It's a wrap! - The Sydney SCBWI Conference 2016 Roundup

As this crusty captain and her unbelievably competent crew prepare to set forth once again into the perilous sea of submissions, self-doubt, publication, unresolved plots, and confused colour palettes, I'd like to leave you with a few beautifully blurry but brilliant reminders of the Australian New Zealand Conference that was Sydney 2016.

Wining Dining and Winning

The Beatnickers SCBWI Band

The Vollies (a few of them)

The Delegates

Your Roving Reporters!

The RR team!

The RR team!

Captain Dimity Powell

First Mate Sheryl Gwyther

Motley Crew members:

  • Rachel Nobel
  • Giuseppe Poli
  • Katrin Dreiling
  • Melanie Hill
  • Yvonne Mes
  • Maria Gill
  • Leigh Roswen
  • Kel Butler
  • Ramona Davy
  • Karen Collum
  • Liz Anelli Doodle artist
  • Denzo Alker Photographer
  • Oliver Phommavanh Tweeter

The Miracle Workers – Chief Navigators for this captain

  • Susanne Gervay Regional Adviser
  • Deb Abela Assistant Regional Adviser (ARA)
  • Sheryl Gwyther ARA
  • Caz Goodwin ARA
  • Sarah Davis Regional Illustrator Coordinator
  • Margaret Roc
  • Marjorie Crosby-Fairall ARA

As our intrepid leader, Susanne Gervay once told me – ‘The role of story is to engender our own stories and hold our meanings.’

For me, that encapsulates one of the best things about being part of this special Society; to learn how to better stir the art of storytelling into something spectacular, to share this with other like minded creatives, and to experience and celebrate their stories’ meanings be they in verse, prose, or brushstroke.

Arr me mateys, till next we sail together...

Arr me mateys, till next we sail together...

Thank you for having us report for you this year. It’s been an adventure.

Rove you Later


The End?



Chapter Two: International Skype Session with Suzanne Murphy and Cristina Cappelluto

Suzanne Murphy, President and Publisher of HarperCollins Children's Books USA

Suzanne Murphy, President and Publisher of HarperCollins Children's Books USA

We had the pleasure of seeing Christina Cappelluto in the flesh and Suzanne Murphy via Skype for this session. Susanne Gervay chaired the session with her wit and pertinent questions.

Overview of HarperCollins global?

  • Suzanne said they publish 600 books a year.
  • They have branches all over the world. Soon they will be celebrating 200 years of publishing.
  • The Harper Brothers started Harper & Rowe, amalgamated with William Collins in UK, and Angus & Robertson in Australia back in 1879.
  • They are the home of literary and contemporary legends.
  • The A & R imprint still exists. All Australian imprints are published under A & R.  
  • Since acquisition of Harlequin and ABC Books, now seeing more authors published into international foreign countries. It is a very exciting time to be published with HC internationally.

Their goal is to promote authors worldwide. They always look to acquire world rights; coordinating global publications is more and more important nowadays because of worldwide reach of social media. For example, Epic Reads has 2 million (young adult) audience.

Susanne asked if there is an opportunity for middle grade in social media.

Cristina Cappelluto, Children's Publishing Director HarperCollins Australia   

Cristina Cappelluto, Children's Publishing Director HarperCollins Australia


Suzanne said there is, for example, Rick Riordan who has been very successful using these platforms (Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook). They encourage authors to promote themselves online. There are gatekeepers such as teachers, librarians and parents. Whatever age group you have you should try to have an authentic online presence. Teachers, librarians and parents are online so worthwhile pursuing.

Christina said the middle grade platform is Instagram rather than Facebook. She said it is important to be aware of the platforms your target audience are using.

What are the strategies for publishing globally in Australia and America?

  • Barnes & Nobles is their biggest bookshops chain.
  • Amazon dominate in print and ebooks. Independent booksellers have had a decrease in book sales but recently they are reviving.
  • They’ve always had solid sales selling into schools.
  • Much of their sales are driven by the backlist such as ‘Where the Wild Things Are’; these backlists feed new talent.
  • From a publicity and marketing perspective there hasn’t been a better time to introduce new authors.

