|Marie at the latest SCBWI conference|
So, Marie, what’s the story so far? How have the first few months been?A whirl to be honest. I took up post just before the Winchester Conference, which was great because I got to meet most of the Network volunteers straight away. The downside to this was that I was thrown straight into the deep end - my first real task being to organise and chair the annual Networks Meeting. Thankfully the Network Organisers were all very kind to me and pretended not to notice that I didn’t have a clue about any of the things that were being discussed. It has been pretty much none stop since, November being the time when Networks develop our annual reports and plans and January being when we begin to implement them. It’s all good though. I am working with a fantastic team of volunteers and they have been extremely supportive.
For you, what is the value of the networks?For me, the real value of the networks lies in the friendship and support that is to be found there. Each Network offers a range of activities tailored to the specific needs of their local members. Sometimes this might be formal workshops or professional development, at other times it is just a coffee and a natter: a chance to meet up with like-minded people. Lots of organisations deliver writing workshops and events, but the friendships and support offered by SCBWI is where our added value lies.
How did you first come in contact with SCBWI?I found out about SCBWI whilst crawling the Internet for writing resources. I was originally looking for local critique groups but SCBWI seemed to offer so much more. I was a bit daunted by the prospect of joining a professional writing organisation, but I had a word with myself about my insecurities and took the plunge. I was really nervous attending my first Network Meeting which was in Waterstones in Manchester. I needn’t have worried, long standing SCBWI members like George Kirk and Steph Williams soon put me at ease and SCBWI has felt like home ever since.
What do you consider the biggest challenge facing you at the moment as Networks Coordinator?I think the biggest challenge for me personally is managing quite a large team who all work remotely. I try to check in regularly with Network Organisers but I am conscious there is a fine line between being supportive and badgering people. I think I have go the balance right, now. At least I hope I have. In terms of strategic challenges, joining up members in some of our remoter areas is one of the things I am grappling with. For example, in Wales, we have just a handful of members, who are spread throughout the country. Consequently, geography makes it hard to bring people together physically. I am keen to explore options to connect members in other ways and will be looking into how we can make the most of the technology that is out there to do this.
Are there any areas of the British Isles where we are looking for new network coordinators or members?Funnily enough, Wales! Perhaps because of geography and the small number of members we have found it hard to recruit a Network Coordinator here. This in turn has an impact on membership. It is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. We are also looking to recruit two new Network Organisers for London. Longstanding SCBWI volunteer, Anita Loughrey, has done an amazing job but now wants to transfer to the South East so she can deliver network activity closer to home. Because London is our Region’s largest network we want to recruit two volunteers who can work together to further develop our fantastic programme of events.
As you’re also a writer and I know you’re completing a Masters in Creative Writing, how do you manage to ring-fence your time?It is difficult, admittedly. Before Christmas I found that SCBWI activity was taking up a disproportionate amount of my time. This was partly due to being new in post and partly due to the fact I started during the annual planning cycle. I am easily distracted, so I found I was concentrating on e-mails and short term tasks rather than getting on with my assignments or writing. I am trying to be a bit more disciplined and have started to block out time for specific activities. I’m also grouping tasks like e-mails and will only allow myself to deal with them at the start or end of day. We’ll see how it goes. All our SCBWI volunteers have busy lives, so I am not on my own. I think when you are part of a great team and you really want to do something you just make it happen.
Thank you, Marie. That’s gives us a great insight into what the networks are all about. A great deal for us all to think about there.
Gill James writes longer fiction for children and young adults, shorter fiction for adults, non-fiction, text books about writing and language learning and academic papers. She is published by Alfie Dog, Crooked Cats, Tabby Cat Press, The Red Telephone, Butterfly, The Professional and Higher Partnership and Continuum.