Coming off the back of the 2011 SCBWI British Isles Conference, it isn't surprising that we've seen a lot of discussion about community. Candy Gourlay's wonderful Crystal Kite acceptance speech talked about how she was "looking for a way of life" as a children's writer, and found it in SCBWI. And it was Candy herself who took the lead in this, creating structures (both social and technological) that helped SCBWI-BI become a community. It's a pattern I've tried to follow – I specifically remember proclaiming: "I want to be the Candy Gourlay of Undiscovered Voices 2010" and I hope I've stayed true to that – though without the Carnegie nomination as yet.
Most writers – even if they work in isolation – are people people. To write well, it helps to have a fascination for the human condition. To write well - as Candy and I discovered - you need the help and support of your peers. Because writing isn't about putting words on the page, not really. Writing is about creating and sustaining the mental attitude that gets you to the page in the first place. Writing is about pushing through the blocks and believing in your own judgement, when so many others would seem to know better. Writing and getting published is a crazy, stupid, wonderful dream.
It's good to find others who share your dream. That stops it feeling quite so crazy.
Many writers, like myself, came from difficult family backgrounds. We crave a certain stability that was denied to us as children. What better way to deal with this, than to build our own support structures? That's what I realise I've been unconsciously doing for much of my adult life – getting married, staying married, having children. I do it in my writing life as well, trying to build groups like the Undiscovered Voices 2010 winners, so I've got someone to fall back on when life takes a wrong turn. Put like that, it sounds kind of selfish. But these groups quickly take on a life of their own.
There is a fragility to the writing community at times, though. Perhaps it's inevitable if you put a lot of people together who are all trying to work out their issues in public. Communication breaks down. Jealousy rages. I've seen a couple of writing friendships wrecked by random, unfathomable, even aggressive behaviour. And that's a scary thing because I wonder if it could happen to me. Could I misunderstand or resent someone enough that I'd want to hurt them in some way? Let's hope not!
By and large, we keep those frustrations at bay in the children's writing community. Perhaps being perpetually looked down on by "grown up" writers helps to give us a sense of perspective. When we come together – at events like the SCBWI conference – it's a joyous, life-affirming thing. I realise I have so many people that I can count on, that I can lean on in times of trouble. I hope they know that they can always lean back on me.