Interview with #WMCNA 2020 judge Alice Williams

Can you tell us a little more about you and your agency? 

Of course! I set up my specialist children’s book agency last summer, having represented children’s writers and illustrators at David Higham Associates for over ten years. I’ve currently got about 25 clients, and I’m actively looking for inspiring, passionate writers for all ages, from picture book to YA.  I look to build a supportive, long-term professional relationship with my clients, and I tend to be quite hands-on as an agent. I enjoy working editorially with my clients almost as much as I love seeing their success with a great deal or glowing review!

Are there any age categories/genres which you feel are underrepresented and/or you’d like to see more of?

I’m always keen to see middle grade fantasy/magic realism – a real heartland of children’s books. And I’m particularly drawn to funny projects for all ages, picture book through to YA. But then I also love a good mystery or thriller – as do young readers. Many editors are on the lookout for new dynamic young fiction series at the moment. And we are all keen to see more from BAME writers – all voices should be represented in children’s books. Environmental issues are also of particular relevance and interest. 

Ultimately, I’m looking for fantastic, original writing for all ages – and the next thing I take on may be something I never would have known I was looking for!

What will you be looking for when you judge our shortlist? 

Across all age-groups, I’ll be looking for high concept storylines, an instantly engaging, well-crafted narrative voice, and believable, relatable characters.  

What kinds of mistakes do you most often see in manuscripts? (so our entrants know to fix these in advance) 

For me, disappointing elements in otherwise very promising fiction manuscripts include: too many adult characters (or adult concerns) driving the plot; too much slow scene-setting early on; there not being quite enough at stake for the main character; or a plot that starts well but gets too complicated and loses focus. 

Successful picture book texts often end with a twist, a laugh or a warm and sweet moment – the ending is the most common thing that needs a little work. If a picture book text doesn’t have a clear theme or message, that can sometimes be a warning sign as well. 

What are your best tips/advice for people entering the award? 

Don’t try to write what you think will ‘fill a gap in the market’ – write the story that only you could write because it comes from the heart. And then polish it so that it gleams and really stands out. 

Alice will judge the shortlisted novels in the WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award 2020. We open in December 2019.

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