Friday, 17 July 2015

Harper Lee by Savita Kalhan

On Tuesday 14th July I was fortunate enough to be invited to a party to celebrate the publication of Go Set a Watchman - the second book by Harper Lee, her first book being of course the iconic Pulitzer prize winning To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960.

I'm represented by Andrew Nurnberg Agency, who are Harper Lee's UK agents, and fellow Edge author, Sara Grant, and I were very lucky to be shown copies of the original correspondence between Harper Lee and her eventual publishers before To Kill a Mockingbird reached publication.

I will be reading Go Set a Watchman. The reviews have been mixed, but I know that it has been published in its original form, much as it was written in the mid-1950s. The manuscript was assumed lost and only discovered in 2014. The world has moved on since the days of black segregation in the south. Nelle Harper Lee, her given name, is now 89 years old. The book features characters from To Kill a Mockingbird twenty years on.

I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was a teenager. It was my first introduction to the segregated American south. The book deals with racism in the small town of Monroeville where Harper Lee grew up. I have watched the film many times too and both book and film have had a profound effect on me. I wanted to be Scout when I was growing up. Atticus Finch gave his daughter lessons to live by, lessons in fairness and justice and tolerance, lessons to live by in any age.

To Kill a Mockingbird has been part of the curriculum in many schools over the years, and what Go Set a Watchman might do is to introduce a whole new generation to the book.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Surviving Rejection

Encouragement and Advice
from EDGE Author Sara Grant

I received my first rejection letter in March 1982 when I was thirteen years old. Seventeen magazine felt that my poem The Unnoticed Love didn’t quite suit their current editorial needs. (Is it ironic or just unfair to receive a form rejection for a poem about being rejected?)

But the dissuasion started a few years earlier in elementary school when I turned in my first proper 
My first rejection letter
creative writing assignment. I always knew I wanted to be writer. I was thrilled that at long last I could demonstrate my skill. I was sure that my teacher would recognize the genius of my short story titled Adventures in the Bread Drawer. This would be my moment. My teacher would probably read it aloud to the class as an example of excellence. This would be the start of my illustrious writing career.

But alas no. When my teacher returned my story, it looked like a study in blood splatter. My teacher loved grading with a red ballpoint pen. The pages were covered with glaring red corrections. Back then I couldn’t spell and my grammar and punctuation were rather – shall I say – inventive. (This was the dark ages before computers – and spell check.) This was my first crushing artistic rejection. (I shared this anecdote recently at a school assembly and the head teacher came up to me afterwards and said the same thing happened to her. Young discouraged writers unite!)

Those were my first rejections, but they certainly weren’t my last. I’ve received more than my fair share of rejection letters from agents and editors on both sides of the Atlantic. I considered them badges of courage. They demonstrated my commitment to my goal.

The path to publication can be long and bumpy. I don’t know a writer whose past isn’t littered with rejection. Tenacity and openness – your willingness to listen and learn – are the real keys to getting published. I know so many writers who never finish a novel or worse yet, let a rejection signal the death knell of their writing careers.

I’ve heard writers say things to the effect of “I’ll give it a year” or “if I don’t get an agent with this story, then I give up.” Please don’t. If you want to be a published writer with every fibre of your being – give it as long as it takes. 

Sure, getting published is about writing an original and compelling story, but it’s also a little about luck and a lot about things that are out of a writer’s control.

So how do you keep the faith in the face of rejection?

When I submit a manuscript, I immediately start the next story. Not the next book in the same series but a brand new original work. I don’t pin all my hopes on one project. Sometimes we must abandon stories – maybe not forever. (I blogged about leaving my dark past behind.) Maybe in a few years the market will change or you will discover how to revise your story to make it publishable.

