By Natalie Yates
There are picnics and there are picnics
We sat wriggling our toes in soft, dry grass on picnic rugs and blankets, sipping Pimms and nibbling strawberries. The sun warmed our faces and the surrounding company warmed our hearts as we shared and delighted in each other’s experiences of SCBWI over the past few years.
|Cake and Prosecco|
Ok, the British summer put paid to us having a ‘proper’ picnic so our time on Saturday 2nd July was spent in the café in York library, while grey clouds filled the sky and rain threatened outside. The staff were kind enough to allow us to decamp to one of their rooms for our picnic lunch and indeed, we did share and delight in our experiences of SCBWI and our writing lives.
Our plan was to not have a usual critiquing session that day, but to each practise our pitch to agents. In turn we each read our prepared three lined pitch to the group and feedback was shared. It was a valuable use of our time as we realised the more polished pitches amongst us had revealed the USP of their novel. Lots of submissions to agents and publishers are about the same thing, so your pitch must sell what is unique about your story. We also learned that a three sentence pitch should represent the three acts of the novel and ideally be written in the same voice as the story. It is a tricky task, similar to the dreaded writing of the synopsis, and it is so easy to generalise your story forgetting to sell what is enticing about it, so that an agent would want to ask more. A recommended read was James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure. He advocates the LOCK theory when writing a synopsis:
L - Lead character
O - Objective
C - Conflict
K - Knockout ending
|Pitches practiced in friendly manner|
After lunch we discussed our favourite books. So much of what we read as a child and indeed what we read as adults is reflected in our writing. Michael Cail openly admitted that his first attempt at writing a story was a ‘rip-off’ of his favourite book – ‘A Ghost Waiting’ by Hugh Scott – which he read many times while growing up. Debbie Coope produced a much-thumbed copy of Jane Eyre (Bronte) – loved because of its gothic horror/love story theme. Pride & Prejudice (Austen) is Natalie’s favourite, which sparked a discussion on Austen and how as teens we didn’t really appreciate her humour as much as we do now as adults. Maureen Lynas mentioned her favourite moment in a book – Harry Potter – when the Boggart is released from the wardrobe and realises characters’ fears.
For Rebecca Colby it was the Big Golden Book of Poetry. At 7 years old she couldn’t read but by the end of that year when she had been given the book, she was most improved. It has influenced and inspired her writing and love of poetry and rhyme.
Dawn Treacher loved Wind in the Willows as a child, but her favourite book was The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brockett (Boyne). She describes it as a lovely story, which while being completely bonkers, is still compelling and maintains its internal logic. Neelie Wicks admitted how she absolutely hated Hucklebury Finn and that her favourite book of all time was The Family at One End Street (Garnett) – a story about a family who have nothing but are still happy. It won the second Garnegie Medal in 1938 and was considered ground breaking for its portrayal of a working-class family. This prompted a discussion on Enid Blyton, how many of us had grown up with the Famous Five, The Far Away Tree and Malory Towers.
A competitive spirit was bought to the table with Maureen’s quiz cards and our minds were buzzing as we formed teams, desperate to remember the name of a character or author with just a few, sometimes obscure, clues.
We finished off the day with individual one liners to sum up all that SCBWI is about and here are some of them:
Debbie: ‘It’s all about making friendships and networking.’
Morag: ‘You cannot afford to not be in SCBWI.’ (Rebecca told her this before she joined.)
Michael: ‘Vital support for writers in an uncompetitive environment.’
Neelie: ‘It’s great fun while learning.’ And ‘very welcoming, even though I know it [her writing] is pants!’
Natalie: ‘Provides the building bricks for writers as they journey through an isolating world.’
Maureen: ‘SCBWI is like a good bra…’
Morag: ‘supporting you in those saggy moments!’
Natalie joined SCBWI in early 2015. She works as a part-time Teaching Assistant and a full-time manager for her three girls, husband and a mad schnauzer. In her spare time she writes for YA and MG and this year graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Hull University. She loves to write realistic fiction based on historical events and self-published a MG novel in 2013. She lives in the beautiful East Riding of Yorkshire.