Children’s and Young Adult Writers and Illustrators Conference 2012

I was lucky enough to volunteer at the Children’s and Young Adult (CYA) Writers and Illustrators Conference again on Saturday and, as always, I left feeling inspired and ready to work harder on my writing. Here are my top tips from the day.

1. Be positive

Leonie Tyle, now a publishing consultant with over 30 years in the industry, gave us the most tweet-worthy quotes of the day. Here are two of my favourites but she had many more.

‘Picture books are not JUST picture books.’

‘Don’t call it the slush pile–call it a treasure trove full of wonderful things.’

I could see Leonie’s passion for a good story filling the room. I’m certain the whole audience could feel it in their writing hands. It was very motivating.  She reminded many of us emerging writers that positivity and passion is paramount in this industry.

2. Keep a writing journal and a visual diary

I first met Katherine Battersby at her book launch. Inside the pages of her very first picture book was a very special, but troubled, little rabbit called Squish. Miss Possum and I adore Squish Rabbit and I love Katherine’s illustration style, so of course I had to go to her presentation.

Katherine is passionate about writing and illustrating picture books (the lucky woman can do both) and that could be seen throughout her lesson. Among many of the great tips she gave us that day, keeping a visual diary was the one that most stuck with me.

I have a writing journal (a place for ideas and thoughts) but she suggested having a visual diary too. I had one of those in high school and loved to fill its pages with crazy drawings from my head. I knew this would suit me perfectly because many of my ideas first come to me as images.

So, dear readers, you might be seeing a different side of me in future. My inner illustrator has poked its head out. I may now be wearing super bright colours and funky jewellery (I wish I had half their style), I might even doodle something for Short Tale Tuesday once in a while too.

3. Continue to read and study books in your writing genre

In almost every presentation I attended, one learning tool was used over and over. Illustrators and authors were using high quality published picture books to teach.  Jo Thompson and Virginia Lowe reminded me to critically analyse the picture books I read, from both a writer’s and illustrator’s perspective. Both are equally important in the makings of a picture book. As a writer I need to focus more on letting the illustrator tell the story too.

Jo and Virginia suggested studying these books:

  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • Harry the Dirty Dog written by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham
  • The rabbits written by John  Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan

Katherine Battersby suggested these books:

  • Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watts
  • Amy & Louise written by Libby Gleeson and illustrated by Freya Blackwood

Katherine went one step further and suggested we also take time to watch children’s TV shows and movies, go for walks, observe families and kids, listen to conversations and become more observant.

4. Draw the basic shapes first

I’m not an illustrator but I do love to draw so I was lucky to be included in Craig Smith’s illustrating session.  He whipped this guy up in ten minutes. What. A. Pro!

I can sketch wildlife and I’m not bad at sketching from life but I struggle with drawing people, especially if the person is from my imagination. Drawing a person wasn’t so hard after Craig broke it down so simply. I honestly feel much more confident about attempting imaginary people in future.

He reminded us that an illustration starts from a draft. If you don’t do a great drawing first up, who cares? It’s a draft. That gave me some relief! I’m very critical of myself and sometimes I’ll draw something, think it’s rubbish and give up. Here are some of his wonderful tips:

  • When and where is the story set? Research if you don’t know.
  • What will the characters look like?
  • What will they be doing?
  • What view point? Above, below?
  • Think about the characters movement and expression. Use a mirror to try out poses.
  • Will there be objects in the background?
  • Think about contrast. BIG, little. Light, shadow.
  • Draw the basic shapes first.
  • Draw where the spine runs from the shoulder to hips.
  • On a face always draw the nose first.
  • Draw objects so they move the view toward the action.

Here’s my  attempt. I need a bit of work!


5. Never give up

There are many CYA success stories, from finding agents though to the ultimate, getting a publishing contract. Every year I sit and watch the CYA success story panel and hope that one day I will be up there. All of them emphasised that it’s not an easy road but if you keep trying you’ll get there eventually.  I haven’t graced that table yet, but I’m not worried. I will be there one day.  Never give up is what they say and so I never will.

