SCBWI Europolitan – Day 2 & 3


Day 2 of the conference opened with a fascinating keynote on Fairy Tales in East and West presented by Özge Tığlı. It was followed by a panel discussion, Publishing Here, There and Everywhere moderated by translator, Laura Watkinson. The panel featured Brooks Sherman from The Bent Agency, Greet Pauwelijn the Publisher at Book Island, and Majo de Saedeleer of O Mundo. There was a vigorous discussion with some audience questions on what the differences are in books published in different parts of the world.

Hardworking attendees at my workshop

Hardworking attendees at my workshop

I would love to have attended Esther Hershenhorn’s Intensive on Getting Your Stories Right, but it clashed with my presentation of my workshop, Waging War – Casting Your Characters into Conflict.

There were twenty-six very enthusiastic participants at my workshop, which focussed on heightening conflict and raising the stakes for characters, including a focus on individual scenes.


  1. Raise the stakes – Make things even harder for your character. Think of the worst thing that can happen to your character and make something even worse happen.
  1. Eliminate/revise backstory –Look to see if your scene contains backstory – setting up information, giving character’s history etc. What information in this scene does the author need to know and what MUST the reader know.

If you want to include backstory, try to show it through actions rather than telling. In my YA thriller, submerged, my main character had a serious accident when she was a kid when a bird spooked her horse. Instead of telling the reader she is scared of birds because…. I show her fear of birds and then gradually reveal the reasons for it through actions – people reacting to her scars etc.

  1. Do you have the right characters in this scene?

Too many characters in a scene can confuse and distract the reader. Keep reminding the reader of who the characters in conflict are, by showing them in conflict.IMAG8204

  1. Do you have the right balance of internal and external conflict?

You do need quiet scenes leading up to big action scenes to help build the tension. But your characters can still be in conflict. You can use internal conflict to show disparity between what a character thinks they want and what they really want.

  1. What are your character’s values, and are these values being challenged by the scene?

So, is there some kind of internal or external tussle happening? Do a characters internal and external goals oppose each other? How do these goals fit into the overall story conflict?IMAG8229

  1. Emotions of the scene – What emotions do you want the reader to feel after reading this scene? What are the emotions of the characters in the scene? Can you show subtext through actions – perhaps show that your characters goals are different to what they thought they were?
  1. What physical obstacles can you introduce to make things harder for a character?

These are things that will test their internal and external resolve.

  1. How can you use setting to make these obstacles even more insurmountable?
  1. What difficult decisions will your POV character have to make after/because of this scene?
  1. What questions will the scene raise for the reader to entice them to keep reading?

With Brooks Sherman, Literary Agent, The Bent Agency

A gripping opening is essential to hook publishers, agents and readers.

I have a number of projects I’m about to submit so In the afternoon, I attended Brooks session on writing a gripping opening. It was interesting to hear this from an agent’s perspective.

Brooks talked about some common faults with openings:

  1. Too much set up or exposition
  2. Too much action without context
  3. Great voice going nowhere
  4. Start where your story begins
  5. Prologues are not popular.

Although Brooks did clarify that prologues have their place in the right story.

Brooks suggestions:

Focus on action at hand rather than setting up story.

The first chapter should establish status quo of character’s world and at end of first chapter, things start to shift.

IMAG8131Openings to generally avoid

  1. Dreams
  2. Starting in middle of action with no context
  3. First day of school
  4. Moving day

Essentials of a Query Letter

According to Brooks, a query letter should establish:

  1. Rules of the world
  2. Overarching conflict
  3. Who character is
  4. What environment is?
  5. What stakes are.
Day 2 and 3 were also packed full of fabulous events

Day 2 and 3 were also packed full of fabulous events


There were two days of panels, keynotes and intensives, but the conference actually went for a total of four days. On the Friday before the conference started, Mina had organised a Scrawl Crawl where we were guided around Amsterdam by an expert historian and given a chance to get to know each other and our surrounds.

On the final day, there was a peer critique brunch where we had a chance to get feedback on presubmitted work. Our moderator was Esther Hershenhorn and she was amazing. All four of us walked away with new ideas and enthusiasm for our stories.

Somehow my 12 year old character has now ended up in Chicago with a new baby brother on the way. It has added so much more conflict to my story, and I’m loving it – although my character, Eddy is quite unhappy about the whole thing – for now anyway.

