Saturday, 30 June 2012

The knives were out at the SCBWI Conference....

SCBWI Roving Reporter, Alison Peters reporting from the Hughenden
The knives were out as the SCBWI Conference kicked off at the lovely Hughenden Hotel last night- or at least they would have been had airport security guards not foiled a brazen attempt by leading picture book writer Catriona Hoy to smuggle a carving knife onto her flight.

Ms Hoy escaped arrest with a story about a cake, a mistake,and, you know, being a vague creative type but you can never really be sure with people who make stuff up for a living.

Catriona's Little Dinosaur - an Australian ornithopod
The airport heavies bought it though, and Catriona arrived in Sydney in plenty of time to launch her new picture book 'The Little Dinosaur'.

Catriona's online writing group buddy Claire Saxby introduced the new work, illustrated in stunning detail by Andrew Plant.

According to Claire there are a few simple principles to follow when writing a picture book, the central one being 'Don't kill off your main character'.  This one is closely followed by, 'If you must kill them off, for goodness sake don't do it in the middle of the book.'  But when you are a master storyteller you can stomp all over the rules-and this story of the life, death and rebirth of a little Australian dinosaur works beautifully.

Claire described it as 'a lyrical, informative and beautiful picture book,' but just to see how good Catriona's writing was Claire 'tested' it by reading it out loud. We were entranced from the first page, but just in case we lost the plot, Catriona accompanied the reading with an energetic mime of the life of the little dinosaur (or was it an interpretive dance?) Either way, watching this pair of  long term writing friends working together reinforced the importance of belonging to a supportive writers group.  (The 'volcano spewing lava' part of the performance was priceless. Ask Catriona to do it for you if you bump into her at The Writers Centre over the weekend).

After we sent 'The Little Dinosaur' out into the world with champagne,  love and best wishes, Suzanne Gervay introduced the new regional advisors and declared the 2012 SCBWI Australia and New Zealand conference officially open.

Most of us made a quick beeline for the Illustrator's Showcase where we either sighed or stood speechless at the beauty and scope of the work that lay around us, before moving into the hotel bar and restaurant for a delicious dinner.

As a first time conference attendee I had a few anxious moments wondering if I would find somebody I knew. I need not have worried. Warmth, generosity and friendliness seem to be universal amongst people who write for children, and I was soon swapping stories and business cards with new writerly friends who I feel sure I will stay in touch with, and cheer on from the sidelines as their work is published.

It promises to be an inspiring conference.

The Little Dinosaur by Catriona Hoy and illustrated by Andrew Plant, is published by Working Title Press and distributed by Penguin Books Australia.

Reaching into the heart: Realistic Fiction: A panel discussion

SCBWI Roving Report: Nathan Luff 
at the NSW Writers' Centre
With Sarah Foster (MD, Walker Books), Meg McKinlay (author), Prue Mason (author), Sally Murphy (author), and Sue Whiting (author & Publisher, Walker).

Why write realistic fiction? Why read it? Here are some thoughts from the panellists:

Sue: Good realistic fiction humanises life and is character rich. There is an honesty & truth to it.'
Prue: 'I love adventures and situations that challenge characters physically and emotionally. We try to avoid having messages but kids like to learn. There is an appeal there.'
Meg: 'I see myself more as an observer than a storyteller. I'm a collector of fragments. As an author I don't write spec fiction because I'm lazy – I don't want to have to build the world.'
Sally: Takes on difficult subjects but she never planned to make people cry. The books she connected with as a kid were realistic fiction and she aspired to write about real people. "People cry when reading realistic fiction because it taps into their own mourning and grief." "You have to put yourself into the situation to make it plausible, regardless of if it is realistic fiction or not."
Sarah: As a publisher Sarah has become more open to other genres and has come to appreciate good writing surpasses any pigeonholing of genre. 'The manuscripts we reject are the ones where the author doesn't appear to have put their heart into it – they've just become an expert on a subject but you don't feel it. Humour has a huge part to play for realistic fiction – eg in Pearl Verses the World, one minute you are laughing and the next you are crying.'

Some interesting figures/facts:

In the Young Adults section of the CBCA awards 5 of 6 in the shortlist this and last year were realistic fiction. In the Younger Children section: 2 out of 6 in the shortlist this year were realistic and last year it was 5 out of 6.

BUT in the bestseller lists, there are very few realistic fiction titles. Is realistic fiction rewarded but not popular? Sarah mentioned that the labels we put on books are very adult – kids don't necessarily care about these labels – they just want good stories.
Meg wisely said: "I don't see why realistic fiction reaches into the heart any more than other genre."

