Earlier this summer, Julia Churchill, who runs the UK arm of the Greenhouse Literary Agency, launched the Greenhouse Funny Prize. The objective was simple: to find work that made her laugh. In her words:
At Greenhouse we love all sorts of writing for children. We love edgy, biting YA fiction. We love big, clever concepts, and beautiful and heartfelt younger stories. We love quality. And there’s something that Sarah [my US colleague] and I agreed that we didn’t see enough of: Funny. With the prize, I wanted to send the signal to new writers that agents and publishers are always looking for great funny voices, characters and concepts. I loved funny fiction as a child, and books which made me laugh were my route in to reading.
Julia asked us if we’d help spread the word – and we were delighted to do so, happily throwing in a place at the Festival of Writing for the winner. Julia got around 700 entries, including one from picture-book author, Pip Jones, whose entry was entitled SQUISHY McFLUFF: THE INVISIBLE CAT.
Pip (an editorial client of the Writers’ Workshop, I’m delighted to say) had taken the bold step of writing the entire story in rhyme. That’s hard to do well – and you have to do it very well to convince a publisher to take the book on. (Most picture books are syndicated internationally and verse is particularly hard to translate, so few rhyming picture books are acquired for that reason.)
But Pip’s work was so perfectly pitched – and so funny – that it won through. Julia took on Pip as a client. They both came to the Festival. And now, best of all, Leah Thaxton at Faber Children’s Books has chosen Pip to inaugurate Faber’s children’s list. That’s a huge honour and a vast accomplishment. Well done to all involved: Julia, Pip, Leah and (mostly) Squishy McFluff, a most remarkable cat.