SCBWI-BI CONFERENCE 2018 A Scholarship Winner's Perspective

It is a week since the SCBWI-BI Conference 2018 came to a close, but for those of us lucky enough to have gone, the dust is still settling. Here, the two winners of the Margaret Carey Scholarship, Hannah Sanguinetti and Kylie Holmes, talk about their experiences.

Hannah Sanguinetti, Author-Illustrator

Four o'clock in the morning felt hideously early to be waiting for a taxi to the airport, and my suitcase seemed excessively large for just a weekend away. It was packed with two A3 portfolios, two A4 sketchbooks, notebooks, picture book dummies, posters, drawing materials, a large pair of black wings, the odd piece of clean clothing and my toothbrush.

I was off to the SCBWI BI 2018 Conference. At Edinburgh airport I met the first SCBWI delegates of my trip, and so began a weekend of meeting, greeting and feeling welcomed and included by a truly fantastic crowd.

I sat atop a flight of steps drawing passers-by and buildings until my fingers were numb

Arriving in Winchester early on the Friday enabled to me join in with some of the conference fringe events, starting with the sketch crawl. I sat atop a flight of steps drawing passers-by and buildings until my fingers were numb, then joined other illustrators in the museum cafe to share sketch-books over soup and coffee. Many of my new illustrator friends were also taking part in the portfolio critique group that evening, which was a hugely informative process. I am familiar with giving feedback on picture book texts, but trying to constructively critique previously unseen artwork was something new.

Saturday morning started abruptly with the hotel fire alarm going off at 5:00 a.m. The first encounter I had with the industry professional giving my portfolio one-to-one, was in the bleary-eyed semi-darkness outside the fire escape, dressed only in my nightie and knitwear.

Hannah's sketches of keynotes Catherine Johnson and Benji Davies.

At breakfast, someone I didn't know sat down next to me, so I greeted her and introduced myself. I learned that it was her first SCBWI conference, that she was a YA historical fiction writer and that she wasn't too sure of the way to the conference venue. So we walked up the hill together — me feeling pleased at having met another relative newbie (or so I thought), while trying to remember her name.

When registration was done and more coffee was drunk, the opening talks began and I learned that my friendly breakfast companion was in fact Catherine Johnson, a very experienced and widely published author who was the inspiring key-note speaker opening the conference.

Benji Davies talked about his beginnings, his working process and his picture books. Jake Hope led an inspiring and insightful workshop about the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal, discussing the challenges of selecting and comparing work in a field that is so subjective. My portfolio one-to-one session with Tiffany Leeson from Egmont publishing was wonderful, giving me suggestions about what was working well in my portfolio and what I could do differently.

The cake that launched a thousand books.

The portfolio display was a great opportunity to study the portfolios of other illustration delegates and then talk to them about their working practices. After this inspiration-packed day, the evening held the conference party and mass book launch. This was yet another opportunity to meet like-minded people and celebrate the successes of those recently published.

Day two was just as overwhelmingly full as day one, with a double-length workshop on story beginnings run by Benji Davies. Everyone was encouraged to draw this time, with sketchbooks and pencils provided for writers and illustrators alike.

Sketchbooks and crayons at the ready at Benji Davies's workshop.

It will take me some time to digest all of the things I learned during the weekend. I am eager to get back to the drawing board and try some of them out. I applied to the Margaret Carey Scholarship because I was looking for opportunities to learn more, develop my work and move closer to being ready to submit to agents and publishers. Many factors combined mean that traditional university programmes are not an option for me so I have to look for alternatives ways to learn.

This conference has been truly fantastic and I feel extremely privileged to have won the scholarship that enabled me to attend. I have been reminded once again of what a wonderfully welcoming, inspiring and empowering organisation SCBWI is.

Kylie Holmes, Writer

I am very grateful for winning this year's Margaret Carey Scholarship. As I write about my experiences, I still can't believe I won. I can't thank the judges enough for enabling me to attend the SCWBI conference and experience a full on weekend of writing for children.

As I am a single parent of four, I never have the chance to attend such things as writing conferences and that is one of the many reasons why I entered the scholarship competition. Another reason I entered is that I'm also a dyslexic writer. I am an author of three books in the self-help/holistic/spiritual category, with more commissions that I need to write. I'm also a published picture book author and have another picture book coming out September 2019. Despite all these great things happening I had lost my confidence with my writing and wondered if I would ever write again…

As I am a single parent of four, I never have the chance to attend such things as writing conferences and that is one of the many reasons why I entered the scholarship competition

All I can say is that the weekend has given me a much needed boost. I was really excited and nervous at the same time. Attending the conference has assisted me in my career by giving me the confidence to be able to take the next big step. I've benefited from many face-to-face encounters meeting writers, editors, agents and got so many resources that I could use for years to come.

There were many highlights of the weekend. Felicity Trew was great in her Author 101 Submission to Agents workshop about the Do's and Don'ts on how to get an agent. I found the author keynote talk with Catherine Johnson encouraging to keep going with my own writing. Benji Davies' illustrator keynote was exciting and helped us to understand where he gets all of his ideas  from and onto the page.

Christopher Edge.

What really stood out for me was the workshop with Christopher Edge on Sunday - The Multiple Adventures of Middle Grade Fiction, parts one and two. Wow! What an inspirational man he is, really helpful, plus there were so many other great SCBWI writers in his audience that made the session even better. It was great to hear many SCWBI members share their take on their own writing journey and how they tackle their work.

It was so inspirational to hear how he writes full time in a shed in the garden and is chuffed if he reaches 1000 words a day

Christopher's take on The Hobbit was really funny. Hearing how one of his books was written longhand on the Cambridge to London train to work every day was the boost I really needed to get back to an abandoned writing project and rewrite the whole thing. It was so inspirational to hear how he writes full time in a shed in the garden and is chuffed if he reaches 1000 words a day. To me he is living the dream as a writer and loving every minute of it. 

I feel that I can now take advantage of the opportunity the scholarship has provided me. To be honest, since coming home I have not stopped writing. I really recommend entering this scholarship — if you win it, the conference could be a turning point for your career, as it was for mine.

My first conference was more than a little eventful. I left with lots of new friends and renewed confidence in my writing for children. Joining SCBWI is definitely the best decision I've made as a writer. Thanks again Scholarship Team for choosing me.


Words and Pictures are delighted to announce the Honourable Mentions for the Margaret Carey Scholarship:

Illustration/Picture Book category: The Plaid Piper by Jeff Crosby

MG/YA category:

Layla Snaps in Time by Eiman Munro

Kalothia: Queen of Galla by Shade Lapite

Opera Mice: Completely Nibbled by Miriam Craig

The Scare Crowd by Geo ff Barker


*Featured image: photo and sketches by Hannah Sanguinetti.


Hannah Sanguinetti is a children's picture book author/illustrator based in Edinburgh. Her colourful, quirky illustrations are influenced by paper collage and textile crafts from her doll-making work. She has recently been awarded the Moniack Mhor Writing for Children award 2018, and the Margaret Carey Scholarship for Illustration 2018. You can see examples of Hannah's illustration and doll-making on Instagram @stoffolidolls and on her new website


Kylie Holmes can be found tweeting at @KylieHolmes

Fran Price is Events Editor for Words and Pictures online magazine. Contact her at


  1. Wonderful to hear the two different but very positive experiences of attending the conference!

  2. So pleased you both had a transformative time. The award's namesake, Margaret Carey, who used to help organise the conference, would have been thrilled for you. I'm only disappointed that this article doesn't include a shot of Hannah in her wings.


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