During my school visits and author talks, I’m regularly asked varying combinations of the following questions by encouraging teachers and parents: “We have a student/child who’s a talented and enthusiastic writer. How can we foster their love of creative writing and help them showcase their work? Where/how can they share their writing? What resources, competitions and/or writing courses are available which specifically cater for children?”
I hope the following resource sheet goes some way to answering these questions. The collation of it has been on my to-do list for some time, and contains information on children’s writing competitions and courses that I personally know of, as well as recommendations from generous author friends in the Kidlit Facebook Group ‘The Duckpond’. Please note, it has primarily been written for Victorian Primary School children, and is by no means exhaustive….but a good launching pad, in any case, for the many talented Primary School writers out there. Enjoy!
As I reflect on the past four years of attending KidLitVic Meet the Publishers Conferences (KLV) I have no doubt that my journey from published author of fiction and non-fiction for adults, to a writer of children’s literature, has been empowered by this premier annual event in the Australian Children’s/YA Literary Calendar.
Now, I’m not just being a typical Melburnian when I use the term ‘premier’ (as I know we do have a tendency to err… spruik our ‘bigness’ and ‘bestness’). But the buzz at this year’s KLV was palpable. And I spoke to lots of local and interstate publishers and delegates during the course of the day, who all echoed the same sentiments: that the superior level of organisation and conference content made this year’s KLV an undeniable and huge success.
Officially, KLV is the brainchild of Melbourne’s Alison Reynolds – a highly respected and accomplished writer, presenter and editor within the children’s book industry – a legitimate mover and shaker. How she manages to coordinate such a professional, yet warm and personable conference, with constantly evolving content and only three other team members to assist her – the inimitable duo of Coral Vass and Nicky Johnston from the very beginning, and the newly joined arts events professional Sarah Reynolds – is worthy of high praise indeed.
It’s not easy to keep content fresh in an annual conference of this kind, and to likewise appease the interests of both novice and seasoned children’s/YA literature creatives.
I’ve enjoyed seeing the KLV program grow and evolve over the past four years, to include more Masterclasses for authors and illustrators (presenting up-to-date industry information applicable to portfolio and manuscript development, presentation and submission); more publisher Assessments and Pitches; more Panels exploring the publishing process, including agents; ever more polished and engaging Panel Facilitators with obvious industry experience (this year competently handled by Katrina McKelvey and Davina Bell); bigger Illustrator Showcases; an exciting Open Question Time; and for the first time this year a Quiet Room, as well as Up Close & Personal small group meetings with publishers – incredibly invaluable experiences.
I also noticed significantly more blokes amongst the delegates this year, as well as a wider age-range compared to previous years. All healthy signs of an increasingly diverse and growing children’s/YA book industry. And a cause for much celebration.
The venue move from the State Library of Victoria to the Melbourne Town Hall occurred last year, to accommodate the ballooning number of delegates. (Can you believe KLV had a wait list of 100 this year?) I really liked how the room allocations and layouts were re-jigged this year – it all seemed to flow perfectly. My only niggle was the clunky IT in the booking process (gah – we only ever talk about IT when it misbehaves) which I’m sure will be looked at closely before the start-of-play next year.
A publisher I had a manuscript assessment with this year asked me if this was my first time attending KLV, and appeared quite surprised when I said that it was in fact my fourth. Clearly intrigued, she asked me, ‘Why?’. The first thought that came to my mind was the desire to connect – with like-minded people who were also stepping away from their solitary creator’s caves; and with the industry as a whole. Finding my tribe. Something she acknowledged that she also very much liked about KLV.
I’ve personally enjoyed making many friends with writers and illustrators at KLV, who I’ve also gone on to connect with at SCBWI, in online kidlit groups (a big shout out to my fellow Duckies in The Duck Pond and Scribblers), and also a critique group.
My own KLV journey has gradually percolated from spending the first two years listening, learning, digesting and connecting – by attending Panels and Masterclasses. Who knew email signatures and branding were so important to a children’s writer? (Thank you Lisa Berryman, of Harper Collins). I then continued to write, re-write, submit, re-submit, and keep connecting with my SCBWI and kidlit community on social media, and in real-life (gasp), as well as entering creative writing competitions (and getting short-listed). Much of this was done thanks to advice received directly from the mouths of publishing professionals at KLV.
