A bit about SCBWI critique groups...

With thanks to Shaye Wardrop for her words.

DID YOU KNOW… SCBWI has online critique groups you can join?

Yep! The wonderful admin team of SCBWI Australia East/New Zealand has set up a FREE online critique group system for SCBWI members. Shaye Wardrop (SCBWI ACT committee member) recently joined, and here’s what she said about the experience.

Why did you decide to join a SCBWI critique group?

I wanted to get feedback on my work on a regular basis. I also really liked the idea of getting lots of opinions on the same piece of work at the same time. If everyone likes something, you know it’s likely working. If everyone thinks it’s not quite right, you know you need to take a closer look.

What do you like most about the SCBWI critique groups?

I love that it’s all online; this makes it really easy to fit into my schedule. I also like that the groups are small (max of 6 people), so we all get to submit our work regularly.

There are guidelines to help with setup and management (super helpful), but I also really like that groups can make changes to meet their own needs. For example, my group critiques on a fortnightly schedule (rather than a weekly schedule) because it suits everyone better.

Was it easy to join?

Extremely! You simply go to scbwiaustralianz.squarespace.com/online-critique-groups, read the information there and register to join a group. You’ll get an email when enough people are on the waiting list to form your critique group. 

Anything else to add?

There are groups for authors, illustrators and author/illustrators to join. So no excuses!

 Shaye Wardrop, pitching at the the recent SCBWI ACT Level Up conference. 

Shaye Wardrop, pitching at the the recent SCBWI ACT Level Up conference. 

SCBWI ACT's Level Up Conference Wrap Up

With thanks to Cate Whittle for her words!

What an amazing experience! The SCBWI ACT inaugural Level Up Conference was definitely the place to be on Saturday, 9th September, with so much energy and excitement coming from presenters and attendees alike. It all seemed to come together well with over 50 writers and illustrators attending, and brilliant presentations by Clare Hallifax, Isobelle Carmody, Tania McCartney, Irma Gold, Tony Flowers, and (of course) our own Susanne Gervay. Add to that a selection of brave and brilliant pitches orchestrated by Tracey Hawkins, with Clare, Susanne, and the amazing Stephanie Owen Reeder offering their advice, lots of clever questions for our panel with Isobelle, Stephanie and Susanne, and all the new connections made, not to mention the amazing Rap-Up by poet, Harry Laing. The day was truly electric – a great experience for our first ever conference!

 Our lovely Level Up attendees!

Our lovely Level Up attendees!

Publishing Insights

Our first keynote speaker was the brilliant and generous Clare Hallifax, from Omnibus Scholastic, who shared her insights on the publishing industry. One or two (okay, five or six) gems of wisdom to think about include:

  • write from the heart and soul
  • keep the audience in mind
  • read aloud and act out scenes to find the rhythm and voice of our story
  • write, edit, read... then wait!
  • make our words universal and warm – no-one wants to snuggle up at the end of the day with a lecture, and
  • to write for children, write as a child

Clare also urged us to read constantly and think about what makes good stories work. In the meantime, she promised to keep the creators safe from the numbers people, so we can focus on the creative!

 Stephanie Owen Reeder, Clare Hallifax, Isobelle Carmody, Susanne Gervay

Stephanie Owen Reeder, Clare Hallifax, Isobelle Carmody, Susanne Gervay

In It for the Long Haul

Listening to Isobelle Carmody as she shared her writing journey was truly inspirational, from early writing as an escape, to using her editor’s office when working the late shift as a journalist to write her stories and accidentally getting caught out, and on to that first acceptance and the success she has enjoyed. 

What she really wanted to share with us, though, was her message about taking ownership of our careers. Isobelle spoke with energy and frankness:

  • make sure that your first book is what you want to have represent you in the future
  • have conversations about what you think you are worth
  •   be aware of your rights and consider keeping your subsidiary rights separate from your print rights
  • finish the book, send it off, move on, and
  • maintain your personal relationships with publishers

Picture Book Craft

Tania McCartney had so much to share about creating picture books (if you ever have the chance to attend one of her talks, do it). In an action packed fifty minutes, we whizzed through what’s popular with kids and what’s popular with publishers and where these intersect. We considered themes that are overdone and being unique but thinking globally, whilst remembering to be subtle with messages. There was information about age appropriateness and formats for picture books, and how to develop content and characters (not forgetting non-fiction), and (really, really important) SHOW don’t tell!  Then there was balance and white space and movement and emotion... and how the ending is everything! Phew! Tania left everyone buzzing and eager to get on with crafting picture books.

It’s a Collaboration

If you have ever wondered about the dark art of editing then Irma Gold is the person to enlighten you, as we all found out as she took us through the whys and wherefores of working with an editor:

  • let go of your ego – the editor’s goal is the same as yours
  • be open to new ideas
  • take some time to gain perspective, then work through objectively
  • ask if there is anything you don’t feel clear about
  • be professional and polite, and always meet your deadlines
  • be patient – it can be a long process to publish a book
  • say thank you – editors tend to get very little credit.


Pitch Session

What can I say, other than to congratulate the brave writers who stood up in front of a packed room to deliver their pitches with enthusiasm and aplomb? Tracey Hawkins did a wonderful job of orchestrating the session, while Clare Hallifax, Stephanie Owen Reeder, and Susanne Gervay delivered on the spot responses with consideration and honesty. Exciting!

