Newcastle Writers Festival 2016: #NWF2016 Day One – Picture Perfect & Illustrating

So yesterday marked the very first day of this year’s Newcastle Writers Festival (NWF). In it’s fourth year, the NWF officially opened last night after a fabulous day of back to back session and will continue all weekend long until it comes to a close on Sunday 3rd April in the late afternoon/early evening. Boasting a fantastic line-up of local (both in terms of Newcastle and Australia at large) and international guests, across a variety of genres, the festival looks pretty damn good this year.

It must be noted however that romance is once again almost notable missing, but that this year there is a couple of YA themed sessions. I love that Rosmarie has taken on feedback from last year to include the YA panels, but wish there could have been more romance panels as well – four of the lovely Bindarra Creek Romance authors are hosting a session today (Saturday) however that promises to be fantastic.

This year I’m attending a few different panels that are a bit outside of my ‘normal’ writers festival experiences, and I’m attending a variety of panels aimed at books targeting young readers, mostly in the forms of Pictures books.

Yesterday (Friday 1st April), I attended an illustrators panel titled “Picture Perfect” that boasted three well know illustrators: Liz Anelli (Desert Lake ),  Gwynneth Jones (Don’t Think About Purple Elephants,), Serena Geddes (Blow Me A Kiss, Gracie & Josh, Maybe Because and the ever popular Lulu Bell series) and was chaired by picture book author Susan Whelan (Don’t Think About Purple Elephants).All four of these ladies charmed the room of budding writers and illustrators and it was just one of those low-key but fun sessions that you end being really glad you went too.

I really enjoyed this panel and thought the questions were really well thought out and the information was really well delivered. As someone whose written the text for a picture book, I was really interested in seeing how the process of being illustrated evolved and what the expectations and complications in the field were.

For an hour Liz, Serena, Gwynneth and Susan talked to an enthralled room about the ways in which they also started out in illustrating (lucky Serena worked at Disney for 6 years prior; Liz got her first book published while at still in art school in England and Gwynneth joined Society of Children Books Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) and found connections that way) and what their first book was, what mediums they use, what their processes are and how they work. As usual I took copious amounts of notes on this panel, and fear I might have too much information for this topic for simply once post, so I’ll try my best to be brief and might do another post in the near future on it as well.

I particular loved hearing about their processes and how their approach to illustrating has changed over years.

Liz Anelli’s first book, Scrapyard Monster, was inspired by the scrapheap outside her England Art school. She wrote the book and illustrated it while studying there and claims to have written it in the space of “five minutes.” After being published she moved away from illustrating to focus on more main stream illustrations in areas such as marketing and such, and it wasn’t until she moved to Australia that she consciously moved back towards picture books even though the two events didn’t have anything to do with each other. Liz “loves using different materials and chooses the medium based on what  [the work] is.” Sometimes she said her illustrations become a build up of the different materials she has in her kitchen and the way in which their textures interact and build upon each other. In terms of actually developing her books however, she makes tiny thumbnails books the size of post-it notes so that she can flick through the images and see how they compare, before creating storyboard roughs and submitting to the publisher for approval.

Gwynneth Jones on the other hand “love[s] ink pen, colour pencils and water colours and gauche” or basically anything that gives “a nice clean line”. She did mention that there were so many different forms that she wanted to play around with but she hadn’t had the chance yet to explore. Interestingly, her take on the book’s development has changed from her first book. For her first book she need a dummy book, that would be the finished products same size, so that she could picture exactly what the book would look like.  However now she prefers to storyboard the entire book and works on at least three of the pages at once so continuity isn’t a problem.

Serena Gebbes once again has a drastically different approach. When she won the contract for The Lulu Bell books, she sat down with the author Belinda Murrell and got a better gist of the character. In the end she essentially created the character of Lulu from the heart and based on a number of people involved in the text. Like Gwynneth she storyboards her books as well.


Perhaps though the best thing I heard from the panel was this piece of gold advice and acknowledgement from Liz Anzelli:

Interestingly, [Liz indicates the panel members] we’re all competiors of the same industry, but we support each other.

Having had a staggering number of people ask me very similar questions lately regarding publishing picture books and illustrators, I thought it might be nice to share a bit of information that the four panellist diverged today:

  • All four emphasised how fantastic and essential the SCBWI (Society of Children Books Writers & Illustrators) organisation was to people in the industry. (I’ve included links at the bottom of this post).
  • SCBWI have bi-yearly conferences (this year’s is in SYDNEY in SEPTEMBER.
  • SCBWI also host Illustrations showcases which are a good way to get your name out there.
  • Publisher will pair writers up with illustrators; it’s not essential (and in fact it’s preferred) that you don’t have one when you submit.
  • Usually a newbie author will be paired with a well known illustrator to begin with. This is usually a market decision.
  • Rule of thumb: Authors need to submit their text manuscript to a publisher without images, but it is okay for an illustrator to submit their images with accompanying text.
  • It’s a good idea to have a decent size portfolio of work behind you before submitting your illustrations to a publisher. The panel suggested submitting 12 of your best/favourite pieces; make sure your portfolio has a lot more in its reserve though.
  • Start getting your portfolio and social media/networking presence know now. Publishers sometimes look for that.
  • As with all things in publishing, sometimes it’s just luck of the draw that you get picked for a particular book. For example, one of the panellists submitted a picture of a giraffe amongst their portfolio to publishers in Australia and worldwide. Just lucky that one of their books had a giraffe character and thus she got the job.


Tips for writers wanting illustrators:

  • Submit to publishers. If you choose to self-publish all the outlying cost including the original illustration costs, royalties and printing and a marketing costs fall squarely on your shoulders. It’s significantly harder to self-publish a picture book.
  • “Remember to leave lots of gabs in the story [text]. The marriage between words and illustrations makes a great picture book” – Liz Anelli



SCBWI links

Australia & New Zealand Website:

SCBWI Facebook page:

SCBWI Twitter:

2016 conference in Sydney:


All in all I had a fantastic day and I’m really looking forward to Saturday’s panels now. First up I’m attending Libby Hawthorn’s ‘Why Children Matter’ talk before heading to Jess Black’s book launch and then back in time to here the lovely Bindarra Creek Romance girls chat about their collaboration. I can’t wait!




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