When: Sunday 3rd March until Friday 8th March 5pm GMT.
Where: On Twitter, in reply to the pinned tweet on the @writementor account.
How to enter: reply to the pinned tweet, with your best twitter pitch (one per person) using the #PitchWM hashtag. You must also RT the pinned tweet to be eligible. Other genre/age hashtags are optional.
What do you win: There will be 3 winners prizes, selected by @StuartWhiteWM.
1 month free membership on #WriteMentor SPARK:
1 x Level 1
1 x Level 2
1 x Level 3
Who is eligible: Children’s manuscripts. From CB via MG up to YA.
Below you will find the Longlist, then a list of Notable Mentions, who just missed out, and finally a list of Readers’ Favourites (those who did not make the LL).
Right, time to get serious – this was so hard to do – the list is longer than I planned because there were so many novels we couldn’t say NO to!
Missing out on this long list is not a reflection of quality, simply the old combination in any creative pursuit – LUCK, TASTE and TIMING.
There were at least 40 more novels that could have gone onto this list and not reduced the quality in any way.
That said, the novels that did make it were INCREDIBLE.
How did we decide?
Entries were read 7 times (5 adult readers, 2 kid readers) and to make the list, you needed to get 6 or 7 YES votes!!! I KNOW!!!
When you receive your personalised feedback, you’ll get the number of YES votes with it – if you had 4/5, know that you just missed out and that this is still a great achievement – most of your readers wanted to continue. That’s a win in my view.
We also averaged the scores given by the 7 readers – the top 20 average scoring entries also all made the LL, regardless of YES votes, but mostly these overlapped.
Then we had our Readers Favourites – each reader told us their favourite and we took this into account in composing the list. Ultimately a few didn’t make it – we have listed them at the bottom. 4 novels got 2 readers favourite votes. Those were also added to the list if they hadn’t made it on other criteria.
So, I think you’ll agree, we’ve been thorough, we’ve done all we can to reduce the subjectivity of a single reader or 2, so we hope this has created the strongest possible list.
Of course, we are bound to have missed a few off here which will go on and be successful. See above comment on LUCK, TASTE and TIMING. If you weren’t successful this time, it’s due to that, not a lack of ability or promise in your novel.
Thank you to everyone who entered, and we hope if you’re not on this list, you’ll find the feedback we send useful, or at least enlightening. All I ever want to know when I miss a list, is how close I was and what did the readers think, and you all now have that chance, if you chose it at entry.
If you are on here (or even if you’re not) feel free to tweet about it using #WMCNA but if you’re on the longlist, do not tweet your title. You may tweet your title if you are on the bottom two lists.
Without furthering the agony, here is the list of novels (anonymous to allow impartial judging) that made it onto our long list.
We are making changes to how we run the programme. This is based on feedback from mentors/mentees last year but also based upon making it increasingly flexible for all involved.
We are changing to a bi-level structure.
This means there will be two options you can apply to.
A. submission package/partial
B. full manuscript
A. submission package/partial
If you apply for the sub package/partial option, you will work with a mentor on those aspects but we forsee this taking much less than 4 months, so you’d be free to query once you’re done. If you apply for this option, there is no agent showcase at the end.
I would imagine your mentor will help you with querying at this stage, but this option is for those who don’t want a complete overhaul (or are not able to commit to overhauling a full ms in the summer).
Picture books mentors/mentees are likely to apply for this option, unless they are working on/willing to work on several picture books (in which case you may apply for option B).
B. full manuscript
For those applying for a full manuscript mentorship, this will mean a full 4 month commitment to overhauling your manuscript to make it submission ready for the agent showcase.
The expectation is that you will be open to making larger changes to your manuscript and spending all/most of your summer making your manuscript the very best it can be. If this is not possible for you, no worries, but do apply for A instead.
This is not the option for those who aren’t able to work intensively or are not responsive to making large changes to their novels. You are going to receive 4 months of mentorship from an experienced writer, so the expectations are greater.
We have extended the overall period of this years programme.
This is again in response to feedback we received from last years mentees. This extra time should allow for not only large structural overhauls, if they are needed, but also the finer elements.
I have to honestly admit, as a mentor myself, that I struggled with the timeline, to fully help my mentees, and so others have said. I don’t want to compromise the quality of this programme by imposing restrictive timelines. This extra month should help.