Why not consider writing something completely different? If writing for teens, experiment with a story for young readers. If drawn to romance, try horror. You might be surprised that your writing sparkles when you experiment with an unexpected genre, or writing for an older audience suits your writing style better. Finding a publishable story can be similar to singing karaoke. I love Bon Jovi but when I tried to sing Living on a Prayer it was an unmitigated disaster. Maybe the stories you enjoy reading aren’t the stories you should be writing.

One of the many wonderful things about being a writer is that no writing is ever wasted. The novel you think will be your ticket to publication may, in fact, be an apprentice piece that hones your skills and paves the way for the novel that will lift you from the slush pile. That character you adore might find a home in a future story. That world you’ve created might simply need new inhabitants.

I often say I should be the publishing poster-child for ‘never give up’. I received my first rejection letter in 1982 and my first book deal in 2009. My advice: Write with passion. Revise with zeal. Experiment. Read and learn from fellow writers. Persevere in the face of rejection. Enjoy the act of writing. And in the words of the 1980s rock band Journey but usurped by the TV show Glee – Don’t stop believing!

Upcoming Event for Writers
Sara and the Book Bound Team will offer a one-day workshop – From Idea to Acquisitions – on Saturday 19 September 2015 in Edinburgh. Whether you have an idea or a completed manuscript, this workshop will help you fine tune your idea and pitch package as well as offer insider insights into publishers’ acquisition processes. For more details, visit

Undiscovered Voices
Submissions are open for Undiscovered Voices – an anthology with the aim of helping writers and
illustrators of children’s fiction find agents, editors and ultimately readers.
Undiscovered Voices has launched the careers of nearly 30 writers and illustrators, who have gone on to publish more than 120 books. These authors have been nominated for and won an amazing array of literary prizes: including the Carnegie Medal, Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize, Branford Boase Award, Blue Peter Award, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, and nearly 30 regional awards.

I’m on the team that organizes the competition. I love watching the submissions roll in and dreaming of the talent we’ll discover. If you are un-agented, unpublished and a member of SCBWI, please submit your work for consideration in Undiscovered Voices. It’s one road to publication – not the only one.

About Sara Grant
Sara Grant has worked on both sides of the editorial desk. She has inspired and edited nearly 100 books for children. Her two YA novels – Dark Parties (SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner, Europe) and Half Lives – are futuristic thrillers. She also writes a funny magical series for young readers – Magic Trix. Sara is currently developing a new action-adventure series for tweens with Scholastic. She leads writing workshops in the US, UK and Europe as part of Book Bound and guest lectures at the University of Winchester.
Twitter: @authorsaragrant

Friday, 3 July 2015



Paula Rawsthorne feels honoured to be included in Nottingham’s first ever BIG CITY READ.

I love the concept of a Big City Read.  It’s been happening in American cities for years and now, more and more British cities are taking up the idea with Brighton and Hove having the longest running ‘City Read’ in the UK.

 The idea is that a city selects one book and encourages the whole community to read it.  This then leads on to discussions, debates and even inspiration to get writing through a series of special events, workshops and performances throughout the city.

 Previously, around the UK, ‘City Read’ choices have been current best sellers, classic works of literature or, novels by a local author.  However Nottingham’s ‘Big City Read’ is unique.  Nottingham decided that, rather than select an existing book, they would commission local authors, working in different genres, to write short stories for the city. 

The authors approached were enthusiastic about the project and, thanks to the determination and hard work of FiveLeavesBookshop, Nottingham Writers’ Studio, BromleyHouseLibrary, NottinghamCityofLiterature and ArtsCouncilEngland, the stories were soon published in a bespoke anthology of Nottingham tales entitled ‘These Seven.’
Six out of the seven stories are set in Nottingham and this helps make the connection between the community and their Big City Read much more personal. We hope that our stories will trigger many interesting conversations.

The intention is to bring the book not only to avid readers but also to people those who might otherwise miss out. It intends to show reading as an enjoyable, stimulating activity; and one that is inclusive, open to all. The authors will be doing talks and workshops in schools, colleges, prisons, women’s groups, reading groups, community centres, libraries and a wide range of other venues. Also, to encourage greater public involvement, a website will be set up for people to share their stories, submitting their own take on Nottingham and life within.