Inside Picture Books: a panel discussion

Blogger: Nathan Luff, author 
reports on some of the highlights 
INSIDE PICTURE BOOKS - a discussion with Corinne Fenton, Nina Rycroft, Sue Whiting & Claire Saxby – chaired by Frané Lessac. A discussion on how they created and published their award-winning picture books. 

On first getting published
Claire Saxby took writing classes to begin with, including a writing for children course that 'felt like coming home'. Fortunately her first picture book was accepted after having been sent to only 3 publishers. It got to final proof and then the company went broke. That was 2001 and that book has never been published. In 2002 she submitted another one, which through a series of publisher related complications didn't come out until 2006. PERSISTENCE is the key.
Corinne Fenton had published educational books first but always wanted to write picture books. She chanced upon the story of Queenie the elephant and wrote a picture book manuscript about her, which turned out to have huge relevance to the owners of Black Dog Books (and she met with them on the anniversary of Queenie arriving in Australia) "Sometimes there's work and sometimes there's luck".

Sue Whiting's first love was PB but she was clueless as to the process. She received many rejections so to learn the craft of writing Sue took a diversion and started writing for the education market and a novelty publishing company. She still had her first love – picture books.
Nina Nycroft was a massive collector of picture books and would hang out in bookshops. Didn't know anything about illustrating kids books however – she gave up graphic design and came up with some concept sketches that she sent to publishers. She was rejected by everyone before Koala Books called asking to meet her. "It's a marathon not a sprint"

On authors letting go of control
Corinne –there's no choice she has to hand it over and let it go – she trusts the illustrators who are chosen. Keeps illustrators briefs as short as possible. It helps by getting caught up in another story. She gets a chance to query the artwork but is careful that she only queries things she feels really strongly about.
Claire has no idea what her characters look like unless it is relevant to the plot – only includes illustrators notes if it is important to plot. She has never been disappointed.
Sue is very visual – she sees the whole story as she writes it. So getting the first proofs can be really hard, especially the first book – it was so removed from her vision. But now she can't imagine them in any other way. You have to let go – a PB is not your book, it is a collaboration. The beauty of the PB is that it is the meeting of 2 creative minds. Like Claire, she doesn't give any notes to the illustrator.

How do you feel about receiving notes (as an illustrator)
Very rare to meet the author of the book you are illustrating. Nina prefers when there is little text because she gets to be more creative. She knows a MS is hard to write and knows she must respect it but also has to add to it. Loves getting into the process of it and being able to play. The illustrator is a storyteller too and must be given that opportunity.

How do you get a 99 word book accepted by a publisher? Corinne has one with 54 words coming out (but it didn't start out that way). You just send it in ... LESS IS MORE. Sue mentioned you don't need many words to tell a good story – it can be tricky but if there is something plot wise that is important and not covered in the text, you might include it as a note. These notes should be given within the manuscript in italics and brackets – but be careful as there are very few books that need notes.
Are multiple submissions okay? Check the publishers guidelines to see if they like that or not. Be aware. Jill Corcoron always sends to more than one publisher – they are holding your life and can take AGES with it. Sue says, 'just act professional and if you get a niggle, just let people know.'

Book Launch and mingling

Some more photos from the first night at the conference!
BOOK LAUNCH of The Little Dinosaur

Hands down one of the most entertaining live readings of a book I've seen 

Fun times catching up with old friends and making new ones!

Welcome to the conference! Some images from Lesley Vamos

Hey everyone - I know Sheryl has already beat me to the punch - the mad blogger that she is. However I thought I would give you a few more photos from the night as well as look at the roaring success that was the first illustrator showcase!

Welcome to the Hughi - Open only to us!

Setting up for a BIG night! 

Serena and Sarah ready to welcome our special guests

Big thanks to all 37 publishers, agents and editors that came from all over Australia to celebrate our illustrators!

And Congratulations to Sue Whiting on winning first prize for the most comments made to artists in their feedback envelopes - Enjoy that Moet ^_^

Friday, 29 June 2012

A Gathering of the Tribe

Celebrating good friends, new friends and old friends (and missing absent friends) - some of the Friday night celebrations at the Hughenden Hotel. Just the images...

Serena and Frances
Krista, Tracey, Norm, Sally
Corinne and Tracey

Gabrielle and Krista

Making music - Chris, James and Scott (+Meredith on piano)

Friends of many years from north, south, east and west

Penny, Ramona and Alison