The Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition: Judging Panel and Lunch
Our seven judges arrive - best-selling author Sophie Mackenzie; Alex O'Connell of The Times; Melissa Cox from Waterstones; Kate Newport from Scholastic Clubs and Fairs; Natasha Farrant, literary scout and author; Tereze Brikmane from the indie children's bookshop Tales on Moon Lane; and our very own Barry Cunningham. Before long, we're sat at a round table (in true Arthurian diplomatic style!). Over tea, coffee and custard creams, the discussion commences.
I'm an impartial note-taking observer, and (although it's occasionally an effort to stop myself interjecting!) it's very informative to watch. I can't help but feel proud and a little protective of our final shortlisted six novels that have come so far, each of which receives praise and criticism from the panel. The discussion is lively, and each judge initially has a different favourite, which seems to come as a surprise to some of them. By quarter past twelve, however, the decision is unanimous.
For the first time, we've invited the shortlisted authors to lunch for the announcement of the winner - and this year's shortlistees are an enthusiastic and dedicated group of writers. Despite the fear-factors of a photographer/videographer and two PRs, the authors keep their cool through the pre-lunch mingle. We sit down - in a judge-beside-shortlistee arrangement - and tuck in.
Over rice pudding, Barry and Alex announce the winner: Laurel Remington! It's touching to watch the transformation of her expression - surprise, joy, and an overwhelming sense of relief. And despite inevitable disappointment for the runners-up, everyone is genuinely pleased for her.
[Above right: Our fabulous shortlistees and Barry Cunningham, from left to right: Wai Lan Mo, Anna Day, Barry, Steve Lee, Laurel Remington, Martin Sturrock, Mary Hopewell]
Post-lunch, the shortlistees exchange email addresses (word is there's to be a writing group!) before heading off to the nearest pub for a well-deserved pint. Gradually, the drawing room empties, and it feels like the end of something special.
But of course, it's only the beginning. We can't wait to start on preparing Laurel's excellent novel for publication - and, meanwhile, we'll continue to work with the entire shortlist, offering editorial notes and guidance, and readers' reports for everyone on the longlist. Laurel described her road to publication as 'a long haul', spanning several books and several years. She's a wonderful example: keep trying ... and enter the 2016 Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition!
TOP 5 FRIDAY (ish): Awesome Archers
I know it's not actually Friday, but we were so excited about the announcement of this year's Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition winner that there just wasn't any room to fit in a top 5 last week!
1. Robin Hood
Not strictly in a children's book, but Disney's classic animated film put him firmly on the metaphorical bow-wielding map. He's the original archer - the inspiration behind countless others, and is cool even as an anthropomorphic fox. Not bad going.
2. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games trilogy
The girl on fire herself! Katniss is the YA heroine of the 21st century (Hermione excluded), and it's her power with a bow that makes her so awesome. She's the one out there providing for her family, shooting down deers and pheasants - just using her archery skills and her penchant for breaking rules. And let's not forget [SPOILER ALERT] ending the Hunger Games and initiating a revolution. Awesome.
3. Legolas from The Lord of the Rings trilogy
It's well-known that Legolas is a master archer and I'd like to say that it's his archery skills that earn him a place on this list ... but really it's the hair. Anyone that manages to have hair that long and glossy and not get it tangled in their arrows deserves a mention.
4. Susan Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia series
Susan has a bit of an unfair advantage by having a bow that never misses - but she's not one for slacking off, practicing as much as she can to make sure she's the best. And she becomes Queen of Narnia at the age of 12.
5. Merry Owen from Longbow Girl
Ah, I won't reveal too much here. Merry is a heroine for the past and present and very much deserves a place on the list - but you'll have to wait until September to find out why!
Are there any we've missed? Let us know by tweeting us at @chickenhsebooks!
CHILDREN'S FICTION COMPETITION WINNER ANNOUNCED ... AND 2016 COMPETITION OPENS!
We are delighted to announce the winner of the 2015 Times/ Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition:
THE SECRET COOKING CLUB FOR GIRLS by Laurel Remington
Laurel's warm and witty tale of baking, friendship and finding your calling impressed all of our judges. Scarlett's mum - a social media guru - uses her daughter's life as embarrassing blog-fodder. Withdrawn and lacking in confidence, Scarlett stumbles upon the magic of cooking. But she can't possibly let her mum find out...
