Word Count 42: New children’s fantasy prize, mentoring scheme for TV writers, and the Afronauts on pre-writing

by Suw on April 4, 2023

Plus creating internal conflict, the risks of BookTok, British Fantasy Awards news, and much more.

Hi there,

The sky is a beautiful expanse of blue as I write this and I expect today to be a good day for light aircraft watching out my office window. I particularly love seeing the bright yellow Slingsby Fireflies from the local formation flying club pass in groups of two or three. My office doesn’t have a great view, but I bet the Firefly pilots do.

Suw’s news: New sections on Substack

I was taught a bit of a Substack lesson recently that has led me to do a little rearranging of the furniture to make things more comfortable for you. I had a lot of people subscribe after my essay on the risk of LLMs to the publishing industry, but after realising that my general newsletter isn’t LLM-focused, lots of them left. That’s absolutely fine because I’d rather someone unsubscribed than marked my emails as spam, but it made me realise that you would probably like more control over which emails you receive.

I’ve thus created two new sections for Fiction and Essays which you can subscribe to (or unsubscribe from) separately to the main newsletter. I’ll also do the same for the Fieldwork project once that kicks off, which will hopefully be next week.

If you want to fine tune your subscription, just visit your settings page and turn off the emails you don’t want to receive.

Opportunity: The Oxford/Pushkin Children’s Fantasy Prize

The Oxford Centre for Fantasy and Pushkin Children’s Books are collaborating on a new book prize to mark the 50th anniversary year since the death of JRR Tolkien. The winner will receive £2,000 and mentorship with an editor at Pushkin Children’s Books, with four runners up also receiving prizes.

The prize is open to unpublished novels for middle grade (9+) and young adult readers, written by early career authors who are either unpublished or who have published no more than two books, and who have “not received a contract with an advance from a publisher for fiction”.

Entries cost £5 and the deadline is 23:59 on 31 May 2023, so you have plenty of time to polish your manuscript.

Notably, “The work submitted must be the author’s original work (no AI generated prose or assistance and no plagiarism).” I think such clauses are going to become very common now that AI is getting good, but I do wonder how they are going to enforce this.

Opportunity: The Jed Mercurio Mentorship Programme

Jed Mercurio, writer of Line of Duty, Bodyguard and more, has launched a mentoring program for early career screenwriters which will provide mentoring to 6-10 mentees in the first year. Mercurio will be joined as a mentor by Emma Frost, Jack Thorne, Marnie Dickens, Steven Moffat and Vinay Patel.

The scheme is open to anyone who lives in the UK or Ireland, but outside of London, and they are particularly interested in applications from writers from a low-income background. There’s no entry fee, and the deadline for submissions is 21st April 2023 at 5pm GMT.

Stop, look, listen: Afronauts – Pre-Writing: Vibes, Worldbuilding, and Character Arcs

I do love getting a little peek behind other people’s writing curtains, and this episode of Afronauts does not disappoint! Chelsea Gayden, Jill Tew and Beatrice Iker talk about how they approach “pre-writing”, which is what they call all the background and prep work that some authors do before diving in to the actual writing bit, and it’s a fascinating conversation.

I was particularly interested in their idea of “vibes”, or the overall tone and feel of the story, because I’ve always thought that’s an emergent property of the combination of world, character and plot. But that said, I did start a private Pinterest board as part of my prep for my novel (though I rarely looked at it), and I do tend to have some sense of comps which then does inform my vibes. Maybe that’s something for me to think more about!

Still, the entire episode is great and full of ideas for how you can develop your story before you commit words to paper. Give it a listen (Spotify link)!

What I’m watching: Creating internal conflict

This brief video from Mary Robinette Kowel explores how to develop internal conflict for your characters by exploring their “ability, role, relationship and status”, and putting “two aspects of a character in conflict with each other”.

Read this: George Walkley on Geopolitics, Publishing, TikTok

George Walkley examines the publishing phenomenon that is BookTok and asks what would happen to publishers if TikTok just… went away? It’s not an absurd question, given the currently antsy geopolitical climate in which no one trusts China and China trusts no one.

But it’s not just TikTok. All social media platforms have become a lot less effective for promoting books (or, indeed, anything else). They all punish posts that include links that lead people off the site, which has seriously damaged their ability to drive traffic. The lesson here is obvious, but one that many people have still not grasped: Do not build your house on someone else’s land.

Nominate here: British Fantasy Award noms open

Got a favourite fantasy novel that was published in 2022? Nominate it for a British Fantasy award via their handy online form.

Twitter threads of the week

Twitter was awash with awesome threads this week, so here are three I loved:

WAIW? Knowing when to stop

Over on Why Aren’t I Writing?, I wrote about knowing when to stop a writing session. We talk a lot about getting started with our writing, but think less about finding the optimal moment to stop. I suspect we could all do with learning how to find that sweet spot between getting lots done but leaving a bit to do the next day so that you’re excited about starting writing again.

Copurrnicus with a chipped fangObligatory cat picture

When I originally stuck a bird feeder to our lounge window, I did it as a way to keep our indoors cats entertained. It never occurred to me that Copurrnicus would get so overexcited that he’d launch himself at the window and chip one of his fangs. However, this does appear to be what happened.


His hunting technique has not improved any now that he has a garden to play in. He just launches himself at the birds as if enthusiasm can make up for being far too far away. At some point he might work it out, but I’m not holding my breath.

That’s it for this week.

All the best,



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