In the first of a new series, Anita Loughrey interviews SCBWI-BI's longest-serving member, Donna Vann.

When I joined SCBWI in 1986 we were living in Germany – West Germany as it then was, three years before the wall came down. Immersed in German language and culture, I was desperate for creative writing input in English, which in those pre-internet days came partly though the SCBWI magazine. I didn't know any children's writers. That all changed when we moved to the UK in 1992 and I received a letter from the California headquarters about helping to start up SCBWI here.

In 2005 with Taffy

So a few times a year I made the trek from Birmingham to London where a handful of us gathered in a pub. Finally, after having written for nearly ten years and with three books published, I encountered like-minded people. And they spoke English! It was water pouring onto parched ground.

Kids’ craft club in 2005
At Shaw Hill School in Birmingham, 2010

As SCBWI took off in the UK I was asked to head up a Midlands group. Not being gifted with admin I wasn’t sure, but finally said yes, if someone else would join me. Clare Bell (aka Juliet Clare Bell) didn’t take too much arm-twisting to agree; we were co-coordinators of the Midlands Network area until 2016. I’ve since moved to Hampshire and now attend the SCBWI group in Southampton.

With Clare Bell at the SCBWI conference 2010 for the launch of New York City Adventures

The highlight of my years in Birmingham was the ongoing SCBWI critique group, and I still occasionally journey north to see old friends and have lumpy bits chopped off my work-in-progress. Through many years of practice the Critters have developed the fine art of hacking away at each others' manuscripts with the Machete of Kindness, so that the result is constructive... even though painful. All this has encouraged me to continue writing. Probably the most fulfilling thing has been seeing my books published in other languages, including Urdu. Currently I'm working on a light-hearted 'time slip' novel plus several picture books.

Corin's Quest in Urdu, 1998

Children’s publishing has changed a lot since 1986, but here are some phrases that were around back then:
The market is really crowded these days.
Your story needs to be more/less: gentle/edgy/fast-paced.
We don’t want to see any more/what we do want to see more of is: ghosts/outer space/animals/historical/dystopian.

Tastes change, things fall out of fashion and back in. A publisher asked me to write historical fiction, so I did, but they turned down my second novel because 'historical was out'. A few years later 'historical was in' so I dusted off my MS and sold it to the same publisher. My point is, keep on doing what you do, write what gives you pleasure and don’t worry too much about trends. If you’re slow like me, by the time you get your WIP polished and out there, the trend may have swung back in your favour.

Thank you SCWBI, for providing me with friends and input and a safe place to grow as a writer!

SCBWI steering group, probably 2010

Header image: Donna with her books in 2018
All pics credited to Donna Vann

Anita Loughrey is SCBWI's Membership Coordinator. Anita writes fiction for all ages, graphic novels, audio books, teacher resources, educational fiction, non-fiction and creative non-fiction on a wide variety of subjects for a wide range of publishers. She has over 85 books published in the UK and many more worldwide. She also writes two regular double-page spreads for the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum and teaches creative writing.

You can find out more about Anita Loughrey on her website and on her blog. Or follow her on Twitter @amloughrey and Instagram @anitaloughrey

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations Donna. Your journey in writing an publishing is and has been an inspiration to me for many years. Keep up the good work.


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