Eventually, I signed up to some publisher assessments at KLV last year and this year, and have received wonderful verbal and written feedback via professionally marked-up manuscripts. Generic rejection letters/emails from publishers just don’t give you the feedback on which to grow and develop your craft. So these documents and the fifteen minutes we get to discuss them at KLV assessments are absolutely worth their weight in gold. And it also made me realise just how much I missed the editing process (which I really enjoyed during the publication of my novel). It’s an absolute privilege to have an editor dive deep into your work, and know and understand it as intimately as you do. Likewise, to hover above it, and notice subtle or glaring holes in the rhythm, pace and plot – which is so easy to miss when you are so close to it. To this day, ten years post-publication of my novel with Bloomsbury, I’m still very good friends with my divine editor.
That special bond between the writer and editor/publisher was on full display during the Panel Discussion: ‘The Inside Story’, when Davina Bell interviewed acclaimed children’s author Jen Storer and her publisher, Lisa Berryman, of Harper Collins. I think every delegate was genuinely lulled into reverential silence by the hardworking ‘Dream Team’ up on the stage, giving us so much to aspire to, as they explained the detailed process involved in creating the best possible body of work. It was evident just how much they loved the characters, the words on the page, the illustrations, the design and of course the sharing of fan letters sent in by readers.
But most importantly, Jen and Lisa credited the success of their long-term partnership to a deeply invested foundation of trust, respect and boundaries.
I also very much enjoyed the Panel Discussion: ‘Find Your Perfect Match: From Big Publishers to Small Indie Houses’, again facilitated by Davina, where three publishers of small (Scribble), medium (Text) and large (Hachette) publishing houses gave an incredibly frank insight into their inner workings during the acquisition, and nuts-and-bolts phases of bringing a book to market. I was really struck by the candour of the publishers Miriam Rosenbloom (Scribble), Jane Pearson (Text) and Suzanne O’Sullivan (Hachette). I felt that several times they could have easily held back and been more commercially cautious in their answers, but actively chose to share information. Leading a delighted Davina (who works for Affirm Press) whispering into her microphone that she felt like she was engaging in corporate espionage – much to the delight of us delegates. Nevertheless, irrespective of size, budgets, staffing and resources, all three publishers were fuelled by a love, passion and excitement for children’s/YA books.
Their universal advice to prospective authors and illustrators was to really spend time researching the types of books which are similar to yours, and find the right publishing ‘fit’ when you are submitting. And for writers, it’s your ‘voice’ that will get you across the line for the editors every time. As to whether that will be enough to equally enchant the sales and marketing team, is another proposition entirely.
It’s clear that KLV 2019 more than comfortably achieved its official mission statement, “to connect children’s literary creators with Australia’s leading children’s book publishers, as well as seeking to empower authors and illustrators with the tools to manage their career and develop professional relationships.” The genuine level of collegiate sharing amongst the delegates and publishers was inspiring, and can surely only result in the Australian children’s/YA book industry becoming stronger and smarter and a producer of more outstanding works.
As a creator and writer of stories, I walked away from KLV 2019 nourished and energised, both professionally and personally. I will now try to do exactly what the brilliant Keynote Speaker, and champion of the power of stories, Michelle Nye (Teacher Librarian/YABBA coordinator), urged us all to do: to go away and think, dream, wonder and question; to create stories that can be shared, told and re-imagined for years to come; stories that will entertain and inspire, and help connect us to our inner selves, our surroundings and our world, by stretching our minds.
Oh, and I will also definitely take-up the very kind offer of the KLV organisers to send in a bonus query letter to the publisher of my choice, from the list on their website, on Monday 3rd June. I’m really excited to see that a publisher I missed out on booking is on that list. Ahh…another great opportunity from the KLV conference that in every sense is on our side, urging us onwards and upwards, to create fabulous books in the name of Australian children’s/YA literature.
This new creative writing competition for the Australian children’s literary calendar was established and run by acclaimed children’s author Jen Storer – under the banner of her online creative writing course, ‘Scribbles’ of which I’m an active participant. The competition was also supported by Harper Collins Children’s Books.
