The South Australian event on the 16th October 2016, was a feast of information. Authors, Illustrators, Publishers and Booksellers gathered together for a full day of expert industry speakers, concluding with speed launches of nine great books released in 2016.
The first session was an inspiring hour with Adam Cece and Marianne Musgrove on Writing Middle Grade Fiction. Adam summarised the process that lead to the publication of his first novel, Wesley Booth Super Sleuth. Marianne gave an overview of her writing journey, focusing on her first novel, The Worry Tree, and referring to subsequent works.
They talked about the writing process, including the approach (plotter or pantser), the use of test readers, developing climaxes in the story and the hero's journey.
There was a lively discussion around the topic of ‘What is middle grade fiction’ involving authors, illustrators, booksellers and publishers. A common aspect of middle grade fiction is a focus on the kids, where the adults were either removed from the equation or outsmarted by the kids. The concepts of justice and fairness also often feature. Marianne also warned against using unnecessary facts or focus on issues. Random facts can interrupt the flow of the story if they are not crucial to the plot.
Mandy Foot and Kelly Hibbert spent thirty minutes reporting on the Sydney Conference and left us in no doubt about the value of the conference. It beneficial to have feedback from the perspective of an illustrator and also an author. Key features were the publishers panel, the three-minute pitch, the solo pitch and the illustrators showcase.
Kelly and Mandy highlighted the value of attending conferences. Three valuable places Australian publishers look to source new authors and illustrators are Kid Lit Vic 2016, CYA Conference and the annual SCBWI conference.
There was some interesting discussion about the benefits of the illustrators showcase for all attendee. Illustrators have the chance to pitch their work directly to publishers, by providing samples of their work, additional information and their contact details. This enables publishers to build a resource of illustrators they can contact. It is also useful for authors to build a resource of illustrators as sometimes publishers will ask if the author knows of someone they think is a good fit to illustrate their work. The showcase is also a feast of ideas for illustrators.
After morning tea Andrew Joyner gave an engaging session on Picture Books & Illustration. He spoke about his background as a freelance illustrator for newspapers and illustrator. The two essential pieces of equipment he uses are a light table and a computer to create a brush and ink drawing and then a computer/digital image.
Andrew brought his light table, watercolour paper, a black brush pen (instead of his brush and acrylic waterproof paint) and soluble graphite. Everyone was captivated as he generously demonstrated how he prepares his work. His method is similar to the way pictures are prepared on a printing press. He uses a light table to create a pen and ink drawing. He then flips the pen and ink drawing and draws fills in the tone in grey on the back. Each ‘colour’ is drawn on a separate piece of paper in black. He then scans the pages into a computer and uses photoshop to combine the layers to create the completed drawing.
He also spoke about his experiences preparing The Swap, a book that he illustrated for the Australian market, for the American market. He gave examples of the different requirements and expectations between the two markets.
No one was tempted to take a siesta after lunch due to an absorbing hour with Anna Solding about MidnightSun Publishing. Anna described the impetus behind starting her own publishing company. She had written a manuscript, The hum of concrete, in 2011 which was shortlisted for three awards but not published. Her company, Midnight Sun Publishing released their first book in 2012.
MidnightSun Publishing ventured into publishing picture books, releasing One Step at a Time in 2015. As there is more cost to publish a picture book than a chapter book, crowd funding was used.
MidnightSun Publishing is interested in:
- picture books that step away from the norms, with unusual stories and clear images
- kids chapter books with unusual stories, vivid characters and a strong narrative drive (including a middle grade series)
- complex young adult stories with flawed and interesting characters, multilayered storytelling and linguistic flair
Anna concluded by outlining what makes MidnightSun Publishing unique:
- they are local (Adelaide based)
- they put time into promoting every book they publish
- the writer and illustrator is involved in planning the cover of the book
- they dare to publish books that may not initially seem commercially viable
The conference concluded with a Speed Launch. Ten South Australian children's authors and illustrators each had six minutes to share their new work from 2016:
- Danielle Clode read a specially composed one-minute poem accompanied by a visual display to introduce her non-fiction picture book, Life in Australia’s Inland Sea
- Phil Cummings animatedly read his latest picture book Echidna Jim went for a swim
- Mandy Foot choreographed a speedy display of colouring with a reading of The Bush Santa that was released five days earlier
- Jane Jolly demonstrated the technology of mobile phones in the early 1900s, and read a couple of pages from Radio Rescue, which is due for release in November
- Mike Lucas introduced his book of ninety-nine poems Big Silly and Little Sensible with a six minute reading of seven poems concluding with the one-minute poem
- Rosanne Hawke presented a slide show of images of Pakistan and gave us a brief overview of the story behind her latest young adult novel, The War Within
- Katrina Germein utilised every second of the six minutes combining a reading of her picture book, Baby Dance, and two competitions (a photo challenge and a creative contest for all audience members)
- Kelly Hibbert and Amanda Graham launched their picture book Fancy Pants with a reading and a fancy pants competition for three brave volunteers
- Marianne Musgrove intrigued us with details of the hidden history of Australia and secret stories inspired by the concentration camp hidden under the power plant at Torrens Island which inspired her novel, Frieda – A new Australian
- Tania Ingram played a trailer introducing the Jinny and Cooper series she released in 2016 and gave us a brief taste of the first four titles: My Teacher’s Big Bad Secret, Revenge of the Stone Witch, Curse of the Genie’s ring, Search for the Sea Vogel
It was an informative and enjoyable day. I am sure that everyone left with a lot of food for thought and a significant reading list.
Tara George lives in South Australia. She is the author of Treasure Hunting Trio and Caught with the Cache, and has a short story included in the anthology With Women. Midwives Experiences: from shift work to continuity of care.