NEWS Crystal Kite winner Frances Tosdevin

Elizabeth Frattaroli talks picture books, the path to publication, and writerly advice with Frances Tosdevin, who won this year's Crystal Kite Award. The annual Crystal Kite Award is a peer-given award to recognize great books from fifteen SCBWI regional divisions around the world. UK and Ireland members can vote on their favourites to win the region’s SCBWI British Isles award. The award is for traditionally published books which were published in the previous year. (There are other SCBWI awards for self-published authors, listed on the SCBWI website.) 

The Bear and her Book by Frances Tosdevin

Elizabeth: Congratulations on winning the Crystal Kite award with your gorgeous rhyming picture book, The Bear and Her Book, illustrated by Sophia O’Connor. Can you tell us a little more about the book and your writing career to date? 

Frances: I’d be delighted to! The Bear and Her Book is a lyrical rhyming story about a book-loving bear, who sets off to see the world. She takes one special thing with her — her Bear’s Big Book of Being Wise. When she meets different creatures on her travels, all in need of her help, she discovers that books aren’t just brilliant at fixing problems — they can also help you to make new friends. And, if you’re lucky, books can take you to a very special place indeed. This story became my debut picture book, and I wrote it for a competition run by UCLan Publishing in 2020 which was to find a book about their foxy mascot, Finney. That’s right, my original story was about a fox with a book, not a bear! Although I didn’t win the competition, the publisher Hazel Holmes got in touch to say that she would love to publish the story, and would I consider changing the main character from a fox to another animal? We had a think, and both felt that a bear was the perfect animal and now I couldn’t imagine this story any other way! It’s like it was always meant to be about a bear! 

After getting the offer from UCLan in early 2020, I had another piece of good luck in the autumn when, following a one-to-one with Lucy Brownridge of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books (through I Am In Print 121), I received another offer of publication. I couldn’t believe my luck! At this point, I knew I was in a better position than I had ever been before to approach agents. I was fortunate to receive offers, and signed with my agent fairly quickly.  

Elizabeth: You were on the shortlist with Maisie Chan’s Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths and K. L. Kettle’s The Boy I Am. How did you feel when you found out that you had won?

Frances: I think, crazy-happy shock and disbelief, probably sums it up best. I certainly spent the day with a huge grin on my face! It was a huge honour to be on the shortlist alongside two wonderful authors, and I still can’t really believe that The Bear and Her Book has won! 

Elizabeth: What one thing stands out about being a part of the Crystal Kite 2022 shortlist? 

Frances: I just felt a happy glow that people had liked our book enough to vote for it. It was so unexpected as SO many fantastic books were entered. If I can sneak in one more thing, though, it's that I was very pleased that the shortlist comprised one picture book, one Middle Grade and one Young Adult book. That way, hopefully there was something for everyone. 

Elizabeth: We’re often told that it’s more difficult to get published with rhyming picture book texts than those written in prose because of problems when it comes to selling the rights and translations, for example. Was this something you came up against, and was your journey into publication longer or shorter than you expected? 

Frances: Yes, I’ve certainly heard that it’s harder to sell a rhyming text due to the added problem of translation. However, if a text is strong, it can withstand being translated, possibly into prose, even. So far, I have sold four texts, two rhyming and two prose, which is great, as I enjoy writing in both! My journey to publication was much longer than I had imagined it would be when, way back in 2016, I took my first picture book course and naively assumed that getting an agent would be straightforward and quickly achievable — how wrong I was! Over the next four years I took several more courses and wrote a large number of texts. You really have to just keep going and, as they say, 'You have to be in it to win it’.

An Artist's Eyes is Frances's second book - published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books

Elizabeth: Your latest book, An Artist’s Eyes, illustrated by Clémence Monnet, was published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books in April this year. Can you tell us a little of what you’re working on now?

Frances: I like to work on several texts simultaneously, and I’m currently writing a mix of new prose and rhyming stories. I’m also revisiting older texts and editing them — sometimes it’s easier to see what’s not working when you have put some distance between yourself and the text. 

Elizabeth: Do you have any advice for those in the early stages of their career? 

Frances: Oh, several things! Firstly, don’t give up writing — you may have moments when you want to, but stick with it! Secondly, do some courses or classes if you can. Join SCBWI, of course, and find yourself a lovely critique group. Apart from that, read widely in your chosen age range and genre, and begin building contacts on social media. Writers are lovely people, and you will find lots of support there! 

Elizabeth: Thank you for chatting with me, Frances, and congratulations once again. 


Frances Tosdevin studied Classics at Cambridge University and worked as a journalist in the Middle East before starting to write for children.


Elizabeth Frattaroli is a YA and MG writer who lives by the sea near Dundee. She has been longlisted in the Bath Children’s Novel Award, the Mslexia Children’s Novel Award and the WriteMentor Children's Novel Award. She is on Twitter as @ELIZFRAT.

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