|Jude Evans in Action|
Photo by Cathy Bee
Well, that was possibly the best £27 I’ve spent in my writing career.
A whole afternoon of picture book writing wisdom made wonderfully accessible by the lovely Jude Evans from Little Tiger Press. Plus a pub lunch. What more could a picture book writer ask for?
The number of years Jude’s been at Little Tiger shall remain secret, but let’s just say it’s double figures. Her experience and knowledge of the industry was great to hear, unpacking those nuances and details for us that only someone at the heart of the industry can do. Who knew it’s harder to make human characters appeal to publishers buying co-editions than animal characters (co-editions are versions of a book sold to publishers overseas). It seems sometimes a publisher can never have enough bears when they take a book to Bologna.
Jude started by giving us an overview of the picture book market from a publisher’s perspective. The last 3-4 years has seen an enormous shift in the UK – books like Oi Frog (Kes Grey and Jim Field) are examples of the quirky funny humour that is big in the UK market at the moment. While in Europe the warmer, softer books like I Love You As Big As The World (David Van Buren and Tim Warnes) still do well.
|The workshop with Jude at the helm|
Photo by Cathy Bee
Jude encouraged us as writers and illustrators to engage with this and understand our own work from the perspective of where it sits within the market place. Research, research, research was the message. Go to your local Waterstones, your local independent, mooch around the library and read, read, read. Look at what’s out on the tables, what’s on offer, what’s got a special display. Ask yourself, where would my book fit in? This is the perfect excuse to hole up in *insert favourite bookshop/library* for days on end flicking through the children’s section! Just tell them Jude Evans from Little Tiger Press said you should.
Clearly publishers and agents get frustrated when people send in manuscripts thinking picture books are the easy (short) option and obviously haven’t picked up a picture book for years. Thankfully this is one pitfall that most SCBWI members have already avoided. But don’t forget to mention you’re a SCBWI member or if you’ve been to an event like this one, on your query letters. It immediately says you’re serious about writing or illustrating for children and helps you stand out.
One thing that struck me was Jude’s encouragement to use humour. She pointed out that even in picture books dealing with tough subjects like death, a touch of light gentle humour can help to carry the subject matter and bring it to life in a special way and it’s something publishers are looking for at the moment. Jude also shared that, along with humour, animal characters can be beneficial to help put a bit of distance between a difficult topic and young readers. More bears.
After lots of great input from Jude, we then had some time to work together and develop some ideas. Our group had such a great time plotting a picture book about naughty rabbits, we exchanged email addresses so we could talk about it more! Other groups developed ideas with different animals. There were a lot of pigs in wellies and a toothfairy hippo. Brilliant! That’s one of the exciting things about going to a SCBWI event like this, you never know who you’ll meet or what it will spark.
The next Masterclass is on voice and the creation of character with Beverley Birch in October. The bad news is that it’s sold out. The good news is those busy bees at SCBWI Masterclasses are already working on a program for 2016, so watch this space!