Interview with 2021 Picture Book Award Judges Justine Smith and Paul Moreton

  1. Can you tell us a little more about both of you and the agency? 

Paul: I am the Managing Director of Bell Lomax Moreton. I joined the agency in 2000 from Penguin books, where I was Head of Children’s Book Sales – over the last 20 years we’ve grown to represent children’s authors and illustrators across all age ranges and genres, including picture books, middle grade, older children’s fiction and non-fiction. I used to have lots of hobbies including supporting Arsenal F.C and occasionally playing golf very badly, but I currently have my hands full chasing our new agency recruit, Winnie (a Westie pup), around the office. 

Justine: I’ve worked in various senior publishing roles within Penguin books and at Dorling Kindersley, Templar and Big Picture Press. My last in-house role was at Pan Macmillan, where I was Senior Commissioning Editor, picture books. At Bell Lomax Moreton, I work with the children’s authors and illustrators to help shape their work for submission to publishers. When I’m not reading, I tend to unwind by cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Pies are my speciality. And I am a keen tango dancer.

2. In the PB world, what would you love to see more of? 

Definitely more female and diverse characters right at the heart of their own stories. 

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

A distinctive voice, a writer with something new to say, and a nourishing and engaging text, good for repeated re-readings. 

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

The top mistake is to forget about direct speech. You don’t need to tell us how a character feels – you can show us, using dialogue. Another common mistake is to forget about changes of pace within the story – it’s easy to forget that picture book texts can use page turns to add rhythm – amplifying a pause, or creating suspense.

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

Road-testing your text by reading it aloud is very important as this is how picture books are designed to be experienced. Your text should be easy to read aloud and pleasurable to listen to. Make your characters as specific and personal to you as you can – this will drive the story in interesting directions.  

  1. Which PB writer’s work do you admire the most, and why?

It’s hard to pick one! We love the witty, inventive and sometimes surreal writing of Ben Manley (Ben came to us via the slush pile). We also recently signed Lily Murray to the agency. Lily writes funny rhyming texts with great hooks – and she also writes non-fiction. 

  1. If you had to be one Star Wars character, who would it be, and why? (or this can be a superhero or novel character instead, just for a bit of fun!) 

Paul: I feel like I’m increasingly turning into Chewbacca since lockdown due to the lack of haircuts and shaving. 

Justine: That would be R2-D2, a droid after my own heart: loyal, cool in a crisis, and versatile: not only able to take out the garbage (crusher), but also handy to have around in an aerial dogfight. And can rustle up a mean cocktail!

More details on this award are here.

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