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Bologna 2010 – SCBWI Conference

Back from the delights and inspirations of Bologna. The books, the events, the meetings, the socialising, the food… where to begin?

Yes, Bologna was good this year, skedaddling away to Italy was a tonic to my work and outlook, a week of frenetic activity in a city and Book Fair that never ceases to inspire and encourage. Publishers seemed quietly optimistic compared to the gloom of last year, I sensed a real tone of confidence in the air from all around. For me Bologna was good before it even began, over these last weeks the approaching Fair was a deadline to focus my energies, hone my stories and produce some new book dummies.

This was my third visit to Bologna (the last time was in 2008), now as then SCBWI ran a biennial Conference/Symposium and had a Stand throughout the book fair. As one of SCBWI’s volunteer “Team Bologna” the pace was hectic from the moment I arrived in the city.

First up was the SCBWI Conference on Monday. SCBWI Chairman Steve Mooser started proceedings with Why We’re Here, a summing up of the Society, it’s aims and goals, unfortunately co-chair Lin Oliver was recovering from illness and unable to make the trip from the US.

 My good friend Leonard Marcus gave the first talk, Who Takes the Prize? a fascinating discourse on English language children’s book awards, including the Newbery, Caldecott, Smarties, Greenaway, NBA and regional prizes. Leonard, apart from being an incredibly gifted writer and critic, has a marvellous ability to draw the audience towards him, his warm softly spoken voice makes you feel you’re sharing an intimate conversation rather than sitting several feet away in a hall full of people.

In Taking the Mystery out of Movie Deals, Fiona Kenshole of US based production company LAIKA explained the processes involved in developing books for film adaptations, focusing especially on her own work on the animated stop-motion film of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. Seeing the incredible amount of work involved during the production process was simply breathtaking, I assumed there was a lot of computer graphics involved in the making of the film, but apparently it was all stop-motion modelling on enormous sets.

Thereafter the attendees were split into events for writers and illustrators. I’d met writer Ellen Hopkins some years ago in Los Angeles and was disappointed to miss her workshop. However the illustrator’s workshop Books without Borders was excellent. Frané Lessac is a widely travelled American illustrator now based in Australia. Working in a naive style perfectly suited to folktales, she explained how her many books have explored stories from the West Indies to the Australian Outback. For me her work on The Donkey of Gallipoli was especially impressive, the horror of the conflict and tragic pathos of the story is perfectly offset by her naive illustrations. I then joined Frané on a panel with Bridget Strevens, Doug Cushman and Dianne Wolfer to discuss the processes involved working for different publishers across the globe. The Right Books, Right Now was a presentation given by New York based writer Richard Peck. I shared the same hotel as Richard so already had chance to get to know him a little over breakfast, I hadn’t been prepared for his amazingly crafted speech though, boy, this man can talk! Very very impressive. Candy Gourlay’s blog Notes from the Slushpile has a more in-depth coverage of Mr Peck.

The illustrator’s event in the afternoon was First Look, where a panel of art directors offered short critiques of submitted images by published attendees. Deirdre McDermott (Walker Books UK), Neal Porter (Roaring Brook US), Martha Rago (HarperCollins US) made up the panel, hosted by Bridget Strevens. Each artist had three images displayed, the critiques were fascinating, especially the slight difference in tastes for the US, UK and European markets.

The final discussion of the day was a publisher’s panel, Publishing today: From idea to marketplace. On the desk were Deirdre McDermott (Walker UK), Gita Wolf (Tara Books, India), Sarah Foster (Walker AUS), Sara Grant (Working Partners, UK), Neal Porter (Roaring Book US), Stephen Roxburgh (Namelos US), and Tessa Strickland (Barefoot Books). Each responded to a series of prepared questions, ranging from the future of digital publishing to the market as a whole. All gave differing and very thought-provoking answers, Stephen Roxburgh was in particularly strident mood in promoting the future as a digitalised one. I’m personally not altogether convinced by ebooks, “that’s because you don’t have imagination” Stephen told me later. Argh! (I don’t think he was refering to my pictures, he’s one of my oldest clients).

Well, whether I’ve the imagination for digital books or not the day-long event certainly sparked my imaginative juices. It was the perfect prologue to the Book Fair, inspiring, full of promise for the future, in the evening our memorable party at Libreria Trame Bookshop put everyone in fine fettle for the following four days.

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