WriteMentor Children’s Novel and Picture Books Awards 2021
If you want to see the whole ceremony and find out our winners without any spoilers, watch the recording of the live ceremony below:
As you’ll have watched above, the shortlisted writers were amazing – those readings made me want to read more of every single one of them. To all of you brave souls, I salute you!
We have 8 Picture Books and 5 novels and the judges all agreed that the standard was incredible. Selection was very difficult on both fronts.
But ultimately the winners were:
PICTURE BOOK WINNER
Stephen James with Captain Tangle
Stephen James is a songwriter turned picture book writer who loves to craft rhyming verse and prose. He tells silly stories that carry a subtle message. Catherine Emmett selected Stephen for the 2020 Write Mentor Summer Programme. Last year, he may have set a record for the number of writing courses completed in a calendar year (137). He made that number up but it was a lot.
[Art note: David’s super hero parents are cradling him]
Under the hatch, past the bookcase that spins
In Zoom Girl and Boingy Man’s home,
David was born in a custom-built cave
Full of screens and machines made of chrome.
Just like his parents the boy had a gift
But it wasn’t fantastic as such
…POW! In a FLASH he could TAN-GLE-I-FY
Whatever he reached out to touch.
As David grew bigger, the tangles grew too
But he didn’t seem bothered at all.
Until some mean crooks called the Greasy Gang struck…
…And the cops gave his parents a call.
[Art note: David’s mum has the phone to her ear]
“The gang…in the vault…at the bank!” said his mum.
“Chief, we’ll be there like a shot!”
“Be careful,” cried David. He reached for his parents…
Then POW! They were all in a knot!
The crooks got away while the heroes untangled
And David’s heart filled up with gloom.
“Mummy, I wish I was normal,” he said
As he trudged up the stairs to his room.
[Art note: David is huddled up on his bed looking sad]
The following morning, his dad took him breakfast
And told him, “I think you’re a star.
It’s through our mistakes that we grow and get stronger
And learn to accept who we are.”
David’s mum BURST through the door and said, “Guys!
I’ve just had a phone call to say,
That the Greasy Gang’s planning on stealing the cup
At the football match later today!”
Sean Dooley with 1666
Sean Dooley is a secondary school English teacher with a passion for writing stories for young people. After graduating from Exeter University, he completed a PGCE in English and Drama before beginning his teaching career in Cambridge. Here his commitment to encouraging young people to read, write and think creatively led to a two-year Masters degree in Arts, Culture and Education at Cambridge University. Sean is a member of the Cambridge branch of the National Writing Project and in his spare time he enjoys slack-lining, martial arts and unicycling!
Sean got the idea for “1666” when his son started studying the Great Fire of London in Year 2. Together they visited the Pepys Library at Magdalene College where they read extracts from Pepys’ original diaries; climbed The Monument near Pudding Lane; paced the fire’s route through the modern streets of the capital and explored the artefacts in the Museum of London. The Great Fire of London is such an extraordinary event in the city’s history that it makes for a perfect setting for mystery and adventure.
Extract of 1666
Saturday 1st September, 1666
The day before a dead body turns up in her father’s cellar, Flick Cutler is preparing to stab herself in front of fifteen drunks at The Boar’s Head Tavern.
There is not much light. Flick’s face is illuminated by a single guttering candle on the beer stained table where she sits. Her dark brown eyes appear black in the gloom and her raven hair falls over high cheek bones. She is looking down, drawing all attention to the back of her hand, cleverly diverting attention from the blade switch that she makes effortlessly; she has been practising this for weeks. The fingers of her left hand are splayed out across a chopping board. This is a stunt they have seen a hundred times but in this dark corner of London, excitement is rare and welcome.
Money is changing hands and the whole place reeks of sweat. It has been another sweltering day and the windows, open in the vain hope of breeze, yawn uselessly into the night. The beams, the walls, the floor, are all parched like the sand in the timer that is brought to the table.
