Chloe Seager – Interview with our #WriteMentorCNA SL Judge

What are you particularly excited to find in the shortlisted novels?

A strong concept. Brilliant writing. Characters that breathe. And preferably all three at the same time!

What are  your  top 3 tips for those  entering to get an agents attention?

I often see writers cramming too much into their opening scenes, (especially in competitions), as if they think if they don’t explain everything on page one the reader will immediately lose interest. Whilst I don’t want books that start too slowly, trying to communicate everything straightaway leads to a lot of telling instead of showing and can be overwhelming. You don’t need to explain everything in the opening – that’s what the synopsis is for! Equally on the synopsis, I’d say don’t try to be too interesting with the way you write it – that’s what the writing is for! Just make sure you detail all the key points of the plot.

What are the top 3 mistakes to avoid? 

Synopses that are blurbs, not synopses. Cover letters that are too long. Cover letters that focus too much on an author’s personal story, and barely mention the book!

What do you think are the benefits of novel awards for writers?

Although at the end of the day agents care more about the book itself than a writer’s credits, anything that can set you apart from the pile of submissions they see every day can only be a good thing. Also getting yourself together to submit for a novel award can give you a goal to work towards. Depending on the novel award, there can also be mentoring, feedback and development up for grabs. 

For those who don’t make the LL or SL, what kind of thing would you like submitted to you?

I have pretty broad taste so I wouldn’t rule out anything, although I have been looking to develop the darker side of my list – for instance middle-grades rooted in creepy, lesser known folklore or sharp, feminist YA. I’d also love something that defies my expectations… For instance, I would drop everything for a Georgia Nicolson character in a fantasy world!

Top 3 reads of 2018.

This is hard! As soon as anyone asks me this I forget everything I’ve read, but The Stormkeeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle and The Extinction Trials by S.M. Wilson are springing to mind. And, if I can have an adult one?!, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. 


Chloe is responsible for the agency’s children’s and young adult book business as well as science fiction and fantasy.

In children’s, we represent all genres of young adult, middle-grade and age 5-8 fiction and non-fiction.

Chloe is herself a published author of young adult fiction, with her first novel Editing Emma published by HQ in 2017 and the sequel Friendship Fails of Emma Nash published in 2018.

Having previously worked at Titan Books, she is also our resident expert in science fiction and fantasy.

Emma Read: On signing with Chicken House for her debut MILTON THE MIGHTY

I’m so excited this is my first blog-post for #WriteMentor! Thank you Stuart for indulging me, while I make a small announcement: 

My debut novel MILTON THE MIGHTY will be published by Chicken House in July 2019, under my author name, Emma Read. 

It is a story for young, middle-grade readers about a courageous and determined (but tiny) spider, who overcomes self-doubt to do something super-heroic.  

Milton is a house spider who lives, mostly unnoticed, under the skirting board by the front door. 

His life changes when his big house human suddenly begins screaming the house down at the sight of him, and after a good deal of running and screaming, Milton discovers the reason: a tabloid newspaper has falsely branded him DEADLY! 

Picture2Things go from bad to worse when spider-hater and owner of BugKILL! pest-control, Felicity Thrubwell, turns up on the doorstep to exterminate Milton and all his eight-legged friends. But, with the help of his BSFs (Best Spider Friends), Audrey and Ralph, Milton finds the courage to do something unheard of: he communicates with his small house human, Zoe. 

Together they create an online campaign to save spider-kind, and with the help of the neighbourhood spiders, become social media sensations. They also confront the desperately devious Felicity and send her legging-it for good. 

Milton the Mighty will be illustrated by the incredibly talented Alex Griffiths. ( 

Do take a look at his work on Instagram and Twitter—it’s simply gorgeous. Alex has his own picture book, The Bug Collector, also released in July 2019 with Andersen Press. (–griffiths.html 


  1. The manuscript was originally a ten-thousand word chapter book—a short book aimed at readers aged around five to eight. It grew to thirteen-thousand, following agent edits and is now more than triple the original word count. Milton’s not so tiny after all! 
  2. Milton is the second book I completed (aside from the critically acclaimed* Marmalade Atkins fan-fiction which I wrote in middle school). I began querying in late 2017 and was fortunate to catch the eye of a few agents. 
  3. Under its working title, ‘Milton Hits the Headlines’ was shortlisted for the 2017 Bath Children’s Novel Award ( ) 
  4. It also won #PeerPitchFirst250 in 2017, an international peer-feedback competition and social media event run by The Scribblers Blog (@ScribblersBlog) 
  5. Milton is a false widow spider—often maligned and very unfairly treated by the UK press. These spiders are not deadly, and are in fact extremely effective natural pest-controllers.  
  6. Before writing Milton the Mighty, I was an arachnophobe. The process of studying and learning (tentatively at first) about these fascinating creatures gradually began to cure me of my fear. I am scared of a LOT of things, but I’m proud to say I have crossed spiders off that list. 
  7. The campaign that Milton and Zoe set-up is called #NotScaredOfSpiders—IRL you can use the hashtag to tell the world why you’re not scared of spiders. 
  8. A second Milton book will be published in 2020, also by Chicken House. 

*Read to the class by my teacher. 

Follow me on Twitter at @emmydee73 and on Instagram at EdieReadie  



Interview with #WriteMentor M. Dalto

Congratulations on having your novel published. Tell us a little about the novel.

Thank you so much! So, TWO THOUSAND YEARS in the first book on my Empire Saga series. It’s a New Adult romantic fantasy novel and I like to tell people it’s Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses meets The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare. It’s about Alex, a Starbucks barista in Boston, who’s swept away from her home to a mysterious realm known only as The Empire, where Treyan, it’s Crown Prince, insists she’s their predestined Queen Empress and the only one who can save them from the threat of the opposing Borderlands. There’s a little bit of action, some adventure, humor, a lot of emotion – a little bit of everything that I hope readers can enjoy!

Where did the idea/inspiration come from?

The inspiration for TWO THOUSAND YEARS actually came to me in 1993 – and now I’m probably dating myself. Billy Joel released his album entitled River of Dreams and on it was a song called Two Thousand Years. My best friend and I had very active imaginations and often wrote our own stories, roleplayed, and the like — there was something about Two Thousand Years that called to me, even then, telling me there was a story there, and it needed to be written. They melody was moving and the lyrics were inspiring- battles to be won and love that spanned centuries. It was just begging for a story to be told.

Let’s jump to November, 2014 when NaNoWriMo started to roll around, and I had the thought in my head to actually write a story inspired by that song I had heard so long ago, so I sat down, and 30 days later, I had the first draft of TWO THOUSAND YEARS written.

MBTell us about you…

Ironically, I hate talking about myself- *haha*

I was born and raised just south of Boston, Massachusetts, USA where I still live with my husband, our daughter, and our corgi names Loki. School wasn’t exactly my favorite thing, and it actually took me 13 years to complete my undergraduate education. But it was my time in school that actually taught me that writing might be my calling. I was that person who could procrastinate until the night before an assignment was due, throw together an essay, make the words sound meaningful, and could still get an A on it. It was that point I realized that maybe it wasn’t art or sports, but words that were my calling.

