EVENTS Journey of a Book

What is an agent or publisher looking for when they read submissions? How easy is it for writers to become published authors? Is it a help or a hindrance to write with a northern voice? These were just some of the questions answered by a fantastic panel at the north west region’s Journey of a Book event back in September. Report by Susan Brownrigg.

The panel event (held in Manchester Business School) was an opportunity to hear from three successful authors along with the professionals who have made their publishing dreams happen. And what a panel! Publisher Bella Pearson (Guppy Books), Editorial Director Rachel Leyshon (Chicken House), as well as authors Anna Mainwaring, Louisa Reid and Marie Basting – all members of SCBWI BI and north-west based – were open and informative in their comments.

The Journey of a Book panel.

The panellists each gave a brief summary of their careers to date before answering questions from host Catherine Whitmore (network co-ordinator). Anne Clark, Rachel Leyshon and Bella Pearson also generously delivered a series of 1:1s after the panel event.

Marie Basting described her editor Rachel Leyshon as ‘her everything’. She explained that her debut novel Princess BMX was the first thing she ever wrote. “I took voluntary redundancy and joined SCBWI. Princess BMX started out as a picture book.”

She did an MA in creative writing at MMU and realised the book would work better as a middle grade novel. Marie found a publisher before an agent, which is unusual. (She speed-pitched at SCBWI conference to Rachel Leyshon who loved it.) She then signed with agent Kate Shaw because she wanted to keep writing and editing separate from the business side of publishing. “An agent can deal with the icky stuff while you have a nice relationship with the editor,” she said.

Anna Mainwaring Clark explained that she had followed a more unusual route to publication. Her fantastic funny British debut YA novel Tulip Taylor followed on from self-publishing her YA comic book The Life and Loves of Jesobel Jones.

Anna’s agent Anne Clark secured overseas publication of that book (now retitled Rebel with a Cupcake) in Canada and France and it will be published in the UK in 2020. Anna joked how she had been drawn to her agent Anne Clark as they share a surname.

She went on: “Anne got back to me really quickly and said she liked my writing, but my original MS needed some work – which it did. She has really championed me and has believed in my work. I would not have had my deals without her.”

Louisa Reid explained that she had had ups and downs on her publishing road. “I got my original agent through chance. I emailed her and said, would you like to read my book? It was an adult book. That didn’t get taken on and she didn’t like my next idea, a YA paranormal. But she loved my next book, Black Heart Blue.”

That book was published by Penguin Books as part of a two-book deal. Louisa had been waiting some time for feedback on her new book Gloves Off. She took it to a north-west SCBWI crit group, and they loved it. “I thought, ooh I can still write!” Over time her relationship with her original agent ‘fizzled out.’ She is now represented by Hilary Delamere.

Louisa had an established relationship with Bella Pearson (she edited Louisa’s book at Penguin.) Now Bella was setting up her own company — Guppy Books – and she wanted to publish Gloves Off as her debut title. Gloves Off has recently been nominated for a Carnegie medal!

The panel was asked about the current market. Bella’s advice to writers was: “Write the stories you want to write and need to write. Let the publishers keep an eye on the market.”

Bella Pearson. (Picture credit: Ian Wallman)

The panel felt there is a deluge of middle grade at the moment, which is brilliant for readers but that makes it very competitive. There is a ‘bigger space’ for YA writers. Asked about cultural appropriation narrowing what publishers would print, Bella said it was about doing thorough research, being aware of sensitivities. “I edited Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay. It is about doing the best job you can. That story needed to be told. There was still no way she could know what a boy 100 years ago was going through.”

Rachel said writers should consider, “Is it your story to tell?”

Marie explained that she had attended a Society of Authors event where there had been an appeal for editors to employ sensitivity-readers earlier in the process: “They said, ‘please, don’t leave it to the copyedit stage.’”

Marie Basting (left) with editor Rachel Leyshon.

All three writers were interested in writing female characters that weren’t the norm. Marie wanted to smash gender stereotyping. Louisa wanted a character that was emotionally and physically strong and able to express that. Anna wanted to flip the stereotype of what a teenage girl is and show her strengths and hidden qualities.

The panel were also asked if a northern voice was ‘not as saleable?’ as this had been received as feedback from another professional. Rachel said she loved the northern voice. “I love natural voices, Marie’s writing sounds like Marie. It’s wonderful.” Bella agreed, saying a northern voice “was an advantage.”

A response that was certainly welcomed by the audience!

*All panel photos: Susan Brownrigg.


Susan Brownrigg is a Lancashire lass who loves to visit Blackpool – the setting for her current middle grade mystery. She has also written children’s books set in Madagascar, Peru, Cambodia and the Congo. Susan was an Undiscovered Voice in 2016 and won the Margaret Carey scholarship in 2015. A former journalist, she now works full time as a Museum Learning Manager and loves dressing up! Susan is SCBWI north-west network co-ordinator with Catherine Whitmore. @suebmuseum 


Fran Price is events editor for Words & Pictures magazine. Contact her at

1 comment:

  1. Interesting report Susan! These reports are great to read if unable to attend an event, so please keep coverage of events coming! Interesting and reassuring to know that Northern voices are wanted.


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