“WriteMentor is such an encouraging environment I had no hesitation in entering. I loved that the novel did not have to be complete.”

Writer Amanda Thomas describes her experience of winning WriteMentor’s inaugural Novel-in-Development Award, a writing prize that celebrates and champions unfinished novels for children

How did you feel when you read the winner announcement?

I was at work and checked my phone over lunch. Seeing my title absolutely knocked me sideways. I remember squeaking ‘I won’, and then checking to see if anyone had noticed. No one did. Absolutely no-one. I texted my husband, who was in a meeting and ignored me. Then I told writing Twitter, who did notice and were utterly delightful. Thank you Twitter buddies, I knew I could rely on you. I spent the rest of the afternoon in a state of euphoria and was absolutely no use to anyone. Should I worry that no-one noticed that either?

How did you celebrate?

I bought a packet of every single brand of biscuit on the shelves in our local Tesco. I do like a biscuit.

Tell us a bit about your writing journey to date.

I started writing more seriously about four years ago when a particularly persistent idea simply would not shut up and leave me alone and it occurred to me to write it down. I won a short story competition with it but realised that I would need to develop my skills if I were to attempt a full novel. Finding the writing community on Twitter was a real turning point and finding WriteMentor was a revelation. Through the best and worst of my writing experience they have been there for me, and for that I am profoundly grateful. I was fortunate enough to be part of the WriteMentor summer programme in 2019 with my first novel mentored by the incomparable Jenni Spangler and have since completed my second. THROW LIKE A GIRL is my third novel, and still very much in development.

Tell us more about the winning book, THROW LIKE A GIRL?

Fizz Bird can throw like a girl. In all the best ways. Spirited, unpredictable and easily distracted, she finds it hard to fit in and takes everyone by surprise when she announces she wants to start playing cricket. Not everyone is pleased, and to be allowed to play she must convince her teachers and her adored mother that it is a good idea. When she finds that her absent father used to play too she decides he must come and watch her, convinced this is the way to attract his attention and prove he still loves her.

THROW LIKE A GIRL is a tale of a girl growing up, not quite fitting in, making friends and falling out with them, and finding out that a not-quite-perfect family can still be full of love. It is set against the backdrop of the weird and wonderful world of cricket (and it is weird!).

Fizz Bird can throw like a girl. In all the best ways.

What inspired the idea for THROW LIKE A GIRL?

My daughter, now sixteen, absolutely loathes it when the phrase ‘like a girl’ is used as an insult. And when I say she loathes it, I mean you can see the red mists of rage rising. Much like Fizz she takes great pleasure in proving otherwise, and for that I applaud her. She is also a demon cricket player; many bruised local teams would agree. 

What was the WriteMentor Novel in Development Award experience like for you, as an entrant?

SO easy. WriteMentor is such an encouraging environment I had no hesitation in entering. I loved that the novel did not have to be complete – it must be fascinating to see novels at such an early stage and I look forward to seeing the other titles on the shelves in the future.

The Novel in Development Award prize is one year of Spark mentoring. Why do you think mentoring is so important for writers who are developing a novel?

It seems to me that writing a novel is a pathway, only some of which you can walk alone. Having the support of an experienced writer gives you confidence and a hand to hold when the going gets tough (which it inevitably will). They also have an eye for detail, suggesting changes that you may never have made otherwise of or simply would never have thought of, being so much closer to the story. It makes a world of difference.

What advice would you give other writers when entering writing awards in the future?

Be selective. There are many wonderful competitions out there, choose the ones that fit you and your writing the best, the ones that call to you. Read the instructions carefully. Then read them again. Then print them out and sleep with them under your pillow. OK, maybe not the last one, but you get the idea. Then put your submission together. When entering competitions I give myself enough time to read through it a couple of times, but not enough time to get nervous and start faffing with it so much I spoil it. Also, I enter well in advance of the closing date as I always make mistakes when I am in a rush. That is a personal preference as some people produce their best work at 11.59pm with one minute to go, but it just brings me out in hives. Then, boys and girls, just hit send.

It seems to me that writing a novel is a pathway, only some of which you can walk alone.

Any general writing advice for writers of children’s fiction?

I have come to conclude that everyone has their own way of writing. Some are fast, productive, and efficient plotters (heaven help us). Some, like me, are slow, plodding pantsers. But I write when the mood takes me, and I write when it makes me happy, and it seems to work. Let it carry you away, write what you love and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Don’t let targets and deadlines punish you, let them drive you. And find writing friends, they are awesome.

What’s next for your writing? Any new projects on the horizon?

I really, really, really want to finish THROW LIKE A GIRL! I’m rather in love with Fizz and I want to know what she is going to do next. Always a curveball, literally and metaphorically. I am also working on my second novel with my lovely WriteMentor Hub critique group (hello ladies). I’d like to see that completed too. Anyone up for an upper MG fantasy…?

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