Network News: North-West – Workshop and Critique Session

Wooden panels, writers and Steve.

By Gill James 
We were very privileged to be able to use a room at the beautiful John Rylands library, Deansgate, Manchester. There is something quite appropriate about a group of writers working surrounded by wooden panels and old books. 

The deal was that we would use their café for lunch.  This worked well and they managed to serve us relatively quickly. The food is delicious there. So a great place to visit if you are in Manchester.  
And this is a great model for finding a place to host an event. Win / win for everyone. The venue gets a solid group of captive customers. The delegates only have to pay for lunch.  

Workshop with Steve Hartley

Steve, now a successful published author, is a long term SCBWI member and kindly offered us this workshop. He appeared in the first Undiscovered Voices in 2008. Some of the insights into psychology he shared with us came from his previous day job.

Harmony / disharmony  

We looked at how stories move their protagonists from a position of harmony to disharmony and back to harmony. The divide between that harmony and disharmony, particularly in the young adult, is often to do with identity and indeed more often than not the basic theme in a young adult novel is about the young person finding their identity.   

Eating chocolate in a group 


Steve also took us through how groups work. “We are right, you are wrong” is the group mantra. Groups like to do things together. Just think of the power, for instance of “eating chocolate in a group”. 
The joy of note-taking

Three brains

We have three brains, Steve informed us: the reptilian one that looks after all of the motor and automatic functions, the emotional brain and the rational reasoning one. Our characters must use all three.  

Basic motivators

These drive the subconscious: fear (and security), leisure, pleasure, value and status. Of course, we can populate these with the individual concerns of our characters, but they fit into those categories.     
This, of course, only gives a flavour of what Steve offered us. We really recommend him for this type of workshop.  Certainly, we were all buzzing with ideas as we moved towards “eating lunch in a group”.

Critique Groups

After lunch we divided into critique groups – picture book, middle grade and young adult. Five to six people in each group shared work that had been emailed out in advance. I think everyone appreciated having focussed groups and gained a lot from sharing work with like-minded people. The groups are about the right size and if we chose to continue, we may have to declare them full. This seems quite a healthy position for a first meeting. Of course, there is nothing to stop new groups forming and also having some cross-referencing between groups. 
Busy critiquing


Always important and always one of the main benefits of hooking up with your local network. It was really great getting to know some new people over lunch. The John Rylands offered us tea and coffee at the end of our day and there was more time for chat.
Good stuff going on in the north-west, then.         
Gill James writes mainly for young adults. Her latest novel is The House on Schellberg Street. 
She is a  Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Salford.            


  1. Thanks Gill. I am sure others will find the insights Steve gave us extremely useful x

  2. Brilliant to read, Gill. Thank you. It's inspiring to see such a large gathering of enthusiastic SCBWIs


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