Wednesday, November 19, 2014

SCBWI British Isles Conference -- or What I Love About Conferences

By Catherine Friess

SCBWI British Isles Conference
photo provided by Sandra Nickel

It's been a few weeks since the SCBWI British Isles conference, but I'm still buzzing and inspired after all the useful and interesting workshops and keynote speeches. It wasn't my first conference, I've been to the British Isles Conference before and also attended the Europolitan conference in Paris in 2013. Each conference offers something different, but they all inspire and excite in their own different ways.

Before the conference started on Saturday, pre-conference activities had been arranged. This included a Scrawl Crawl through Winchester and a critique group meeting. The critique group was one of my conference highlights as I find being critiqued incredibly helpful for developing my writing and it was interesting to hear different opinions on my story. Later during the conference I had the time and opportunity to talk further with the members of my group about their comments which was very useful.

The theme of the conference, Riding the Waves of Change, was brought to life by a multitude of workshops. During the picture book industry panel workshop I attended, Eric Huang of Me Books talked about how they are adapting traditional storybooks for the digital market. As part of the 'How Publishing is Reinventing Itself' panel, publishers also discussed how they are adapting their policies in the light of new technology and digital media. We were introduced to Wattpad, a site where you can download and publish your own stories, and The Story Adventure, an interesting innovation from Hot Key books in which children can add their own ideas to an author's story. There were concerns about how being published on sites like these would affect later chances of publication but the publishers involved said that if it was fantastic writing it shouldn't be a problem.

Links for Wattpad -
The Story Adventure -
Me Books -

Break times gave us a chance to meet up with old friends, chat with new ones and buy raffle tickets and conference badges. It was lovely to see people who I had met at the Europolitan Conference in Paris and I also met two of the members of my online critique group. Putting faces to names is one of the aspects of a conference that I enjoy, as well as talking to a wide range of people who all come together as a result of their interest in children's books. I cannot emphasise enough how friendly and chatty people were.

Nick Butterworth at work
photo provided by Sandra Nickel

Another highlight of the conference was Nick Butterworth's keynote address, in which he spoke about the inspiration for his books, did some live drawing and explained how his Q Pootle 5 stories had been adapted for children's television. Nick has written many of my favourite stories, the two books of his I have on my blog are some of the most viewed, so it was great to meet the author behind the books. In his smaller, more informal session, Nick answered questions about his work, his inspirations for writing and how he illustrates. It's absolutely fascinating to hear about the work process of the author / illustrator of some of your favourite books.

I also took advantage of having my manuscript critiqued by a professional. This one-to-one critique was very helpful and the editor gave me ideas on how to improve my manuscript. I left tired but buzzing with ideas and inspired to sit down and write immediately!

Sunday was filled with a large range of workshops to choose from, including illustration workshops, publishing workshops, novel writing workshops and also workshops which were aimed specifically at authors and illustrators who are already published. I went to the picture book intensive with author / illustrator Mike Brownlow and Jude Evans from Little Tiger Press who started the session by sharing their favourite picture books. Then it was our turn to start writing and illustrating and during the day they supported us as we wrote and developed dummy picture books in small groups. This was a useful exercise in terms of listening to how others approach picture book writing and writing a picture book collaboratively.

I came away completely inspired by the enthusiasm, the friendliness and the excitement that buzzes through a conference. I'd like to say a huge thank you to all the SCBWI members who organised a fantastic weekend, it was great!

SCBWI members from the European regions are now hard at work planning the Europolitan Conference in Amsterdam next year. Like the conference in Paris, this will be on a smaller scale to the British Isles conference but I am sure that it will be no less friendly and no less inspiring. I hope to meet you there!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Chart Your Course to Success recap

In March of 2013, many of us had the joyful privilege of attending the first SCBWI Europolitan conference in Paris. I had already discovered how incredible the writers and illustrators of the Germany / Austria Region are. I was about to discover how that incredible-ness spread beyond the reaches of my sweet region.

