This month, Anne Boyere highlights the Central West network, country of the Malvern Hills, Warwick Castle and the Staffordshire bottle kilns, as illustrated here by Carly Allen-Fletcher.

Name: Central West

Counties:  Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, West Midlands, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Derbyshire, Nothhamptonshire

Key contacts: Elton Mckenna  is the Network Organiser and Clare Bell, in Elton's words,  an "all round lovely person and stalwart of Central Wests Picture Book group"!
You can get in touch at or join the Facebook Group (please get in touch with Elton via the Central West email to be added to the group).

Recent Events

Author Kate Mallinder talked members attending her event, A Clear Voice, through what is meant by voice, reading and dissecting examples from children’s fiction, and offering practical hints and tips on ways to strengthen a voice. Her debut novel Summer of No Regrets has been described as delicately balancing humour, sensitivity and diversity through the four, individual voices of a group of teenage girls as they embark on different journeys.

What have our members been up to?

After years of trying, Ian finally broke through with his first book Noodlebag and the Sticky Grenade, a middle grade adventure/fantasy. Believing in his book, Ian fought back in the face of rejection, honed his craft and returned to the fray when he saw indie publisher March Hamilton had their submissions window open. Out of 150 entrants, Ian's was the only one to be offered publication because "they loved its energy and life" so much. After feeling like he'd climbed Everest, Ian is very proud of his achievement and encourages others to keep going because, when it finally comes, Ian says, "the view from the top is amazing!" Noodlebag and the Sticky Grenade will now be released in 2021.

Kate Mallinder has had her second novel, Asking for a Friend, published. She says:

The past twelve months have been a whirlwind for me – topped and tailed with books – my first and my second – and sandwiched between have been school events, panels, chairing a panel at YALC, being reviewed in a national newspaper, my first World Book Day as an author and Zoom classes around the world. It’s been amazing, and would have been beyond the wildest dreams of the Kate who turned up nervous to her first crit group seven years ago. It’s been the support and friendship of those people who have carried me through.
Jude Warr-Arnold won Mslexia! Jude told W&P she's always been fascinated by researching life in prehistoric times, mostly for her own entertainment, but lately as an exciting context for adventure stories. After some confidence-boosting professional praise, she decided to rework an old manuscript for middle-range readers, The Liar, and try it out at a national level. Feeling on the crest of a wave, she also thought she'd try out a completely untried novel. Putting both in with nothing to lose, she forgot all about them. When she received a letter in January saying that not one but both had been long-listed, however, she was absolutely delighted. And in March, when she found out both had been short-listed, she admits a certain amount of quiet bragging took place. But then, when she was asked to take a call from the editor of Mslexia, she thought the dream was over.

I genuinely assumed, how thoughtful it was to commiserate and encourage. She may have been disappointed at my reaction, because I couldn't take it in. I had won! June, and it was announced officially, and I still couldn't believe it. A cheque, an actual cheque in my hand, enough to finance a life-dream trip to Japan, or research for a follow-up book in the Canadian wilderness. More importantly, this meant now I could really, deep down, call myself an author. 

And of the two books entered, which one won? My Own Spear, My Own Fire. The one sent in on a whim! As Jude says, "Always go with 'Oh why not?", and quite rightly so because you never know what might happen.

Juliet Clare Bell had two picture books for Pearson (to go with the National Curriculum) coming out in April 2020 and was commissioned to write 24 books for early readers for Collins. Clare recounts how it all started with becoming accountability partner with a fellow SCBWI member at the beginning of 2019. They each created a twelve-month plan (using Productivity Planners) of what they needed to do to be able to continue to be freelance children's writers, and they committed to Skyping for an hour a week to discuss what went well and what didn't. They also committed to critiquing each other's manuscript once a month, and to look for and share lots of writing-related opportunities. 

We both took this accountability really seriously. I also discussed it with my agent, asking him to look out for any opportunities he could so that I could continue to be a freelance writer. It all felt a bit scary at first but it turned out really well for both my accountability partner and me. 

Clare also won an RLF Fellowship which gives her time to write in exchange for working with students from the University of the West of England for two days a week (remotely at first) and a Society of Authors grant for a narrative nonfiction book Clare is working on.

I can't stress how much this has all got to do with having an accountability partner that I trust implicitly where we encourage each other in a really structured way. 

Clare told Words & Pictures she's also very excited (but slightly nervous) about a picture book that will be coming out in July, with the difficulty of not being able to do any of the things for it that she would have done without the lockdown. The book is called Ask First, Monkey! (illustrated by Abigail Tompkins, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2020). It takes a lighthearted look at consent for young people. Clare says it's a subject very close to her heart and that's been a long time in the making.

Clare concludes with:

When I finish my edits tomorrow, I'm taking a really proper break to be with the children as I've had very little time with them throughout lockdown. I can't wait to do simple things like clean the house and turn our overgrown garden into a place where friends and family can come and sit with us.

Emma Finlayson-Palmer was officially accepted in April for the Room 204 programme with Writing West Midlands.