Smaller application window
Again, in the interest of the applicants welfare, we have reduced our application window, and also our reading window (a little!). This is to ensure that the painful wait between applying and receiving a decision is reduced and less stressful/anxious.
There were many positives last year, but we also appreciate there are things we could have done better. We will address all of those suggestions and will endeavour to improve the programme in every aspect this year.
For the prospective mentors
A few words on mentors and those considering applying. I am VERY open as to who we take on as mentors. We probably can’t say YES to everyone who applies, but if you’re on the fence, go for it, or chat with me. Don’t self-reject.
So many of my writing friends told me last year that they didn’t think they’d be any good or be able to help their mentees. Imposter Syndrome struck hard. But they had a go anyway and the feedback from their mentees blew the imposter out of the water!
Please trust in yourself and your experience and ability. I certainly will, if you apply, and are successful. We are looking for writers with experience and skills to help another writer. Who have great values and altruistic reasons for applying.
We are looking for agented/published writers, editors, anyone who works in the industry and has experience of working with writers and feels they can offer valuable skills and experience to improve another writer’s craft and manuscript.
While we are primarily looking at MG/YA, this year I’d love to have a few mentors for the younger end of children’s fiction, i.e. chapter books, or even picture books (these would most likely fall into the A category). If you write either, do consider applying.
What do I need to apply?
You will need to have a completed manuscript.
You will need to send us a query letter, 1st chapter (double-spaced, 12″ TNR), and 1-page synopsis (single-spaced) along with your application, so ensure these are as good as they can be.
You can apply to 3 mentors. So be sure to research them thoroughly and chat to them during our Twitter Mentor chat week, starting 8th April.
When Muslim-American Ariana Baten is haunted by an ominous jinn overlord, she and her murderous imaginary friend must team up to stop the overlord from using his fire magic to destroy the universe.
When Ariana first begins to hear the jinn’s voice inside her head, she finds she can no longer control herself. As the creature grows inside of her, she realizes that its appearance may be related to her parents’ mysterious death. Searching for the truth and understanding, Ariana pairs up with Kered, her longtime imaginary friend. Using Kered’s Forgotten magic, the two travel to Forget Me Not, the dimension where every human thought goes once it’s been discarded. Along with the rest of the Forgotten, they plan to infiltrate the jinn dimension, Al-Jiyyin.
In Al-Jiyyin, Ariana infiltrates the jinn royal family to unravel their plan from within. As she learns how to control the fire magic that always seems to be around her, Ariana is confronted with her true identity. She learns that not only is she the last descendant of a long line of jinn who sought refuge in the human world many millennia ago, but she is also the last line of defense the human dimension has. Alone in a world and fighting in a war she barely understands, Ariana must make a choice: succumb to the fire that runs through her veins, or fight it to restore peace to the universe.
BLOOD LIKE FIRE is a YA fantasy novel, complete at 70,000 words, inspired by Islamic lore. It explores concepts of alternate realities and circles the struggles of a young Pakistani-Muslim girl trying to determine if she’s falling in love with herself or an abstract concept that will never exist, all while navigating the normal trials and tribulations of young adulthood, including love, balancing cultures, and of course, saving the universe.
Thank you so much for your time and consideration!
He appeared before I had the chance to ask him to, as silent as the sun rising in the sky.
He stood by the window, the moon casting a silvery glow along the sides of his face. I rose my chin towards him in acknowledgement, but he remained still.
“Kered, is that you?”
His green eyes lit up for a moment, the way they always did whenever I said his name.
But he didn’t answer me, his eyebrows knit together in confusion as he stared at the sheets of white paper strewn over my bedroom walls and cans of paint lined against my bed.
“Do you feel okay?” he asked. His question echoed throughout the quiet of the house.
Apart from our voices, the only other sound was my brother, Dani, snoring.
I stared at Kered for a moment. His dark, curly hair was more disheveled than usual. It stuck up in every direction atop his head. He looked so real, so human. I often forgot that only I could see him.
I nodded, but he saw through my lie. I knew he was going to. He was my oldest friend.
“It’s okay if you don’t,” he said.
“Mama and Papa died barely a month ago. Why would I be okay?”
The edges of my vision went black. A quiet hiss sounded in my ears. My fingers went numb.