The judges were none other than esteemed industry professionals Judith Rossell, Gabrielle Wang and Lucinda Gifford. All shortlisters were provided with valuable feedback on their manuscripts, and the winners each received a full manuscript assessment with Jen, as well as a Skype coaching call.
It goes without saying that I was thrilled to be shortlisted in both categories! I’ve since reviewed my picture book manuscript and tweaked it slightly, in light of the judge’s considered feedback, and shall be hopefully presenting it to a publisher at this year’s KidLitVic Conference. As for the middle grade short story – well, I really enjoyed putting this idea to paper, and may even transfer it into a full novel in the future…watch this space 🙂
Oh yes, and Scribbles is not only an online community of kidlit creators, we have real-life workshops too. Here I am below enjoying a Masterclass with Jen and my fellow writers (and illustrators) in Melbourne last May, just prior to attending the KidLitVic 2018 Conference.
I’m super-excited to have been asked to be a Writer In Residence again this year with the leading children’s literacy and education support charity, Ardoch. And to top it off, we’ve been the very grateful recipients of a $10,000 grant from Mark Rubbo and his Readings Foundation to expand the program this year to four authors. I can’t wait to hear what school I’m going to this year and what amazing story we will write together!
Did you know that it’s ALIA Library Lovers’ Day today?! So I wrote a love letter to one of my favourite libraries – the Book Bunker, Scholastic Australia Children’s Library at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne….it’s a pretty special place!
Key Take-Homes from the KidLitVic 2017 Workshop: ‘It’s All About Your Brand’, presented by Lisa Berryman, HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Well, it’s two weeks since I attended the Branding Workshop at KidLitVic2017 in Melbourne, and I’ve purposely waited until now to share my key ‘take-homes’ – as I wanted to action them and show just how powerful the information presented was. Apart from the overriding message that a writer is a small business and that you should at all times conduct yourself and present yourself as one, and NEVER EVER do anything to damage your business or brand, there were two salient points that I needed to take action on ASAP. So here goes…
1. What is your Brand Message?
You need to be able to crystallise and drill down into one SHORT tagline: your interests in writing + what it is you write + what’s special about you. Some excellent examples were given by workshop participants, my favourite being, “Exploring Big Worlds Through Little Eyes.”
I was not communicating a clear, concise brand message about my picture book writing to publishers in my submission letters, and I needed to action this ASAP. So I literally went home after the conference and started the challenging task of filtering down all the elements of my picture book writing into one catchy tagline. It took a LONG time – involving self-reflection and really standing back from my work and analysing it. As well as spending time thinking about just what kind of writer I ‘think I am’ and making sure that it matched what I’m actually producing.
Once I’d got my short list, I employed the services of my 13 year-old son – he of the Snapchat-Nike-millennial generation – to give his opinions. He was a hard task master! With most of my early attempts yielding responses like, “Too long; Too boring; Just No; That’s Lame; Boring; Too long (AGAIN!); Don’t get it; Kind of OK; Yehhh…but Nah…” until I got to the finally approved “Yes” and here it is:
And then, Lisa suggested that you can add just a few more words in your cover letters, by way of weaving in comparisons, to give the publisher a really good feel for where your writing and your books are positioned – especially useful for sales, marketing and booksellers. Here’s my long form:
‘Feel-good rhyming adventures, with the wisdom of Bob Graham and the energy of Julia Donaldson and Dr Seuss.’
Phew…now to the final task…
2. Does Your Email Signature Sell Your Business and Brand?
This is the one area of the Branding Workshop that I gave myself a big fat FAIL on! For the benefit of not writing a long and boring blog, I’ve tried to summarise the salient points from Lisa’s presentation in a one-page graphic, which shows EXACTLY how my email signature looked on the day of the workshop; and then, how it looked after I gave it Lisa’s WHO, WHAT, WHY, WHERE and HOW transformation. It’s quite embarrassing to look at the comparisons – What was I thinking? That publishers were mind readers?! The ’30 second test’ is something that I made up – Lisa didn’t specifically spell it out, but it was definitely the vibe that I picked up on. Oh, and yes, Lisa really did single out the lovely Tania McCartney as having a truly wonderful and professional email signature and brand message – it had lots of links, pictures and a clear outline of all that she is involved in.
