Caroline Murphy

Caroline Murphy

Northern Exposure

Publishing is a very London-centric business, and writers far from the buzz of book launches, agent events and conferences can feel isolated and overlooked. So what can writers ‘up north’ do make sure they’re not left out in the cold?

Caroline Murphy grew up in the north-east of England, spent sixteen years in Asia and six in London, but has returned to Newcastle to bring up her four boys. She has been writing children’s books for four years and is represented by Lauren Gardner (whom she’s never met because… you know… time and distance). Caroline is currently writing a MG novel set against a northern backdrop of the 1984 miners’ strike.

Three hundred and ninety-eight kilometres — that’s the distance as the crow flies between Newcastle upon Tyne and London.

And I’m not a crow.

So, from my home here in the North-east, each of those kilometres feels like a insurmountable obstacle when I hear about the SCBWI Agents’ Party in London. Or a friend’s book launch in Bath (403 kilometres). And don’t get me started on the SCBWI annual conference held in Winchester (435 kilometres).

Distance = money.

Distance = time.

Distance = INCONVENIENCE.

For me, it’s often the inconvenience that is the biggest problem. I don’t mind the effort for myself, but sometimes it’s neither fair nor feasible to ask my family to make accommodations or sacrifices so I can go on a ‘jolly’ to the Big Smoke.

But enough moaning about the inaccessibility of events down south. I have come to realize, since I moved here two years ago, that I really need to look at the glass half-full (perhaps a pint glass containing the tarry nectar that is Newcastle Brown Ale?) and focus on the increasing number of writing-related opportunities that aren’t London-centric.

First of all, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention New Writing North (NWN). This organisation is dedicated to supporting writers, especially emerging talent, and promoting reading in the – the clue’s in the name – North of England.  Every year, NWN runs the Northern Writers Awards, with some categories open to MG/YA authors. Last year, I was lucky enough to win a Free Read with The Literacy Consultancy and got invaluable feedback on my work-in-progress.

Since 2019, for children and young teen authors, there’s the opportunity to enter the Hachette Children’s Novel Award to win a publishing deal. Southerners need not apply. (Nor Scots, sorry.)

And, one day, if I get published, I hope to get the chance to promote my book through NWN’s Read Regional campaign – taking me and my (“critically acclaimed”, “unputdownable”, “future classic”) book on a tour of local libraries.

NWN also produces the Durham Book Festival, bringing children’s authors such as Michael Morpurgo, Philip Pullman and Anthony Horowitz to the region, as well as celebrating local talent. Anyone heard of David Almond? It’s one of the best and biggest book festivals in the country and doesn’t just focus on adult literature.

I’ve already had a little whine about the SCBWI annual conference being in Winchester – Winchester! I mean, any further south and you’d be in danger of toppling off the white cliffs of Dover – but at least, on a regional scale, there are SCBWI critique groups. Sadly for me, I can’t make it to the Newcastle meetings (can’t blame the distance in this case), but I’ve still managed make contact with the group via social media. Having been part of a critique group previously, I have to say that giving and getting feedback is probably the most valuable, no-cost learning experience during your writing journey.

In the past year, the SCBWI North East Network has also arranged workshops such as Plotting and Pacing with Em Lynas and World Building with James Nicol. Both of these events took place in York – a one-hour train ride from Newcastle. Take that, Londoners!

If I start feeling isolated here in the distant north, the agents and publishing houses of London are just a whoosh of an email away – meanwhile, I have writing groups, literary events, supportive organisations and useful contacts all local to me.

So, as I sip my pint of Newcastle Brown – sorry, no, forget the northern clichés – as I sip my half-full flute of Krug, I can be satisfied that I’m not so badly done to after all. Here’s to Newcastle – my beautiful home in the north.

Cheers!