I heard the whisper inside my head and squeezed my eyes shut. The aawaz, the voice inside my head, was back.
I walked towards my door to shut it, guilt colouring my movements. Our newest house rule was that no one was allowed to sleep with their door closed, but one quick peek and I went ahead and shut it. Technically, I wasn’t sleeping.
Kered placed a hand on my arm. “Ariana?”
I blinked up at him. “Hm?”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“There’s nothing to talk about, Kered. My parents are gone, I ruined my brother’s life, and nothing will ever be okay again.”
Kered bit his lip. “You know that’s not true.”
I scoffed quietly, my gaze landing on the heavily marked calendar above my desk.
It had been thirty-six days since the wreck. Thirty-three days since the funeral. Twenty-nine days since Amnna Khala and her family had moved in. Two days since they left.
The house seemed even more haunted now that it was just Dani and I.
Brush, the awaaz whispered.
I tried to push it away, focusing on Kered instead. “It feels pretty true.”
“You didn’t ask for any of those things to happen. It’s hardly been a month. I don’t think you need to worry just yet.”
My face stayed impassive. Kered only thought those things because he didn’t know the truth. He didn’t know about the voice inside my head, about the darkness that spotted my eyes, about the loss of feeling throughout my body.
I opened my mouth to tell him, but the aawaz stopped me.
The night seventeen-year-old Liv loses the most important game of her e-sports career begins just like any other. She positions the puke-bucket inside her gamepod. She dons a biosuit. She connects to LegionCorp’s cloud via the computer implant in her skull.
Forty-nine wins. One more win and she’s free.
But in the game, something goes terribly, inexplicably wrong. Not only does she lose the match, Liv is stripped of everything she loves: her team, her boyfriend, and her tenuous hope for freedom.
Alone, she flees into the wilds of the unplugged world to master an unexpected weapon: the most powerful brain implant ever built. Liv must either learn to master it or it will be the master of her death. Meanwhile, the corporation is hunting her down and it doesn’t play fair. The price she pays for another loss may be the lives of her friends, both old and new, plugged and unplugged.
CHRYSALIS is a young adult science fiction novel that is READY PLAYER ONE meets SURROGATES. Complete at 75,000 words, it stands alone but has series potential.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I have included the first five hundred words and look forward to hearing from you if you wish to read more.
I never thought I’d live to see seventeen. In my line of work most people tap out at fifteen — sixteen tops. But I don’t have that luxury. My team depends on me.
My bones ache with a brittle fatigue — it happens to those of us who have died too many times. Death is my master. It rules me in so many ways, and yet it never brings the sweet oblivion it promises. After all these years, all these games, I’m as ancient as a pillar of salt.
I stretch, forcing blood into cold flesh. My joints pop and creak. Today I feel every little twinge. At least it’s almost over, one way or the other. Either we win the game or I take a black pill. There is no third option for me.
I slam two vials of proluxe in an attempt to feel normal. The third vial winks at me, golden liquid swirling seductively, but I resist. I can’t afford to get wasted.
The drug eases the muscle aches and frees my mind, allowing my imagination to wander outside the four walls of my cell. Though I’ve never actually seen it with my eyes, I know what my teammates are doing right now. Ashley is drinking a third, and maybe even a fourth, vial of proluxe while pacing grooves in her cell. Akari is playing death metal through her implants at top volume. And James… James is praying. He’s too good for this life. Too good for me, definitely.
I walk through the pre-game ritual of checking my biosuit for malfunctions. The familiar routine soothes my frayed nerves. I try not to think about what winning this game will mean to my team. Or what losing will mean. Despite all the misery I don’t want to black-pill myself. I want to take a long, hot shower. I want to grow the brown stubble that covers my head. I want to kiss James in the sunlight.
I tuck the puke-bucket in the bottom compartment of my gamepod, for later. Its blue scalloped edges make my stomach roll over. Barfing is the second worst aspect of playing, behind pain. And today’s game will have both in abundance.
Soon a pair of yellow-eyed workers will transfer my pod to the playing stadium. When they enter the player’s wing our lights will turn off, a signal that we must cease all activity, zip into our suit, and enter the pod. The darkness in my room is complete and unrelenting. Some players smuggle night lights into their cells to chase away the shadows of these moments, but I don’t bother.
