EVENTS Oh! MG! Weekend Part 2

In the second part of our report on the Oh! MG! Weekend, all on Zoom, Events Editor Fran Price asked Sarah Broadley for some takeaways. Here she gives us a bullet point tour.

From a spark of an idea to publication….

Jasbinder Bilan and Peter Bunzl talked about their writing journeys.

How to stay true to your vision when an editor becomes involved? 

  • Take on board their suggestions, they may come up with something you hadn’t thought of before that makes your story even stronger. They are there to help you make it the best version possible.

How do you come up with your villains? Dark forces in your books – how does it evolve in a middle grade (MG) without scaring the reader?
  • The villain must have a personal motive
  • The moment when the villain clicks is when you work out what the stakes are for that character. How does this interact with the main character (MC)?
  • Key is to see them as 3D characters
  • Keep them believable
  • Ask them/quiz them on what they want and why are they doing this? So that they come across just as powerfully as the MC

Jasbinder Bilan. (Picture credit:

As MG authors, you have fantastical elements in your story, how does fantasy work well in MG?
  • Darkness can also be about the imagination rather than fantasy
  • There is usually a character that makes sure everyone is ok — the buddy/adult-type within the story
  • Humour can also diffuse the darkness in the story for MG readers 
  • Representation of a safe place/group of people — an adult could push the danger away which is why parents aren’t written into adventures
  • Remember who the story is about and keep the power in the children

Peter Bunzl. (Picture credit: @peterbunzl)

What are the pressures/process of writing a series?
  • Make each book stand alone 
  • Try to avoid a series arc that ruins the story if the reader doesn’t read all the books/get the full series published
  • It's more important to have a wide range of themes
  • MG story needs to end for each separate book 
  • Have different stories but variations on the same theme for each book in the series

Jasbinder Bilan is the author of Asha & the Spirit Bird and Tamarind & the Star of Ishta (both Chicken House), Peter Bunzl is the creator of the Cogheart series (Usborne) and Featherlight (Barrington Stoke).

Ask Me Anything!

This panel, with Jasmine Richards, Felicity Trew and Mo O’Hara, was for any writer with a burning question about writing MG. 

What is middle grade?
  • Try not to think about the age ranges too much. Book shops can use different signs which can confuse writers when getting the pitch right for their middle grade novels (Waterstones — 5 to 7, 7 to 9, 9 to 12 and teen/YA)
  • The confusion of this is interesting but ultimately the publisher will decide anyway
  • A rough idea of your expected readers’ age range is good to mention in your submission letter
  • If you really don’t know where your book sits, count the words and see which books it would sit beside on the shelf
  • When thinking of age range 5 to 7 — Rainbow Magic (4k words) — keep it full of energy as these are so hard to write with a maximum of 5k words
  • For the next age group (7 to 9) keep it around 15k words
  • For those in 9 to 12 area, interest levels differ between both ends of this bracket so it’s usually a shorter word count of around 30k words rather than the Pullman/HP books of around 60-70k

Word count isn’t equal to the sum of work

Jasmine Richards. (Picture credit:

Any advice on pacing?
  • Depending on the tension you want to create, shorter chapters can help with pacing. MG needs to have that to urge the story on and keep the reader interested
  • Alternating chapter lengths can be really good for a story
  • Use the freedom of the word count to explain the first hint of adventure and also address complex and emotional issues as the story unfolds


I love the many age ranges and word counts of MG, long may it continue

Books in the market seem to be for the older MG age. Is it now too crowded? 
  • The market cannot be written to. My ear is always on the ground. Yes, it’s crowded and publishers are looking for the younger end of the market but sometimes publishers don’t know what they want either.


You have to write what you want to write

Felicity Trew is a literary agent at the Caroline Sheldon Agency, Jasmine Richards is creator of Story Mix Studio and author, and Mo O’Hara is a New York Times best-selling author and SCBWI member.

*Header image: Jez Timms,


Sarah Broadley lives in Edinburgh with her family. She has two cats that bring her ‘presents’ whilst she writes in the wee hours of the morning. Sarah writes picture books and middle grade novels and is a member of SCBWI Scotland and the Society of Authors. Sarah chats with creatives on her Words & Pictures feature Writers’ Minds and wins invisible prizes for her outstanding procrastination skills.


Fran Price is Events Editor for Words & Pictures magazine. Contact her at

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