What I didn’t realize, was that until this conference, the regions had remained largely inclusive. We just didn’t really know how to connect with the “others” over there across the border. I mean, who KNOWS what those French region people are up to?! Or can you imagine the Swiss? Or Belgian? The Paris Europolitan conference broke down those barriers… and I believe I can say for all of us, revealed what awesome resources, friendships, and possibility lay just around the corner from us. I even left with a new critique group, spread out over three countries.


This past October 25, many of us met up again for the Chart Your Course to Success Workshop, hosted by the SCBWI Swiss Region, in the breath-taking Lausanne. What does this have to do with the Europolitan conference?


I believe one piece of the success of this event lay in the foundations of March 2013. The other pieces were, of course, Elisabeth Norton, the SCBWI Switzerland RA, and the two amazing guest speakers, Polly Nolan, literary agent with Greenhouse Literary Agency and Jude Evans, Publisher of Little Tiger Press. And the piece not least of all, was the open invitation to members of other SCBWI regions.

Because Europol-Paris taught us that the authors and illustrators in the other regions aren’t so scary :) Actually, they’re kind of awesome. I know. I’ve attended a writer’s retreat with the Belgium region and I can’t WAIT for the next one. And you know, SCBWI Germany/Austria puts on some pretty darn great events too.

I personally made a couple new friends, none of whom are members of the Germany / Austria region. (I would have been just as happy to make a new friend in our region.. but there wasn’t anyone there from our region who I didn’t know yet :). 

Elisabeth put together a great workshop, with a track for picture book writers and illustrators and a track for middle grade and young adult writers. Then Ms. Evans and Ms. Nolan generously offered their entire day to us. (They even ate lunch with us. I mean, you want to get to know someone? Let them watch you eat. Or you watch them eat.) They answered questions, offered critiques after the workshop, and shared their plethora of knowledge. They were fabulous. The whole thing was fabulous.

One thing that struck me (and made me even more glad that I went) is that Little Tiger Press is currently closed to submissions, because they get so many it’s overwhelming. Now they are focussing their energies on workshops and conferences… hoping to find the story they’re looking for among the people proving their dedication to the industry… by paying the money, showing up, and never giving up on learning.

That’s us, folks! We are dedicated, aren’t we? And we spur each other on.

I have had a ROUGH and wild year, beginning with last June. All the turbulence of life and parenting and traveling and fund raising left me weary, uninspired, and out of touch with my writing for a few months. This workshop kicked me back into gear. The new friends, the “old” friends, the reminders about why we care so much about children and literature… it was what I needed to get going again.

And really, isn’t it staying connected to our writer / illustrator selves sometimes what keeps us sane through the rough waters of life? I know as soon as I start writing again… I start breathing again.

Well guess what? You missed the Chart Your Course to Success workshop in Switzerland? And now you’re thinking, “Ugh, I should have gone!”

I have good news!

The NEXT Europolitan Conference is coming up.... in Amsterdam! Mark your calendar now for April 3 - April 5, 2015. You can check the lineup here… It looks amazing. And have I mentioned how cool the SCBWI Netherlands Region is? I’m not surprised anymore when I join another region and find out how super lovely they all are too.

Don’t want to miss anymore events? Join the Facebook pages of our neighboring regions to keep up-to-date an events they are hosting.

And of course, we often post events on our own Facebook page, SCBWI Germany / Austria.

And if that isn’t enough, they’ve gone ahead and made a page for Europe too, SCBWI Europolitan Happenings

Hope to see you soon!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Getting together at the SCBWI Summer BBQ

by Marcy Pusey

It was the morning of our SCBWI Germany / Austria annual grill out. I had a three hour drive ahead of me. I imagined myself trying to convince my children that this was going to be fun. Driving nearly seven hours to hang out with people you don’t know so your mom can “connect with her writer-self.” Sounds exciting, right?

“What in the world was I thinking?” I thought to myself. But then I remembered my last post. And my promise to be there. I gave you all of these really wonderful and true reasons to be there. Could I miss it?

