The story left untold…

With thanks to Grace Bryant for her words.

We all know the feeling of self-doubt. It tiptoes politely around our tiniest, most beloved ideas, softly seeking permission to be present. Then gently questions, until it becomes a comfortable, familiar and almost reassuring voice. Then it starts poking. And pointing. Over time, that voice makes your tiny idea feel even tinier. This discouraging whisper often becomes a war cry, crushing your tiny idea even before it could blossom into a story.

We’ve all been there. Even the most successful, most talented, most celebrated authors and illustrators suffer this voice. And it’s not a voice that goes away. It must be managed; hushed with words of affirmation, saturated by hard work, reshaped though development, conquered by perseverance and straight up loved into submission. It’s definitely possible to shush this voice and to make space for your tiny idea to grow. And the reward for protecting your tiny idea from that big, nasty voice? Well, I’ll get to that.

SCWBI ACT’s August development event welcomed author/illustrator Caroline Magerl, author Emma Allen, illustrator Hannah Sommerville and NLA publisher Susan Hall, who generously shared their warm voices, brilliant ideas and contrasting experiences with us.

Believe it or not, Caroline Magerl’s pathway into illustration was neither linear, nor easy. She shared with us many ideas; some tiny, some grown and nourished through time and experience:

  • Hold on to your tiny ideas and dispute your personal fail-voice;
  • Modern day networking is a blessing. We’re lucky to be so connected and for opportunities to be visible, as this hasn’t always been the case;
  • We don’t need a license to try, or to succeed;
  • Have an agenda or you’ll become someone else’s agenda;
  • Keep a line in the water; in fact, keep many lines in the water to stay diverse and at the edge of your abilities;
  • In this industry, one success does not guarantee another;
  • Follow through on your ideas and listen to your own voice; 
  • And most importantly, that crafting our tiny ideas into stories is more powerful than we can imagine. A children’s book is capable of influencing many lives.

If you ever get the chance to hear Caroline’s story, you won’t regret it. Not only does she spin a good yarn, its fibres are shorn from hard work, soaked in persistence and challenging times loving stitched together with her successes. Her most recent book, Maya and Cat is drawn from these experiences. It’s evidence that a tiny moment can become a tiny idea, which could impact someone, somewhere. Its stunning word choice and thoughtful, unexpected watercolour and ink illustrations are an utter delight.


Caroline Magerl at SCBWI ACT's August Development Event

Caroline Magerl at SCBWI ACT's August Development Event

Emma Allen, Hannah Sommerville and Susan Hall showed us how the power of an idea can be enhanced, elevated and enlivened by others. And that our collective ideas, skills and experiences enable the ideas and success of others. In sharing the story of their collaboration, we learnt that:

  • Establishing the right working relationship is as important as getting the work right;
  • A genuine collaboration requires trust, as you’re both exchanging something precious;
  • Trust in each other enables confidence in one’s self, one’s skills and in the partnership. Sharing in this trust is a joy;
  • Collaboration is an iterative process. Words, illustration, edits will evolve as the work ceases to be owned by an individual and the story becomes co-owned;
  • If you’re lucky, you might even make a friend though a collaboration;
  • Understanding the rhythm of the story is vital, to allow space for the story to breathe, pant or sigh, rather than simply be told;
  • Regardless of the story that you intend to tell, the readers will always imprint themselves on to it. This is the joy of storytelling and of sharing your tiny idea.

Digby and Claude is Emma and Hannah’s most recent collaboration. Though it’s set in the 1930s, the themes of friendship, imagination and belonging keenly resonate today. Their seamless blend of words and illustrations offer readers the opportunity to explore grief and renewal, in a safe space. Hearing about their collaboration inspired SCBWI ACT to trust others with our tiny ideas.

Susan Hall, Hannah Sommerville and Emma Allen on collaboration

Susan Hall, Hannah Sommerville and Emma Allen on collaboration

And now, to answer that lingering question. What is the reward for persisting and for battling self-doubt? It’s not necessarily global success or a three-book deal. It’s the opportunity to share your tiny idea. To nourish another’s tiny idea. To tell your story. Or, the simple knowledge that the tiny idea left unexplored, or story left untold leaves a greater void than daring to try. You never know the impact you may have simply by sharing your tiny idea. 

