Richard Pickard’s Journey to Publication

Posted by Jazz on Friday August 20th, 2021

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!

Richard Pickard's Journey to Publication

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!

Richard Pickard's Journey to Publication 2

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.

Richard Pickard's Journey to Publication 3a

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.

Emma Shevah on Earth Day

Posted by Jazz on Thursday April 22nd, 2021

Emma Shevah, author of How to Save the World with a Chicken and an Egg, stops by the blog to celebrate Earth Day ... (more…)

Lindsay Galvin: Writing behind the mask and productivity in a pandemic

Posted by Jazz on Friday February 12th, 2021

Here, DARWIN'S DRAGONS author Lindsay Galvin explores what writing and publishing a novel in a global pandemic is all about. Over to you Lindsay ...

By the time the pandemic hit this year, my new book Darwin’s Dragons was already finished, printed and ready to fly. But only a month before launch my real dragons were grounded, a decision agreed by all, until 2021.

I’d never imagined anything like it. So what does a writer do in this situation?

Try to stay in the air

Darwin’s Dragons is the start of a new venture for me, into middle-grade historical fiction. I found this genre suited me by accident, when drafting a backstory for how dragons could be discovered, and it felt so natural that the story grew from there. I needed to keep going and write the next thing, but Covid was everywhere and nothing was the same. I was devastated at the tragedies happening daily. My whole family were at home, so I was home-schooling, snack-providing and generally unable to retreat to a fictional world. My brain wasn’t in a good place. Bombarded with news, I couldn’t get in the headspace. At first this was frustrating, but I knew I had to accept I needed to find a landing space and hibernate for a while before I crash-landed, just like a real dragon would.

What do you do when you can’t do it?

But I couldn’t just sleep! I need to give my mind activity otherwise it will find it elsewhere in anxiety thoughts. I went back to research and reading. I knew the basic direction for my next book and watched documentaries, researched, and listened to audiobooks. I read other unrelated books, because I’m always behind on those and reading helps everything. And I relaxed and cut myself some slack.

The only way out is through

When things were calmer, I started to write again but changed up my routine. The kids were still home so I wrote in bed in the morning before I got up. Usually I would never do this – I’m not a morning person – but it was my only quiet time. I just plodded along slowly with no pressure on myself, other than to get some words down each day. New characters and worlds took shape slowly, slowly. I wasn’t working at my normal speed but I made myself accept that was okay in a global pandemic, and I gradually started to look forward to it. I wrote half a new story draft that way – very gently – and where it felt like I’d never be able to take off … finally, it did.

Flamingos never look like they are going to be able to fly … but they do.

Darwin's Dragons, Lindsay Galvin

Write on!

I think when tough times hit and your career is grounded for whatever reason, there are no easy answers. Creativity is an impetuous beast, a bit like my five-month-old puppy! You can’t force creativity to do as it’s told, you can only provide conditions (like giving yourself a treat!) so it might want to. Carve a little quiet time, be patient and trust. Creativity will come back to you, it always does.

If you've been inspired by Lindsay's words here, take a look at our Times Chicken House Children's Fiction competition for unagented/unpublished authors. Submissions are being accepted now!

Stuart Hill stops by our blog

Posted by Jazz on Thursday February 14th, 2019

Today marks the publication of a brand-new edition of Stuart Hill's classic novel The Cry of the Icemark! Stuart stopped by the blog to tell us about his journey from aspiring writer to award-winning published author ...  (more…)

Happy birthday to NUMBERS!

Posted by Jazz on Monday January 7th, 2019

Numbers author Rachel Ward stops by our blog on the tenth anniversary of her debut novel ...  (more…)

Ceylan Scott on writing ON A SCALE OF ONE TO TEN

Posted by Jazz on Thursday May 17th, 2018

It's Mental Health Awareness Week, and so Ceylan Scott has stopped by the blog to talk about her experiences writing her debut novel On a Scale of One to Ten. (more…)

Get Your Bake On

Posted by Jazz on Friday August 11th, 2017

The second novel in Laurel Remington's delicious Secret Cooking Club series, Confetti & Cake, is out now! Laurel has stopped by our blog to chat about why she loves The Great British Bake Off (who doesn't?)!

NaNoWriMo Nov Day 24: Cathryn Constable

Posted by Jazz on Thursday November 24th, 2016

Today it's the turn of the wonderfully talented Cathryn Constable, author of the bestselling wintry adventure The Wolf Princess and her stunning new novel, The White Tower. (more…)

NaNoWriMo Nov Day 23: Sarah Rubin

Posted by Jazz on Wednesday November 23rd, 2016

It's day 23 of NaNoWriMo November! And joining us today on the blog is the wonderful Sarah Rubin, author of the Alice Jones mysteries Sarah is no stranger to NaNoWriMo, and you can check out her awesome blog post about everything she's learned from taking part here. But for now, here are her top 5 tips for aspiring writers!  (more…)

NaNoWriMo Nov Day 21: Sophia Bennett

Posted by Jazz on Monday November 21st, 2016

We're nearly at the end of NaNoWriMo! With just over a week to go, here are some tips from acclaimed author (and previous Times/Chicken House Competition winner) Sophia Bennett to get you to the finish line ...  (more…)

NaNoWriMo Nov Day 20: Dan Smith

Posted by Jazz on Sunday November 20th, 2016

Today Dan Smith – author of no less than FOUR Chicken House books, including Big Game and his most recent novel, Boy X – has stopped by the blog to share his top tips for aspiring writers.

What would be your five top tips to budding writers?

1. Read, read, read. If you’re not a reader, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll never be a writer.

2. Write, write, write. It sounds obvious, but you’ll never be a writer if you don’t write anything - and, like many other things, writing takes practice.

