Creating Creative Writers - an Overview

As if participating in the One Day SCBWI Sydney Conference was not enough, I was fortunate to be included in the auxiliary conference aimed specifically for proficient teachers with the objective of providing them with a unique educational experience with some of Australia’s finest children’s book creators - Creating Creative Writers PD Conference.


The SCBWI presenters lineup read like a who’s who of Australian Kid Lit industry’s royalty and those sessions I sat in on were rich oceans of informative, insider tips and tricks designed to enlighten teachers and librarians and equip them with better, engaging, real-life methods with which to teach the art of story telling to children.

The day, opened by Susanne Gervay, was primly organised into four separate sessions, each focusing on a particular area of creativity.

Session 1: Creating Super Storytellers

Deborah Abela led the discussion with Sandy Fussell, Yvette Poshoglian and Tim Harris on how to inspire, motivate and develop super storytellers in the classroom. The focus for this session was narrative writing and authors shared individual practices in the process of creating their own narratives and also their experiences with work-shopping with students in schools. Aspects of narrative writing explored included:

  • narrative structure and plotting

  • creating strong and believable characters

  • effective genre writing

  • vocabulary and word choice

  • the use of online visual resources to inspire and the importance of the editing process.

Sandy Fussell, Tim Harris and Yvette Poshoglian

Sandy Fussell, Tim Harris and Yvette Poshoglian

Sandy’s use of Minecraft to stir imagination and develop story plots is not only contemporary but buckets of fun.

Tim Harris encouraged us to ‘live mark’, to cease being the passive observer when it comes to promoting creativity in kids. He reminded educators to never overwhelm children when trying to get them to fix things, to simply aim at one thing to improve their writing at a time. The notion of ‘colouring in your story using language’ really appeals to this author, also.

Yvette Poshoglian suggested characters and genre as springboards to creative writing whilst Deb Abela reminded us to remind kids that;

If they can make trouble, they can write it because writing a good story is all about making trouble!

The session ended with two lively readings from soon-to-be-released books by Katrina McKelvey (No Baths Week) and Candice Lemon-Scott (Eco Rangers: Pelican in Peril)

Session 2: Creating Fascinating Factual Texts

Sue Whiting then led experts in the area of creative nonfiction, Stephanie Owen Reeder, Gina Newton, Claire Saxby and Corinne Fenton through discussions on the challenges of researching and writing engaging informative texts.The panel explored the notion of how “creative” one can be when writing nonfiction or informative texts, i.e. where creativity comes into the process? And also how students can make facts/research their own, the importance of using multiple sources, and the use of “perspective” and “borrowed voice”. Panelists provided teachers with ideas for research techniques and activities designed to motivate teachers and students alike and enable teachers to facilitate quality student research and guide students through the process of creating fascinating and original informative texts.

Corinne Fenton read her newly released picture book A Cat Called Finn for the first time. Image credit to Corrine Fenton

Corinne Fenton read her newly released picture book A Cat Called Finn for the first time. Image credit to Corrine Fenton

Session 3: Creating Passionate Poets

Discussing the trials and tribulations of trying to enthuse kids to read, write and enjoy poetry was tackled by Jodie Wells-Slowgrove and her panel of passionate children’s poets: Sally Murphy, Libby Hathorn, Meredith Costain and Lesley Gibbes.

The panel debated whether poetry should be analysed, discussed the importance of reading poetry aloud and how explored how to encourage students to dig deep and write poetry with emotional truth. Sharing their vast experience with writing, performing and work-shopping poetry with students, the poets provided teachers with a myriad of practical ideas for infecting students with the poetry bug and for the development of specific skills, such as using rhythm, alliteration, simile, cadence, metaphor and word play.

Poetry presenter dynamo and author, Alexa Moses read from the poetry anthology, A Boat of Stars.

Exceptional poets: Sally Murphy, Libby Hathorn, Meredith Costain, and Lesley Gibbs

Exceptional poets: Sally Murphy, Libby Hathorn, Meredith Costain, and Lesley Gibbs

Session 4:  Creating Vibrant Visual Narratives

Any session on illustration always intrigues me as a picture book author. James Foley and his panel of four award-winning illustrators, Sarah Davis, Liz Anelli and Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, discussed the process of children’s book illustration, focusing on visual literacy and the construction of visual narratives.

The panelists discussed their differing processes, tied by a common language – but rather than using words and sentences, their language uses the visual elements of colour, line, shape, body language, facial expression, typography, light and shadow, scale, and composition and in the case of Liz, stamps made from random objects!

Attendees learnt first hand how creativity can be expressed and how tone and mood can be altered simply by changing the thickness of a line.


Sue Whiting followed this revealing session with a reading from her latest picture book, Beware the Deep Dark Forest, then yours truly wound up the day with a reading of At The End of Holyrood Lane, each book depicting the various nuances of illustration and symbolism referred to earlier.