When a rival nation invades Tanchichek and slays the royal family, Aziah, a sixteen-year-old mage, must take the place of her dead twin brother and join an all-male competition to become the next King of her country. TRIBE OF LIGHT AND SHADOW, complete at 99,000 words, is a YA high fantasy Mulan retelling set in a Mesoamerican inspired world. It is a standalone with series potential and would be enjoyed by readers fond of immersive non-European lands like An Ember in the Ashes or Flame in the Mist.
In the patriarchal land of Tanchichek, women are executed for studying magic. But Aziah has learned how to shoot lightning from her hands and she’s good at it too. All she wants is to practice magic without the fear of death. When a rival nation invades her country and kills the entire royal family, Aziah sees a chance to rewrite that sexist law by joining a competition that results in the winner being crowned the next King of Tanchichek. To participate, she must take her dead brother’s identity and compete against the mighty Jaguar Knights. Though her skills as a mage are better than most, Aziah isn’t the best at disguising her womanhood. Her biggest competitor, Xenephi, has loathed Aziah’s family since they were children and he is getting closer to uncovering Aziah’s secret with every passing day. If she’s discovered, Aziah will lose more than her only chance at rewriting the laws of her nation.
My author platform largely consists of my Instagram account @BooksNBeaches where I cater to over 21K followers within the bookish community. I have a double minor in Technical/ Professional Writing and Creative Writing. From a young age, I have studied religious texts set in ancient Mesoamerica and am happily married to a man with Mesoamerican roots.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Decree of King Himnah
40th Year Exceeding the First Great War
From this time forth, able-bodied boys age eight in years will train to become Jaguar Knights.
The magic of their Tribe shall be entrusted to him, as his fathers before him.
Until the age of eighteen will the youth remain students.
At the morning of manhood, he may choose to aspire to on a separate path or remain a warrior.
Documented in the Library Archives
Decree of King Himnah
46th Year Exceeding the First Great War
Never again shall women know magic.
A power so marvelous will lead to our destruction.
In addition to rearing and bearing children, this burden of power has no placement.
For this cause, a woman found with too great a potential, shall surely be put to death.
Documented in the Library Archives
256th Year Exceeding the First Great War
30th Day of the 6th Moon
~ Aziah dipped her toes into the babbling river that cut through the jungles of Tanchichek. The cool water offered a millisecond of relief from the sweltering humidity. Beneath its glittering surface, scaly catfish flicked their tails along the rocky bottom, pluming clouds of mud with each stroke. They would make a tasty dinner.
“Ready your baskets!” her brother ordered to the servants along the riverbank. Then he lowered his voice and whispered to his sister. “And to you, Aziah, ready your magic.”
Aziah leaned against a boulder. Her response was quiet enough to be masked by the rustle of palm leaves. “Darling Zemaron, my magic is always ready.”
“Cocky, much?” he spoke from the corner of his lips.
Aziah smirked at the face identical to her own. Then she cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted to the servants. “On the count of three!”
“Hey, that’s my job!” squabbled Zemaron.
“Hurry up then, sloth.”
Zemaron ground his teeth. “May King Leum curse you a thousand years.” Then he rose his voice, “One!”
An insult sat at the tip of Aziah’s tongue. She could have shoved her brother into the water if she wanted to. But there was a task at hand. And if she wasn’t careful… well, Aziah would rather not think of the sting of a blade.
Water slid over her big toe. An inch of skin against the surface was all she needed.
“Three!” Zemaron cried then slapped his palm against the river.
The moment his hand touched the surface, a shockwave of electricity pulsated down the current. To the naked eye, one would assume Zemaron shot a bolt of lightning into the river. But on the contrary, it was Aziah who willed the electrical charge. With her toe skimming the transparent surface, it was enough to conduct lightning into the babbling brook.
Catfish turned belly-up on the surface. The servants waded in to retrieve their supper. That was when Aziah slid from her rock. She ensured no one was looking their way before examining Zemaron’s hand.
ONE FOR SORROW is a 63,000 word contemporary YA novel about the consuming power of first love and a relationship shattered by jealousy, betrayal and revenge.
How can identical twins be strangers? Shared dreams bound them together . . . now secrets tear them apart.
Fourteen-year old Evie feels abandoned when her twin, Nat, shuts her out and makes new friends. Despite Evie’s attempts to remain close, Nat becomes secretive, leaving Evie confused and alone. When Evie falls in love, the rift between the twins widens further.