The idea of using short stories instead of a novel makes the Big City Read more accessible to reluctant readers who may find the length of a novel daunting. With ‘These Seven’ self-contained stories the reader can finish a complete, satisfying tale in the time it takes to get a bus across town.

The great advantage of an anthology using local writers is that the authors themselves can run the workshop and talks and therefore bring a much more intimate knowledge of their stories and inspiration to share with the readers.

Already the preview readings of ‘These Seven’ at LowdhamBookFestival played to a full house with great questions and interest from the audience. The official launch of Nottingham’s Big City Read will be on 17th July at the Council House in the city centre.

The six other writers in the anthology are best-selling crime novelist, John Harvey, Booker shortlister Alison Moore, writer and journalist, Shreya Sen Handley, literary novelist Megan Taylor, graphic novelist and political cartoonist John Stuart Clark AKA, ‘Brick’ (treating us to an illustrated tale) and the legendary Alan Sillitoe, with a story specially selected by his wife, Ruth Fainlight.

My story, ‘A Foreign Land’ is narrated by a ten year old Sudanese boy called Jay who has been brought up in the city and sees himself as a Nottingham lad through and through, which makes the decision to deport him and his family all the more cruel, bewildering and frightening for him. 

Pippa Hennessy, of Nottingham Writers’ Studio and project director for the City of Literature bid team said, ‘I’m really excited about this project, because it will bring Nottingham stories to Nottingham people, and allow them to tell their own stories that we hope will capture the unique spirit of this city’.

I felt honoured to be commissioned to write a story for Nottingham’s first ever ‘Big City Read’. I came to the city over twenty years ago as a student and stayed because I loved it so much. Nottingham has a thriving, and supportive writing community including the unique NottinghamWriters’Studio which is an organisation set up by acclaimed author Jon McGregor and run by writers, for writers, at all stages of their careers.

After months of work and preparation the city has just put in its bid to become a UNESCO City Of Literature (of which there are currently only seven in the world). Time will tell whether we will succeed, but the process alone has been a positive experience harnessing the enthusiasm and skills of many different city groups who love reading and writing and want to promote storytelling and literacy to people of all ages in Nottingham.    

‘These Seven’ writers- Alison Moore, John Harvey, Paula Rawsthorne, Megan Taylor, Brick, Sheelagh Gallagher (representing Nottingham City of Literature) Shreya Sen Handley. Photo taken by Stephen Handley.

I’m really looking forward to sharing this book with groups throughout Nottingham and hearing their stories too. Creating a bespoke ‘Big City Read’ with tales relating to the town is a great way to engage local people in reading and storytelling. Maybe other cities will think so too.


Friday, 26 June 2015

UV 2016 - Killer Opening Lines Quiz!

Edge Author Katie Dale on the competition that launched her own writing career, and how to write that killer opening line

Submissions for Undiscovered Voices 2016 are OPEN!! 
Undiscovered Voices is an amazing biennial writing competition that has launched the careers of many authors and illustrators - including 5 members of The Edge (Sara Grant, Dave Cousins, Bryony Pearce, Paula Rawsthorne and myself) - and the winners have collectively had over 120 books published! It's FREE to enter, but you need to be a member of the SCBWI (well worth it) and whilst they'd like you to submit the first 4000 words of your novel, you must have completed the whole novel before submitting (I entered in the first year it was running and HADN'T finished my novel - oops! BIG MISTAKE - as you can read about on my blog!)
Full submission guidelines can be found on the UV website

At the recent launch event at Foyles, this year's judges gave valuable advice to prospective entrants. As the submissions are judged purely on the first 4000 words, the main advice was to polish the opening of your story as much as possible - and to start it as late as possible. One editor even advised cutting your first three chapters(!) to get into the action asap. All the judges talked about wanting a hook - a killer opening line that will intrigue and excite them, take them out of their everyday lives, and compel them to keep reading.

