Since discovering the Creative Kids Tales Festival in 2018, I couldn't wait to attend this year. The theme was INVEST, and organiser Georgie Donaghey did an amazing job lining up our speakers, Jacqueline Harvey, Deb Abela, illustrators favourite Emma Quay and keynote speaker Jackie French AM. As expected, as soon as I lined up at the registration desk, the excitement was palpable. Friends greeted friends, new members were quickly embraced and conversations flew about manuscript assessment nerves.
Georgie kicked off the proceedings with a welcome before handing over to Jackie French for her presentation, 'How to begin the journey, how to keep going, and how to be an overnight success in a decade, (subtitled, 'or what the publishers probably won't tell you'). An immediate hush fell on the room as Jackie started with a surprising analogy - we are all cows. She described the process of getting published, starting with writers producing 'hopefully superior' milk, then passing it over to the editors, illustrators and publishers to turn it into a gourmet cheese. Her point on impressing people with your book cover in just seven seconds, really hit home to me. I hadn't really thought about it, but yes, when I'm browsing I choose firstly by the cover, then the blurb and if still curious, a quick flick inside to see whether the style of writing is appealing will have me putting it back on the shelf or in my shopping basket in approximately seven seconds. Scary. Jackie went on to talk about being ruthless in your editing, using imagery sparingly and finished on an inspiring and (for me) tear inducing speech about how we - just simple authors and illustrators like us, can shape the future for our kids. Luckily it was then time for the British remedy for all things emotional - a cup of tea :)
'Kids today are depressed, and fearful with the rise of terrorism. Write history so kids know the world changes, write books about surmounting challenges and succeeding against the odds, so kids know how to build resilience, write books that are pure joy and escapism so kids know happiness and how laughter helps, even when the world seems dark. The friends we make in books are with us forever.' Jackie French
Whilst others browsed the book stall, I headed to a manuscript assessment with Sue Whiting. I had seen Sue speak at last years festival, and sought out her books in the months afterwards. I had also attended one of her picture book courses in Newcastle, but this was the first time I had really had an opportunity to speak with her directly. Sue, true to the word impressed upon me by everyone who has met her, was absolutely lovely. She took me through my manuscript explaining what worked and what didn't, and was even kind enough to allow me to accost her later that day for clarification on something I hadn't quite taken in at the time in all the excitement. Overall, I was on a high walking away with my pencil comments from the 'not sure why's and 'less is more's' to 'A compelling start. Congratulations!'
Taking a quiet moment to let this sink in, and realising that now I had better get down and do the work of writing more chapters, I went back to catch the end of Emma Quay's presentation,' Giving Voice, Then Keeping Quiet: the art of making children's picture books.. and letting them go.'
Emma, like me, grew up in the U.K, and in a brief online chat on the CKT facebook page, I was delighted to learn that she had actually studied Graphic Design in my home town at Newcastle upon Tyne Polytechnic. Emma's work is featured globally and includes a collection held in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Emma showed us some of her illustrations from her new book 'My Sunbeam Baby', and talked about her passion for creation. She highlighted the importance of accepting that not everyone will like your work, before sharing some hilarious reviews for her award winning picture book, 'Rudie Nudie', including 'The illustrations are lousy because they lacked effort and detail. There was very little colour and the lines don't contain it.' and '… Rudie Nudie is an ok book, give it a go but don't expect much because it's boring, with average illustrations and story.'
Find your voice Be obsessed with what you want to do Invest your time
You have to truly care Keep doing it - work every day to get better Do your best work
Give all parts of the illustrating equal attention
Pick projects you are passionate about
Every part of the book matters not just the main characters
Never give up
Emma's tips were equally applicable to authors and illustrators.
Our final speaker of the day Deborah Abela, lifted our spirits with her amusing and inspiring talk titled,
'Hard, painful, brilliant and intoxicating: why, how, and what you need to invest in to be a successful writer.' quoting George Orwell (see final image), and reminding me of the statement made by author's agent Brian Cook, on a panel discussion I once produced,along the lines of 'Writers are cursed. They' re driven….once you're driven like that there's nothing else you can do -you have to write.'
Deb went on to share her main ingredients of story: character, setting and problems, explaining that it is our job to make it hard for our characters to get what they truly want, immerse yourself in your setting (another validation for my picture pin board!), and identify the thing that drives the story forward - what makes the reader want to turn the page? She also shared her drafting process and gave us some
recommended reading: 'The Mindful Writer' by Dinty W Moore and 'On Writing' by Stephen King.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching Deb's video where she shares her journey researching her new book,
'Teresa A New Australian', which tells the story of a young girl and her family who survive the bombing of Malta during WW2, before migrating to Australia to start a new life.
During her talk, Deb had shared the ups and downs, citing her disappointment that her 'Ghost Club' books hadn't done as well as she had hoped. I later contacted Deb to let her know that my daughter had chosen Ghost club as her book of choice for her school task to redesign a cover for her favourite book. So it wasn't a flop by any means Deb!
After a much needed second cuppa with some of Georgie's cake, we launched into the publishers panel and Pitch Ya Book session. This was a fascinating insight into the decisions made and the do's and don'ts, with some good laughs and an opportunity to have questions answered. Desperately hoping to have my name pulled out of the pitching hat,(which it sadly didn't) I watched on as several brave and nervous authors rose to pitch their book to the assembled panel.
The room cheered as author Serge Smagarinsky won a request to submit his manuscript for consideration by Omnibus (Scholastic).
And that was the high we finished on. The day had flown, a wealth of information imparted, and we went home with hopes, dreams….and a lot of work to do.
Thanks go to Georgie Donaghey and her family, Susan Hili our critique group manager, speakers, and publishers for yet another highlight event for the future of children's literature.