I still laugh about my first SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writer’s & Illustrators) experience. It was a workshop in the winter of 2000 and the topic was rejection letters. We sat in a circle and the facilitator had a pile of rejection letters on her lap. Seriously, I thought, you’re going to read “real” rejection letters? Afterward, I met another first-timer, Rondi Frieder, and we laughed about “nothing like getting depressed” as we both begin to write picture books. We exchanged contact information and started meeting monthly to critique each other’s work and eventually, share rejection letters!
Fast-forward to 2016. We’re now The Story Spinners, a SCBWI critique group of seven kidlit writers that meet monthly and support each other way beyond our meetings. It’s hard to explain. They’re always there. We email hope, advice, ideas, frustrations, big news, baby steps, rejections, and the list goes on. Story Spinners amaze me and give me confidence to keep going in this crazy business. We nudge each other and perhaps most important, I think we hold a safe space for everyone to show up and be vulnerable.
In August, I emailed them my big news (no, I didn’t get an agent!): my husband Ken accepted a temporary work assignment in England and “I’m going with him.” I reported that we would be living in Harrogate, a spa town about four hours from London, and that I was trying to connect with members of SCBWI-British Isles. We joked about me Skyping for our Denver meetings. Story Spinners have taught me that being in a critique group is a huge commitment; it’s hard work with an endless learning curve.
I never dreamt that I would tap into the international part of SCBWI. First, I emailed several British Isles board members to inquire if there were members/groups in or near Harrogate. I received an enthusiastic email from Marie Basting, Networks Coordinator for SCBWI-British Isles, in which she explained the critique group “map” and referred me to Maureen Lynas, Networks Organizer for SCBWI-British Isles North East. Next, Marie and Maureen connected me with members, or as they say, “Scoobies,” in Harrogate and York. Marie made it possible for me to join SCBWI-North East closed Facebook group, so I could introduce myself, start meeting Scoobies and find events. Wow! I started FB’ing with Scoobies and had access to a daily stream of articles, thought-provoking discussions, workshops, etc. I felt like I was already there! The best: I connected with authors Rebecca Colby and Morag Caunt (aka Morag Macrae), who invited me to their weekly meeting in Harrogate. Rebecca wrote, “Harrogate is a lovely place to stay…the happiest place in Britain three years running.” Morag mentioned that they like to meet at Baltzersen’s, a café just three blocks from our future apartment.
We conversed via FB about our current writing projects and they connected me to York Scoobies. My hope-goal was to continue revising my YA and immerse myself in all things writing. As I packed for this dream-come-true adventure, I was a kid getting ready for my first day of school. I carefully chose my notebooks and tucked two flash drives in a zipped billfold.
In September, after we moved into our apartment, I checked my email and FB and was overwhelmed by all the messages from Scoobies welcoming me and telling me “what’s on”, offering to pick me up at train stations, asking about my writing projects, and envying our close proximity to Betty’s (a top tourist attraction).
Three days later, I met Rebecca and Morag and they treated me to coffee and a heavenly apricot crunch bar. We gabbed for over two hours, laughing about Brit-English and our time spent on roads less traveled, and of course, we covered the universal topics that writers love to pore over – taking hours to craft just a few sentences, sinking in research quicksand, trying new writing rituals, and rewarding ourselves with chocolate! I felt right at home with these clever, accomplished writers. Like Story Spinners, they were unassuming, curious, and 110% committed to their writing and to supporting other writers.
They taught me Brit coffeehouse etiquette (no refills!) and recommended restaurants and must-see sights for our weekend jaunts to Scotland and around England. I learned of Morag’s self-publishing journey, which resulted in her collection of short stories for youth, titled The Zone. I was inspired by her fierce determination to work with schools and prisons to reach reluctant readers and struggling youth and, give them a chance to perform her stories. I was sparked by Rebecca’s stories of the challenge of writing rhyme and how she landed a publisher for her newest picture book, It’s Raining Bats & Frogs. She put her whole self into school visits and talks, including donning her handmade witch shoes and hat.
I’m SO grateful for Rebecca and Morag. Our time was lovely. THANK YOU!! Your openness and questions kindled the two new projects that I drafted, revised and “carried” home on my flash drives – a draft of a new picture book and a complete redo of the picture book that I was working on when I met Rondi (and filed away after many rejections). Since I’ve returned home, our email exchange across the miles is an incredible gift. However, I muchly miss conversing in person over Baltzersen’s rich coffee and sweets! I have yet to fulfill their request for a photo of Colorado’s snow-capped mountains. I’m proud that my revising (and writing this blog) has taken precedence – and I can picture them grinning right now!
I also send mega thanks to Marie Basting, Maureen Lynas, Deborah Court, Sally Blewett, Clare O’Brien and every Scoobie who took time to welcome me and tell me “what’s on”. Your thoughtfulness (and Ken’s!) motivated me to go for it and attend the Ilkley Literature Festival, writing workshops at the Harrogate History Festival (including one with author Emma Darwin, great-great granddaughter of Charles Darwin, and getting to hear Michael Morpurgo), online classes, Books Are My Bag, The Big Draw…
What more could I ask for? Well, two things: take a moment to meet Rebecca and Morag:
And, enjoy these resources:
Rebecca Colby’s Website & Blog:
Morag Caunt: On Self-Publishing
Emma Darwin’s Blog:
An Interview With Michael Morpurgo
Article: How I Got My Agent and What Nearly Stopped Me
From The Manchester Literature Festival
An Author and Agent Discuss the Art of Revision
On our last night in Harrogate, we did what we loved: walked up and down the charming hilly streets. “Bittersweet,” we agreed. This happy town had really fired up our creative juices (Ken’s photos are stunning!). I know it sounds trite, but from the moment we arrived in Harrogate, I felt connected to something pretty special. It’s hard to explain. You Scoobies were always there, and always will be. SCBWI at home and across the pond is my rock. So lovely! Well, get ready! I’ll be emailing all of you about my next rejection and you’ll be the first to know about my agent! Till next time, cheerio!
“What we need is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out.” —William Wordsworth