Friday, 26 March 2010

SCBWI Undiscovered Voices Winner: YONA WISEMAN


Yona's winning novel 

by Yona Wiseman

What can one of the rich and popular do when he loses all that makes him so? How do you hide from the mess your life has become? Run away; become invisible, rechristen yourself and disappear among the shadows on the streets. And when it turns out the shadows have eyes? What do you do when you discover that you can’t live in a vacuum after all?
The journals of 13 year old Diego and his friends tell the stories of their quest to find him and his quest for survival in a darkly twisted underworld where he is far from invisible.
When Diego hits the streets of Lima they are more dangerous than they have ever been. His new friends have new enemies to add to the old. But who is cleansing the streets of babies and pregnant girls? Is it teenage muscle man and illusionist King Yo or is an even more sinister foe at work?

Hi Yona and welcome to tall tales & short stories. 
Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself?

I get itchy feet, can’t stand still, before long I’m off somewhere in the world; somewhere in my head; in someone else’s head; in a book…

What inspired you to write your book?

I lived in Peru for an incredible two years teaching wealthy Peruvian youngsters in an international school while also volunteering with an organisation that worked with street kids. The similarities of their dreams and interests inspired me as much as the stark contrasts of their realities. These were all children of immense personality and I knew I had to write about them. The idea of telling the story through journals was inspired by the actual journals my students wrote during those two years. I was fascinated by the odd variety of things they chose to write about.
So Becoming Invisible began with the characters and the setting of Lima, with the main character moving from a life of luxury to a life on the streets. From there the characters took the story their own way. I am currently correcting their work, cutting the story to size.

Would you like to tell us about your experiences since finding out you were one of the winners?

I missed the message on the answerphone on the Friday so I knew nothing until Sunday evening, which happened to be my nephew’s 5th birthday. The whole family were gathered and I barely knew the phone had rung until my brother handed it to me. By the time he followed me into the other room I was pulling mad faces and performing an award-worthy silly walk as I tried to concentrate on listening rather than screaming with excitement. I heard my brother report to the other room: I have no idea who she’s talking to but it’s obviously exciting news.

I must have been giggling as I thanked Sara of SCBWI (sorry I don’t even remember which Sara it was – Grant or O Connor). By the time I hung up, my brother was back, with my sister and my parents – all desperate to know what had me in such a tizz. It was of course that Becoming Invisible had been selected for SCBWI’s Undiscovered Voices 2010. I was a winner! I knew how successful the previous winners had been, I had followed their progress after failing to come anywhere myself in that first competition (2008). Now my second book has earned me a golden ticket. My chance to get an agent and/or a publisher. Just need to find the right ones now…

The launch party was a celebration as well as a networking opportunity and I concentrated mainly on celebrating – playing to my strengths. Networking is something I have to work on.

Having agents ask for the full manuscript is a major step forward already and the feedback has been incredibly useful.

How long have you been pursuing your writing ambitions? What have you done, if anything, to improve your writing? 

I have boxes of mini-books and half-completed novels going right back to the stolen exercise book, only 5 years younger than me, featuring the story of a family of oranges. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t write and back then I was even brave enough to do my own illustrations. I studied film at college and the script writing courses were my first exposure to critique groups – they were also my most successful modules. Other than that, various SCBWI events and writer’s festivals have provided my greatest opportunities for learning my craft. (The local writer’s group rejected my application to join…)

What made you think ‘I want to write for children?’ Is it a genre you enjoy reading? 

I started writing for children and reading children’s books as a child and never grew out of either.

Which authors/stories did you enjoy reading as a child/teenager? 

Everything! My favourite time of year was the summer holidays when the local library held their reading competition, which led to me discovering new wonders daily.

If you could recommend one recent children’s or YA novel what would it be and why?

Nicholas Dane by Melvin Burgess because, while dealing with the subject of child abuse, it manages to be brutally real and yet uplifting.

If you have signed with an agent can you say who?

I haven’t signed with anyone yet – still looking for the elusive ‘one’

Yona's blog can be found at Daylight Procrastinator


Nick Cross said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick Cross said...

I had exactly the same experience of not knowing which Sara I was talking to that day! In fact, at the time, I didn't know there were two of them! Blame it on high spirits...

You had to apply to join a writing group? I think you had a lucky escape there, they sound scary!

Good luck,

Paula Rawsthorne said...

Hi Yona,
It's great to read about the inspiration behind your book. The extract grabbed me straight away. I hope one day I'll get to read all of Becoming Invisible. Good luck with finding the right agent for you.

Jane McLoughlin said...

Such a great story, Yona! Glad to have met you at the celebration... I've got to work on the networking thing, too. Keep in touch, and keep trying to get Becoming Visible a wider audience. It will happen! XX JANE

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