Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Summer Competitions - Let your creative-self free . . .

Its summer holidays the time when anyone who’s looking after small people find that are rapidly running out of things to keep them occupied. So how about getting them entering our Space on The Bookshelf summer competitions. It all about having fun, and hopefully winning something too. 

The prizes are EXTRA SPECIAL as they will be picked for the winner bespoke to their reading preferences. So get set your small people to task!

We at SOBS know it’s not just kids who Love Kids Books so these competitions are open to all that are young of heart whatever your age!


Put yourself on the cover literally. Get your arty self-free and put yourself on to a cover of a published book. You can draw yourself or use photo’s, but either way have fun. Here are a few ideas, so how about trying it, and e-mailing them in! Please send as a PDF or Jpeg file. Please note we will be displaying the Cover Star entries on the blog, and twitter, please DO NOT put your name on the image.


Write a Blurb for your favourite books, or a book idea you have and send it to us. Please send as a Word attachment.

Once you have your entry e-mail to SpaceOnTheBookshelf@yahoo.com with it your name, age, and a list of three of your favourite books. Please note we will be displaying the Cover Star entries on the blog, and twitter, please DO NOT put your name on the image. The competition will be running throughout the summer and closes on September 5th.

Enter and you could win a specially selected prize chosen especially for you based on you age, and reading likes. What will it be?

Good Luck!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Undiscovered voices flies again

If you’ve not come across Undiscovered Voices and you write for children and haven't yet been published, it’s worth checking it out as its one of the few competitions aimed at unpublished writers and has an enviable track record of getting its winners noticed.

Because really, writing as a hobby is kind of weird.

On the face of it, it is the simplest thing in the world. There are almost no barriers to giving it a go. You don’t need to have taken a degree in creative writing (although these days it probably helps), you can fit it in around other things in life so it feels like fun rather than anything big or serious you’re taking on.

You can potter along, not needing anything much more complicated than a pencil and a sheet of paper to get you started. There aren’t even any costs involved, anyone of any age can start it at any time. Who wouldn’t want to give it a go?

It’s when you try to take things any further that you begin to realise you might have taken on something quite different to what you thought.

It’s when you start to have those random thoughts of wondering if what you are writing is any good at all, whether anyone would actually want to read it . . . that’s when the trouble starts.

Then, writing suddenly becomes the most difficult, the most complicated and competitive, the most monstrously challenging interest anyone could possibly have chosen to take up.

Perhaps aiming for that Olympic medal would have been easier? At least then someone would probably have kindly pointed out at any early age that you have two left feet and saved you a lot of trouble.

But as a writer it’s incredibly difficult to tell if you are on the right track, or so off course you are now heading somewhere west of Jupiter. Sometimes it feels like there is the narrowest of gaps between the two, but one that seems impossible to cross.

Your crit group might say nice things (but then they are nice, aren’t they).

But it’s real, actual readers who count. And before you reach them you’ve an entire industry to negotiate, of agents and publishers, and there is marketing and sales. There are book jackets and book launches – all very well, but it all starts with that first knock at the door and that is done by going through an utterly weird process called submitting to agents.

This is highly likely to be a part of the journey that involves a lot of frustrating and depressing one-way correspondence of the ‘if we haven’t replied within eight weeks it means it’s probably not for us’ variety.

The immediacy of epublishing means it is now even possible to go avoid all that, to go straight from your brain, into a computer and out to readers with unbelievable simplicity. . . If you want to do it without a publisher.

Yet there is something about competitions that make then seem a little like the agent’s slightly kinder younger sister, a slightly more hopeful way of getting your work in front of someone, someone who is actively keen to find new writers to take on and support.

I’m sure agents don’t really view the slushpile a bit like the laundry (something that you would rather ignore, but it builds up until it’s quite unmanageable and then you end up with nothing left to wear).

But one of the great things about competitions for unpublished writers is that they make the prospect of all that raw talent in the slushpile a little more exciting. There is something that makes reading all those slightly green, nervy, unpolished new writers work a bit more thrilling.

From a writer's point of view, moreover, there is a winner. Generally, at the end of it, someone actually gets published. How great is that?

There are two competitions open at the moment and the first is closing for entries on August 15.

Run every two years, here, a submission of up to 4000 words is read by a team of agents and editors and 12 of the best submissions are put into an anthology, which is published and is then passed onto other interested agents and publishers. The competition was first launched in 2008 and from that anthology ten of the 12 winners have gone on to get into print.

The second competition is The Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition.

For this one you submit a whole manuscript – and it is read, in its entirety, and judged, and around 20 longlisted from the 1,000 or so hopefuls. You’ve got until November 1 to enter this one. The winner gets published and a £10,000 advance. Brilliant.

I submitted to Undiscovered Voices two years ago and didn’t get anywhere, but Sally was Highly Commended and Jo was chosen for the anthology.

