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

Industry news! Get extended access to StokerCon 2021 🤡
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I’d been so excited for the Horror Writers’ Association’s virtual StokerCon this year and was absolutely planning to attend ALL the sessions but sadly my life is a giant ball of chaos and I ran out of time to sign up and take part. Sad face. But then they announced yesterday that all those ridiculously busy people like me could still sign up and gain access to the recordings for three days. Happy face! If you haven’t already, I really…

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Analysing The Tale of Laughing in the Dark
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It’s the most fun in the park when you’re laughing in the dark! I have a soft spot for this episode because I love any horror featuring creepy fairgrounds, although I was slightly perturbed on rewatching to discover that the backstory of Zebo the clown is very similar to a plot thread in my own middle grade novel. In this AYAOTD? episode, the original Zebo the clown stole money from the fairground in the 1920s and, trying to flee, accidentally…

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Lessons from R. L. Stine’s Masterclass #2: Write for fun!
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I talked recently about my love for R.L. Stine and his fabulous masterclass for children’s authors and today I’m going to do that a bit more. For this post I’ve chosen a lovely quote from the course that really resonated with me, and I hope it will speak to you a bit, too: Why can’t you just write for fun? Why do you have to write from the heart? I’ve written hundreds of novels and I’ve never written one of…

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10 articles for MG and YA genre authors to read this month: March
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Happy March, lovely authors! Here’s my monthly round-up of interesting, useful or just plain fun articles from around the internet that I think writers of middle grade and YA genre fiction might get a kick out of. Pluckley: The 15 horrifying ghosts and chilling nightly screams in Kent’s most haunted village I’ve been researching setting for my own middle grade novel this week and I love this list of the many, many terrifying things reportedly going on in Pluckley. Red…

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Making your spooky kidlit scenes even scarier with sound effects
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Sensory description is so important in any genre of fiction, but in scary stories it can add a chilling, leave-the-lights-on-tonight-please-mum atmosphere to an otherwise flat scene. In fact, you should write with all your senses; it’s easy to focus on what your characters see, but think what the reader is missing out on. Show us that distant creaking gate your MC hears walking through the park at night, or the floral perfume they can’t get off their clothes, even though…

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Know your audience: middle grade
934 532 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Unless you’re ten, it can be hard to get into the mindset of your young readers when writing middle grade fiction. Schooldays are a distant memory for most of us, but even if we could remember them clearly, things have changed a little since our day. When I was in primary school, we spent our lunchtimes playing with Pogs and swapping stickers (and there was that one weird summer where we all walked around with dummies in our mouths –…

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Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole
1024 584 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

A while ago I started a series in which I give you a very, very quick introduction to some of my favourite writing guides. These books will typically be aimed at authors of middle grade or YA, or they might be genre specific, focusing on writing horror, sci-fi, fantasy or mystery. This week I’m discussing an incredible guide by an incredible woman, literary agent Mary Kole. What Mary doesn’t know about children’s publishing isn’t worth knowing, so this book is…

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Fleshing out your secondary characters with Greg House
1024 576 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

I’m going way off-piste today with this post: it’s not about fantasy, horror, sci-fi or mystery (well, House is a medical mystery show, but I’m not sure that counts) and there isn’t a middle grade or YA reader in sight. But it tackles something I know a lot of my author clients struggle with so please bear with me! So, I’m a huge fan of the American TV series House – I think it’s one of the greatest US drama shows of…

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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



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.

‘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 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!

‘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

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

‘Absolutely delightful!’

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

Jena Ataras | MG fantasy critique

‘One of the best things I’ve ever done for my writing’

Getting The Monster manuscript critique was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my writing. I’ve been writing for years, but this manuscript critique has developed and delved into a much stronger, deeper and focused version of my novel. Plus, the book map has offered me a solid, dependable way to create my plots and stories in the future (even if it took me 45 minutes to do one row – eek!). The book map feels unnatural and weird, but I know it’s pushing me to question what I think about every single scene so that I can justify it all. I feel like a much stronger writer and can’t imagine ever working another way – especially now I know my work is always going to benefit from it.

‘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 so glad I landed on your name in a sea of editors’

I’m seriously so glad I landed on your name in a sea of editors. Thank you for the advice, recommendations, coaching and teaching. It’s all brilliant! I was so clueless and am very grateful to now have this information to guide my thinking. There is a lot of info about writing out there but it’s infinitely better to have someone who can help me focus on the important stuff (with great links) in a contemporary context. I’m very excited about the next draft and think the direction you have proposed in most instances feel right to me. Importantly, I feel empowered by your critique and that makes me more confident that I can produce better work.
Anoshi Mocktar | 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.

‘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’ve learnt so much from the process’

Once again the insights are amazing. I’ve learnt so much from the process and I think and hope my MS is all the better for your advice and recommendations. It is so beneficial to have an expert opinion on my query package. Honestly, I’ve stared at it for so long that I had run out of ideas but now I have superb guidance to hopefully take the MS and the query package up yet another level. Not a chance I could have done that without your input.

Valerie Troy | Query package

‘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.

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.

‘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

‘My eyes hungrily soaked up every paragraph’

Thank you so much for the report – I’m going to devour it. My eyes hungrily soaked up every paragraph and I love that you ‘get’ the type of story I’m trying to tell. I will do my absolute best to reinforce your recommendations in the MS. I could rattle on all day but I’m bursting to get back into it.

Valerie Troy | Cub Report

‘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.

‘The best editing I’ve ever received’

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. She is 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.

‘Thank you for your tending loving care’

Thank you for your tender loving care with my manuscript and all your kind words, and for providing such detailed, useful feedback.
Lori Kohler | Developmental edit

‘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

‘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 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)