Christina said they’re always looking for the next best books and keep working with their authors and building their careers. This is a very long game and they approach it as a partnership.

If you find an Australian star will it go globally or is it more generated from the USA?

More books come out of the USA market because it is a bigger market. They love to work with HarperCollins Australia and their authors. Always looking for great authors and great stories wherever they come from.

How are you pursuing multi-platforms?

  • Christina said they have been acquiring more film and TV rights when they sign up new novels or works. They’ve been having some success with that.
  • They have connections with Fox (which is owned by Murdoch).
  • Harper Lee Film World are looking for books frequently. They can see the value of building on the book world fan interest. Her favourite in local market is ‘The Giver’ by Lois Lowry. Up until the film release, retail sales were minimal in comparison to the educational sales. Once the film came out that changed.
  • She said sometimes it is like a lottery getting your books made into films.

Christina said they are collaborating with HC USA at the point of acquisition. Recently they had a middle grade author’s new book series that they were very excited about. They immediately communicated with HC USA and asked them to look at it and they came back and said yes, they absolutely wanted it. It works better for all of them if they collaborate like this.

The next best option is to secure world rights if HC USA is not interested, they then on sell it to other publishing houses.

What are you looking for?

  • People should write what they are compelled to right.
  • They are always looking for great stories and unique voices.
  • You need to be aware of the market but write what you are inspired to write. There are certain markets, demographics and trends that are happening but you have to be very careful.
  • It all comes down to the story and if it moves the editor and sales person.
  • You need to be savvy to break in but when it comes to your writing – you need to write what you are compelled to write whether it is from your experience or your imagination.

There has been a growth in celebrity publishing is that happening there?

  • There are many trends in publishing; the new celebrities are You Tube stars. They’ve had tremendous success with those stars.
  • They are self-made, they get involved with their books more than you might think.
  • Not every celebrity can get a book deal, unless they’ve got millions of fans online.
  • There are some celebrities who are good writers and it is of course easier for them to get published.

Are they open to stories set in Asia? Is that included in ‘we love diversity’?

Christina said they are interested. They have Harper 360 to distribute/export Australian books into the UK, America and Asia. Suzanne said they are interested too.

Australia is looking at the removal of parallel importation making free trade – fair use – we are wondering how that will impact on Australian book sales.

Christina said they’ve been fighting against it. It undervalues intellectual copyright. It has two impacts on publishers.

  1. Firstly, it removes territorial copyright, and opens it up for retailers to source books anywhere from the world.
  2. Secondly, it could influence more successful authors as a retailer can buy their books more cheaply in the US than here. (Not necessarily cheaper in USA, but they might be remaindered or effectively dumped internationally.)

Presently we can protect our market and don’t have territorial rights. Under the new changes we can’t stop that at all. The return to you all as creators would be diminished as well. You’d get export royalties which are often considerably less than local royalties.

Is America open to Australian landscapes and animals?

Suzanne said yes they’re open to great stories. Not necessarily a non-fiction book about that setting or animals but if it is a great fictional story.

The audience talked afterwards about how reassuring it is that Australian stories can travel globally if written well.

Maria Gill Roving Reporter


Chapter Two: Climax! The Craft of Illustration

Skpe Session B: The Craft of Illustration with Caldecott award winning US illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky MC: Sarah Davis and Marjorie Crosby-Fairall

Paul Skyping from the US

Paul Skyping from the US

I’m an Illustrator and I was really looking forward to this amazing opportunity to listen to Paul O. Zelinsky. There is a lot of advice out there on illustration and how to develop as an Illustrator. Paul was really keen to not come across like his advice was the only way forward for an aspiring illustrator and I really appreciated that. Though, I agree with everything he said. Especially when I’ve had a recent portfolio critique from some amazing Art Directors and a subsequent master class with Sarah Davis - all of them sharing the key themes of ‘feeling’, ’heart of the story’ and ‘using different mediums to extend and stretch yourself as a visual storyteller’.

More info about Paul can be found on his website, Facebook ( and twitter (

Below is a recap of the discussion. Sarah Davies and Marjorie Crosby-Fairall collated questions fellow SCBWI members had and boiled them down to the following :

Q - When you receive a story, when you are illustrating someone else’s text, what is the process you go through, how do begin getting to grips with the text, breaking it down, working out which direction you want the illustrations to go in?

