The highlight of the week was receiving package of books that I had ordered on line, including my favourite poet, Maya Angelou!
I am busy reading them now. The Murphy book, Pearl Verses the World, was just lovely~ so looking forward to meeting Sally on the 26th of August and asking her to sign it.
This week I put a notice up on my social media space, ‘Gone Writing’, and then disappeared to write and edit. It ended up being more editing than new writing, but it was a productive week nevertheless. I also contemplated singing more, and listened to lots of music, from Enya to Adele, whilst writing, .
I had put my novel away for a while and was ready to come back to it fresh, restructure and then move back into the book and finish that all important first draft. I knew that later in the week I would be at an editing workshop put on by SCWIBI. I spend a lot of time at my computer so it is always precious to catch up with writing friends, both old and new.
This week I spent time working with youth. They always inspire me when they grow in confidence and engage with topics of peace and ending war with optimism. I have been working with this group for a year and a half now and they are just going from strength to strength.
If I have a chance I will pop back into the blog to say a little about the inspiring Think Like an Editor workshop, where we covered topics like ‘writing from the heart’ and finding our unique ‘voice’, and ‘writing for the joy of it to practice, with no pressure of publication’ to improve our writing, but this is a quick blog just to say, the less I blog for now, the more I can work hard on those all important writing projects.
Thanks everyone who is a blog follower!
Feel free to look back through old poems and stories, etc in this space. I might even do some reposts of favourite blogs.
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.
Yvonne Mes is a children’s author, illustrator and devourer of books. She writes short stories, picture books and junior novels. Her stories are published in School Magazine, on the Kids Book Review website and as part of anthologies.
Yvonne has a Bachelor of Children’s Services, a Certificate in Professional Children’s Writing, and a Certificate IV in Visual Arts and Crafts.
Yvonne coordinates Write Links, the Brisbane children’s writers and illustrators group, and is vice president of Book Links QLD (Inc.) She writes reviews for Buzz Words magazine and is a member of SCBWI, CBCA, Book Links and the ASA.
She has two decades experience working with children of all ages, abilities, many cultures and in various settings.
Yvonne grew up in Amsterdam but has made her home in Australia. Her three sons make sure she is never lost for inspiration. Her mission: sneak a quiet cup of coffee. Result: cold coffee and noise.
1- June: Yvonne can you tell me about the book you are about to have published and how that came about?
Yvonne: I’d love to. Meet Sidney Nolan is the latest in the non-fiction ‘Meet …’ picture book series about the extraordinary men and women who have shaped Australia’s history by Random House Australia.
Meet Sidney Nolan is also is the debut for illustrator Sandra Eterovic, who is a successful visual artist.
The book came about through hard work, being prepared and luck. I had immersed myself in writing picture books, studying picture books, and taking courses in writing for children for two years before I attended my first SCBWI conference in Sydney last year.
I had paid for one editorial session with an editor, and unlike other conferences, editors were assigned to authors after submitting manuscripts. So when I learned that I was matched with Random House, the editor had already received my picture book manuscript (Fearsome Friends, a fun story about a competitive scorpion and snake). I decided to be bold and take my non-fiction manuscript I had worked on for over six months, about another Australian artist.
During the meeting I asked Kimberley Bennet in person if she would consider this manuscript for the Meet... series. A few weeks later I received a rejection email saying that though she really liked the writing and the story the team didn’t think this artist was well-known enough for the series, however, in the same email she asked if I would be interested in writing a story on Sidney Nolan.
I immediately wondered why I hadn’t considered that earlier, face palm! I had fallen in love with his work after visiting a Sidney Nolan exhibition in Brisbane a few years earlier. I enjoyed it so much, I made repeat visits. I got started researching and writing Sidney Nolan straight away.
2- June: Can you describe the process of how you were involved once it was accepted by the publisher and what you liked most about that process?
Yvonne: First I had to decide on which part of Sidney Nolan’s life to focus. His Ned Kelly series are what made him famous all over the world and at the time played a part in shaping Australia’s identity. I was interested in what led up to him creating this iconic series.
The Random House Australia team is fantastic. Editors Kimberley Bennett and Catriona Merdie were amazing throughout the editorial process. Their communication and feedback on drafts was respectful and they would explain their reasons for suggestions on the revisions.
It was difficult at times to see certain sentences go. Sidney Nolan was such a fascinating character and there were many anecdotes and facets of his life which couldn’t be included in the story, either to keep the word count down, or because, well, let’s say that not everything was suitable for children.
When the story was in reasonable shape we worked on pagination and the timeline, and I able to look at the rough illustrations before Sandra moved on to the final illustrations. Seeing the illustrations was the most exhilarating part of the whole process.
The Random House team were determined to find the right person for the project, and it was lovely to see such a beautiful and painterly illustration style to tell Sidney’s story.
3- June: What sort of things have you been doing to prepare for the launch of your first children’s book?
Yvonne: A bit of freaking out! As I am pretty new to this I have a lot to learn. However, I try to be proactive and attended the Launch Lab at the Queensland Writer’s Centre by Meg Vann. The lovely Megan Daley is involved in the launch so I know it will be great.
There will be a lunch time launch be at the Story Arts Festival in Ipswich on the 13th of September and I am organising a launch specifically for children with some interactive art activities to follow soon after. I have a few online interviews happening and I will be interviewing Sandra Eterovic. I am also planning a couple of readings at schools and libraries.
4- June: You are very involved in the writing community for children’s and young adult authors, can you explain why you think that involvement is so important for you?
Yvonne: Being in touch with other creative people who have the same dreams and facing the same obstacles is a great sanity preserver! It was like finding my tribe, the people who ‘get me’ and vice versa. We talk about writing and writing related topics for hours without having eyes glazing over or people falling asleep, which is what happens with family members and non-writing friends, I guess we really are a nerdy bunch!
I have met many lovely and supportive people who write and illustrate for children over the last couple of years in person and on-line. I have made two close friends here in Brisbane who I met through the writing community and sharing our ups and downs can be a real lifesaver.
I also think the shared knowledge of the writing community leads to learning and growth and ultimately better quality books for children. As in my writing, I think it is important to make connections with and between others.
5- June: Where do you find readers for the drafts of your texts and how do they contribute to your process?
Yvonne: I ask for feedback on drafts from my amazing online picture book critique group, Penguin Posse, and my writing group, Write Links. Sometimes I think a story is fantastic and I get brought back to earth very gently, making the story so much stronger during the revision process.
Often I will let a story sit for weeks or months before looking at it again with fresh eyes, ready to take-in the critiques. At other times feedback gives me the confidence to start submitting a story.
The trick for me is to get at least six opinions in order to see the broad lines of what works or doesn’t, without losing the main heart and focus of the story I started with.
I hardly ever read something to my kids and have stopped asking my husband. Though he is extremely supportive, I just can’t deal with any constructive criticism from him until a story has gone through many drafts and revisions.
6- June:Can you tell me a bit more about the Sidney Nolan Book?
Yvonne: Sidney Nolan is one of Australia’s most admired and recognised visual artists. This is the story of how he developed his iconic Ned Kelly series of paintings, brought modernist art to Australia and took Australian art to an admiring international audience.
From Ned Kelly to Saint Mary MacKillop; Captain Cook to Banjo Paterson, the Meet … series of picture books tells the exciting stories of the men and women who have shaped Australia’s history.
June: All the best with the launch of the book Yvonne.