Richard Pickard’s Journey to Publication
I first became aware of Chicken House in late 2015, in a bar at the National Theatre.
I was there to celebrate my friend Sam’s birthday, and many of his colleagues from the theatre were there too. One of those colleagues was MG Leonard, who Sam was excited to introduce as the soon-to-be-published author of Beetle Boy.
At this point I’d only just begun to secretly tinker with an idea for a children’s novel of my own, doodling an inky picture of a dilapidated pier, cut off from the land and swaying in the tide on four stilt-like legs. The image had come to me from my love of Brighton’s West Pier, and the thought of who might make a home in such an inhospitable environment ... a boy who is part-fish, of course!
I’d never met a real-life children’s author before those fateful drinks at the National. I had loved the idea of becoming one as a kid, and had developed into a voracious reader in my teen years. But like those other childhood dreams of going into space or running off to join the circus, being an author was not something that had ever seemed realistic. And yet, here was a children’s author soon to be published by Chicken House. Sitting at the same long table as me and my friends.
Despite having only a few chapters of my secret novel on the page, I couldn’t resist looking at the Chicken House website to see how, one day, I might be able to get their attention myself. Like most other publishing houses, Chicken House doesn't accept unsolicited manuscripts, but I was intrigued to find details of The Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition. I made a mental note and promised myself that one day – when I finally had a finished novel – I would enter.
That day came over three years later, once I’d finally found the time to finish a draft of my story, then called Something Fishy. I knew the competition was a longshot but in early 2019, as I went to read the entry requirements for the umpteenth time, I was happy to find that my chances had been doubled by the addition of a second prize – the Chairman’s Prize – which would be awarded to a work that required slightly greater editorial input than the overall winner. I knew that if I had any chance of winning a publishing deal, this might be it.
I was sitting at my desk at work a few months later when an email came through from my now-Editor, Kesia, telling me I was longlisted for the prize. I didn’t think my heart would ever beat that fast again, until a few weeks later an unknown phone number based in Somerset popped up on my screen. I knew immediately it must be Chicken House, and when Barry Cunningham’s voice came down the line to tell me I’d made the shortlist I almost exploded.
So, it was with a great amount of nerves and excitement that, along with five other talented writers, I descended on London’s Zetter Townhouse for lunch with the judging panel. This esteemed group, including the author Nikesh Shukla and Waterstones buyer Florentyna Martin, had spent the morning discussing our novels. After the main course, Barry Cunningham stood to announce the winner – Children of the Quicksands, by Efua Traoré, followed by the recipient of the inaugural Chairman’s Prize ... me!
My entire journey to publication has felt incredibly surreal. From that chance meeting at the National Theatre, to the time I scanned a middle-grade section of a bookshop and found a literal space on the alphabetised shelf where a novel by someone named Pickard would sit. Two years on from winning the Chairman’s Prize and I’ve spent the last few weeks visiting bookstores to see The Peculiar Tale of the Tentacle Boy filling that very same space. Copies have been piled high on tables, face-out on shelves, and even sitting proudly in several windows – the cover’s blue foil glinting in the sun.
If you’re reading this and have a novel in progress, or perhaps a finished draft gathering dust in a drawer, then take a chance and enter the competition when it next opens in October. For me, it provided the end goal I required to keep moving forward with my draft as year after year I saw successful entries popping up in bookstores. I couldn’t have asked for a better home for my novel, and from working on the edits, to seeing my beautiful cover by Maxine Lee-Mackie for the very first time, the entire process has felt like a waking dream.
Now, I’m overjoyed to be drafting my second novel for Chicken House and am thrilled I get to ride this most-fantastic merry-go-round all over again.
Find out more about submissions here.