  • My first reaction….I don’t know what I’m going to do. That’s one of the consequences of not having a really established style or way of working that I do the same time each time.
  • I read and read and read the text. Even if I wrote it, it doesn't really make a difference to me whether it was it was my text or someone else’s text - I kind of absorb it as much as I can. I am aiming to do the right thing for the text.
  • It’s free association, [ between feeling and what visual imagery to use ]

Often times, it’s what I don’t want the picture to look like. That’s enough of a clue to get me going a little bit.

I was not trained in illustration at all. I got a Masters degree in Painting. I think of Fine Art, the whole history of Art all kinds and all places.

  • What is the feeling that this text gives me?
  • What sort of pictures do those feelings call up?
  • I try to be in-tune with every level of feeling of the text.

Paul then showed us “The Story of Mrs. Lovewright and Purrless her Cat” by Lore Segal

This story has a feeling of ‘not cosiness’.

So German Expressionist (with its angles, and sharp lines, poking and not sitting flat) - that’s what I tried to do, pictures that would not sit flat, have angles and sharp points.

Q - Mediums - Do you have a favourite medium? How much experimentation does it take to match to the feel that you want to create? How do you go about deciding which medium you use?

At the beginning I don’t really have a handle what I want my pictures to be like. The medium is often the first I can settle on because of the feeling, because for me different mediums define different sorts of feelings.

“The Wheels on the Bus” adapted and Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

It’s a jumpy song, bright and happy. The feeling that I wanted visually was not just colourful but also ‘chewy’ like bubblegum. The pictures should be something that you could want to chew on and they’d be sweet when you ate them.  The song is bouncy.

[So I went with] oil paint with a certain amount of thickness. The act of pushing oil paint across the page felt sort of like the feeling of singing the song.

‘Awful Ogre’s Awful Dday’ by Jack Prelutsky

There was a high level (castles, knights) and a low level (a messy, gruesome ogre). For a long time I wanted to make pictures that were like throwing mud - thick and droopy. I looked at Abstract

Expressionist paintings - visually interesting compelling gooey textures. I tried it for two weeks and despaired.  I then tried a combination of elegant line (inspired by Albrecht Durer) and  watercolour on top of it that would have its way of being messy.  The story had a high level and low level and I was trying to come up with ways to express that contradiction, which made the text so funny.

At the beginning I’m always worried that I won’t come up with anything.  Most of the time I’ve pulled myself through.

Paul's Zelinskograph

Paul's Zelinskograph

Paul then showed us his ‘Zelinskograph’ - a marvellous device he made so he could see a projection of his sketch on top of the surface he wanted to paint on. He called it a tracing box but his friends coined it the ‘Zelinskograph’.  Here’s great blog post with a clear photo of the ‘Zelinskograph’

Q - It has been heard that you’ve said. “Photoshop doesn’t have a lovely smell and you don’t engage in a physical dance as you would with physical material, as you would with pen and paper, but it takes forgiveness to whole new level”.  What’s the role that Photoshop plays for you?

I don’t expect to plan or go more and more digital. The last book I did was completely digital.

Paul then shows us some spreads from his hilarious book ‘Doodler Doodling’ by Rita Golden Gelman .  "I didn’t take a course in Photoshop, but I would try things. I did a lot of drawings on paper and then scanned them in and put them into Photoshop and every now and then a friend would say ‘oh do you know the right way to do that was this...’.  ‘Oh was it?’  and it would have saved me a lot of time if I had used Photoshop in a different way. So it turned out I did a lot of things wrong, wasted a lot of time, but learned a lot, too..

Spread from Doodler Doodling

Spread from Doodler Doodling

Photoshop allows me to do things that I could not have drawn.

I like the challenge - here’s the problem, what can I do to solve the problem… and if I come up with the solution then that’s just great and Photoshop is good for finding ways to coming up with solutions to certain problems.

Q - We have a lot of people who are just starting out in their Illustrator career - what’s pearls of wisdom could you provide?