So what makes a killer opening line? Now on the UV team, Sara Grant blogged about an experiment she conducted during the last contest.  Having heard editors and agents say that they could tell from the opening paragraph whether the manuscript had promise, she made a note - based on the opening lines alone - on whether she thought that submission would make it to the next stage. Usually, these judgements proved to be right.

So let's have some fun - with a Killer Opening Lines Quiz! Can you identify each of the following opening lines from YA books? Bonus points if you can identify the four books by previous Undiscovered Voices winners...

1) "My name is Vivian Divine. I have a secret. I know how I'm going to die."

2) "The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World. I’m sixteen now, so you can imagine that’s left me with quite a few days of major suckage."

3) "I would rather die than face them all again. Die horribly. In a messy, fleshy, blood'n'guts kind of way. It is a total no-brainer."

4) "She'd never get used to beheadings. No matter what Pa said."

5) "Sometimes I think that everyone has a tragedy waiting for them, that the people buying milk in their pajamas or picking their noses at stoplights could be only moments away from disaster." 

6) "Sitting half in and half out of my bedroom window, a foot resting on the fire escape, I checked myself over one last time. Phone. Oystercard. Keys. Mace. Paint."

7) "It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure." 

8) "Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love."

So...which opening lines made you want to read on most?

Could you identify them all?

Answers at the bottom of the page.

Good luck with your own killer opening lines - especially if you're entering UV 2016! (Go on, what have you got to lose?!)

Katie Dale is the award-winning author of YA titles SOMEONE ELSE'S LIFE and LITTLE WHITE LIES 
Simon & Schuster UK
Delacorte Press USA & Canada

1) Vivian Divine Is Dead - Lauren Sabel (UV)
2) Going Bovine - Libba Bray
3) Undead - Kirsty McKay (UV)
4) The Executioner's Daughter - Jane Hardstaff (UV)
5) Severed Heads, Broken Hearts - Robyn Schneider
6) Skulk - Rosie Best (UV)
7) Delirium - Lauren Oliver
8) The Raven Boys - Maggie Stiefvater

Friday, 12 June 2015

Top Ten Best Book Covers by Edge Author Dave Cousins

There is a saying that you should never judge a book by its cover, but I suspect it's something we all do. What's on the jacket has a huge impact on how many potential readers will pick a book off the shelf, (or click for more information). While I own many books with artwork I don't particularly like, I'm fairly certain I would never have picked them up, had I not already been a fan of the author. It makes me wonder how many great stories I've ignored because the cover didn't grab me.

I've spoken to school librarians who offer students "book blind dates"—covering the jackets with brown paper, so the reader has no preconceptions or prejudice against what might be inside. It sounds like a great idea, and places focus back on the content, rather than the smoke and mirrors of packaging and marketing hype! 

I recently received the cover roughs for my next young adult novel (due out next year). I was delighted—the artwork perfectly captured the mood of the story, and had the right balance of intrigue and information. I'm afraid I can't share it with you just yet—the book itself is still in progress! Instead, I thought I'd put together a top ten of favourite covers from my bookshelves. 

Simple eye-catching design that
captures the essence of the story.
Humans are drawn to faces. The eyes in this
seek you out across the bookshop. Brilliant.
The spoof diary cover has been popular.
I think this one works really well.
The book is filled with atmosphere and
a great sense of time and location.
This cover captures it perfectly.
Dated by the furniture perhaps, but I like the way the
kids look like real kids, unlike the airbrushed models
appearing on many current young adult novels.
Another retro cover, but one of
my favourites. Eye-catching, and sums
up the mood and subject of the story.
A classic cover for a classic adventure story.
Great piece of design this, plus there's something
about maps and pins that screams adventure!
A great cover for a brilliant book.
The point where all the elements meet
and cut the lizard in two draws your eye.
I love the simplicity of this.
Exactly the right shade of yellow too.

