The Den: A blog for authors of children’s and YA genre fiction

The Den: A blog for authors of children’s and YA genre fiction

Read like a writer: Last One to Die by Cynthia Murphy
1024 683 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

This was a really fun, pacey YA horror with grown-up Point Horror vibes as Kathryn Foxfield pointed out in her quote on the back of the book. What I found particularly interesting about Last One to Die is that it reads as a realistic slasher up right until the last couple of chapters and then – SPOILER ALERT! – it turns a corner into supernatural horror for the big reveal. I say spoiler alert but actually Kat Ellis’ quote on the back, ‘a supernatural horror-fest’, sort of gives away that twist. This is what sets it apart from Point Horror stories, for me, as those are always based in reality.
The story is told primarily through Sara’s ‘witness statement’ which reads as a linear first person, present tense narrative. She relates the events that took place in the woods when she and her friends attempted to find and rescue her sister from local ghost Lucy Gallows, but that narrative is framed by a present-day paranormal investigation trying to piece together what really happened that night. Sara’s statement is interspersed with audio transcripts, text message conversations, news articles and emails that fill the gaps in Sara’s own memory and reveal the truth about Lucy Gallows’ game. Sara is an often unreliable narrator and the reader discovers information she doesn’t have, making them active participants in the story and increasing the dramatic tension as events come to a head.

read more
Read like a writer using Evernote, part one: Saving examples of clever writing techniques
1024 683 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

I know it’s easy for me to sit here shouting ‘Read analytically! Take notes! Annotate!’ but that’s not very helpful without practical, actionable advice to go along with it. How do you annotate? What’s the best way to record what you’re reading? So, friends, I’m going to take you through my Evernote system. Lucky you!…

read more
Discovering middle grade and YA books in the library (when you don’t know what you’re looking for)
1024 683 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

If you’ve realised you need to step up your reading game, the library is a brilliant first port of call. I’m a MASSIVE library fan and I go at least once a week. We’re lucky enough to have three lovely libraries in walking distance from our house so I try to cycle through them to…

read more
GMC: The one question to ask every novel you read
1024 576 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

What if you don’t have the time or inclination to pull apart every book you read in this much detail and just want to enjoy the story? That’s completely fine – it’s important to read for pleasure and sometimes you need to turn off your craft radar and let yourself sink in to the story and experience it as a reader.

read more
Read like a writer: Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall
1024 683 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

I really enjoyed Rules for Vanishing and it reminded me how much I love epistolary novels! Including additional content like newspaper clippings, video footage and police interviews can work really well in books for young readers: it breaks up the main narrative and increases the white space, meaning the story feels a little less dense and intimidating, plus it encourages readers to speed through the pages more quickly because each section is so short and easy to digest.

The story is told primarily through Sara’s ‘witness statement’ which reads as a linear first person, present tense narrative. She relates the events that took place in the woods when she and her friends attempted to find and rescue her sister from local ghost Lucy Gallows, but that narrative is framed by a present-day paranormal investigation trying to piece together what really happened that night. Sara’s statement is interspersed with audio transcripts, text message conversations, news articles and emails that fill the gaps in Sara’s own memory and reveal the truth about Lucy Gallows’ game. Sara is an often unreliable narrator and the reader discovers information she doesn’t have, making them active participants in the story and increasing the dramatic tension as events come to a head.

read more
Where to find up-to-date recommendations for MG and YA fiction online
1024 576 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

There are loads of places to find genre-specific middle grade and YA recommendations but if you’re new to the kidlit space or you just want to read a few good books and don’t care about the genre or subject matter, here are a few of my favourite resources to start you off. Remember this post is being published in January 2022 so if you’re reading this far in the future (I bow to our new alien overlords) be sure to check these websites for more up-to-date lists.

read more
Why you need to read *recently published* MG and YA novels
1024 576 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

How well do you know the current market? I often work with authors who haven’t read a children’s book since their own childhood and can’t name a middle grade or YA novel published in the last twenty years. That’s understandable – most adults don’t read children’s books anymore! But my number one rule around here is…

read more
January wrap-up: A month in the life of a kidlit editor
1024 576 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

It’s been so nice to get back into the swing of things this month and it feels like business might be slowly starting to return to some sort of normal after a strange 2021. I’ve had a pretty constant influx of enquires and manuscripts and next month is looking super busy with editing, coaching and speaking engagements. I finished my year-long fiction writing programme with Golden Egg Academy in December and it’s been nice getting my evenings back but now the terrifying query process starts with my middle grade contemporary novel. See, authors, I really do know what you’re going through!

read more

Hello! I'm Siobhán, a developmental editor of middle grade and YA genre fiction. This blog is aimed at authors who write for a young audience, particularly those working on horror, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery or anything with a dash of magic or macabre.


Quiz Your Hero!

A free email course with two weeks of surprising interview questions to get to know your middle grade or YA character


A bumper guide to middle grade & YA genres and subgenres, from cyberpunk and space opera to magical realism and portal fantasy



Testimonials

Here are some lovely things my gorgeous clients have said about me. When I'm having a bad day, I like to read these and eat Cadbury's Creme Eggs.

‘Your generous effort has already made the book better’

Thank you SO much for all your notes and for the honesty. I read them all and they’re extremely helpful. I’m very grateful for you taking the time. Your generous effort has already made the book better.

Chad Lutzke | YA horror beta read

‘Absolutely delightful!’

Thank you so much! Working with you has been absolutely delightful! I truly appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Jena Ataras | MG fantasy critique

‘I can’t believe how lucky I was to encounter you!’