Shortlist and Extracts
Alex Atkinson – The Lord of the Hat
Alex writes funny books featuring spooky monsters. She is a full-time child wrangler and dog flunky and occasional freelance writer. She lives in Hertfordshire, but dreams of deserted seaside towns, old houses, ghosts and zombies.
The blue and white ‘Police – Do Not Cross’ tape snapped in the breeze as Torky looked across the sand towards the sea. It was Mrs O’Sullivan’s fault the beach was closed; it was her boxer dog who’d found the arm bone. The experts on TV called it ‘the ulna’ and they were sure it was human.
Gran couldn’t hide her glee, she had a grim obsession with true crime, but Torky felt disturbed. Someone, somewhere, was missing part of their arm.
“Hurry up.” Gran snapped her handbag shut. “I haven’t got all day.”
Torky took one last look at the beach, wondering what else was buried out there, before hurrying after her. If anyone from school spotted him carrying a stuffed squirrel, he was dead.
Following Gran into the Caring is Sharing charity shop, he was surprised to see a girl flicking a duster at the bookshelves. She looked about the same age as him, eleven, maybe twelve at a push. She had messy black hair, several strands of which were caught beneath the yellow volunteer sticker on her t-shirt.
He put the squirrel on the counter and rang the bell.
Cara Matheson – That Bear!
Cara is a former magazine journalist (blow-dries, bikinis and B-list celebrities) hoping to redeem herself by writing fun, quirky picture books for children. She has been working on her stories for a number of years and writes in rhyme and prose. Cara’s short poems have had success in the Flash 500 and RhymeZone awards and she has completed the Writing for Children’s course at the Faber Academy. Based in Greenwich, London, with an Irish-Chinese background (which makes for lively family gatherings), she is a mum of girls – including a furry one called Scout. Cara’s favourite picture books are Julia Donaldson’s Superworm and anything Tracey Corderoy. She is also partial to baking and long dog-walks with an audiobook.
I have a Bear that is always there.
You might think that’s nice, if you like bears.
Thing is, I’m just not the cuddly toy type.
What I do like is my talking robot, Rex (even though he’s lost an antenna and only speaks Robot).
I like my pink roller-skates with the stars.
I like my neon pencils and my build-your-own race car.
I like things that do things, you see.
That Bear does not do anything.
I did not choose to own That Bear. He was a present. A bedtime bear, Mum said.
Bed-stealing bear, more like.
I like to sleep alone. I like to stretch out like a starfish or with my head hanging over the end, like a brown bat.
I do NOT like waking up with a lumpy bear on top of me.
You might say, so what? Don’t put the bear in bed, then.
Easy for you to say.
That Bear rather likes my bed, it seems…
It doesn’t matter how many times I carry him back to the toy box or shut him in the wardrobe. As soon as I fall asleep, he’s there.
Chris Galvin – The Thing about Giants
Chris Galvin is an Irish writer who has been writing stories since he was old enough to pick up a pencil. He has written several short stories and plays. Chris has also written and directed award winning short films. He loves reading, especially horror and fantasy books, as well as comics. He started writing children’s novels in 2017. The introduction to his shortlisted book was originally written as a writing exercise at the Write Mentor writing weekend in Dublin in January 2020. Three months later, he completed his first draft, and a year on, he’s delighted that the book has been shortlisted for The Write Mentor Children’s Novel and Picture Book Awards.
THE THING ABOUT GIANTS IS…
Giants are like people. They come in all shapes and sizes. There are small giants and tall giants, and round giants and thin giants. Some are nice and some are nasty, some like running and jumping, others love a good snooze. But the terrible thing about giants, the most awful, unimaginable thing about them is: humans don’t see them as people. They see them as huge staggering destructive oafs with only one valuable commodity.
