Children's Fiction Competition: Barry's winning ingredients

Posted by Barry on Wednesday September 9th, 2015

What makes a Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition winner? Judge and Chicken House Publisher Barry Cunningham – known for signing a then-unknown author called J.K. Rowling – shares his thoughts ... 

At first glance what makes a winner in the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition appears to be rather a baffling question. There's a great variety – from Sophia Bennett's teen fashion novel Threads, to Janet Foxley's younger exploration of small giants and big volcanoes in Muncle Trogg! Not to mention historical steampunk (The Poison Boy), supernatural animal adventures (The Sound of Whales) and incredibly various runners-up like Lobsters (hilariously awkward teen relationships) and The Crowfield Curse (haunting and gothic).

But actually, while sometimes the disagreements between the judges get rather fierce, the thread (no joke, Sophia) that runs through their deliberations is clear. Is there an original voice and does this story have real child appeal? It's rare that we discuss the finer points of writing – but very often we passionately involve ourselves in the question of authentic relevance to a particular age or part of childhood. That's what we are looking for: an emotional connection that will work with young people (and their parents) around the world, in a story that we can't put down.

Often we talk about villains, or things that have to be overcome, rather than the hero or heroine – but we need to laugh or smile, even if it's nervous laughter or a sad smile. Common failings for the judges, I hear you ask? Well, the story could be too slow, too wordy, not have enough dialogue, have unbelievable reactions from child characters that are supposed to appeal to adults … these are all just some of the pitfalls we have seen a book stumble into. But we are also often overwhelmed by the huge variety and quality of the work from writers from all walks of life, all ages and increasingly from many nationalities. Truly, we are nations of storytellers.

Find out more about the competition or watch Barry's top competition tips below! 

Follow Barry on Twitter: @barrychicken

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