Monday, 24 November 2014

Sharing the creative non-fiction love – a tale of chocolate, passion, determination and joy (and that’s just the writing of it…) by Juliet Clare Bell.




I love SCBWI and the wonderful things that come out of it. Sometimes it’s practical (a book deal from a meeting with an editor at an event); sometimes personal (enduring friendships). But what I really love about it is that it’s usually both. The annual British SCBWI Winchester Conference is the perfect place for this mix of both to happen.

At the 2008 conference, I sat next to Rebecca Colby at dinner on the Saturday night. We’d never met before. Neither of us was published at the time but we were in a similar place. We showed each other our stories and something just clicked. We’ve shared our writing and supported each other’s journey ever since. A perfect mix of practical and personal. I’ve never written anything that hasn’t been improved by her insightful comments, and for the last three years or so, we’ve been part of the same fantastic picture book critique group.

At the 2014 conference in November, Rebecca and I, who have both fallen heavily for creative non-fiction picture books over the past year or so, did a joint presentation on breaking into the creative non-fiction picture book market (Anita Loughrey did a write up of the panel on this blog last week).


Through our mostly American critique group, I’ve been gradually exposed in recent years to non-fiction. Creative non-fiction (or true story) picture books have taken off in a really exciting way in the States and I was hearing more and more through our critique group, and when I was approached by Bournville Village Trust to write a true story picture book on the Cadbury family and Bournville (which would be illustrated by Jess Mikhail, a very good friend of mine!), I jumped at the chance.

I blogged about the Cadbury project earlier this year on Picture Book Den and at the time of blogging, I’d done months of research and had just given the outline of the structure of the story to the Cadbury and BVT people. And they’d just told me to go ahead and write that story. Since blogging, I have written up a first, then second, then subsequent, drafts. I’ve had them critiqued with both my online and in-person critique groups…


Some of our local picture book critique group relaxing Halloween stylee at the SCBWI Annual Winchester Conference, 2014 (plus Addy Farmer, far right, who is an honorary member and welcome whenever she likes)

…done more edits and a little bit more research - mostly just because I could and it felt so exciting to be able to go to the new Library of Birmingham, place my things into a locker… (no bags or pens allowed –it felt like a secret inner sanctum ritual)...


waited for entrance into the special room where really old archives are kept, and had letters, documents and photos (many over 130 years old) weighed out and handed to me for my perusal...


with gloves on, of course (c) Cadbury Archive



The Cadbury family summer house drawn by Maria Cadbury © Cadbury Archive


George Cadbury, circa 1850 (c) Cadbury Archive



Childhood letter from George © Cadbury Archive

and have done more edits (and critiques) until deciding it was probably time to stop and hand it over.

Jess Mikhail is currently working on the roughs -when she’s not too busy surfing on chocolate


(With apologies for silliness)

or playing hide and seek in an egg…


(And yet more silliness…)

A couple of weeks ago, we went to the printer’s and discussed book size, paper quality and bleeds


Jess, Tim (expert printer) and me

…and were shown how the printing works.


Because it’s not being published traditionally (though it will be sold in lots of outlets, including the shop at Cadbury World, which has over half a million visitors each year), we get to see the printing, and later, book-binding side, which is fascinating.

True story picture books, when they’re done well, are amazing. In the Cadbury book and subsequent true story picture books I’m planning, I want to capture that joy of discovery –whether it’s something physical...

The joy that is an acorn

or mind-blowingly magical...


Last week my son was blown away by discovering (with the help of his big sister) that it’s possible to add up much larger numbers that those you can calculate in your head if you know how to do… column addition!

or pure wonder.


This first-time experience was so amazing, he had to immerse himself in it fully…

And that state where you’re completely absorbed and focused on a task





It’s how I felt when I was researching for the Cadbury book – what an enormous privilege to be able to have that kind of access - and it’s how I feel about the new topics I’m researching. I can’t say what they are yet because someone might beat me to it (though there are many ways to tell a story) but since my pictures are so utterly un-life-like, here are some of the people I’m intending to write about:







An almost final word goes to the wonderfully wise David Almond who said it all when I saw him with my eldest daughter last year in Birmingham, in answer to the question: what’s the most important thing when you’re writing a book?


Make it lovely…

A final thanks goes to my youngest sister, Grace. After a very long phone call with her last week, I had sixty new ideas for non-fiction picture books (which I blogged about over at the Picture Book Den last week). I was nearly four when she was born and I have a specific memory of visiting her in hospital: not only was it Christmas Day, but we got to eat our first ever Womble chocolates, bought at the hospital. I’ve never seen them since… until earlier this year when I was doing research for the Cadbury book and was being taken behind the scenes at Cadbury World by the wonderful Colin Pitt –and guess what we found?


May you all be fired up by your own writing projects (or chocolate, or both).

And one last hooray for the British SCBWI conference from which many good things have come. I wasn't sure we could top the 2008 one, but I reckon 2014 was the best yet!



