SCBWI Success Story - Vikki Wakefield

An old school friend recently got in touch to say she'd read and loved all of my books. She ended her lovely email with, 'Wowーyou came out of nowhere!' I think she imagined adult me deciding to write a book one day, and then doing it. Simple.

My journey to publication was a short one: I was agented a week after submission and offered a two-book contract with Text Publishing over a weekend. My first novel All Ever Wanted took eight months to write (and revise) and it was published less than a year after it was contracted. Friday Brown was in bookstores another year after that. Simple.

I signed another two-book contract. The short listings started coming in; I won awards. Overseas publication followed: Germany, the UK, Turkey, the US. Hardback! Starred reviews! And now the US edition of In-between Days has been named the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor Book for 2017, an honour I didn't see coming. Each time I think the dream run is over, something wonderful happens and I'm gobsmackedーat the same time I try to hold to my philosophy: dream, write, finish, and be grateful. Simple.

But this philosophy was learned the hard way and there's always a story behind any success story. The truth is, I spent twenty-five years failing and floundering, writing in secret and rarely finishing anything, yo-yoing between different careers. I was too afraid to take a gamble on the story in my head, this invention that might never fly. All I Ever Wanted sat in the proverbial drawer for yearsーit wasn't until I was more afraid of running out of time than I was afraid of failure itself, that I had the gumption it send it off. (I've since accepted that this is my MOーnot just with my first novel, but with every novel.) 

I used to obsess over wasted time; I wondered whether I could have made different choices and travelled a more direct route to writingーbut (as with anything I do) it took me a long time to stop wishing things could have been different. I came from nowhere. Fun fact: nowhere is twenty-five years long and so vast there is no way around it. Nowhere is where my stories come from.

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I dream, I write, I finish, and I'm grateful. Thank you, SCBWI, for this Golden Kite Honor Award for In-between Days.

ACT SCBWI presents Excellence in Children's Books

SCBWI ACT Monday March 27, 2017 5-8pm

ALIA House Canberra

After Susanne Gervay regaled us with her usual lovely humour, she explained the main aims of SCBWI which is to create a community of children’s book creators and connect them to professionals in the publishing industry. She directed the audience to the international website with its opportunities, grants, awards, festivals and meetings. The site also offers a way to find other international publishing professionals.

Susan Hall, Publisher, editor and author, National Library of Australia talks about the NLAs publishing criteria and process, submissions and what they are publishing. MC Tania McCartney, author, illustrator, editor.

How did the NLA list come about?

Susan wanted to create a list for the NLA that included children’s books. It was a hard fight but one she felt very passionate about and despite some opposition, the children’s list began, firstly with 6 of her own works, but now she focuses on publishing other authors.

What is on the list?

The list includes picture books, primary books for older readers on subjects from Australian animals, astronomy and explorers. She also publishes novels, but only 1 every two years. The list is very grounded in history and uses the collection in some way. The NLA collection of images are often a starting point and can be found using TROVE and searching ‘pictures’.

How many books do you publish each year?

4-6 books.

How can people submit?

There is an online submission form. You need to include ideas for marketing, audience and how you intend to use the collection. For a picture book, they want the entire text. They are looking for original ideas that will sell and when you submit you should receive and automated reply. They receive 15-20 submissions every 3 mths. The proposals are seen by an advisory panel and focus group (teachers and parents). It needs to be presented to the committee for approval. There is a 4 month period from submission to decision. It helps if you are published but it isn’t necessary. It helps if you have a web presence and have a social media presence. Find out more about NLA Publishing here.

How well is the list doing?

There have been many reprints in the last 12 months, all of which are kids’ books. The NLA books have received awards, which is important for their standing. They have also had books on the ASO and have recently had foreign rights, which has boosted print runs which also helps cover all costs. This all adds up to creating a valuable and valued list.

Do you develop a relationship between authors and illustrators?

Yes! Initially, the illustrator is left to develop their ideas but then the author is very much brought in.

Best advice for submissions?

Be yourself and write from your heart.

Gina Newton, author and scientist, presents on how to create successful non-fiction children’s books. MC Tracey Hawkins, author.

