Monday, 24 February 2014

The SAS Conference 2014 by Abie Longstaff

This weekend I met up with forty-one other children’s authors in a secret location (ok it was Peterborough) to talk about all aspects of writing children’s books, from the initial spark of an idea, all the way through to marketing and sharing the published work.

The snowdrops were out in Peterborough! (Thanks Liz Kessler for this lovely pic)
We are all part of the Scattered Authors Society, the other SAS, which brings together published children’s authors to share information and to support one another. Writing can feel like a lonely job sometimes, scribbling away on our separate computers or bits of paper. It’s easy to forget there are others out there struggling with the same issues of plot, character and resolution.

I love meeting up with everyone, seeing old friends and hearing about all the gossip. I find it really uplifting to share my past year, the ups and the downs of writing, and to hear how other, more experienced authors have coped with similar problems or successes. 

It’s also useful to remind ourselves that it’s a bit of a crazy rollercoaster, this business of ours; and authors who last time were having a rubbish year might suddenly have been given an award, or had a fantastic new book deal. We’re all in it for the long-haul and it’s easy to lose sight of that when you’re stuck in your study on your own.

Abie Longstaff, Jane Clarke and Paeony Lewis at the SAS Conference 2014

This year the sessions included: the fabulous Malorie Blackman kindly answering all our questions, Tim Collins and Jackie Merchant talking about using humour, Nicola Morgan giving advice on writing synopses, and a panel discussion on writing about dark subject matter. At the end we all (anonymously) shared information: how much we earned, what we think of our agents and other top secret stuff!

Here are some of the best tips from the weekend:

1. Naps are allowed - 'creative naps' that is. When you are stuck for an idea or a route, the lovely Lucy Coats recommends lying down and meditating to help find your way.

2. A lot can be solved by a nice swim and a long walk with a good friend.

3. Ideas for books can come from unlikely places eg this spoof story in The Onion about a dolphin going on holiday to swim with stockbrokers.

4. When you get stuck with your writing, read a genre you don't normally read.

5. If you are having trouble developing a character, try making an 'emotional synopsis' for your book. What does the character want? What obstacles are in his/her way? What is the end of the story? How does the character change in the course of the journey?

6. 'Manuscript friends' are invaluable - find another author who understands your style and is willing to give you honest feedback.

7. Give your work space - put it aside for weeks and work on something else. 

8. If you are doing research for a picture book, never look up 'beaver' on the internet.

9. When you send a piece of work out to an agent or publisher, don't sit around moping while you wait for feedback, start working on your next new idea straight away.

10. If you have a good idea, don't tell Liz Kessler your plan ;) - see her sister post on the ABBA blog today.


Elen C said...

Oh, I wish I could have been there! Sounds fantastic. Let's hear it for the long walk and a lie down!

Penny Dolan said...

Yes, a decidedly lovely & informative weekend all round. Thanks for another glimpse of the snowdrops.

Miriam Halahmy said...

Such a brilliant weekend - feel filled up and so renewed. Lovely blogpost Abie

Jane Clarke said...

Writing can be a lonely business, so it's very special to meet up at a conference like this. Fab weekend, enjoyed it very much.

malachy doyle said...

I must get back there some time. I really enjoyed it before. (And they could do with a few more men.)

Abie Longstaff said...

Very true, Malachy. I'm organising it next year so if you could come that would be fab! I want one session on picture book related content so if you fancied running one I'd love it!

Paeony Lewis said...

I know an Irish island is a long way from Peterborough, but it'll be lovely to see you again, Malachy, and a picture book session would be great (the survey showed half of us had written picture books - surprising considering the number of YA authors there).
Abie, I enjoyed your post and the wonderful weekend, and it's intriguing how people take different things from an event.
By the way, I'm not really grimacing in the photo. How could I grimace standing next to the wonderful Jane Clarke!

Abie Longstaff said...

I was surprised by the number too, Paeony. That's why I thought it would be good to do something picture book-y

Jackie Marchant said...

Loved every minute of it and looking forward to next year's! Good luck with the organising, Abie!

Moira Butterfield said...

Great tips, Abie! PS: I once looked up 'squirting cucumber' on the internet for a non-fiction book and got a big shock.....

Kelly McKain said...

Fab post, Abie! Lovely to see you at the weekend, and we are awaiting the new Fairytale Hairdresser book with great excitement! xx