Ironically, our own stories are more often shaped by challenge and adversity than success. Success is the easy part. The bit that comes before that is the hard part. Sometimes the ability to push past self-doubt and to choose to listen to the tiny idea rather than that nasty voice is the greatest act of creativity. 

So, go on, persist.

SCBWI ACT is grateful to Caroline Magerl, Emma Allen, Hannah Sommerville and Susan Hall for sharing their magnificent, inspiring and influential ideas. We like you. A lot.

SCBWI ACT send their love.

SCBWI ACT send their love.

A bit about SCBWI critique groups...

With thanks to Shaye Wardrop for her words.

DID YOU KNOW… SCBWI has online critique groups you can join?

Yep! The wonderful admin team of SCBWI Australia East/New Zealand has set up a FREE online critique group system for SCBWI members. Shaye Wardrop (SCBWI ACT committee member) recently joined, and here’s what she said about the experience.

Why did you decide to join a SCBWI critique group?

I wanted to get feedback on my work on a regular basis. I also really liked the idea of getting lots of opinions on the same piece of work at the same time. If everyone likes something, you know it’s likely working. If everyone thinks it’s not quite right, you know you need to take a closer look.

What do you like most about the SCBWI critique groups?

I love that it’s all online; this makes it really easy to fit into my schedule. I also like that the groups are small (max of 6 people), so we all get to submit our work regularly.

There are guidelines to help with setup and management (super helpful), but I also really like that groups can make changes to meet their own needs. For example, my group critiques on a fortnightly schedule (rather than a weekly schedule) because it suits everyone better.

Was it easy to join?

Extremely! You simply go to, read the information there and register to join a group. You’ll get an email when enough people are on the waiting list to form your critique group. 

Anything else to add?

There are groups for authors, illustrators and author/illustrators to join. So no excuses!

Shaye Wardrop, pitching at the the recent SCBWI ACT Level Up conference. 

Shaye Wardrop, pitching at the the recent SCBWI ACT Level Up conference. 

SCBWI ACT's Level Up Conference Wrap Up

With thanks to Cate Whittle for her words!

What an amazing experience! The SCBWI ACT inaugural Level Up Conference was definitely the place to be on Saturday, 9th September, with so much energy and excitement coming from presenters and attendees alike. It all seemed to come together well with over 50 writers and illustrators attending, and brilliant presentations by Clare Hallifax, Isobelle Carmody, Tania McCartney, Irma Gold, Tony Flowers, and (of course) our own Susanne Gervay. Add to that a selection of brave and brilliant pitches orchestrated by Tracey Hawkins, with Clare, Susanne, and the amazing Stephanie Owen Reeder offering their advice, lots of clever questions for our panel with Isobelle, Stephanie and Susanne, and all the new connections made, not to mention the amazing Rap-Up by poet, Harry Laing. The day was truly electric – a great experience for our first ever conference!

Our lovely Level Up attendees!

Our lovely Level Up attendees!

Publishing Insights

Our first keynote speaker was the brilliant and generous Clare Hallifax, from Omnibus Scholastic, who shared her insights on the publishing industry. One or two (okay, five or six) gems of wisdom to think about include:

  • write from the heart and soul
  • keep the audience in mind
  • read aloud and act out scenes to find the rhythm and voice of our story
  • write, edit, read... then wait!
  • make our words universal and warm – no-one wants to snuggle up at the end of the day with a lecture, and
  • to write for children, write as a child

Clare also urged us to read constantly and think about what makes good stories work. In the meantime, she promised to keep the creators safe from the numbers people, so we can focus on the creative!

Stephanie Owen Reeder, Clare Hallifax, Isobelle Carmody, Susanne Gervay

Stephanie Owen Reeder, Clare Hallifax, Isobelle Carmody, Susanne Gervay

In It for the Long Haul

Listening to Isobelle Carmody as she shared her writing journey was truly inspirational, from early writing as an escape, to using her editor’s office when working the late shift as a journalist to write her stories and accidentally getting caught out, and on to that first acceptance and the success she has enjoyed. 

