EVENTS From Idea to Bookshelf, Part 2

Having always been strangely drawn to things she cannot do, middle grade author Claire Fayers attended SCBWI's Picture Book Weekend. 

I have never written a picture book. Middle Grade fiction is my thing. A 50,000 word novel is short for me, and the thought of telling a whole story in 500 words or less is enough to bring me out in a nervous rash. In short, picture books are near the top of the list of things I can’t do, along with shark-juggling and elephant-wrestling.

And yet, I’ve always had a strange fascination for things I can’t do (maybe not the shark-juggling.) With the ever-growing pressure to diversify and write for different age groups, I’ve been thinking, can I rise to the challenge of writing a picture book after all?

The SCBWI Zoom conference seemed the ideal opportunity to find out.

I like Zoom. It’s one of the good things to come out of lockdown. Pre-covid, I could rarely make it to events. Now I can attend without leaving home. I don’t even have to be available on the right weekend. I had visitors on the weekend in question, so I’ve been catching up on the recordings afterwards.

I’m sorry I missed the social parts of the weekend, because it all looked great fun, but the recordings made an excellent substitute. It’s well worth signing up for something like this even if you can’t make it live. In fact, you’ll probably want to watch the recordings several times, because there’s so much in them. What was I hoping for? I wasn’t sure. Maybe a foolproof, step-by-step method of writing a guaranteed best-selling picture book. Something I could follow like painting by numbers.

I’ve always had a fascination for things I can’t do (maybe not the shark-juggling.) With the ever-growing pressure to diversify and write for different age groups, can I rise to the challenge of writing a picture book?

You will be unsurprised to discover there is no such method. As was very evident from the variety of talks, there are many ways to write a book. The weekend, however, was chock-full of advice and information, from finding ideas to marketing your book, and all the hard work that goes on in between.

If you’ve missed Gulfem Wormald’s excellent write-up of the whole weekend, you should definitely read it. I’m looking in particular at the pair of Saturday sessions, Revisions to Final Book because these were especially helpful to me as a novice.

Revisions to Final Book, Part 1 with Mini Grey

Mini Grey is a miracle. Warm, enthusiastic, and with a playful approach to the subject that was positively contagious.

Illustration for Twitter's #inktober2021spark, by Mini Grey.
(Picture credit: @Bonzetta1).

She began with the many ways she finds and develops ideas. (I told you, there’s no single method, didn’t I?) You have to let all the ideas in, Mini said, because you don’t know which ones will turn out to be the good ideas until you’ve tried them out. To prove her point, she showed us a collection of her discarded stories.

I found this strangely heartening. I know I have bad ideas all the time, but if a successful author like Mini also has failed ideas, then maybe my failures are a good thing – a sign that I’m trying.

Mini reminded us that reading a picture book aloud is a performance

I was fascinated with the parallel between picture books and theatre, something that James Mayhew also talked about in his session. Mini reminded us that reading a picture book aloud is a performance. That’s something I will definitely consider when I come to trying out some ideas.

I loved hearing Mini talk about her many published books, especially the book she is currently working on. She’s certainly inspired me to go out and read a lot more picture books.

Revisions to Final Book, Part 2, with Chitra Soundar and Dapo Adeola

I’ve long been a fan of Chitra Soundar. More than fifty books, published all over the world – that’s impressive. 

I wasn’t so familiar with Dapo’s work as an illustrator, but I’ve since been stalking his fantastic Instagram page.

I was struck by two things Dapo said early on. First, that the illustrator is also telling the story, and secondly that he taught himself illustration from reading picture books. A stern reminder that if I want to try writing picture books, I need to start reading. The highlight, however, was Dapo’s focus on the recently-published Hey You!, a collaboration with eighteen different illustrators.

Next, Chitra talked about the revision process from the author’s point of view. Remember, I said there’s no single step-by-step method of writing a book? There’s no single step-by-step method of getting a book ready for publication either. The importance of talking to your team really stood out for me, and being ready to edit, edit and edit some more, right up until the last minute.

My takeaways

  • Think outside the box. Set aside time to brainstorm and play.
  • Read, read, read!
  • Keep trying. Not every idea will turn into a story.
  • Revise, revise, revise!
  • Think about how the illustrations and text will interact.
  • Make friends – with your illustrator, your editor, your readers. Picture books are a team effort.

A big thank you to the SCBWI volunteers for such an interesting and inspiring weekend.


*Header image of Mini Grey: screenshot by Claire Fayers.


Claire Fayers grew up in South-east Wales where, thanks to her local library, she developed a lifelong obsession with myth and magic. Her books include The Accidental Pirates, Mirror Magic, Storm Hound, and Welsh Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends. She lives in the Welsh mountains with her husband and two disappointingly unmagical cats. Twitter: @clairefayers


Fran Price is Events Editor for Words & Pictures. Contact her at

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