Claire Lewis – The Helpful Elf
I’m an author illustrator and mum of three boys based in Devon. I love Dartmoor, Border Terriers, forests, fairy tales, French songwriters, vintage and modern children’s books (of course!) and extremely strong coffee, not necessarily in that order. My background is in teaching languages, but I recently began working for a local independent bookshop, where, as well as revelling in the heady scent of brand-new books, I’m also lucky enough to be let loose on the window display once a month. I belong to the WriteMentor Hub and the SCBWI and greatly enjoy being a part of the amazing writing community. One of my most exciting (but also terrifying!) experiences was presenting one of my picture books on stage in ‘The Hook’ at the last SCBWI BI conference. I love to write rhyming and non-rhyming picture book stories – sometimes aiming for lyrical, usually aiming for funny.
Santa’s keenest helper was a kooky elf called Fran –
she wanted to be helpful, but things never went to plan.
She found it hard to concentrate – her thoughts would drift away –
amazing schemes and crazy dreams went through her head all day…
She tried assembling toys, but all the parts got in a muddle –
her Fearsome Fighting T-rex toys…
…kept asking for a cuddle!
Meanwhile, her Dainty Daisy dolls were stomping round and roaring…
‘Don’t worry!’ Santa boomed. ‘At least your toys are never boring!’
‘I’m sorry,’ Fran said sadly. ‘What a mess! I blame myself –
I wish I could be helpful, just like any NORMAL elf.’
‘Let’s try you in the kitchen,’ Santa said. ‘I have a feeling
that large amounts of Brussels sprouts are all in need of peeling.’
Fran got to work – she peeled and peeled, then noticed something weird…
…she’d peeled so many layers off, the sprouts had disappeared!
‘Don’t worry!’ Santa chortled. ‘You’ve done SUCH a thorough job!’
‘I’m useless,’ Fran said softly, with a stifled little sob.
Jenny Causebrook Moss – Spoonicorn
Jenny Causebrook Moss lives in Manchester with her husband and two daughters. A former graphic designer, she loves picture books, both enjoying them with her youngest, and writing her own. She also loves drawing, walking in the hills, attempting to grow things, and community singing.
Spencer had a majestic plume of a tail, and a coat that gleamed white as moonlight.
He had a flowing, glowing mane and on his head was a shining, silver…
…spoon. Because Spencer was a spoonicorn. In fact, Spencer was THE spoonicorn.
“Oi, Spoonface!” shouted the unicorns every morning. “Bring us our breakfast!”
“Strawberry jam is for PROPER unicorns,” they taunted as they snatched it. “You can have the crusts.”
And so it went, all day, every day.
Spencer looked at their sparkly, pointy horns and tried to hide his spoon, but the unicorns just laughed.
“I MUST get rid of my spoon,” he thought. “Perhaps someone will grant me a wish.”
So Spencer trudged away from his home.
Soon he reached a town. Spencer stared. He had never seen so many different kinds of creature.
“Hi!” said a voice overhead. “I’m a fairy bear.”
“Hi,” mumbled Spencer, “I’m a… well, a unicorn… sort of… Are you the sort of fairy who grants wishes?”
“Not me,” said the fairy bear, “but the Great Enchanter does.”
“Where can I find this Great Enchanter?” asked Spencer.
“No idea!” said the fairy bear, looping the loop. “But I’ll search with you.”
Julie Farrell – We Are Fractals
Julie is a queer, disabled, neurodivergent author based in Edinburgh. Her young-adult novel was shortlisted for the Write Mentor Children’s Novel Award 2021 and the Owned Voices Novel Award 2021. In 2020 it won a place on the Write Mentor Summer Mentoring Programme 2020 with YA author Amy Beashel. It was runner-up for the Jericho-Marjacq Bursary for Under-Represented Voices 2018.
Julie was a finalist in the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award 2020, the Glasgow Women’s Library Calm Slam 2020, and was one of four participants in the Diverse Critics Scheme delivered by Creative Scotland in partnership with Disability Arts Online and The Skinny in 2020.
Her essays and features have been published in various publications, and her poem, IMAGINE, was published in Not Going Back To Normal – A Disabled Artists Manifesto.
Mental health and illness, disability and diversity feature prominently in Julie’s work and she is an advocate for diverse representation. Her background is in publishing and marketing and she has also been a bookseller. She has an honors degree in Biomedical Science, and recently studied screenwriting at Screen Academy Scotland.
