Roll up Roll up

Following on from last week, here are some notes from last year's SCBWI BI conference in Winchester, to whet your appetite for this year. As you will see from the names, the conference was jam-packed with writing prowess.

Cathy Cassidy came to the stage, with her agent, to talk about her work. Cathy's message to her readers is strong: believe in yourself, don't feel that you're alone. She writes about how to deal with certain issues, demonstrates ways to cope with them - for those children, she says, who don't have parents and teachers to support them. She says that boys relate to some of the same issues as girls, such as how to fit in, how to find friends.

When it was suggested that Cathy is a 'girly' writer, she responded quite vehemently that she writes with a feminist subtext about real-life - and would 'fight the word girly.'

Cathy and her agent talked about the collaborative nature of the editorial process - the subtle exchange of ideas that they share, face to face. Cathy says she never feels she is writing 'to order.' She is sometimes given a challenge, but ultimately her agent allows her complete freedom to write, without really knowing what she's writing about.

With her Dream Catcher blogspot, Cathy stays in close contact with her readers. It is a place where they can talk about things that matter to them. Cathy therefore knows what they want to read about.

Sally Gardner comes next in my notes. She spoke of the absolute importance of fairy stories. They allow children a way to escape from the dark dark wood, providing them with a place to play, a place of possibilities. Our power, as story-tellers, is to make things as dark and as frightening as possible, so that children can explore here, in safety. We need to keep the forest dark, she says. This is why fantasy works.

Sally's writing tips were:

~ Never give everything away at the same time. Hold them back.
~ Be careful with the use of 'likes' (similes). Readers might not like your likes. Cut them down if you can.
~ Remember how children will see things at different physical heights and perspectives

Sally talked about the process of writing Maggot Moon. She began with the What Ifs. She always starts with these - to allow the character to work it out. She lets her characters speak to each other to see if they would think or say a particular thing.

Melvin Burgess led a workshop on fairy-tales. He said fairy-tales are seminal. The Big Bad Wolf is the first baddy we meet as children. We all remember fairy-tales, because they are masterpieces of story-telling. Melvin took us through the process of peeling back the layers of Jack and the Beanstalk, to show how character and plot are so intimately linked together. Without the central characters (and their characteristics) there is no story. If you have the wrong character, your plot simply won't work.

My notes are quite sketchy. It was the day after the party, and I was up until 3 or 4am, talking nonsense in the Mecure bar, and meeting a swathe of fabulous SCBWI folk. I hope they can't remember a word I said.

Don't forget to check out last week on W&P's:
Monday's wonderful Back to School Inspiration feature by K M Lockwood
Tuesday's rich eclectic mix from Nick, from first lines, to lessons from a 3-legged dog
Wednesday's Nicky Schmidt's interview with Morag Caunt showcases her incredible work with young people, and her self-publication of The Zone - short stories for troubled teens, and drama groups
Thursday's Event news of great success from past conference goers!
Friday's  featured illustrator of October - Loretta Schauer

Nancy Saunders is the Editor of W&P. You can find some of her short stories here, and on Twitter @nancyesaunders

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