Many congratulations to Laurel and to all our shortlisted authors for reaching the competition's most outstanding shortlist yet.
THIS YEAR'S COMPETITION IS NOW OPEN!
Enter the Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition 2016 ...
... and win a publishing contract worth £10,000!
We are looking for original ideas, a fresh voice and a story children will love. If you have written a novel for children between the ages of 7 and 18, visit our submissions page for details on how to submit your manuscript.
The competition has already launched the careers of many talented children's authors - you could be next!
Competition closes Friday 30th October 2015
Click here for full terms and conditions and for details of the prize.
TOP 5 FRIDAY: Gingers
There can't be many minority groups that are over-represented in children's fiction but we have a sneaking suspicion that redheads might be. Making up just two per cent of the population, we reckon at least one in ten children's books has a feisty, spirited girl character with ginger hair, pale freckled skin and green eyes that flash when her temper flares. And we're not knocking them - we wouldn't dare incur their fiery fury! Publishing Manager Esther, fan of all things ginger (especially her two sons), picks her top five red-headed characters.
1. Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables
She may have claimed that having red hair was a 'lifelong sorrow' - and there's no forgetting the time she accidentally dyed it green in a desperate attempt to have hair as 'black as the raven's wing' - but she embodies red from root to tip. Tease her for it and you'll be made to pay - just ask Gilbert Blythe! A blonde or brunette Anne would have been a literary flop. She will always be my kindred spirit.
2. Thirrin from The Cry of the Icemark
This girl can kick butt! How many thirteen-year-old princesses do you know who can take down a werewolf with their bare hands? A fierce, proud, fearless warrior with a blaze of red hair, her 'halo of wrath'. She may be the heir to the throne of the Icemark but forget blue blood, it's the red-headed blood coursing through her veins that makes her awesome!
3. Katie Morag from the Katie Morag series
The gentler setting of a fictional island off the west coast of Scotland is the home of Katie Morag. But gingers are rarely mild: Feisty? Tick! Creative? Tick! Unruly? Tick! I want to be her, roaming the island unaccompanied, wild Titian hair blowing in the wind. She is also a style icon - I dream of being able to rock the white Fair Isle jumper, tartan skirt, bare legs and wellies look ...
4. Mr Fox from Fantastic Mr Fox
I don't really believe that hair colour has any bearing on intelligence (some of the brightest people I know are blonde) but ginger-furred Mr Fox is as smart as they come, outwitting farmers for a pastime. He manages to be both shrewd and generous, the saviour of a host of starving underground animals. I want an invitation to one of his banquets ... oh, to feast on duck, goose and ham pilfered from Mr Bunce and down a few pints of Mr Bean's cider!
5. Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter series
I can't get away without mentioning Ron, perhaps the most famous ginger in children's fiction, and good value for money as he brings with him six ginger siblings. Ron is funny, brave and a loyal BFF to Harry. For the most part he handles being a sidekick, having an awful name and being teased for being poor with charm and dignity. And although he does have the typical temper, there's nothing wrong with wearing your heart on your sleeve. Good choice Hermione!
Any other flame-haired favourites to add to the list? Tweet us @chickenhsebooks!
TOP 5 FRIDAY: Horse stories
We couldn't include a top five cat list without considering our top five horses! Here's Rachel Hickman on the horse friends that have stood the test of time.
1. For determined girls who love ponies, Patricia Leitch's For Love of a Horse is unforgettable. Jinny lives in the Scottish highlands with Shantih the chestnut Arab, who she saves from an accident and who - as she thrillingly learns in the sequel - is A Devil to Ride!
2. We couldn't fail to mention K. M. Peyton's sweepingly romantic modern classic, Flambards. Meet Sweetbriar, the strawberry roan who teaches Christina to ride. In the process, the horse brings her close in different ways to the three boys who become the men in her life.
3. The 1941 novel We Couldn't Leave Dinah by Mary Treadgold was already a classic by the time I discovered it. It's the story of a girl who won't leave her pony, Dinah, when the Nazis invade her fictional Channel island.