I was very excited for Judy Paulson, who received a contract for her CYA entry last year. Her book is called Little Tawnies and she brought along her little characters from the book. They are adorable. I just wanted to give them a cuddle. Luckily Judy knew there were people like me out in the crowd, so she had them in a plastic casing!

But there’s more!

I must mention that I also met up with a couple of wonderful blogging and writing buddies.

First of all there were the girls in my writers group. They are both such beautiful creatures and are very supportive of me and my writing.  Ally and Deb have fabulous works that I’m certain will soon be published.  Also, Debbie came first for her chapter book, Bitter Besties. Snap her up now, publishers!

Catherine Oehlman (aka Squiggle Mum), is as lovely in person as she is online. I have always adored her blog, so it was a special moment to meet her. She came second in the non-fiction childrens book category. Congrats Catherine!

I also met Crap Mamma. If you ever get to meet Jac, you’re a lucky person. She is so down to earth, so, so funny and not a crap mamma at all!  We hung out most of the day (we were both volunteers) and ran around like mad ducklings trying to help set up, press record on the video camera, keep the young hatchling attendees in check and pack up whilst talking about what we learnt and who we met.

So goes another successful CYA Conference. Who’s coming next year?


Where’s Short Tale Tuesday? Find out more here.



  1. Sounds like a great conference. Can’t wait to see some of you illustrations
    Rhianna recently posted..The Blank ScreenMy Profile

    • It was a great conference. I always get my mojo back ten fold during the event. Hmm, the illustrations should be interesting Rhianna. We will see.

  2. Sounds like a great informative day Penny.
    Unfortunately the last 5 of your photos didn’t come through on my feed ( don’t know if it’s just me?) so I couldn’t see your illustration attempt!
    I am not a drawer at all, and really admire/envy those that are! Lucky you….a great writer and able to draw! Jealous much? :)
    Tracey recently posted..Surrendering To GriefMy Profile

    • Weird, they were from my phone, so perhaps that’s why. I’ll have a look at it.

      Wait until you see my attempt. I’m no illustrator!

  3. Ooo I would love to see some more of your illustrations! I loved to doodle a lot too… Not so much on my own now but with my girl and it’s still kinda fun and relaxing to just let your mind wander :)
    Ai Sakura recently posted..Blog Makeover 2012 | What I Did and WhyMy Profile

    • Ai Sakura, you can always link up to Short Tale Tuesday with images if you like. Images make for a great story! I’ll be doing an illustration Short Tale Tuesday soon. I just have to think of something yet.

  4. Jacqui (CRAP Mamma) says:

    Great wrap up Pen, it truly was an inspirational day and my little fingers haven’t stopped typing since then. The day really cemented what I want, where I want to go and how I’m going to get there. And I have you to thank for that – for introducing me to the CYA conference.

    What I’ve also learnt Pen is that you cannot work in isolation as a children’s author, alone in your own silo. You need a network of support, mentors and both personal and professional connections and they won’t just come to you- you need to bloody well go out there and grab them. I’m in the grabbing phase as we speak.

    I’m do pleased we got to hang out and learn (and press the record button) together love, what a wonderful day xx
    Jacqui (CRAP Mamma) recently posted..$150 McCormick Hamper Giveaway and Recipe Creations ReviewMy Profile

    • Great point Jac! Writing can be very isolating but there is such a great support network out there, we need to make ourselves more available to it! I’m so glad you’re feeling inspired, can’t wait to see some of your writing one day!

  5. What a great conference! Lots of advice there for children getting into writing! Love this post!

    visiting from #teamIBOT :) Have a fabby day!
    Yvette @ DTlilsquirts recently posted..DTLS turns one {Blogoversary Giveaway}My Profile

    • Thanks Yvette. I get a lot out of it every year. Especially the publisher panel. That was so interesting. Thanks for dropping by!

  6. Oh, that sounds like an awesome conference! I must have had my head in the sand – I didn’t know about it until I saw the Tweets! I’d love to go next year.
    Debbie recently posted..Hands and WingsMy Profile

    • It really is worth it Debbie. See if you can get sponsorship. I think most of us think we can only get sponsorship for blogging conferences but I’m sure there’s brands out there that would support honing your skills as a writer!