Evie finds Nat sneaking out of the house and staggering back in the early hours and worries what her sister is up to. When she sees scars on Nat’s wrist, Evie fears she is hurting herself and tries to help her. But Nat’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic until the police wake the family to say Nat is in hospital following a fatal accident.
When Nat confesses she killed someone, Evie fears for her sister’s future. Nat is adamant she is guilty . . . but Evie knows Nat is lying. Can Evie repair their broken relationship enough to persuade Nat to tell the truth about what really happened that night? If she can’t, Nat will be tried for manslaughter and both their lives will be shattered.
I hope this story appeals to readers who enjoy the work of Cat Clarke, Tim Bowler and Sharon Creech.
When I moved to Manchester, complete strangers began calling me Susan. This happened so frequently that I felt like I had an identical twin – someone I had never met. Years later, this idea gradually developed into ONE FOR SORROW.
I have an MA in Writing for Children from MMU and am an active member of SCBWI where I enjoy the lively crit sessions. In addition, I have enjoyed attending numerous writing conferences and workshops, including those held in Winchester, York and Manchester. I have had eight non-fiction books published by Hopscotch and a poem published by Macmillan Children’s Books. Several of my children’s stories have been shortlisted and/or placed in a variety of competitions.
Thank you for taking the time to read my query letter.
Lois A. Johnson
ONE FOR SORROW – FIRST PAGE
Even with drips of dark hair dye trickling down my forehead, I still look like her.
The ginger hair has gone but I can’t change my mouth or nose. My/Her hazel eyes stare back at me.
My whole life, I’ve loved that we are identical. But not anymore. I need to look like me now. Just me.
Why didn’t I realise we are so different, deep inside, where no-one ever sees?
“Are you ok, love?” Mum calls through the bathroom door.
Well, that’s another lie to add to the pile we’re all building. Maybe one day the pile will topple down and bury us . . .
I listen for Mum’s footsteps going downstairs and sigh. She’s always hovering over me. It’s suffocating. And I know that no matter what I do, when Mum and Dad look at me, they’ll always see her too.
The instructions on the hair dye say I have to wait 20 mins. I go into my bedroom and squeeze past the boxes to sit on the bed. Mum says if I unpack I’ll feel more at home.
But some things you can’t put in boxes and bring with you. And other things you wish you could leave behind are with you always – even though you never packed them.
One of the boxes has ‘FRAGILE’ written on every side.
That’s how I feel too – like I could shatter any second.
I put the box on the bed beside me, open the flaps, and carefully lift out the bleached, twisted tendrils of driftwood. I close my eyes and sniff, hoping for the salty tang of the sea. I try to hear the crash of waves or the cry of gulls.
But the only sound is the noise of cars going up and down the road outside and the shouts of neighbours’ kids playing in the street.
I’ve never lived so far away from the ocean.
It’s another 12 minutes before I can wash the colour off. I grab a handful of tissues and dab at the cold trickles running down the side of my face.
I look like I’m melting. If I could melt and remake myself, what – or who -would I choose?
I reach into the box again and the fabric bag of shells rattles. I pull the drawstring open and pick up a tiny periwinkle. I smile at the memory of dusting it off on my t-shirt before carrying it home in the pocket of my shorts. As I turn it round, a few grains of sand stick to my skin. I’ve brought a bit of the beach with me after all.
I think of long summer days, kicking off my flipflops to run along the sand, arms outstretched like wings, while the breeze lifts my hair and streams it out behind me.
But my hair’s much shorter now – ever since we moved here for our ‘Fresh Start’– another attempt to make myself look different from her – my ‘mirror image’.
Seventeen-year-old bounty hunter Annora is determined to catch the notorious outlaw who nearly stole her life. When she learns the killer has entered a deadly tournament to buy his freedom, she must enter too or risk losing her only shot at revenge.
Annora’s maimed hand is a constant reminder that Gabian Zola—renowned outlaw, killer, and feared Northman— is leaving a string of murders in his wake, and Annora is his only surviving victim. Alongside her best friend and ally, Hellion, the girls bloody their hands on the forsaken streets of the borderlands to prove they’re a force to be reckoned with.