Easter Brunch

Easter Brunch


I was lucky to share this Monday afternoon event at the American Book Centre at Spui 12 in Amsterdam’s city centre with  talented authors, Angela Cerrito and Amber Lough.

4789462 1421761418675 1421761447642 Letters to Leonardo Book Cover

We had a chance to talk about and read from our books and there was book sales and signing. Afterwards, the bookshop presented us all with lovely flowers.

Sharing Book Talks with Angela Cerrito and Amber Lough

Sharing Book Talks with Angela Cerrito and Amber Lough

After the conference was over, we headed to Paris where I spent time researching for my new YA adventure, Paris Hunting.

I’ll talk about this in next week’s blog post, The Risks of Research.

I hope you enjoyed the conference wrap up. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to include them after this post.

Happy writing:)


So Much to Write, So Much to Learn – SCBWI Europolitan Day 1

I recently returned from the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Europolitan Conference in Amsterdam.


Amsterdam Canal

It was a wonderful, inspiring event, but it reminded me that even when you think you have learnt so much, there is still so much to learn.

The Europolitan Conference, a team effort presented by the SCBWI regions of Belgium, France, German+Austria, Switzerland and The Netherlands was one of the most professional, well organised and inspiring conferences I have ever been to.

Mum and Mina

With my dear writerly friend and conference organiser, Mina Witteman

My heartfelt thanks to the leadership team of Tioka Nparis, Dina Von Lowenkraft , Elisabeth Norton, Patti Coughlan Buff, Dana Carey, Özge Tığlı and Gabriela Nicole Gonzalez – and especially to my dear friend Mina Witteman, RA for The Netherlands who pulled it all together with such style and grace.


One of the highlights for me was the inspiring opening keynote, Here Be Dragons by engaging Marieke Nijkamp, which opened our eyes to the importance of Diverse Books for children and young adults.

Maritime Museum, Amsterdam

Maritime Museum, Amsterdam

Jill Santopolo, Executive Editor, Philomel Books gave us valuable insight into how the sales force sell books in the marketplace. I found this invaluable because it made me think about the following things:

1. What is my story about – what are the high points of the action and the emotional plot?
2. What is the main conflict?
3. What is the theme?
4. What is unique about the way I have told this story?
5. Why would someone want to buy or read this book?
6. How does this book compare to others in the genre with a similar readership?
7. Why did I write this book?

Knowing the answers to these questions also helps you pitch your book to publishers and agents, and do author presentations in bookshops and schools. If you know the answers to these questions you will be able to get to the heart of what your story is about and why it’s important.

Keukenhof, Amsterdam

Keukenhof, Amsterdam

with Marietta Zacker, Senior Agent at Nancy Galt Literary Agency

Marietta talked about seven things that make characters bloom.

1. Emotional Connection – the reader must have a reaction to the character. Their first reaction is very important.
2. Empathy – you must create a character that readers can empathise with.
3. Memorable – your character must be memorable – just like people stand out in real life, characters must too. What makes a character memorable is their voice. if someone could replace that character then their voice is not memorable enough.
4. Adventurous – characters must push the limits and force people to think. Characters must not accept the cards dealt to them, they must push the limits and not passively show story.
5. Unique – characters must be unique but readers must still be able to relate to them.
6. Secrets and aspirations – characters must have secrets and aspirations – and not all will necessarily be resolved.
7. Have heart – characters must show anything and everything they have inside.

with Mina Witteman

Losing the plot literally is a problem I find with my work. Somehow in the translation from ideas to paper, the story can become too complicated, and the essence lost.

Mina’s session focussed on using Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet to help get your story back under control.

Mina presented Blake’s strategies with clarity and used examples of popular books to show us how they could be applied practically.

You can find out more about Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet here. It’s a great revision tool for your novel.

Day 1 of the conference concluded with a cocktail party and an illustration gallery where amazing folios were on display.

The fabulous Day 1 Program

The fabulous Day 1 program

Next week I’m going to blog about Day 2 of the conference where I learnt more amazing things.

If you have any tips from a recent conference (it could be the SCBWI Europolitan) that you’d like to share, feel free to comment at the end of this post.

Happy writing:)