I am a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI); an fantastic international organisation which started in the USA in 1971 and now has branches in many parts of the world. SCBWI supports both emerging and established children’s writers and illustrators, and I joined the SCBWI British Isles branch two years ago to see what they got up to. I have learned a huge amount from the group, gained a lot of support, made many new friends, and I coordinate the area picture book critique group. In November 2018, I was awarded the Margaret Carey Illustration Scholarship to attend the SCBWI British Isles annual conference. Read on to find out how it went…
Four o’clock in the morning felt hideously early to be waiting for a taxi to Edinburgh airport, and my suitcase seemed excessively large for just a weekend away. It was packed with two A3 portfolios, two A4 sketchbooks, notebooks, picture book dummies, posters, drawing materials, a large pair of black wings, the odd piece of clean clothing and my toothbrush. I was off to the SCBWI BI 2018 Conference.
At the airport I met the first SCBWI delegates of my trip, and so began a weekend of meeting, greeting and feeling welcomed and included by a truly fantastic crowd. Arriving in Winchester early on the Friday enabled to me join in with some of the conference fringe events, starting with the sketch crawl. I sat atop a flight of steps drawing passers-by and buildings until my fingers were numb then joined other illustrators in the museum cafe to share sketch-books over soup and coffee. Many of my new illustrator friends were also taking part in the portfolio critique group that evening, which was a hugely informative process.
Saturday morning started abruptly with the hotel fire alarm going off at 5:00 a.m. The first encounter I had with the industry professional giving my portfolio one-to-one, was in the bleary-eyed semi-darkness outside the fire escape; dressed only in my nightie and knitwear. At breakfast, someone I didn’t know sat down next to me so I greeted her and introduced myself. I learned that it was her first SCBWI conference, that she was a YA historical fiction writer and that she wasn’t too sure of the way to the conference venue. So, we walked up the hill together; me feeling pleased at having met another relative newbie (or so I thought), whilst trying to remember her name. When registration was done and more coffee was drunk, the opening talks began and I learned that my friendly breakfast companion was in fact Catherine Johnson; a very experienced and widely published author who was the inspiring key-note speaker opening the conference!
Benji Davies talked about his beginnings, his working process and his picture books. Jake Hope led an inspiring and insightful workshop about the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal, discussing the challenges of selecting and comparing work in a field that is so subjective. My portfolio one-to-one session with Tiffany Leeson from Egmont publishing was hugely informative, giving me suggestions about what was working well in my portfolio and what I could do differently. The portfolio display was a great opportunity to study the portfolios of other illustration delegates and then talk to them about their working practices. After this inspiration-packed day, the evening held the conference party and mass book launch. This was yet another opportunity to meet like-minded people and celebrate the successes of those recently published. Day two was just as overwhelmingly full as day one, with a double-length workshop on story beginnings run by Benji Davies. Everyone was encouraged to draw this time, with sketchbooks and pencils provided for writers and illustrators alike.
It will take me some time to digest all of the things I learned during the weekend; I have a lot of new things to think about that I am eager to get back to the drawing board and try out. I applied to the Margaret Carey Scholarship because I was looking for opportunities to learn more, develop my work and move closer to being ready to submit to agents and publishers. Many factors combined mean that traditional university programmes are not an option for me so I have to look for alternatives ways to learn. This conference has been truly fantastic and I feel extremely privileged to have won the scholarship that enabled me to attend. I have been reminded once again of what a wonderfully welcoming, inspiring and empowering organisation SCBWI is.