In 2014 I was fortunate enough to attend my first SCBWI conference in Sydney. That alone could be my success story!
I had postponed becoming a member of SCBWI for a long time. I live in Tasmania, you know, that small island at the bottom of the map, when it is deemed important enough to be put on the map! We didn't have a SCBWI group in Tasmania and were part of the Victorian group, so unless I was going to hop on a plane to attend an afternoon catch up, I didn't see any worth in joining. Obviously I did join, after chatting to others who encouraged it and so found myself considering attending the next Australian conference. How could I afford it? I couldn't. So I applied for a CAL (Copyright Agency) grant to attend.
Just after everything was pretty much booked out and I had begun to make plans to send my portfolio over in my absence, I received a letter to say that my application was successful, I also found out that places in the showcase had been increased and that I could register for the conference and the extra master classes on offer, and there was room for me to have a critique as well. Success! Hooray, and a huge thanks to CAL who helped me cover the costs of attending.
For a children's author living away from the action, attending these gatherings is so important, to help revitalise what I am doing, who I am as an artist and to learn from my peers and other professionals. I was hungry and I was on my way to a banquet!
And what a banquet it was.
I missed out on being able to pitch my picture book but I was excited to be able to include it as a dummy in my portfolio. I was also nervous and excited to be able to discuss my first novel during the critique sessions: I wanted to know if it was 'shite' or had potential, I felt I couldn't attempt another until I knew if it had a chance and I'm the sort of person that wants the truth so I couldn't go on my families reactions (they love me after all). That work is still in progress but it does, I am told, have potential, so that was good news.
I received a good response to my portfolio but I feared no one had really looked at the dummy. Next time, I will adapt the format to make it quicker to look at. Fortunately, I had an appointment with a publisher who had written a support letter for a grant I had received from Arts Tasmania and we were meeting at the conference to throw some ideas around for the project I was working on. I decided to ask her if she had looked at my portfolio during the showcase and alas, she hadn't seen the dummy so I put it in front of her there and then.
She loved it and within a month I had a contract. The project we were discussing was also successful, and she liked the proposal so much, I had a contract offered on that one as well. My first offer on a story yet to be written! Too Many Sheep will be released through Scholastic in May this year and The Anzac Tree will be released in 2017.
This could be seen as a success, I don't doubt that for a moment but to be honest, the real success is that this Taswegian can wing her way over to Sydney and rub shoulders with many wonderful and talented people. The success is that I can challenge myself to leave my little island in the south and fly to the 'Big Island' and discover that I am, within the writing world, quite normal and doing okay. That is the success of it all. Connecting, re-connecting and building bridges. Boosting morale and escaping the writers isolation, mixing with like minds, all who are hungry, no matter where they come from, and head in for the banquet together.
Since 2014, Tasmania has formed its own chapter of SCBWI. It is small in number but we are growing. Whilst most members live in the south of the state, and I am in the north, it is still difficult to attend get-togethers. But in March 2016 we held a mini-conference in northern Tasmania as a part of the Tamar Valley Writers Festival. I am keen to see numbers grow so we can have enough people in the north to create a group that meets regularly and so we can join the southern group from time to time. I can't thank Anne Morgan, Deb Abela and Susanne Gervay enough for getting a Tasmanian group set up, even though we don't meet in person very often, the connection is there and it is strong and growing. It is a huge encouragement and that is, I believe the best success story of them all.