Well, that’s it folks. I hope you find it useful. The workshop was certainly the best $40 I’ve spent in a very long time!
Oh, how I love it when my worlds collide in the most unexpected ways! I’d like to share with you a beautiful experience I had early last December during my day volunteering at a Melbourne children’s hospital library. But first some background…
Being a writer is a very solitary existence. So in early 2016, I made a resolution to reach out to the big wide world – both ‘real’ and ‘cyber’ – with more literary outings and professional development, plus a complete revamp of my online ‘author presence’. Cue attendances at some brilliant writing courses and seminars; conducting classroom writing workshops; and the emergence of ‘Emmabowdauthor’ across several online platforms – with the pleasant realisation that Facebook was actually quite interesting and informative, and Instagram was my new passion/obsession 🙂 But there was more to come…
Prior to becoming a writer, I worked as an Occupational Therapist for 12 years – both in Australia and London. Imagine my excitement one Sunday evening early last year when I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a ‘shout out’ by the highly respected Melbourne children’s bookstore the ‘Little Bookroom’, about a new children’s library called The Book Bunker, which was being established at Melbourne’s prestigious Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) – and it needed volunteers. This perfect meeting of my worlds was too good to be true. A few emails, plus a hurried update of my ‘Police Check’ and ‘Working With Children’ accreditation and I was at RCH within the fortnight – volunteering each Tuesday from 10am to 2pm at The Book Bunker. And what a wonderful year it proved to be!
The Book Bunker – The Scholastic Children’s Library at Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne
The Book Bunker at RCH opened in May 2016 with over $200,000 worth of books donated by Scholastic Australia, covering all age ranges from board books and picture books; to early readers, chapter books, young adult novels and non-fiction books. It’s staffed entirely by volunteers like myself. And while I come from a medical/literary background, other volunteers come from fields such as librarianship and teaching, and we’re all on a roster which keeps the library open from Monday through to Saturday.
Why a Library in a Children’s Hospital?
My experiences at The Book Bunker have reinforced to me the importance of access to books via a free library system for ALL children (both sick and well) as a source of entertainment, diversion, intellectual enrichment and socialization. And I can honestly say that no week at The Book Bunker has ever been the same.
For mentally and physically exhausted parents, a visit to The Book Bunker is often a quiet bubble of calm away from the flashing lights and beeping monitors of the ward. A place where they can select books to take back to their child; as well as to share with other siblings who can often become momentarily neglected, through no fault of their own, in the stressful situation of having a sick family member. The books that parents and children choose are often long-time favourites which bring a small sense of 'home' and familiar routines to the foreign medical environment.
Book Bunker volunteers also deliver books directly to the wards via a 'book trolley' for the many children and families who cannot leave their rooms and visit the library. On other occasions, the library can be a loud and raucous space - with craft activities and book readings to large groups of children. And thanks to Scholastic, we were lucky enough to have a special visit from famous author Mem Fox and illustrator Judy Horacek - which created much fanfare and fun throughout the hospital.
A Special Summer’s Day at The Book Bunker
A summer’s day at The Book Bunker doesn't get much better for this former Occupational Therapist turned writer and literary hospital volunteer...
During the summer I’ve noticed a lot more families visiting The Book Bunker – often with multiple siblings in tow, due to the school holidays. Many have travelled long distances from country Victoria or from interstate to be cared for as Inpatients or to attend Specialist Outpatient Clinics (with notoriously long waiting times).
Last year, on Melbourne’s first true summer’s day, following our Arctic spring, the thermometer outside nudged the mid 30’s and I welcomed a dad and his 1 year-old and 6 year-old sons to The Book Bunker. He told me in precise, slow, heavily-accented English that they’d just come from a town west of Geelong, and were all a little hot and weary after a very early start to the day. But they were all smiling – surprised and delighted to have stumbled upon a ‘library in a hospital’. A place that they immediately decided to spend the long wait for the older boy’s Outpatient’s appointment.
