The absolute highlight of the CYA conference for me was catching up with new and old writing friends, and seeing many of them successfully place in the competitions. The absolute look of joy on their faces as they were rewarded for their efforts in working on their craft and then having the courage to submit their stories were priceless. Four Write Linkers placed this year, Jacqui Halpin, Leslee Hewson, and Danielle Freeland and Rachelle Sadler(who placed twice). A big congratulations to Jacqui for her first placing, and she had a placing last year as well.
The cheer from the Write Linkers as each of their writing buddies went up to accept their certificate was loud and joyous. Another friend from the Rainforest Writing Retreat Georgina Ballantine, also received a first place in her category, and I was so, so happy we had a chance to chat during the morning tea break. And a couple of SCWIBI friends did well in the competitions as well, Sandra Flett, and Sheryl Gwyther.
There is a good chance with 200 people I didn’t see half my friends that were at the conference, so apologies if we didn’t catch up or it was a quick passing wave. There’s always a next time.
Another highlight of this conference is just how lovely Tina Clarke is. She is always calm even though she has done so much work in the lead up and to keep a track of on the day. She stops and chats, and never makes you feel stressed.
It is just so inspiring that she began this conference twelve years ago and has been able to assist so many writers to see an editor or publisher for the first time, and to learn through the various master classes how to improve their work. Many people love the conference so much they just keep coming back.
Tina always acknowledges that this conference is supported by brilliant volunteers, many of them are writers, illustrators, teachers and they just love children’s literature. This years red tshirt was just a great colour and here are some of those lovely volunteers (many of them dear friends). They too, even though busy, had time to stop, smile and chat, as they went to their next task. They kept people very calm going into their editors’ and agent appointments. They are experienced at just saying, ‘Make the most out of the constructive criticism you will receive in these meetings.’
I was so delighted to hear from the author of Helene’s current new book The Whirlpool Emily Larkin. Do check it out in book stores! Helene and I ran into each other all day, and had lots of time to catch up. This was slightly amazing as there were 200 delegates this year, the most ever, but still we found each other several times. I think Peter Allert, the conference photographer has a picture of Helene and I together, so I will ask him for that later.
Helene and I don’t call each other creative sisters for nothing, but we also mingled with the rest of the conference goers. But there is something about working together on Magic Fish Dreaming that will make that team forever special to me. And we do have plans for future workshops and much more just because we like working together.
Okay so by the end of the day I was getting a little weary, after learning about trade versus educational publishing with Pamela Rushby, and all things Social Media with Julia Ferracane, and listening to a fabulous talk by Michelle Worthington on the power, diversity and importance of picture books, and learning about Kindergo from Nadine Bates, that I began to have a conversation with Quigley, my dear little quoll. ‘Quigley,’ I asked, ‘Do you want your own chapter book series?’ and ‘Who should star in this book with you?’
You know Jacqueline Harvey started with a picture book idea that became a series (Jacqueline’s opening session of total Question and Answer was just brilliant). Jacqueline, shared with us her own moments of joy and struggle on her writing journey. One young member of the audience asked if she ever tired of writing about the same characters, and she answered ‘no.’ She strives to improve with every book. She is always excited about writing the next one. I wish I could have made the master class with Jacqueline! Sometimes I wish conferences didn’t have parallel sessions, but I do understand why they do. I would have loved to go to the skype with Shaun Tan!
The other reason Quigley and I were having this conversation was because one of the editors I met with felt some of my ideas were chapter books, not picture books. Hmm lots to think about.
I found the editors all gave constructive feedback, and were friendly and encouraging, on how to improve my picture books and let me know which ones might have a better chance of being published. I showed them Magic Fish Dreaming, and was so happy that they could see how professionally it was put together, and one editor encouraged me to write some of my picture books in the same style as Magic Fish Dreaming and maybe even make some of my picture book ideas into a collection of poems.
I love that one editor said, ‘Remember to follow your heart, and just take what you need from my advice and go for it, good luck. ‘ It was encouraging that they some were open to staying in touch and maybe receiving a submission despite the huge number they already receive.
The reality is that publishers receive so many more submissions than they are ever able to fully read, and as they are so busy working on books and with authors they already have, they usually read on weekends and in the evenings. They had a really humorous and down to earth heart to heart with us at the end of the conference. The take home message was research your publisher before submitting! Know their back list. One editor said she doesn’t call is the ‘slush pile’, she calls it the ‘treasure trove.’ Another said, ‘Please spell my name correctly and don’t put glitter in the envelope!’
So that’s all from my experience of the CYA conference.
Now I will work on polishing my submissions and query letters and emailing them, and get together for coffee, with friends like Yvonne and Barbara.
Although writers and illustrators can often be solitary when in the process of creating there are many wonderful communities, like Write Links, Writing Centres, SCWIBI and online groups like Just Write For Kids, and courses through Children’s Book Academy etc. etc that between conferences can continue to nurture their talent.