Author Spotlight: Priscilla Mante
We are pleased to feature author Priscilla Mante and debut middle grade novel, JAZ SANTOS VS THE WORLD (Puffin), out May 27, 2021. Enter to win a copy!
|Cover Design Camilla Sucre|
As a child I was a massive bookworm! I spent a lot of time at the library well into my teen years. I was a particularly avid reader as a tween, where I tore through series like Goosebumps, the Baby-sitters Club, Anne of Green Gables, and Little Women.
I was always of the opinion that books just made everything better! So, at a very young age, I made a promise to my future adult self that I was going to write the same kind of stories that helped shape my young mind, transform my own world and brought me such delight as a child. It wasn't until several years after graduating from college while working full-time with young people and managing a book project as part of my role that I began to think seriously about that promise and how I was going to achieve it. I signed up at a weekly evening course at an adult education college in children's writing where I was introduced to the basic principles of writing for children and learnt a lot about structure which was so helpful. During that six-month creative writing course I wrote my very first book, the book of my heart which is now, (some years and drafts later!) my debut.
Congrats on your debut MG novel, Jaz Santos vs. the World! Tell us about it and what inspired you.
Jaz Santos vs. the World is the first in a middle grade series called The Dream Team which is about friendship, family, and pursuing your dreams! The first book in the series centers on brave, anxious and mischievous dreamer Jasmina Santos-Campbell who tries to repair the growing rift in her family, when her parents separate. She forms a girls 7-a-side team to enter in a girls football (soccer) tournament after she’s excluded the boys team. Jaz is determined to be the star she thinks her mum wants her to be and also to prove that girls can play football too!
I worked with a wide variety of young people including those from care-experienced backgrounds and I frequently saw children who struggled to believe in their dreams, and felt some shame around difficult early childhood experiences. It became vital for me to write a story which illustrated to young people they're not to blame for hard circumstances they have experienced, and they are indeed more than their pasts and even present situations However, I wanted to communicate that in a way that wasn't too heavy, so my aim was to write a book filled with fun and joy, that also didn't shy away from tackling tough topics. They say ‘write what you know’ so I decided to bring in some of the things that were important to me as a child which were team sports, baking and great friendships and craft a story that I hope will inspire young readers to use their imagination to dream of a better reality and be hopeful even if it feels like them versus the world!
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
I'd say something in between! I wrote the first draft of the book quite quickly, and later that year entered it in my first writing competition. Even though I didn’t win, as one of the five shortlisted entries, I received a partial manuscript assessment which was really useful and being shortlisted was a huge encouragement and told me perhaps my story had potential. However, after that nothing happened for a few years mainly because after querying a handful of agents, I more or less put my pursuit of traditional publishing on hold while getting on with various things including relocating abroad, going back to study and changing career paths. Back then I didn’t really know about online writing communities and mentoring opportunities or even how to write a proper query or do deep manuscript edits (I had queried my first draft!)
It wasn't until summer 2018 I saw an opportunity to apply for a new eight-month writers development programme and after that things really started moving. I'd considered applying with a brand-new story, but eventually decided to dust off my completed manuscript and give it one last chance, before I moved onto something else. So, I used it to apply to that scheme which I was accepted onto to begin in autumn 2018, later I also signed up to WriteMentor Spark for craft classes and one-on-one mentoring all of which really helped improve my manuscript. Towards the end of the writing development programme, I signed with my agent Sallyanne Sweeney a few weeks after I queried her. We worked on my manuscript for around five months, before going out on submission. Then I accepted an offer of a two-book deal from Puffin/PRH Childrens with the first book to be published in 2021. I had actually submitted it as a standalone with 'series potential' so I was especially thrilled to find out not only was I getting to publish this book with the wonderful team at Puffin, but also a second in the series and potentially further books.
What are some of your favorite classic MGs? recent ones?
Some of my favourite classic MGs are Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, also various books by Judy Blume, The Baby-sitters Club series, and boarding school stories like Malory Towers, and Trebizon. More recently, anything from Jacqueline Wilson, whose writing was also a great inspiration for my book.
There are so many, I review all my favourites on Goodreads or Instagram! But to name just a few, A Pocketful of Stars by Aisha Bushby, which is one of the best MG books I've read as an adult. Also My Fate according to the Butterfly by Gail Villanueva and Just Call Me Spaghetti-Boy by Lara Williamson were two of my favourite reads of last year.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m writing the currently untitled second book in The Dream Team series which is from the viewpoint of Jaz’s best friend Charligh, and it's about the celebration of difference and feeling all your emotions!
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Read widely including in the genre/age category you want to write in. However writing inspiration comes from other art forms too, including paintings, musical theatre and movies. It also comes from going out there and living and experiencing new and varied things! It doesn't necessarily have to be something ‘huge’ like travelling across the world, it can be as simple as taking a new route on your usual walk or trying a new cuisine. I think we've all realised this past year how wonderful and inspiring every day life experiences we may have taken for granted can be!
There are far more aspiring writers than there are writing spots, so the odds may seem impossibly stacked against you but if you believe in your story keep going until you feel you should give up on it. There might be a time where you feel that is the right thing to do, however, don't let the opinions or actions of others discourage you from pursuing your dreams or dictate when you give up on it.
And finally, keep going. Storytelling is so important whether you publish your stories or not, the creative process is so life enhancing, and your stories matter!
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I'm left handed.
Where can people find you online?
Priscilla Mante is a London based writer from Glasgow. She spent several years delivering arts, literacy and cultural programmes to young people and currently works in corporate communications. Jaz Santos vs. the World is her debut novel.
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