SCBWI+ The Margaret Carey Scholarship


This time on the SCBWI+ series we have a two-for-one with Susan Brownrigg, network organiser for the North West. In 2015 she was awarded the Margaret Carey Fiction Scholarship, and she then went on to be an Undiscovered Voices winner in 2016. Elizabeth Frattaroli spoke to her about how she feels these two SCBWI awards influenced her writing and publication journey.

Hi Susan! Can you tell us about how your success in these awards came about?

I started writing short stories in school and then first attempted a novel at university, so my love of writing has always been there. But I started writing for kids when my sister became pregnant in 2000. I hadn’t heard of SCBWI at that point, and there was a time that I stopped writing altogether out of frustration, but the stories in my head wouldn’t leave me alone. Then I found out about Undiscovered Voices. I joined SCBWI in 2008 to enter this, and in time also found out more about what SCBWI offered, as new members, especially, don’t always know about the grants and awards. I also loved reading Words & Pictures for more information. 

I started to attend regional North West meetings in 2015, when I was just beginning to realise how much I still had to learn. As a working-class writer, my experience was that a lot of people didn’t know there was this kind of support out there. It also made it difficult to attend the conference, which felt completely out of reach, so I was thrilled when I found out I had won the Margaret Carey Scholarship. Although I never knew Margaret, I knew she was so well thought of and much loved, so that made it even more special. And it was actually around the time of the conference that I also found out I had been longlisted for Undiscovered Voices. 

What was the application process for the Margaret Carey Scholarship?

I submitted a 400-word statement on why I wanted to go to the conference, along with the opening chapter of my middle grade book, Girl Churns Up Trouble, which was also the book that was selected for Undiscovered Voices. This was a story about a 13-year-old girl travelling from China to medieval Cambodia in search of the Royal Treasures. It was the third MG historical fantasy that I’d written.

What were your key takeaways from attending the conference?

I felt that I was surrounded by people who had really good advice to give, and that wasn’t just the agents and editors, but also colleagues. Also, I picked up lots of tips and learned so much from the fringe events (including ‘How to Pitch’ on the Friday), the keynote speakers, workshops, my 1-1 and a crit session. I also made some new friends, and in fact it was the friendships and welcoming environment that were so important, especially as a first-time attendee. Straight away I knew that I wanted to make it a priority to attend again, and so every year since I have saved up to go.

And you said that you found out you’d been longlisted for UV around the same time; how did you feel when you found out you were one of the winners?

When I found out I’d made it through, I was on my mobile and I couldn’t really hear them properly so it was a bit surreal, but then I figured they wouldn’t be ringing to say that I hadn’t won. I was over the moon and straight on the phone to my mum, as she’s always been my biggest cheerleader.

So SCBWI members obviously see the UV announcements and all the buildup, but as a winner, what is actually involved?

First of all, we had a training day in London in preparation for the UV party, feedback from the judging panel and more in-depth knowledge of what we needed to work on, as well as pitching practice. Then we went back down for the party itself. I was definitely the most nervous person at the UV party, especially at that stage in my writing career and, as a bit of an introvert, found the thought of being expected to go up to strangers and talk about myself and my book terrifying, awful and painful! I’d be more comfortable doing something like that now. But a few people took me under their wing and introduced me to agents and editors. The UV writers and illustrators arrived before the rest of the guests, and then Natascha Biebow welcomed everyone and Chris Snowden from Working Partners, the sponsor, also said a few words, followed by an introduction video from Honorary Chair Sally Gardner, and a speech from Sarwat Chada, who was a past UV winner.

And how did you feel on the night?

It’s easy to feel pressure, as if everything’s resting on it and that you have to make the moment matter, but there had been some agent emails in the run-up to the party asking for full manuscripts, and I had a feeling that Girl Churns Up Trouble was perhaps the wrong book at the wrong time. You see some people doing really well and others not getting the same interest, and that’s been my experience of the awards and grants, in that it was a huge boost to my confidence and confirmed that I had something to offer, but that I had to rethink what  I was offering at that time. It sometimes doesn’t change your world, but it’s still a fantastic experience.