I really didn’t start taking writing seriously until that NaNoWriMo in 2014, but now it’s a part of my life and I don’t know where I would be without it.

When I’m not writing, I’m a full-time real estate paralegal, which means writing is taking on the form of a second job, a part-time nightly endeavor that I would one day love to see because full-time but that’s a long ways away. When neither my full-time job nor writing take up my time, I enjoy reading fantasy novels, playing video games, and drinking coffee.

Where and when do you write?

Because of my schedule, both professionally and personally, I carve out time at night to get my writing in. Usually it’s once my daughter has been put to bed- I go down to my computer desk, open my laptop, and if any writing is getting done it will usually be between the hours of 8:30pm and, depending on the night, 10pm to midnight.Rarely I get the chance to sneak way to a cafe, but when I can, those are the moments I cherish as a writer.

What are you working on now?

With NaNoWriMo now over, I can finally say I am almost done writing my YA dark fantasy retelling that I started almost a year ago. Other than that, I’m editing my upper-YA assassin story for querying, and working on edits and revisions on the remained of the books in my Empire Saga series.

Desert Island books?
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas, The Dark Artifices series by Cassandra Clare, and the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

Does writing energise or exhaust you?

Depends on the day. I have General Anxiety Disorder so there are plenty of times where my anxiety becomes so debilitating, the very thought of having to write exhausts me. I find that I need to take breaks more often than not so that I don’t burn out- if I do get to that point, it could very well be months before I allow myself the time to refocus and get the words out. This is, in part, why I’m a huge proponent for self-care. If you feel like you have writer’s block coming on, and that writing is becoming an obligation, just stop writing. Be it for an hour, a day, a week- take as much time as you need to because you are you important than the words you write. If you are at your best, neither will be your writing.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

I would tell myself that sometimes, there are going to be people who aren’t going to like what you write. And those people will feel the need to let you know- harshly- and sometimes they do it with the intent of just to bring you down to make themselves feel better. And sometimes- no, most of the time- those people are wrong. Those people are the ones who need to stop what they’re doing and reassess themselves- not you. Never allow another to keep you from what you’re doing, or from doing that you love. It’s your heart and your story that’s being poured into the world- that you’re making the effort to share it is more important than anything the naysayers may fling at you. And never, ever stop because of them.

What is the first book that made you cry?

The first book that made me cry was A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. The end of it. Everyone probably knows the ending by now, but reading it for the first time almost twenty years ago was devastating.

Finally, where can we get your book?

TWO THOUSAND YEARS is officially released December 11, 2018. Preorders are currently available, as are paperback versions:




Also, I’m currently having a preorder giveaway where anyone who preorders can submit their confirmation emails and receipt to  for a signed bookplate, a bookmark, and exclusive character stickers. And then everyone will be entered into a grand prize giveaway for a personalized signed copy of TWO THOUSAND YEARS and a custom ‘Treyan’ candle made by A Court of Candles. All the details can be found on my blog:


Katie Bono – #WriteMentor Success Stories

Katie, what about KC’s bio convinced you to sub to her?

41GO1z9kSKL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgKC mentioned in her bio that she was good at tough love, which is exactly what I needed. I was desperate for someone to tell me how to fix my manuscript, and I could tell that she would be the one to do it.

I was also wowed by KC’s resume.  She was working toward being a certified book coach through Author Accelerator (which she’s completed, by the way!), she’s been through #pitchwars as a mentee, and she’s taken Lisa Cron’s Story Genius classes. She was more than prepared to understand what I was going through and guide me through this process.

KC, what made you fall in love with LEADING OFF?

I saw so much potential in Katie’s writing. She had wonderful characters just dying to tell their stories, but they lacked backstory and depth. Katie reminded me so much of myself and the struggles I had with my own writing that I couldn’t say no to her. I wanted to be there the moment Katie had her own “aha moment.” Katie’s main character, Alex, is such a strong, positive influence for girls. She’s on the men’s baseball team and does Jiu Jitsu. She’s a fighter, the kind of girl we need in YA. I couldn’t wait to dive in!

Katie, looking back, what was your favorite part of the #WriteMentor experience?

the-aha-moment-orlando-espinosa.pngMy favorite part was the moment everything finally clicked. I was over halfway through my rewrite, when suddenly, my characters actually felt like real people to me. This had never happened before, and it’s exactly what was missing from my writing. From that point on, everything just made sense.

I also love the connections I made through #WriteMentor. KC has two other mentees, and they’ve both been a huge help and offered tons of encouragement. Plus, KC has been with me every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without her.

KC, tell us what it was like working with Katie.

Right before the #WriteMentor mentees were announced, I sent Katie an email asking her if she had the stamina, emotional capacity, and timefor a major rewrite. Three months flies by, especially when I considered the amount of work Katie needed to do. Her reply was fast and certain: I absolutely do.


We gutted Katie’s manuscript. I think parts of the first chapter stayed, but the rest was a complete rewrite. She reworked her characters, the plot, and the point of the story. And she worked HARD and lightning fast. She churned out pages faster than I imagined possible. I’m still not entirely sure how she managed it (some black magic was surely involved), but she impressed me every time. She never flinched, not even when I told her to rewrite something again (or again or again). She was the ideal mentee. She listened, she digested, and then she worked.

Katie, what was the most surprising part of the #WriteMentor experience?

The biggest surprise was that the homework KC made me do (from Story Genius) helped. A ton, actually. It took the entire first month to complete, which made me anxious because I had such a huge rewrite to work on, and all I wanted to do was get started. But KC said to trust her, and I did. Once KC felt I was ready to start writing, it was easier and went faster than I expected. And my final product had a plot with important backstory weaved throughout, which I was lacking before.

Katie, the revision process is only three months and can be intense. Tell us about your revisions and how you dealt with constructive criticism from KC.What advice do you have for future mentees?

I ended up deleting the majority of my manuscript and taking it in a different direction. What I had originally wasn’t working, but I loved my characters and knew they had a story to tell. KC guided me through the Story Genius process of making sure every scene left had a purpose, and the ones that didn’t were cut as well.

I went into #WriteMentor wanting to make big changes, so I actually looked forward to KC’s critiques. Which brings me to my advice for future mentees—don’t go into this secretly hoping your mentor will tell you that everything is perfect, and you shouldn’t change a thing. Be open to honest feedback so your manuscript can improve.


Katie, after #WriteMentor, you signed with Scott Miller and Kristin Cipolla of Trident Media Group. Give us all the details of “The Call.”

I spoke on the phone with Kristin, and she let me know from the beginning of the call that they were offering representation.  She discussed what they liked about LEADING OFF and a possible change for the ending, which I agreed with.  She was so nice and answered all my questions, and I’m looking forward to working with them.

What does your writing process look like?