My introverted self said, “Yes. You can just stay home, hiding in your room, pretending to write while really scouting Facebook to see if they are posting a live action feed on how much fun they are having without you.” *sigh*

Surprisingly enough, everyone was excited to get in the car and go hang with Mommy’s writing world. We arrived and were heartily welcomed.

My introversion-inspired nerves melted away at the beaming smiles of Jenny and Linda. At the familiar hugs of Maria and Catherine. At the encouragement to keep writing my story from Twyla. At the laughter and conversation with Pia and Laura and Sanne. Watching our families connect over food and art and cross-cultural living was the cherry on the top of a grand sundae.

I felt the word “home” whispered to my soul. Sharing a room with others impassioned by literature and art blows on the burning embers of excitement in my own heart. I feel it creep up my insides and begin to ooze out of my skin. It first shows up as a small smile… then wiggles up to a gleam in my eye… I’m sure it’s there because I saw it in all of you. That tell-tale sign that something in you is coming alive as well… I know that look. And it was all over our annual grill-out.

I missed some of the faces I’m used to seeing at these events. You. Yes, you. We missed you.

But don’t worry. There are other chances to join in the magic of artists and creative souls coming together.

September 19 - British Aisles Agent Party 

Okay, not all of those are in our region but one of my favorite consequences of the Europolitan Conference was the coming together of our European regions. I love how welcoming each region has been to members in other areas. This is especially helpful for folks like me who live closer to another region’s meeting place than our own. Take advantage of these open doors! I promise the other regional members are super nice. :)

Speaking of the Europolitan conference… keep your eyes peeled for our next one in March of 2015. You won’t want to miss it!

And maybe you’ll have to talk your introversion into signing up for an event with people you may not know well… but push through! Or maybe you’ll need to talk your extroversion down from the mountain and convince it that September is not that far away. Either way, we’re actually a lot of fun and really nice. And we usually have treats. Yummy treats.

You’ll be glad you came.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

StarSpun - a Graphic Web Novel by Laura Diehl

After a long break we are back with our member interviews. This time I am very happy and excited to introduce your to Laura Diehl's work and her latest comic project StarSpun

Laura, could you tell us a little about yourself? How did you get started in illustration or what made you want to become an illustrator in the first place?

I’m a freelance illustrator who specializes in children’s fantasy illustration. I’m American, but I currently live in Southern Germany with my husband and our sock-stealing Cocker Spaniel (who is also my studio mate).

I decided I wanted to be an illustrator quite early on –in the third grade- when I was introduced to Chris Van Allsburg’s beautiful picture book: The Polar Express. I was completely mesmerized by the way he conjured up a whole story world through art and words. Throughout my early school years, I was always creating art, from crayon drawings, to colored pencil fanart, to computer painting. In college I majored in Painting only because my school did not offer an Illustration major. After graduation, I began to take on freelance art gigs via my website, until I was eventually doing art for clients full time.

You recently launched your own webcomic “StarSpun”, which is such an exciting project! How did you get started? What inspired you to make your own webcomic?

StarSpun had its beginnings as a single personal illustration piece, which grew into a picture book dummy (which it outgrew many times over in length), then a chapter book (which didn’t really work either), and then finally found its home in the form of an online comic. The inspiration to make it a webcomic specifically comes from digital art being my native medium and my excitement about the possibilities of creating with the unlimited “canvas” of a computer screen.

You publish a chapter each month, do you work way in advance on your comic to keep the set schedule up even if you might not be able to work as much on your comic as you would like to?

I’d love to work up a backlog, but, unfortunately, it’s all I can do to get out one chapter per month, let alone double-time it so that I am building up backlog. It’s a fact of being a freelancer that some months are more booked with client work than others so I do try to push ahead when I have time but generally on the chapter at hand. I knew this going in and I choose to start putting the comic out there anyway. Currently to me it is more important to be making headway with the comic and getting it out there to an audience. I knew that if I took too long stockpiling art/chapters ahead of time I’d never actually publish anything.

