How To Become An Author: Candy Gourlay Opens SCBWI Wales 2017 Programme of Events

Given that the journey from Cardiff to Swansea began with a heavy mist hugging the M4, the glorious sunshine in Swansea was unexpected. Also unexpected was the sparkling, sweeping view of Swansea Bay from the Central Library where Candy Gourlay opened SCBWI Wales' 2017 programme of events with her talk around the theme 'How to Become an Author'. Stephen Burgess was in attendance and reports back.

Starting with the importance of structure to good writing, Candy outlined several theories of story structure and discussed the extent of her own use of these. Interestingly, Candy drew a lot from screenwriting literature starting with 'The Hero's Journey' and bringing in other, much lesser known theories. These were well illustrated with examples from children's films and books. There are interesting resonances between these different theories: in some cases different approaches lead to very similar structures. It was also interesting to consider the similarities and differences of structuring stories in different formats. Debates around whether the use of formula to structure narratives lead to formulaic story-telling were also considered.

Candy added extra depth to her talk by interweaving her discussion of 'The Hero's Journey' with accounts of her own journey from growing up in the Philippines, sneakily reading her grandmother's books, to becoming a London-based published children's author and her experiences of being published. This reflective account gave interesting insights into the struggles and frustrations in the journey to becoming published as well as some of the cultural differences between the UK and the Philippines. As a Dad of two young boys, I could certainly identify with Candy's struggles of writing to the rhythms of family life. However, perhaps the most important message here for me was that authors have a genuine responsibility to the children they write for. And this is something that we should all consider as we go about our writing and engagement activity.

Candy Gourlay

Scattered throughout with tips and advice, Candy's talk was a motivating and informative start to our 2017 programme of SCBWI Wales events. Just under a year ago, I met a small group of people at Cardiff Children's Literature Festival who were starting to promote and develop SCBWI in Wales. To me, SCBWI was an interesting acronym that I had spotted in the side margin of a writing magazine and not yet followed up. A year later, I am a very happily paid-up member and SCBWI Wales is flourishing under the enthusiasm of our regional co-ordinator Zoe Thomas. An ever-increasing number of Wales-based authors and illustrators are following their own call to SCBWI adventure and joining us. The fact that Candy's talk attracted several non-SCBWI members suggests that we could soon have a few more! And this year, we have our first full programme of events. These include: workshops from our own Claire Fayers and David Thorpe; book launches by Eloise Williams and Claire Fayers; festival appearances and regular catch-up sessions as well as a few events still to be finalised. Last year, three of us made it to the Winchester Conference and we're sure that there will be more of us this year!

Candy's talk started this important year off for us so well. Comments on social media showed that people both enjoyed it and learned from it. And the range of questions that Candy fielded in an extended Q&A demonstrated the wide range of experience of those present. So thank you again Candy. And greetings to you all from Wales where SCBWI is going from strength to strength.


Stephen Burgess has always written for pleasure, across a variety of formats. Last year he decided to focus on writing for children. He has several picture book texts very near to completion and a middle grade novel well underway. He has worked with young people in a variety of educational contexts for 22 years and is exploring a career change into arts and education. He lives in Cardiff with Anna and his sons, Ben and Sam. Stephen joined SCBWI in September 2016 and this is his second piece for Words & Pictures.
Twitter: @stephenjburgess.


A M Dassu is a member of the Words & Pictures editorial team, she manages the Events team and SCBWI BI events coverage.
Contact her at if you'd like to report back on an event.
Twitter: @a_reflective


  1. Thank you, Stephen, for a great writeup of a lovely day. You forgot to mention that the sun cae out and after the event we all sat in the sun having lunch in the marina! Thank you, SCBWI Wales, for your sunny hospitality!

    1. No problem Candy. I'm glad you liked it. Sorry to forget to mention the sun - trouble is February is always like that here in South Wales!

  2. Fab write-up Stephen, and thank you again Candy - you have made some BIG fans in Wales! :)

  3. Victoria Woolfe2 March 2017 at 12:30

    Thank you to you both!


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