“I’m always on the treasure hunt for new writing talent.” Julia Churchill, Children’s Literary Agent & 2016 Judge
We’re delighted to welcome JULIA CHURCHILL as this year’s Judge. Julia joined AM Heath in 2013 as Children’s Agent, after four years building up the UK side of the Greenhouse Literary Agency, and six years at the Darley Anderson Agency where she started the children’s book side of the list. Julia will be selecting this year’s winner from a shortlist voted for by our team of junior judges aged from 7 to 17.
Julia, thank you for judging this year’s prize. How perfect will a manuscript need to be for it to win?
I’d love to find perfection, but I don’t expect it. I’m looking for a spark of talent and intent that inspires me.
What qualities do you look for in Chapter Books / Middle Grade / YA?
It’s different every time. Each book has its own special qualities. Broadly, I’d say focus, clarity and momentum. Specifically, maybe a clever concept that’s so neat I can’t believe it hasn’t been done before, or a low key spareness to the writing, or a character that I think can run and run.
At this stage, how important is the title and what will you be looking for in a synopsis?
A good title is an asset, but it’s not vital by any means. Not at this stage. In a synopsis, I look for a clear spine to the story.
Any advice on word counts?
As long as the book needs to be. I think every serious children’s author should have a sense of the length expectations for each age group/genre. But some books can happily fall outside of the norm.
Any first page pet hates?
It’s not a pet hate, per-se, but I see a lot of submissions that start with an alarm clock going off and the character waking up. And in that case the writer has likely made the decision to start the book on the morning of the day that something happens, rather than when something actually happens.
What was the last children’s book which made you laugh / cry?
I recently re-read Goodnight Mr Tom, which moved me to tears. And the Emer Stamp books make me laugh.
What’s top of your wishlist right now?
I don’t generally have a wishlist. I’d like to find a quality commercial project, and it could be a chapter book, or a YA novel, or anything in-between. A love story, a thriller, an adventure, a character based young project, a verse novel. Who knows!? That’s the fun of it.
What makes you want to sign a writer?
I’m looking for voice, concept, character and story. Debut writers I’ve helped to break out include Sarah Crossan, Sarah Lean, Michelle Harrison, Pip Jones, Jenny McLachlan, Rebecca Westcott.
Do you represent novelists who also write for adults?
I do, but only for existing clients who diversify into writing for adults.
Best and worst aspects of your job?
Selling books for authors. I honestly get as much personal satisfaction from a ten publisher auction that ties up in days, to a selling book that takes a year to place, for a modest advance. It’s all about finding a home for each project. And the worst aspect is not selling books. Of course that can happen too, and it’s very disappointing. But it may be the subsequent project that breaks the author out. This is a long term business.
Lastly, any other advice for entrants?
Don’t rush to get it in. Take your time. That last read through with a red pen when you realise that you can leave a scene much earlier than you do, or that midnight brainwave you have about how to elegantly transition to chapter 2, may make a big difference. Good luck, I’m looking forward to reading your work!