Shortlistee spotlight: Noah Weisz

Noah Weisz headshot

Noah Weisz: “I want any kids who read my writing to come away certain that their opinions matter and that they really can make the world so much better than it is.”

2020 brought an extraordinary shortlisting first. From an original field of almost one thousand anonymised manuscripts, our small army of Junior Judges aged seven to seventeen shortlisted two by writer Noah Weisz, who was also shortlisted in 2016. Noah describes his writing journey to date and his desire to find agent representation.

Congratulations Noah on becoming our first triple shortlistee…

“It’s hard to believe. I wrote three manuscripts over about seven years, revising each of them countless times, and now to think that all three have been recognized independently after blind reads by the Junior Judges—I’m just really, really grateful.”

What does it mean to know the children loved your books?  

As so many people have said, the best thing about the Bath Children’s Novel Award is definitely the Junior Judges.  I don’t know why every contest for children’s and young-adult writing isn’t judged by the kids and teens themselves! It means the world to me that the people I was writing for connected with my stories.

Their feedback was really helpful, too—both what they liked and what they didn’t like as much.  And I have to mention the report from one particular Junior Judge who loved Reef—she pinpointed and completely understood many of the less-obvious aspects of the novel that I’m most proud of, and it resonated particularly deeply for her as a young immigrant herself. Just reading that one report was worth all the hundreds of rejections I’ve gotten from literary magazines, contests and agencies over the years.

All three are exciting adventures featuring young people raising their voices to help their communities: in Reef a sea boy with nothing to lose goes above ground to save his war torn world; in Stargap schoolfriends must must camp wild and solve clues to save a rainforest reserve; in Echo of Light a girl and her friends must save their neighbourhood from an invasion of coywolves. Why is this kind of children’s novel important to you? 

The exciting adventure part just comes from my own love for adventure stories (realistic or fantastical) and the outdoors.  Regarding the other part—as a writer and as a teacher, I’m always aiming to empower young people, which I think often means trusting them with the full tangled complexity of an issue or idea and helping them learn to trust themselves and each other.  I want any kids who read my writing to come away certain that their opinions matter and that they really can make the world so much better than it is.  I honestly believe that if the world were fair, a lot more decisions would be left up to kids.

When did you start writing novels?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was about seven, so I was always writing poems and short stories as a kid.  I wrote my first novel in college during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It was terrible, but I finished it!  And I don’t think I could have written any of my subsequent manuscripts without having written that novel first. NaNoWriMo gave me a sense of the span and rhythm of a novel, of how much has to go into each scene and chapter to make a story play out over that many pages with the right level of depth.

Which novels were important to you as a kid?

Harry Potter above all (Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite).  My siblings and I traded off by chapters, clawing in suspense when it wasn’t our turn.  Also Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series and Joan Aiken’s The Wolves Chronicles.  There is a majestic, sweeping wondrousness in those three authors’ books, all of which are raucously colourful and imaginative and which seamlessly layer mystery plotlines into fantasy adventures.

Are you seeking agent representation?

Yes!  A few years ago, through getting shortlisted for the 2016 Bath Children’s Novel Award, my manuscript Echo of Light received offers of representation from two agents, but (after a lot of painstaking consideration) I ended up declining them both.  Since then, I’ve had a lot of close calls, but nothing has come through.  I’m still hoping to find an agent so my stories can reach the readers they were written for.

What are you writing at the moment?

I’m working on a contemporary YA novel set in a Jewish day school that explores issues of gender and religion.  It’s about five kids from very different backgrounds who are all trying not to let their parents’ choices define who they become.

Lastly, how has life changed for you since the Covid-19 outbreak? 

My wife and I are very lucky that our family is healthy and that we have jobs that allow us to work from home.  It’s been a challenge and an adventure trying to shift to teaching middle-school English remotely, but it’s also meant a lot of exciting collaboration with the other teachers at my school, and it’s taught me something about the meaning of a school community.

Interview by Caroline Ambrose

Noah Weisz headshotNOAH WEISZ teaches language arts to middle school students, creative writing at St. Edward’s University and English language through Refugee Services of Texas. He holds an M.F.A. in Fiction from the University of Texas and has been widely published in literary magazines. Reef was inspired by the plight of refugees and Noah’s time working at Orpheus Island Research Station in the Great Barrier Reef.  Stargap was written while Noah was working as a research assistant at James Cook University in Queensland and making many field trips to the nearby Wet Tropics Rainforest. In Echo of Light Noah drew on his love of suburban forests and experiences growing up in a diverse Jewish community outside of Washington, D.C.