Thank you so, so much for this. I actually jumped for joy when I read your first comments! I couldn’t respond immediately as I was travelling but this took away so much of the stress of the flight – I was on such a high (literally!) There’s so much to take forward. Thanks so, so much again, Siobhán; I can’t believe how lucky I was to encounter you!
Middle grade author | Cub Report

‘I can’t wait to dive back into my story with greater clarity’

Wow!! This cub report is AMAZING and I need to read it like 16 more times to let it all soak in! You’ve given me such concrete suggestions! I love all of the little tips, suggestions, examples, etc that you’ve provided and I am seriously going to be re-reading this report MANY times. I can’t wait to dive back into my story with greater clarity about the pacing. I also truly appreciate the comps and MG insight! Thank you, thank you!
Jennifer Grolemund | Cub Report (Pacing)

‘One of the best editors working with emerging voices’

Like the best of editors, Siobhan will respect your own individual writing style – and work within those parameters to coax you towards ever greater clarity and impact. She has an instinctive grasp of story, and some of the best craft knowledge I’ve ever come across. As a writer herself, she understands the highs and lows of the journey and always has a listening ear. She is never one to rush, and when a script inevitably throws up a knotty issue, will ponder deeply before putting forward possible solutions. Her openness, kind heart and gentleness make her one of the best editors working with emerging voices.

Chrissy Sturt | Advanced report

‘I’ve never felt so quickly understood and supported by an editor’

Siobhan is absolutely brilliant! I’m trying not to sound too gushy but her work truly is astonishing — the best editing I have ever received. Siobhan is a master editor at every level, from word to idea. She is a consummate craftsperson and expert researcher. She is also immensely creative, able to help solve a manuscript’s problems and repair its shortcomings. She is efficient and generous, bright and fun — an absolute joy to work with. I have never felt so quickly understood and supported by an editor.

Sara Cassidy | Children's adventure critique

‘It’s already helping massively’

I want to say a MASSIVE THANK YOU for all that you’ve done for me and my book baby. It’s already helping massively. I already love all the three big suggestions you made and I’m really happy you thought it’s a book worth working on as that’s exactly what I’m planning to do 🙂

Martina O'Brien | Dev edit

‘A breath of fresh air’

Siobhan has not only been a breath of fresh air, breathing new life into my first ever draft manuscript, but she’s also provided me with the impetus to get it finished. Her comments and feedback led me to make some hard decisions but these have resulted in a much better book. Here’s to the future!

David Rogers | MG sci-fi dev edit

‘I don’t want our editing relationship to end yet’

I have just skimmed through your brilliant editorial critique and will follow your suggestions and recommended reading lists. I think you have been very good at steering me the right way. I don’t want our editing relationship to end yet. I still need you!

Akin Jabar | MG sci-fi critique

I am completely blown away!

I finally had time to read through the entire Monster critique and I am completely BLOWN AWAY! Your feedback is SO helpful and SO thoughtful. You are a truly talented editor! Not everyone has your gift to provide notes that are so comprehensive, succinct, and meaningful! You’ve given me ideas, direction, and underscored the key elements for crafting MG in the horror genre. This is the best Christmas present I could’ve ever wished for and I need to read it at least a hundred more times to let it all soak in…and to percolate all of the ideas that are already flowing in my head. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am so grateful to have this opportunity!
Jennifer Grolemund | The Monster

I couldn’t have asked for a better editor

You’ve nailed everything and picked up on the things only an editorial expert can spot! You really have been amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better editor to help with this! All of your comments have made me realise exactly what needs working on.  They are super informative, and will really lead me in the right direction. It feels so much stronger, and I’m now super excited to see it in print.
Angela Kecojevic | YA sci-fi dev edit

‘So thorough and rich with insight’

What a treat! This is exactly what I needed. Your critique seems so thorough and rich with insight. I will be sure to send you questions if I’m unsure about anything you meant but I think you’re so thorough that I will be able to digest almost everything on my own just fine. It was an absolute pleasure to work with you as well!
Chanya Sainvilus | YA sci-fi critique

‘The story has been truly seen for the first time’

I just wanted to say thank you so much for all the hard work you have done on my edit. I am absolutely thrilled with it; the attention to detail and depth with which you went into the manuscript left me speechless. The hashtag system is so handy and the book map made so many things clear for me. I feel like the story has been truly seen for the first time. I will recommend your work without hesitation.

Aisling White | YA fantasy dev edit

‘I’m really impressed with your critical eye’

Wow, an excellent middle grade manuscript critique! I’m really impressed with your critical eye and what you’ve picked up on here – your comments are very astute and your feedback has been very valuable, as always. I agree with almost everything! Thanks a lot for this – I can’t wait to send you another.
John Lomas-Bullivant | MG fantasy critique

‘I will seek a developmental edit much earlier next time’

Well I have read the report and documents and ARRGHH!! But in a good way. I have to say that your comments, suggestions and advice are excellent and I don’t disagree with much if anything that you suggest. They are really helpful and will truly make this book better. Also the pointers will definitely improve my subsequent stories. I will seek a developmental edit much earlier next time as I think this would have made the whole process a quicker and much more streamlined editing process.

Jonathan Evans | YA fantasy critique

Several pennies have actually dropped’

I’ve had a look through everything and wanted to thank you so much for the forensic view of my novel. It’s the first time I’ve had a developmental edit like this completed and it has been, in turn, horrifying, enlightening, surprising and confidence boosting! But I guess you’ve probably seen that before. In many respects, several pennies have actually dropped and I have a firmer idea of what I need to do and will work on more research and reading.
Maria White | MG fantasy dev edit