Through her consultancy, Julie aims to improve access to development opportunities for disabled writers, and raise awareness of the barriers to development. She consults with various organisations on access, which have included Cymera Festival, Paisley Book Festival, the Scottish Book Trust and Magfest.
Julie has chaired and spoken at events about diversity, feminism, identity, access and inclusion.
Five things that happen when your mom is sick:
1. She takes a cocktail of drugs every day.
2. Other kids go home to their moms asking how their day was, but you come home to a silent house, your mom in bed.
3. You end up doing all the cooking and grocery shopping just so you don’t have to keep eating pop-tarts for dinner.
4. You sometimes find her doubled-over on the bed – shouting incoherently and vomiting into a bucket – you know, the usual stuff everyone else has to deal with.
5. And when you do? She doesn’t even know you’re there.
“Isaac – hey,” I hiss, jabbing a finger into his side – “What’s up with you?” It’s hard to keep the frustration from my voice.
He turns his head towards me across his desk, brown curls flopping into his normally bright, copper-brown eyes, which are watery and sleep-clouded today.
The bell rings and everyone starts to pack up.
“What the hell, Isaac? What’s going on with you?” It’s the third time in as many weeks he’s fallen sleep in class and he won’t tell me why.
“Nothing, just tired.” Isaac’s quick, wide smile isn’t convincing.
But it is distracting. When he smiles it’s all the stars at once, blazing. It makes me breathless.
Lindsay Hirst – Scarytale
Lindsay Hirst is passionate about picture books. This love was ignited in her childhood and then rekindled in her twenties when she became a nursery teacher. Here, she discovered the joy and versatility of picture books – using them to make the children laugh, feel comforted or spark their imaginations. It was these wonderful stories, and working with young children, that provided Lindsay with the inspiration to start writing.
Lindsay lives in Perthshire with her husband, two young children and abnormally large cat. She is a student on the Golden Egg Academy picture book course and is excitedly pursuing her dream of being a published author.
Mr Wolf was grumpy.
He HATED being tame.
Being good was really dull,
he missed his ‘Big Bad’ name.
But ever since that naughty day
he’d gobbled Granny Hood,
the woodcutter had made him choose:
“Wolf pie? Or being good?”
“If only I could chase some pigs
or gobble up a child.
I miss my young and happy days
when I was mean and wild.”
So, Mr Wolf devised a plan
to have a little fun.
“I’ll play a trick this very night
and frighten EVERYONE!”
As darkness fell, he tiptoed out,
as quiet as a mouse.
Down the hill and round the pond,
towards the three pigs’ house.
Now, Mr Wolf was not a fool,
they’d tricked him once before.
The chimney was too dark and hot –
this time he’d use the door.
“BOO!” he growled ferociously,
“You’d better run and hide!”
Mel Stephenson – Dream Dial
Mel writes middle grade and picture books and illustrates them, too. Always alternative, her path to writing was unconventional, though written in the stars.
Attempting to be sensible, she began as an art teacher, but that was short-lived. Acting was her dream—a dream she supported by personal training. Not quite the life she’d imagined, a search for deeper meaning led to her to train as an arts psychotherapist.
It was a life-changing move to Austria that ignited her writing spark. Unable to speak the language, people became characters who grew into stories that poured onto the page. Writing travelled with her to Canada where she lived for four years, then all the way back to the UK. Still reflecting on the wonder and meaning of life, these themes sneak into her writing and art.
Today, you can find her behind an easel, writing at her laptop, or running around after her two gorgeous girls.
“I finish coughing up a lung and wheeze in the grimy air of the armpit we call home, number fifty-nine, Fetter Lane—the wrong side of town. It ain’t grand but for the memories breathing through its walls, before we became a family of three. Before the Blue Death took Ma.
My tummy grumbles, and I stare at a pathetic stone of bread on the table. Pa’s famous words, we’ll manage, grate across my mind. Managing ain’t living, but till one of his inventions makes us a fortune, it’ll have to do. Chances of riches coming from a mechanical hand, a bald-head shining device, or a self-writing pen, are slim-to-none, but I ain’t the one to crush his dreams.
