There’s nothing quite like a domestic flight from one part of Britain to the other that renders you speechless and slightly nauseas in the space of one hour and ten minutes.
This was the introduction to my favourite weekend of the year – the annual Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference. A gathering of creative minds, jostling in-between the Christmas shoppers of Winchester as we head to the University’s grand halls to see and hear literary gods.
The agenda for the conference comes out early on in the year – piggy banks are counted, savings are withdrawn and my golden ticket of awesomeness plonks itself in my in-box as I count down the sleeps.
The theme this year was Cracking Characters. A very useful thought process for those struggling with their main protagonists hiding within their scribbles. Are they real enough? Do they jump of the page and shout out loud at me? What makes them so special? Do they have a USP? I had three full days to think about all of this and more and it was bliss. Notebook in hand, a pencil case full of pens and pencils (because you can never have enough, right?) I set off, itinerary in hand, and delved into my happy place.
Bearing in mind, members travel from all over the UK (and beyond) to attend, I never know who I am going to sit next to at each event. I always come away with new friends – it’s juts the way SCBWI works and I love it for that.
This was my first year attending as South East Scotland network co-chair – I am very glad to have Anita Gallo, my partner-in-crime by my side and we have so many plans for the coming year ahead! It’s a privilege to be a volunteer in such a prestigious and welcoming society.
The conference starts off with the Friday night critique group. A hustling crowd of writers and illustrators who have been matched together on-line, have one hour and 30 minutes to critique their groups’ six manuscripts. It’s fun, it’s mad, it’s noisy but I LOVE hosting a group for this. My intrepid writers on the night were – Kim Howard, Beth Kemp, Barbara Henderson and Heather Lawson. I’m not going to lie, there are sweets involved. Sugar levels and all that…
Saturday is the day it all really kicks off. To start the day’s proceedings each network meets up at the check-in. Lanyards are adorned, SCBWI pens are purchased and fresh notebooks are prized open, the first clean page pressed down, awaiting further instruction. We had some fantastic key-note speakers this year – David Almond, Sarah Davies, Leigh Hodgkinson… my mind is still boggling from all the information given so freely and with such warmth.
One of the great things about the conference is that you can tailor it to your needs. I’ve been working mainly on my middle grade novels just now so I selected events that would help me craft them better, create more convincing worlds and generally try to make it look like I know what I am doing.
I also opted for a 1-2-1. I didn’t know who I was going to be paired with until I arrived but I had a fantastic, insightful meeting with Commissioning Editor, Ruth Bennett from Stripes Publishing. We both agreed that my WIP, sent to her a few months back, was made for the adult market (80’s nostalgia at its best) and she was intrigued with my pitch on my current WIP that I am working on for NaNoWriMo. A very uplifting and energised meeting. I have so much enthusiasm for both projects, I can’t wait to get back into writing mode once I clear my conference to-do list.
The Hook began its SCBWI journey last year. Think Dragon’s Den – pitch your story to four agents but in front of 300 fellow writers! SE Scotland member Justin Davies won it and selected Therese Coen as his agent of choice. Congratulations!
The Saturday night party is where legends are found, friendships are formed, prizes are awarded and wine is consumed. Epic.
And the cake! Well, the cake was just brilliant. Every SCBWI member who has had a book published this year has its very own mini edible version.
My friend and amazing author, Teri Terry , won the SCBWI Crystal Kite award this year and I couldn’t have been prouder. She is my go-to when the procrastination demons strike and her endless supply of baby panda videos have helped me out of many sticky situations.
Sunday is sometimes a bit fuzzy due to shenanigans from the night before but this year I was as bright as a great big jar of bright things. Maybe. Cliff McNish, ‘Doomspell’ creator and scribbler of many amazing characters, had it covered though and before long I was sharing a new idea with a room full of strangers as they helped me sort out the heroes from my villains. Sadly it was a cape-free zone.
Late Sunday afternoon marks the end of an amazing weekend, there’s always time for one last supper though. I always leave the conference bursting with ideas and glad that I joined SCBWI in 2013. I’m not sure where I would be without it.