Paul notes that this is just from his experience and not the only way.

  • I would encourage people to not limit your artistic vision to illustration, but think about the whole world of other kinds of art and everything. There are a lot of trends that happen in illustration… and if you look only at children's books then it’s limiting…and that’s just me because I didn’t study illustration.
  • I go to figure drawing and draw from the figure once a week if I can. Drawing from life is a great thing and is good for training.
  • In terms of ways that you can make images, I just look at different things.
  • And copy Art. It’s amazing what you can learn if you just start copying it.
  • Writers as an exercise will retype someone else’s story and the act of putting down someone’s words will give you insights.
  • Drawing from life is similar to copying from art. It teaches you to see more things then you would otherwise see.

Career advice? It’s different now  from when I started. Illustrators in the US, can send their work to Art Directors and it will be seen.   (Giuseppe: from what I’ve heard, it’s the same here in Australia. Publishers are always keen to receive samples of an Illustrator’s work.)

Q - how much freedom do you get to experiment? How much notice do you have to give your Publishers?

I show them at an early stage and I like to get feedback.

I look it as a terrific collaboration -  they need an artist, they need art…and they want someone with a vision, someone who can have interesting ideas. Everybody thinks that they are someone who wants to bring out the artistic potential in everybody. If you deal with people on that level - it is a collaboration. You try together to make it as interesting and fun as possible.

I’ll show them an idea very early. If I find they don’t like it I might agree. If I disagree then we’ll discuss it further.  Every publisher is different.

Questions from the audience :

Q - Do you still do painting for yourself?

No. When I first started out, I was making this distinction in my head, that this is for my art and this is for my illustration. I was using oil paint for my art and anything else for my illustration. I guess I came to the point I wanted to illustrate a Grimms' fairytale and I really needed/wanted to do it in oils, which blew my strategy out of the water. And then I started looking at the illustration work and I was making better art for the books than I was for myself. So I stopped and I don’t really miss it.

My ambition is channelled into the illustration I do - illustration is painting, it’s also pictures  telling stories and they are also as interesting as art as I can make them but they are also telling a story. I don’t think that it stops them from being art even though some may not think so.

Q - You mentioned a lot of about feeling - it’s the number one thing in your approach. What’s the second thing?

There will be feeling behind everything. The first thing that would help me make it would be the proportions of the book, is it going to vertical or horizontal and how much - and I guess that’s purely on feeling. I ask myself that and I can answer  because I know from having read the story.

The feelings are the sound basis for everything.

Every kind of real world physical question (what materials, what medium, etc) comes from the feeling but then you have what will the character look like… what should it not look like, what are the sensations of that character? are they soft or hard, big or little, darkness or lightness?

Hansel and Gretel…I had the feeling that it was about little children lost in a big wood and I could get the emotion to flood the image. That  was the basis of everything that I did …like the kinds of trees that I put in, the kinds of colours.

“The Story of Mrs. Lovewright and Purrless her Cat” by Lore Segal - I learnt from myself about using colour doing this book.

  • You don’t have to have a huge number of colours.
  • You can think of having a colour chord in relation to the book and that colours can change as the story changes and the emotions in the story change.
  • That was really a revelation and that too was all about the feeling of the story

[*Editorial addendum from Paul himself! "I thought afterwards that I should have answered the "what's the second thing" question differently: although I did speak in my response about book format andlook of character and use of color --so I wasn't totally deflecting the question back to my one answer of "feeling,"-- I wish I had mentioned the act of dividing the text up into pages. So much follows from the choices in that act-- the structure of a picture book; the rhythms and the pacing. Page turns are the one real dynamic artistic effect unique to books, and they are set in place by that one act, at the beginning, of taking the more or less continuous stream of text in a manuscript and turning into a 32-page (or whatever) codex. I didn't mention this and I wish I had. So I took the opportunity to tell you, even though I think it would be editorially wrong to include it here!"]

Susanne Gervay comes in to thank Paul, there’s a huge applause and that concludes the session.

Thanks Paul for your time - you wow’d us, you made us laugh, you left us inspired and empowered.

A big thanks again from the delegates there,


Giuseppe Poli Roving Reporter