Anyway, SCBWI stands for "Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators", and was founded in Los Angeles about 40 years or so ago. More details for to be found here. The British chapter, the SCBWI British Isles has been in existence for 10 years, and has been supporting both published and unpublished writers since then.
Celebrating its 10 years
SCBWI holds numerous events over the year, the biggest of which is the annual conference in the month of November. As I have never been to such a conference before, I didn't know what to expect. I knew there would be lectures and workshops, but I wasn't sure whether they could hold my interest for an entire weekend. I missed quite a few lectures at university for the plain reason that a module did not prove of any interest to me. Well... now that the conference is over, I can tell you that an amazing thing has happened: every single lecture or workshop kept my mind enthralled the way my lecturers at university could only ever dream about. The teachers were fantastic, the volunteers extremely helpful.
On Saturday, after what can only be described as a very rushed Full English Breakfast, I actually enjoyed Marcus Sedgwick's keynote speech. He is the kind of writer I always thought would be good at writing children's books - as he himself said, part of his brain is still a kid (though getting a little older by the year). Ellen Renner went through all that a writer has to do to become a success (you need luck, too, of course), and I found her session to be extremely inspiring. It was quite funny listening to her straight after Marcus Sedgwick's talk. Mr Sedgwick is a plotter - the character comes later (easy to revise whereas plot is not), whilst Ms Renner likes to focus on the character. I think we have the usual boy / girl difference here though. Boys tend to be more excited about plots whilst girls tend to be more into the characters themselves (hence, they can fall in love with a fictional character, which I have never seen a boy do). As a girl, I was more in Ms Renner's camp with regards to this matter, in fact, I agreed with everything that she said, and have ordered a few of the guide books she recommended to us that very day. I also wanted to do Linda Chapman's session Letting the Genie Out of the Bottle, but unfortunately, I could not clone myself in time for the conference. What a nuisance! The industry panel was very informative, and enabled me to see the writing world from an editor's point of view.
Prior to the conference, I had been looking forward to Marcus Sedgwick's afternoon lecture A Sense of Place very much. You see, the setting for the novel I'm currently working on is extremely important, and I wanted it to have more of a role in the novel itself. His lecture gave me a few ideas. So let's see whether I can put those tips into practice. The lecture was followed by the State of the Nation panel that touched upon certain issues such as e-Books. I know the music industry had a lot of problems with illegal downloads, and everyone is worried that the same fate would befall the book market. But I have to admit that I am a very big fan of the Kindle. I have it in my bag about 90% of the time. I commute 4 hours a day, I need books to entertain me whenever I'm taking a break from writing on the train, and with young adult novels* these days easily reaching 100,000 words or more, my bags wouldn't be able to deal with that. I don't download books illegally either - I wouldn't have the time in the day to find out how to. In fact, the books that I do like on Kindle, I sometimes end up buying in their physical form for purely emotional reasons, so I actually purchase them twice rather than just once. Also, I've given my husband a Kindle for his birthday towards the end of October. He has not read a fiction book in years. Seriously, the last real fiction book he remembers reading was the Lord of the Rings trilogy. And that was years before the films came out! We are now in mid-November (barely a month after he has received his Kindle) and he has almost completed all three books of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. He is even starting to worry about what to read next! Whilst e-Books may make piracy easier, I also believe they open up a whole new audience to writers. And even if e-Books did not exist, piracy would continue to thrive as could be seen with the 100% fake, but solid Harry Potter books seen in China when Deathly Hallows came out. Sad as it is, all we can do is hope that the majority of humans on this planet abide by some personal moral code rather than spend every waking minute trying to find more and more loopholes in the law.
On Sunday, I took the two workshops led by Miriam Halahmy - Give your plot a facelift and How to make your characters stand up and stand out on the page. I don't think I have overcome my public speaking fears during those hours, but it could have been a step in the right direction. During lunch, I had an interesting discussion about mother and daughter relationships with another conference attendee. This is a very important aspect of the novel that I'm working on, and it has provided me with quite a few head-banging opportunities over the last few weeks. It was good to know that they are indeed as complex in real life as I believe it to be for my story. A favourite topic at lunch was Social Networking, inspired by the talk given by Candy Gourlay, Sarah McIntyre and Keren David. I realised I don't do anywhere near as much social networking as other people do. Yes, I do have Facebook, but it's still under my maiden name, and I have only Facebook-befriended my close friends, family and a handful of colleagues. Blog - well, I decided after that to "renew" my blog (you're looking at it now), as it might help me with my writing. Twitter - gave that up when I no longer had a Blackberry. I'm really behind in all things social networking...
... speaking about which, my mother has recently joined Facebook, i.e. my brother has set her page up for her, whilst she does her updates. Upon seeing that I was in Winchester over the weekend, a friend asked me on Facebook what I was doing there. My mother asked the same. I told them about the conference, upon which my mother posted the following:
"That's great that you are finally doing something that you really wanted to do for a long time - write. I wanted to do it myself before when I was young, but limited budget and time cancelled those dreams. Continue yours!"
This post nearly brought a tear to my eye at the conference. Those few short lines encompassed everything that the conference was about (to me, at least). All of us (whether published or not) have a dream, and we must stay in pursuit of that dream or else, we may give up on them. More often than not, it is the support that we receive from our loved ones and organisations like the SCBWI that is of vital importance. It should be valued highly. After all, Cinderella would never have gotten to that all-important ball without the support of the fairy godmother.
*I'm not actually that young. It's just that I'm particularly interested in this market, and I'm pretty sure my brain has never gone beyond the teenage phase - with reference to Mr Sedgwick's comments.