The SCBWI conference, a competition and Christmas of course
I have lots to talk about this month as a LOT has happened! A competition, the SCBWI conference, and of course the anticipation of the big man in the red suit.
A Christmas Competition
Competitions and drawing prompts are a great way to practice drawing to a specific brief and to get something done for a deadline. In the newsletter at university (where I’m doing my MA) there was an invitation to enter the competition to design the University’s Christmas card. A small competition but with a wide reach. The physical card would be sent to a number of VIPs and the electronic card sent to around 80,000 alumni. The brief was to illustrate the University as culture as friendly, supportive and inclusive. This is what I came up with.
There was a star in the sky but the Vice Chancellor asked me to replace the star with the University logo (you can see the original submission on my instagram). More than anything it was lovely to have my work chosen above others by a completely independent person, i.e. not my mum (who thinks I’m the best at everything…don’t you just love mums). A colleague at work asked me if the characters were based on real colleagues at the university…well…that would be telling! Which character is your favourite?
THE conference. If you’re not interested in conference news please scroll further down now as I may be here a while.
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI or Scoobie) held it’s conference this year in Manchester. I jumped at the chance to attend. I shared a room with my good friend, fellow writer, critique partner and all round fantastic person Charli Wenden (definitely one to watch out for as her stories are amazing). I digress… There was a lot to take in - the conference consists of keynote speeches, breakout workshops, optional 1-1s with industry professionals, a sketchbook gallery and a portfolio display and of course the chance to bump into authors and illustrators who live far and wide.
The prep - I have been preparing for this conference for months. As a newbie to children’s book writing and illustrating it was my first conference. And thank goodness they moved it to Manchester from its previous home in Winchester. I have worked some seriously late nights getting my portfolio and 1-1 submissions ready. I have to say this preparation served me well. I did my homework on who was present and what sessions I wanted to attend. I prepared my portfolio and sent in my sketches for the displays. I had some business cards printed which made me feel very official. I didn’t dish many out but I’m pretty proud of them nevertheless. It made me feel a bit more like I belonged there, among such talented and successful people.
The arrival - I will admit the most stressful part of the weekend was finding the car park. I stressed the whole journey imagining driving around the city centre for hours lost in a one way system. When google maps served me well and delivered me to the right place I can’t tell you the sense of relief I felt. A weight was lifted! My car parked, Charli had just arrived and was waiting. We found our hotel a short walk away and settled in.
The Fringe - we met up with other conference-goers at a local eatery and immediately noticed several people we knew from the summer picture book retreat. We sat with the conference organiser and Alex Wheatle and had a great evening. After face timing my children we called it a night.
Registration - We arrived in time for coffee and pastries. We were like giddy teenagers collecting our lanyards. Then we listened to the lovely Natascha Biebow and Kathy Evans open the conference.
Keynote speeches - Alex Wheatle, in his keynote speech, took us on a rather emotional journey through his family history. I was overwhelmed by his honesty and passion and I later bought one of his books for my daughter. I was hoping to get it signed but by the time I got to his queue he had gone. Next time Alex! Jim Field told us all about how he got started on his illustration career and took us through his most memorable moments. It was inspiring to say the least and gave me hope that with hard work and a little luck I might find the road to success myself. Jim kindly signed books for my children complete with little doodles which they were overjoyed with. On the second day the SCBWI Executive Director Sarah Baker had flown in from the US to speak to us and tell us about her plans for taking the SCBWI forward. She had the most mesmerising American accent and a very warm and positive demeanor. I think SCBWI is in safe hands with her.
Breakouts - On the first day I chose to go to Jim Field’s session about how illustrators collaborate with writers. Jim is a bit of an idol of mine so I was thrilled to hear about his journey to success. I picked up some really helpful tips that I scribbled in my trusty notebook. In the afternoon I chose to go to the session by Art Director, Ness Wood, Picture Book Director, Emma Layfield and Director of the Bright Agency, Arabella Stein: An inside look from the Art Director, Editor and Agent’s desk. This session was absolutely fascinating and I took away some really valuable information I just wouldn’t get from the submission page on a website. On the second day I chose to attend a very informative session on alternative income streams for authors by Juliet Clare Bell and Rebecca Colby followed by an interesting insight into the world of self publishing by Lucy Reynolds and Jenna Harman.
The Party! - The evening was filled with fun and frolics starting with the mass book launch - a fantastic celebration of the many books that authors and illustrators in the room had published over the last year. This was followed by a tasty meal and lots of catching up to the sound of several Scoobies playing the ukulele. The theme was Manchester so there were a lot of bee costumes! There were also a lot of suffragettes and football strips. Although I was too preoccupied to find a costume - getting there in one piece was my priority. Perhaps next year I will be a bit more organised.
Darren Chetty and Karen Sands O’Connor in conversation with Candy Gourlay was the final keynote of the conference. This was very entertaining as Candy is a little ball of energy. Darren and Karen gave a fascinating account of ethnicity in children’s literature through their column Beyond the Secret Garden.
The 1-1s - I booked two sessions with an agent and an editor and this part made the conference an absolute must. Having an agent read my work and give me feedback was golden and I learned so much. Both were very helpful and pointed out where in the industry they thought my work could fit as well as potential improvements to my stories. I came away buzzing about the parts they liked and determined to fix the rest.
Takeaways - I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and there will be so much I have missed out. My overriding memory is of a sea of friendly faces and inspiration. A room full of people with similar goals but all willing to help each other on their way. I’m not sure I’ve ever been part of a group like that before and it was delightful. I came away with so many ideas I couldn’t wait to write down. I realised that I found a place I felt I belonged. If you’ve ever been on the fence about attending, don’t hesitate next time, click book immediately. I know I will.
The Big Man in the Red Suit
I love Christmas! The tree is up, I’ve put twinkly lights up in the windows, and the elf has arrived. Since having children I’m especially excited to see their faces - looking at Christmas lights, finding the elf each day, writing their letter to Santa. I hold my breath on Christmas day and hope not to see disappointment on their faces when Santa has clearly misread their letter and brought them the wrong thing. I finished buying presents weeks ago, which actually is a dangerous thing because I continue to see things that I like and then I buy them…which takes me way beyond my budget! This is our elf - Jingle Bells. He arrives on 1st December with the special envelopes for the girls’ letters to Santa. I find Christmas a particularly inspirational time of year for new stories. There is so much kindness and magic around it’s hard not to notice those little things that could be made into a story. What inspires you?
Christmas this year will also be a time to write my assignments. I have lots of research to write up which I’ll describe some time in January. I’ve done several school visits now and I’ve had a pretty high response rate on my professionals survey so I have a lot to write up. I hope you all have a magical Christmas and a New Year full of exciting plans for the year ahead.