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

Discovering middle grade and YA books in the library (when you don’t know what you’re looking for)
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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 keep my son interested, although luckily it doesn’t take much because I’ve put a lot of energy into making sure he loves going (and have…

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GMC: The one question to ask every novel you read
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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.

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Read like a writer: Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall
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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.

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Where to find up-to-date recommendations for MG and YA fiction online
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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.

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Why you need to read *recently published* MG and YA novels
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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 that if you want to write and publish them, you absolutely have to read them. No, strike that. You have to devour them. Study them.…

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January wrap-up: A month in the life of a kidlit editor
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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!

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Why reading widely won’t hurt your writing: 3 tips from Francine Prose
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Author Francine Prose wrote an excellent craft book in 2006 called Reading Like a Writer and I urge you to pick up a copy if you haven’t come across it before. In chapter one she talks a little about the various excuses authors give for not wanting to read too deeply or widely while writing their own novel, and I’ve heard these excuses in writing groups so many times that I wanted to address them now for any authors nervous that other books may negatively affect their own work. TL;DR: they won’t.

1) ‘Reading amazing books make my writing look rubbish in comparison!’

I hear ya. Every time I finish a brilliant novel, after first rushing off to Goodreads to mark it ‘complete’ and give it five stars, I sit for a minute and think, ‘Well, my book is never going to be anywhere near that good. I think I’ll stop writing it.’ This defeatist attitude usually subsides after a while and is replaced with determination to at least try to write something nearly as fabulous but what if that feeling of inferiority puts you off reading altogether?

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MG Recommendations for Authors: Wildspark by Vashti Hardy
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I loved Wildspark even more than Brightstorm – and I really loved Brightstorm! I first came across Vashti Hardy when I took the Golden Egg Academy’s year-long ‘Write Your Successful Children’s Novel’ programme, as she went through the same programme and is still a powerful, supportive force in the GEA community. She’s a fantastic MG writer; this was such a fast, easy read and Prue is compelling and likeable right from the start without being perfect: sometimes I wanted to shake her and shout ‘Forget about Francis, Prue! Go live your life – it’s what he would have wanted!’ Twelve year olds, amirite?

The pacing feels just right – Prue and her brother’s backstory is sprinkled throughout as short flashbacks – and the stakes are high: if Prue doesn’t figure out how to bring back personifates’ memories, she’ll never see her brother again and that is just unthinkable for her. The worldbuilding in the novel is gorgeous and evocative without feeling overly detailed or dragging down the pace of the story: I have to get me some of that shimmering qwortzite! There are fascinating themes at play here about morality, life and whether progress should is more important than individual freedom. There’s a teaching resource on Hardy’s website that pulls out quotes from each character relating to these themes which is really fascinating to read from an author’s or editor’s perspective, as you can picture Hardy analysing these themes in her manuscript and deciding how each character would contribute.

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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. Posts typically focus on:

  • Actionable writing advice
  • Active reading
  • Advocating for the young reader

Quiz Your Protagonist!

A free email course with two weeks of fun interview questions to get to know your MG or YA character

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


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.

‘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

‘Absolutely delightful!’

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

Jena Ataras | MG fantasy critique

‘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

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

‘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

‘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 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

‘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’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

‘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

‘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)

‘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

‘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 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

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

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