Gina loved writing as a kid but because of her love of animas,grew up to be a scientist, but scientific writing is very sparse, sharp and pithy. Having kids, reminded her of her love of more creative writing. She first had her idea about a book on animals just as the NLA were approached about the same kind of book. With her educational background, Susan asked her to be the author.

In the creation of the book, facts are essential. Her research involved reading lots of books and field guides, talking to experts in their fields and approaching societies eg the Mammal Society of Australia. She knew how to approach them from her work as a scientist but she also asked them to fact check her work after it was written.


Tania McCartney, author, editor, illustrator talks illustration, working with text, creating your own style, medium and more. MC Nicole Godwin author.

How did you transition from author to author/illustrator?

As an author, she knew something was missing for her as a creator, so she started drawing, which she did madly as a kid. She began the 52 week challenge as a way of making her practice every week. This is a closed group of illustrators meeting online.

Tell us about your technique?

She enjoys blending traditional with digital techniques but also enjoys practicing her skills of design and layout, which helps to reduce the costs of the book and makes her more appealing to publishers.

Is having a recognisable style important?

It is important to create what you love and enjoy. For her, the 52 week challenge was a chance to experiment with technique and style. She realised in doing that, that it was important to stick to designs that made her heart sing. It is important to practice and develop your own style over time.

She believes it is important that authors and illustrators work together. As both an author and an illustrator this has helped to develop the work and create a better book. Eg her Captain book illustrated by Christina Booth was a very collaborative process, which made it richer and better.

Some advice is to not illustrate the text literally but to add extra elements to the story that aren’t in the text.

What is your best advice for creating a portfolio?

Choose drawings that show you can draw consistently, show expression and that your characters have a life inside them. Create characters who tell a story.

We finished the night with Susanne Gervay who gave an over view of the industry, publishers and SCBWI success stories and Q&A.

Thank you so much to our MCs, speakers, ALIA, James from Harry Hartog’s Bookstore and all the very talented and keen Canberrans who were part of the night. Thank you too to the Sydney SCBWI AustraliaEastNZ team, Margaret Roc, Deborah Abela, Susanne Gervay and Marjorie Crosby-Fairall for making the trip to be part of the night!

Canberra is an amazing SCBWI region and after this night it is only going to get stronger and better. Woo hoo!

SCBWI Success Story - Yvonne Low

There was once an artist and writer, by the name of Yvonne Low, who worked every day
in a corner of her attic weaving words, drawing dreams and painting with poetry. She
would look through her window and try to capture the clouds or wander with the wind to
far-off lands. From dawn to dusk, she played with words and colours, teasing out meaning
and magic and all the while, searching for castles in the air.

One day she entered a wonderful world filled with other scribblers and daubers, word-wizards
and picture-conjurers. Like her, these writers and artists of SCBWI were also
looking for things that no-one else had seen, or discovering treasures that no-one else had
found. It was a good place to be.

Time passed and Yvonne plucked up her courage, gathered together her stories and her art
portfolio, and journeyed regularly into the city to learn, to be inspired and encouraged and
also to display her wares, at the SCBWI Sydney Conferences, master classes and Illustrator
Showcases. Publishers and Art Directors were there as well, looking for a tale not yet told
or a picture never before imagined.

Then finally, the word-wizard and publisher Sophie Masson discovered Yvonne’s work at
the 2016 SCBWI Conference Illustrator Showcase. Sophie loved her work and wanted to
whisk her straight away into the magical realm of Christmas Press. Sophie and Yvonne
met then and there and that castle in the air finally became a reality a few months later –
Yvonne’s first trade book illustration contract!

Jack of Spades by Sophie Masson is a thriller for 10-14 year olds, set in 1910 Paris, and
filled with adventure, romance and history (right up Yvonne’s alley!) Yvonne enjoyed
creating the cover and internal illustrations for this exciting novel, published by Eagle
Books (imprint of Christmas Press) and being released in April 2017.

Yvonne’s Bio
Yvonne Low is a children’s writer, illustrator and award-winning artist. She has written
poetry for The School Magazine and created a children’s CD cover for ABC Commercial,
My Nursery Rhymes Collection with Mark Macleod. Jack of Spades is her first trade book.
Yvonne is active with the CBCA (Northern Sydney Sub-branch) and is a Role Model with
Books in Homes Australia.
You can find more of Yvonne’s work at and on Twitter @YLcreate.