My Virtual Keynote Speech at Undiscovered Voices 2020

Standing: Dr Adam Conors, Sharon Boyle, Yvonne Banham, Helen MacKenzie, Laura Warminger, Harriet Worrell, Michael Mann Seated: Angela Murray, Anna Brooke, Claire Harlow, Annaliese Avery, Urara Hiroeh

I've written about my the Undiscovered Voices competition being my big break in children's books. Imagine my delight when the UV crew invited me to be this year's honorary chair, joining such luminaries as Malorie Blackman, Sally Gardner, Frances Hardinge, Alexis Deacon, Chris Riddell and Melvin Burgess! I mean ... skulky, wrinkled, old me in that stellar company?

And then the good news: my daughter announced she was starring as Velma Kelly in her university production of Chicago! My favourite musical starring my favourite daughter (well, my ONLY daughter)! Of course, I couldn't miss it for the world!

The bad news: it was the very same night as the big UV reception, where as honorary chair, I was meant to deliver a keynote. Gah. What to do?

I did BOTH!

Below is the video speech that was screened at the UV reception. If I had still been a UV finalist, this is what I would have wanted to hear. Congratulations forever after to the UV finalists, you are on your way! And big congrats too, to the UV team who made the competition happen. What a generous gift! I will never forget that the Undiscovered Voices opened the door to my own career as a children's author.




This year I was so honoured to be invited to be honorary chair of the Undiscovered Voices, the very competition that launched my own children's writing career back in 2008. But the big night, when the children's book industry gathered to celebrate 2020's winners happened at the same time as a very important family event. So I delivered my keynote via a video. Here is my video message to this year's crop of winners, apologies for the sound. I'm still looking for a good mic. And thank you to Working Partners, the agents and editors who have supported UV since that time 12 years ago, when I found myself on the list. And thank you especially to the hard working volunteers of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, who have made the dreams of aspiring writers like me come true.
A post shared by Candy Gourlay (@candygourlay) on



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How I work

I dared show a photo of my messy garden office in a guest blog for Words and Pictures last month – complete with the table cloth clamped to stands that I used as a backdrop for a few videos.





You can't tell what a mess it is from the outside. Here's a picture of my garden, which was particularly lush last summer. I'm a mad gardener ... I can't wait for winter to be over! Move, Winter, I want my garden back!



Thanks to Caroline Deacon for featuring me on Words & Pcitures! Read the article about my writing day here

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The Wokingham Children's Book Festival

I met a boy and a bear while signing books at the Wokingham Children's Book Fest.
Thanks to Let Them Eat Books for the photo!

I presented Is It a Mermaid session at last weekend's Wokingham Children's Book Festival.

Sadly, I don't usually get to run into author friends appearing at the same festivals and this one had quite a few of on the programme – Fiona Barker, Cath Howe, Tony Bradman, Chitra Soundar, Layn Marlow and others. But they were performing at other times. We were like ships that passed in the night.

I did run into this lot though as I was leaving in my big red coat:

Louie Stowell (The Dragon in the Library), Jenny MacLachlan (The Land of Roar), Lane Marlow (You Make Me Smile) and me!

Pleased to meet organizer Elizabeth McDonald. Festivals take a lot of emailing back and forth, and Elizabeth was a saint.

All authors were greeted with custom cupcakes skillfully created by Claire Groves.


... here are mine!

Cupcakes by Claire Groves

I was lucky enough to arrive on time to attend Blast Off Into the Big Beyond with poet and picture book author James Carter, whose easy delivery, with a bit of  had the smiling audience spouting lines of poetry. What a delight!
Thanks to Let Them Eat Books for this photo catching James playing his uke to a young fan.

I also got to meet bearded A. F. Harrold for the first time – A is for Ashley. Known for his novels like The Imaginary, illustrated by Emily Gravett. At this festival, he was featuring on the younger stream of events, talking about his poetry rather than his novels. I realised very quickly that his poetry readings would make brilliant videos – here's a sample from my Instagram feed:


I love doing my Mermaid act because it's a chance for me to draw and I love drawing! The festival provided the children with clipboards and paper so the children could draw as I performed. At the end, a wee girl came up to me with this picture!


Photo: Wokingham Children's Book Festival

Photo: Wokingham Children's Book Festival

Huge congratulations to the Wokingham Festival team who made everything ran like clockwork, at the same time making sure we authors had a great time!



It was my last festival of the author season and I have to confess, I am looking forward to some downtime. Except of course I'm speaking at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference on the first weekend of November. It's what it says on the tin, for writers and illustrators of children's books. Indeed, Wokingham's Elizabeth McDonald will be there to talk about what librarians want from school visits!  I'm doing a day of demonstrating online tools, gadgets and promotion and platform-building techniques for authors.

See you there?

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Undiscovered Voices Honorary Chair

Today, it was announced that I am Honorary Chair for this year's Undiscovered Voices anthology for 2020. 
If you haven't heard of it, the UV was a competition for aspiring children's authors launched by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators way back in 2006. It was the brainchild of my SCBWI pals Sara Grant and Sara O'Connor which has so far transformed the lives of many, many writers, including me. You can read the story of Undiscovered Voices here.
What's amazing is the whole thing is volunteer run. Volunteers organise the competition, recruit agents and publishers to participate, all under the sponsorship of Working Partners, the book packagers.
I won a place in the first anthology in 2008. After many years of rejection, it opened the door to becoming an author, and I will always be grateful. I am grateful to be asked to be Honorary Chair, but I also feel slightly like a fraud. I still feel like one of the aspiring.
I remember getting the phone call congratulating me on getting into the anthology. I was thrilled, wracked with doubt, floating with joy, all at the same time.
Though, today, my thoughts are also with those who didn't make it into the anthology. It has probably been a tough day ... so difficult to celebrate a friend on the list when your own dreams have been dashed.
Rejection and disappointment cast such long shadows. I remember how disabling it was to be told my story was "not right" for a list, or that an agent was "not that passionate" about my work. It really sucked. So ... guys, gnash those teeth, shed a tear, it sucks not to be on the longlist.
But you know what? You've done the two most valuable things an aspiring author can do:

1. Write your story.
2. Send it in.

Which took courage and self belief. The stuff it takes to become an author.

So BRAVO, to all Undiscovered Voices, longlisted or not. This is a worthy stepping stone on the long and rocky journey to publication. I wish you all courage and joy as you take the next steps.

May the best stories find you.



This piece might look familiar, if you follow me on Twitter. I am slowly reproducing my Twitter threads on my blog in the name of keeping a proper record. 

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