Katie:I used to write without plotting everything out first but realized through this experience that this doesn’t work for me. So from now on, I’ll be using Story Genius for every manuscript I write. It goes beyond plotting and has you write out complete scenes (including the ending) before you start page 1. I really struggled with it at first but now am a huge believer.

KC:I’m a firm believer in doing a lot of “pre-writing.” As Katie mentioned, I love the principles of Story Genius. Once your character is solid, you can build a story that’s tailored to them. So, I prewrite, I make a two-tier outline (what happens and why it matters for every scene), and then I write. Everything is moveable, however. I don’t always follow my outlines to perfection. I usually find myself about 2/3 of the way through a manuscript when I have to go back to the start and revise in order to make it to the end. I like have a guide, though. I always know where I’m starting and where I’m ending even if the middle is still muddy.

You’re on deadline! What are your go-to writing snacks?

Katie: Strawberry Crystal light (with caffeine!) and popcorn.

KC: Diet coke, coffee, tea, and keto chocolate.

Tell us about your favorite writing spot.

Katie: Anywhere quiet! I can’t write when there are conversations going on around me, so I do best at home when my kids are sleeping.

KC: I have a home office with a huge (messy) desk. I do best in a bit of organized chaos with the door closed.

What have you learned from this process?

Katie: I learned how important it is to have another author critique your writing. KC’s suggestions made LEADING OFF what it is today, and I can’t thank her enough. I’m thrilled that she’s working as a freelance editor now and will without a doubt hire her to do a developmental edit of my next book. (You should consider using her—check out more information).

KC: #WriteMentor taught me that writers with a dream are resilient. I learned just as much from my mentees as I hope they learned from me!


Katie Bono is a Young Adult author. She’s also a registered nurse and mom of two high-energy kids.

When not writing, she loves practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and photography. She lives in Overland Park, Kansas.


KC KarrK.C. Karr writes about brave teenagers and unfortunate situations. She’s an editor with Author Accelerator, a proud YA mentor in the #WriteMentor contest, and a longtime member of the critique group Flint Area Writers and SCBWI.

A Flint native residing in metro Detroit, K.C. hopes to one day live on a houseboat off the coast of a tiny island. She’s a sonographer by day, coffee junkie, and a 24/7 cat lover. When she’s not writing or devouring books, K.C. enjoys camping, travel, and spending time with her husband and son.

Amy McCaw – #WriteMentor Success Stories

Amy, what about Marisa’s bio convinced you to sub to her?

Marisa’s bio immediately made me think that we would work well together. She has a lot of writing experience and has spent time and effort developing her craft. I thought her mentoring style sounded perfect, in terms of providing a good balance of areas for development and strengths. Her manuscript wish list of dark and twisty novels and murder mysteries sounded like a good fit, and when she mentioned thinking that vampires are still cool, I was sold!

Marisa, what made you fall in love with EMPIRE OF THE DEAD?

Amy’s story was a salute to the 90s when I was a teenager and her first chapter referenced most of my favourite movies of that time. She actually made me go hunt them down and watch them again! She evoked in me that delicious fear of reading vampire books and I’ve always been disappointed that more aren’t out there. Her first line and page drew me right into the story with an enticing creepy vibe. And such a good title!


Amy, looking back, what was your favourite part of the #WriteMentor experience?

The whole process was amazing. I’ve never felt so motivated or well-supported, and the best thing was knowing that Marisa was there to thrash out ideas or offer feedback. I’ve also become part of a brilliant online community and found some good friends and trusted critique partners because of this process.

Marisa, tell us what it was like working with Amy.

Amy was so hard working and never complained about anything I asked. She saw the value in additional exercises that I passed her and threw herself into craft books and other material I recommended. She put a lot of work in behind the scenes as I saw her manuscript develop and grow after digesting and applying this material. She used it in the correct way and her story really came alive. Amy takes criticism well and understood why I highlighted certain parts to develop.  I’m sure she cursed me one or twice under her breath (lol) but she embraced the whole process enthusiastically and her book is so much stronger.

Amy, what was the most surprising part of the #WriteMentor experience?

I think I was surprised at how much I accomplished by the end of the process, which I couldn’t have done without Marisa’s support and the rest of the #WriteMentor community. By the time the program finished in September, I was ready to query and felt a lot more confident about my writing.


Amy, the revision process is only three months and can be intense. Tell us about your revisions and how you dealt with constructive criticism from Marisa.What advice do you have for future mentees?

The process was intense, but I found that really motivating. I sent a few chapters to Marisa at a time and she offered feedback about those chapters and the whole manuscript. The main things I had to work on were characterization and filling plot holes. I don’t mind receiving constructive feedback, especially when it’s as kind and astute as Marisa’s suggestions.

My advice for future mentees is to start this process with realistic expectations. It was a hard three months, juggling intensive edits at the same time as a full-time job. It was also the most valuable three months of my writing career. I’ve never made more progress in such a short time and this is the best manuscript I’ve written. After #WriteMentor, I felt ready to seek representation and got my offer less than two months after it ended.

Amy, after #WriteMentor, you signed with Sandra Sawicka of Marjacq Scripts. Give us all the details of “The Call.”

I pitched to Sandra at YALC in July and she loved the idea, so I sent my first few chapters and then the full manuscript.

I finished work one Friday and found an email from Sandra saying that she wanted to speak with me. I happened to be visiting London the next day so we arranged to meet. I was cautiously excited but tried not to get my hopes up.

As soon as we started talking, we clicked and it was clear we had the same vision for my edits and publication journey. Sandra made an offer in person and I accepted straight away. I think it was the most exciting meeting I’ve ever had!

What does your writing process look like?

Amy– I’m a combination of a plotter and a pantser. I usually start by plotting and doing research, then start writing when I have enough material and can’t wait any longer. My plot changes a lot when I write and I often plot out difficult scenes when I come to them.

Marisa– Usually a new idea will strike at random and I get that excited tingly feeling that I know it’s going to be more than just a book. For about a week, I let it float around my head, seeing if it’s a character or the plot that speaks to me the most. Then I start jotting down notes. After a couple of weeks of that, I usually have a pretty good sense of who my MC is and what I’m going to put them through. I plot as much as I can, usually on a spreadsheet, a chapter by chapter and scene by scene thing, but sometimes I do get stuck. Those are the times you have to write your way into it. And things always change as I write. When the story and characters start to come alive, they have their own input. I think listening to that instinct is vital for me. Ironing out any issues can come later in the dreaded editing rounds.

What author has most inspired you, and why?

Amy – Laini Taylor is my favourite YA author. Every sentence is beautifully crafted, her plots are thrilling and the characters feel like real people. I find Laini inspiring because she has amazing attention to detail and takes time to make her books as good as they can possibly be.

Marisa– I’m going to go with Dean Koontz. He’s been my favourite author since I was ten and continues to be. His ability to build tension without anything actually happening is second to none. He can handle a wide cast of characters and make you care about all of them. What brings his stories even more to life to me is that when I lived in California, he lived in the same area, so I knew exactly the locations he referred to. I’ve devoured every single one of his books and it’s where I turn when I need inspiration or comfort.

