Young writers’ competitions

Spring is here and they’re bustin’ out all over. Children’s fiction competitions.

This is great as a few girls have asked me recently how they can get their work noticed (or, as I see it, how they can hone their skills by preparing a piece of work for a professional reader).

The two I’ve heard of recently are:

The Usborne Young Writers’ Award (thanks to David Maybury)


The Wicked Young Writers’ Award (thanks to Amber Kirk)

And if you’re not a writer, don’t worry. The ‘Secret Garden’ competition is to design a cover for the new edition of the book. All you need is coloured pencils, a piece of paper and your imagination! (Oh, and it probably helps to have read the book. Although judging by some recent book covers, not necessarily.)

Secret Garden (thanks to Luisa Plaja at Chicklish)

If you know of any others, please tell me. I’ll make a list and pass them on … And if you’re entering …

Good luck!

Making a difference

Oh no! It is 9 days since I last blogged. I feel like I’m in the confessional.

It’s not entirely coincidence. I’ve been in one of those ‘head down’ moments. Book 3 is approaching 50,000 words (out of about 70,000), which is the ‘oh, just get on with it’ bit, before the joyous moments (I hope) of tying up all the loose ends that I’ve been carefully distributing and brilliantly rounding off the series. No pressure …

Believe me, even this is not exactly tough. When your worst problem is how to make your characters fit the plot and still be entertaining, true to themselves and age-appropriate, you know you have a pretty fabulous job. But nevertheless, it has its moments. At times like this, there is one thing, apart from my family, (oh, and Threads coming out in Norway, Holland and France this spring – go all of you!), that keeps me going.

Fans. And more to the point, fans who write.

When I was nine, I lived in Hong Kong and I lived for a writer called Anthony Buckeridge, who wrote the Jennings books. Imagine Harry Potter is a normal, tousle-headed boy with very much alive parents and no wizarding powers. That Hogwarts is in the Home Counties, Voldemort doesn’t exist and Hermione is a boy called Venables. And there you have it. The Jennings stories. They were addictive and inspirational. I waited with bated breath for each book. I would travel for two hours across twisting, mountainous roads to get to the only hotel bookshop in the territory that stocked the Jennings books, in the hope – only the hope – that the next one in the series might have arrived.

I was Anthony Buckeridge’s biggest possible fan. I haven’t read a Jennings book since I was about 11. Or at least I hadn’t until my 9 year-old picked up one of my old copies a few weeks ago. And I discovered that I can still remember some of the key scenes word for word. Word for word. I must have read them a million times. But it never, once, occurred to me to write to the man and tell him. I wouldn’t have known how.

(You can buy the books now, by the way. They’ve just started reappearing. I assume that parents like me, who adored them, are bringing them out for our pre-teenage children and the publishers have spotted something and are doing something about it. Hooray! Or, as Jennings would say, wizard! Did he know something? But don’t try and write to Anthony. He died in 2004.)

Today, things have changed. Today we have the internet. Very lucky authors, like me, have books that have websites, with ’email me’ buttons. And we have readers who are brave, chatty and curious. They hit the button. They fill out the form. They tell me what they think about Threads, how it has affected their lives, what they’re up to. They ask me how I came up with the idea, whether I’ve drawn Crow’s designs (which, sadly, I haven’t and never could), and all sorts of other questions that occur to them. So far, I reply to every one. If they don’t get a reply, it’s only because I couldn’t get their email address to work for some reason. Many of them assume I get thousands of emails. I don’t. It’s about one a day, but that’s more than enough.

So, if you’ve emailed me, thank you! You’ve made a tired (but basically happy) author, happier still. You’ve made it easier to write the next 10,000 words. You make a difference to us writer-types, and it’s truly wonderful to know that sometimes, we make a difference to you.

Handing on the tiara …

Daniel Craig is busy killing people on ITV, so I’d better make this quick.

Today was, I suppose, the day I officially handed over my sash and tiara to Janet Foxley, who is the new winner of the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Prize, with her story about giants for 6+ year-olds, called Muncle Trogg. Any writer who can start her story with her chief protagonist being suspended upside down, by his ankles, by his younger brother, gets my vote. She’s about to start on a thrillingly exciting year, and to get to know a bunch of wonderful, supportive people, who get her inner world and what she’s been trying to do for so many years. She will have fun. Go, Janet. Enjoy!

It was also, by total coincidence – but it didn’t feel that way – the day my first real, proper copies of Beads, Boys and Bangles arrived through the post. My manuscript is a book! It has a colourful cover with my name on, an ISBN number, real pages (304 of them) and everything. It isn’t in the shops yet, and won’t be for a few weeks, but it is, nevertheless, an artefact.

It will be days before I dare open it and read it properly. If I discover anything less than perfect about it, it’s TOO LATE. And it’s too early to appreciate how wonderful and amazing it is to have it there, after all the months of writing and planning, and decades of dreaming about it.

It’s odd, this book. It marks the end of being a debut author. I didn’t know, until about this time last year, that ‘debut author’ existed as a phenomenon. If you are a debut tour guide, or a debut management consultant, you keep very quiet about it. Nobody likes to entrust their schoolkids/multimillion pound businesses to a person with no experience. But if you are a first-timer in fiction – certainly children’s fiction – people are, quite frankly, lovely. There are special blogs, special interviews, special symbols and special competitions to ensure you get a chance of being noticed. It’s like going to a new school and finding there’s a special welcoming committee of cool kids, eager to show you around. Thanks, guys – you were wonderful.