Speaking of time to work on your comic, how do you organize the illustration process of a whole comic? It seems to be a lot of work and your illustrations are also quite realistic and very detailed!

The “infinite canvas” format allows for an interesting workflow as it gives me the ability to lay out an entire chapter as a unit. I use this to my advantage as it allows me to have one huge file per chapter instead of having to keep track of 20+ pages separately. It’s only at the very end that I slice and save out the separate web-ready images.

Could you share with us how an illustration or page of “StarSpun” gets created from idea to finished artwork?

I create each chapter first as a series of rough sketches, where I can move the individual rough drawings around as needed to tweak the chapter flow and allow room for word balloons. 

I then move on to tighter sketches, which I think of more as “volume sketches” that are just for me, these let me work out form and expression with a bit more detail.

Then I devise a color palette for the whole chapter and use this to lay down a basic color layer under each sketch layer.

After the basic color is down I go through each panel, shading and lighting the forms until I can drop away the lines layer and just the shaded forms remain.

At the very end I add the effects, final word balloons, and final text.

Do you plan to also publish your comic traditionally or will it remain a free webcomic?

I’ve created the pages so that they one day could be published traditionally as a landscape format book. But plans for such a thing would likely wait until book one is compete. Either way, I fully intend to have it remain a free webcomic, as I feel that this is the original and my most preferred reading format.

As “StarSpun” is a free comic right now and a lot of your time goes into that beautiful project, how do you finance such a work intense comic as “StarSpun”? 

I am currently financing StarSpun with the other illustration work I do for clients. I do, however, have a Patreon page for it and would love to eventually transition into StarSpun being supported directly by fans who’ve become patrons. It would be great to be able to devote myself to the comic full-time.

I think “StarSpun” is your first comic project. What makes this project special to you, apart from this being your very own and original story?

I love that the comic format allows me to fully tell a story from beginning to end by myself. Most of my other illustration pieces are just single images, which, by their nature, can only tell one fragment of a larger story. I also enjoy that comics as a medium allow for an ‘older’ and more complex story than might fit within a picture book. For someone who communicates primarily in the visual medium, comics are the perfect and most immediate way to tell a great story.

Most of your work seems to be created digitally. What are the advantages for you to work digitally and do you also work traditionally at times?

I’m 99% digital and have been for over a decade. I honestly haven’t used real paint since college and only occasionally break out the physical sketch book. I love digital because it affords me the ability to paint with light on an unlimited canvas. And I don’t have to clean the brushes afterward! Super-great for someone like me who hates getting their hands messy.

You have a very strong and distinct style. Could you share with us how you discovered and developed this very style?

I discovered it by doing. I started playing with digital art in 1998, when my family first bought a computer, and I’ve been creating art with a monitor and Wacom tablet ever since. Over time I’ve picked up methods I like better than others, discarded those that didn’t work for me, and discovered what I really enjoy most. I don’t think about style so much, I just have a way I like to do things that tends to yield similar results every time.

Are there any other projects apart from “StarSpun” in the making at the moment?

I currently have more than enough on my visual easel with StarSpun and the occasional client commission. There are other more story worlds and ideas simmering slowing on the back burner, but full throttle ahead on StarSpun is enough for me for now!

I am always intrigued to find out what inspires people and nourishes the creative soul. What is your well of inspiration or is it a variety of things that keeps your creative juices flowing?

I am quite a fan of all things fantasy, so my creative well is filled with fantastical books, movies and games. I particularly resonate with Studio Ghibli films like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service, with whimsical middle grade fantasy books such as Bliss Bakery and When You Reach Me, and with beautiful artsy games such as Child of Light or Journey. I am also currently very inspired by living abroad in Germany –as it allows me to travel and see all the beautiful sights of Europe!

This is the final question I like to ask everyone, so here it goes. Now that you have been in the business of illustration for a while what advice would you give your younger self at the point when you were just starting out as an illustrator?

