Biennial CBCA Conference insights

This past weekend, Melbourne hosted the CBCA Conference. Biennial, this gathering of writers, illustrators, publishers, editors, teachers, librarians and others involved in, or interested in the world of children’s literature moves around the states. This year was Melbourne’s turn.

This was my fourth CBCA Conference and I enjoy each one more than the last. That’s partly I think because I know more about how they work but also because I know more people.

What I enjoy most is the chance to talk to people who also work in this wonderful, frustrating, challenging industry of children’s books. Each conference there are presentations on the challenges faced by the book in a changing world. Some are upbeat, others downright gloomy. But there are other speakers who inspire by sharing their own creative experience. Shaun Tan talked about his journey, showing examples of his work including a drawing from his first day of school and another from when he was around 8 years old. His ability was apparent even then. Neil Gaiman interspersed his address with long narrative poems. I had a ‘zing’ moment when he spoke about going back to favourite childhood books and how they sometimes have lost the magic they once had. He says that a reader brings their experience to their interpretation of a story and that as our experience changes so does how we view the words and bring the story alive. I’m sure I’ve not said that as well as he did, but it made a lot of sense. Certainly I’ve been really disappointed when rereading some of my favourite childhood books. However, I loved rereading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ recently. It’s many years since I first read it, but it had lost nothing of its power, perhaps because I brought different experiences to it as an older reader.

Wendy Cooling, involved with a UK program aimed at getting books to the very young, and Jan Ormerod, writer and illustrator were both inspiring speakers. I also attended a number of panel sessions including ‘Real Girls or Dream Girls’, ‘What Version of History do we give our Children?’, ‘Toddlers or Teens: Who are Picture Books For?’ and a session moderated by a publisher discussing the relationship between editor and writer. So many conversations and ideas to absorb. Poor old brain!

It’s always fascinating to watch others as they check out displays and meet-and-greet. I’m not ever very comfortable pitching spontaneously but even if I was, for me conferences are the wrong time and place. I did have some conversations with various people about opportunities but they’re always very general. I like watching publishers, editors and publicity people working. I eavesdrop on conversations, and often the questions I’ve not been able to formulate are answered.

Its great to have the chance to sit and just chat with interstate colleagues and friends. It took me most of the conference to get around all the trade displays as each time I’d begin or continue, I’d be sidetracked by friends, colleagues, launches and more. Wonderful stuff.

I’ve come home with lots of books, many business cards and a number of opportunities to follow up. I don’t measure the success of the conference by the quality or variety of the program. It’s much less tangible than that. Poetry describes it well when it says that the power of poetry is as much in the white spaces as in the words. Conferences are wonderful, not just for the program, but for all the ‘stuff’, planned and unplanned, that fits in between.

Roll on Brisbane 2010!