EVENTS Lorraine Gregory flies high

In November last year, SCBWI author Lorraine Gregory reached the clouds when she received the Crystal Kite Award 2018. She shares her experience - and her speech! - with Words & Pictures.

So, in November last year, I was up on stage at the SCBWI conference accepting the Crystal Kite Award from previous winner Katherine Evans… It still feels strange typing that but it’s true. It really did happen!

I certainly never expected to win but I’m so thrilled that I did and my award sits in pride of place on a shelf in my living room to remind me - when I’m finding it hard (which is often!) - how lucky I am. Not just to have won an award, though that is marvellous in itself, but to have had a night that I will remember for the rest of my life.

If you’ve never been, the SCBWI conference is a wonderful event, the perfect place to help develop your writing career, to meet industry people, to catch up with old friends and make new ones too. I have to admit I floated through this year's a little, enjoying everything but finding it all slightly surreal as well. Then on Saturday night, everything took on a distinct dreamlike quality.

Paula Harrison holding up the Travelling Through Time photo frame at #scbwicon18
(photo BB. Taylor)

First there was the “getting ready” with Gail Doggett and Tracy Matthias, for the “Time Travel” themed party and the mildly hysterical fiasco with my hair - apparently there’s rather a lot of it!
Then saying hello to everyone at the party and being asked by each of them if I was nervous about my speech. At that point, I was more nervous about being interviewed about my book for an online TV channel.

But, having survived the interview, I was now free to worry about my speech. What if it was rubbish? What if everyone hated it? What if I fell off the stage? What if people threw things and knocked me OFF the stage? I’m used to talking in public but suddenly standing up on that stage in front of what felt like hundreds of people felt terrifying and ridiculous and bizarre.
Running away screaming didn’t seem like a reasonable alternative, not in my shoes anyway, so I opened my mouth and I read my speech. What can I tell you except it was wonderful?!

Not my speech, but the support and the love I felt in that room as I spoke lifted me up and embraced me and makes me so grateful that I found SCBWI all those years ago and decided I might as well join…

And here's my speech!

"First of all - thank you to everyone who voted for my debut Mold and the Poison Plot from such a brilliant shortlist of books!

I am hugely honoured to be accepting this Crystal Kite award and enormously grateful to all the amazing volunteers at SCBWI who work so hard to make this conference happen and ensure we’ll all be having a wonderful time this weekend. Apologies also, just in case I never get to the Oscars I’m taking full advantage and giving a speech!

Tonight’s party theme is time travel. So I thought it fitting to take a trip back into my past...

I grew up, very happily, on an east London council estate in the 1970s, with loving parents, both of whom are immigrants. My Austrian-born mother took me to the library every week and encouraged my love of reading and writing. My Indian-born father told me stories about his childhood in Goa and his “pet” crocodile and encouraged my imagination. It’s no surprise then that I loved books and reading with a passion, escaping into them for hours at a time. And it won’t surprise you to hear how much I dreamed of being a writer when I grew up.

But would you be surprised if I told you I gave up that dream when I reached my twenties? That I talked myself out of even trying because I believed people like me - mixed race, working class, no university degree - never had a hope of being published?

Obviously, because I’m standing here now, accepting this wonderful prize, you know that something changed. I was in my mid-thirties by that time. Married, a mother, several jobs behind me and that kernel of a dream still inside me, fighting to get free. BUT I was finally old enough to know that the worst failure of all is the failure to try. So I began my journey, and SCBWI was the first place I found that made me believe being a writer was even possible and then very kindly showed me the way.
I went to many of the SCBWI events, I met publishers and agents, I entered the slush pile challenge and the boost I got when I was shortlisted by the agent running it gave me the courage to carry on.
I discovered many things as I embarked on becoming a writer. That this path was hard and long, that success was NOT guaranteed, that synopses are evil…

But mostly, I found myself. The hidden part of me who was free to create at last, able to spill my stories onto a page and disappear into worlds of my own creation. I also found my tribe. Here, hiding in the children’s writing world, were the people just like me, the book lovers, the avid readers, the young at heart, the people who let their imaginations rule and never quite grew up and still look for doors to Narnia and believe in magic…. People like all of you, like my wonderful crit group who I met through SCBWI nearly eight years ago.