Tell us about your favorite writing spot.

Amy – I write in all sorts of places. Sometimes, I’m at my most productive in a busy coffee shop with a regular supply of tea and chatter around me. I also like writing on the sofa, in bed or at the dining room table. I have a beautiful old-fashioned writing desk but it’s often too cluttered to do any writing on it!

Marisa– I move around a lot. We moved house recently and I haven’t been able to write in the study as it’s dark and dingy, but when we re-do the house, I’m excited about making that room mine. I have back and neck issues so I move from couch to desk to kitchen. Sometimes I’ll go to a coffee shop or work in the restaurant in my gym. I like the buzz of different places and they can make you feel a different vibe. I tried writing in the garden once but had to keep running away from the dive-bombing bees (not a fan).

What is your favorite book (or series). Why?

AmyThe Northern Lights trilogy by Phillip Pullman came out when I was eleven and I’ve loved it since then. As a child, I related to Lyra and wanted to go on adventures like her. As an adult, I appreciate the layers of meaning, the incredible scope of the world and the subtlety of the characterization.


Marisa –There’s no such thing as one favourite book. (How did you do it Amy???) I’ll second Amy’s answer. That trilogy has stayed with me and has a special place in my heart. I also fell in love with The Hunger Games and Twilightseries. And if I refer to Dean Koontz, my favourite of his is The Watchers, which is fittingly about genetic modification as that’s what my own debut is about! I love Stephen King and my favourite of his is Salem’s Lot. I also loved The Helpand The Homecoming of Samuel Lake. I better stop here…

Where does your inspiration come from?

Amy– My inspiration for EMPIRE OF THE DEAD came from the setting, New Orleans. When I visited a few years ago, I knew I’d write a story about the intriguing history and mythology. Usually, my ideas come from a question. What would happen if…? What kind of person would…? If a question like that occurs to me, and suddenly I’m hooked by trying to answer it, then I think it’s an idea worth exploring.

Marisa– Usually, they hit me like a thunderbolt; the character or the plot is delivered to me either in a dream, when I’m falling asleep or as a spark after a conversational snippet. With my own novel coming out, my brother is genetic scientist and we always talked about the risks of trying to produce a perfect race, where lines would be drawn. The conversations started after Dolly the sheep was cloned. And so I wanted to explore in a novel what the world would look like if there were no boundaries to genetic engineering.


Amy McCawAmy McCaw is a YA blogger and writer represented by Sandra Sawicka at Marjacq Scripts. She’s loved reading and writing YA since being a teenager and is thrilled to be getting her YA Gothic mystery ready for submission to publishers. If she’s not reading, writing or blogging, you can probably find her at a book event or talking about books on Twitter (@yaundermyskin).


Twitter & Instagram: @YAUnderMySkin

Marisa Noelle2Marisa Noelle lives in Woking with her husband and 3 children. She writes mostly YA SFF but also dabbles in mental health area as it’s an important aspect in her life and she wants to advocate for those who don’t have a voice. Her debut, a YA sci-fi called The Unadjusteds is coming out with brand new publisher Write Plan next summer. Still on the hunt for the perfect agent relationship, she is out there in the query trenches with her MG mental health book, Spectrum. When not cooking an array of different meals for complicated children and wondering how she might fit a dog into the family chaos, she can also be found standing on a soapbox about all the plastic in the ocean and supporting those causes.


Twitter & Instagram: @MarisaNoelle77

Facebook: &




Jenni Spangler – #WriteMentor Success Stories

Jenni, what about Lindsay’s bio convinced you to sub to her?

Lindsay’s description of her own experience and what she hoped to find in a mentor made me think we’d work really well together. Her book hadn’t been released at the time I applied, but the promo materials made me think I’d love it (I was right!) and there was definitely an aspirational element – I wanted to learn from someone whose work I admired.


Lindsay, what made you fall in love with The Orphan Thief?

From the first paragraph I knew Jenni was a talented writer. I didn’t even need to finish the sample to realise the story had great potential so I immediately asked Jenni for the full manuscript. It was the combination of characters, atmosphere, period detail, and the original magic system that convinced me this was the book I would love to work on. I was so fired up, I immediately decided to offer Jenni a full manuscript review rather than the first three chapters and letter I had originally signed up for.

Jenni, looking back, what was your favorite part of the #WriteMentor experience?

Impossible to pick just one!

Lindsay’s help was invaluable. Her fresh ideas made a huge difference to the book and there’s no doubt that the edits she suggested helped me get an agent. She was also a cheerleader for my work, and her belief was a confidence boost. Lindsay was also there for me during the exciting/terrifying two weeks of requests and offers, reminding me to keep my cool and ask all the right questions. I feel I’ve made a lifelong ally in Lindsay which is something we all need in this fickle industry.

Beyond our own mentoring relationship, the community Stuart and the #writementor team have built is incredible. So much love and support! I’ve made some friends and I’m looking forward to cheering every one of them over the publication finish line in the next few years.

Lindsay, tell us what it was like working with Jenni.

I’m not exaggerating when I say Jenni was a dream mentee. She was creative and flexible, open to big changes but thoughtful with it, considering carefully and trying my ideas out to make sure she was happy before implementing them. This was so important, and I was so impressed by the way she made the suggestions she went with completely her own. She worked quickly, and has great communication skills. I am so thrilled and completely unsurprised she gained so much agent interest and such speedy representation. I feel very lucky to have made a lovely new writing friend and look forward to us continuing to support each other in this wild and wonderful journey.

Jenni, what was the most surprising part of the #WriteMentor experience?

I’ve never been involved in anything remotely like this, so it was pleasant surprises all the way through. I’m delighted to have found such a friendly corner of the internet and to meet so many talented and dedicated people.

Jenni, the revision process is only three months and can be intense. Tell us about your revisions and how you dealt with constructive criticism from Lindsay.What advice do you have for future mentees? 

Lindsay made this easy for me – she had some amazing ideas and always supported the choices I made.

The biggest change to the book was turning the male villain into a woman, which brought fresh nuance to the character and the relationships in the book. It never even occurred to me, but as soon as I tried a few sample scenes I understood what she meant. Everyone who has read it since says ‘I’m SO glad you made that change!’

My advice to future mentees would be to go into the process with an open mind. Expect to make big changes. Don’t be too defensive or protective of your book – you can’t break it, and there’s nothing to stop you changing things back if they don’t work. That doesn’t mean you have to take every suggestion – just really consider everything thoroughly.

A big part of being a writer is learning to step back from your work and not take criticism personally. You’ll get the most out of a mentor relationship (or crit partner/beta reader relationship) if you can both speak openly with each other about any issues with the work.

Jenni, after #WriteMentor, you signed with Lauren Gardner of Bell Lomax Moreton. Give us all the details of “The Call.”