  7. Sounds great Pen!
    Catherine Rodie Blagg @CoTaaB recently posted..The "C" wordMy Profile

  8. What a great conference. I’d be a bit in awe of the talent in that room I think :)
    Rachel @ The Kids Are All Right recently posted..OMG: It’s another stupid dietMy Profile

    • I was. Publishers, editors, authors. It was enough to bring on the butterflies. Luckily, everyone that I met was just lovely so the butterflies soon flew away.

  9. Yay you! Looks like you had an awesome time and learned lots. I love how “Where the Wild Things Are” is still the one that sets the bar for children’s books. Sadly Maurice Sendak passed away last month.
    Loved your illustration! You’ll reach your goal of getting published, Pen. I know you will. As you said, “Be Positive!”
    Grace recently posted..Running the City To Surf for World Vision: To do more, to give moreMy Profile

    • I know, it was very sad that he passed away. It stories are amazing. I’d read The Wild Things many times but had never really borken it down to understand what it was all about. I’m going to go through all my books now and analyse them.

  10. Sounds fantastic – thanks for sharing – love your illustration – awesome!
    Deb @ Home life simplified recently posted..Moving from paper to digitalMy Profile

  11. I am always envious of those who can put a pencil to paper and create a drawing that others can interpret. If only y drawing was as good as the picture in my brain :) sounds like it was a great conference!

    • I feel the same way. I’d be a great illustrator if the images in my head would come out on paper. Pitty my hands don’t do that job well. :(

  12. Wow your illustrations are excellent! It sounds like you learned a lot to hone your craft and met some inspiring people too. Won’t be long until you’re published too!
    Misha recently posted..AverageMy Profile

    • Thanks Misha. I hope so but I’m not in any hurry. You need the time to market your book and at the moment with a young family it’s already busy enough.

  13. Hey Penny

    Firstly. Thank you for your help as always at CYA Conference, it would be a horrid day if I didn’t have such smily, helpful and energetic volunteers – so thanks for helping to make the big day a success.

    Secondly – what a great blog, and a neat wrap of your day ! I can’t wait to see everyones notes and watch some of the videos of the day!

    Thanks again.

    CYA later!

    • As I mentioned on Facebook, I honestly don’t know how you do it. You’re amazing Tina. Thanks so much for visiting and commenting. That meant a lot to me.

  14. Wow- this sounds amazing! Do they ever come to Melbourne- I’d go for sure. My first ever dream was to grow up to write children’s books. It’s fallen by the wayside but it hasn’t flickered out. Great wrap up!

    • Hi Twitchy, follow that dream of yours honey. I think the conference is always held in Brisbane (which is great for me) but not so good for you. As I commented to Debbie, I really think you should try for sponsorship. Surely there would be brands out there willing to support a writing conference. That’s what we do!

  15. Sounds like a wonderful conference – thanks for sharing all these words of wisdom, Penny.
    Ronnie xo
    Pink Ronnie recently posted..Project Life, Weeks 22 and 23My Profile

  16. Wow this is a good one P! I wonder if I can do the same here, be a good experience to do!
    Kristyn recently posted..Wordless Wednesday: I am a PixmumMy Profile

  17. What a wonderfully informative post. Sounds like a great conference. I would love to see your visual diary unfold :)
    Hannah recently posted..Illustration Friday – RefreshMy Profile

    • I haven’t even had a chance to start it yet. I’m slack, and super busy at the moment. Thank you for dropping by Hannah.

  18. fantastic wrap up of 2012, are you coming along in 2013. Love to see you there again!
    Cas Webb recently posted..Rochelle Manners, Wombat BooksMy Profile


  1. [...] the opportunity or the time to do more. After going to a few classes on illustrating during the CYA Conference last week, I thought I’d move my rusty old hand and try a little sketch.  I tried [...]

Speak Your Mind


CommentLuv badge