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It truly was a packed day filled with praise from over 100 attendees for its smooth facilitation and phenomenal content not to mention the value and relevance of the stimulating readings.

by Dimity Powell (Head Roving Reporter SCBWI 2019 Conference)


Masterclass F: Conquering the Slush Pile and Crafting Your Story with Diane Evans

Diane Evans – Publishing Director Big Sky Publishing along with, Allison Patterson – Author with Big Sky Publishing and publishing consultant, guide us along the path to publication.

Allison Paterson and Diane Evans

Allison Paterson and Diane Evans

This session was a smooth as they come, the presenters shared valuable information at a good pace and were clearly comfortable in each other’s presence making it a joy to attend.

Big Sky Publishing initially only published nonfiction and books for adults but over the last few years have introduced children’s books.

Diane Evans works across the board of books and all areas of the publishing business within Big Sky Publishing.

Alison Patterson has a teacher-librarian background and uses her knowledge of children to write for children of all ages from picture books to YA.

Big Sky Publishing has a interest in information books with strong messages and links to the Australian curriculum. Diane suggest that authors look for gaps in the market.

It is important for authors to see and position themselves as entrepreneurs.

Ask yourself why your book is different to the ones already on the market but do this right at the beginning.”

This is to save yourself work, if there is already something like it out on the market, it may be worthwhile focusing on another project.

“We are looking for authors to work with us on more than one book.” And from an international perspective are looking for books that can carry a series. Diane prefers authors to pitch her a series with strong selling points, and advises to include the first book and synopses for the next books in the series.

Allison used images from Ronald Dahl’s writing journal to look at where ideas come from. She also spoke about the importance of listening to the kids’ voices of ‘right now’ to find the ‘authenticity of the child’s voice.’

She talked about the importance of embedding fact in your story, even when writing fiction, and when writing historical fiction to stay a as truthful to the facts as you can.

“It is important to create a detailed backstory for you character, so that you know how a child will feel in any given situation.”

Diane stressed that publishers don’t have time to work on proposals with authors any more. A proposal these days needs to be polished and well researched as you usually only get one go at it.

Enthusiastic master class delegates learning the secrets to publication success

Enthusiastic master class delegates learning the secrets to publication success

Big Sky Publishing expects authors to do a lot of their own social media, do school visits and more. Publishers want to know what authors are doing from a networking perspective. It is important as an author to know what your strength is and to leverage it.

Phew. That was a lot to take in, but so invaluable. I can’t thank Diane and Allison enough for this session.

by Yvonne Mes


Masterclass: E How to Hook and Keep Your Reader with Humour with Mira Reisberg

At Mira Reisberg’s keynote presentation at the beginning of the SCBWI Conference 2019 she said a lot of things that were not only true but also inspirational but one piece of advice stuck with me especially – always read picture books (or any kidlit book really) twice. The first time for pleasure and the second time for analysis. When you do this you will discover quickly what works and why.

Images of Mira’s Keynote presentation courtesy of Liz Anelli

Images of Mira’s Keynote presentation courtesy of Liz Anelli

A fantastic example for this is humour in picture books or middle grade. Fun and humour, if delivered well, will always make a manuscript better. In her masterclass Mira firstly separated the audience in picture books and MA analysists of humour.

Techniques considered to help induce humour to your writing (or illustrating) are:

- Anthromorphism (eg. A friendly duck doctor)

- Personification

- Dark humour

- Self-deprecating humour

- Irony/ sarcasm

- Hyperbole/ exaggeration

- Contradiction

- Incongruity or surrealism (talking fridge)

- Slapstick/ physical humour (slipping on a banana peel)

- Gross/ potty humour

- Contrast characters

- Parody

- Joke telling

- Mashups

- Surprise/ defiant humour

- Wordplay

- Visual humour

For full details on Mira’s presentation and a copy of the slideshow, click on this link, here.

Attendants were then asked to join an exercise by coming up with or using one of their own texts paragraphs and include the word “no!” as much as possible as an example of exaggerated humour.

Kids love when something they are faced with on a daily basis is incorporated and played with in texts. It hooks them in. The results were fascinating – loveable silly and funny texts that gave the original text a whole different, humorous approach.

Mira Masterclass.jpg

The next group exercise was a fun play with fear. Attendants were asked to take an everyday stressful or fear-inducing event for kids and change the characters into Halloween genre characters. This character then had to tackle a fearful event and form a story of less than 500 words which showed the consequences, aftermath or celebration of this event, even including an end with a fun twist. This exercise was supported with a worksheet that introduced certain elements with the help of columns in a very structured way.

As an illustrator, I really enjoyed the exercise for introducing visual humour to a graphic novel excerpt. I chose contradiction as means to add humour and came up with the character of “King Ivan Important” – a tiny king who wants to be as significant as his big wife, the queen. In order to achieve this he buys himself a very long-legged horse and appears quite big now. Very much to the dismay of the queen who starts plotting against him. The play of contradiction between power and tiny body size could be very appealing in a children’s story. (Indeed! Can’t wait to see / read this one, Katrin. Ed.)

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Attendants left this brilliant masterclass with a suitcase full of new ideas and worksheet material as well as Mira’s detailed slides.

by Katrin Dreiling