Saturday, 24 October 2015

Megaphone: make your voice heard! By Leila Rasheed

Megaphone: type loud!

I am very grateful to Liz Kessler for letting me have her ABBA space to tell you all about a new writer development scheme aimed at increasing diversity in children’s literature: Megaphone.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m the author of Chips, Beans and Limousines, and I also teach Writing for Children and Young People on the University of Warwick's MA in Writing. The initial idea for Megaphone came out of an idea I had two years ago, after reading Walter Dean Myers’ excellent article: Where are the people of color in children’s books?

 What he said echoed my own experience as a British Asian reader and writer of children’s fiction. I had of course been thinking about these issues previously, but his article made me see that I really had to try and do something to make a positive difference to children’s literature, which I love so much.

 Fast forward two years, and I am delighted to say that I’ve received funding, from Arts Council England and The Publishers’ Association, to run a new, and I believe unique, writer development scheme called Megaphone, which supports minority ethnic writers as they write their first novel for children or teenagers. There are five places on the scheme, and applications are being accepted now, until 24th December 2015.

Megaphone is aimed at writers who have never had a book for children or teenagers published before (they may have had writing for adults published). They must be from an ethnic minority, resident in England and over 18 years old.

So what does it involve? Well, if you are offered a place, you’ll be expected to write a novel for children or teenagers, between April 2016 and April 2017. But don’t worry – you won’t be alone as you turn your ideas into a fully-fledged book. There will be support in the form of one-to-one feedback on your manuscript. Drawing on my experience working with creative writing students up to MFA level, I will help writers focus on and draw out the story they really want to tell. In no way does this mean I ‘tell you what to write’! My role is as a skilled and experienced beta-reader, someone who can look at your manuscript with fresh eyes that have read a lot of children’s and YA books (as a manuscript editor for Writers’ Workshop, as a bookseller for Waterstone's, as a student of children’s literature, as a creative writing tutor, as an author myself) and help you discover ways through writing problems.

 As well as one to one support during the writing process, the scheme includes masterclasses with award-winning and best-selling authors – Catherine Johnson, Alex Wheatle MBE, Candy Gourlay, Lee Weatherley, Sarwat Chadda. Between them they have a huge range of skills and experience in writing successfully for different age ranges and in different genres – all of which can feed your own writing knowledge.

There will also be two masterclasses focused on working with agents and publishers: one with Julia Churchill, Literary Agent at AM Heath, (who represents, among many others, Sarah Crossan, Julie Bertagna and Jo Nadin) and one with a children’s publisher or editor.

When I was planning Megaphone, I decided I wanted to have publishers and editors involved right from the start. I felt that was the best way of ensuring that the books written during the scheme would have a really good chance of making it to publication and to children’s bookshelves. The result is an absolutely stellar line-up of editors, who have volunteered to help select applications and also to read the completed manuscripts and offer feedback on them at the end of the scheme. Anyone who has ever sent a manuscript to a slush pile knows how hard it can be to get feedback from an editor; well, the best editors working in children’s publishing today are offering a fast-track to their desks through Megaphone, and they are offering it because they know how important it is for children’s literature to reflect the diverse world we live in.

 Your completed novel will be read and commented on by at least one of the following: Venetia Gosling of Pan Macmillan (whose list includes Chris Riddell, Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Rainbow Rowell), Jane Griffiths of Simon and Schuster UK (recently double-shortlisted as an editor for the Branford Boase award), Rachel Mann of Simon and Schuster UK, (who has worked with Michael Morpurgo and Darren Shan among others) Shannon Cullen of Penguin Random House (who has a long history of working for diversity in children’s literature, including helping to set up the Commonword Prize for Diversity in children’s writing), Karen Ball and Katherine Agar of Hachette, (who have a huge amount of experience with commissioning and developing series from traditional and non-traditional authors), Kirsten Armstrong of Penguin Random House and Samantha Smith of Scholastic UK.

 There will also be a showcase event at the end of the scheme, and a short, professionally-made film will feature the writers on the scheme reading from their completed manuscripts (just a short extract, to whet the appetite!) so that their unique voices have the very best chance of being heard by publishers. Hence the name: Megaphone!

We are also looking at other ways of adding value to the scheme, for example by involving schools, organising Twitter chats, etc. The cost for the scheme is £300; however there is funding available to cover this, for those who are in financial need. No-one will be unable to take part in the scheme simply because they cannot afford it.

The masterclasses for Megaphone all take place in central Birmingham, in Writing West Midlands’ offices. This means that you would have to spend just eight Saturdays between April 2016 and April 2017, in Birmingham. The transport links are excellent and as a city we’ve come a long way since the 1980s (if you measure progress by the availability of proper coffee – I confess I do, a bit :-) ). Seriously, though – we are a young, culturally and ethnically diverse city and thus the perfect host for a unique scheme like Megaphone.

So please, spread the word – we are accepting applications until the 24th of December. I believe this is a great opportunity for new writers to get a head start and for us all to benefit from a more diverse children's literature world.

For full details and to apply, see the website: . Applicants should be 1) from an ethnic minority 2) resident in England 3) not have had a novel for children or teenagers previously published. Follow us at @MegaphoneWrite on Twitter.


Sue Purkiss said...

This sounds like a very exciting scheme - do come back and give us updates!

Pippa Goodhart said...

Brilliant! I shall send this blog on to friends teaching writing for children.

Leila said...

Thank you so much - please do spread the word everyone, this is the first year and I'm hoping for some good applications. It's open also to people who have been published for adults but are interested in moving sideways/ adding another string to their bow/ exploring :) (Genre curious, one might say :))