When we opened Storytime for submissions from contributing writers last year, we had one clear objective – to find good stories that would inspire brilliant illustrations. We didn’t care who a writer was or where they came from or what they had done before. In fact, we always make a point of ignoring the email body copy and reading the attachment first. If a story is good, then we go back and find out more. But the story must always comes first.
So, it was quite a surprise when we read The Leopard that Lost her Spots, liked it, and then discovered that it had been submitted by a 12-year-old girl. What we saw in Beatriz Poyton’s story was originality, charm and potential, so together, over the course of a few months, we moulded the story into something we all felt was absolutely right for Storytime.
Now we know Beatriz better, it isn’t surprising at all that she has been published in Storytime (Issue 33, out now). Beatriz, now 13, is an avid reader, literacy ambassador for her school, book club organiser, and soon-to-be blogger. She is wonderfully inspiring and it’s well worth reading her writer interview. No matter what your age, background or experience of writing, you might just pick up some tips from her about enthusiasm, commitment and passion.
Beatriz can also teach us all a thing or two about resilience in the face of rejection. She has submitted her work to editors and literary agents and, instead of feeling beaten when rejected, she has taken their advice on board, and viewed rejection as an opportunity to improve upon her work.
Q&A with Beatriz Poyton
1. Beatriz, when did you start writing and what inspired you to get started?
I have been writing ever since I can remember. It has always opened up a new world for all my ideas, emotions and fears. I love reading and wanted others to read more, so I thought I could help by writing stories that make people want to read more.
2. What is your favourite book or author and why?
I haven’t got a favourite author, as I like to try new books. However, my favourite recent read is Looking Glass Girl by Cathy Cassidy. It’s a modern take on Alice in Wonderland, and mixes emotions, adventure and twists on a journey that drags your heart all the way through to the end. I LOVE books that create tension like this one.
3. How did you come up with the idea for your leopard story?
I can’t quite remember what inspired my Leopard story. I think I was obsessed with animals and had been reading a lot of Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling and Aesop’s fables, so wanted to write a story like that.
(Editor’s note: One of the things I liked about Beatriz’s story was how it turned those Just So-style tropes on their heads – how the camel got his hump etc – and looked at what might happen in reverse.)
4. What does your role as a literacy ambassador in your school involve?
Being a literacy ambassador for my school allows me to raise awareness of reading and encourage more pupils to read at home. Last year, my friends and I started a Reading Book Club, where we did games and activities based on books we were reading as a group.
5. What advice would you give to young people who want to be writers?
I have two pieces of advice for young writers – my first is to write something you love. If you don’t enjoy your writing subject then the story won’t have as much feeling.
My second piece of advice is: NEVER GIVE UP! Giving up means you have let something great go. Everything can be improved, so keep going. One day, you’ll write something amazing.
6. Is there anything else you do that’s linked to your love of reading?
I love helping in bookshops! It lets you advise people on amazing books. I was lucky enough to help at my friend’s bookshop, Mostly Books in Abingdon, at some great events. My favourite of these was the Independent Bookshop Week Author Takeover. Authors Paula Harrison, Fleur Hitchcock and Helen Peters came in and ran the shop for a day. I helped with making tea, selling books and even on the till. Another great event was when I helped at the launch of David Melling’s picture book Hugless Douglas and the Great Cake Bake last summer. I helped children with crafts, made shelf displays and took photographs. It was great fun.
I was also lucky enough to win a review competition for Oxford University Press and became one of their Children’s Classic’s Champions. I got my review and recommended reading list printed in their new edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz! It was great to see my name in print and to think that maybe my recommended books would inspire other children to read something new!
7. Did you learn anything from the process of working with Storytime?
Working with Storytime allowed me to see that there is always room for improvement. When I make a mistake my editor is always there to support me. I was surprised that editing could be fun, because at first I thought that it would be long and not exciting, but I really enjoyed it.
8. What you would like to do when you leave school?
I want to be an editor and an author as well. This is because I want to see both sides of the scene and bring really good stories to print, by me and other writers too. Other writers I admire have done this. Robin Stevens wrote the Murder Most Unladylike books while editing other people’s books for a publisher.
9. What’s the best thing about seeing your work published?
It is really exciting, but my favourite thing is that I can look back at all the work I did to reach my goal, and think, “I have made it, how good is that?!” And then “I can’t wait to write something new!” These happy thoughts make my day. I am so pleased my story is published. I am also amazed by the illustrations by Junior Caramez. They are brilliant!
Beatriz is reading her story, The Leopard that Lost her Spots, at her local library in Beaconsfield on Saturday 20 May (2017) at 10.30am. Do go along and support her if you are local to the area. She is also giving talks in two local primary schools about her writing. Plus, you can download fun and free Leopard Activity Sheets we created to complement Beatriz’s story.
As I said, Beatriz is a pleasure to work with and a real inspiration – I am sure you’ll hear a lot more from her in future.
Be inspired this week!