A Saturday Arvo With SCBWI

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Yesterday afternoon I went to Di Mattina’s, a restaurant in Lygon Street, Carlton, where there was a meeting of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in the fiction room upstairs. It was only my third meeting, because for quite a while, either I had a clash or they were holding meetings somewhere on the Mornington Peninsula, just too far to travel by public transport.

I met some people I know through email, Twitter or just having read their books. Edel Wignell was there. I first met her years ago when I won my first Mary Grant Bruce Award, when I shared a table with her and her husband at the awards party. Errol Broome was there too – we’ve met at ASA events, back when the Australian Society of Authors had a group for children’s writers. Gabrielle Wang, the author of A Ghost In My Suitcase and other terrific books, was there – we meet a lot and she told me she was putting up one of my students’ creative responses to her novel. She did that last year too, when two of my students interviewed her.

Actually, it was interesting to see that most of the room was filled with women. There are male writers for children, but not as many and the ones you see at these meetings are usually illustrators or editors. It was a bit like going to a school library conference, where you get the same number differences.

There were two speakers. One was a lady who has started running a bookshop in Williamstown after twenty-five years in teaching. She explained how they choose the books for the shop, how they have “paper products”(?) as well because you can’t sell just books and why they don’t have too many author events.

The highlight, though, was listening to Margaret Clark, the author of literally hundreds of books. Margaret is a very funny lady, who had the audience laughing all the way through. She showed us some of the stuff she had written as a child, when she entered writing competitions. Her first “rejection” was when she didn’t win the competition to meet the Queen of England during her 1954 visit to Australia. She doesn’t seem to have had too many rejection slips since then, although a book she wrote for the Aussie Bites series didn’t get into print when the series was scrapped. Her family don’t read her books, which were first written on typewriters in the days before computers – some in the days before whiteout!

She admitted that her “Lee Striker” series of horror novels(there were twenty-six!) were written under a pen name so they could be placed next to R.L.Stine’s books on the bookshop shelves. I had heard that, but she confirmed it. It didn’t work, anyway. She says she had to keep explaining to children on school visits that she was “Lee Striker” when they were disappointed not to meet this author. Whatever the reason it didn’t work, the later books had “Margaret Clark writing as Lee Striker” on the covers because she had plenty of fans under her own name.

Her two serious books, Care Factor Zero and Back On TrackDiary Of A Street Kid were both based on her experiences while working with troubled teens in alcohol and drug counselling. One girl who was about to jump off a roof then threatened her with a rusty nail when she came down.

It was a good afternoon altogether and nice to meet so many great writers. I admit I go to those meetings not entirely as a writer but as a fan. It’s so exciting to meet people whose books I’ve loved over a cup of tea and a cake!

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