The 6 year-old boy gleefully told me that he had just finished Prep and that he really liked books. His face lit up as he walked around and found that his favourite books from his 'school library' were also in his 'hospital library'. He couldn’t believe his luck! Tucking each book under his arm, he asked me to read some of them to him; before summoning the courage to ask if he could instead read the books to me.
“I’m very good at reading,” he said, with the unaffected conviction of a 6 year-old. “I’m the first in my family to go to school. I’m very clever.” He shot a grin to his dad who replied in equal measure with a warm wide smile, which seemed to engulf his entire face, and proud eyes which danced around his son. The dad shared that he had come to Australia 7 years ago from Sudan, and that his son is a very diligent student at school who also teaches the entire family how to speak English.
Then, in a rush of excitement, the dad picked up his mobile phone and gave it to the boy to show me the screen. Displayed on it was his son’s recent school report from Prep. Both the boy and the dad insisted that I read it – I must! They could not contain their excitement as they observed my eyes scanning the screen. And I have to say that their excitement was entirely warranted – an achieved reading level of Year 2 among the accomplished results. The dad had the report as his screen saver on his mobile phone. And I have no doubt that it had been shown to many people before me; and will be shown again to many people after me.
With a small mountain of books read; inquisitive questions about bears, dinosaurs, piranhas, dogs, bees and escargots answered; a toddler occupied with craft activities and board books; and a dad rested – a piercing beep on the mobile phone announced that their doctor was ready to see them. A quick flurry of activity to gather together belongings and they were on their way – a happy trio waving goodbyes and sincerely thanking me for their time at The Book Bunker.
What a privilege it had been to spend Melbourne’s first real summer's day in the company of such a proud parent and his motivated, engaging young sons at The Book Bunker.
The eldest son being the first in his family to EVER attend school; is excelling at school and teaching his entire family how to speak English; is being cared for by the expert medics at RCH; and delights in reading books from his 'school library' at his 'hospital library'.
My world has most definitely been enriched by volunteering experiences like this at The Book Bunker - it really is wonderful when your worlds collide!
Star Weekly Newspaper: Sunshine Primary School student Elizabeth age 10 (front) with Makayla age 10 author Emma Bowd and Kenny age 8. Best selling author Emma Bowd has been conducting a book-writing workshop at Sunshine Primary School over the last two months.
I’m delighted to share my experience of being Ardoch’s‘Writer in Residence’ at Sunshine Primary School, where I recently conducted a weekly story writing workshop for two Grade 3 and Grade 4 classes – culminating in the illustrated story book ‘Pencil Pandemonium’. The programme ran during one school term and involved 5 weeks (10 hours) of classroom workshops and many more hours of writing and editing outside the classroom.
Pencil Pandemonium reflects how a school community can come together to foster literacy – coupled with the good will of Ardoch, an author and a printing business.
Before I explain a little more about the process of how we wrote the book, here’s a joyous slideshow of our Book Launch on Friday 14th October, in brilliant sunshine (of course!). With the inspirations for our story – the six majestic pencil art installations – sharing the limelight.
The book launch also would not have been possible without the support of Ardoch and Bizworks Brighton Printing. Nor would it have been complete without Rob – the school handyman. Rob works one day/week and spent a whole year making the giant pencils for the school 🙂 He was so excited to be a part of our book launch and quietly chuffed that six coloured pencils could inspire a story which is now part of the school’s folklore. The pencils all have names too – Baxter Blue, Yuki Yellow, Olympia Orange, Penelope Purple, Gilbert Green and Roger Red – and the children talk to them each day!
These six huge pencils have inspired the imaginations of a class and an entire school. The physical structures stand proudly at the school’s entrance – announcing to all the vibrancy and ingenuity of what lies within. A brilliant example of how art lives and breathes in our community and can spark great things!
I’ve conducted my story writing workshops over the past 10 years, and this is the first time that I’ve been invited to an Ardoch partner school. I’ve always provided the workshops ‘pro bono’ as part of my commitment to early literacy and to share my love of storytelling and story writing. The dozens of hugs, enthusiastic smiles and messages I got from the Sunshine Primary students about their love of Pencil Pandemonium cannot be measured in monetary terms. And I urge any writers reading this to consider being a ‘Writer in Residence’ for Ardoch or a similar literacy charity, too.
