My August in Edinburgh

There is something magical about Edinburgh in August. The historic city springs to life with the Fringe and Book Festival, with visitors from all over the world coming to soak up the celebratory atmosphere. Whether you are a fan of drama, comedy, literature, or anything in between, there is something around almost every corner, and a walk down the Royal Mile turns into a wonderful assault of the senses.

For me though, August in Edinburgh means only one thing – the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I will never forget the first time I visited four years ago. As I stepped through the foyer into a tented Charlotte Square, I felt every part of me relax. I knew this was where I belonged, and it was as if all the everyday issues and stresses just fell away.

I have been back every year since, and have seen some fabulous author events, attended random variety acts in the Spiegeltent in the evenings, and met up with some writer friends for summer picnics.

 

Taking my sister and daughter for the first time this year / the Chasing Time Team /
with Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group

However, this year has to top it all. This year I was c0-chairing an event for The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and so was granted access to the hallowed Authors’ Yurt. Surely if heaven exists, it will look a lot like that. To breathe the same air as some of my literary heroes was an experience I will never forget.

The event itself – Freedom to Read, Freedom to Write – went better than we could have imagined and the buzz has stayed with me. It was a gift of a panel (Candy Gourlay, Elizabeth Wein and Lari Don), but the most rewarding elements were seeing how engaged the children were, and hearing some of their questions answered and their love of reading nurtured.

For the first time this year I made it through for all three weekends, beautifully rounded off by the Kelpies Prize party, where extracts from all three finalists were read out and the winner announced as Hannah Foley, seen below being presented with her prize by Lari Don. (I’m glad it was Kelpies who were picking the winner and not me, as they were all so good!)

I’m already missing it, so roll on August 2019!

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SCBWI Conference & Harry Potter

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A couple of weekends ago I travelled to Winchester for my first ever Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Conference and I’m still buzzing!

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Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be reporting on the various workshops and keynote speakers (once I’ve calmed down enough to be able to decipher my notes) and hope to share some of the useful tips and words of wisdom from what was a jam-packed weekend.

One highlight for me though has to be the Mass Book Launch Party on the Saturday night, where we were invited to dress up as one of our favourite book characters.  My first thought was perhaps Mary Poppins, but then the logistics of transporting the outfit, her bag and of course the famous parrot umbrella on an over eight hour train journey ruled that out.

Being a (Scottish) Harry Potter fan, my next option was very obvious.  Who else could I choose but Professor Minerva McGonagall?  As it turned out, I was in very good company as Harry himself was there, along with a couple of Luna Lovegoods, Professor Snape, Bellatrix Lestrange, Dolores Umbridge and even Hedwig! To make things extra special, see if you can work out who Professor Dumbledore is…

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(Clue – he is someone very instrumental in bringing the world of Harry Potter to us all)

 

WHAT EDITORS WANT

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WHAT EDITORS WANT

A SOCIETY OF CHILDREN’S BOOK WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS (SCBWI) PANEL AT THE EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL, 18 AUGUST 2016.

 Panel   –      Barry Cunningham, Chicken House Publishing

                        Lauren Fortune, Scholastic

                        Sally Polson, Floris Books  

 Chaired By Louise Kelly and Sheila M Averbuch

I was lucky enough to attend an interesting and lively panel event at this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival in the esteemed company of an amazing panel of children’s/YA book industry heavyweights, so I thought I would share some of their comments and advice here.

Q. What does editing entail? 

Lauren          

How much work we do completely varies from author to author.  We are looking for something to identify with, or to be transported to a fantastic land, but the kernel is to find something you love and something similar to the feeling you had as a child when discovering your favourite books.

Barry             

Editors are far more engaged in the process now and think we look for a manuscript in all its possibilities and for how it works in its broader sense.  We could perhaps be seen as a ‘midwife for books’ but ultimately represent our readers and must look at how it will work around the world and in the context of how our other books work.

With debut authors we can tell if something has been worked on so much that the voice has been lost and so it is a case of having to go back to the beginning to re-establish that unique thing.

Have you got a good villain/problem/disadvantage?  Children’s books tend to be about struggle. Maybe change the POV?

Q. What personality traits do you like in your authors and book characters?

Sally               

I enjoy working with writers that like receiving feedback and are quite open minded in receiving criticism and are then able to go off and find their own way.  For example, Ross McKenzie of ‘The Nowhere Emporium’ and ‘Shadowsmith’ is good to work with as he takes feedback well and writes excellent villains.

Characters – are they memorable and will they stay with me?

