Barry Cunningham, Managing Director of Chicken House Publishers and discoverer of Harry Potter.

barrycunningham‘Children’s publishing is going through a second Golden Age.’ BARRY CUNNINGHAM announced.

The children’s writers of the past, Roald Dahl and Spike Milligan to name two of Barry’s conquests, knew how to get inside a child’s head, but also when to accept that the adult knew best.

These days children as readers are much more respected. 36% of all book sales are children’s books. Over half of Young Adult books are bought by adults. 78% of these for their own reading satisfaction. What does that tell you about adult’s books? Publishers and writers both need to listen and respond to the requirements of their target market.

‘Publishing a book is very different from saying whether it is well written.’ he says. Barry stated that his job as a publisher is to find readers for his writers’ books. And if he isn’t able to find those readers, he won’t take on that book.

Ally Sherrick, one of Chicken House’s debut authors, entered the SCBWI 10 word pitch competition and answered correctly. Further reading of Ally’s draft gave Barry the idea of Ally’s ‘voice’. This is what captures the publisher/agent’s attention.black-powder-aw-2-195x3001

‘Access the child in you,’ he advises, ‘Go back and feel how you felt then.’ Play tricks with narrative.

Villains, whether that be the villainous situation or as an actual person is the most important character. Heroes come and go. ‘Harry is not as important as Voldemort.’

Dialogue is also important. Use it rather than description to show key moments.

For Barry, planning is precious. He has one writer who has killed off the same character twice! ‘Even so, she’s very successful’, he said. Perhaps chose to plan by listing your characters. You will have lots of information that may not go into the book, but it is important stuff to write down as reference that the writer needs to know.

Read your work aloud – this shows you where the weaknesses are.

When you submit your work, take a look at the writers already represented by your chosen agent. And compliment them! Do as you’re told.

Barry is exasperated that there are still some writers who don’t send 3 chapters, a synopsis and covering letter. Make the synopsis short – one side of A4 will do. Agents read hundreds of synopses. Tell the agent something about yourself ‘Perhaps not that you’re a motorcycling vicar.’ he says, but ‘what you have planned for your character’.

Everyone wants to know about book 2. Barry didn’t suggest that there might not be one.

Use the Publisher/Agents website. Here you’ll find details of competitions and open days.chickenhouselogo

The children’s market is fiercely competitive. But it is still an industry that does dreams. Chicken House relishes finding new voices and ‘if it is good enough, children will follow you through the back of the wardrobe’.

Ally Sherrick Debut Children’s Author of Black Powder

black-powder-aw-2-195x3001ALLY SHERRICK, debut author of Black Powder, a tale of gunpowder, treason and plot, a twelve year old boy and his mouse best friend was our speaker with Barry Cunningham, Publisher and Managing Director of Chicken House Publishing in Somerset., .

‘I hope you’re enjoying your MA course in Creative Writing as much as I did.’ Ally said to those Winchester MA Writing for Children students present at the inaugural meeting of the Hampshire Writers’ Society Sixth Season.

It was during her two year course that she re-discovered her creative seed which had been crushed by the professionalism of the past twenty years of ‘crust earning’.

At the end of her working day, ‘writing was the last thing I wanted to do.’ she said.

In early 2000 Mark Haddon, award winning writer of the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, suggested to Ally during an Arvon Course that the voice of the peice that she written for the course wasn’t written for children!

Ally didn’t despair. Instead she set about devouring books by other children’s writers, including Meg Rosoff, Plenary Speaker at this years Winchester Writers’ Festival.

When redundancy forced Ally to ask herself ‘What do I want to do with the next section of my life and with the backing of a supportive husband she embarked on the MA Writing for Children at Winchester University.

The MA opened up access to networks including SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators)

Her first novel, a sci-fi was finished. She submitted it and when it was rejected, she had the good grace to put it in her bottom drawer and move on. The story and the characters are the important ingredients’, she tells us, ‘it doesn’t matter where you set it.’ A SCBWI ten word pitch competition won her the attention of Barry Cunningham.allysherrick

Since then, she and the Chicken House team have worked, not always agreeing but stayed focussed. Together they brought Black Powder to publication.

‘Connect with your inner child’, Ally says, ‘My dial is stuck at age 11.’

Ally is now writing book two, a children’s book set in WW2.