Figure out early on what you love to draw and how you love to draw it. Fill your portfolio with this. I’ve found that clients, big and small, tend to contact me because of specific portfolio pieces that are similar to what they have in mind. If your portfolio is also a demonstration of things you truly enjoy making, you are more likely to get assignments you love! Also, always do personal work. You never know where a self-inspired single image might lead you. Perhaps it will unlock a whole story world as my first StarSpun piece did.

Thank you so much, Laura, for this great interview! I cannot wait for the next chapter of StarSpun!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Meanderings at 2 am

It's 2:00 in the morning.

Jet lag is kicking my behind.

I thought I had it all figured out and taken care of... that I'd beaten this beast. Then came midnight, my thirsty daughter, and jet lag cued my brain to process life.

All of it.

Not a very convenient time to process the whole of life.

But the perfect time to write this post.

It made me wonder how many others of us are awake right now with jet lag. Or a move. Or any change. Actually... I know for a fact some of you are. And I know how easy it is to lose touch with your writer-self or illustrator-self.

That life can easily swoop in with all its noise and hoopla and make you forget that there's a core piece of yourself that needs attention.

Lots of attention.

But it sort of sits there quietly until everything around you settles down and you can see it again.

And then you realize why you're such an emotional mess.

I mean, other than the big move or the change in jobs or the change in your child's development or (fill in the blank).

You might handle everything much better if you kept writing. And sketching. Because even though we are truly passionate about children and literature and our careers... we also just really need to work out our art. If all the rest didn't exist, we'd still be drawing and painting and writing and editing. Because it's been built into us.

And maybe the swirls and whirls of summer just threw everything out the window and you have to make the dive back in. I do.

Well guess what? There’s one really great way to re-connect with your artist-self.

On August 23, we are having our annual SCBWI Germany/Austria grill-out. This won’t get your next manuscript written or your next illustration sketched out… but it WILL give you the motivation and inspiration to get back to it. Rubbing shoulders with your other creative friends has a way of doing that. And knowing you’ll have to answer questions about what you’re working on might even give you an inspirational boost before you get there!

And if you’re not dealing with jet lag or any other significant change… and summer is your most prolific season of artistic work… then just come so you can giggle at our blood-shot eyes and blank stares. And eat some yummy food. And feel really good about your accomplishments. We’ll celebrate with you.

All right, it’s 3:30am now and I should probably attempt to sleep. Otherwise I’ll be a total mess when I see you in Stuttgart in a couple weeks. Because I will see you in a couple weeks… right?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Illustrator's Retreat with Eve Tharlet

I am so excited to have a new illustrator's retreat coming up for our region from the 19th-22nd September 2014 near Berlin. Seats for this wonderful event are limited so read the description below and if this sounds like an event you don't want to miss, you better register quickly ;-)! (The course language will be German hence the German flyer)

Registration is closed for this event!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

How SCBWI Germany & Austria members created the one and only legend of the Chiemsee Mermaid

all pictures taken by Kim Enderle

Once upon a time, a little mermaid lived all alone in the depths of the Chiemsee, a lake in Southern Germany. One day, she decided to swim to the surface and find herself some friends. What better place to start than the convent on the small island in the middle of the lake? Surely the nuns wouldn’t turn away one lonely little mermaid.
She wasn’t yet aware that the nuns were once evil mermaids, cursed by a witch to be human and powerless. And the little mermaid was just who they needed to break the spell so they could return to their demonic ways… *see below

Are you hooked? Did this beginning tempt you to read on? Did it grab you by the throat?

At last weekend's SCBWI writing retreat with the motto “Grab Your Reader By The Throat And Don’t Let Go”, we learned beginnings are the most vital and delicate part to any narration. They must entice the reader to delve further and seduce him or her to spend more time with the rest of the story. A good beginning is a piece of art in itself, a fact only emphasized by this first ever writing retreat of SCBWI Germany + Austria. As beginnings go, this first in a hopefully frequent string of writing retreats was a doozy. In every possible way.