When they learn that Gabian has come out of hiding to compete in an upcoming blood tournament, Annora and Hellion decide to risk their chances of survival to pursue him once again. Recruiting the beautiful Carina, a runaway girl with a bounty on her head, they set out across the savage red desert to finally claim their prize.
During their journey, tempers fray, water skins run dry, and Hellion finds herself drawn to Carina, despite her dangerous secrets. The girls join a dozen mercenaries and outlaws to joust, race, and duel their way to victory, all the while plotting to capture their target. But when Gabian begins to methodically pick off the competitors one by one, it’s clear that Annora and Hellion are more the hunted than the hunters.
CHASING BLOOD & SCOUNDRELS is complete at 93,000 words, and is a young adult fantasy novel told in three points of view. It is standalone with series potential.
Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of the Sands meets Claire Legrand’s Sawkill Girls, CHASING BLOOD & SCOUNDRELS showcases the power of female friendship and f/f relationships and will appeal to fans of Susan Dennard and Ryan Graudin.
This manuscript was selected from 1,900 submissions to be a Pitch Wars novel, and was named as a judge’s favourite by Ink & Insights. Over the summer of 2018, I spent three months revising this manuscript with Melissa Welliver as part of the Write Mentor mentorship program.
I’m a Welsh writer and bookworm living near the coast in South Wales, UK. I hold a BA (Hons) in History with a focus on women who shaped the world.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Every inch of Annora’s body ached like a single throbbing bruise following their last job, and if the last six months had taught her anything, it was you can always find new ways to hurt.
The bazaar pulsed around her. Rowdy vendors boasted of teas that would quench the desert’s thirst. Street children squabbled over shady stoops—prime real estate in these forsaken parts. Channelling her frustrations into her heels, Annora hurtled through the narrow alleyway.
Another cruel day in the Borderlands; a day of bloody scrapes, sweaty mayhem, and dry, cracked lips. Another day of trying to keep up with Hellion, who was hot on the heels of the most wanted siblings in Gaurida as if it took no more effort than climbing from her bed this morning. Life was becoming an infinite cycle of bloodying themselves to scrape together opezas for rent while ignoring the hunger gnawing at her. She ached for the taste of an easier life.
“Quit dawdling,” Hellion called, amusement in her voice. Sweat was only now starting to break on her brow.
“Gods, you’re smug.” Annora failed to keep the breathlessness from her voice. “Keep your eyes on the marks! We’re screwed if we lose them.” Sweat pooled in her gloves, inching its way along her scars as she flexed her remaining fingers.
“Not my first time, Nora.” The steel blades strapped to Hellion’s hips glittered under the sun’s unrelenting gaze. Her golden-brown limbs cut short, sharp movements through the alleyway. “Damn it! They’re heading to the pits.”
Annora pressed the fabric of her threadbare headscarf to her nose as the tannery’s stench of animal skins and dye strangled her every breath. Sharply, the auburn-haired twins veered left. The filthy rags wrapping their feet kicking up flurries of red dirt.
The sixteen-year-old siblings had earned their bounty notice by killing their entire family with a hefty dose of wolfs bane. They had no training. No conventional weapons. On paper, this job should be a cinch. In reality, it was a bleeding nightmare.
“You know if you stop now,” Hellion called. “I’ll at least try and resist the urge to throttle you both.”
This manuscript is no longer available for requests.
Inspired by terrifying caving experiences in Somerset, ‘Troglodyte’, my YA novel, combines historical fiction with a ghost story, and is told in a dual timeline. ‘Troglodyte’ was recently shortlisted for the Wells Children’s novel competition, and last year was longlisted for Mslexia’s Novel Competition.
When seventeen year old OWEN opens up a lost cave, he awakens an eerie stalactite girl and unleashes her tragic Celtic past to haunt him. As vengeful spirits possess those he loves, Owen must unearth his links to MARTIALIS, the Roman lover she betrayed 2000 year ago, before history repeats to destroy them all.
A-level student, Owen, with a history of depression, discovers a strange stalactite girl within a Somerset cave and unwittingly releases her, Persephone-like, into his own time. After he and his companions are nearly killed underground, Owen wonders whether she was to blame. Tormented by doubts about who to trust, he notices even his friend and brother are acting suspiciously.