It would be interesting to hear your thoughts, so please do leave a comment below.

Dave Cousins writes books for children and young adults. For more information, you can find him on the web at

Friday, 5 June 2015

"Gripping...a book to counter bigotry." The Sunday Times Miriam Halahmy

This blog title is a quote from the review of my novel HIDDEN in The Sunday Times when Nicolette Jones made it Children' Book of the Week. HIDDEN was also nominated for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted and longlisted for regional awards.

In two weeks time, a performance of the dramatisation of the book will be performed on stage in Paris.

So my book, published nearly three years ago, continues to speak to readers of all ages about it's central themes of human rights, the plight of asylum seekers and racism in Britain today.

This weekend my publishers, Albury Books,  are doing a free promotion on Amazon to raise the profile of HIDDEN  and the next two books in the Hayling cycle, ILLEGAL and STUFFED.

You can download HIDDEN for FREE here.

HIDDEN is a book which seems to have a life of its own and continues to engage readers including
teachers, librarians and anyone in fact who has any interest in these controversial and topical themes for our society today. One of the outcomes of writing this book is that I have been invited onto the Continent to run workshops on Peace and Tolerance with students at a Paris lycée.
I have blogged about this experience and included comments from the students and their writing from the workshops at this link.

Whole class sets of HIDDEN have been bought by a top independent school in South Africa, I have spoken at two schools in Germany and recently spoke at a conference in Oxford on 'Creativity as an Effective Tool for Social Change.'

I write because I have something to say and all my life I have written in notebooks, the backs of envelopes, on my hand if necessary, when I have needed to write and have been inspired to write. If you choose to download my novel this weekend. I hope you enjoy it and find something there to inspire you in your life as a citizen of the world.

Friday, 29 May 2015


For the past six weeks the Edge Writers have been sharing their writing tips. Here’s a brief run-down, but to get the full benefit of their wisdom, check out their blogs here on The Edge:

Bryony Pearce – Go be a DORK – as in Day-dream, Observe, Read, and Query, and most importantly to then Write.

Dave Cousins – Amongst his fifteen amazing writing tips, one of the most important is to ENJOY what you’re writing.

Katie Dale – People watch, listen, carry a notebook, enter writing competitions, and READ, READ, READ.

Miriam Halahmy – When you’re drained, take a complete break and do no writing at all until you’ve recharged your batteries. It’s a risk well worth taking.

Paula Rawsthorne - My tip would be to gather tips and ‘rules’ from the various writers that you admire (and some you don’t) and then see what works for you.

Sara Grant - My top writing tip – Buy LOTS AND LOTS of great books – and study them! The only creative writing teachers you will ever need are on bookstore and library shelves.

And now it’s my turn to share mine. Last year I blogged about Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley. “Nobody asked you to write that novel.” These words were said to her by a friend and they resonated with her in a way that they resonate with many writers, and have done so for me.

Writing is such a close and personal encounter with your imagination that to lay it out in the open for others to read, criticise, and, hopefully, enjoy is a major deal. But that’s what writers do. So bearing that in mind, I have only two writing tips to add to all the other great tips from the Edge authors.

Enjoy the process of writing regardless of the rewards. Don’t think about whether those rewards might involve getting a publishing contract, winning awards, receiving accolades, getting big advances, because you may be in for troubling times. The writing process itself can be hard work, all the more harder if you’re not enjoying what you’re writing, trying to write or rewriting for the seventh time!

Be patient and persevere. Being a writer also means being in for the long haul. The publishing industry is nothing if not slow and long-winded. Nothing happens today or tomorrow; nothing happens without several people in a publishing department being totally committed to your book, and then they have to get it past several other people in other departments such as Sales and Marketing. So bide your time and don't ever give up.

We hope you’ve all enjoyed our WRITING TIPS series. Please do come back to us if you have any questions or leave us your thoughts in the comments section below.