#scbwicon16 Central East Network Conference Report - Last One!

#scbwicon16 Central East Network reporting team cover The Hook, Creating Villains with Cliff McNish, PULSE resources for school, and David Almond in our final post. Thank you to our wonderful reporters – we hope you’ve enjoyed reading and reliving the conference. Be sure to book early next year!

THE HOOK – by Emma Graham 

Saturday afternoon brought us The Hook. Think Dragon’s den meets Britain’s got talent for writers and illustrators, ok so there were no big red buzzers but for the five finalists (I was one) it certainly felt a bit like that. 

Nerves were jangling as we all asked ourselves ‘Why are we doing this?’ 

Four wonderful agents formed our panel of judges; Anne Clark, Yasmin Standen, Davinia Andrew-Lynch, and Thérèse Coen. The MC was the lovely welcoming Emma Greenwood from The Golden Egg Academy and SCBWI. 

The five finalists; Natalie Yates, Philippa Francis, me, Justin Davies and Louise Morriss had just ten minutes each, to pitch our books to the panel then receive their feedback. 

The Hook finalists relaxing at the party

Each one pitched well, telling glimpses of their stories, enticing us all to want to read more. Such varied stories unveiled to the panel and audience, from the serious life struggles, emotion stirring, humorous and colourful to enchanting. Each of us received wonderful guiding and praising feedback from the panel, giving us paths to now take to try to launch our creations into the world. 

Justin’s wonderful pitch on his witty and colourful monster story was the winning pitch, getting his a 1-2-1 with the agent of his choice. 

Well done Justin, have a good time working through your book with the lovely Thérèse. 

So in answer to our question ‘Why are we doing this?’ – The answer I now know is because we are a bit crazy, but because we are all proud of what we have created and want to show the world. But what a way of doing it! 

Emma is a highly versatile and experienced illustrator and graphic artist based in Suffolk. Since graduating from Great Yarmouth College of Art in the 1990, she has built up a vibrant portfolio designing and illustrating everything from book covers, to seed packets, greetings cards, album covers and private commissions. She works in inks and soft colour pencil, finding inspiration in the Suffolk countryside and coast, shoreline, myths and legends, and from both modern and classic children’s stories. 

Resources for Schools 

With RM Tudor, George Kirk and Candy Gourlay 

Reporter: Andrew Guile

My overwhelming thought as I left SCBWICON16 was why have I never been to a writing conference before! I met so many amazing people and learned so much! I've been left fizzing with new ideas and confidence (misplaced, most likely, but I'm running with it!) 

Anyway, as most people appreciate, school visits are vital to getting out there and meeting our readers. I have never done a school visit so the session was a real eye-opener for me and I took masses of notes! 

Ideas for school resources

While the session was about creating resources (that you can send out or, more likely, people will be able to download from your website) it dovetails with trying to build a relationship with the teaching world and you may well use any resources you create on school visits so it's all part of a wider approach to building your 'platform'. 

It was stressed to us that teachers are busy. Don’t expect them to read your whole book. For this reason it's wise to make the resources such that this is not required. If they really like your resources they may then read the whole book but if chapter one engages with your key themes – as it should! – then that’s all they may need to read to understand and use your resources. 

Becky Tudor in Action

My own personal suggestion is to start small. Perhaps begin with a few easy to produce closed resources and if you have a book that does engage well with topics in KS1, 2 etc and you do have school visits booked then look to invest some time in more complex and thought-provoking open resources at that stage. 

Enjoy creating! 

Creating Villains with Cliff McNish 

Reporter: Andrew Guile 

If there's one phrase that has stuck in my mind from spending a fabulous afternoon creating some wonderfully cruel characters with Cliff McNish, it's 'go darker'. 

A good place to begin exploring villains is to consider why we need them at all. Ok, it might be obvious to a degree - to provide conflict, but it's much more than that. Good villains allow children to look at the darker sides of humanity, they provide a focus for our hero’s attention and help provide a satisfying ending - their comeuppance! They are also great fun to flesh-out and write about. 

Cliff McNish

In the morning, we spent time creating heroes, looking at their desires and thwarting them. Similarly, with your villain you need to think about opposites. What does your hero stand for? Once you've worked that out (you do know, don't you?!) you can tailor your villain to be the opposite of your hero. If you think about it, it makes sense. Your villain being the opposite of your hero in desire, morals and actions is bound to cause conflict and also throws your heroes virtues into stark relief. 