Medusa next to an eye tree. Just because...
(with thanks to my ten-year-old)

Juliet Clare Bell (always called Clare), is the author of Don’t Panic, Annika! (illustrated by Jennifer E Morris; Piccadilly Press, recently featured on CBeebies), The Kite Princess (illustrated by Laura-Kate Chapman; Barefoot Books, recently endorsed by Amnesty International and Pirate Picnic (illustrated by Mirella Minelli; Franklin Watts). Don’t Panic, Annika! and The Kite Princess were both shortlisted for SCBWI Europe’s Crystal Kite Award (in 2012 and 2013, respectively). 

Clare is a huge fan of SCBWI, jointly coordinating the Central West British SCBWI region with Julienne Durber, and running the Friday Night Critique at the annual British SCBWI conference. She would highly recommend volunteering with SCBWI (please contact them if you’re even contemplating it, or leave a message in the comments section, here: you’ll get back so much from it). She teaches writing picture book courses to adults, and creative writing to children, and blogs regularly for the Picture Book Den. 

National Non-fiction November is the Federation of Children’s Book Groups’ annual celebration of all things factual. Born out of National Non-Fiction Day, the brain child of Adam Lancaster during his years as Chair, the whole month now celebrates all those readers who have a passion for information and facts and attempts to bring non-fiction celebration in line with those of fiction. 

28 comments:

  1. Brava! I enjoyed reading every bit of this and gazing at the pictures. How wonderful and exciting you were able to visit the Cadbury archives. I know you were over the moon. Exciting things are in store for you, Clare. Thanks for sharing!

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    2. Thanks, Kristin! And thanks for getting me more and more excited by non-fiction. We need to talk about birds sometime soon (I heard an interesting, relevant story last week that you might like -if you don't already know it). And I think exciting things are in store for you, too! Thanks, Clare.

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  2. Great post, Clare. I love your energy!!!

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  4. Hi Juliet!

    One thing you and I have in common...I too wrote a creative nonfiction book based on chocolate, but mine involved a mystery which has remained unsolved to this day...;~)

    Great post!

    Take care,

    Donna L Martin
    www.donnalmartin.com

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    1. OK, I 'fess up. *I* ate it...

      What a tantalising comment, Donna! Tell me more! (On or offline.) I would really love to read it. Thanks, Clare.

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  5. I wasn't sure the 2008 conference could be topped either, but 2014 was spectacular! I love sharing in your passion and joy for NF PBs (and life in general), and you've obviously managed to pass on that wonder, determination and exhilaration on to your children. A great read, Clare! My own kids were looking over my shoulder this morning and now they want to know all about Cadbury chocolate and read your forthcoming book too--as well as go surfing on a bar of chocolate and stick their whole face in some candy floss. :)

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    1. Thanks, Rebecca. As soon as I have a date for the launch, I'll let you know in case you guys can come down for it. And maybe one day, they can come and we'll all go to Cadbury World! As for candy floss, I personally think it's grim as anything, but I love the passion the children feel for things, whether I not I share the taste...

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  6. If possible, we would LOVE to come to the launch! Let us know the date, once you know.

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  7. This is all great - I really want some Wombles chocolate now!!

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  8. Clare, thank you for such a fabulous golden ticket of a story - full of wonder and hilarious pictures :-) Oh for the freedom to bury one's face in candy-floss, and surf on a chocolate bar. I wish you all the very excellent success with your book.

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    1. Thank you, Nancy! Isn't that desire to immerse yourself in something (though I wouldn't choose candy floss!) just great? I do feel very lucky! See you at the launch, maybe?!

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  9. Wonderful post. Nonfiction has always been more tantalizing for me than fiction. Brava!

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    1. Thank you, Lori Ann. It's certainly tantalising! Happy writing...

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  10. Great post! I LOVE seeing your archived treasures for the Cadbury book!

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    1. Thanks, Tina. I need to get some teaching resources written to go on the web. There'll be plenty of archived treasure there. I'll give you the link when I do it. I feel so amazingly privileged to have access to those pictures. I love the childhood letters, especially.

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  11. What a delicious post! Enjoyed every crumb of it. Congratulations and best wishes for all good things coming your way. Carrie Pearson, co-RA SCBWI-MI

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    1. Thank you, Carrie Anne. It's been such an exciting project. Good luck with your writing -and RA-ing! All the best, Clare.

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  12. Thanks Clare, for that scrummy, informative post. I love cotton candy though I hadn't thought to stick my face in it! How lucky to have such an insider's view of how the printing process is done. Best of luck, Frances Brown. (Met you and Rebecca at the PB retreat this year).

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  13. Hi Frances, Lovely to hear from you -I hope that it's been a productive time for you since the retreat? And yes, I do feel very lucky! See you next year at the retreat maybe? All the best, Clare (PS Let me know if you try that trick with the candy floss/cotton candy...)

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  14. Oh Clare...what a wonderful project to work on! Your post is incredible...bu I got really hungry...I am a chocoholic and a lover of all things sweet. :)

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    1. Thank you, Vivian. It's been such a privilege to work on and I'm so excited about it coming out, and all the new stories just waiting to be told. Really good luck with your own stories (maybe you should try writing about something sweet -there's a lot of research that has to go into every book...).

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