Winchester

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Yay! (Image: SCBWI BI)

There’s only one thing more pretentious than a comedian explaining why things are funny. And that’s a writer, wanging on about writing.

It’s deeply interesting to a tiny handful of people and dull as frick to everyone else. Like the average Oscars acceptance speech, or those interminable wedding thank yous. (NO ONE CARES who made your cake. Is it time for dancing yet?)

But you’ll have to allow me this nerdy work post. Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t be writing it, but the truth is, I’ve got a debt of honour to repay. To the memory of a lady called Margaret Carey, a lifelong volunteer for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, otherwise know as SCBWI. I won an award in her honour to go to SCBWI’s annual conference tomorrow, and without that, it would be impossible for me to be there. So, thank you again, SCBWI.

Last time I was more than one night away for work, it was 2007. I spent 15 days interviewing health professionals volunteering with VSO in remote Indonesian islands. This weekend, I get to meet fellow story junkies, children’s writers and illustrators, in Winchester. I’m possibly more excited now than I was then.

Winchester is a venerable old place that, somehow, I’ve never been to before. So, like the conference itself, I’m hoping that it will feel like discovery and homecoming at the same time.

I’ll be posting about the conference again afterwards, to share with everyone like me, who had that nose-pressed-to-the-sweet-shop feeling watching the line up take shape. For those folk currently writing alone behind a laptop, who’d love to hear David Almond talk, or get the chance to shake up their characters, or hear some good advice on getting published and staying published.

I must be a pretty unoriginal kind of soul. The things I’ve loved, that have drawn me to do them, have drawn thousands of others too. You want to study what, where? You fancy working in that, do you? You want to write for who now? Join the queue, pal. But if it feels like you don’t have a choice, you have to do it or you’ll burst, well, what’s life but one big queue anyway?

I think writers shouldn’t waste their energies seeing each other as the competition. (Easy for you to say, scholarship winner, you may well think). The only competition a writer should feel is with themselves. To strive to tell the best story they can. Children’s writers most of all, because their readers have to make so much more effort. Young readers deserve the funniest, wisest, most exciting, most valuable, most beautiful ideas we’ve got. If those ideas are good enough, they’ll inform the minds that build our future. And right now, that feels more important than ever.

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