I was lucky to get a few calls during that week, which was extremely exciting and slightly terrifying. Everyone was absolutely lovely and kind, and took the time to talk me through edit ideas and how the process worked. I panicked all week about how I would decide (I know I’m very lucky to have that problem) but when I spoke to Lauren I had a gut feeling.

We spoke via skype for about an hour and a half, at the end of which she hadn’t technically said the words ‘I’d like to represent you’ causing me to very sheepishly ask! It was an amazing experience to have someone speak excitedly about characters I’d created, and the ideas she had just felt right. We bonded over 90s movies (Hocus Pocus anyone?) and she talked me through some ideas about publicity which was a worry of mine. After the call I found myself grinning all day and that’s when I messaged Lindsay and said ‘Lauren offered and I think I’m slightly in love!’

What does your writing process look like?

J: Messy! I don’t love drafting so I try to make a rough outline and then draft as fast as I possibly can, so I can get down to editing, which is where the magic happens. I like to entirely re-type the book for every major edit otherwise I get lazy and miss things.

L: Similar to Jenni in some ways. I love to plan and make notes by hand to start with, toying with the plot, naming characters, building a cast list and getting to know them. Then I plan settings and gradually build the world enough that I begin to visualise the scenes like a movie. I tend to plot out a brief chapter plan, but I am also aware that this will change along the way. Then I’m ready to plunge into the cold mud of the first draft and wade through as quickly as possible, because I agree with Jenni; the editing is the magical part.

You’re on deadline! What are your go-to writing snacks?

J: Just keep the tea flowing and I’ll be happy!

L: Same. All the tea!


What author has most inspired you, and why?

J: In terms of my writing, I think I was influenced by reading Joan Aiken, Philippa Pearce and Frances Hodgson Burnett as a child. As an adult I’m most inspired by the writers I’ve come to know personally, many as-yet unpublished, because I get to see their writing process up close and feel their passion and dedication.

L: I don’t think I’ve been inspired by any one author as I admire so many, and I read and now write in so many different genres. Sorry – I can’t be pinned down on that one.

Tell us about your favorite writing spot.

J: I love the bustle of a coffee shop but it gets expensive fast. I’m lucky to have a box room of my own which I’ve painted a lush, calming dark green and I retreat there whenever time allows. Even better if the rain is thundering on the windows.

L: I have a lovely office where I often work particularly in the evenings with a scented candle lit, but I also like a lap tray on the sofa, and in cold gloomy weather I sometimes decamp to my bed with a hot water bottle. If I’m stuck with my writing a change of scene sometimes helps, and my favorite café is on a cliff-top with the sea pounding just outside the window.

Where does your inspiration come from?

J: The true-but-useless answer is ‘everywhere’. Some things give off a little glimmer of inspiration – the tiniest seed of an idea, or a little tingle at the back of the neck. It can be a photo, a news story, an overheard conversation. I collect them all up in a file called ‘Homeless Ideas’ and every now and then a few of these snippets will fit together and a story starts to form.

L: I wish I knew. Initial ideas appear from nowhere, and usually when I am doing something mundane. I have a whole book of ideas and then it’s when I develop them I start to link them to my experiences,  memories, and things I’ve read about, watched.

Jenni Spangler photo

Jenni Spangler’s first love was the theatre. Frustrated with the lack of juicy parts for girls, she began writing her own and never looked back. She writes stories which blend realistic settings and historical events with magic and mystery. The Orphan Thief was inspired by Victorian photography and a strange local custom of writing letters to rats.

Lindsay Galvin

Lindsay Galvin was lucky enough to be raised in a house of stories, music, and love of the sea. She left part of her heart underwater after living and working in Thailand where she spent hundreds of blissful hours scuba diving. Forced now to surface for breath, she lives in sight of the chillier Sussex sea with her husband and two sons. When she is not writing, she can be found reading, swimming or practicing yoga. She has a degree in English Language and Literature, is fascinated by psychology and the natural world, and teaches Science. Lindsay hadn’t written creatively since childhood until the idea for her debut novel The Secret Deep splashed into her mind, and now she’s hooked.

All my social media links are on the landing page of my website

Tammy Oja – #WriteMentor Success Stories

Tammy, what about Candace’s bio convinced you to sub to her?

Everything. Candace (@Literarydust) is dynamic, outgoing, and kind. She’s got great editing game and her writing style is quick pacing and a great punch without hiding behind flowery words or fluff. She has it all. I still message her all the time, and I consider her a great friend.


Candace, what made you fall in love with Bird?

I felt it was a unique story with a cool paranormal vibe. I was also drawn to the sisterly bond in the story, because yes Casey loves her sister Bird, but you can also feel the frustration of what she goes through because of Bird’s problem.

Tammy, looking back, what was your favorite part of the #WriteMentor experience?

That’s a punch of a question. It’s a tie between gaining so many friends and all the learning that took place. I really got a chance to see things from another perspective. One night, Candace worked with me live with the whole process happening in real time on my screen and I couldn’t believe how much it changed me to see it. It was one of the best experiences, and I wish I could write like that with someone everyday.

Candace, tell us what it was like working with Tammy?

Let me just say that Tammy is the sweetest person I’ve ever worked with. And I mean seriously, so incredibly nice. Also, she’s easy to work with. When I received the manuscript back from her, I could see all the hard work she’d put in!


Tammy, what was the most surprising part of the #WriteMentor experience?

Getting in. It’s such a close-knit community and everything is so positive. Even those who didn’t get in this time are still connected to the group and it just feels like I’ve known everyone so much longer than since the start.


Tammy, the revision process is only three months and can be intense. Tell us about your revisions and how you dealt with constructive criticism from Candace.What advice do you have for future mentees?

I’ve always loved constructive criticism. Things can’t improve without another outlook and sometimes looking outside the box you’re in. Candace and a couple of the other mentors gave me some great feedback right off the bat. With Candace, she was eager to hear my rationale for things and offer her own when she saw changes she thought should take place. She was really open to my vision, and sharing hers. She allowed me to contemplate the changes by relating it to the whole story concept. She was literally the perfect mentor for me and I was so lucky to have gotten her. As far as advice for other mentees – listen, weigh, play the scene in your head and do your best to see it for what it is. Constructive criticism isn’t a reflection of you, or your work—it’s just another view. We so often see that word in a negative light, but it’s most often given because someone is invested, cares about the outcome, and can see something maybe you couldn’t.  You don’t have to accept every change, but not being open and honest about their validity only hurts your growth.

Tammy, after #WriteMentor, you signed with Ann Rose of The Prospect Agency. Give us all the details of “The Call.”