I did submit to Chicken House last year and was amazed to be longlisted. As someone who is still at the ‘if we haven’t replied within eight weeks it means it’s probably not for us’ stage with agents, I had pictured myself somewhere so far away from where my writing needs to be that I could hardly see the ground and was suffering from a lack of oxygen.

So it was beyond amazing to read a judges report and read how much someone had loved the book and wanted to champion it. It was pretty much the first bit of actual feedback I have had, so yes, I’m a big fan of competitions.

I shall be entering Undiscovered Voices and the Chicken House competition again this year.

I am becoming such a convert to competitions I have been scouting around for others. I also submitted to one organised by the Winchester Writers Conference, and I even managed to get a really nice report back from the judges even though somehow my entry actually got put in for entirely the wrong competition. How great is that?

So yes please. Why are there not more competitions?

Good luck to everyone who decides to enter. And fingers crossed.

Friday, 2 August 2013

‘Rooftoppers’ by Katherine Rundell - review

Baby Sophie is rescued from a sinking ship and brought up by scholarly Charles in London – an unconventional upbringing based on what he feels is important, involving lots of books and music and very irregular meals.

Sophie and Charles are used to staying one step ahead of the authorities, as Charles’ eccentric upbringing threatens to end in Sophie being taken to an orphanage. So the pair, following a slight clue, head to Paris to try to find out if Sophie’s real mother really did drown when the ship sank or if they can be reunited.

It would be a hopeless quest, but Sophie gets help from a bunch of children she meets who scrape a living on the Paris rooftops and starts a totally different adventure, leaping between buildings, catching birds to eat and only coming out after dark. She has to learn to tightrope and scale ancient buildings to keep up with them as together they search, before the police catch up with them.

It’s a magical tale, of children getting together to help each other and has a feel of a fairytale about it. But also Katherine’s imaginative use of metaphors lifts the writing of this simple story into giving you something unexpected on every page. And the descriptions of all the roof running are so well done it’s not good for anyone who doesn’t have a head for heights.

Although set in a different place and a different time there are similarities with Katherine’s first book ‘The Girl Savage’. That was based largely on her own wild childhood growing up in Africa. In the story Wilhelmina (Will) is sent from Africa to an English boarding school, where she discovers that all the skills and knowledge that served her so well are useless in her new environment.

They are both great stories about being yourself, not fitting in, as well as out-and-out adventure stories, full of eccentric twists, fantastically imaginative word play and a theme of believing the impossible. 

‘Rooftoppers’ by Katherine Rundell - child's review

Rooftoppers Review by Ollie
age 12
May 2013
‘Rooftoppers’ is an amazing book by Katherine Rundell. The book is about a girl named Sophie and she is the only known survivor of the ship called ‘Queen Mary’, everyone says she was orphaned in the wreck, but Sophie says that she definitely remembers seeing her Mum float away from the wreck. Sophie and Charles (her guardian) are both on the run from the police because the social services want to take Sophie away from Charles. So they travel to France in search of her mother and she meets a boy called Matteo on the rooftops and together they go in search of her mother.  Matteo teaches her how to run, jump and climb over the rooftops of Paris. Matteo is my overall favorite character in the book because it’s like he has no fear of dying, he can just swing over a tightrope like it’s two metres off the ground.
‘Rooftoppers’ is so good I went over my bed time by three hours just so I could finish it! The book was a gripping read it’s got lots of different genres like action and adventure; it also appeals to most ages (10+) and it is very enjoyable a satisfying read. Therefore I would definitely recommend it to a friend 10/10!! 
A big thank you to OLA school Abingdon for having a review competition of which Oliver is the winner! 

‘Rooftoppers’ by Katherine Rundell - interview with Katherine

Why did you start writing for children?

The books I read as a child got under my skin with far more tenacity than most of the books I read after 17 or 18. They set the world alight for me and bent it open; it seemed something very much worth giving a go.

What was your favourite children’s book as a child?

I loved What Katy Did and Diana Wynne Jones' Charmed Life with an unweildy, obsessive passion. I think I can still quote chunks of both.

What was your favourite children’s book as an adult?

I read the Northern Lights trilogy in my teens, and have never stopped loving them since. I didn't read The Wind in the Willows until recently, and found it heaven. And Eva Ibbotson's Journey to the River Sea is beautiful.

What makes children’s books so inspirational?

I think they suggest that adventure is possible; that raising your game is possible; and that children can live large lives. And, G K Chesterton says it so well: 'Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.'

What made you want to write this book?

I wanted to write about people who live wild, daring, unusual lives. I wanted to write a story with a girl hero, who was tough and stubborn and unwilling to give up: there are some great female characters in kids' literature, but still not nearly enough of them take centre stage. And I thought I'd like tightropes to feature, because they are such vertiginous and evocative things, and I hoped they might make the story feel a little dizzying.

Thank you Katherine. It's an amazing book and we hope there will be a sequel!