The Big Idea Competition Launch and how 2014’s winning idea became Sky Chasers

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The Big Idea Competition, which seeks to uncover new talent in storytelling by transforming an idea from a member of the public into a book, film, game or play has opened for entries for 2018. A joint initiative by Chicken House and The Blair Partnership, it was born out of a desire to find a new way of discovering and creatively developing original story ideas for children and their families. Entrants from across the UK, aged from 13+, are asked to send in their idea in no more than 750 words for the chance to win a £1,000 cash prize and the promise that their idea will become the inspiration for a complete story, written by a children’s author and published as a book. Their story will also be presented for TV, film, theatre and gaming.

Barry Cunningham, Managing Director of Chicken House, said: “Stories remain the most important currency of our lives. A great idea can come from anyone and anywhere. It’s where the magic of storytelling begins. We’re very proud to be offering the opportunity for someone’s idea to become a reality in the Dragon’s Den of children’s storytelling.”

This month has also seen the publication of Emma Carroll’s Sky Chaserswhich is the realisation of 2014’s winning idea from Neal Jackson. The award-winning author of The Girl Who Walked on Air and Letters from the Lighthouse wrote a special blog for us about transforming Neal’s idea into a story for children.

Emma Carroll on writing Sky Chasers

The offer from Chicken House came out of the blue.

‘They’d like you to write a book based on an award-winning idea,’ my agent said. ‘Go and have lunch with them, see what you think.’

I wasn’t in the market for another book deal – I had plenty on my plate already with my main publisher, Faber. But, I confess I was intrigued.

Suffice to say, the lunch was excellent, as was the story concept. A few months earlier Neal Jackson’s idea, The First Aeronauts, had won the inaugural Big Idea Competition. Now it was time to match that idea – the first balloon flight over Versailles in 1783, with live animals as cargo – to a writer of children’s fiction, whose job it would be to transform an intriguing historical event into a living, breathing story.

That writer was me.

Over the next few months I met with the Chicken House team to explore ideas and consider what type of story I wanted to tell. It was my narrative now, I was reassured, my cast of characters. And though drafts were shared with Neal along the way, I was free to take the story where I saw fit.

I have a fondness for underdogs, so my main character was always going to be someone without status or wealth, who by their wits and good-heartedness, manages to succeed.

Magpie started life as Mouse, the downtrodden daughter of two hardened criminals. By the second draft, she’d fledged into Magpie – street-wise, loyal, with an eye for poultry and a head for heights. The Magpie rhyme as a way of structuring the story followed, and I soon had a character I was extremely fond of.

Life for Magpie is tough – she is poor, mixed race, has no formal education. Her options are few. She’s also a girl. Yet with each new draft of the story, her capabilities grew and it made me think more about the frustrations and limitations she’d face in 18th century France.

Neal’s story premise was about the invention of the first hot air balloon, by two rather slapdash brothers. What if, behind the scenes, there were cleverer minds at work? Female minds, for instance. The names we read in history books are only part of the story, after all.

SKY CHASERS by Emma Carroll publishes January 18th. To find out more, visit Chicken House’s website:

Read an extract of Sky Chasers here and win a copy in our competition here (closing date 19th January). 

You can follow Emma @emmac2603 and the Big Idea Competition news @thebigideacomp