How did it affect your writing? Do you think Gracie would still have been out if it hadn’t been for your award experiences?

No, probably not. I was hearing advice saying to write what you know and to think about who you are… but ignored that and wrote another book, based on the Congo, which I then put away in a drawer. But, after that, I wrote my Blackpool book, Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest, which was Northern and working-class. However, I still wanted it to be slightly magical, full of colour and light, exciting and a bit exotic, and I stuck with a historical theme. You have to realise that it’s a business and that what you are writing has to be marketable and commercial, and I think I was initially pushing back against that a little.

When I didn’t get picked up at the time it was a bit of a disappointment and helped develop my thick writer hide. However what it also did was make me realise that I might not get published, but that I still wanted to keep writing, and that was a big thing. Plus, if I hadn’t had past disappointments, I wouldn’t be where I am now and I’m really, really happy. With competitions like this, it’s all a question of taste. No matter how long it takes, you just need that one person who believes in you and your book.

Your debut was published this year by Uclan Publishing. What advice would you have for anyone looking to submit to SCBWI scholarships or awards?

Go for it! You don’t lose anything by giving it a go. If nothing else, it gives you a deadline/focus/hope and keeps you going. And even if you’re not successful on that occasion, it’s still lovely seeing the success of friends and fellow SCBWIs.

Everyone’s path is different. I’m very happy with Uclan, but it’s easy to get so focussed on trying to find an agent that you don’t realise there are still opportunities out there without having one. Always look for opportunities, use the internet and social media, and take advantage of all the SCBWI benefits. But also, manage your mental health around all the highs and lows – you’re allowed to have a bit of a cry now and again. Disappointments are part of your journey and sometimes they’re for the best. You’re on a rollercoaster with lots of ups and downs, but the only way to get there is to keep persevering!

Cover by Jenny Czerwonka
Cover art by Jenny Czerwonka

The Margaret Carey Scholarships (PB and MG/YA) are open to current members of SCBWI British Isles who seek professional development and show great promise in their work, but who are financially unable to come to the SCBWI BI annual conference. You can find out further information here:

For further information about Undiscovered Voices you can find the website here:

* Photo credits: Susan Brownrigg 


Susan Brownrigg, author
Susan Brownrigg is a Lancashire lass who grew up in Wigan and now lives in Skelmersdale. She has fond memories of daytrips and holidays in Blackpool as a child and still loves Blackpool. Her favourite Pleasure Beach ride is the River Caves – it cannot be a coincidence that many of Susan's books settings feature the same locations!

After a degree in Journalism, Film & Broadcasting at Cardiff (UWCC), Susan was a Liverpool Echo weekly titles journalist and chief-sub editor for 10 years. She changed careers in 2009 to work in heritage education. She is now Learning & Community Manager at Norton Priory Museum & Gardens in Runcorn. She has also worked at Rufford Old Hall, Tatton Park, Quarry Bank Mill, Catalyst Science Discovery Centre and Blackpool Zoo.

Susan Brownrigg's debut children's novel, Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest, a historical middle-grade mystery set in Blackpool in 1935, was published by Uclan Publishing in 2020. 


Elizabeth Frattaroli is a YA and MG writer who lives by the sea in Broughty Ferry with her husband, young twins, and a cat shadow called Willow. She has been longlisted in the Bath Children’s Novel Award, the Mslexia Children’s Novel Award and the WriteMentor Children's Novel Award, and has twice won the T.C. Farries Trophy at the Scottish Association of Writers’ annual conferences. As of 2020 she is also a Golden Egg with the newly launched Golden Egg Academy Scotland. 

Elizabeth on Twitter: @ELIZFRAT

Writing for Children: @SCBWI_BI Scotland and @GEA_Scotland and 1/3rd of @ChasingTimeScot Writing Retreats

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