Undiscovered Voices 2014 has Launched!

Undiscovered Voices 2014, the competition for unagented SCBWI members was launched last evening at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, in central London. The website is up where you can find out about some exciting new rules about eligibility and submissions for writers and illustrators. Find out about the judging panels, the honorary chair and the editors here.

Benjamin Scott opened with a few words about SCBWI, Words & Pictures and ‘story starters’ a new feature for the illustrator part of the competition. Charles Nettleton from Working Partners reminded us of Sarwat Chadda’s acute observation - 'The mind of a publisher is a strange and mysterious thing.'  and Sara Grant shared the exciting news that even wider distribution will be possible with the 2014 anthology because it’s going electronic and that US editors want to be on the mailing list. After introducing the panels, Catherine Coe chaired the discussions.

 Sally Anne Sweeney, Sarah Lambert , Ben Horslen,
Samantha Smith, Gemma Cooper 

What makes a manuscript stand out for you?

For everyone it’s VOICE, but also..

A gripping first paragraph, first sentence even, does it make the reader ask Why? 

Confidence, the feeling that the writer knows the world the characters and the journey they’re taking the reader on.

A brilliant, well-rounded, believable world

Does the writer show that reader that the character is worth the commitment to read the whole book?

  • Listen to yourself
  • Or get someone else to read
  • Read aloud

What should writers try to avoid in their extract?

Apart from the obvious - alarm clocks, waking up, weather, last night I had the strangest dream....

The rest of the opening paragraph not living up to an amazing first line.

An info dump, but info dumps can be ok if  rooted in character.
Copying a trend, I'm looking for new and fresh.

Are there any genres you’re looking for? 

Fiction for 9-12s and YA straight romance

Everyone wants to be surprised, so fresh and new.

Both Gemma and Sally are looking for fiction for 5+.

What have you recently loved and acquired?

A 1930’s boarding school murder mystery with a main character that jumped off the page sat down next to me and told me the story.

In the week before Bologna a story called ‘Half Bad’ with an amazing YA voice that with the first 2 chapters in the second person could have been gimmicky but wasn’t.

An alternative historical world – sort of Game of Thrones but with humour

An uncommercial  book, difficult to pitch with a lovely relationship between a little boy and his granddad.
A Scandanavian novel with the feel of Narnia and the Northern Lights and a plucky girl narrator.

  • Don’t write to trend.
  • Write what you love.
  • Don’t over think it.
  • Start with an exciting incident.
  • Watch the pace.
  • Make the reader want to       read on.
  • Don’t cram the extract with all your best bits.
  • Make every word count.
  • Don’t forget, readers can use their imaginations too.  

What was your favourite childhood book?

Danny Champion of the World
Little Women possibly because of the Christian Bale film, otherwise The Boxcar Children

The BFG and Rebecca’s World by Dalek creator, Terry Nation

Little Women and Mathilda


Frances Mckay, Helen Graham Cameron, Nghiem Ta,
Martin Salisbury

 How can a black & white illustration stand out? 

If it shows that the illustrator can draw, that they can draw the human figure and create a character with a range of emotions

Tone and light, fluid drawing evidence of lots figure drawing practice

Quality of the character and the line, sketch books are very important.

In black and white design the dynamics of the shapes are very important, you have to create colour through the distribution of black and white.

How should the illustrators use the story starters?

Illustrators should read all of them and allow themselves time to experiment.

Look at all of them and don’t be restricted by what you usually do. Create the characters. It will probably need many pages of sketch book work to feel your way into the character.

  • Look at the drawing in a mirror.

Tell us about an illustrator you’ve recently taken on. What do you admire about their work?

An illustrator, who after 20 years, still has a passion for the work.

I'm working with Shaun Tan and I'm amazed at what he can get away with! It's about having a good working relationship.

I enjoyed a book called I am an Artist 

Are publishers looking for specific styles?

Funky street kids and character creation

What makes a good 'moment' to illustrate?

Pictures must augment the text and ehance the experience.

Edward Ardizzone advised against illustrating the great dramatic moments. Don't replicate the text and don’t be too literal.

This was a free event, so if you were there on the evening and think I may have missed something significant, please add it in the comments. It's important that every eligible SCBWI member thinking of entering Undiscovered Voices 2014 can benefit from the excellent advice given by each panel.

Not yet a SCBWI member? You can join at the international site here.

Jan Carr is the editor of Words & Pictures. Her fiction is older middle grade, she blogs occasionally and loves to write in magenta.


  1. Thanks for the write up. It was a great event. Good luck everyone who is entering this year. Not sure whether to be sad or relieved that it isn't me.

  2. I'm intending to enter Undiscovered Voices, so thank you for passing on this interesting and hopefully useful info.

  3. Thanks for the great write up for those of us who were unable to make the event! Good luck to everyone who enters!!

  4. Very helpful to share this great advice here - thank you!

  5. Great writing tips to take on board.

  6. You're welcome Amanda, Katrina, Beth and Debbie :)

  7. I was there,and this is a brilliant summary with nothing missed, as far as I recall. I'm no longer eligible for UV, but learned a lot anyway. Good luck to all who enter!

  8. Good luck from me too. Undiscovered Voices is an amazing opportunity. Thank you to the great team of SCBWI BI volunteers who make it happen.

  9. Thanks Jan for your write-up. It gave us all a real feel for the event and some very helpful tips. Please don't forget the Undiscovered Voices night at the London Prof Series tomorrow - Tuesday.
    I won't wish everyone good luck, just write the best that you can and send it in!


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