Sunday, 18 December 2016

Larisa Villar Hauser - Winner of the July 2016 Slush Pile Challenge

Image result for Photo of Larisa Villar Hauser
Larisa Villar Hauser
 Larisa Villar Hauser entered our July 2016 Slush Pile Challenge set by Felicity Trew from Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency. 

Larisa won this challenge by demonstrating she was able to produce a brief synopsis and first chapter of a fantasy novel to appeal to 9-12 year olds.  It had to have wonderful characters whose adventures we wish to follow; it needed to be set in a world with its own habitat and rules. Think 'The Magic Faraway Tree' by Enid Blyton. It could have been high fantasy that took itself very seriously or light with humour. All the agent/judged asked for that you fed her need. (Or if you're not a fantasist just tickle the agent's/judge's humour with anything funny). 

Larisa tells us why she entered the competition and all about her experience of discussing her submission with Felicity. 



To say that the last year has been challenging is an Academy Award in understatement. A horrible anus, to paraphrase the Queen. Life has been all over the shop, and my submission to the July Slush Pile Challenge fit right in. It was last minute, with no conviction about the possibility of winning and an undercurrent of confusion of whether I was sending off to Slush Pile or Opening Lines. I steadied my brain just long enough to read the submission guidelines and email a first chapter and synopsis. For the final edit I had taken myself off to a local coffee shop and distinctly remember walking in, a ball of tense exhaustion, and saying 'I need somewhere to hide'. The staff member took one look at my face and said, 'I know exactly what you mean' then whisked me off to a dark, deserted corner. And not in a straitjacket. 

So why submit now, amongst all the madness? I hadn't before. Thing is, I met Felicity Trew at the Book Bound Retreat in May and was majorly impressed by her enthusiasm and utterly spot-on feedback on people's pitches including my own [make sure you have a Mrs Trunchbull, a really good baddie,' she said]. I'd been struggling with which direction to take my writing for months and in some ways, sending off to the Slush Pile Challenge was a desperate cry for help. With little hope of being heard. 

Then I won. And, for the first few hours, couldn't read the whole email because I was worried it would disappear. Totally irrational. Yet still no straitjacket! In the subsequent Words & Pictures piece and an email, Felicity was unbelievably complimentary and enthusiastic about my opening chapter. She really wanted to read the rest - and that's when the bubble burst. I had sent the first chapter of my WIP so only had the first (self published) book and knew that wasn't going to seal any deal.

Felicity had enjoyed the energy of my submission, the confidence of the voice and how it drew the reader straight into the story's world.

Friends told me not to worry - but I knew. Because you do know, right?

It was a little while before the meeting with Felicity happened so I had time to ask myself what I wanted to get out of the meeting. The little voice (still no straitjacket!) that whispered 'an agent contract' was easy to silence because it was clear that no such thing was remotely on the table. So I went into the meeting really wanting to understand the difference between writing that is met by clear agent enthusiasm and writing that might, for some, ignite a spark but doesn't light any fires. 

Felicity was very generous with her time, thoughts and experience. She is a star and any writer would be lucky to have her fighting their corner. The meeting became some kind of turning point. Not the first, or the last - the next part is up to me.  

But I came out of the meeting with a clear idea of how I need to take my novel forward.  

Specifically to my novel, this involves bringing out the humour and clearly directing the work at the younger end of middle grade.  

More generally, I am trying to write every scene/chapter using this mantra: EXPLAIN NOTHING, DRAW READER IN WITH VOICE, ENERGY, ACTION AND SUSPENSE.  

If I can do this then there is hope that I will, finally, be able to bring out the book that exists in my mind. And if I'm really lucky I'll get there without ending up in a straitjacket! No guarantees. 

Huge thanks to Felicity, and the SCBWI team for creating this opportunity. 



Thanks Larisa.  The Words and Pictures editorial team wish Larisa all the best with polishing her manuscript.  A special thanks to Felicity Trew at Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency (www.carolinesheldon.co.uk) for setting, judging and providing such valuable feedback to Larisa. 


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