Last Wednesday I swopped my study for the train as I headed to London for a few days. Whilst speeding southwards I spent several enjoyable hours of uninterrupted writing. Then, on arrival at
Kings Cross station, I began to ponder upon what my break from home would offer me - and I knew it would be good. You see, I was in the big smoke for three Society of Children's Book Writers and
Illustrators (SCBWI) events, the first of which was early that evening. But before I tell you a little about that, here's a question or two for you:
Are you on Twitter? Have you ever seen this hashtag - #PicturesMeanBusiness? No? Well let me explain. This is the hashtag of an important campaign within publishing, one that is growing in momentum by the day; a push towards illustrators being credited for the part that they play in the creation of books, and to having their work recognised by the media. Now, when I say books, I don't only mean picture books but those for older children too, such as the wonderful stories co-authored by Sarah McIntyre (pictured right) and Philip Reeve.
One of their collaborations, Oliver and the Seawigs, was nominated for this year's Carnegie award, yet only Philip's name appeared on the nomination, even though Sarah co-created and illustrated the book. This prompted her to challenge the Carnegie's definition of what exactly that word 'author' means. To their credit, this then led the organisers of the award to announce that they are 'producing a revised (nominations) list "as soon as possible" and will consider revising the awards criteria for the future.' You can read more about what happened here and here.
I was keen to learn more about this, and about the Pictures Mean Business campaign, so it was with some excitement that I set off to hear Sarah speak at the Call Yourself An Author event. What a fascinating and enlightening few hours that proved to be. Not only this, but what I heard there really made me think about what that word 'author' means.
The night kicked off with Candy Gourlay (author of Tall Story and Shine, pictured right) introducing a panel consisting of Sarah; Joy Court, Chair of the aforementioned CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Awards; and Charlotte Eyre, Children's Editor at The Bookseller. (Please note: the account that follows is my take on the discussion - hopefully it's an accurate one but do forgive any inaccurancies.)
As I listened to the discussion from panel members and the illustrators and writers in attendance, I realised that I hadn't fully grasped what illustrators are up against. For instance, did you
know that illustrators' names are often left off the covers of the books they illustrate? Or that sometimes their names don't feature at all - even inside the books? Or that when a cover of a
soon-to-be-published book is revealed, the illustrator rarely gets a mention? No? Nor did I.
And then there's the fact that illustrators often aren't acknowledged in book reviews, even when that book is a picture book - including one without words! Or that an illustrator can create a whole book - words and pictures - yet not be credited for it when it's published. Yes that's what I said - an illustrator to whom this had happened told us about it on the night. Something else of which I wasn't aware is that illustrators have to negotiate their share of the Public Lending (from libraries) Rights income with the author - payment doesn't happen automatically. I must say that surprised me.
There was much deliberation on the night about the illustrator-author relationship, questioning at what point an illustrator becomes the co-author of a work, particularly with regard to highly illustrated chapter books. As well as this I heard how illustrators quietly despair as their names get dropped from listings, such as sales charts, and how this can effect their career and even their ability to earn a living. As we heard on the night, it's all about building a brand in today's publishing world but, for an illustrator, it can be an uphill struggle to build a brand when not all of their work is credited.
Lots more was discussed but I won't go into more detail here because Sarah and Candy have already blogged about
it much more fluently than I ever could. However, it struck me how undervalued children's book illustrators must feel. Which is rich because, as a former teacher, I know only too well how
essential pictures are to teaching someone to read and to igniting that all-important interest in books. Teaching literacy is not all about the words on the page.
Moving on now to my second day in London and two quite different SCBWI (Scoobie) events. The first was an informal brunch with fellow Scoobies to chat about our works-in-progress. The venue was a lovely bakery in Holburn and we whiled away a few hours talking about our books and our plans for the future. It was great to meet up with people I had only 'met' online, and to spend some more time with my realife friend, Moira McPartlin, who was also at Sarah's event the night before. By the way, Moira's young adult novel Ways of the Doomed is published next month. Look out for my interview with her in a future post.
Before long, it was back to the hotel for a freshen up and then out again for the launch of the SCBWI's Undiscovered Voices competition. By now another writer friend, Sarah Broadley, had joined
us, having journeyed down from Scotland for the launch. We bundled into our taxi (it was raining heavily so we indulged ourselves) and arrived at Foyles Bookstore, Charing Cross Road, brimming
with anticipation. The hour and a half that followed was full of advice from this years judges - highly-regarded industry professionals - for those yet-to-be-published writers and illustrators in
the audience. If you are thinking of entering the competition but are perhaps a wee bit unsure about it, why not check out Jane Hardstaff's inspiring guest post on the
Undiscovered Voices website? Jane was one of the finalists in the 2012 competition and went on to sign with an agent two months after the UV anthology was published.
So that was it, my latest visit to London; a fun time (I've only told you half of it!) but also an informative one - thanks to the ever awesome SCBWI-British Isles. I even managed to factor in several sizeable chunks of writing time while I was at it.
But finally, I thought I'd bring this post to a close by name-checking the wonderfully talented Jennie Rawlings, who designed the cover for Minty. Jennie has kindly agreed to be interviewed by me
about how she created the artwork. As the saying goes, watch this space - and while you're at it, do check out #PicturesMeanBusiness while you're online.
Write a comment
Candy Gourlay (Wednesday, 20 May 2015 11:26)
What a generous and compassionate post. Thank you.
moira mcpartlin (Wednesday, 20 May 2015 19:10)
Great stuff Christina. Just how it was. It was well worth the trip to Lovely London.
Sheila Averbuch (Thursday, 21 May 2015 14:01)
Now I want to go to London, too! Thanks for this summary, Christina...shame, shame that illustrators face a lack of recognition, when everything else about getting published and staying published is so hard, too! Sounds like an amazing event.
We must let all of our SCBWI Scottish Scoobies know about Undiscovered Voices loudly and clearly. We mentioned it at our Elizabeth Wein workshop but will everybody again!
Laurie J. Edwards (Thursday, 21 May 2015 16:15)
I really enjoyed reading this, Christina. We often don't think about how difficult it is for illustrators to get recognized for their contributions. Thanks for bringing it to people's attention.
Bobbi Miller (Friday, 22 May 2015 17:45)
I so enjoyed reading about your adventures and London! Very inspiring! And thank you for this discussion on illustrators. Well said!