Can I have 7 pages to gush this out? It was straight out of my dreams. When Ann called it probably should have felt intimidating or awkward, but it didn’t. It was an easy conversation and within just a couple minutes, I was overwhelmed by how much I wanted her to be part of my journey. She had really taken time and put in effort. She already knew my manuscript inside and out. We talked about the characters, the pacing, the place it was now, and where it had the potential to be. It was such natural communication that I felt like I had already storyboarded with her and that she knew exactly what I was trying to accomplish. Afterward, she told me exactly what kind of agent she is, and what to expect from her. I won’t share everything…because some things should just be experienced, but it was a moment I’ll never forget. When we ended the call I felt different, lighter, and my mind buzzed with the excitement of wanting to see the whole picture the way she did.  When I signed the contract, I was a mess. Not just because of how thankful I was to be here and how many people played a vital role, but because I know without a doubt Ann is exactly who I was supposed to be with.  I want the entire writing world to have that experience, so….everyone should probably query Ann. (Sorry, Ann. You’re amazing).

What does your writing process look like?

Tammy: Messy first drafts with holes and scattered moments. Lots of surprises that I didn’t see coming. Then labor intensive painful second and third drafts that make me hate my first draft process. Then serious remorse about previous drafts until I begin to see the weaving of where the story wants to be and then slowly chiseling it there line by line.  Sort of.

You’re on deadline! What are your go-to writing snacks?

Candace: It would have to be white chocolate, preferably white chocolate Reeses. And! Red velvet cake and nachos would be a bonus.

What fictional character would you like to spend a day with?

Candace: Warner from Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi. He’s perfectly awesome!

What author has most inspired you, and why?

Candace: I’d like to say the classics, but I can’t. It would have to be Sarah J. Maas because her books are so well written. The fact that she can write such big books amazes me too! I need those skills!

Tell us about your favorite writing spot.

Tammy: My favorite writing spot is at my kitchen table.  It’s in the back of my house, so there isn’t much noise and I tuck myself in the corner in silence. Distraction doesn’t bother me for first drafts, I can do that anywhere, but revisions and edits, silence and safety are mandatory.

What fictional world would you most like to live in?

Tammy: To be honest, none. This world is enough for me, beautiful, terrifying, and filled with more than I could see in a lifetime. I’ll take this one and all it’s mystery…that’s a lifetime of discovery right there.

Candace: The 80s! When everyone wasn’t glued to a cell phone!


What is your favorite book (or series). Why?

Tammy: My favorite book is The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. It’s the first book that caused me to hurt deeply over fictional characters. It’s family, and sacrifice, and pain, and pleasure, and an incredible look at how far people will go to fight for what they believe.

What author would you most like to cowrite with? Why?

Tammy: Margaret Atwood. Because I love the fact that she see’s everything on a plane that’s just above and below reality. She writes what could be in a way that just too close to the line to be comfortable and in all her work there’s that moment of realization that good and bad aren’t ever without varying degrees of both.  Her evil is usually founded in desperation and drive and her good is never just for the sake of goodness.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Tammy: Reading (best passion ever), movies, a brain that always heads straight to the worst scenario possible. Books have always been my adventure friends, and when I was young and finished one, I’d take those characters in my head and move them forward into new territories and clash them with other characters so the time I had with them wouldn’t be over. I think that helped me a lot, being that kid.

Candace: Movies, books, and my weird brain!

Tammy OjaTammy Oja always has her head in a book – which explains why she’s constantly tripping. She works full time as a nurse and is a mom to 2 teens and 2 puppies. Her motto for life is kindness always wins.

If she’s not at work, you can find her at the kitchen table revising or procrastinating on Twitter.

27654619_10155885468080751_8308789254962904984_nCandace Robinson spends her days consumed by words. When she’s not writing stories, she maintains a book review blog. Her life consists of avoiding migraines, admiring Bonsai trees, and living with her husband and daughter in Texas—where it can be forty degrees one day and eighty the next.

Website Blog Twitter Instagram Facebook


AJ Sass – #WriteMentor Success Stories

AJ, what about Caroline’s bio convinced you to sub to her?

So many things. Caroline is a writer of an award-winning contemporary Middle Grade manuscript, for one. Since my #WriteMentor submission was my first attempt at Middle Grade-anything, her experience in that age category was a big plus to this newbie novelist. Her stated mentoring style—forthright about what doesn’t work, offset by positive comments about what does—appealed to me as someone who is shy about sharing my writing. It also didn’t hurt that she’d mentioned she is the mother of four boys. If anyone could assess whether my characters’ dialogue was coming off as authentic, I figured it’d be Caroline.

Initially, Caroline was offering a query package (synopsis, query letter, and first three chapters), which I thought would be a great way to get more comfortable with having my writing critiqued. Imagine my surprise on announcement day when I learned Caroline had not only chosen me but changed her mentoring package to a full manuscript review until it was query-ready. It was an intense summer of revisions and craft homework, but I’m so grateful for the experience.

Caroline, what made you fall in love with ANA ON THE EDGE?

From the first few lines, I was centre ice with Ana. AJ pulled me into Ana’s world of ice-skating and pushed me back into books I loved in my childhood, like Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes, where the reader gets a glimpse into the passion and dedication that a rising star must possess. The writing was beautiful – quite simple and stark at times, but rhythmic and with some exquisite turns of phrase. I almost dissuaded myself from choosing it, because I wasn’t sure I was the right person for a story about a young girl exploring her gender identity; but I decided that I could mentor on the story structure and pacing and even down to a line-edit level. The truth of the story felt very valid to me, so I didn’t need to even comment on that.

AJ, looking back, what was your favorite part of the #WriteMentor experience?

Two things: a dedicated point-person I could reach out to whenever I had questions, concerns, or frustrations and the community I became a part of as a result of my participation in the program.

First, Caroline has been where I was at the beginning of #WriteMentor. She understood what it was like to stare at tens of thousands of words in a first draft, wondering how you can possibly rework them into something coherent. I had some ideas for revising certain parts of my manuscript already, which I shared with Caroline early on. Maybe I could’ve revised fine on my own, but the process definitely would’ve taken longer and been filled with more self-doubt. Caroline was the sounding board I needed, someone I could turn to and bounce ideas off of to ensure sure I was headed in the right direction. Working with a more experienced writer who was invested in my success gave me the confidence to see the potential in my manuscript so I could effectively apply edits.

Second, writing can be such a solitary, isolating activity. I know very few people offline who write fiction, and it can sometimes feel like I exist in a vacuum. #WriteMentor introduced me to a wonderful group of mentorship program hopefuls right from the outset. I’ve stayed in touch with many of these writers over the summer, as well as taken the leap into being a more active member of Twitter’s writing community. Everyone is at a different stage in their writing journey, but the community is steadfast in its positivity and support. I may not have gotten as involved if it hadn’t been for #WriteMentor and other writers’ use of the program’s Twitter hashtag on the lead-up to the mentee announcements, throughout the summer, and ongoing as we gear up for the Children’s Novel Award.

And a bonus third: I love that the #WriteMentor community is inclusive. Whether you worked with a mentor this summer or didn’t, or maybe just heard about the program more recently, you’re welcomed into the fold and encouraged to support everyone else.

Caroline, tell us what it was like working with AJ.

