Mentee NameTitle of ManuscriptMentor NameAge CategoryGenre(s)Total word count (approx.)
Clare HarlowThe Shape of a GirlCynthia MurphyYAGhost Story75000

The Five rule the school. New girl Helen would do anything to impress them, even brave the ‘haunted’ East Wing. But the ghost supposedly preys on those with guilty souls, and Helen has a secret that might just make her its next victim. Six months previously, she was responsible for her sister’s death. Now, her belongings vanish without explanation and a mysterious figure watches her across the grounds. As a series of pranks against her escalates, Helen’s paranoia threatens to destroy her relationship with the Five’s enigmatic leader, Leia. But either the ghost is real or someone else is out to hurt Helen. She must uncover the truth – or pay with her life.

THE SHAPE OF A GIRL is 75,000-word YA ghost story, aimed at readers who have enjoyed The Graces series by Laure Eve and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. It was selected as one of the winners of the 2020 SCBWI ‘Undiscovered Voices’ competition.

While I don’t have any first-hand experience of ghosts, I did attend several super-creepy boarding schools. I then studied English at Cambridge University and spent over a decade working as an actress, before taking the Curtis Brown Creative ‘Writing for Children and Young Adults’ course with Catherine Johnson. The story I wrote before this one was longlisted for the Bath Children’s Novel Award and the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition, while my current MG project won this year’s Skylark Literary ‘Fabulous Fiction’ competition.

Thank you for your consideration.

Clare Harlow




ONE

I’m only eighty miles from home, but it might as well be a thousand. The road winds steeply upwards, caged by a tunnel of trees, branches crisscrossing above us like outstretched arms.

“It’s less creepy in the daytime,” Steve says.

“I like creepy.”

“Bollocks.” He never lets the responsibilities of unclehood restrict his language, does he?

“I do.”

I mean, who knows what I like anymore? New year, new start. That’s what he said when he suggested this. Maybe I’ll go goth. Our headlights pick out a high stone wall, interrupted by a pair of padlocked wrought-iron gates.

“That’s the main school entrance.” Steve plays tour guide, slowing the car so I can get a better look. “But it’s only us and the caretaker on site till Monday. This next turning’s ours. The flat’s in the old stable-block.”

We judder down a pockmarked track, white as moon rock and banked by tall hedges. Then the engine’s off, a security light blinking awake as we heft my luggage across a cobbled courtyard and up a thin spiral of wrought-iron stairs to a door marked ‘private’. The air tastes strange, thick with cold earth and a faint drift of woodsmoke. I huddle deeper into my coat as Steve rummages for the keys.

“What’s below us?”

“Storage, mainly. A couple of music practice rooms. Now, there’s a trick to this handle. You have to lift and then give it a good hard push, like so.” He reaches inside and flips a switch. A large open-plan space is illuminated – and immediately plunged into darkness again. He groans. “Bloody fuse. Wait here a sec, Hel. Text your mum and dad if there’s enough reception. Let them know we’ve arrived in one piece.”

He clatters off down the spiral, leaving me on the little platform at the top. Cold nips my fingers as I take off one mitten so I can type.

Hi. We’re here. Everything’s fine

I add three kisses. Delete one, then all of them. Then the whole message.

Arrived safely

Will they be up, wondering, or will they have gone to bed? Beyond the courtyard wall, the craggy shape of the main house juts into view. Brightwood College. ‘Together we shine’, it said on the website.

There’s nothing bright or shiny about it now. The silence sticks to me like sand. I hadn’t considered quite how isolated this place would be. What will I do without the traffic hum, without the sea whispering its secrets in my ear?

I add the kisses again, but I’ve left it too late and the signal’s gone.

“Not to worry,” Steve tells me when he clatters back up. “I told them it might be a problem. There’s a landline. We can call first thing.”

“Or I can email.”

“Sure.” His voice is careful. He moves past me, flicking on a lamp. “So, this is it.”

“It’s nice.” A bit empty though, which is odd, seeing as he’s been here since the autumn.