Written by Jill K. Wilson
Judging by the smiling faces in the photographs, I think I can safely say that the latest SCBWI Ireland North social, held in Belfast in the Waterstone’s Ground Café, was a resounding success. We’ve met in various places over the last year, but the bright and buzzy Waterstones café is a personal favourite. Not only is the coffee good and the cakes delicious, but we are surrounded by shelves and shelves of books. Providing the perfect excuse to buy yet more of them, either before or after the meeting.
This social was also a particularly joyous occasion as our volunteer social liaison, Vicky McFarland, currently on maternity leave, brought in her new gorgeous baby daughter to meet all of us. We were joking that it won’t be long before her daughter is starting her own novel, thanks to early exposure to her mum’s writing group.
Photo (left to right): Vicky McFarland, Helen Nicholl with baby McFarland, and Jacqui McVeigh
The week continued on a high when another member of the group, Kelly McCaughrain, made history at the Children’s Books Ireland (CBI) Book of the Year Awards, when her brilliant YA novel Flying Tips For Flightless Birds won prizes in three categories, including the CBI Book of the Year Award—THREE! The whole group was thrilled for Kelly, and it was even more exciting for us, as we’d been to her book launch the year before – another great night– and had all read and loved her novel.
The group has been meeting in its current form for a year and a half, and it is wonderful to see how it has grown, from our first tentative meeting with three people, to the group of nine or ten that we have today. It’s made up of a good mix of emerging and traditionally published authors, writing for middle grade and YA – united by a love of children’s fiction and the fact that, whatever our stage of the writing journey, we all want to make our writing the very best it can be.
Photo (left to right): Morna Sullivan, Helen Nicholl, Jacqui McVeigh, and multiple-award winner Kelly McCaughrain
Thankfully though, we don’t take ourselves too seriously; we all love a good laugh, often at the trials of the writing life, and our published authors are happy to be generous with what they’ve learned on the ‘other side’. Although there’s no doubt that the wrong writing group or indeed feedback can be damaging to writers, especially when starting out, if you are lucky enough to find the right group, it is invaluable. Even if you do have a supportive family and/or non-writing friends, there is nothing better than letting off steam with a group of people who know exactly what you mean.
Photo (left to right): Morna Sullivan, Mairi McCurdy, Ellie Heron, Vicky McFarland, and Helen Nicholl
We also do a regular book swap, each bringing in something that we think another member will like, and it’s a great way of discovering new authors. Also, if anyone needs an opinion on their work, the group is the perfect place to find beta readers. And if you’re looking for an agent or publisher, having the SCBWI behind you is so useful. Not just in terms of contacts or resources, but in being able to seek advice from a huge range of people, and being made aware of the pitfalls to avoid. Plus, there is the benefit of the wonderful SCBWI British Isles ‘Undiscovered Voices’ competition, free to unagented/unpublished SCBWI members based in one of the European regions, which has launched the career of many children’s writers and illustrators in the last few years.
Photo (left to right): Jacqui McVeigh, Morna Sullivan, Kelly McCraughrain, and Jill K Wilson
The Belfast group meets every two months; we’re a lively and friendly group and always happy to meet new people. If you are interested in coming along, details are posted on the SCBWI website and through social media. Maybe see you soon!