He was amazing. You know that star pupil who sits in the front row and asks pertinent questions and always does their homework – that was AJ. His work ethic is impeccable. Puts me to shame, quite frankly.


AJ, what was the most surprising part of the #WriteMentor experience?

I thought it was going to be revisions since I’d never done any on a full manuscript before, but it was actually how much prep-work Caroline assigned prior to giving me the go-ahead to revise. At first, it was hard not to compare my progress with other mentees who seemed to have leapt straight into revisions within hours of the mentee announcement. I wanted that to be me too, especially because I’d already taken notes about how to rework the first third of my novel while I waited to see who’d been chosen for the program. (I also don’t think I ever voiced this frustration to my mentor, so sorry if you’re hearing about this for the first time, Caroline! By the time I got comfortable enough in our mentor-mentee relationship to say something, it became a moot point as I’d already seen the light.)

That said, I also recognized that I was the green one in this pairing, and my initial skepticism didn’t stop me from working my way through each and every assignment. I completed work on theme to get to the heart of my story, devised novel loglines which later came in handy for Twitter pitch contests, fleshed out secondary character backgrounds, and completed thirty pages of detailed scene beats. Caroline even suggested I create a color-coded chart of major character arcs. I am neither an artist nor a particularly visual person, but I did my best. It came out looking like a literary subway map (also had my boyfriend wondering if I’d gone a bit mad after I proudly propped it up by the wall beside my writing desk).

I finally understood Caroline’s reasoning for assigning me all that homework when she gave me the go-ahead to start revising in mid-July. I printed out each assignment and referred back to my notes every single time I sat down to make changes. Even when I had to go off-script and make edits I hadn’t initially envisioned, they were so much simpler to implement when I had my homework in front of me. Caroline’s assignments allowed me to dig deeper, to learn more about my story and characters, something I hadn’t had the time to do while I was initially drafting my story. These are strategies I can take with me and make use of for future projects, so I’m glad I put the work in and stuck with Caroline’s style of mentorship for the long haul.

AJ, the revision process is only three months and can be intense. Tell us about your revisions and how you dealt with constructive criticism from Caroline.What advice do you have for future mentees?

My traditional revisions didn’t start until around the seventh week of a twelve-week program. Intense, indeed! I also happened to be out of the country for two weeks during that time. Caroline and I operated differently than some of the other mentorship partnerships I’ve heard about, in that we chatted back and forth about some of my revision ideas but she told me to sit tight until I’d completed my homework. Once I had the go-ahead, I started my revisions. The first half of my manuscript was relatively straightforward since I’d been thinking about how to rework a secondary plot point for two months by then.

It was the second half of the story that involved the most teeth gnashing for me. Possibly, this was because I was revising while traveling (and trying to remind myself I needed to chill out since it was meant to be a holiday!), but it may also have been because the second half of my story was rougher than the first. It was still in first draft format at the time I applied to #WriteMentor.

Since I was still revising in the month leading up to the end of the program, I would send Caroline a handful of chapters at a time to look at. She’d pass back feedback that I’d review whenever I needed a break from heavier rewrites. Caroline’s notes were on-point and helped me in a variety of areas: reworking dialogue to make it sound more authentic, clarifying skating terms that might not make sense to a non-skater, suggesting add-ons to flesh out scenes that ended too abruptly, and some straight-up line edits when I’d flubbed something that my word processor didn’t catch (compliment ≠complement!). For the most part, her feedback involved enhancements. My homework took care of the need for more extensive rewrites by the time I sent Caroline my chapters.

Until the final third of my story, anyway. That’s when Caroline rolled up her sleeves and sent me back loads of notes that basically boiled down to, “okay, so. This part? Doesn’t work.”

As someone who was already shy about sharing my writing with others, feedback of this nature can be devastating, even if it’s presented in a constructive way. My face gets hot. Self-doubt sets in fast. It’s easy to forget why I sought out a mentor in the first place.

I’ve worked with beta readers and critique partners. I know constructive criticism is meant to make my story stronger. But still, my first read-through of this type of feedback tends to lead to an initially negative reaction.

My advice to other writers is this: embrace it. Own that emotion, acknowledge how you’re feeling, and step away for as long as you need to mull over the feedback received. For me, this usually takes a day. Possibly two. During that time, I won’t return to look at it. I also won’t reread my manuscript. I do other, non-writing related activities but keep the feedback in mind, mentally working through it. Nine times out of ten, I have a gut feeling as to whether or not I agree with what was said. Once I’ve had time to process, I grab a sheet of paper and scribble down a plan of attack. Only then do I return to my computer and dig in for more revision.

And Caroline’s feedback? The part of my manuscript she didn’t think was working? She was right. It just took me some time to realize that she wasn’t telling me I’d failed as a writer. She did her job in pointing out that my story’s climax could be stronger. By the time the mentorship period came to an end, the story I’d submitted three months earlier was still there, but it was far more polished. Where before it was just a mesh of words and scenes that didn’t quite get to the crux of my intended theme, the characters now feel alive to me.

Even better? My mentorship with Caroline equipped me with the ability to accept and evaluate constructive feedback, a skill I’ll be able to use again and again as I take my next steps and begin edits with my agent (and hopefully one day with a publishing house editor).

AJ, after #WriteMentor, you signed with Jordan Hamessley of New Leaf Literary. Give us all the details of “The Call.”

Sure! Except it wasn’t actually a call, and thanks to a major oversight on my part I almost didn’t query Jordan at all.


You know those non-writing related activities I mentioned above? One of them involved researching and creating a handwritten list of dream agents to query once my manuscript was polished. Later on, once the #WriteMentor program was done, I transferred the agent info to a color-coded spreadsheet so I could keep track of the queries I planned to send. Jordan’s name was on my initial list, but it never got transferred to its digital equivalent.

About a week and a half after I started querying (just about the time when I’d started fixating on how empty my inbox was looking, incidentally), I returned to my original list to update it. There was no reason for me to do this since everything was already in my spreadsheet, but the querying process induces the desire to do odd, unproductive tasks to pass time. As I scanned the original list, my eyes snagged on the entry I’d written for Jordan. I didn’t remember anything about my query package to her, so I cross-checked my spreadsheet, only to discover she wasn’t on it.

I did some internet sleuthing to confirm that she still did in fact take on manuscripts in my preferred age categories and genres, spent a good deal of time fawning over her #MSWL entries and kicking myself for my flub-up, then sent her my query materials. A few hours later, Jordan requested my full manuscript. A couple days after that, she emailed again, saying she’d love to find a time to chat about my story and writing goals. Since we live relatively close to one another, she said we could even meet in person.

In the end, “The Call” became a meet-up at a café inside a bookstore, and I can’t imagine a more perfect setting to discuss all things writing. I learned more about Jordan’s background and what led her from a decade on the editorial side of publishing to now representing authors directly as an agent. We discussed my manuscript, plus my ideas for future projects, I asked approximately 4 frajillion questions, and after a wonderful chat, Jordan officially offered representation. I’m still glowing about it.

