Susan Hood was awarded the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Middle Grade Fiction for her debut middle grade novel in verse, Lifeboat 12, at the SCBWI 2019 Winter Conference in New York City on February 8, 2019.
|Award-winning Author Susan Hood|
Here, we catch up with Susan about her book and winning this honor...
Lee: Congratulations, Susan! Please tell us about finding out you’d won this Golden Kite Award.
Susan: It was funny and a little embarrassing. I was away visiting my newborn granddaughter when Lin called my home phone. It was a Friday afternoon and Lin left a cryptic, congratulatory message and asked me to call her over the weekend. She called again on Monday morning when she hadn’t heard from me. We arrived back home Monday afternoon and my husband went to listen to the messages. He came back and told me someone named Lynn wanted to talk to me about a kite. Whaaattt? Then I found out that this so-called Lynn was Lin Oliver!
Lee: (Chuckling.) Pitch us to move Lifeboat 12 to the top of our To-Be-Read pile — What's it about?
Susan: Lifeboat 12 is a novel in verse, based on the true, but little-known WWII story of the SS City of Benares, a British ship evacuating working class children to Canada during the Blitz. Six hundred miles from shore, the ship was torpedoed by a Nazi U-boat and sank in thirty minutes. Six boys (ages nine through thirteen) escaped aboard Lifeboat 12 and attempted to sail back to shore. After eight days at sea, on the day their water would run out, thirteen-year-old Ken Sparks spotted the plane that saved all forty-five people aboard. It’s not often you find a story where a kid is truly the hero.
As an author, what spoke to me about this true tale was the role stories and books played in this astounding rescue. During their eight days at sea, the boys told Bulldog Drummond stories to stay sane. When Ken spotted the plane, the captain ordered everyone down, suspecting it was a German aircraft that would strafe them. Ken disobeyed. He jumped up, waved his arms, and yelled, “I know that’s a Sunderland!” For the passengers of Lifeboat 12, plane spotter guides (bestsellers of the time) and stories about heroes quite literally saved their lives. It’s a good reminder that for many kids and for many reasons, books are lifesavers.
Lee: What a story! Is there an Ah-ha! Moment from the book’s creation you can share?
Susan: There were two Ah-ha Moments. The first was when I discovered the SS City of Benares and Lifeboat 12 in the childhood letters of my British mother-in-law. She, herself, was a child evacuee sent to Canada and she wrote home about this subsequent disaster.
The second Ah-ha moment was when I FOUND Ken Sparks, the hero of the story, the boy who spotted the plane. He was 88-years-old, living north of London. I asked if I could interview him and he said, “Come on over any time, Lovie!” My husband and I traveled to England and spent two weeks interviewing Ken and doing research in the National Archives, the British Library, and the Imperial War Museum.
Lee: How long have you been a member of SCBWI, and how has SCBWI helped on your journey?
Susan: I’ve been a member for nearly twenty years, including the time I was a children’s book and magazine editor. When I became a full-time author, I joined an SCBWI writers’ group and I’ve been with them for ten years. They’ve helped me in so many ways—finetuning my craft, sharing a laugh, celebrating the good stuff, smoothing the rough stuff. The conferences are a godsend where you can learn from the best in the business. I took an all-day intensive about novels in verse at the NYSCBWI conference and it was a huge help in writing Lifeboat 12.
Lee: What advice do you have to share with other children’s book creators?
Susan: Read. Read hundreds, if not thousands, of books in your genre, both classic and contemporary titles. You’ll see what’s been done in the past and how new authors are shaking things up.
Focus on your craft before you worry about getting published. You’ve got to learn the rules before you break them. If you want to write in rhyme, master poetic techniques, especially meter. To see how picture books work, here’s a tip. Type up the text from a favorite book. Seeing the text separate from the art will illustrate how the two work together to tell a story.
Take the time to do your homework and find the right agent. It may be the most important research you ever do; he or she will make all the difference in your life! A good place to start the hunt is at publishersmarketplace.com on the Dealmaker’s page.
Develop a thick skin and patience. There’s a lot of rejection along the way and it may have nothing to do with your book. Publishers have many criteria for each season’s list and your book may not be a good fit, considering what else is on the editor’s plate. Once you make a deal, a picture book takes two to three years to produce (if not more!) so patience is key. In the meantime, keep writing!
Don’t be afraid to try something new and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Lean on the extraordinarily generous community of SCBWI.
Lee: Excellent advice, thank you Susan. And again, congratulations on winning the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Lifeboat 12!
Find out more about Susan at her website here.