2016 SCBWI Spark Award for Denise Deegan

We’re very excited that writer Denise Deegan, a member of the SCBWI Ireland chapter, has won the 2016 SCBWI Spark Award for her young adult historical novel of love and war, Through the Barricades. The picture book winners are writer Kara Levin and illustrator Vlada Soshkina for Soldier.

“These are both excellent examples of self-publishing, which we hope will help raise the bar on this aspect of our field.” - Lin Oliver, Co-Founder of the SCBWI

Along with the Spark book seal, each winner has opportunities to promote the book through the SCBWI and to attend a conference tuition-free! SCBWI Irelands Regional Advisor, Colleen Jones interviewed Denise for Words & Pictures.

What is the Spark Award?

The SCBWI Spark Award recognizes excellence in a children’s book published through a non-traditional publishing route.

For the past few years, the SCBWI British Isles conference has included a Spark track in its program. The conference team is listening to member feedback and fine tuning what is being offered to help the professional development of writers and illustrators who opt to self-publish their work.

For guidelines on how to enter a qualifying book for the 2017 Spark Award, see http://www.scbwi.org/awards/spark-award/

Who is Denise Deegan?

Denise is based in Dublin, Ireland, and writes for adults and teens. She has traditionally and self-published books with Penguin, Random House, Hachette, and Lake Union Publishing. Her Butterfly Novel series is extremely popular. She also writes contemporary family dramas under the pen name Aimee Alexander, which have become international bestsellers on Kindle.

Last year, I read The Whale, The Goldfish and Señor Martin a short story prequel to the Butterfly Novel series and was blown away by the quality of the writing and the book design. I didn’t know anything about Denise at the time, but became an instant fan after reading her short story.

CJ: What made you choose WWI and Irish Independence as the backdrop for Through the Barricades? How much research did you do and how was it getting immersed in that world and time period?

DD: I’m a rebel at heart. I’m also very proud of my Irishness and the fact that I’m female. I wanted to write a story about a strong and passionate girl who was prepared to sacrifice everything for an Ireland she believed in. I also wanted to write about a boy who was prepared to sacrifice everything for the girl he loved. I didn’t set out to write about WWI, but a country’s history never happens in isolation of world events. Ironically, my favourite part of Through the Barricades is in Gallipoli during WWI.

I researched this story for two years and loved every minute of it. I read widely, my favourite finds being witness statements by people who took part in the Easter Rising and a factual account of the actual regiment of Irish soldiers I’d chosen to write about.

For two years I lived in the early 1900s. I occupied a world of war and revolution. I saw it, smelled it, tasted it, touched it, heard it. Breathed it. I was in the trenches on St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin on a chilly April night as gunfire exploded from a nearby hotel, waking rebels to the treacherousness of their positions. I was in the trenches with the men in Gallipoli. I felt their fear, boredom, homesickness, thirst, optimism, and pessimism. I felt a real connection to those young Irish men in the trenches of Gallipoli. Still do. Some day, I’ll visit those ghostly Turkish beaches. There will be tears. There is no question about that.

CJ: Did you have a critique group or buddy who helped you with the early drafts? What are the benefits of peer review?

DD: Actually, yes, I showed early drafts to friends I met through the world of publishing. Their input was hugely beneficial. I also got help on the research and factual side. I hired a professional editor. Then when I had my final draft, a lovely group of friends got on board to help track down every typo, every error. I am hugely grateful to everyone involved. Through the Barricades was a team effort, and I am so grateful for that.

CJ: Why did you opt to self-publish this particular book?

DD: Two deadlines! The centenary of 1916 was almost up, and the cut-off date to apply for the SCBWI Spark Award was also looming. I have huge respect for the SCBWI, and it has always been a dream to be recognised by it in some way. The Spark Award really got me over the line in terms of publishing the book! I never dreamed I’d actually win!

CJ: Who edited the book? How did you choose an editor?

DD: I hired Katie Green, a wonderful freelance editor. I worked with Katie on one of my traditionally published novels and found her amazing.

CJ: All the covers of your books are very professional and eye-catching. Who designed the cover art and blurbs for your latest book? How did you choose a designer/illustrator?

DD: Thanks so much, Colleen. That’s lovely to hear. The incredibly talented Rachel Lawston designed the jacket of Through the Barricades. I found her name on a list produced by Bookbub. The girl on the jacket is my daughter, Aimee. The photo was taken by the wonderful photographer Emily Lyons. I wrote the blurb. There is a whole story behind the making of this cover! It’s featured on a great website for writers called Women Writers, Women’s Books.

CJ: What are the risks and rewards of self-publishing versus using a traditional publisher?

DD: The real key is visibility. It’s down to how visible you can get your self-published book, on Amazon in particular. That does take effort and marketing, but the rewards are definitely there. What I find wonderful is the transparency. At any time, you can see how many books you are selling and where. Having this data at your fingertips means that you can monitor how your marketing is doing, what works, and what doesn’t. You can adapt accordingly, which gives you great control.

Every book has its journey and that can include many publishing experiences. One of my adult novels, The Accidental Life of Greg Millar, was originally published by Penguin. I self-published it when my rights reverted. It was then picked up by Lake Union Publishing. I love the fluidity of the market. I think the important thing is to make the book as good as it can be, and then get it out to the world, however you can do that.

Congratulations on winning the SCBWI Spark Award, Denise! We look forward to reading more of your work!

You can follow Denise Deegan on her blog or Twitter and find her on Facebook and Instagram.

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