4. For contemporary readers is Lauren St John's The One Dollar Horse. City girl Casey Blue rescues a half-starved horse and makes her dream come true of riding at Badminton Horse Trials. Thrilling, moving and filled with the sort of equine detail that real riding girls love.
5. Riders by Jilly Cooper. Coming way up the age-group with bags of content, huge teen appeal and epicly plotted naughtiness, nothing beats Jilly's sense of fun or her love of animals and the countryside. Follow the restless romance and domestic disasters of Fen, Tory, Jake and the appallingly behaved Rupert Campbell Black as well as their devoted horses including the Bull, Sailor, Africa and the magnificent avenging Macaulay.
Rachel Hickman is the Deputy MD of Chicken House Publishing Ltd. Her debut novel for young teens about love, loss and horses comes out next spring. One Silver Summer will be published by Scholastic Inc.
TOP 5 FRIDAY: Cats
Cats are the kings of the literary jungle. As Mark Twain put it, ‘If animals could speak, the dog would be a blundering outspoken fellow; but the cat would have the rare grace of never saying a word too much.’ Also, as the epitome of cuteness and playfulness, two things we love at Chicken House, cats in children’s fiction seemed the perfect topic for this week’s top 5. Publishing Manager Laura picks the best of the bunch …
5. Mog from Meg & Mog
As one of the first literary cats of my childhood, Mog deserves a mention. Mog is certainly not your average cat: he’s easy-going (he puts up with a lot of Meg’s antics), he’s stripy (so alternative for a witch’s cat) and super adventurous (how many other cats do you know that have gone to space AND met a yeti?).
4. Fiddlesticks from Calling on Dragons
Not only did this book convince me that cats can really talk to their owners – you just have to listen to them … oh, and take a magic potion … – but it also firmed up my opinion that cats are the best animals of all. Disdainful yet adorable, proud but playful, Morwen’s cats cover the whole spectrum of cat characteristics. Although it’s almost impossible to choose between Jasmine, Murgatroyd, Fiddlesticks, Miss Eliza Tudor, Scorn, Trouble, Jasper Darlington Higgins IV, Chaos and Aunt Ophelia, Fiddlesticks wins it by a whisker.
3. Kirjava from His Dark Materials trilogy
Ok, so not technically a cat, but if it looks like a large multi-coloured feline, it’s a cat in my book. As Will’s dæmon, she is literally a part of Will’s soul – and Will’s one of my favourite literary heroes ever. And named by a witch? You can’t get cooler than that.
2. Crookshanks from the Harry Potter series
A cat firmly in the much-maligned category. Gorgeous, despite being a little funny-looking (how can a huge, fluffy ginger cat not be gorgeous?!). Super-intelligent, he’s clued up about Pettigrew from the start. So loyal to Sirius that he literally sits over his heart to prevent his murder. Plus the added bonus of his tendencies to play adorably with Butterbeer corks or chase gnomes. Enough said.
1. Buttercup from The Hunger Games trilogy
Buttercup’s got a bad rep, but he’s effectively the feline version of Katniss: unfriendly, stand-offish, an amazing hunter, the ultimate survivor and protector of Prim. So if you love Katniss, you’ve gotta love Buttercup …
Any more favourite felines to add to the list? Let us know by tweeting us at @chickenhsebooks!
HOOK'S DAUGHTER blog tour
Ever since Heidi Schulz's HOOK'S DAUGHTER landed in our laps straight from Neverland (well, the USA), we have been ridiculously excited to hear what readers think. It'll be hitting the shelves this week - but in the meantime, we have the beginnings of the blog tour to share with you!
2nd March - SO LITTLE TIME FOR BOOKS
Heidi shares her inspiration behind the story
3rd March - WONDROUS READS
Heidi's top 5 places to visit in Neverland
4th March - YOUNG WRITERS
A Q+A with Heidi Schulz
5th March - READING AWAY THE DAYS
Pirate glossary terms
6th March - BOOKAHOLICS
Little-known facts about the book
9th March - FICTION FASCINATION
A pirate manners lesson
10th March - READARAPTOR
11th March - CHICKEN HOUSE BLOG
Heidi reads the first chapter of HOOK'S DAUGHTER
HOOK'S DAUGHTER is a rip-roaring, swashbuckling adventure ride - perfect for budding pirates and adults who never really grew up. You can get your own copy from Thursday 5th March!