There isn’t, as far as I know, a ‘second book’ category, for sophomores. I’m just another writer now.

Yup. Just another writer. But, actually, that feels good too.

Hello book, bye bye tiara ...

Good things

Some weeks are better than others. This week …

I discovered that I know 2 authors from the Orange prize longlist. OK, I haven’t actually met one of them and the other one is a neighbour, rather than a literary colleague, but nevertheless, I sort of feel like a real publishing person with, like, connections and stuff. Good luck to them both. You go, girls!

I saw the finished photos from the Bliss photoshoot. They are gorgeous!

My mother (I love you, Mummy) sent Threads to The Perfect Person To Play Granny. Seriously. Perfect. Ideal. If you knew who she was and you’d read Threads you’d go ‘Oh! Her! Yes! Absolutely.’ She said it was ‘delicious’. Now we wait for her to realise she’s the perfect person to play Granny and get Disney to option the book. Or something. Watch this space.

Book 3 made serious progress. And I managed to get Elton John and Alicia Keys into it. In the same scene. Yes!

Beads, Boys and Bangles got its first review. From a much respected bookselling magazine (you know who you are). It included my third-favourite word, after ‘semi-autobiographical’ and ‘palimpsest’, which is ‘unputdownable’. Yay yay yay!

And this weekend? Nothing planned. Nothing! Even better. Can’t wait. Have fun, people.

Threads the website

As you may know, Threads has its very own website. Go Threads! The lovely Steve has been working on it recently with me and it is now, if not new, certainly improved. There are new pictures, new links, new very attractive colours (at least, I think so), new ideas suggested by fans, and even new videos of me reading bits of books 1 and 2. So if you’d like to see what we’ve been up to, click here.

If you click on the new button saying Sophia’s Blog, you’ll end up back here in some terrible, endless loop. So avoid that one for now, but check out the rest. And as always, don’t email me about the orange shorts. I know about the orange shorts. But I’d love to hear what you think of all the other bits.

Model, author, whatever …

On Tuesday it was the photoshoot for Bliss magazine. This was the main prize in the Threads fashion competition, won by Jewel Simfendorfer. Jewel’s dress will feature in the June issue of Bliss, which hits the shops on 28 April (June/April … don’t ask …).

The model was called Charlotte and she looked STUNNING in the dress. But I can’t show you – yet, at least – because of publication dates and embargos and stuff. I’d have to kill you first. So instead, here are some non-revealing shots of the makeup table, the studio and the lovely photographer Emma (who lives above the cheese shop next to one of the many coffee shops where I write. How exciting is THAT?).

Jewel was there too, and I personally think that the best shots of all were the ones Emma took of Jewel and Charlotte together. But they may use them in the magazine and if I showed you, I’d have to kill you, so just look out for Bliss on April 28th, OK?

They took one of me with Jewel and Charlotte. All I can say is, if you’re 43, in jeans and having a bad hair day, don’t pose next to a cool 11 year-old with waist-length hair and a teenage model. Just a suggestion. No fear of that one appearing in Bliss, but I don’t have a copy of it either, so you’re safe.

What secrets can I tell you? Well, if you want to look on-trend this summer, think pink. Short and floral is good. Girly is in, but with a twist. It helps if you have good legs and good hair. If not, accessorise! There, I think that just about covers it.

At the end of the shoot, we had a lovely chat with Lydia, who is the stylist and features editor (?) writer (?) for Bliss. Whatever – she has THE PERFECT JOB. Fashion, plus writing. How perfect is that? If I didn’t already have the best job in the world myself, I’d be very jealous.

Or maybe the second most perfect job. Jewel was a model and designer that day. It was very tiring, and required a lot of Coke and ham sandwiches to keep her going, but it was cool. We looked around the studio and agreed it would be a great place to stage a catwalk show. Maybe one day, Jewel will. If she does, I’ll be in the front row and hopefully she’ll let me show you the photos.

Excited author (je suis très heureuse)

Oh boy!

My lovely agent Caroline told me that the Threads French cover was out and tried to send it to me so I could see it, but my firewall said ‘no’. So that was that, for a while.

Then my lovely agent Caroline said I could try looking on the fnac website, which is here.

So I did.

And it looks like this:

To say that I am thrilled doesn’t begin to cover it. I LOVE THIS COVER!

I like to think of this girl as a cross between all my characters, with Crow’s hair and tutu, Nonie’s socks and smile, Jenny’s blushes and Edie’s … (looks closely for something Edie-like) … er, Edie’s stripey tee-shirt. (Close enough.)

What this cover captures perfectly for me is the fun of the book and the joy of making things. It is very slightly reminiscent of the bibbety-bobbety-boo dress-making scene in the original Disney Cinderella, and I like the reference. I love the combination of real and drawn objects. If I was a pre-teen or young teenager, I would leap on this book. And even as an adult I’d give it a second and third look.

Yay, Hachette! Merci pour ma belle couverture. J’aime beaucoup!