I’m just back from a wonderful weekend at the Scottish Association of Writers conference at the Westerwood Hotel, Cumbernauld.
I was the adjudicator for the Under 7’s story competition – writing a story suitable for a young child in no more than 750 words. I had 27 glorious entries with tales of vegetarian vampires, cows with bad colds, good samaritan midges and dancing centipedes among them. All of them were a delight to read and each had a lot of potential. I tried to give every story some advice and positive and constructive criticism so that the writer would have some idea of how to develop their writing skills. All entries are anonymous so I had no idea who had written what. I had to choose a commended, a highly commended, and 1st, 2nd and 3rd placings and it was very difficult indeed.
All this had to be done before the conference where the winners would be announced. I was the last of the many adjudicators to speak so my entrants had a long wait before I could announce my winners. I was delighted to discover that the first prize winner was a member of my own writers’ club, Maggie Bolton, with a delightful story about a tadpole turning into a frog, called ‘Whoopee! My tail’s come off!’
I also ran a workshop for writing for young children, ‘Postman Pat’s Secrets for a Long Life’ (I wrote Postman Pat stories for a children’s comic for five years) and I spoke about how some contemporaries on TV at the same time as Postman Pat have disappeared without trace (The Flumps, King Rollo, Bertha, Pigeon Street – remember them?) while he is still going strong.
I read them one book which exemplified the three Rs of writing for children – Rhyme, Rhythm and Repetition; ‘Oi Dog‘, a very funny book with a feisty frog as the main character. Alex T Smith’s Claude series is very popular with 5-7 year olds while the Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell’s ‘Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse‘ is for older children but is such a beautiful looking book that I couldn’t resist buying it.
Then it was time for some work with my group. I passed out slips of paper with a place or situation that a young child would know, e.g.the garden, brothers and sisters, going to nursery and they all scribbled down ideas that led from that. Some were very imaginative which was exactly what I was looking for. Then I gave each of them a name, some made up, some really quite ridiculous, and some ordinary and they all decided on who or what their character would be. Their imaginations went into overdrive and stories began emerging even from just a few notes!
And when they chose to match their characters with the situation I had given out first, well, I hope they will eventually turn into some cracking picture book stories.
The rest of the conference was just as busy and enjoyable, meeting up with old friends and making new ones, attending other workshops on all sorts of topics related to the business of writing, including one on marketing where we were all given sweets (thank you Wendy!) an excellent marketing ploy and one I’ll remember, and of course all the wining and fine dining throughout the weekend. Our main speaker was the actress Helen Lederer, whom I was lucky to sit next to at dinner, and I can tell you she is just as funny and attractive in real life as she is on TV.
Exhilarating and exhausting at the same time as the weekend is, is it any wonder I was tucked up in bed very early last night when I arrived home!