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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition, Joy McCullough-Carranza, and how YOU can win a publishing contract!

*In honor of Joy's accomplishment, the following will stay up as both my Tuesday and Friday blog post, so that more of you can read it and wish her luck with the remainder of the competition!*


Okay, let me back up a little...

The Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition is an amazing opportunity, and authors from all over the world sent their manuscripts for consideration between April and October of 2012 (same timeline for the 2013 entry period). The competition is open to all unpublished, unagented writers and one lucky winner will see their manuscript published by Chicken House with the backing of a leading literary agent.

The Chicken House is a small, highly individual children’s book publishing company in the UK with an enthusiasm for new fiction, founded by *Barry Cunningham* in 2000. The international reach of the company is thanks to its association with the world’s largest children’s publisher, Scholastic Inc, who bought Chicken House in 2005.

*That would be THE Barry Cunningham~ the man who picked up, read, and signed JK Rowling's Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone (UK title)*

Following weeks of reading, deliberating and debating, the Chicken House readers have selected a longlist of just 21 incredible manuscripts. The next stage of the competition will see Barry Cunningham select a shortlist of five manuscripts which will be read by a panel of expert judges. The winner will be announced in March. There are links at the bottom of this post with information about how YOU can enter the competition this year. Here's where it gets very cool...

Joy is on Twitter @JMCwrites and she's really trying to get more interactive with the writing community, so say hi, please! Her website is www.joymcculloughcarranza.com
Joy was kind enough to let me pester her with some questions.  

How did you find out about the London Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition, and what prompted you to enter the international contest (Joy was the only American to make the longlist)?

You know what? I don't remember! I saw a link on a blog or writing website - one that I don't frequent regularly, but somewhere I just happened to pop onto. I followed the link and was very intrigued when I saw who Chicken House published. I was kind of embarrassed about entering, though - it cost me a bit between the entry fee and the overseas shipping, so I felt like I was totally wasting money and it was ridiculous of me to enter. But now I'm glad I did!

What did you do to celebrate making the longlist?
There was definitely some happy dancing. Not much more. I found out a few weeks before I was allowed to really announce it, but there was some very excited emailing with awesome CP's. :-)

Tell us about your longlisted manuscript, FRAMED:
Sure! Here's my query:

While 12-year-old Charley loves escaping her dull-as-dirt family to hang out in her aunt’s art gallery and get lost in great paintings, she never expects to literally get lost inside a painting. Of a swamp. And get chased by a hungry crocodile.

When she escapes the crocodile (and the painting) only to discover that her Aunt Sapphire’s been accused of a major art heist, Charley realizes her freaky new ability to travel inside works of art just might help clear her beloved aunt’s name. After all, there are plenty of paintings on the walls of the Art Institute, where her aunt was captured on security cameras and then never seen again. Maybe someone inside a painting can tell Charley exactly what happened the night her aunt disappeared.

But before she can clear Aunt Sapphire, Charley has to find her. And to do that, she’ll have to get past seventeenth century Belgian pickpockets, witch-hunting Puritans in the New World, not to mention the diabolical thugs who may have set her aunt up in the first place (and who are after something a lot more sinister than stolen paintings).

Part historical adventure and part fantastical mystery, FRAMED is a 43,000-word novel for middle grade readers, which references all real paintings ranging from Titian to Goya to Seurat.


Did you go through a traditional query process with the MS before/while entering the competition?
Um, yes. I have queried FRAMED to around 45 US agents and while I have gotten 13 requests, 9 of those have already come back as no's. 4 are still pending, but I had definitely begun to give up on the manuscript when I found out about the Chicken House list.