But as we all know, every journey must have hardships, every protagonist must suffer, and writing certainly provides plenty of opportunities for both. In 2012, I came to my first SCBWI conference and it’s true to say I was in a bad place. I’d just been rejected by a wise and lovely agent on a revise and resubmit and the pain, coming after so much hope, was crushing and I thought long and hard about just giving up… But I didn’t do that. And, over time, I learned to accept the journey I was on promised no final destination, guaranteed no rewards - except for those to be found in the writing itself.
Two years after that conference I met my agent - the marvellous Kate Shaw. Five years after that conference my debut, Mold and the Poison Plot was published by OUP. The dream was mine at last.

What I realise now though is that the journey has really only just begun. Along with the joy and the pride I feel, there are still tribulations, as for every author, even if we rarely talk about them. Personally, I spend a lot of time feeling that I’m not good enough, that it’s all a mistake, like I don’t belong - classic imposter syndrome I suppose but it’s not all in my head. Working-class, BAME authors like me ARE a rarity, unfortunately. So It’s easy for me to feel out of place when I’m at publishing events… If I’m honest there’s a part of me that expects someone to come along right now and yank me off the stage. But the point is, I am here and I’ve been working very hard at staying here.

Let me tell you, everything they say about writing your second book is absolutely true. BUT I’m very pleased to say that despite many trials and tribulations my next book IS being published next year by the lovely people at OUP! The Maker of Monsters, a standalone middle-grade fantasy adventure, will be available in May 2019!

None of this is easy, much of it is harder than I ever expected but I like to think that by writing my stories I am making a difference in some small way. That ONE child who reads my work might discover the joy to be had in words and run right out to find another book. And I hope that seeing a mixed race, working-class author from a council estate, being published, winning a prize even, might encourage others to follow their own dreams.

Mostly I try to remember how lucky I am, how lucky we all are in this harsh world we live in, in these times that are so troubling and dark - to have this chance to dream, to create, to lose our imaginations on a blank page and watch them grow into entire worlds…

And I hope that all of you out there tonight, following your dreams, treading your path, overcoming every setback and never giving up know how brave you are, how remarkable, how special. 

This is not an adventure for the fainthearted. And luckily for us it is not one we have to go through alone. As members of SCBWI we travel on this journey together.

It makes me very happy and proud to know we are all doing our best to create something wonderful for all the children out there who are searching, craving, questing. Whatever it is they need they can find it in a book already written or perhaps one that is being written or illustrated right now by one of us. I firmly believe there is NO finer ambition, NO greater honour than to help shape the future and I am very grateful to be given that opportunity.

Thank you SCBWI for helping me make my dream come true, thank you to my agent and my publisher, to The Golden Egg academy and to my friends and family and to everyone here for voting and for listening!

Good night."

PostScript - If  I could really time travel, I would go back to that night and accept the award in honour of my dad who passed away recently. He was always so proud of me, and I was - AM - so very proud to be his daughter.

Photos: Lorraine Gregory

Lorraine Gregory is the daughter of an Austrian mother and an Indian father and was raised on an East-London council estate. She's loved reading ever since she learned how. Some of her favourite children's authors are Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, Frances Hardinge, Beverly Cleary, and Astrid Lindgren. Lorraine has had various jobs over the years, including school dinner lady, chef, and restaurant manager, but secretly wanted to be a writer. It was only when she started making up stories to entertain her son that she finally decided to stop being scared, follow her dream and try to get published.
Find more about her here, and on Twitter
Anne Boyere is part of the Words & Pictures events team, managed by Events Editor Fran Price. Contact


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