Meanwhile, in a parallel narrative: Iron Age Britain, and Martialis, an ambitious young spy for the invading Roman army, is injured while on a mission to recapture a Celtic chief. When Martialis is rescued and taken to a sacred cave by the chief’s druid sister, DERWEN, he finds his loyalty to the conquering Empire questioned. Unaware that Derwen is using him to plant misinformation, Martialis tries to discover her tribe’s plans, but becomes romantically involved. However, after her deceit almost destroys his legion, the young spy returns to her underground hide-out, seeking vengeance. There his actions set in motion a tragedy which culminates in a terrible flood, killing Celt and Roman alike. Derwen is left literally petrified, suspended in time, trapped within the cave.
This is the stalactite girl’s past, but unless Owen can find out what happened to Martialis, the spirits of Derwen’s brothers who died here will exact their revenge. To uncover the truth about the young spy’s relationship with Derwen, Owen must trust her to help him resurrect Martialis. As a depressive, Owen has always feared giving in to thoughts of self-destruction, but to save those he loves, he faces sacrificing his own identity.
Throughout ‘Troglodyte’ I’ve woven in threads of ancient folklore and fertility mythology, to build a sense of the mysterious, pre-Christian, Celtic world which I believe is buried deep within our culture. I wanted to create something eerie and magical – but set in the real world.‘Troglodyte’ contains elements of ‘Stranger Things’, and is influenced by Alan Garner’s writing, particularly ‘The Owl Service’, where a momentous event echoes down through history. ‘Troglodyte’, complete at 92,000 words, is a standalone, though I have material for a sequel.
I have a BA in English from Exeter College, Oxford, the inspiration for Philip Pullman’s Jordan College, and I was later tutored by him while training to be a teacher. I’ve worked in education, as a secondary English teacher, and as a middle school teaching assistant, which have all given me insight into children’s reading preferences. I run a SCBWI South-West critique group and contribute to various on-line writing communities. In 2016 I completed a Curtis Brown UK Creative Writing for Children Course with Catherine Johnson.
I hope ‘Troglodyte’s intriguing concept, teenage characters with heart, adventure plot, and mysterious setting tempt you to read more.
Many thanks for reading my submission.
The tracks had been laid. We were meant to find the cave, I realise now.
Ropes of ivy bound the crags but did not conceal the opening completely. As I watched my comrades file down into the narrow ravine, I noticed marks on a rain-smoothed bank, and beneath, a run in the scree, as if someone had recently climbed up there.
A rope. I coiled it over my shoulder and forearm. Not a noose. Just kit for today, to pack in my rucksack – along with the head-torch and helmet.
When was the last time I’d used it? Not counting that one time. Eighteen months ago or more?
Mum must have hidden it. Along with the paracetamol and aspirin. And the garage keys.
A year and a half since I’d given up caving – and everything else I loved. But I was off the anti-depressants now. Trying to get back to living again. Flying unaided.
Red, my border collie, nudged my arm with his pointed nose.
“Almost ready, boy. Then we can go out.” I slid my fingers deep into his soft ginger and white fur. He needed a walk – as much as I needed him close. He’d have to wait outside the cave – but we wouldn’t stay down for long.
Will was locking his bike at the layby as I came cycling up the hill – Red running along beside me.
“Which cave you want to try?” he asked.
I caught my breath. “Hyena Den?” We’d done it before.
A low tunnel at first – then some squeezes and a boulder choke. We’d need the rope to get out of the Lobster Pot section. Nothing to be afraid of.
From up here the land rolled out around us. The day was dank and murky – as if the sun hadn’t got up properly. We headed towards the woods and the gully where the caves were.
A few sheep panicked at Red trotting past as we crossed the hillside. He wallowed in a puddle the colour of milk chocolate, then bounded towards me. Gleefully he shook the muck off in a motion that rippled down his body from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail. I wiped the mud from my face with a sleeve.
“That better, boy?”
He looked up at me like he was grinning.
“That dog’s mental,” Will laughed.
Mental. The word grazed a sensitivity. Reaching the end of term had been hard – such a long one. A-level courses ramping up the pressure, all those decisions piling in about our future, mock exams just over two weeks away in the New Year… How close was I to derailment?
Today was about getting back on course – about being the person I used to be. If I could do it, I stood a chance of surviving A-levels. Going into a cave – would show how far I’d climbed out from depression.