What she really wanted to share with us, though, was her message about taking ownership of our careers. Isobelle spoke with energy and frankness:

  • make sure that your first book is what you want to have represent you in the future
  • have conversations about what you think you are worth
  •   be aware of your rights and consider keeping your subsidiary rights separate from your print rights
  • finish the book, send it off, move on, and
  • maintain your personal relationships with publishers

Picture Book Craft

Tania McCartney had so much to share about creating picture books (if you ever have the chance to attend one of her talks, do it). In an action packed fifty minutes, we whizzed through what’s popular with kids and what’s popular with publishers and where these intersect. We considered themes that are overdone and being unique but thinking globally, whilst remembering to be subtle with messages. There was information about age appropriateness and formats for picture books, and how to develop content and characters (not forgetting non-fiction), and (really, really important) SHOW don’t tell!  Then there was balance and white space and movement and emotion... and how the ending is everything! Phew! Tania left everyone buzzing and eager to get on with crafting picture books.

It’s a Collaboration

If you have ever wondered about the dark art of editing then Irma Gold is the person to enlighten you, as we all found out as she took us through the whys and wherefores of working with an editor:

  • let go of your ego – the editor’s goal is the same as yours
  • be open to new ideas
  • take some time to gain perspective, then work through objectively
  • ask if there is anything you don’t feel clear about
  • be professional and polite, and always meet your deadlines
  • be patient – it can be a long process to publish a book
  • say thank you – editors tend to get very little credit.


Pitch Session

What can I say, other than to congratulate the brave writers who stood up in front of a packed room to deliver their pitches with enthusiasm and aplomb? Tracey Hawkins did a wonderful job of orchestrating the session, while Clare Hallifax, Stephanie Owen Reeder, and Susanne Gervay delivered on the spot responses with consideration and honesty. Exciting!

Illustrating for Different Ages

Tony Flowers entertained us as he talked about his career as an illustrator and collaborating with other creators. Providing examples of how his artwork has evolved over the years and how he approaches illustration for different audiences, he made it easy to see how we need to keep the audience in mind. Tony also reminded us to research and make sure that our work is authentic, using an example of discovering how ninjas really dressed rather than conforming to the popular belief that they only ever ran around in totally black clothing. Apparently some of them could be quite colourful! 

Tony Flowers!

Tony Flowers!

Breaking Through to Publication

A topic close to the hearts of all of us, Susanne Gervay in her typically generous way spoke about how to make your story great through:

  • practising your craft
  • reading
  • sharing your work and ideas with others in SCBWI,
  • taking the opportunity to have manuscript and portfolio critiques and being brave
  • Remembering that publishing houses change all the time so research their list and what they are doing.

Let’s Create

A special panel with Isobelle Carmody, Susanne Gervay and Stephanie Owen Reeder explored creativity and writing and thinking styles:

let your ideas settle before you start the writing phase. Be mad and brave – again and again

to be a writer you need to be driven and passionate

It will never be perfect, so don’t edit forever

never send anything the day you think it’s finished

know your (creative) strengths

balance works better in the long term (routine) as you can look after yourself and your life

sharing experiences as creators is uplifting because it allows us to appreciate each other and to value the creative journey

a creative life is interesting, fun and driven from our deepest selves.



Poet extraordinaire, Harry Laing, took control of the stage for our final session of the day to entertain us with some of his exciting and delightful poetry, topping it off with an insightful poem that summed up (rapped-up) the events of the day, leaving us all laughing (and quite possibly rolling in the aisles had we had a bit of room to spare). What a great end to a fabulous day.

Of course, the presentations weren’t everything. We also had critique sessions going on throughout the conference for both writers and illustrators, and there was a wealth of new connections being made, friendships formed, and experiences shared. 

Have a read (or a rap) of Harry's wrap up rap!

Thank you to everyone who participated, presenter or attendee. You all made it an unforgettable day.

We also have to thank ALIA, whose premises we completely turned upside down for the day as we moved furniture around everywhere, and thanks, too, to Jimmy Redden from Harry Hartog Booksellers, who once again shared his time bringing a superb array of books for us all to drool over.

A fabulous day! 

Cate Whittle

for the SCBWI ACT Team