I thoroughly enjoyed yesterday at the Children's Writers and Illustrators Group Conference.
It was nice to meet old friends and to make new ones, and reassuring to hear that children's book sales are up, albeit more in e-books than print. Someone who went to the session on ‘Mid-list crisis’, reported the statistic that children's book sales had doubled in recent years, great news, although there was no detail on which sectors or whether it was just down to top-selling series like the Hunger Games.
Talking of which, there was much discussion over the extent to which series like this distort the market for other authors and types of book. In the session on ‘What shall I put in my book?’, the most popular of all the breakout sessions on Saturday, authors were told to keep one eye on the market, but with the rest of our body and soul to write with passion, conviction and originality, the greatest story we possibly can.
At least that advice doesn't change!
Roz Asquith had the audience in stitches during her morning presentation of her illustrious career, complete with us sneak preview of her early (i.e., age 15) magazine try-out ‘Horse Magazine’ – "the magazine by horses for horses, complete with 'horse of the day', and a 'horoscope'".
Her character Doris featured largely, and she told a hilarious anecdote. Doris (ex- of the Guardian newspaper) is an unassuming cleaner, who never speaks, but whose sensible thoughts we are allowed to share, which always cut through her employers' pretensions.
The story goes that she was visiting a convicted thief in prison, who said he loved Doris because it reminded him of his mother, who was a cleaner. As a child she would take him along to work, and he would sit in the corner while she cleaned rich people's houses. He told Roz, “I couldn't wait to grow up so I could rob them".
There seemed to be an awful lot of authors writing for young adults at the conference. Reassuringly, there are more markets for this kind of work. New publishers are starting up with business models more appropriate for the ongoing publishing revolution, like Hot Key, and some of the companies are at last learning to understand the new markets, like HarperCollins with their Voyager project.
Also, there are more collective blogs for authors promoting their young adult writing like UKYA and The Edge.
Especially good as speakers were Roz Asquith, Patrick Ness, Charlie Higson, Joe Godwin (BBC Children's), and John Dougherty, whom it was good to meet for the first time, as he helps to run the Awfully Big Blog Adventure to which I contribute.
Joe, who has the most desirable job in the world, programming all of the best of children's television in Britain, proudly said that of the 35 children's television channels that there are in the UK for its 12 million children, CBeebies and CBBC have the highest viewing figures, the latter having an audience of 1.8 million.
50% of productions are made in-house, and the BBC has 400 employees working on them with a budget of £80 million a year. Making top-quality, diverse children's television is one of the corporation's top five priorities, and all programmes have high production values with a mission to create “unforgettable content".
Although CBBC is intended for 6 to 12-year-olds, Joe said that actually children as old as 15 watch some of the dramas. A new series, Wolfblood, is aimed at teenagers, and another from the same team that produces the Sarah Jane Adventures, Wizards versus Aliens, is in the pipeline. Sounds fantastic.
I particularly like the long version of the story that Charlie Higson gave of how he got to write the young James Bond novels. He was taken by the owners of the Ian Fleming estate to a secret hideout underneath a volcano, where all the other competing writers were sitting in a circle. He pulled a lever and the rest of them fell into the boiling lava below. Including Anthony Horowitz.
I'd like to thank Charlie for signing a copy of The Enemy for my stepson Sam, whose birthday was also yesterday, and dedicating it to ‘Big Sam’. For those who haven't read the book, the main character is called ‘Small Sam’. He was absolutely delighted!
Patrick Hess was also inspiring. I particularly liked his advice to writers to exceed expectations and astound readers, not to 'give them what they want' but to ‘make them want what you give’.
Thanks to all of the speakers and all the organisers!
Oh, yes, and it was nice to see my book Hybrids sold out in the bookshop, too! I had to give them my own copy to sell!
And I'll leave you with this awesome video, by John Dougherty, shown at the start of the day. It speaks for itself!