My Pitchwars Wishlist


It’s PitchWars! So happy you're reading my wishlist!

Just be aware…if I sound serious don’t be deceived. There’s nothing I love better than a good laugh, but it's my first year here and, much like a first novel, I'm getting painfully earnest at times.

But Pitchwars is worth getting earnest about, right? After all it's ultimately about getting your, as yet undiscovered, great middle grade books into the hands, hearts and minds of young readers.

So Who Am I ?

  • Author of The Lost Celt, Gosling Press, Goosebottom Books, 2016 (Gold Medal winner Military Writers Society of America.)
  • Children’s book specialist at indie bookstore, Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA.
  • Freelance editor. See testimonials here
  • School book fair book talker for Book Passage: September-December each year I spend up to three days a week talking to children in schools about the new books I love. My role: to get kids excited about books. Added benefit: they tell me about the books they love.
  • Host of children’s book club, Ink, in which I assist 20-25 8-13 year olds plot and write their own group novels. We are on the third in our Dragon Mist trilogy and I’m expanding the program for our older graduates.
  • Member of the M’Ladies of the Book critique group, which hosts the Better Books Marin intensive writing conference every year. 
  • English Literature and Language graduate and postgraduate (MPhil.) Leeds University, UK.
Looking for a blue the ? Look no further!

Kelly barnhill quote.jpg
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I love MG!

MG novels are my passion. They address fundamental human experiences and values; life and death, good and evil, right and wrong, our common humanity, the nature of friendships and family, belonging, bravery and love.

Adults often say that a book changed their lives, but middle grade books actually create who we are. The books we read during the ages 8 to 12 become part of our psyche: the leaf mold of our adult minds. Look back at the books you fell in love with, and I can pretty much guarantee the themes, ideas and characters that electrified you as a child are recurring in your own work today. They probably inform your world view and your deepest convictions, too. I’m not the only person who thinks this. If you don’t trust me then how about listening to Kelly Barnhill or Jeanne Birdsall.

This sounds a huge responsibility, and it is, but everything that made you fall in love with books is already deep in your consciousness, waiting to come out. Update it, challenge it, infuse it with your new passions and beliefs, and you’re going to have a great novel.

What's My Style?

Clothing-wise, as any of my friends will tell you, I have no style... unless it's blue. I try to wear other colors, I really do, but I generally end up in blue.

As far as editing goes,  I’m a developmental editor. I use track changes, even though it constantly crashes. I will pepper your MS with questions about your plot, your world building, your characters’ motivations, the emotional through line, themes, pacing and stakes. I’ll also question word choices, historical/geographical accuracy etc.

  • I plan to read your MS in a week to two weeks using track changes.
  • I’ll write a checklist of my overall thoughts with major issues/changes/suggestions.
  • If you are up for it, I suggest that we “skype” to talk this over. I’d rather talk than try to craft a “perfect” editorial letter. I’ll be really nice, but I will also be honest. 
  • We will agree a date for a final read through to catch any other issues and agree any other deadlines/stages we need. I will not be able to do a line by line edit, but I do catch a lot as I edit.

I’m looking for someone:

  • who's not defensive and who loves to collaborate and throw ideas around.
  • who’s not looking for answers directly from me (though I’m happy to make suggestions) but will find their own solutions.
  • who’s ready to roll up their sleeves, be open to suggestions and make big changes (cuts and additions) if needed. 
  • who knows that their words are there to serve the story and that their characters’ emotions and motivations drive the plot, not the author.

My aim is for us to collaborate to make your book the best it can be to honor your future readers. It may be that you do not get an author and agent this Pitchwars, but I'm hoping that you will have learned a lot and your MS will be in much better shape.  If you have a great MS then the rest will follow. If you are OK with this approach then we will have a great time.

I can't pull off the red headscarf btw

I can't pull off the red headscarf btw

What Makes me fall in Love with a book?

Anyone with a tattoo of Aslan is a friend of mine. Thanks Jim for letting me take this photo in The Mountain Play Beauty and The Beast make-up line!

Anyone with a tattoo of Aslan is a friend of mine. Thanks Jim for letting me take this photo in The Mountain Play Beauty and The Beast make-up line!

Yay for MG!

Yay for MG!

As a middle grader, I fell in love with The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. I remember exactly where I was when I read it and how I felt. As you know, it’s about walking through a wardrobe into a magical world. For me, just opening the covers of that book was like walking  through the wardrobe. It was the most magical experience I’d ever had.

In short, I’m looking for any book that takes me into another world and makes me want to stay there, whether that world is historical, cultural, magical, or geographical. Great world-building is key for me. And I’m looking for a whole community, or just one soul, that I’ll end up empathizing with. I want to fall in love with characters I might never have met or understood without your book.

Humor and heart: I love anything that makes me laugh, anything that makes me cry and everything that does both at the same time. I know. We hear so many editors and agents saying this that it drives us mad, but it holds true. Primarily, I read a book to be moved.  Make me cry or laugh and I will thank you and remember your book forever.

