#scbwicon16 Conference SW Network Reports

Our lovely South West Network reports on #scbwicon16 The Mass Book Launch, Crystal Kite, Character Design – PB Development, Pitch Fright and Series Fiction. Re-live the conference – grab a cuppa and dive in… 

Mass Book Launch & The Crystal Kite Award

By Helen Liston 

How many Harry Potter characters does it take to get a party going? About thirty five. Then add fifteen Cat in the Hats, five Pippi Long Stockings, a BFG and a whole load of other characters from Kid Lit. 

The Saturday Night mass book launch party was a great way to meet people we hadn't yet met and squint confusedly at the disguised ones we had. There were also drinks, canapés, agents and publishers. SCBWI certainly knows how to mix work and play! 

Sarah Underwood

Candy Gourlay made everyone laugh their hats/wands/stockings off with her 20th Birthday celebration video - a compilation of members' worse rejections. Which was a great place from which to move to celebrating members' book launches. Goofs, gags, success stories - I'd say that sums up a good party of children's writers. 

Crystal Kite nominees were introduced in another video which you can see here and Lin Oliver flew in from LA to present the prize to Teri Terry for her novel Mind Games. Runners up were Deep Water by Lu Hersey, Destiny's Rebel by Philip S Davies and The Aerodynamics of Biscuits by Clare Helen Walsh and Sophia Touliatou

The applause for all books was full of the feeling that Scoobies worldwide know well: They did it, hurrah! And they're here in this room just like me! Which surely means that one day I can do it too... 

Helen Liston is the Network Organiser for the SCBWI BI South West region, writes picture book texts and adult short fiction and makes podcasts about kid lit. www.tinylittlesparks.uk 

Pitch Fright workshop with Benjamin Scott 

Report by Jennifer Moore 

POW! ZAP! Take that Fear Zombies! We’ve got newly polished pitches and we’re not afraid to use them! 

Benjamin Scott

Benjamin Scott’s entertaining workshop showed us to how to turn pitching nightmares into dream pitches, distilling entire novels into essential concepts and conflicts. Testing out pitches with a partner proved doubly useful: while the pitching half of the exercise highlighted missing or confusing elements in our own work, the listening side demonstrated first hand the importance of clarity and succinctness in capturing a whole book in so few lines. 

Imogen Cooper

With pitches chopped, changed, primped and perfected, it was time for a few brave souls to put their newfound skills into practice. Special guest Imogen Cooper, from the Golden Egg Academy, provided useful feedback and encouragement on some fabulous-sounding projects. And, as promised at the start of the workshop, nothing bad happened when people pitched their books – no one died (phew!) and no one vomited onto their own shoes through sheer terror. All the pitchers did a brilliant job and lived to tell the tale. I make that Writers - One, Zombies - Nil. 

Jennifer Moore writes Middle Grade and Picture Books and this is her third SCBWI conference. She is a member of the South West network and tweets at @JennyWriteMoore 

PULSE: Series Fiction with Ruth Bennett and Jane Clarke 

Report by Tracy Darnton 

Have you ever looked at popular series like Beast Quest and thought how the devil does ‘Adam Blade’ find the time to write all those books? 

Ruth Bennett, commissioning editor for Stripes, and author Jane Clarke provided a useful insight at their Saturday session on the rewards and challenges of writing series fiction. Jane has over 80 books under her belt of which half are series fiction, such as Dr Kitty Kat published by OUP. Ruth commissions series like the Ninja Meerkats, enjoying spotting a gap in the market and then working with an author to develop a new series. 

Jane and Ruth

Jane and Ruth contrasted the very detailed model used by Working Partners with the model used by publishers like Stripes and OUP where an author has more freedom to bring their own ideas to a project. Either can be a great way for writers to hone their skills and get used to working to tight deadlines. Jane described it as ‘writing without the terror’ because she knew the book was going to happen. Although financially the advances aren’t huge, if the series takes off the royalties, PLR and ALCS payments can soon mount up, with or without your own name on the cover. 

Ruth stressed the need to be passionate about the project, even though you didn’t come up with the original concept. Jane cautioned that you must be thick-skinned as the process is competitive and you won’t be successful on every pitch, despite spending much time and effort preparing. Both agreed it can be an enjoyable way to work collaboratively and make a living as a writer. 

So next time you’re looking at series fiction in a bookshop, consider whether you’ve got what it takes to write one! 

Tracy Darnton writes middle grade and YA fiction and has recently graduated from the Bath Spa MA Writing for Young People. She was shortlisted for The Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition and won The Stripes YA Short Story Prize for her story 'The Letter' which was published in the anthology 'I'll Be Home for Christmas'. She is represented by agent Jo Williamson of Antony Harwood Ltd. This was her first SCBWI conference but definitely not her last. @TracyDarnton 

Character design and picture book development with Viv Schwartz

Report by Fran Price 

Right from the word go, Viv Schwartz had us playing around with bits of paper, drawing shapes and improvising with our characters. In the first exercise, we drew some faces and a body, then - and this was hard - we cut the heads off and switched bodies round. Then - harder still - we went round the room picking other people’s paper heads and bodies and letting our own characters be taken away. 

Viv Schwartz in action

When someone grabbed one of my heads, I felt both flattered and dismayed and instantly realised how easy it is to become attached to the first thing one makes. 

‘Don’t be too precious about the characters you create,’ urged Viv. 

Interactive Workshop

Viv was drawing us out of our comfort zone throughout the day, whether it was working on a group book or getting to know our characters through improvisation. We asked our characters questions and to our surprise many of us found them unresponsive and angry. 

‘It’s completely normal that your character wants to get away from you at first,’ said Viv. 

Interspersed with creative exercises, Viv gave us a fascinating insight into the way she works. We saw how she had developed How to find gold by comic book style speech bubbles and playing around with text. 

Viv giving feedback

‘I need that interplay between drawing and writing, it slows you down and gives you time,’ said Viv. 

Some of the tools I learnt were: 

  • Cast your characters, put them in situations, converse with them. 
  • Look for ‘moments and truth’ to start with. Some moments will develop into a story. 
  • Have fun! 

Fran Price writes picture books and middle grade stories. Her middle grade novel was shortlisted in the January Slushpile Challenge 2015. Her middle grade story, Nicole and the Paper Witches, was serialised in Aquila magazine. She is a published journalist. When she's not writing, Fran sketches, paints and makes pots. Twitter: @FranGPrice.


  1. Enjoyed these write-ups, thanks so much for doing them. What a great conference it was!

  2. Thanks so much, the only problem with the conference is you can't attend EVERYTHING. So grateful to see this. And here's a link to a video of Teri receiving her award.


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