my little eight-legged friend would be in safe human hands and so would I – I felt confident that I could be myself, both in person, but also in my writing.

Lauren has now signed up four Bath Children’s Novel Award shortlistees – what’s it like to be surrounded by #TeamBNA writers?

Being part of the Bath Novel Award is like being part of a family – we all keep in touch and support one another and it’s lovely to meet up when we can, at the BNA winner’s announcements.

Chicken House’s editorial director Rachel Leyshon was at the winner’s announcement and heard you read the opening pages of your shortlisted manuscript, Milton the Mighty. Was that the first time you’d met?

Emma reading Milton the Mighty, with Rachel Leyshon of Chicken House (far right)

I have a photo where I’m reading my extract with Rachel looking on – it was a nerve-racking moment! I remember Rachel and I kept missing one another due to photo calls and other people wanting to chat, but when we finally got together it was just lovely,and I was grateful to have had a drink to steady the wobbles. She revealed that Barry Cunningham was currently reading the manuscript (!) and that I should pop over for a visit. Four days later I was at Chicken HQ discussing Milton’s future.

Milton the Mighty was a chapter book of just under 11k words when we saw your manuscript – how much has it changed?

Milton has a tendency to worry about being small, so he’s thrilled to have tripled in size. Although it’s no longer a chapter book, Milton the Mighty is still for younger readers(7+) and maintains the original core of the story, being about bravery and friendship and taking a leap of faith to do what’s right.

I’ve introduced some new characters, including deadly spiders and a particularly villainous human,and I’ve developed the existing characters’ storylines further.

Can you describe how the manuscript evolved editorially – first with Lauren’s expert agent eye and then with the editors at Chicken House?

Hoping to maintain the momentum of Milton’s shortlisting, Lauren and I had agreed to go out on submission very quickly, with only a few minor edits. The majority of the editing work was done with the expert guidance of Rachel and Kesia Lupo, who have an astonishing talent for seeing right to core of the story. (As an interesting aside, I originally met Kesia the previous summer at a free editorial surgery at the Bradford-On-Avon children’s literary festival, which made signing with Chicken House feel even more serendipitous.)

Initially, the idea of (at least) doubling the word count seemed daunting, but once I’d sketched out the basic structure on a huge sheet of paper and scribbled all the crazy ideas in my brain onto it, the story began to knit itself back together. This time, bigger and better. We did a number of edits, focusing on character motivation,tension and pacing, and together we shaped Milton into the final manuscript.

How did your shortlisting  help your path to publication? 

For me, the Bath Children’s Novel Award was part of a perfect storm. As I was already out on submission,being shortlisted really helped maintain the buzz. Then at the winner’s announcement ceremony I had the opportunity to read my work in front of industry professionals, including Rachel. Apparently I managed to make her laugh during my reading, which I’m sure helped a little! The Bath Novel Awards have a reputation for helping authors find success and that was certainly the case for me and Milton. The award was an integral part of my journey then and still is now, as it is my pleasure to continue my involvement with the 2018 competition.

You’ve joined our team of grown up readers for the early stages of this year’s  Bath Children’s Novel Award – what will you be looking for?

It’s an absolute privilege to be part of #teamBNA and I’m really looking forward to reading the entries. I understand what a big deal it is to put your work out there, so I’d like to pass on my congratulations to all the entrants for taking that first step. I’m a simple soul really, so I’ll be looking for good, solid storytelling, an understanding of narrative voice and engaging characters. I want to feel the author’s love of children’s fiction coming through. I’m also a sucker for a hook, so give me an intriguing opening – one which won’t let me put down the extract.  

Lastly, any tips for entrants?

A very wise Junior Judge once said, ‘Be more interesting, more quickly.’ This should be your mantra! Entrants have just five thousand words to make an impact, so don’t waste a single one of them. Get feedback where you can, from friends, family, critique partners, SCBWI groups etc., and use it to really tighten your entry – your sentences need to work hard and earn their place. Ensure the reader can engage with your main character, show us what their goal is, or might be and what conflicts they may face. Set the tone –give a sense of what the journey we’re about to go on, will feel like.

Milton the Mighty by Emma Read 

Cover for Milton the Mighty by Emma Read showing a small red spider in the centre of a web captioned the teensiest super-hero

Milton the Mighty is the first book in a fresh, funny new series for children, illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths to be published summer 2019 by Chicken House.

When little spider Milton discovers he’s been branded deadly on social media – and is targeted by pest-killers BugKILL – he fears for his life and the future of his species.

Alongside his BFFs, big hairy Ralph and spindly daddy-long-legs Audrey, he searches for a way to clear his name. But to succeed, Milton realises he must communicate with his house humans, a schoolgirl called Zoe – and her arachnophobic dad. Is he mighty enough to achieve the impossible?

Follow Emma on twitter @EmmyDee73