3. Write with confidence and assurance and let your imagination run wild. Write the kind of book you would want to read.

4. Don’t wait for inspiration. Just write.

5. Be yourself and don’t spend too much time listening to advice from other writers.

For those hoping to take part in NaNoWriMo or enter the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition, what would be your best tip for writing something every day?

Just write. Don’t give up. Writing is hard work and there will be times when you don’t feel like it, but you need to find a time, sit down, and write. The words you put onto the page might be the most awful rubbish you have ever written (or they might be the most excellent) but they will be words on the page and you will be closer to your goal. Words on the page can be reshaped or deleted during the editing process, but no writing is just a blank page. So don’t ever give up.

Enter the Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition to be in with a chance of winning a £10,000 publishing contract! 

NaNoWriMo Nov Day 18: Lucy Strange

Posted by Jazz on Friday November 18th, 2016

Today the author of the stunning The Secret of Nightingale Wood, Lucy Strange, is sharing her top writing tips for all aspiring writers.  (more…)

NaNoWriMo Nov Day 17: Natasha Farrant

Posted by Jazz on Thursday November 17th, 2016

Next up is Natasha Farrant, author of the Pride & Prejudice-inspired Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride & Prejudice, sharing her top tips for writers!

What would be your five top tips to budding writers?

1. Read extensively. Other writers are your best teachers.

2. Always have pen and paper (or other note taking device) handy. You never know when inspiration will strike.

3. That said, writing is a discipline. Sitting around waiting for inspiration never finished a novel. You need to put in the hours. It also helps to develop a routine.

4. Leave some time – at least a week, preferably a month – between finishing and re-reading. When you do re-read, be prepared to be ruthless. Accept that you will never get it right first go.

5. Read what you have written out loud. You will be amazed how much it helps.

For those hoping to take part in NaNoWriMo or enter the Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition, what would be your best tip for writing something every day?

Be disciplined.  Set yourself a target number of words every day, and stick to it. Even when it feels like you’re writing rubbish, stick to it. Bad words are better than no words at all and anyway, this is just the beginning of the process: the real work starts with the rewrites!

Enter the Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition to be in with a chance of winning a £10,000 publishing contract! 

NaNoWriMo Nov Day 15: Louise Gornall

Posted by Jazz on Tuesday November 15th, 2016

We're halfway through NaNoWriMo November! Today it's the turn of Louise Gornall, author of the fantastic Under Rose-Tainted Skies, to share her top writing tips!  (more…)

NaNoWriMo Nov Day 14: Catherine Doyle

Posted by Jazz on Monday November 14th, 2016

Today the fantastic Catherine Doyle, author of the deliciously dark Blood for Blood series, shares her top writing tips ... (more…)

NaNoWriMo Nov Day 13: Alyssa Sheinmel

Posted by Jazz on Sunday November 13th, 2016

Today it's the turn of Faceless author Alyssa Sheinmel to share her five top writing tips for aspiring authors – take it away, Alyssa!

What would be your five top tips to budding writers?

1. Read. Read writers who wrote the type of writing that you’re trying to do yourself.

2. Read. Read writers whose work you look up to, whose stories might be very different from the stories you’re trying to tell, but who tell their stories so well that just reading them feels like a writing lesson.

3. Read. Do research on the story you’d like to tell – read articles, essays, interviews, the works.

4. Read. Pick up something a friend or teacher recommended that you’d never have thought to pick up otherwise – an author you’ve never heard of, a genre you never thought you’d be interested in.

5. And if all else fails ... Read. I honestly believe that every single thing I’ve ever read has taught me something about how to tell a story: books that I’ve loved and books that weren’t necessarily my cup of tea. Novels and non-fiction. Essays and articles. Even – and I really mean this – textbooks. Ideas can come from the most unexpected of places.  A textbook taught me to insert humor into a dry topic. Magazine articles have prompted (sometimes completely unrelated) story ideas. Novel after novel has shown me beautiful and unexpected sentences. Essays have improved my vocabulary. For me, the essential thing isn’t always what I’m reading; sometimes it’s just enough that I’m reading. It’s still (and I suspect always will be) the piece of advice I most often give to myself about writing: just sit down and read.

For those hoping to take part in NaNoWriMo or enter the Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition, what would be your best tip for writing something every day?

For me, I find it’s incredibly helpful to set a manageable goal for the day. That way, if I exceed my goal, I feel great, but even if I only just barely meet it, I still have the satisfaction of completing my day’s work. This can be a word-count-goal, or a chapter-goal, or just a getting-through-a-scene-goal – whatever feels right to you.

Enter the Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition to be in with a chance of winning a £10,000 publishing contract! 

NaNoWriMo Nov Day 12: Chris d'Lacey

Posted by Jazz on Saturday November 12th, 2016

We're 12 days in to NaNoWriMo now so those novels should be starting to take shape! If you need a bit of an extra boost, check out the top tips from Chris d'Lacey, author of The Unicorne Files series.


NaNoWriMo Nov Day 11: James Nicol

Posted by Jazz on Friday November 11th, 2016

Happy Friday! As a start-of-the-weekend treat the lovely James Nicol, author of The Apprentice Witch, has only gone and shared his writing advice – perfect for those hoping to do a NaNoWriMo sprint this weekend! (more…)

NaNoWriMo Nov Day 10: C.J. Skuse

Posted by Jazz on Thursday November 10th, 2016

Today the fabulous C.J. Skuse is stopping by the blog to share the 5 things she thinks every new writer should know ... (more…)

NaNoWriMo Nov Day 7: M.G. Leonard

Posted by Jazz on Monday November 7th, 2016

One week of NaNoWriMo is already gone! If you're in need of some extra inspiration, check out these writing tips from the bestselling author of Beetle Boy, M.G. Leonard ...  (more…)