Outside the fog begins to lift as the sun yawns awake. I glance at the clock: almost seven. Pa’s cutting it fine. I dress quickly, then scrape and clean the fireplace, lighting it for his return from trudging the Loredom streets, snuffing out the city’s lights.
Ten past seven and I start pacing. Pa’s officially late now so Clara will have to come to work with me. One minute late for Mr. Chattoway and we’ll all pay.”
Nicola Thackrey – Daddy, I’m a Dinosaur
Born and raised in Scotland, Nicola currently lives in France with her husband and two children. After years of working in the energy industry, Nicola finally took the plunge and began writing picture books in 2020 and has a love of rhyming stories. She has recently completed the WriteMentor picture book course and hopes to spend the next year developing her writing skills and building up a collection of work.
I wake up in the morning as the sun peeps out at dawn,
Trudging slowly down the hallway, I growl a grumpy yawn.
My fingers curled like claws, I plod along on tippy-toes,
I listen at the door and Daddy’s snoring through his nose!
He jolts awake then hushes, “Back to bed, it’s only four!”
And whisks me to my room. “But, Daddy – I’M A DINOSAUR…”
It’s time to go to school, so Daddy told me to get dressed,
I rummage through my things to find the t-shirt I like best.
My little T-Rex arms toss all the clothes out from my drawer.
“You’ve made an awful mess!”
“But, Daddy – I’M A DINOSAUR!”
I’m buckled in my seat, and Daddy’s getting in the car,
Now I’m a Stegosaurus and I’m playing air guitar!
I boogie to the radio, and bellow my encore.
“Not when we’re driving, please!”
“But, Daddy – I’M A DINOSAUR!”
My friends are in the playground, so I dip my head and scowl,
I’m a hunting Spinosaurus – I circle them and prowl!
Then Daddy turns to wave goodbye, he’s standing by the door.
“Remember to be good!”
“But, Daddy – I’M A DINOSAUR!”
Tom Lancaster – Bamboo Surprise
Tom lives near Manchester with his wife, daughter, and a small terrier called Keith.
By day he manages BBC Sounds experiences on smart speakers. By night he writes humorous picture books in both rhyme and prose.
Tom enjoys generating story ideas while running (slowly), eating (quickly), and watching sport and comedy (at an average speed). He takes more writing courses than is considered normal – he’s currently on the Golden Egg Academy picture book programme.
This year Tom was longlisted for the Stratford-Salariya Children’s Picture Book Prize, and had three picture books longlisted for the WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award. He’s previously been shortlisted for the Writing Magazine Picture Book Prize.
[Illustration suggestion: Pierre is a very well-dressed waiter.]
Mr. Panda barrelled through The Bamboo Banquet’s door,
“Good evening,” said Pierre, then bowed, and shook a massive paw.
“I have a reservation here, for me and Mrs. Panda.
We’ll take the tip-top table please… the one on the veranda.”
[Illustration suggestion: Mr. Panda points to his VIP badge.]
The glasses gleamed, the silver shone, they couldn’t wait to eat.
“It’s posh here,” Mrs. Panda purred, “Ooh, what a special treat!”
“The treat is theirs to host a bamboo expert such as ME.
Look, VERY important panda, dear… a panda VIP!”
The waiter smiled, “We’re honoured, sir, to serve someone like you.
But sir, I must apologise, we’ve run out of…
Mr. Panda’s jaw dropped and his features seemed to harden.
He fixed the waiter with a stare and said,
“I beg your pardon?”
“You’ve WHAT?” the panda cried, “Oh no! Bamboo’s my favourite food!
I’d eat it boiled,
“Please, may I read our specials, sir?”
Mr. Panda pouted.
“I only like to eat bamboo… bamboo’s my THING!” he shouted.
“Please darling,” Mrs. Panda said, “there’s plenty on the menu.
I’m sure that even broccoli tastes good at such a venue.”