Thursday, 17 March 2011

Scattered Authors Society Conference: Diary of a Wimpy Vampire Author

By Tim Collins
Guest Blogger

I'm very proud to say that just the other day, our guest blogger Tim Collins won the 2011 Manchester City Fiction Award for his book Diary of a Wimpy Vampire: The Undead have Feelings Too. He has recently completed a sequel called Prince of Dorkness, which is out in May. Like many authors, he's got a day job - he works in advertising, which probably explains his talent for totally amazing titles. 

Tim Collins greeting fans at the Manchester City Fiction Award celebrations.

Tim's award winning debut novel!
Way to go, Tim!
Last weekend I attended my first event for the Scattered Authors’ Society, which was organised by Miriam Halahmy and Sue Barrow.

For those who don’t know them, the Scattered Authors’ Society is a group of published children’s authors who meet to talk about writing and the industry. Discussion tends to focus on the challenges of maintaining a career, such as self-promotion, school visits and market trends.

It won’t be news to anyone that sustaining a writing career is tough, but I’m always amazed at just how hard established authors work when you press them for details.

What we could achieve if
we were Linda Chapman
I asked Linda Chapman what her record daily word count was and she said 13,000. I don’t think I could even copy and paste that much in a day.

Hard work and painstaking research were certainly in evidence in Mary Hoffman’s session on Saturday about her forthcoming historical YA novel David, which imagines the story of Michelangelo’s model.

What I loved about Mary’s talk was how open she was about every step of developing the novel from initial idea to corrected proof.

Mary showed us the scrapbook she kept while researching the book, which included maps, timelines and lists of popular names from the time. It was fascinating to flick through a research scrapbook, something I’ve always been told to keep but have never got round to. I’ve sometimes created desktop folders to dump relevant images and links into, but I wonder if an actual, physical scrapbook would suggest hidden connections and lead to a richer fictional world.

Mary Hoffman chooses a talismanic object for every book she works on.
As well as all keeping scrapbooks, Mary chooses a ‘talismanic object’ for each book she works on, in this case a small cube of marble. This sounds like an interesting writing exercise, i.e. What would you choose as the talismanic object for the book you’re currently working on? Why did you choose it? What does it tell you about how you want the book to turn out?

Tim Collins posing with a librarian.

Lucy Cuthew of Meadowside
Also on Saturday, Lucy Cuthew, the commissioning editor of Meadowside Children’s Books spoke to us about current trends. Most authors feel slightly guilty about discussing what’s ‘hot’, but as a writer of comedy I’m happy to leap faster than Jonathan Edwards if I spot a bandwagon so I always enjoy these sessions.

Right now we reckon the trends are dystopias, paranormal creatures other than vampires and, perhaps surprisingly, special needs protagonists.

Basically if you’re working on a story about a werewolf with ADHD swimming around a submerged city, you should be safe.

If you’re working on a story about a werewolf with ADHD, swimming around a submerged city, you should be safe

Overriding all these content trends, however, are format trends. Lucy showed us the iPad app for The Heart and the Bottle, which uses touch screen technology to bring Oliver Jeffers’ picture book to life.

It’s all very impressive, but I can’t help thinking that form and content are still fighting each other a tad. But surely it’s only a matter of time before an author who knows and loves app development creates an interactive story that can only work on a touch screen, and hoovers up awards like a Dyson.

But will they have created a book or a variation on one of those point-and-click adventures I wasted the nineties playing, like Monkey Island and Broken Sword?

Tim Collins at the entrance to his flat.

Helena Pielichaty
On Sunday morning, Helena Pielichaty hosted a lively discussion about political correctness in children’s writing. As a male, I find that children’s writing conferences are one of the few times I can experience being part of a minority, but I thought it better not to bring my particular repressed group into this debate.

It was illuminating to find out how editors have responded to fictional diversity. The feeling was that authors want to vary the ethnicity, physical ability and sexuality of their characters, but the industry only wants them to if the books are specifically about these issues.

We hope that things are changing, although you might still miss out on that Arabic edition if your main character has two dads.

Look out for Tim's new book
Although brief, the conference packed in a massive amount of information that I’m still processing and inspired plenty of story ideas that I really ought to go and do something about.


  1. Great post, Tim! Love the cape, will you be wearing it tonight?

  2. Excellent, Tim! At last a proper black and white vampire - teeth, hairdo, cape everything.

  3. What a fabulous summary of the conference! I loved Mary's and Helena's presentations. So generous with information and time spent in preparation. Great to meet you there! 13,000 words in a day. Wowzers.

  4. Glad this wasn't titled "Diary of a Wimpy Author!"

    I have to agree with you about apps - I see lots of discussion at the older age range about branching stories etc, but they all sound a bit like Fighting Fantasy books. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I think authors still struggle to write these in a way that doesn't become hopelessly mechanical. I'm not sure if Heavy Rain points the way - it's clearly beautifully realised, but hardly original in story terms.


    P.S. If I was going to pick a talismanic object for my work-in-progress, it would be a £50 note ;-)

  5. AS a founding member of the SAS it's great to see that the 'Coventry' weekend is still going well.

    The first ever weekend was just as good!

  6. Diary of a Wimpy Author is the title of my new autobiography with highlights about my school visits.

  7. Great post and really interesting! Mary's scrap book idea reminds me very much of the mood boards I had to create when I was training as a set and costume designer.


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