Thursday, 24 November 2011

Five Get Edgy In Winchester by Bryony Pearce

Last weekend ‘The Edge’ went to Winchester.  Our panel was appearing on Sunday morning, which allowed us a whole day and a half to see other presentations!
I arrived on Friday evening, which meant that Dave, Sara and Paula had already made a start on our graffiti wall.
Our plan was to put up a big roll of paper on which delegates could write comments, ask questions and draw pictures. We would then address those questions and comments during our event. 
I arrived just in time to watch Dave put on the finishing touches!
Then we all went out for a ‘speakers dinner’, where I met, among others, Anthony McGown, Ben Scott, Addy Farmer and Ann-Marie Perks.  And was shocked to find just how normal and … well nice everyone was.  For some reason, even though I’m a writer and am in the Edge with seven other lovely writers, I expect other authors, especially successful ones, to be on some other level.  I’m endlessly intimidated and find it wholly shocking when I’m speaking to someone normal and realise that they’ve written something I’ve loved.  Lee Weatherly, author of Angel was at the conference - I would never have known it was her without her name badge.  I’m hoping to meet her for coffee next time I venture down to London.
Someone whose name will remain undisclosed, pointed to a gorgeous man I’d been chatting to who was ultra-friendly and happy to give Paula and I advice on school visits.  “Who is that?”  They asked.  “It’s Anthony McGowan!”  I replied.  To be fair he’d been calling himself Tony all night … but I guess none of us had expected someone of his stature to be so, well, happy to talk to us.
I left the speakers dinner a lot more relaxed than I’d started (the wine might have helped) and the next day the conference opened with a speech by Frank Cottrell Boyce.
He was inspiring, funny and generous.  He reminded us that children’s literature ‘valorises small pleasures’ and talked about the joy he has in a boiled egg, thanks to Milly Molly Mandy and how special it now seems to go to a café like the one in The Tiger Who Came to Tea. He talked to us about how children’s writing should be about taking something wonderful and passing it on, giving something of ourselves. 
He talked about circles of pleasure. 
Talking of which, after his speech none of us will ever be able to listen to ‘Chitty chitty Bang Bang we love you’ again (if you want to know why look up the reason Ian Fleming named the car as he did). 
I’m not sure how our edgy fiction quite fits into the ideal of passing on ‘wonderful things’, but I was very inspired by the end of his talk. 
I went to a talk about Point of View, with the idea that I can always learn something new and then to an industry panel chaired by Sarah Odedina, the MD / Publisher of Bonnier.  The panel included an editorial director from Orion, an editor and a senior designer from Macmillan, an editorial director from Hodder and an art director from Walker.
Their top tips included:
Read – you can never hear too many voices
Keep up with trends, but don’t follow them - make them
Don’t lose faith in your own voice, be fresh, don’t emulate others
Pitch your book correctly
Be open minded
Don’t try to market the book to the editor
Talk to librarians and booksellers.  Hang out in your local independent bookshop so they will support you.

The editorial director from Orion made the mistake of admitting to creating the Rainbow Fairies series, which meant I had to hunt her down on behalf of my six year old daughter. Once found I wasn’t sure whether to shake her hand (my daughter loves those books) or throttle her (if I ever have to read another one …).  She took my slightly schizophrenic approach with calm aplomb and what I have come to identify as the signature loveliness of one working in the children’s book market.
After lunch I attended Anthony McGowan’s lecture on plotting.  Interestingly he doesn’t like PowerPoint, but creates images with brave audience participants. 

This represents the Freitag Pyramid, which brought back long distant memories of my English degree.
Then he gave us four questions to ask when writing a plot:
  1. Who is your main character?
  2. What are they trying to achieve?
  3. Who is trying to stop them?
  4. What will happen if they fail (ought to be a death of some kind, literal or figurative)?
He talked about setting up a sympathetic main character and the two main conventions of doing so:
  • Undeserved suffering
  • Being nice to someone / something less fortunate e.g. an animal (called ‘pat the dog’)
He talked about archetypes and how the main character should go through them during the story arc: 
    •  Orpan (literal or figurative again) 
    • Wanderer
    • Warrior
    • Martyr (have to make the win by self-sacrifice)
    And I thought about how my book fits into that model surprisingly nicely. 
    We all attended the awarding of the Crystal Kite Award to the wonderful Candy Gourlay who’s speech brought a tear to every eye in the audience (read it in full here:

     There was a wonderful mass launch party of the SCBWI books that had been published this year with a truly amazing cake.

    Then, on Sunday morning, adorned with a slight hangover and feeling of exhausted dismay (Anthony McGowan had already done a talk on controversy in YA literature and anyway, how on earth would we match up to the talks I’d attended?) it was the turn of The Edge. We had a two hour event with a half hour tea break.  Worst case, we could do a two hour tea break and a half hour event … 

    Edgar the elephant represented the elephant in the room and helped us be polite (only the one holding edgar could talk).  We had the silver skull of silence, in case anyone went on too long and it was only used the once (on me, ooops).
     We introduced each other:
    … and then we talked.  We discussed ‘what the heck is edgy fiction?’  The reservations we have about writing edgy fiction and its huge rewards.  We talked about trends, hooking teen readers, swearing, sex and slang, how to hook boy readers, what attracts and repels us from YA literature, age banding on books, the emotional toll of writing edgy fiction and how we deal with it, Sara’s fabulous shoes and her love of Bon Jovi … 

    We finished up by recommending the edgy books we loved the most (there is a full list elsewhere on our website).
    A video of our talk is being edited at the moment and will be going online soon, for those who missed us and want to know more about our answers.
    Lastly I went to Lil Chase’s talk on books that sell and sell well and hopefully learned something about pitching my new books. 
    The closing speech was done by illustrator Chris Riddell and his images made us laugh our way to the organiser’s final remarks. 

    I learned so much at the SCBWI-BI conference, but most of all I learned that the children’s publishing industry, from publishers, to editors, to agents, to writers, to illustrators, the published and the aspiring is populated by lovely people, maybe slightly crazier than those in your average street, but so welcoming.  We’ll definitely be back next year!    
    If they want us there, that is …


    1. What a wonderful post Bryony!! If I hadn't been there I would have felt I was after reading this. And our Edge panel went so well, after all our nerves. Some people came up to me afterwards and said it was one of the best things they went to at the Conference! So I think we did all right.

    2. Excellent post, Bryony. You and your fellow Edgers should feel proud of the superb contribution you made to this year's conference. Your panel was insightful and inspiring. Entertaining, too!

    3. How beautifully summed up - fantastic post! It was a brilliant conference and made all the more brilliant by the Edge, our home-grown talents! i look forward to the video.

    4. I'd like to say you were living on the edge, but actually you all looked pretty comfortable on that stage. Except perhaps when Dave put that wig on...

    5. Great post - really useful *tips* and a *taster* for those of us who couldn't be there.

    6. Brilliant post, it sounds like such a good conference.

    7. For more information on our panel event please look at Laura Atkins blog.

    8. Great summary of the conference. I whole heartedly agree- everyone I met was lovely. It felt like such a community of people who really understood each other and wanted to help each other achieve their writing goals. I felt privileged to be part of it.

    9. Good summary. I have blogged about it in more detail. Learnt a bit from your panel.

    10. Thanks for sharing, nice post! Post really provice useful information!

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