Here’s a list of a few childhood and current favorites, so you can get my pulse.

Childhood Favorites:

The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

Stig of the Dump, Clive King
When Marnie was There, Joan G. Robinson
Charlotte Sometimes, Penelope Farmer
The Owl Service and Elidor, Alan Garner
Viking Dawn, Road to Miklagard, Viking Sunset, Henry Treece
The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliffe
The Silver Sword, Ian Serralier
Children on the Oregon Trail, Rutgers van de Leoff
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl

Current Favorites

Wonder, R. J. Palacio
Ghost, Jason Reynolds
The One and Only Ivan, The Wish Tree, Katherine Applegate
Secret Horses of Briar Hill, Meghan Shepherd
Wolf Hollow Lauren Wolk
Our Only May Amelia Jennifer Holm
Inside Out and Back Again, Thanhha Lai
Echo, Pamela Munez Ryan
The Wednesday Wars and OK For Now, Gary Schmidt
Private Peaceful, Butterfly Lion, An Eagle in the Snow, Michael Morpurgo
Kit’s Wilderness and Skellig, David Almond
Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson
The Blackthorne Key, Kevin Sands
How to Catch a Bogle, Catherine Jinks
Rooftoppers, Katherine Rundell
Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefwater
Navigating Early, Clare Vanderpool
Three Times Lucky and The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, Sheila Turnage
Under the Egg, Laura Mars FitzGerald
A Tale of Camelot: Mice of the Round Table, Julie Leung
Ratscaliber, Josh Lieb
P.K. Pinkerton and the Deadly Desperados, Caroline Lawrence
The Diamond of Drury Lane, Julia Golding

Non-fiction and YA books that reveal a bit more about my tastes

Port Chicago 50 Steve Shienkin

In the Shadow of Liberty, Kenneth Davis
The Boys Who Challenged Hitler Phillip Hoos
Octavian Nothing M T Andersen
Midwinter Blood, Marcus Sedgwick
Picture the Dead, Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown
If You Come Softly and Behind You Jacqueline Woodson
Grasshopper Jungle and The Alex Crow, Andrew Smith
The Raven King Cycle, Maggie Steifwater
The Sun is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon
Lips Touch Three Times Laini Taylor
How I Live Now Meg Rossof
Maggot Moon, Sally Gardiner
Bloody Jack, L. M. Meyer
Words in the Dust, Trent Reedy
Salt to the Sea, Ruta Sepatys
The Luxe Series, Anna Godberson

I'll Give you the Sun, Jandy Nelson

So What Am I looking For?

  •  Stories that link the present to the past in either direct or mystical ways, and stories that travel between the past and the present. Books that recognize the influence of history/family experiences on our lives/minds/ideas. This includes ghost stories, myth/folklore-linked stories, magical realism and multiple narratives. These are the books that give me chills!


  • Historical fiction: Send me books that bring a hitherto unknown story or character from history into focus and you will make me very happy. I want to hear voices that haven’t been heard and histories that have been suppressed. This includes LGBTQ histories. I’m always grateful to be immersed in a historically accurate place/voice. I also welcome anything with a gothic sensibility.


  •  War stories: I’m not interested in the glorification of war and militarism, but I do want to read and understand how people are caught up in, survive and make sense of war wherever they are in the world, past and present.


  • Classic adventure/magical stories. With books that have a fantastical element I tend to like them anchored in the real/human world in some way. I really want to see more girl/diverse protagonists, casts and settings in this genre.


  • Stories set in the UK. I'm English, so if you have a novel set in the UK, I'd love to read it. In these days of fake news, I feel it's more important than ever not to make assumptions about the way other people live and to be accurate in the way we portray other countries and settings.

Or maybe I'm looking for the next big hamster band story.

Or maybe I'm looking for the next big hamster band story.

Horror, high fantasy and science fiction are not a good fit for me, although I have my postgraduate degree in the works of Mary Shelley.

I read to escape and enter new worlds, so I do not gravitate towards MG contemporary novels as a rule.

I was going to say that I do not like anthropomorphic animals BUT my list of favorite books says otherwise. I have a soft spot for rodent stories it seems. Give a mouse a sword and I’m with you all the way.


And Finally…

You should really know that I love musical theatre, (Urinetown, Les Mis, Hamilton are some faves). I act and sing in community theatre with my entire family and have done since my kids were 4 and 8. I've just been a candlestick in Beauty and the Beast. I collect antiques, especially antique buttons. (18th century buttons are my "unaffordable, but I drool at the pictures obsession. Click to see my pinterest page at your may be overtaken by this passion, too.) Take me on vacation and I'll visit every historical site and museum I can find. Films are my comfort art form after books. If they feature Benedict Cumberbatch all the better. UK comedies, dramas and costume dramas are also deeply reassuring...recently I've been loving Victoria, the Crown and Last Tango in Halifax. I eat chocolate and chocolate cake (GF) frequently, and I drink Barry's Irish tea. 

I’ll Say Again,

We’re in this together! Contact me with any questions @ConranAE. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.