Last night I went out for cheeseburgers with Pip Jones. We were celebrating.
Earlier this year I set up the Greenhouse Funny Prize in the UK and Ireland, a competition to find new talent in children’s writing. At Greenhouse we love all sorts of writing for children. We love edgy, biting YA fiction. We love big, clever concepts, and beautiful and heartfelt younger stories. We love quality. And there’s something that Sarah and I agreed that we didn’t see enough of: Funny. With the prize, I wanted to send the signal to new writers that agents and publishers are always looking for great funny voices, characters and concepts. I loved funny fiction as a child, and books which made me laugh were my route in to reading.
So I called up Harry who runs the Festival of Writing in York and asked if he’d sponsor the prize by giving a weekend ticket to the winner. I called up Leah Thaxton, one of the finest humour publishers, and asked if she’d be my co-judge. I called up a lot of people, and asked for their help in getting the word out. And I slightly put my head on the block by offering representation to the winner. I didn’t know what we would find, if we would even get any entries, and it felt like a bit of a risk, because really great talent doesn’t come along very often. But you have to put both feet in, don’t you?
The prize was open to residents of the UK and Ireland. Why did we limit it? We know people asked that question. The reason is simple – volume. We do everything ourselves, and we knew in the US we just couldn’t tackle the number of submissions. Maybe one day. When Sarah clones herself.
We got over 700 submissions to the prize. On judging day, Leah and I met in Nomad Books Cafe, each with a small pile of dog-eared, long-listed scripts (my pile pictured). And for a couple of hours we talked through our favourites. We drank tea, argued a bit but mostly agreed on our shortlist. When we got to the bottom of the pile, we both had our favourite to still reveal and we did it on the count of three. At the same time, out loud, our winner was Pip Jones and her book SQUISHY McFLUFF: THE INVISIBLE CAT, the story of little Ava and her adventures with her imaginary cat.
Even when we’d finished judging, and moved on to an Italian restaurant and a celebratory Negroni, we couldn’t stop reading bits out to each other. It was told in perfect rhyme, just right in every word and every meaning. And adorably, gleefully, cleverly funny as Pip creates a world where normal situations turn into brilliant and bonkers stories.
Last night Pip and I were eating cheeseburgers to celebrate her very exciting four book deal with Leah Thaxton at Faber Children’s Books. The first two SQUISHY McFLUFF books will come out in 2014, and a further two the following year, with a brilliant and inspiring marketing plan (told entirely in verse) from the team at Faber. So with milkshakes and onion rings we celebrated a great book, the right home and a job done well.
SQUISHY McFLUFF feels like a future classic to me, a forever book, and I can’t imagine a better winner for the first Greenhouse Funny Prize. I’m also working with several of the shortlisted writers, and have high hopes for their futures.
The Greenhouse UK Funny Prize has been so much fun to build and work on, and I’ll be running it again next year and every year. So if you or anyone you know is writing funny fiction for children, spread the word.
And you should be able to pre-order SQUISHY round about Feb ’14. 😉