What does your writing process look like?

AJ– I like prompts, those given to me and ones I come up with myself. Often, I get a character or a concept in my head that I fall in love with. As a long-time pantser, I used to take that idea and run with it, which often had me writing myself into a corner.

My approach for ANA ON THE EDGE was different. While I still started with a concept I found compelling (nationally competitive ice skater navigates gender identity in a rigidly gendered sport), I only got two chapters in before I stopped and decided to outline. So often in the past I’ve gotten stuck when whatever character or theme initially drew me in turned out to be a plotless dead-end. I didn’t want the same to happen with ANA, so I took time to ensure I had a roadmap. That made all the difference. Then I wrote like the wind so I’d have something to edit (my favorite part).

Was my first draft perfect? Not by a long shot. But it was far easier to identify what needed to be reworked when I knew where I wanted to end up by the final page.

It also helps to give myself a deadline. This is probably a throwback from my university and law school days, but I’m far more productive when I feel like there’s an expectation to have something complete by a specific date. I’m a big fan of daily checklists and spreadsheets. Once I’d outlined ANA, I created a spreadsheet with each chapter down one column, their start and first draft completion dates in the next two, plus word counts and the approximate percentage of overall manuscript completion. It definitely helped to see my progress laid out like that.

Caroline– Am I supposed to have a process? Okay, after hours/weeks/months of procrastination, I’ll make a few notes and start writing chapter one. I’m very linear – I don’t like dotting about and doing exciting climax scenes and then going back to find everything before makes no sense. After the first chapter, I usually realize I’m floundering and will go back and plot – I’m a big fan of Blake Snyder’s Beats Sheet. The Plotstormers course from WritersHQ also hugely beneficial and brings clarity to some pretty muddy waters.

I edit a lot as I write. I know it’s frowned upon, but I don’t like the ‘zero draft’, ‘throw anything on the page’ idea. My first draft is usually quite polished as I re-read and make changes as I go along – even line edits that I know might be a waste of time later on. But I feel uncomfortable leaving detritus in my wake, so to speak.

Having said that, THE TRUTH ABOUT CHICKENS nearly doubled in lengths during revisions as I added layers and subplots and amplified emotions. So maybe it was a half-draft, rather than a zero draft?

You’re on deadline! What are your go-to writing snacks?

AJ– Boba Thai tea makes my life better. Always. I’m also a big fan of popcorn and brownie brittle (not necessarily in the same sitting!).

Caroline– ooh, what does Marks & Spencer have on the shelves? Salted caramel and Belgian chocolate popcorn is never a bad idea. And cheesy, salty things. Any kind of crackers with cheese. And more cheese. Yum!

What fictional world would you most like to live in?

AJ– Time City from Diana Wynne Jones’s A TALE OF TIME CITY would be a pretty awesome place to call home (after the events in the book, anyway!). It’s a city built far in the future on a patch of space outside of time itself. Its residents oversee all of history. I can think of no place cooler to live than a city full of time ghosts, where vending machines carry cuisine from various centuries and there’s ample opportunity to meet tourists visiting from other time periods.

Caroline– most fictional worlds are dangerous, so I’d steer clear, personally. I’m a risk-averse homebody. But when I was little, I desperately wanted to be in the Lake District with the crew from SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS, living their slightly feral, benignly neglected lifestyle. And I wouldn’t have minded experiencing the miniature world of THE BORROWERS – I loved their ingenious use of found items. But right now, the fictional world I would like to live in is one in which my sons pick their dirty socks off the floor and put them in the laundry basket.

What is your favorite book (or series). Why?

AJ– I … am incapable of picking just one. By and large, the books I love most, the ones that I repeatedly reread, are those that made me feel something when I was a kid and that continue to invoke an emotional response as an adult. Excitement. Hope. Fear. Grief. It doesn’t matter. If a story has the ability to draw me in, it’s a winner.

Some examples: THE GIVER – Lois Lowry; ONE MORE RIVER & BROKEN BRIDGE – Lynne Reid Banks; A TIME FOR DANCING – Davida Wills Hurwin; THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC – Jane Yolen; MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH series – Robert C. O’Brien; DOGSBODY – Diana Wynne Jones; TUCK EVERLASTING – Natalie Babbitt.

Caroline– I agree with AJ. Impossible to pick just one. I always come back to LITTLE WOMEN for the familial warmth and emotional trauma. I will never not be heartbroken by Beth’s death. Middle-grade favourites include CRENSHAW – Katherine Applegate, THE WOLF WILDER – Katherine Rundell; THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET – Brian Selznick; SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS – Jack Cheng; GOODNIGHT MISTER TOM – Michelle Magorian. The last one, for example, is flawed in many ways, but as I had tears in my eyes so many times, I know it will stay with me for a long time.

Where does your inspiration come from?

AJ– I answered this a little already when I described my writing process. What it comes down to for me is a desire to produce books that would’ve made me feel seen as a child or teen. I want to write stories my past self would’ve read multiple times, plus characters I would’ve wanted to be friends with. I read a lot as a kid, but rarely did I ever see characters like myself in print. I want more queer and neurodiverse representation in children’s literature, not just in traditional ‘issues’ books but in all genres of kidlit. I want autistic and queer characters just living their lives on the pages of stories that sometimes, but don’t always, relate to their identities. That’s my goal and it’s often what inspires me when I decide to put in the time to turn an inkling of an idea into a full-fledged story.

Caroline– my book that is out on submission, THE TRUTH ABOUT CHICKENS, was inspired by a magazine article about a man who, having been abused as a child, adopted ex-battery hens. Caring for those birds turned his life around. I loved the idea of ‘a boy and his chickens’ story, instead of ‘a boy and his dog’. I have another work in progress that was inspired by the total eclipse of the sun in 2017. And another that is very loosely based on my sons’ expat lifestyle. And I also write flash fiction, which can be inspired by anything – a day out with family, a throwaway comment from a child, distant memories, half-forgotten dreams…

AJSass2AJ Sass is a fiction-writing figure skater, inclined toward adventures of a traveling nature. He is autistic, non-binary, and keen on exploring how gender identity and neurodiversity impact character narratives. An avid figure skater, AJ is a U.S. Figure Skating double gold medalist in Moves and Free Skate, a silver medalist in Ice Dance, and a member of the 2018 national bronze medalist Masters synchronized skating team, IceSymmetrics. AJ grew up in the Midwest, came of age in the South, and currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his boyfriend and two cats who act like dogs.

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Caroline MurphyCaroline Murphy is a former magazine editor and freelance journalist, specialising in design and home interiors. She moved from the UK to Singapore in 2004, followed by Hong Kong in 2006, and returned to the North-East of England in 2017, with a husband and four young boys in tow. She is now a full-time mother and part-time writer. Her middle-grade novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT CHICKENS, was shortlisted for the Joan Aiken Future Classics Award, and has just gone out on submission.

Twitter: @boybandmanager