Author, Editor, Golden Egg Academy co-founder, Beverley Birch

Leading us in our endeavor of perfecting our writing was Beverley Birch, editor and author of novels like the award-winning Rift, picture books, biographies, and retellings of classic works, amongst others. She has years of experience from the writer’s, editor’s and publisher’s perspectives, and has no qualms about sharing it. She answered every question we threw at her, mixing in fun and sometimes mind-boggling anecdotes, real life examples and personal advice. Coupled with exercises and approaches of how to structure, analyze and edit our story beginnings, the workshop became a transformative experience for all participants. At the end of the weekend, every single one of us left more motivated and inspired than when we arrived, with fixed ideas on how to improve our story telling.


The location of the workshop only added to this effect. What writer wouldn’t be inspired on an island in a Bavarian lake, with the Alps towering in the distance, and surrounded by the serenity of a convent? Yes, a convent. With nuns. In habits. On golf carts. And names like “Sister Scholastica” (I swear I’m not making this up).

Incidentally, the location and a shared bottle of wine were also the instigators of our Saturday night bedtime story about the little mermaid and the demonic mermaid nuns. Because what does a group of slightly buzzed storytellers, high on their shared experiences and camaraderie, do at night? They tell stories, round-robin style, thus creating the one-and-only (known) fairytale surrounding Lake Chiemsee. The Brothers Grimm would have been impressed.

Hard at work

But the highlight of the workshop was definitely Saturday afternoon. First we held a group critique of the beginnings of our works-in-progress, which prompted lively discussions, helpful suggestions and relief-inducing encouragement. The spontaneous creativity and inspiration during this feedback session was off the charts, leaving us exhausted but newly exhilarated about our writing. A sentiment only strengthened by part two of the afternoon: our one-on-one critiques with Beverley.

One-on-One in the welcomed sun

This was probably the part of the workshop each of us was most nervous about. Having a successful author and editor reading and critiquing your material is an amazing opportunity for receiving honest feedback, but what if that honesty includes telling you, the author, that you had better take up train-spotting because you’ll never be successful as a writer? Added to that, few of us felt like we'd sent Beverly our best efforts, no matter how well the group had reacted to them. We writers, like so many other artists, are our own worst critics.

We needn't have worried. Beverley is a classy London Lady, who found the redeemable aspects in our material and made us feel like it - and we as writers - have heaps of potential. Her suggestions for improvement subsequently only motivated us to dig deeper. Every one of us came out of these sessions feeling relieved, hopeful about our potential, and - once again - inspired.

The relaxed organizers

Inspiration and motivation were definitely the underlying theme of the weekend, and how could it not be under such circumstances? Thank you, Patti and SCBWI for organizing this amazing event. Thank you, Beverley, for heaping your wisdom upon us and being kind about our literary babies. Thank you, sisters of the Benedictine convent, for allowing us into your hallowed halls.  We weren't quite as loud as the wedding party next door, but our discussions did get rather lively. Sorry if we distracted your meditation guests. Please let us return next year. 

Lunch break with a view

So, readers -- do yourselves a favor and make a mental note to keep an eye out for the next SCBWI writing retreat. You won't want to miss it.

In fact, you’ll have to come if you want to hear the full version of the Chiemsee legend of the demonic mermaid nuns (which also includes a Swedish diver, shark men as well as mermans, water turning into wine, treasure, and a virgin pregnancy. Yes, like The Princess Bride it has it all, except maybe for the sword fights. But seriously, who needs those when you’ve got demonic mermaid nuns?). We plan to uphold the one and only Chiemsee myth at every retreat, until it becomes so well known as to make it into the hearts and souls of every member. In which case, this first retreat will have been a successful beginning indeed.
See you next year!

* Pure fiction, by the way. The nuns were nothing but wonderful, helpful and showed no signs of having fins whatsoever.