#scbwicon16 Conference Report from the London Network - by Ruth Grearson & Camilla Chester

Ruth Grearson, winner of the Margaret Carey Scholarship Award tells us how attending the conference has impacted her writing life. If you saw Cliff McNish, re-live that amazingly practical workshop, but if you missed Creating Heroes - Ruth is here to tell you just how fantastic it was.

Camilla Chester covers the SPARK Nuts & Bolts of Self Publishing with Roxie Munro, Sarah Towle, Karen Inglis & Susan Price
Yay for Camilla! The SCBWI conference is run by volunteers and this year Camilla joined the team. So what is it like to volunteer at conference? ...read on.

Creating Heroes with Cliff McNish

Reporter: Ruth Grearson

So, your character has got a bit of physical grit. They’ve got a talent for something. But they’ll only truly become a hero when they give up their heart’s desire to do the right thing. 

Cliff showed us that a hero’s deepest wish – their ‘desire line’ – has to become a noble one. From Harry Potter to Tippi in One by Sarah Crossan, heroes go from wanting something for themselves, to wanting something for others, even if they pay the ultimate price themselves. 

Creating Heroes with Cliff McNish

Getting us to put our characters in a box with their problems, Cliff reminded us to plunge our heroes into the deepest trouble we can. We need to show our readers the choices heroes make, facing up to this trouble: choosing to battle on, to take the difficult, self-sacrificing path. Over the course of the story, the hero goes from being someone selfish or held down, to someone truly brave and honourable. A true hero is a character readers desperately want to see snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. 

Winning the Margaret Carey Scholarship

You know when you open the pages of a book and find a friend, talking to you, a friend you never knew you had? That’s how it felt coming to Winchester for my first ever SCBWI conference. What a warm, generous, passionate bunch of storytelling nutters we are. 

My brain is still fizzing. My soul shone when David Almond encouraged us to play, use the full wonder of our minds, to get out of the way of the story, to dance it out – while at the same time recognising how difficult writing is. How there’s always that voice nagging at you to stop, and how you just have to make yourself do it. And tell the story you have inside. The one that no-one else can write. 

Today I’m sat in my local coffee shop behind my laptop, by myself. But I’m thinking of everyone I met since Friday, all they shared with me, the tips, the encouragement, the ideas, the laughs. I’m thinking of their stories. The girl who’ll be wiped from history unless she puts right her granddad’s time crime. The stranger stalking a boy in a fogbound village of secrets. Cheeky racoons. Scottish garden fairies. A mysterious cellar-dweller. 

As I write, I know I’m not alone. Thank you, SCBWI, forever, for that. I know now that I’m part of a group of people who care deeply about young readers. Who want to give them the best stories we can: stories that will help them weave a better tomorrow. I hope I’ll be able to make Margaret proud of the newest member of the gang. 

Ruth Grearson 2016 was my first SCBWI conference. I’m just starting to write for children, and I’m in love with it all. I’ve let my pencil loose on a picture book full of penguins and clouds, but mostly I write stories for over 9s. An extract from my middle grade book Petrel’s Spinacle won the Margaret Carey scholarship, making it possible for me to attend the conference. I’m currently working on a teen historical novel about a girl highway robber in the 1780s. 

Volunteering at the SCBWI BI Conference

With Camilla Chester 

I am a tentative volunteer. My hand is only ever half way up and I must admit that was how I offered my services for front of house at the conference this year. But SCBWI is wonderful and I always feel I want to give something back. It was all so well organised by Suzie Wilde, however, that I really didn’t feel like I was doing much at all. 

Everybody is given a rota of where we need to be and when, based on our earlier choices, then you just turn up at the right place at the right time. Easy, and surprisingly fun.

 “It is a great way to network,” said Justin Davies (winner of The Hook).

Philippa Francis & Justin Davies on the merchandise table... 

I was a conference newbie last year. I’m an extrovert, so mingling really doesn’t bother me, but if it bothers you then I would say put your hand up high for front of house. It is the perfect way to talk to delegates and mix with the other volunteers. 

 The raffle table is being skilfully staffed here by Philip Davies (aka Snape)

You have a ready made set of faces that you know and a job that is easy and helps you feel part of everything. It is especially good if you’re travelling on your own to the conference.

There are several different roles, selling SCBWI merchandise, looking after speakers, registration table and general duties. I volunteered on the raffle table during registration and then again at an afternoon break.

Let Colleen Jones and Suzie Wilde tell you all about it (watch out for the photo bomber).

And in the words of every contestant on the Apprentice, “Thanks for the opportunity.” 

Nuts and Bolts of Self-Publishing: 

A SPARK workshop. Reporter: Camilla Chester 

Next to the David Almond talk and workshop this was the highlight of the conference for me. It was absolutely superb. The workshop was led by four speakers. The first three gave their own personal account of self publishing and then Roxie Munro tied the session up by handy self promotion hints. 

All three journeys of the speakers were informative, interesting and most importantly inspiring. I felt like every Scooby member (whether published or not) should have been in the room with us. 

From left to right in the photograph are:
Camilla Chester, Karen Inglis, Susan Price, Roxie Munro and Sarah Towle

Sarah Towle (who describes herself as the accidental entrepreneur) talked first about her ingenious new approach to combining great historical stories with real life artefacts and geographical locations through her beautiful app. Sarah was open, honest and dynamic. 

Susan Price was worried about following after Sarah but it was amazing to hear her writing history. Susan was first published with Faber and Faber at the tender age of 16 and went on to have over 60 traditionally published books before becoming self-published. It was a validation like no other that there is no shame in self-publishing and how it makes good business sense to be in control of your own work. 

After Susan, Karen Inglis (whom you may know from her fantastic blog) gave a great overview and practical guide to getting your books out into the market in a professional way, bypassing the painful agent rejection and agonising wait for the illusive two book deal. Roxie jumped in for Tamara McFarlane who couldn't join us due to the flu, but would have spoken about marketing yourself as an indie and her new website for self pubbed authors and indie pubbers, cantputitdown.

I am taking away a whole heap of useful website links, handy tips and great contacts to continue with my successful self-publishing journey and maximise my own branding and book promotion. Great, great workshop. Make sure you’re there next year!

Camilla Chester trained as a Primary School Teacher but spent most of her working career in the charitable sector. Camilla now runs a small dog walking business in Hertfordshire where she lives with her husband, two children and her dog Stan. Camilla received a distinction in the OU Creative Writing Diploma and was shortlisted in the 2015 National Literacy Trust New Author Prize. Her book Jarred Dreams is available here.


  1. hi great to read this - did anyone have the time to do transcripts of events or film them


  2. Thanks so much for the lovely shout out, Camilla! Karen, Susan, Roxie, and I all had a great time presenting and sharing our stories and tips with everyone. We missed Tamara Macfarlane of Tales on Moon Lane who was supposed to join our panel to introduce her new online store for self-published authors and indie publishers: cantputitdown.com. She was unfortunately stricken with the flu, but has promised to have us all to the bookstore in the coming year to reprise our Self-publishing 101 workshop. So hope to see you all then! Best, Sarah

  3. Aww thanks so much. I didn't manage to attend any of the breakouts on Sunday and it's great to hear how well everything went!

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  5. So great to meet you, Camilla. I just loved our group...wonderful fellow presenters, and the focused professional attendees. Thanks so much for inviting us. I am preparing a PDF of my short course on branding and creating a profile, and hope to send it today or tomorrow to Sarah, who can distribute it. ;-)) There's a lot more to be said regarding publicity and marketing, but we didn't have a lot of time. Such a great group!


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