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.