Introducing: Children’s Books North

Posted on January 10, 2022 in Scotland

Children’s Books North is a free, voluntary network that was set up in 2020 by Tilda Johnson (Golden Egg North programme leader and freelance children’s editor), Emma Layfield (Picture Book Development Director, North, Hachette Children’s Group) and Liz Scott (freelance children’s book publicist). Our members are made up of children’s publishing professionals and traditionally published children’s authors and illustrators – this covers picture books, fiction, non-fiction, YA, poetry and comics – and we have over 320 members. 

The network aims to connect children’s book professionals living in the North West, North East, Yorkshire and Scotland, and to promote our members’ work, new books and events. And of course CBN is keen to bring focus on the importance of regional diversity in children’s books and the publishing industry.

We champion our members’ work through regular Northern Highlights interviews on the Children’s Books North blog, our social media platforms (Twitter: @books_north, Instagram: childrens_books_north) and our events, which are both online and in person. Alongside these, we run special guest interviews to highlight creative organisations in the North, such as Bradford Literature Festival, Seven Stories, and the Manchester Poetry Library. Since starting the blog in March 2020, we’ve had over 35,000 views.

Very early on, we planned to hold physical meet-ups for CBN, but we only managed one get-together in person before COVID hit. That first informal drinks meeting showed us that creatives in the North were keen to connect, share and mingle – several people travelled down to Manchester from Northumberland and Newcastle, at relatively short notice, and collaborations and peer support began to brew.

This August we hosted the Children’s Books North Festival of Illustration, where illustrators were invited to share images of their work on Instagram within a special CBN frame design, using the hashtag #CBNFestivalofIllustration. It was a fantastic way to highlight, explore and showcase the wealth of talent across our region – do visit our Instagram or use the hashtag to take a look! 

At one of our first digital events, we shone the spotlight on writing in a panel event with a Northern focus. ‘Oh the Places you’ll Read’ was run by members, for members, showcasing Danielle Jawando, Melvin Burgess and Jake Hope, who were interviewed by co-founder Tilda Johnson over Zoom. We decided to keep the event private, for CBN members only, to create a forum solely for published creators and publishing folk – as these spaces are fairly uncommon outside the main industry hubs. Even though it was exclusive in this way, it did give the panellists publicity across social media and within the network itself. 

Another of our digital events was ‘The Great Northern Meet-up 2021’. CBN and the Youth Libraries Group hosted a virtual conference to bring together YLG members from the North West, Yorkshire and Humberside, North East and Scotland, and all CBN members, for a morning of exclusive panels, presentations and networking opportunities. Chris Newton from Scottish Book Trust opened the conference with a fabulous keynote speech, and in celebration of the new Manchester Poetry Library, the conference included an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the new children’s collection. There were also two panel events – ‘Children’s Poetry: Chapter and Verse’ – with readings and discussions from poets Ruth Awolola, Rachel Plummer, Louisa Reid and Dom Conlan and ‘Libraries: Fact and Fiction’ – in conversation with librarians Anne Burns, William Plain and Angela Foster.

But we also want to support creatives who haven’t yet been published, as well as aspiring publishers. In 2021, we ran ‘#CBNPitch2021’ – an event on Twitter that was open to all unagented writers and creatives, and we invited agents and publishers to ‘attend’, reading the pitches and requesting submissions from those that interested them. Ahead of the event we shared advice on how to prepare a strong pitch and the event was really busy and buzzing. We’ve already seen creatives gain representation as a result, and many more received the opportunity to submit and make those direct connections.

We’ve also just completed our first Mentorship Scheme for aspiring publishers – with each of our co-founders providing 1:1 mentoring over four months. We worked with our mentees on developing their knowledge of the children’s book industry, using social media and the importance of networking, as well as advising them on their CVs and the expectations of assistant roles. We’re really excited to see how Emma Toft, Sarah Nuttall and Fatima Shahzad’s careers develop from here! We were overwhelmed by the number of applications for the scheme and plan to run it annually, so keep an eye on our blog and social media early this year. 

As we’re sure you’ll be aware, more opportunities are needed in the publishing industry to connect, get together and work together outside of London and Edinburgh. Recently big publishers (like Hachette UK and Harper North) have made the move to join the dynamic indies (such as the Northern Fiction Alliance and the brilliant Scottish indies) in the North – and we’re delighted with the reception for our network so far. There are lots of brilliant creative organisations in the north such as The Good Ship Illustration and Orange Beak, who focus on developing illustrators, and excellent writing organisations such as Commonword and The Writing Squad. So, it felt like the right time to create an independent network that could link these up and serve as a hub for creatives.