Bath Children’s Novel Award 2023 Judge

Jessica Hare: ‘If you’re on the fence about applying, go for it! Nothing ventured, nothing gained.’

Photo: The Bookseller

Jessica Hare runs the Children’s Books department at The Agency where she represents authors writing for every age and genre, as well as illustrators, and is one of The Bookseller’s Rising Stars for 2023. Jessica will judge this year’s Bath Children’s Novel Award winning book from a shortlist chosen by children and teens.

Thank you for judging this year’s prize. What do you hope to find in the few pages of a book? 

Gorgeous writing, arresting characters and the rare feeling that I forget I’m reading because the story’s carried me away. A clear sense of place and tone, so I immediately know where I am and where I’m going on the journey ahead.

What’s on your wishlist for picture book texts. chapter books, middle grade and young adult? 

I’m particularly on the hunt for witches in any form for any age. In picture books I would love to find a non-rhyming story about a seminal moment in a child’s life, a deceptively simple concept that’s impressively satisfying to read aloud again and again. I am wishing for laugh-a-minute chapter books with one or more loveable, recognisable and returnable characters. Middle grade wise I am desperate for contemporary: think family and community dynamics a la Jacqueline Wilson. For young adults, I would be delighted to come across joyful romances and intriguing speculative set-ups, grounded in the world we know – with a twist. 

How do you feel about Junior Judges choosing the shortlist? 

I think it’s wonderful – and important. Too often we as adult gatekeepers are only in conversation with other adult gatekeepers. Bringing young readers into the equation makes excellent sense; they are our market. 

How do you feel about judging blind? 

I am intrigued to see if it makes a difference to the decision-making process. I start by reading all our submissions blind anyway and then, if I am enjoying something, I will go and look up the person and see what I can find out about them. I have become a surprisingly adept online detective – skills I will not be putting to use in this competition!

How and why did you become a children’s literary agent? 

I worked as a teaching assistant in a primary school after graduating and found myself reading the children’s books during library time. From there I did several work experience placements across marketing, editorial, publicity and publishers big and small, and then I arrived at an agency and I just knew: an agency is the place for me.

What do you love most about agenting? 

Advocating for my clients so that they can spend their valuable time on creating their best work. The freedom, creative challenge and the variety of every day are all aspects I love too. 

Any other advice for entrants? 

There are lots of ideas I would be interested in that I haven’t mentioned here. If you’re on the fence about applying, go for it! Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The Bath Children’s Novel Award 2023 is open to unagented writers of any nationality or residency. The winner will receive £3,000 and submissions of picture book texts, chapter books, or novels for children or teens are invited until November 30th.

So much of the writing process is in your head or on your own in a room. It feels like such a leap to put work out to people and it is a joy and a relief to have it accepted and validated.” 

INTERVIEW: Truly Johnston, winner of The Bath Children’s Novel Award 2022