|Author Jane Mitchell|
Jane Mitchell is the runner up for the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Award. I caught up with Jane to find out more...
Lee: Congratulations! Tell us about finding out you were chosen as the runner-up for the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Award!
Jane: Thank you for your warm wishes. I am so honoured and delighted to have been chosen as the runner up for the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Award and am very grateful to Jane Yolen and all the team at SCBWI for granting me this award and the recognition that goes with it.
The first I knew about being chosen was when I was sitting at home in Ireland on a bleak and dark January evening, regretting my over-indulgences during the Christmas season and lamenting my overdrawn bank account. January is always that really hard time when I'm trying to motivate myself to get enthusiastic about my over-zealous New Year resolutions about finishing my current manuscript and running 5 miles every day, but the weather is cold and wet, and the days are so short and grey that it seems to be twilight all the time.
I opened my Email Inbox and up popped an email from SCBWI. I couldn't believe it when I read the message of congratulations and I think I let an unruly whoop of delight! It seemed that a beam of sunshine came shooting all the way from California that day, and I spent the whole evening grinning happily to myself.
Lee: How do you see this recognition helping your career?
Jane: As soon as the news was out, I started getting messages of congratulations from the wider SCBWI community, as well as close friends and family. It's been fantastic to be able to announce the award on my website, Twitter feed and Facebook, and at a number of children's book events and book launches in Dublin. I am currently courting a nascent business relationship with a potential literary agent, so it has also been hugely satisfying to be able to tell her my great news. However, by far the most exciting result of this award has been the opportunity for me to enroll for a week of solitude, peace and complete writing immersion at a residential centre for artists, in Annaghmakerrig, Co Monaghan, Ireland. This means that I might truly be able to fulfill half of my New Year's resolution by finishing my current manuscript and perhaps even entice that potential literary agent to sign me up.
Lee: Can you tell us about co-founding SCBWI Ireland?
Jane: About 8 years ago, I was keenly aware that there was no SCBWI chapter in Ireland. While we have some excellent and well-funded organisations focussed on children's books and literary activities for children, librarians, teachers and families, there was no organisation focussing specifically on the needs of children's book writers and illustrators. I was aware of SCBWI from the active and extensive British Isles chapter, and wondered about establishing a chapter here.
At about the same time, an Irish woman who had been an active member of SCBWI in the States returned to Ireland after many years away. She was keen to establish an Ireland chapter, and so between us, we set up the first Ireland chapter of the organisation. We remain a small chapter to this day, with a scattered membership all around the country, and we all nearly know each other personally, which makes for a cosy and uniquely Irish gathering.
Lee: I've read that your work "focuses on the rights of women and young girls around the globe." Tell us more about that...
Jane: I am passionate about human rights and the importance of supporting everyone in achieving their basic rights. I teach developmental education in schools and to young people, and I encourage them to understand how the decisions they make can have an impact on people the world over, and how we all must take responsibility for making this world a better place for everyone, particularly for those who are less well off than we are.
My last book, Chalkline, was about child soldiers in Kashmir, north India, and it was endorsed by Amnesty International as contributing to a better understanding of human rights. I believe girls and women in particular are denied their rights, not only in the developing world, but also in the developed world. For me, writing about it is the most powerful way to express how I feel, and writing from the perspective of young girls facing discrimination and struggling to achieve basic education and freedom shows the personal challenges they face.
And who better to write for than the boys and girls who will be the future leaders of this world? That sounds terribly didactic and boring, but I work hard to imbue my writing with excitement, a powerful sense of place and a gripping story about real characters.
Lee: What's your latest project that you're most excited about and would love to see out in the world next? (Pitch us!)
Jane: My current manuscript is called Silverfish and is about 13 year old Sun who lives in present day North Korea, the most secretive and dangerous country in the world. Sun collects firewood to warm the family home and is lucky to have an older brother at military school who sometimes brings home extra cornmeal to supplement the family's rice rations. Sun dreams of performing gymnastics for the Supreme Leader one day, and she practises hard before school in the mornings. But Sun discovers that her brother has a secret: a secret that could plunge her whole family into great danger. When he doesn't return home from military school one winter night, Sun and her family are terrified of what might happen to them. How long will they be able to keep his disappearance from the prying eyes of Ma Caretaker, who is always on the lookout for secrets to trade with the military police for extra rice? North Korea has an appalling human rights record, and with few people escaping, the world at large is unaware of how the military regime treats its citizens. Silverfish is the story of one brave young girl who is determined to escape and make a better life for herself and her family.
Congratulations again on this recognition, and know SCBWI is cheering you on!
Illustrate and Write On,