Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators Conference: Saturday

en route to Winchester

A few months ago – I can’t remember quite how far back my good chum Liz de Jager contacted me and asked if I would like to appear on a panel at the SCBWI Convention in Winchester. Naturally I said of course and then asked what I had to do. It was simple I had to get up to Winchester on the 24th November and ist on a panel with other Industry experts and discuss the state of books, publishing and libraries.

I arrived at the University of Winchester a bit damp and out of breath having followed signs from the station around the houses and up some relatively steep hills. It was bang on midday and I was just in time for the Industry Panel, this was made up of: Mara Bergman Senior Commissioning Editor, Walker Books; Janetta Otter-Barry Publisher, Janetta Otter-Barry Books (Frances Lincoln); Kate Wilson MD Nosy Crow; Sarah Odedina MD/Publisher, Hot Key Books; Val Braithwaite Art Director, Bloomsbury, Vic Tyler Commissioning Editor, Barefoot Books moderated by Benjamin Scott.

Discussion touched on what traditional publishers can offer authors/illustrators in the face of growing self-publishing; the importance on online portfolios for artists/illustrators, how it is important not to send a complete mock-up of a book to showcase your work and for the love of God do not create a picture book with a chum that can draw because that will end badly for one of the people involved – and that can include the publisher. Creating apps and enhanced e-reading was also mentioned with Nosy Crow taking the lead on this, closely followed by Hot Key Books.

Brief aside: I was at a Youth Libraries Group London training day the week before at which Kate Wilson was speaking, and she demoed the forthcoming QR code enhanced picture books that when scanned by a smart phone will allow the reader to download a free audio version of the book.

Questions from the floor included how authors and illustrators go about submitting manuscripts or artwork for consideration and if publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts.

This was followed by lunch, I was sitting behind Non Pratt of Catnip Books during the Industry Panel so we walked out for lunch a the end and we had a lovely catch-up about what is happening in our respective lives and exciting times for Catnip Books, plus a potential focus group offer for my school (but that will be fleshed out in January). Also said hello to the lovely Sara Grant (author of Dark Parties and the 2013 book Half Lives – which is excellent! Yes I have an early proof which is gorgeous and all mine!)

Debi Gliori was the keynote illustrator speaker for the afternoon session and after fossicking around her undies (her words) trying to sort out the lapel mic she started. One of the really brilliant things she spoke about was hate mail she received from climate change deniers “Pack up your Prius and go back to California!” after the publication of The Trouble With Dragons, presented a slide show of her influences as a child, as well as her artwork from roughs to finished pages including images from The Trouble With Dragons, The Tobermory Cat (there were photographs of Tobermory and the cats themselves – apparently there were three), animal family pictures from various books and she finished up with reading the Scariest thing of All with slides of the pages. I still love being read to – even after all these years!

I then bumped into Dave Cousins of 15 Days Without a Head Fame and we caught up – I had not seen him since the YLG/Edge Authors event at Foyles. Another highlight of the day was that was Sara Grant introduced me to her agent who expressed an interest in seeing some of my written work. I was also lucky enough to chat to Candy Gourlay author of Tall Story who was moderator for the panel I was on.

Prior to my panel they announced the winner of the 2012 Crystal Kite Award, which was *drumroll* Sara Grant for Dark Parties. Sara is a brilliant author and an absolutely lovely person (as her acceptance speech showed) and as ypu can see her fellow authors and illustrators think the same.

The Panel:

Ok earlier – I said my panel – but it was not mine (not mine alone anyway) I sat next to Lin Oliver (author, TV and film producer as well as Executive Director and co-founder of SCBWI), Clair Wilson (Agent, at Rogers, Coleridge and White Literary Agency); Beverley birch (Senior Commissioning Editor at Hodder); Melissa Cox (New Titles Buyer for Waterstones Children’s) and me – Matt Imrie (Librarian, Chair of YLG London and future Carnegie & Kate Greenaway judge) to say felt under-qualified to be on the panel would be understating it just a bit. Candy gourlay was a brilliant moderator and kept us on task, discussion moved between the Penguin/Random House merger, to eReaders (Kindle & everyone else), Amazon’s alleged anti-competitive practices were mentioned , the downside to digital reading was discussed briefly (not owning the digital copies n your ereader came up) and a large part of the talk focused on the closure of school and public libraries – I got a bit ranty, I did try and reign myself in and managed not to shout or swear (I did get rather emotional though) it was amazing sitting in a massive auditorium filled with authors and illustrators – people whose enables me to do what I do.

After the panel I chatted to Kate Wilson who recognized my voice from the YLG training Day she said my rant reminded her of an article that Caitlin Moran had written about libraries. She had even tweeted it:

I also had the chance to ask Kate if Nosy Crow will bring out their ebooks for the Android platform (they will but do not have a timeframe yet).

I had planned to slope off back to London after the panel but had my arm twisted by a number of people so I stayed for the book Launch party at the Winchester Guildhall where I rubbed shoulders and chatted to a number of people including Chitra Soundar, John Shelley, Sean Noonan, Sara Grant, Molly Ker Hawn , Zella Compton and so many others!

I tore myself away at 9pm and walked up to Winchester station and waved goodbye to the train I had hoped to catch because I could not find a way across the railway line that would not end without me being electrocuted and/or arrested which would not have been good!

I was only there for the Saturday afternoon and sadly missed out on the morning break out sessions and the fun and games of the Sunday. I knew that the UK had a vibrant childrens publishing inustry but I had no idea that there was such a close-knit community, it has made me want to sign up to SCBWI and go as a delegate next year and also work on my writing and get some pieces finished!

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