What You Missed: The SCBWI British Isles 2012 Annual Conference

by A. Colleen Jones

I highly recommend that you attend a children’s book writers and illustrators conference at least once in your life. It’s not just educational and informative, it’s DAG-BLAMED FUN!

The SCBWI British Isles (BI) 2012 Annual Conference, Bright Horizons: Creating the Stories of Tomorrow, was held on November 23 and 24 in Winchester, England. Most of the events took place on the campus of the University of Winchester. Details of the conference agenda are available here.

This was the fifth conference to be held in Winchester. About 150 children’s book writers, illustrators, and industry professionals attended the weekend event. The entire conference was planned, organized, and run by an outstanding team of SCBWI volunteers.

Speeches were given, awards were handed out, books were launched, and cake was eaten. The first day consisted of a series of lectures, panels, and other presentations. The second day was an all-day intensive in one of a selection of focused topics.


For delegates arriving before the conference, Vanessa Harbour organized a Sketch and Scrawl Crawl. People met up and then wandered off to various locations to do a bit of writing or drawing along with getting to know each other or greeting friends. The weather was gorgeous, so many people were outside enjoying the sunshine and balmy temperatures. Ooh, and I met some fellow Canucks – very excited about that!

Canuck greeting

Canuck greeting (Jane Heinrichs and A. Colleen Jones) – photo by Paul Morton (click on photos to see larger version)

Paul Morton

Paul Morton during Scrawl Crawl – photo by Candy Gourlay

This was followed by the Night Before Conference Critique event at the Uni, organized by Clare Bell and her team of moderators. The event was packed, and each group of writers or illustrators gathered in designated corners to provide feedback and encouragement to each other on pre-submitted work. Some people, who hadn’t done a critique before, were a little nervous. Everyone tried to present their feedback in a supportive and constructive way. The result was that people were happy with the feedback, felt inspired rather than deflated, and realized that critiques don’t have to be scary and threatening activities.

After the critique, about 80 delegates trailed into city centre for an informal meal at Pizza Express. Even with pre-ordering, it took ages to serve everyone, but it was handled very well. Most people were in good humour and chatted and shared bites until everyone’s food arrived. The raspberry sorbet was worth the wait! (Tip: Eat something before dinner or request an appetizer.)

All the events on  Friday served as great ice-breakers for the many first-time conference delegates.


Saturday was wet and dreary, but I don’t think we cared as we were so excited about the days’ events.

There was an all-day portfolio exhibition and illustrators showcase. There were also scheduled periods for the one-to-one critiques with industry professionals. I was lucky that mine was during a coffee break, so I didn’t miss any of the sessions.

The conference was opened by Natascha Biebow, long-time SCBWI BI Regional Advisor.

Natascha was followed by the author keynote given by Celia Rees, Nuts and Bolts: Building a Successful Writing Career. Celia was by turns funny and inspiring but also down-to-earth and practical in her approach to her writing career. You can watch a short excerpt of her speech, filmed by Candy Gourlay, here.

After the usual coffee break (and my one-to-one with agent Gemma Cooper!), we had the breakout sessions. Oh what a tough decision – which session to attend!

I opted for Transmedia, since I knew diddly-squat about it. Eric Huang, Publishing Director at Penguin UK’s Media and Entertainment Division, and Nick Cross, SCBWI BI webmaster, talked about how transmedia allows stories to break away from books or films and be told across many types of media simultaneously, and challenges our traditional view of narrative. It was a really informative and fun session.

Next, Benjamin Scott moderated a lively industry panel discussion with the editors and art directors of a number of publishing houses. After a brief introduction from each panelist, they talked about what they each looked for in a submission, some submission tips, and other useful information.

A tasty lunch was served buffet style in the bright cafeteria. Once the delegates were fed and watered, we were ready for the illustrator keynote given by Debi Gliori (say “LEE-OR-EE”), Through a Child’s Eye, Darkly. Debi, with great humour and energy, talked about her own process, and showed us the development of some of her books.

After the afternoon coffee break, the 2012 Crystal Kite Award was presented to Sara Grant, for her first YA novel, Dark Parties. Congratulations, Sara!

The afternoon finished with the final panel discussion, State of the Nation: One Night Stand versus Partners for Life. Candy Gourlay led the panel. I found the discussion alternately depressing and hopeful, as they talked trying to save libraries and jobs, industry mergers, and if there a future for mid-list authors.

After the final announcements, we were free to mingle or wander back to our respective accommodations to freshen up for the Saturday Night Fever with Mass Book Launch party at the Guildhall. It was lashing all evening, and I was really glad to be staying less than 3 minutes’ walk from the party venue!

There was lots of mingling between authors, illustrators, conference volunteers/organizers, industry guests, and nervous/excited book launchees – oh and a really awesome cake.

mass book launch cake 2012

Mass Book Launch 2012 cake – photo by A. Colleen Jones

Benjamin Scott was presented with the much-deserved 2012 Outstanding Contribution Award for his efforts as the Assistant Regional Advisor for SCBWI British Isles and as a long-time volunteer in the organization.

Benjamin Scott OCA 2012

OCA award winner Benjamin Scott – photo by A. Colleen Jones

There were 80 authors and illustrators who had 93 books published in 2012! We celebrated each and every one. Lin Oliver chatted with each launchee, which involved much laughter and many smiles.

Lin Oliver with Sheena Wilkinson

Lin Oliver quizzes Irish author Sheena Wilkinson – photo by A. Colleen jones


Sunday began deceptively bright. I enjoyed a lovely walk through the graveyard. No seriously. Quite a nice one.

There was an early informal meet-up by organized by region. I didn’t realize they had set up a corner for the international SCBWI visitors (Germany, Malta, Australia, Ireland, etc.), so I only turned up in time for the workshops. I’ll know for next time!

The day-long intensive workshops were arranged to happen in two parts with a lunch break between. Again, you could only choose one, but it gave each of us a chance to focus on that specific area and really dig into it.

I chose Finding the Plot with Sara Grant, and it was AWESOME! I learned a lot, got some new tools to play with, made some more friends, and have some new ideas for where to take my story.

My energy was flagging, so it was good to reach the end of the day for the all-important raffles – I mean, closing remarks and announcements from Benjamin Scott. I didn’t win anything, but some of my new friends did!

We all staggered off into the sunset to catch buses, trains, planes, or hang out for one more night in Winchester, happy and sated and brimming with renewed enthusiasm for our craft!


A. Colleen Jones is Canadian-Irish, a technical writer, and a children’s book writer, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She is the Über Volunteer for SCBWI Ireland, and a member of CBI and IBbY Ireland. Her latest project is about a dragon who wants to sing at a folk festival. http://acolleenjones.com


4 responses to “What You Missed: The SCBWI British Isles 2012 Annual Conference

  1. It was even better because you were there, Candy!

  2. Ahhh you brought me back! it was a GREAT conference!

  3. Great account Colleen – Thank you :o)

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