Monday, 18 July 2011

Teri Terry on Winning Stuff at Conferences: Take Two

About a year ago, I blogged about winning stuff at the 30th Winchester Writers Conference: an interview by Candy Gourlay, complete with shocking ending.
Now I’ve just recently gone to the latest WWC. Given it was the day after the news broke about my amazing book deal with Orchard Books!!, I was a little, shall we say, DISTRACTED.
the total contents of my brain looked much like this

I’d meant to take lots of photos and notes and do a blog on the conference. I managed only a few of the former and very little of the latter. But I started reflecting on my whole WWC experience over the last four years, and realized how important it was to me in the beginning.

Step into my time machine....
By 2008, this was my writing history:
  • I'd spent years writing bad poetry, and started a long list of novels that never went past Act 1
  • one novel I actually finished! Life Lists, for adults (dreadful), and tried subbing to agents but got nowhere (not surprising)
  • spent a few years determined to get a short story published in a magazine (failed)
  • had taken an OU writing course that I couldn’t afford (and met some friends who later became the Writers' Coven)
I'd hit a point where I didn't know why I was writing anymore. I was trying to write for markets that I didn't personally enjoy, and, not surprisingly, the stuff felt flat.

THEN along came a job opportunity at audiobook charity, Calibre, with a mouthful of a title: Young Calibre Development Officer. To get the job I had to convince them at interview that I knew stuff about current children's books. I didn't. So I skulked about bookshops, and read loads. And loved it.
Ding! on went a lightbulb in my head. I loved children's books. Did I dare....?

But life was getting in the way. To say it was a tough year is one of those understatements, and while words shouldn’t fail me as a writer, they do. My dad was very ill in Canada, and I had to go for another visit when the last was traumatic, to say the least. But I decided just before I went…. when I got back, I was going to do something for myself, too. And the something was going to a writing conference in Winchester I’d recently spotted in a writing magazine: the WWC.
And I started my very first children’s story, Freeze Frame, on the overnight flight back from Canada. Deadline looming, I only had a few days to work on it. But I entered it in the 8-11 competition, feeling foolish for bothering. And away I went, nervous as hell, and not in a fit state to be up for anything. What was I doing going to a writing conference? What did I know about it, really?
inching forwards, waiting for the drop.... (gulp)

On the Friday night I went to a workshop run by Jude Evans of Little Tiger Press, who also sponsored and adjudicated the writing for children prizes at the conference. Everyone attending the workshop seemed to know what they were about, and despite the lovely and encouraging Jude, I was completely overwhelmed. I ended up making an excuse and bailing half way through, and spent a miserable evening staring at the ceiling in my room.
And then?
The next day, something amazing happened. Freeze Frame was shortlisted in the 8-11 competition! To say I was stunned is another one of those understatements. I had a one to one with Jude that afternoon, and she seemed to really like it. And then… it won.

I owe so much to that weekend. I could see why Freeze Frame worked when so many of my other attempts failed: it was written from the guts.
I wasn't trying to write anymore, I was writing.
And it is what convinced me go with my heart, in a new direction: writing for children and teens. It is why I spent an afternoon weeks later going through the Children's Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, and found out about the SCBWI.

Other aspects of 2008 continued to be tough. My dad, who hung in longer than any of the doctors could believe, finally lost his battle with cancer. Just back from Canada, I was informed my job would be gone to the recession in a few months.
Wondering why I was spending my last pounds with unemployment looming, I went along to my first SCBWI conference, and even went to my first ever critique group run by Donna Vann. Donna made me feel like I belonged in an unfamiliar place, at a difficult time. And it was joining the SCBWI - with all the support and brilliant learning and networking opportunities that go with it, not to mention so many new friends - that really had me on my way.
The next year, 2009, brought the big leap of faith: working part time with Bucks libraries to have time to make writing my main drive. All the trauma of the previous year was strangely focusing. I was going for it!
Taking the gamble: two more years of writing and rejection

Along the way I scraped my pence together and attended the WWC, getting a 2nd prize in 2009, and a few firsts in 2010, as reported here, as well as all the SCBWI events I could manage.
Now in 2011, I hemmed and hawed about this year's WWC, but filled out the form and sent off money I didn’t have (worrying financial theme running through here). Soon after that I got an agent, the amazing Caroline Sheldon!
I didn't enter any of the competitions this year, but to carry on my winning theme, I won the raffle at the awards dinner to go for free next year! Hurrah!
Me, the winning raffle ticket, and the lovely Bekki Hill!
Can't wait!
But by 2012, things will have changed. I’ll be published with Orchard Books next May. I alternate between jumping up and down, and a vague uneasy sense that I’m JR and this is Dallas, and I’ll wake tomorrow to find it was all a dream. Then I jump up and down again!
More WWC news of some fellow SCBWI’ers: Paula Harrison got a second at WWC in 2010 for Rescue Princesses: soon to be published by Nosy Crow, in Feb 2012. And Lesley Moss this year was highly commended in two categories: writing for children 4-7 and the Greenhouse prize. Can WWC lightening strike again?

This walk through memory lane has reminded me of a few important things:
  • what it is like to be taking those first tentative steps, and how support and encouragement - prizes or otherwise - mean so much along the way
  • how much I owe to the WWC and SCBWI
  • and, to quote Terry Pratchett from last year's WWC keynote, to thank the steered serendipity that has given me a hand.
Now for the simple matter of needing to write book 2.
With an actual deadline. Gulp..!


  1. OK. That's it. Next year, I'm going to Winchester!

    Obviously I've not come as far as you, Debut Author Teri, but it is easy to forget what it was like to write that first sentence isn't it? I found a first draft of my first chapter of my first novel yesterday. Boy oh boy oh boy...

  2. Thanks for sharing your story, Teri. It's very inspiring.
    And I was highly surprised to be highly commended!
    You're right: life frequently does get in the way of writing, and Winchester Writers' Conference and SCBWI provide much needed impetus and encouragement to keep going.

  3. I have a Cornerstones report on an early book where they very gently ask where the plot is!

    Thanks for sharing all of this Teri. Having just had a birthday I'm doing a bit of 'Aargh, one year older and still not published!' agst. And I'm wondering where my writing life is going. Well, it's going to Winchester too! But to the SCBWI conference in Nov. I can't wait!

  4. Makes you feel that it is all worthwhile and inspires us all to keep on going with it. I too have been trying to get a story in a magazine and that will be happening next Jan.

  5. My takeaway from this is that we just have to keep trying to get better at what we want to do ... and we mustn't give up! I just sent the ms of my second novel to my publisher - out in march 2012 - and i am full of self-doubt. Thanks for the reminder!

  6. wonderful stuff, Teri! Writng from the heart equals writing with heart.

  7. What an inspiring post, Teri. It was so interesting to read about your journey to publication, and it's so true that the support and encouragement of fellow writers, whether in the form of prizes or helpful critiques, is invaluable, especially when the self-doubt threatens to take over. Good luck with book 2 and the deadline!

  8. New follower here.

    Thanks so much for sharing Teri! I've not hear of the SCBWI or WWC. Definately going to be looking into these now. Thanks!

  9. Great post, Teri! You highlight one of the great questions we all need to ask ourselves - what kind of writer am I? I'm still asking...

  10. Freya, joining SCBWI is one of the best things I've ever done as a writer. It's a real community of authors and illustrators who share and support in so many ways. Most of the people on the comments are in British SCBWI. Check out the facebook link


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