2013 CYA Conference – with my 2 Mini-mentors

Children are the most important people in the world of Children’s Literature, of that I have no doubt. So as the 2013 Children’s and Young Adult’s Writers and Illustrator’s Conference drew near, I contacted the organisers to volunteer to look after unaccompanied children that attend the Conference. My wish was granted, I donned the standard “Hatchlings High Vis Jacket” (it makes me easier to find for the kids and organisers), and began my day of experiencing the Conference through the eyes of children, whom I realised became my mini-mentors for the day. Two to be specific. Two boys aged 8 and 12. And we had a blast! Getting in touch with my inner-preteen occurred within minutes of catching up with the boys as the tone of the jokes made a bee-line to every boy’s favourite topic. No need to mention it here, suffice to say it was all a bit smelly.

Our first session was “What Mickey Mouse Couldn’t Teach Me” with Children’s Book Illustrator Serena Geddes. She has illustrated 18 books over 4 years including board books, picture books and junior fiction. She gave us some great tips for approaching publishers and then we started a session on drawing emotion. Now, I am to illustrating as what a BBQ skewer is to a blow-up castle at a school fete so I felt very unqualified. But with my 2 mini-mentors as helpers, we dove in the deep end and came up with some amazing, and quite scary at times, characters. I felt much braver when it comes to illustrating thanks to the encouragement I received from my 2 mini-mentors. Serena also gave some great tips including get to know your own style, daydream, be a ‘people watcher’ and pay attention to what other illustrators do. Here is a before and after picture of what Serena came up with during her lesson after we gave her a complicated list of character traits to work with.

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After a very indulgent morning tea, we figured the more sugar the better as we would need it to crank our brains into top-creative mode, we went to meet Tristan Bancks to learn all about his Story Scrapbook App. Tristan began the session by reading from his latest short story, “Kids Stink”. Tristan is a gifted storyteller, both on paper and in person, so he had us all on the edge of our seats, and sometimes nearly falling off them with laughter. Thank you Tristan for sharing your story with us. Here are a few pictures from the story.

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Tristan and a Top-Shelf-Computer-Geek-Friend created the Story Scrapbook app as a story brainstorming, and workshop, tool for story creation. The app allows you to collate images, videos, sound grabs, notes and maps to inspire you to write the best story you can. Again my 2 mini-mentors trumped me with their skills in using the web-based app. Mr 12 came up with an amazing array of insect-oriented material and Mr 8 had a blast discovering lots of information pertaining to Cavemen. Mr 12 showed me a draft of a story he was working on about insects, both Tristan and I were highly impressed with his efforts.

Tristan’s Story Scrapbook app is brilliant for young, and the not so young, storytellers and I would insist that you all give it a go. You can download it for free at http://www.tristanbancks.com. Thanks again Tristan for producing such a brilliant and useful app for those of us who love to create stories. Your app will help us all collate information to create some stellar stories.

Lunch was next on the menu. It was great to give our brains a break and get our tummies a tumbling with great sandwiches that would see us through another 2 sessions of creative inspiration.

For the next session we had been warned that it would be messy and aprons were required. My 2 mini-mentors had taken note of the advice, I had not. I informed them that I was not concerned, and that I had a washing machine that could cope with any mess. I was a little worried though as I was wearing my favourite white pants. No matter how messy it was going to get, I knew a session with James Foley, illustrator of “The Last Viking” and “In the Lion”, would be worth it. James’ session was on Creating Characters, he opened with some great tips on creating characters with examples from his own two books. His top tips were to refer to photos to create realistic animal characters, make sure each character has a unique head and silhouette shape, as well as some very technical tips on the changing shapes of characters’ heads and faces depending on their age.

With these tips in hand, we were all given a lump of clay to create our own 3D character. James told us that having a 3D version of our character’s head allowed us to draw our characters from all sides in a consistent manner. The creation process sure was messy, but some amazing characters were created. Mr 12 was then seen carrying his character around very carefully for the rest of the day. It was a pleasure seeing and hearing him explain his character’s traits to other Conference Delegates at afternoon tea.

The CYA Conference achieved a major celebrity coup for their 2013 Conference. US based YA author Jackson Pearce flew all the way from Atlanta, Georgia to present at the Conference. For the final session of the day I was granted leave from my mini-mentors to attend Jackson’s session on Social Media. Jackson is one of the most successful Social Media users I follow, using her blog, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to keep in contact with her fans all over the world. She is very entertaining and gives great insight into her stories and creative process through social media. I would encourage any of you interested in the YA market to seek her out on Social Media and see what she has to offer. Jackson offered us some great tips on using her favourite social media platforms as well as some key downsides of social media that we must all be aware of.

In conclusion I need to begin by thanking the organisers of the CYA Conference. They work all year putting together a priceless day of learning and networking for Children’s and YA Book creators of all ages. I must also thank my 2 mini-mentors who taught me so much, and allowed me the insight of experiencing different creative processes through their eyes. I will definitely be volunteering to look after children at next year’s Conference. And for all of you interested in Children’s and YA books, I would highly recommend that you attend the Children’s and Young Adults Writers and Illustrators Conference next year on July 5. Find out all about the Conference by visiting their website

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