Monday, 25 November 2013

Why I Love the SCBWI Conference

I've just returned from the SCBWI British Isles annual conference in Winchester and I'm buzzing with enthusiasm and happiness after spending time in the company of so many wonderful writers and illustrators.

Before the bubbles burst (actually, I think the SCBWI "high" will last a long time!) I'd like to share my top ten conference experiences. OR--so that it fits into the Words and Pictures blog remit--my top ten reasons Why I Love the SCBWI Conference.

1) Most heartwarming moment: Being part of the crowd that honoured the gracious Natasha Biebow for her 15 years of service as regional adviser, "growing" SCBWI British Isles from 35 members to 700, and overseeing the launch of so many helpful and innovative projects.

2)Proudest moment: Watching Dave Cousins receive the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for Europe. Dave was part of  our Undiscovered Voices 2010 cohort, and I am always thrilled by the success of any "gang members." Just remember, world...we 2010ers knew Dave first!

3)Most helpful moments: The many chats with fellow writers, when we shared our ups and downs, gained a sense of perspective and re-invigorated our self-confidence and our commitment tp writing.

4) Funniest moment. Being "crowned" a cyberman at the launch party by my fantastic (and imaginative)  co-compere Mo O'Hara. Yes, I can laugh about it now...

5) Most embarrassing moment: During Elizabeth Wein and Sheena Wilkinson's Sunday workshop on "world building," I destroyed an entire Playmobile "universe" with my butt. Not on purpose. And in front of many witnesses. All of whom found it hilarious...

They did not realise how little time they had left...

6) Happiest moment:  Realising that there was still wine left after Mo and I had finished our compering duties!

7) Most exhausting moment: Going upstairs after the "after party".

8) Most comfortable moment...kicking off those high heels.

9) All around best moment: Celebrating everyone's successes! 

Congrats, 2013 authors and fellow Cyberman! 


10) Looking forward to it all again in 2014! 

Monday, 11 November 2013

In Praise of Author Visits

Last month I had the privilege of helping Candy Gourlay launch her touching, brilliant new book Shine at Archway Library in London.

Before the evening events, Candy assembled a group of published authors to discuss short pieces of fiction written by students from nearby schools. It was a great chance for young writers to meet working authors, and the discussion we had was (for me, at least) entertaining and enlightening. It was also inspiring--the standard of students' work was high (very high...there's lots of new competition out there, folks!) and it was clear that the proud teachers and librarians who supported the event valued the opportunity to stretch their students as writers.

I'm preparing for several school visits in the this half-term. I'm not sure if all writers for children enjoy visiting schools. It's part of the "writer-as-performer" trend that some may not feel comfortable or confident with. But, like most writers, I love them, and here are some reasons why.

1) I am a frustrated former performer, and school visits give me the chance to get in touch with my inner (OK, maybe outer as well) ham.I like being on stage, and school visits are (sadly) my only remaining platform.

Check out those jazz hands! 

2) I'm also a former teacher, so school visits also let me practice the art of the "teacher look." You know, that across-the-room glare that's unnoticeable to others, but strikes terror (hopefully) into the heart of the student it's aimed at. I haven't had the opportunity to use this very often, sadly, but I'm happy to report that once you've got the look, you never lose it. (Without the smouldering cigarette, of course...)

3) School visits give me that ex-teacher thrill of walking across the car park at the end of a day without lugging a massive bag of marking.

On a more serious note...

4) School visits are inspiring. Meeting dedicated teachers, charming and hard-working students, energetic librarians and support staff, gives me hope for the future of education, regardless of what rubbish the current gang of bullies and know-nothings at the top are trying to promote.

5) School visits help me become clearer about writing. I don't always know "how" I work, but talking about writing--whether it's the students' or my own--gives me insights into the creative process. Exploring techniques and strategies with young writers strengthens my own work by helping me develop ideas or discovering ways of working that I hadn't considered before.

6) School visits let me, and other authors, bring out the best in students, regardless of their confidence or inclination to write. As authors, we don't have to judge student's "output" on some exam board's assessment criteria. Unlike so much work that students have to do in school, the activities we can help them with are largely about self-expression and creativity for its own sake.

7) School visits allow different types of "creatives"--students, writers, teachers, librarians--to work together and learn from each other's expertise. How fantastic is that?

8) Oh, I already mentioned doing the "no marking" dance, didn't I...well here it is again!