Illustrating for Different Ages

Tony Flowers entertained us as he talked about his career as an illustrator and collaborating with other creators. Providing examples of how his artwork has evolved over the years and how he approaches illustration for different audiences, he made it easy to see how we need to keep the audience in mind. Tony also reminded us to research and make sure that our work is authentic, using an example of discovering how ninjas really dressed rather than conforming to the popular belief that they only ever ran around in totally black clothing. Apparently some of them could be quite colourful! 

 Tony Flowers!

Tony Flowers!

Breaking Through to Publication

A topic close to the hearts of all of us, Susanne Gervay in her typically generous way spoke about how to make your story great through:

  • practising your craft
  • reading
  • sharing your work and ideas with others in SCBWI,
  • taking the opportunity to have manuscript and portfolio critiques and being brave
  • Remembering that publishing houses change all the time so research their list and what they are doing.

Let’s Create

A special panel with Isobelle Carmody, Susanne Gervay and Stephanie Owen Reeder explored creativity and writing and thinking styles:

let your ideas settle before you start the writing phase. Be mad and brave – again and again

to be a writer you need to be driven and passionate

It will never be perfect, so don’t edit forever

never send anything the day you think it’s finished

know your (creative) strengths

balance works better in the long term (routine) as you can look after yourself and your life

sharing experiences as creators is uplifting because it allows us to appreciate each other and to value the creative journey

a creative life is interesting, fun and driven from our deepest selves.



Poet extraordinaire, Harry Laing, took control of the stage for our final session of the day to entertain us with some of his exciting and delightful poetry, topping it off with an insightful poem that summed up (rapped-up) the events of the day, leaving us all laughing (and quite possibly rolling in the aisles had we had a bit of room to spare). What a great end to a fabulous day.

Of course, the presentations weren’t everything. We also had critique sessions going on throughout the conference for both writers and illustrators, and there was a wealth of new connections being made, friendships formed, and experiences shared. 

Have a read (or a rap) of Harry's wrap up rap!

Thank you to everyone who participated, presenter or attendee. You all made it an unforgettable day.

We also have to thank ALIA, whose premises we completely turned upside down for the day as we moved furniture around everywhere, and thanks, too, to Jimmy Redden from Harry Hartog Booksellers, who once again shared his time bringing a superb array of books for us all to drool over.

A fabulous day! 

Cate Whittle

for the SCBWI ACT Team

SCBWI ACT's Australian Reading Hour Event

With thanks to Tania McCartney for sharing her words.

Next Thursday, 14 September, is the Australian Reading Hour. What is it, you ask? Well, you choose one hour of your day to snuggle up on the couch or run a deep bath or jump on the treadmill or sit under a tree, and read a book!

You can read it to yourself. You can read it to a child. The child could read it to you. Or someone could read a book to a teddy bear. The choices are endless!

To celebrate The Reading Hour, eight Canberra authors --all SCBWI members--got together at Woden Library in Canberra (thanks, Pam and Sam!) for a wonderful event--two hours of stories with a bunch of fabulously engaged kids.

Things kicked off with Kerry Malone, reading two books, including her gorgeous You Can Do It, Joey!

 Kerry Malone

Kerry Malone

Next up was Tania McCartney, asking everyone to raise a limb for how much they love books (thank you, Nicole!).

 Tania McCartney

Tania McCartney

There also may or may not have been a rendition of We All Know Frogs Go La-de-da-de-dah... check out Tania's blog for the incriminating footage... 

Next up was Genevieve Hopkins who read her gorgeous book--The Adventures of William Brambleberry: Aviator Mouse.

 Genevieve Hopkins & son

Genevieve Hopkins & son

Next was Grace Bryant with the funniest book, Tyrannosaurus Wrecks by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Zachariah Qhora. It was hilarious!

 Grace Bryant

Grace Bryant

You've just got to see how she says 'WRECKS!' Terrifying and delightful. 

Next up was Stephanie Owen Reeder (and author of Amazing Grace! but not 'Bryant'), who brought along her gorgeous grandsons. She read from her brilliant books, Dance Like a Pirate and Feeling Fine. These got the kids moving!

 Stephanie Owen Reeder

Stephanie Owen Reeder

Next was Cate Whittle with a totally clever and age-appropriate presi starring her irrepressible dragon, Trouble, from Trouble and the New Kid (a fantastic chapter book series for adventurous kids, ie: all kids).

 Cate Whittle

Cate Whittle

The kids then went on a true adventure with a reading by Devon Sillett--The Leaky Story--awash with pirates and high seas! 

 Devon Sillett

Devon Sillett

To finish off two solid hours of story, Nicole Godwin handed out heart balloons and the kids played along, raising or lowering their balloons as Ella the elephant went through her heart-wrenching journey to find her mum. She also took us on a journey to Thailand, sharing slides of elephant sanctuaries. We learned a lot, including the fact that you can throw an entire pumpkin into an elephant's mouth and he will chomp it up like an apple, and he'll even gobble an entire banana tree!

 Nicole Godwin

Nicole Godwin

What an amazing event in celebration of the Australian Reading Hour. Two hours zipped by in a flash, then we signed books and the kids snaffled some treats, from bookmarks to colouring pages and balloons and badges. It never fails to astound how long kids--even very little kids--can sit and enjoy reading after reading.

Thank you to everyone who came along and making this event so special! We hope you'll join all of us at SCBWI ACT on Thursday 14 September by reading for one hour.

Happy reading!