Don't worry about children being scared, or even shocking an editor or agent, 'go darker' and you can always reign it in later if you've gone too far towards the Dark Side! Children like being scared, finding themselves swept away into a story where they can think about the world and all its dangers from a safe distance. 

Cliff charting the villain's downfall

Just get on and create some proper wrong-uns!

As for a check list setting out what a villain is or might be, we came up with: 

  • narcissistic
  • morally wrong 
  • indiscriminate 
  • lacking empathy 
  • manipulative 
  • having a powerful driving back story (they won't stop) 
  • deceitful/charming (evil in disguise!) 
  • cruel 

I will leave you with the sage words of the immortal Yoda - “Fear is the path to the dark side… fear leads to anger… anger leads to hate… hate leads to suffering." 

Don't short-change your readers. Give them a villain that makes your hero suffer. It's good to suffer. 

Andrew Guile was delighted to discover SCBWI earlier this year. SCBWICON16 was his first writing conference. Andrew is soon to self-publish his second book, The Mad Moon Mission in January 2017 via Troubador. His book reviews and thoughts on writing for children can be found at https://andrewguile.wordpress.com/.



Reporter: Jools Abrams

Between the creating, submitting, rejection and possible publication cycle there is the mire of networking, self promotion and paid work that tangles the life of a writer. 

Do not despair fellow SCBWI's, sometimes a brilliant writer comes along and reminds us why it's worth it! 

With his soft Geordie lilt David Almond enchanted the audience from start to finish and assured us that in uncertain, mad times, 

'What we do is even more important than it has been before.' 

As a child in Felling-on-Tyne he expressed the unusual wish to be a writer, which was often met with the reaction, 'Oooh you need a good imagination to be a writer lad.' He doubted this ability at first, but David believes we're all deeply creative, from the moment we utter our first sounds as babies bawl that becomes language, that becomes us. 

David Almond's notebook

A love of print helped him on the journey to be a writer, 'Black print on white paper is gorgeous,' he says. There was the influence of the story tellers in his family and the local library:

'The more I went into the library, the more I wanted to be a writer, to see a book I'd written on the shelf.' 

He had a fantastic day a few years ago when he went back to the library he visited as a boy, put his hand up to the shelf, and there it was, a book by David Almond and the ten year old boy inside him said 'yeahh.' 

David went on to describe his creative process, that starts in notebooks (who doesn't love a good notebook?) as scribbles, words and scrawls. In the process of doodling and playing he discovers things he didn't know. He was generous enough to display these pages, as well as the inside of his pencil case, with its sharpened pencils, sharpeners, highlighters and colours, 'my heart swoons for Faber Castell jumbo coloured pencils.' 

The process is 'turning the mess inside my head to straight lines on a page.' 

Then there is the computer and a process of writing up and re-drafting, printing and writing and re-writing:

'...always have a title page, even if I've written only two pages, and if stuck, broaden the space between the lines.' 

He draws a calendar and notes how many words he's written each day and each week. There is still the feeling of being adrift that can strike in the middle of a manuscript, the feeling that 'I just can't do it anymore, I don't know what I am doing.' 

David Almond's Keynote

There are nods and groans of recognition from the audience. It is only by force of will that he finishes at all. 

Reminded of our creative need David's keynote inspired us all to go out, connect, learn and celebrate writing. 

Abrams teaches part time in primary as well as forest school, has worked in the arts, independent cinema and written screenplays, mentored by The Script Factory and performed by Rupert Graves. Self published work of creative non-fiction inspired by the outdoor pursuits group - She Who Dares. Jools writes novels for young adults developed from Creative Writing MA at Birkbeck and short stories for adults read in Waterstones, London with The Word Factory. Short story for children published by Walker Books as part of the Mumsnet Book of Bedtime Stories. 


  1. Wow! Thank you for these excellent reports! They've made me homesick for the conference. Can't wait for next year!

  2. Thanks Emma - must have been nerve-wracking but worth it. Useful schools' piece too. The post about creating villains arrived just at the right time for me so really useful. But the account of David Almond's Keynote speech was what I was waiting for...wish I'd been there. Inspirational. Thanks all.


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