Barry Cunningham is a big name--here's a little quote about him from JK Rowling:
‘If it wasn’t for Barry Cunningham, Harry Potter might still be languishing in his cupboard under the stairs… I doubt any of the writers with whom he has worked could be more grateful to him.’ 
How does it feel to know that he personally chooses the short list?
Oh my gosh. I don't even. No matter what happens, the thought that Barry Cunningham personally read my manuscript just absolutely floors me. He tweeted that all the manuscripts on the long list were "fascinating" and that had me walking on air for days. After so many agent rejections (and not just on this manuscript), this has been the first confirmation from inside publishing that my work doesn't completely suck. (It may be unpublishable, but it doesn't suck. :-)

Tell us a little about your fabulous self:
Before I came to kid lit, I studied theater at Northwestern University and wrote plays for fifteen years. But then my daughter was born, and she was obsessed with books from a very early age. By the time she was three, we were reading E.B. White and Laura Ingalls Wilder and C.S. Lewis and more, and after reading these amazing books aloud for literally hours a day, it's no wonder that stories began to come to me in fiction form. So now I write middle grade fiction. FRAMED has magical/adventure elements, but my other manuscripts are contemporary.

What are you working on now?
I'm working now on a middle grade contemporary based on my own childhood friendship with an amazing girl who went on to become a competitive swimmer, a classical guitarist, a culinary school graduate, and an acupuncturist - and she's blind!

I've also been spending far too much time at the sewing machine lately, racing to finish a Harry Potter quilt for my daughter's birthday. I'm almost as proud of the quilt as I am of FRAMED! Though now that it's just about finished, I should be able to finish up the first draft of my WIP.


Best of luck to Joy~ we hope you make the shortlist and then win the whole shebang!!





  1. YAYYYYYY Joy!!!!!!!!

    FRAMED sounds so amazing. Barry Cunningham is a lucky man to get to read it!!


  2. Congratulations to Joy! That is so exciting! I'll be crossing my fingers for her - the book sounds great.

  3. Wow. So excited for you Joy! And dang, that sounds like a great story.

  4. Thanks so much everyone! Especially Jess - who is an amazing CP and has been with me and FRAMED from the very beginning! (I'm so terrible at blogs - it says I'm signed in with my Google account, but then it calls me unknown. But it's me!)

  5. Good luck to Joy! I love a lot of Chicken House books. Fingers crossed for her.

  6. All the best to Joy! It sounds a great story!


  7. Congrats, Joy! So exciting! This sounds like exactly the sort of thing I would love to read, and then recommend to everyone I know. Hopefully, it gets published soon so I can do just that!


  8. Hurrah, Joy! I was so excited when I heard about this, and it's fun to get even more behind-the-scenes dirt about the whole process here. I remember back in my own playwriting days that I did much better in British and Irish contests than I ever did in American ones. I guess those overseas judges just have a sharper eye for new talent. ;)

    Best of luck in the next round--and no matter what, this is a great accomplishment (and addition to your querying bio)!

  9. Great query - made me want to read the book! Congratulations to Joy :)

  10. Wow what a great quilt!

    And big CONGRATS to Joy! That must be such a great feeling. Well now she has this accolade to add to her query, so that's HUGE!And really, I just love the premise. Too fun!

    Thanks for sharing with us, Jess!

  11. Congrats to Joy, and it sounds like she sure fills her days between writing and quilting.

    I hope your week goes well Jess.

  12. Congratulations Joy! It looks like an incredible contest.

  13. CONGRATS JOY!!!!! Best of luck in the next round!!! What an amazing opportunity!

  14. WOW - amazing news! And that quilt is wonderful. Joy is quite a talented lady. Fingers crossed she's THE ONE chosen.

  15. Very cool stuff and I did see the toad. Neato.

  16. Congratulations, Joy--what exciting news! And glad to meet you. Thanks for introducing us, Jess :-)

  17. Thanks again, everyone! I'm anxiously checking my email every day for news of the short list, but nothing yet!

  18. Oh my goodness i love her premise! Being able to get inside art! So brilliant and with a great title too. I hope she wins because I really want to read this.

  19. Wow! That's absolutely thrilling. Congrats to Joy and wishing her the best of luck in the competition! :-)

  20. Thanks, so much! And thanks to Jess who has been so awesome and supportive!

    Still no news ...

  21. That is truly awesome - the quilt and your amazing news! Good luck, Joy...and you have a good friend here...nice write-up :)

  22. This is awesome news. I recognize the publisher from Cornelia Funke's books. My fingers are crossed for your friend, Jess.

  23. I think I looked at this a couple of years ago, soon after I first started writing, and it was only open in the UK so I was so frustrated, but I think it's open worldwide now so maybe one year I'll enter it! Best of luck to Joy!

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