EVENTS Oh! MG! weekend, Part 1

Words & Pictures’ roving reporters were at SCBWI-BI's fabulous Oh! MG! Weekend. Here, Claire Watts, Diane Webb, Anne Boyere and Clare Brice tell us all about it.


Oh! No! Not another Zoom!

by Claire Watts


First I should admit that I wasn’t entirely looking forward to the MG Weekend. How much did I actually want to sit in front of a computer all day for two days in a row? Of course it’s fabulous that SCBWI are putting on online events, but how could it possibly measure up to the live version?


I find Zoom meetings very trying. All that putting your hand up or talking over people. Plus how does anyone keep their mind on what’s going on on-screen at the same time as following what’s going on in the chat box? Still, I thought, this won’t be like that; all I need to do is sit back and listen. Maybe I could set it up so I could do my ironing or a jigsaw at the same time?


Well, I can tell you that I tried to do my ironing and failed because there was so much coming at me in terms of information and ideas that I kept having to stop and take notes, so many notes. By the end of Sunday afternoon I was buzzing with new determination and new ideas and fuzzy with the warm sense of community that SCBWI events always leave me with.


How to train an author, keynote

by Diane Webb


After a technical hiccup and a change of venue from Cressida’s writing shed to her kitchen, hosts Candy Gourlay and Mo O’Hara handed over to author Lorraine Gregory for the interview with Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell.


Lorraine Gregory (main pic) introduces Cressida Cowell, with host Candy Gourlay (bottom right).

We were enlightened to Cressida’s publication journey, from her BA course at Brighton where she first learnt about story-telling all the way through to her position as Children’s Laureate, where she’s been aiming to encourage more children to read for pleasure.


Showing us the first illustration of the witch’s feather and a poem she wrote that began her route into the imaginary world of her book series Wizards of Once, Cressida really demonstrated how her art background is an important part of her writing process.


 Cressida Cowell

One insight she shared was how your illustrator brain can reflect your unconscious self — a great help to your writer brain, particularly good when exploring the emotional stuff.


She added that a lot of her inspiration comes from childhood experiences, mainly her relationship with her parents and the places where she played and spent many happy holidays. She feels this personal connection with the environments and characters she creates contributes to the success of her stories.


She added, ‘You have to remember what it’s like to be a child, what they would love, like riding on the back of a dragon; what they find funny and exciting.’



That mixture of funny, exciting action and heartfelt characters, she said, helps to capture the imaginations of her readers and allows them to care about those characters and worlds.


Cressida’s advice for budding authors included:


* Remember everyone’s journey is different

 * Believe in yourself

 * And just like her own Deadly Shadow, a three-headed dragon character, you need innocence, arrogance and patience to be a writer. So keep on writing.


The time went so quickly, with lots of laughter, energy, personality and warmth oozing from our screens. One attendee’s comments summed it up nicely, ‘Wow – she really is an inspiration!’


Age Appropriate MG

by Anne Boyere


With MG books ranging from illustrated funny series for KS2 (ages 7 to 11) readers to serious literary novels for KS3 (ages 11 to 14), it can be tricky for writers to know the boundaries of writing for MG. Usborne Commissioning editor Stephanie King and two award winning authors Cath Howe (Ella on the Outside) and Candy Gourlay (Bone Talk), talked about how authors and publishers navigate the pitfalls of writing for this age group.


Cath talked about accessing something of the child in yourself, i.e. your own childhood feelings and memories.


Cath Howe (left), Candy Gourlay (top right), and Stephanie King.

Candy added: ‘It’s not just 'write what you know' but 'write who you are'.’ The author of Bone Talk also pointed out that her books are not aiming to provide answers but rather allow children to ask questions.


On the question of ‘voice’ the three panelists talked about the innocence of that age range, keeping the reader in mind at all time and thinking carefully about why writers want to tell a particular story.


Violence in MG was also touched upon. ‘Why do you want to show it on the page? A better effect can be had by dealing with the aftermath,’ Stephanie said.


Above all, if you write MG, you need to work hard and write better!


Writing MG non-fiction

by Anne Boyere


Rashmi Sirdeshpande, author of Dosh, discussed the exciting possibilities of MG non-fiction with Louie Stowell, who until recently was an editor at Ladybird Books.


Rashmi and Louie took us through the different types of non-fiction books, e.g. information, poetry, retellings, ‘how-to’ books, highlighting that non-fiction is more than facts.


Rashmi Sirdeshpande, (right), discusses non-fiction MG with Louie Stowell.

From her experience of writing both fiction and non-fiction, Rashmi drew out the prevalence of storytelling and that any writer can transfer their skills, using their experiences, hobbies and interests. But she also points out that non-fiction is hard work and involves a lot of research, fact-checking and double-fact-checking!


Louie touched on trends, sharing that publishers are always looking for the next big trend. As in fiction, write about what you’re passionate about.


Finally a small proposal-guide from Rashmi:

Include what the book is, age target, provisional word count (doesn’t have to be complete), why is it timely, what’s out there and why is yours different, why are you the right author, an outline with chapters breakdown, and most important a sample of your writing.

First Words Challenge

by Clare Brice


Not brave enough to enter the 200 First Word Challenge, I felt quite nervous for the plucky souls who did submit.

Before the discussion started, Candy Gourlay and Mo O’Hara explained the extracts being used were chosen for their valuable and insightful teaching points. They also discussed how agents are business partners and the writer’s ‘champion’, trying to get the best out of the writer.


James Nicol read a synopsis and opening lines for each story which were then discussed by Gemma Cooper from the Bent Agency and Kate Shaw from the Shaw Agency. The 200 word extracts were discussed in a positive and supportive way. Gemma and Kate gave feedback pertinent to their own preferences and knowledge of the MG market.


James Nicol reads a synopsis and extract for each story.

Feedback and explanations were given on writing a synopsis and pitch and the difference between the two. Interesting points were made about the shortening of MG books and the commercial viability of literary MG stories.

The session finished with examples of writing which have been taken on by both agents. Gemma and Kate explained why they had enjoyed the openings, what grabbed their attention and why they had asked for more information.


It was a really useful insight into the publishing mind and helpful for writers, whatever stage their manuscript may be at.


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

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