SCBWI-BI CONFERENCE 2019 Introducing Geraldine McCaughrean

As this year's SCBWI-BI Telling Tales conference approaches, co-chair Tracy Liennard introduces our writers' keynote speaker Geraldine McCaughrean.

Geraldine McCaughrean has written more than 170 books, ranging from picture books to young adult. She is perhaps most well-known for her official sequel, Peter Pan in Scarlet and has a very full trophy shelf, being a three-time recipient of the Whitbread/Costa Children's Book Award and a double Carnegie Medal winner; her most recent medal was awarded in 2018 for Where the World Ends.

Geraldine is passionate about children’s literature and has strong views on the direction it’s taking, particularly the dumbing down of vocabulary. She believes language should challenge and enrich children’s reading, rather than constraining them through a small functional vocabulary.

What is it about the mythical and magical that gets you inspired?

I am quite wary of ‘magic’. I’ve never got mixed up with it while writing fiction, only doing retellings. The trouble with magic is the ‘wand syndrome’. Given a wand, the hero loses vulnerability: given any danger, he can theoretically get out of it. Hence the need for some ‘kryptonite’ element to render the superhero helpless. But I do love the neat joke structure of ‘three wishes’ stories, or the massive, towering genie who has to be tricked back into his bottle. The Arabian Nights are good on magic.

Myths and legends have been told to children for thousands of years, handed down from generation to generation. What are the key things you think children learn from them?

The big stuff. Myths and legends are adult stories written in the grand style about birth, death and everything in between. They prove what things endure from age to age – Love, Heroism, War, Fear, Justice, Fate, Jealousy ... Nothing is petty or banal. We might experience them differently from the civilisations that gave rise to them – we no longer have to believe in the gods, for instance – or even agree with the ethos – but they present something which, for generations, people allowed to shape their imaginations and story-making.

'The Arabian Nights are good on magic.'

Whole civilisations have borrowed the stories from each other and reshaped them, to fit. There are gripping stories, perfect in form. There are memorable beasts, heroes and villains. They feel important, and children like to be entrusted with ancient, grown up and (largely) unexpurgated stuff. Also, I’ve not been asked to bowdlerise them nearly as much as folklore and fairy tales have to be these days.

Is there a myth that inspired you?

Perseus and Medusa did it for me, but only after taking a sideways look at whom we should be cheering and whom we should be booing. Oh and Prometheus, of course. Not just a sculptor but so Christ-like.

What's the most magical book you fell in love with?

The Epic of Gilgamesh. The oldest written-down story in the world and still as fresh as the day it was carved in wet clay with a stick. I’m very fond of Mervyn Peake’s Mr Pye too. A prime, ‘wish I’d thought of that,’ plotline.

Myths and legends are adult stories ... about birth, death and everything in between. They prove what things endure from age to age – Love, Heroism, War, Fear, Justice, Fate, Jealousy ... Nothing is petty or banal

If you could take something modern into a mythical world what would it be?

A satnav indicating where all the monsters hang out, so that they could be avoided by questing heroes. And David Attenborough to explain the importance of not rendering monsters extinct.

If you could bring something magical or mythical into the modern world what would it be and why?

The Oracle at Delphi – or at least the smoke vent she sat in.

Tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh. (Photo credit:

If you could be any mythical character who would you be?

Pegasus – It was my first ambition in life: to be a horse. And I’d be able to read, so I’d know to expect the horsefly and wear insect repellent.

If you could be any character from your novels who would it be?

Cissy Sissney in Stop the Train and Pull Out All the Stops.

To hear more from our amazing keynote Geraldine McCaughrean, book your place on the 2019 SCBWI conference here.

*Header image: Pegasus ridden by Bellerophon,

Tracy Liennard has been a member of SCBWI for three years and this is her second year on the Conference Committee. As co-chair she has been supporting the speaker co-ordinators and finance function, and will be hosting the speed dating session. Her day job as a civil servant involves working on the challenges of Brexit. Everything else in life seems simple by comparison. She has spent enough time drinking tea in cafes to have just finished writing her first young adult manuscript. She also writes picture books.

Fran Price is Events Editor for Words & Pictures, the online magazine for SCBWI-BI. Contact her at

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