From the website:

Room 204 is our annual writer development programme which allows writers from across the West Midlands to develop their skills through mentoring, networking, one-to-ones with Writing West Midlands staff, performances and access to the wider Room 204 network of over 130 writers. It has been running since 2012, and we recruit annually. Writers join for an initial year, but their membership never expires and we will continue to support Room 204 writers for as long as they wish us to. 

A big thank you goes out to Rachel Campling for all her hard work in running the critique group down in Brackley - "Thank you, Rachel!"

Tiny Tree Books published BB Taylor's Vigilante Tooth Fairy.

Book four in the Brian Brackbrick series by Garry Dix is coming soon!

Author Olivia Levez will be a mentor with the WriteMentor programme for 2020. You can find some Corona Write in Prompts on her website.

Catherine Ward graduated from the Golden Egg Academy and got representation with Lucy Irvine at the Peters Fraser and Dunlop (PFD) Agency.

Anna Moutran was picked for the WriteMentor Summer Programme and is looking forward to showcasing her work to agents in September.

To help out newly homeschooling parents during lock-down, Catherine Cooper, author of the award-winning The Golden Acorn, decided to not only offer the e-book as a free download but gave the accompanying, learning resource pack away for free too.

Picture book writers Liz Marchetti and Ali Oxtoby have had the time to try their hand at illustrations. Liz got her work featured in Words & Pictures and Ali illustrated her latest picture book with felt images and featured it in her first-ever YouTube video.

Sarah Baker has had promising conversations with agents over her picture books and is beavering away to make changes.

And Jessica Colliver is putting her Masters in Neuroscience to good use by researching a recipe for the perfect picture book. Think many will be interested to know the outcome of that!

Notable literary location in Central West?

The notable literary location we’d like to draw attention to is perhaps a tad unexpected – Oldbury, Sandwell (near Dudley). After being adopted by a Black Country family in the late ‘30s, the world famous and award winning children’s author, Allan Ahlberg, was raised, and spent his formative years, there. Along with his illustrator wife Janet (deceased), Allan has over 150 books, with titles such as the award winning Each, Peach, Pear, Plum (1978 Kate Greenaway Medal for Janet’s illustrations), the Funny Bones (1980) series, and the ground breaking The Jolly Postman (1986).
Many of these books were influenced by the Black Country, with Allan identifying himself as the baby in Peepo! Allan is still writing today and his first novel for adults, The Bucket (2014), tells the story of his upbringing in Oldbury. Allan sits on the Council for the Society for Authors.

Nb. Carly added a small Gandalf at the side of the header illustration as a nod to Tolkien's time in the West Midlands and the influence of the Birmingham countryside on Lord of the Rings.

Shine a Spotlight on…

This year, we in Central West would like to shine a light on all the people who’ve kept plugging away and never given up. Not just during lock-down, but all year long and the years before that.

The ones who’ve been knocked down and fought back with a writing course, or an independent report, or with galvanised determination to visit more schools to build their audience, or even to enter more competitions. Despite their age or background, or whatever limiting factor they’ve perceived themselves to have.

It takes a lot of bravery to pick yourself up, swallow that, sometimes, gut-wrenching rejection and carry on. So our spotlight shines on them.


It would also be hard to ignore the fact there’s been a global pandemic included in the last twelve months. What a nightmare it’s been for many people in so many different ways. No one could’ve been prepared for it, so it’s been amazing to see and hear of all the grit and determination people have shown.
But what an inspiration it’s been too.

Those who’d just had books released, or were about to have, found ways to promote and launch regardless. Those who need the support and contact of others for their inspiration found Zoom! Those who suddenly had a house full of kids and parents soldiered on, reshuffled and found a comfortable chaos to make it all work.

From learning new languages to learning the ukulele, this all goes to show how strong and adaptable the people of Central West really are. They should commend themselves and draw a lot of strength from it.

Header image: Carly Allen-Fletcher


Carly Allen-Fletcher is a freelance author and illustrator from the Midlands. Carly mostly works in children's publishing, creating picture books about our beautiful world. Carly also does freelance work on book covers and more. Carly's colourful work is a combination of traditional media and digital painting, mixing together hand-drawn elements, painted textures and graphic shapes, inspired by nature, science, myth, and magic. Carly Allen-Fletcher is the author-illustrator of: Animal Antipodes, Beastly Biomes, Goodnight Seahorse, Goodnight Forest, and the illustrator of The Big Bang Book and Bat's Midnight Feast.

Anne Boyere is a writer and a breastfeeding counsellor. She is fluent in English and French but, please, don't ask her to do maths in English or her brain will fry. You can ask her about her four children, husband and cat and she will happily tell you all about them until you beg for mercy. She won the 2018 Winchester's Writers' Festival prize in Funny Fiction for her story about a grandmother were-cow and was shortlisted in the Writers & Artists' Writing for Children and YA 2019 competition. In her spare time, she murders violin pieces or dreams about being invited to Desert Island Discs (spoiler: her book of choice would be Eloise).
Twitter: @AmusedNonQueen

1 comment:

  1. Haven't we been a busy lot! Like Elton said, good to celebrate any small step as well as the big ones x


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