A general comment would be that if we commission a book, the position in the schedule can determine how much/how quickly it is worked on.  We tend to do one structural edit – i.e. plot, beginning/end, characters, pacing…

Lauren          

Monsters and villains are so important.  An example would be ‘Robyn Silver: The Midnight Chimes’ by Paula Harrison.

Things that are not so good: are writers reluctant to make their characters suffer?  Would always encourage writers to put their characters in difficult situations.

Barry             

We have to see the main character change.  Linking back to the last question, ‘The Girl of Ink and Stars’ by Kiran Millwood Hargrave was originally written in 3rd person, but when Kiran changed it into 1st person it brought it to life.

Also, it’s important for characters to have some loss as well as victory.

Q. Would you encourage reading as ‘writers’ as well as simply for enjoyment?

Lauren          

Reading is an enormous part of writing, you absorb a lot, sometimes without realising.  Dialogue, for example, is hugely important and difficult to do.

Sally               

Reading also helps writers to understand the market.

Q. What are the new trends in illustration?

Lauren

MG illustrated fiction (black and white line pictures) is having a moment.   It is good for more reluctant readers and we are very keen on this at Scholastic.  David Baddiel and Jim Field are a great example of when an author and illustrator work well together.

Sally   

Floris are keen on it too, but don’t have an author/illustrator in that field at present.

Barry             

Chicken House don’t do picture books any more as are not keen on them and find a lot don’t have much story and leave the art to do all the work.

However, we are now seeing more illustrated content even in older books, including YA, which sit somewhere between the more traditional books and graphic novels.

Q. What about age banding?  Are there any issues/shifts occurring?

Barry

Older MG is different in America where it is up to 14 years of age instead of 12 here, but a lot of books are being bought by a wide range of ages.  For overseas markets we sometimes get advice to bring content down or similar and YA is fracturing into older and younger YA.

Age banding is more for publishing categories though rather than reader categories.

Q. Is there anything that you would like to see?

Sally   

More diverse, ethnic, disabilities, plus a series for 6-8 year olds, e.g. ‘Thorfinn the Nicest Viking’.  Are also looking for author/illustrators as don’t have a lot of these.

Lauren          

This can be influenced by the demands of the list.  Scholastic is strong on series fiction, so are more looking for standalone stories, and would also like to see a YA fantasy.  Anything page turning, cinematic, high concept.

For non-fiction we publish the ‘Horrible Histories’ books and would look at others to tie around an historical event or similar.

Q. What do you look for in a book?

Barry 

Humour, superlative villain or dark force, great dialogue.

Would recommend that authors write complete character studies even though a lot doesn’t end up in the book as you will get to know the character better.

Q. What would be the main reason(s) to reject a ‘nearly there’ manuscript?

Sally

It could be to do with other factors, e.g. the existing list, or it doesn’t quite fit, or may need author to be in Scotland…

Lauren          

Can always work on plot, but is looking for an original voice and that bit of ‘magic’.  It has to stay with her.  Can pick up one page and recognise the author.

Barry 

Whether he thinks he can work with the author and share the same vision.  Mostly if don’t think they can work with the author to make it better.

Audience Questions

  • Should we use dialect or not?

Barry

Could use an element, but sustaining it for a whole book may be hard.

Lauren          

If it fits into a broader narrative would welcome it, but should always read dialogue aloud when writing it.

Sally               

Plus a child must be able to understand it.

 

  • What do you not want? 

Lauren          

Something you’ve seen before told in a fairly familiar voice.

Sally   

A misunderstanding of being unique, where people might think they need to be completely wacky and all over the place.

Barry

Would be scared of multi volume fantasy where the synopsis is longer than the first book.

Lauren          

“I’d quite like that!”

 

  • Should writers look at current themes?

Barry

There’s no point as publishers and agents tend to be inundated with these and they would be likely to be over too soon by the time any book was ready for publication.

Lauren          

Perhaps look at themes but then strip out the actual theme and see what’s left that works and has the broad appeal.

 

  • Would you advise authors to use freelance editorial services?

Sally               

Not sure you can tell which manuscripts have or haven’t used one.

Lauren          

If we see something that has come from Golden Egg then ears immediately prick up.

*****

So there you have it!  I found the event to be very useful and hope my notes are of some interest to you too.

 

 

 

Not my time…..

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Sadly I didn’t win The Greenhouse Funny Prize this year, but I am still thrilled and proud to have reached the shortlist……………..  and there’s always next year!

Congratulations to the winner, Swapna Haddow, as well as runners up Clare Welsh and Yasmin Finch.