My workshops are a little unusual, compared to other authors, in that I’m very clear with the children and their teachers that I will write the story – with the assistance of the children. I explain to the children that we will put all of ‘my ideas’ and all of ‘their ideas’ into a giant washing machine, and we’ll mix them all up and put a wonderful story together. And they’re always wonderful!
I want the children to be free to imagine and explore without the pressure of punctuation and assessment, pre-testing or post-testing. I want them to learn ‘from me’ by going along the process ‘with me’ – from blank page to printed book.
I also like to professionally print the story books at the completion of the workshops to give the children a sense that their story is real and important. I always incorporate current learning units (in Sunshine’s case it was ‘machines’) so that the books dovetail with their curriculum. The end result is a true collaborative effort, where each child can clearly identify their input into the ‘whole’ project. I believe that it’s important to show the students that they are ALL important contributors to the book – irrespective of their literacy proficiency levels. For example, often some of the best ideas and ‘light-bulb moments’ during the plot-making, as well as drawings, are contributed by the students with the least strong reading and writing levels.
I’m beyond thrilled with Sunshine Primary School’s Pencil Pandemonium! It reflects the children’s genuine love and respect for their school – something that they wanted to write about. Not all students I visit are this passionate about their school!
One of my favourite memories from this story writing experience, was after we’d finished writing the story about the pencils who sneak into the classroom at lunchtime when nobody is looking – and one of the students asked me to look out of the window, and just ‘check’ that the pencils were still there . . . What if they weren’t? This is such a lovely example of how these children have not only had a hands-on learning experience of turning imaginings and ideas into a story . . . but they’ve kept the story alive in their heads . . . and that for me, as a writer, is what the magic is all about!
This quote from author, Michael Morpurgo’s speech, ‘The Power of Stories’ at the Inaugural Book Trust Lecture, Sept 22nd, 2016, Guildhall, London also sums this up beautifully:
“Let the children go home, simply dreaming of the story. Re-living it. Wondering at it. Loving it.” Michael Morpurgo (2016)
I’m thrilled and honoured to be the Ambassador for education charity Ardoch Youth Foundation’s School Readiness Book Drive, which is in full swing this month of October! To read more about my passion for supporting early childhood literacy campaigns like this, please click here.
Ardoch has pledged to support 1,000 children from local disadvantaged communities who are starting school in 2017 by providing them with School Readiness Packs. Each pack contains 5 books and 5 activities to enhance their fine motor skills.
This means we need to source 5,000 children’s books for the packs before the end of the year!
My sincere thanks to the two amazing schools of Loreto Mandeville Hall Toorak and St Joan of Arc Brighton, for coordinating book collections, as well as all four Melbourne Bayside Libraries(Brighton, Beaumaris, Hampton and Sandringham).
Book Donations can also be made directly to Ardoch via online purchases from Robinsons Bookshop – who will not only deliver the books but ALSO give a 25% discount to all Book Drive books.
Two special memories from this past week of National Book Week. . .
The week started off with the exciting announcement that I am the Ambassador for Ardoch Youth Foundation’sSchool Readiness Book Drive. As an author, former Occupational Therapist and a mum, I am so proud and beyond thrilled to have been asked to help with this campaign, which pledges to give 1,000 children in disadvantaged areas five books and fine-motor activity packs at the end of this year, in readiness for their school start in 2017. I’ll be writing a little more about this in coming weeks, but please click here to read about why I’m so passionate about the book drive.
And on Tuesday, I was at my beloved weekly volunteering position at Scholastic Australia’s Book Bunker children’s library, at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne. I had a lot of fun with some of the Starlight Captains who popped in to visit us! We sang songs and read books – my favourite being our book-of-the-day: Tony Wilson’s award-winning and endearing ‘The Cow Tripped Over the Moon’. It’s a clever back-story about the several attempts that the cow actually made before she had a successful moon-jump. An instant classic in my mind, with a special message of courage, determination, perseverance and the help of your friends.